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Editor's Note
by Olga Stein

Olga Stein About a year ago I met Ken Sherman, well regarded poet and regular contributor to BiC, for a coffee. It was delightful to discover, during our conversation, that we had been taught literature in highschool by the same man. I had attended a different school, more than a decade after Ken had graduated from his, and yet both of us had known Art Spence. Both Ken and I had liked him enormously¨his easy going but engaging teaching style, more suited to a university tutorial room, his character, even his looks¨and we agreed that he had had an important influence on us. The books he had assigned proved formative, awakening in both of us an interest in ideas and the way they were expressed in literature. "And all that talk about existentialism," I laughed as I reminded Sherman. Spence had us reading Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, The Stranger by Albert Camus, Dubliners by James Joyce, and much more in the way of loose-leaf material, challenging essays which elaborated on the various ways in which man had become alienated from himself and others, nature or society.
It feels like a long time has passed since I sat listening to Art Spence, and one rarely hears the word "existentialism" these days. It seems a little tired somehow, and for me, no longer suggestive of an exciting starting point from which to analyze a text. But while the word may have lost some of its ring, and the writings of "existentialists" like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, may not be on everyone's "must run out and get 'em" list (though if you're curious, I suggest looking at Walter Kaufmann's Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre or Robert C. Solomon's From Rationalism to Existentialism: The Existentialists and Their Nineteenth-Century Backgrounds), it isn't necessarily the case that the ideas and conceptual spin-offs of existentialist thinking are no longer relevant. One might comfortably make the claim that in current literature cynicism is so pervasive, and the thematic elements are so well ingrained, that there's simply no need any longer to spell them out. Take for example Anne Ireland's The Exile, reviewed by Michelle Ariss or JosT Saramago's The Cave, reviewed by Joan Givner (note the context of post-colonialism). The central theme in The Exile, Ariss tells us, is "estrangement." The novel's narrator , EstTvez, declares at one point¨"we are all in exile from our authentic lives: it is the state of modern man." Givner provides a well-wrought description of the The Cave: "The dark vision that informs it is one of desolate human beings blinded by overwhelming forces, internal and external, that threaten to stamp out their very identity and humanity." And Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches is about what? It centers on a man trying hard to get back in touch with himself by carefully sifting through the everyday contents of his life.
By the time I was in university, and reading the likes of Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Paul Theroux, Anita Brookner, Anne Tyler, D.M. Thomas, Arthur Koestler, and many others, I could see the ideas to which I was introduced in Spence's literature class coming from pages away. Boy, was I grateful to Art Spence. Still am.
Issue highlights: Brian Fawcett reviews Louis Lapham's Theater of War with characteristic wit and perspicuity. Of special significance, are the aphorisms of my late father-in-law Alfred Stein. These notes, written not long before he passed away, were for him merely jottings, but they are the jottings of a powerful mind. They have never been published before and we introduce them here for your pleasure. Olga Stein

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