Winter 1995, Volume 12.1
Neila C. Seshachari
Peace has never been studied or explored in our civilization, said Maxine Hong Kingston, as we were talking casually when she was visiting our campus on the occasion of the 10th anniversary celebrations of Weber Studies. I have carried that idea around with me, as a young person on the verge of puberty cuddles and carries the notion of falling in love. Our fairy tales have always told us smugly, "And they lived happily ever after," without delving into the details or mysteries of the pronouncement. Surely peace and happiness have to be earned with as much conscientious effort as success in business or scholarship in education.
Cold war and conquest were the watchwords of the 1970s and 1980s. Only in the 1990s have we started talking diversity, multiculturalism, and peace with any degree of seriousness. How long is it going to take our civilization to shed metaphors of war in our daily lives—conquer the market, vanquish competition, trouble shoot problems—and create exciting new metaphors of coexistence and peace? Any civilization has to nurture its values fondly over a long period of time. Can peaceful coexistence and familial happiness be made exciting enough in letters to grab the attention of readers, as violence and rape and aberrant sex do today? I am quietly excited that a writer like Maxine Hong Kingston is giving her attention to this momentous issue. Her interview featured in these pages raises other vital social issues—the real resolution of peace in Vietnam as opposed to the notion of peace as a mere cessation of war, the possibilities of communal writing, and the concept of the city of refuge.
This issue of Weber Studies does not purport to focus on the theme of multiculturalism or diversity, or the diasporas these create, but a fair cross-section of American writing mirrors the predicament of individuals each living in a social or psychic diaspora of one's own. Amy Ling, in detailing some of her experiences in her personal essay "Whose America Is It?" reveals an important trait of all immigrants to this wondrous land: they continually forge the milieu they would like to live in.
The multicolored immigrants of our country—white, black, yellow, brown—are changing the world around us, trying to make it a more hospitable place for all of us. What about backlash and charges of "political correctness?" one might ask. Those too might be resolved amicably, even happily, if only we learned to promote and use peace as a proactive, overarching value.
Many of the essays and fictions in this issue circle back to the questions of war and peace, the self and other, and predicaments of "mine, thine, and ours" raised in Maxine Hong Kingston's interview. Donald Anderson's confessions of a noncombatant reveal the irony in the life of one who, in trying to avoid the Vietnam war, ended up serving the Air Force for the next 22 years.
Peter Vernezze probes the nature of Plato's "two-world view" to posit, contrary to general belief, that the philosophers, who have been dazzled by the nature of reality, find it both necessary and fulfilling to return to the cave to rule. His conclusion is that, far from extolling a life of isolation, Plato is calling all of us to a life of commitment.
Joseph J. Wydeven examines Wright Morris's poignant, unsentimental stories of old age and wonders why Morris is not represented in the anthologies of literature on aging and the aged that have started mushrooming in recent years.
Ken Egan, Jr. argues that, contrary to the belief of literary scholars, nineteenth-century American poets like Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson confronted in their lives the encroachment of technology with its attendant shift from a culture of "things" to a culture of "devices." They voiced their disease and distrust of the substitution of a machine economy upon their world of aesthetic things in different ways.
We are very happy to feature here the poetry of three Japanese poets translated in collaboration by Professors Naoshi Koriyama and Edward Lueders. I am keenly aware of the poems' untranslatable riches—nuances bestowed by culture, rituals, social/linguistic conventions—that are jeopardized in crosscultural translations. How does one "read" a poem that is expressed as "impressions" in ideograms? Aren't syntax, word choice, sound, rhythm and rhyme part of the totality of the poetic experience? How does a reader steeped in Western culture imbibe the aesthetic experience—linguistic as well as emotive—of a Japanese poem? We will never fully comprehend the answers, but we will all agree, especially after reading the poems in translation here, that some mysterious life force leaps the arc of distance and cultural differences, connecting human lives everywhere.
Other poetry and fiction in this issue form a cat's cradle holding and connecting ideas generated in the issue. Even the book reviews pick up issues raised elsewhere in the journal. Thus the Vietnamese monk Thick Nhat Hanh makes his appearance both in Kingston's interview and in a review of Stephen Batchelor's The Awakening of the West.
The awakening of the human spirit to make global connections, and the wisdom to recognize the bounties of peace may be the two boons we need most in our civilization today.