Monday, August 15, 2016

More on Barkley's SRD Book . . .

Though it kills me to say so, since Prof. Barkley must have worked extremely hard on this book, this monograph is getting to be a train wreck. Combined with the highly questionable assertions, the chapters themselves are loose and unfocused. They usually begin via a comparison with some great modernist work (Proust, Hemingway, Joyce, etc), which I actually like. But then the tone seems to be, "Donaldson is talking on these same things, and he's doing it better." Barkley continually brings in references to popular and high culture, as well as current political events, trying to situate SRD in the "modern" (i.e., late 20th- and 21st-century context), but the discussions grow increasingly shallow. Really, there's only so much "timeless truths" types of commentary that one can stand. Worse, I found myself unable to find very many quotable or paraphrase-able ideas from any of her chapters.

Anyway, I took a little look-see through the bibliography.** It's shockingly short -- just a page and a half. In fact, if you discount the primary texts, and a handful of citations to other works of literature (Matthew Arnold, Keats, Yeats, etc.), there's almost no secondary scholarship cited. Although Barkley's preface clearly acknowledges the existence of other SRD scholarship, she cites none of it except W. A. Senior's quite good Variations on a Fantasy Tradition

And the citations she does include are . . . odd. She cites Gross and Levitt's Higher Superstition, a book that influenced Alan Sookal famous hoax, but not itself a work of literary criticism. She cites Roger Sale's 1968 essay on Tolkien but no other Tolkien scholarship. The bibliography also, perplexingly, fails to cite several sources cited both in-text and in the notes. 

What really piqued my interest, however, is that Barkley's introduction heavily relies (over-relies, actually) on some guy named Jeffrey Hart. Never heard of him -- although one of his big ideas, as related by Barkley, is the "Athens vs. Jerusalem" dichotomy. That made me go, "Huh! That's one of Leo Strauss's major themes!" 

Then Barkley quotes Hart quoting Paul A. Cantor, one of the few Strauss-influenced literary critics that I know of. (Actually, Barkley misspells his name "Canter," which is annoying.) That Cantor reference really got me going. Barkley doesn't pick up on this, but after googling Hart's work, I realized that hart IS a Straussian and that, therefore, Barkley's entire introduction is actually based on Straussian ideas! Barkley completely doesn't do anything with this, and her book hasn't created the impression that she is capable of doing anything with that (or many other philosophically minded ideas), but this just goes to show you: Strauss appears in the un-likeliest places.

** Okay, I admit it -- I wanted to know if she cited my essay on SRD. Not that she had to. The basic idea was simple and the writing bad -- after all, it came out of my undergrad thesis, but I was lucky enough to have an extremely generous thesis director who just happened to be co-editing a book on political science fiction.

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