Editorial Statement

The question that immediately confronts any editor of Modern Philology is what the title of the journal means. In 1903, when the journal was founded, the idea of a modern philology might have seemed quite daring, since "philology" implied only or primarily the study of ancient and medieval languages and texts. Over a century later, the idea of a modern philology is foreign. The term has only the most limited circulation and has basically returned to its initial scholarly sense. My aim, in assuming the editorship of the journal, is to return the term to its etymological sense: love of words. Emily Dickinson saw the moment when a word is fully understood, fully realized in all its power and distinctiveness, as a kind of Incarnation, a moment when an idea truly becomes flesh and dwells among us. In a series of astonishingly rich puns, she called this miraculous "consent of language" a "loved Philology." I would like to bring this sense of awe and appreciation in the face of powerful and exact language to the journal that bears the name of Modern Philology.


This does not mean, as I see it, a return to "mere" aestheticism- though I deeply distrust such easy and dismissive "meres "-or to an uncritical response to works of literary art. That texts have agendas, sometimes unconscious and deeply nasty ones; that texts are embedded in local contexts of many different kinds; that texts might be deeply incoherent and at odds with themselves, and that all texts are at least partially so-it would be foolish to deny these important truths of contemporary literary study. My aim is to publish literary criticism and scholarship that does its work, whether of appreciation, understanding, or critique, through close attention to the language and details of texts. The fundamental premise is that, as Paul de Man put it, there is a "continuity between depth and surface," and that, with regard to literary works (and perhaps many other cultural artifacts) attention to "surface" is the best way to get at "depth." 1 It is one of the great tragedies of twentieth-century literary criticism (not only in the English-speaking world) that somehow "criticism" and "scholarship" or "formalism" and "historicism" came to be seen as antagonistic to one another. This is a fruitless and crippling presumption. That historical awareness is necessary for an understanding of texts, and that, on the other hand, detailed recognition of textual features is necessary to do historical reading properly-these are presumptions that I wish the work that we publish in Modern Philology to embody. I hope that the journal will contribute to ending the unnecessary oppositions listed above. If we take as our model "formalists" Leo Spitzer or Eric Auerbach (or William Empson) rather than Cleanth Brooks or Robert Heilman, we get a nonoppositional picture of the relationship between formal and historical awareness in the appreciation and analysis of literary texts. 2 The journal will be open to "readings"-not in the older "purely formal" sense-but in the sense of welcoming essays that attempt to come to terms in a fairly full way with the contours and implications of particular texts. And the journal will be open to theoretical pieces on how to do readings, or how to do literary history, or how to understand particular or general traditions or formal features.


Modern Philology
intends to be concerned with literary works, literary traditions, and literary criticism-we do not intend to compete with our cousin journal, Critical Inquiry , in range of material treated-and we are not concerned with Western classical literature-here we do not intend to compete with our sister journal, Classical Philology. But we are not, except in these ways, a specialized journal. We will publish work on literature from the (date of ) the medieval period in the West forward, and not only in the Western tradition. Within our very large historical range-from, roughly, the time of Charlemagne to the present-we are not restricted to literature of any particular kind or from any particular geographical or cultural region. Hitherto, we have published work only on literature in English and European languages. This will probably continue to be our focus, but it need not be so for every issue, and I hope that it will not be so for every issue. I am happy to announce that we now welcome contributions on literature in non-European languages and contributions that productively compare texts or traditions from European and non-European literatures. We will be expanding our editorial board to reflect this expansion. In general, we expect contributions to be written in (or translated into) English, and we expect quotations from non-English languages to be translated into English as well as reproduced in the original. 3


Our expansion to world literature will also affect our reviews. Modern Philology has always been a major source for high-quality scholarly reviews, and this commitment will continue-though now including reviews of a wider range of literary studies. One of the distinctive features of Modern Philology has been its willingness to publish review essays-on individual books and on groups of books. I intend to continue and to foster this tradition. The review essay is an extremely important genre, and one that does not have sufficient venues these days. Normal size reviews (750-1,200 words) allow for only a certain amount of rumination and expansive consideration. Such reviews will continue to be our bread and butter, but the journal will be open to essays that take a book or group of books as the basis for some larger considerations and meditations, for what, as Milton put it, "the mind at home in the spacious circuits of her musing hath liberty to propose to herself." We will also publish forums on particular issues or books, where a number of critics will contribute short pieces on the same book or topic. I encourage readers of the journal to contact me with ideas for forums, for review essays, or for special issues. We also welcome translations of important critical and literary-historical articles written in languages other than English. And, finally, I should say that I intend to continue the "Notes and Documents" feature of the journal-with non-English materials translated-a feature which, as Janel Mueller, one of my distinguished predecessors as editor, noted, is intended to be "a continuing affirmation of the discovery function" of literary scholarship. 4 Treasures from the archives directly relevant to works of literature will be more than welcome, as will descriptions of relevant archives and biographical and other discoveries.


- Richard Strier

1 Paul de Man, "Form and Intent in American New Criticism," in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, 1983), 23.
2 I am drawing here on my essay on "How Formalism Became a Dirty Word, and Why We Can't Do Without It," in Renaissance Literature and Its Formal Engagements, ed. Mark Rasmussen (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 207-15.
3 We have, on occasion, accepted contributions in Spanish, Italian, and French.
4 Janel Mueller, "Editor's Foreword," Modern Philology 87 (February 1990): 220.