Thursday, January 19, 2017
Missed Chances Series #1: Going to Milton R. Stern's Hotel Room and Stripping to the
Brian Higgins and I had some breathing room between the publication of our article on Tender is the Night in Proof 4 (1975) and 1986, when Milton R. Stern's G. K. Hall Critical Essays on Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night" appeared. Rather than reprinting our article with the other essays, Stern, listed what he called our eleven "objections to the revised edition" and followed each with a stern rebuttal. We had been wholly ignorant of the power of the New Criticism in sanctifying the text a reader held in hand. According to Stern, we had been "totalitarian" to insist that Fitzgerald's intentionality was embodied in the 1934 edition rather than diffused both through that and Cowley's edition. In the official Fall 1974 memo to the department I defined what the article meant to my thinking: "Ever since writing with Brian Higgins the long study of Tender is the Night which will appear in the next Proof I have become more and more committed to writing lengthy essays which make detailed critical interpretations on the basis of thorough study of textual problems." I was working with critical approaches and assumptions and trying to relate them to textual assumptions, but the connections were difficult to push because the words (starting with "textual" and "critical") might be the same but the meanings might be different. Nobody in the CEAA had been talking about the aesthetic consequences of rearranging large hunks of prose.
On 29 December 1993, after a session on Tender at the MLA convention in Toronto Stern challenged me to adjourn to his hotel room, strip to the waist, and there, one on one, resolve the textual issues of Tender is the Night.
I had missed not missed an MLA convention since 1968; after 1993 I never attended another.