About the Cover
Our cover design by Nanette Black features a photograph of Cuba’s
Habana Vieja (Old Havana). The image, shot by photographer C.J.
Groth, is part of a series of nearly 200 photographs that capture
both the elegance and poverty of this complicated nation. A resident
of Key West, Fla., Groth earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees
in journalism and media communications. Photo © C.J. Groth.
All rights reserved.
This special double—truly double!—issue
of The Kenyon Review offers an abundance of perspectives,
in stories, poems, and essays, from across the globe. Through this
work we explore the complicated relationship between culture and
place. More accurately, these pieces demonstrate the multiplicity
of cultures, even within a single nation, and how variously these
cultures inhabit the physical places in which they exist, or those
they pass through. What makes one area sacred—and what does
that signify for human attitude and behavior—while another
spot remains mundane? What responsibilities do peoples imagine as
theirs for territories they inhabit? Perhaps even more striking:
what deep truths may we discover about the life of a nation by attempting
to perceive the way it relates to the natural world? Indeed, how
do we come to understand the very word culture differently?
These are just a few of the questions that have sparked from the
topic and from the literature in these pages.
I can scarcely think of a topic more timely than this. When have
we been so expressly challenged to understand different nations,
different cultures, and the ways they understand their own roles
in the world? These, surely, are more than merely political questions.
Yet timeliness has rarely been a concern in these pages. Going back
to the early days of the Review under John Crowe Ransom
and the influence of the New Criticism, the timely was always viewed
with skepticism if not outright suspicion—literature was not
to be sullied by the context of the moment, let alone politics,
fashion, or the merely popular. Politics and literature belonged
to the other great literary magazine of the 1940s and 1950s, The
This healthy tension and rivalry between the two journals came into
relief again a year or so ago in the many obituaries of William
Phillips, the longtime editor of the Partisan. Now, without
his presiding spirit, the magazine has disappeared as well.
Truth is, the rivalry was long since dead, probably with the retirement
of Mr. Ransom in 1959 and the appearance of many, many other distinguished
literary magazines. Already by that time the supposed firewall between
the political and the artistic had been breached irrevocably.
Great literature, I would profess, must aspire to something of the
timeless. That is, it may well communicate its beauty and truths
to readers still unborn and, perhaps, even in different languages
and societies. Nevertheless, a story or poem is also and always
a work by a specific person in a specific moment and culture, and
to fully comprehend the work a reader will do well to know something
of that moment. In that shared labor, that act of creation shared
by the author who brings a work into the potential being that is
language, and the reader who brings the work into actual being by
reading, the community of literature is realized. As Octavio Paz
has said, “It is not so important that a work is read in the
beginning by only a few. The preservation of the collective memory
by a group, even a small one, is a true tablet of salvation for
the entire community.”
This moment in 2003 is rich in complexities and challenges. The
world seems a smaller place than ever, yet—and far more interesting
to see—we are better aware of myriad differences across that
globe. This issue of The Kenyon Review provides a lens
through which we can spy the particular in all its specific power
and beauty and humanity.
—David H. Lynn