“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp” (Browning, “Andrea del Sarto”)
The 2023 edition of the Vassar Critical Journal is the most theoretically sophisticated and challenging iteration of the journal that we have ever produced. It is quite conceivable that readers will find several essays daunting, even confusing, on a first read, though highly rewarding on a second. For a variety of reasons, the 2023 edition pushes past the criteria of well-written, well-argued, well-organized, and smart to something approaching the art of the possible. Risk-taking and bristling with ideas, our contributors sometimes raised the editorial collective’s hackles before overcoming resistance. Once a critical mass of theoretically inflected work had been read and reviewed, a new vision of what the Vassar Critical Journal could be dawned on us. It would be aspirational rather than a record of good student scholarship.
Over the course of the five years that I have been involved with the Vassar Critical Journal, the journal has increasingly welcomed multidisciplinary work. No doubt, that has something to do with the composition of the editorial board, which in 2023 drew students from Drama, Film, Political Science, and Education, as well as English. Similarly, our contributors represent a diverse group of (double) majors: English plus Anthropology, Urban Studies, Philosophy, or Art History. I take this to be a sign of the times—uncertainty regarding career trajectories, certainly, but also a breakdown of disciplinary silos across the academy. Contributing to this phenomenon, the pathways through the English major offering a focus on matters of gender, sexuality, race, literary history, and theory have encouraged the development of a critical lens. Nowhere is that more evident than in departmental offerings of courses in Literary Theory. Of our seven contributors, five students took English 217 in either Spring or Fall 2022, and one took an additional theory course: English 219 (Queer of Color Critique). Whether the predominance of theoretical work is a sustainable trend will be determined by the quality and quantity of work submitted in 2024. In the meantime, fasten your seatbelts.
While the current editorial board approached its task with enthusiasm for all aspects of the work at hand, I must give special commendation to Janet Song, who served as our technical and managing editor. In addition to her role as student editor, Janet oversaw the website for submissions and evaluations, corrected proofs, and she was instrumental in the population of the WordPress digital platform for the Vassar Critical Journal, where our back and current issues can be accessed. Claire Miller proposed reviving the practice of student editors writing their own introduction, and she is the principal author of the introduction that graces this publication. I would also like to thank our art editors: Jean Fassler and Stacy Merinoreyes for their contributions to cover design and layout. Frankly, all of our editors have given their best to the selection, preparation, and production of this edition. It is to be hoped that a few of our first-year and sophomore editors will stick around in 2024 to provide continuity to the journal.