What follows is the third in J. A. Tylerâ€™s full-press of Subito Press, a series of reviews appearing at [PANK] over the course of 2012, covering every title available from Subito Press. J. A. Tylerâ€™s previous full-press series have appeared at Big Other (a full-press of Calamari Press) and with Mud Luscious Pressâ€™s online quarterly (a full-press of Publishing Genius Press).
To round out their 2008 catalog, Subito Press published With Oneâ€™s Own Eyes: Sherwood Andersonâ€™s Realities, a collection consisting of an introduction by Welford D. Taylor, a lecture that Sherwood Anderson gave on Realism in 1939, and the stories â€œAdventureâ€ (originally published in Winesburg, Ohio, 1919) and â€œDeath in the Woodsâ€ (originally published in The American Mercury, 1926); and while as such With Oneâ€™s Own Eyes is a nice nod to the roots of Realism in American literature, it feels more like a project than a book, and its true value seems packed solely into the reprinted Sherwood Anderson lecture.
With Oneâ€™s Own Eyes opens with Welford D. Taylorâ€™s essay, a scholar of repute and a well-known researcher of Sherwood Anderson, but Taylorâ€™s contribution is dry, steeped in tiresome academic references, and serves only as a reminder of what most students hate about the university years: those lectures that go on and on without them. In contrast, the stories reprinted in With Oneâ€™s Own Eyes are interesting reads, and certainly solid representations of Sherwood Andersonâ€™s style, but they do seem odd collected like this, since both are really more apt in their original contexts, â€œAdventureâ€ within Winesburg, Ohio and â€œDeath in the Woodsâ€ in Death in the Woods and Other Stories.
Luckily though, With Oneâ€™s Own Eyes has one additional component: Sherwood Andersonâ€™s lecture on Realism, originally delivered at Olivet College and eventually collected in The Sherwood Anderson Reader. Unlike the stories, this lecture is one that casual readers of Anderson are less likely to have stumbled across, so its reprinting in With Oneâ€™s Own Eyes is a boon, and a savior for the book itself, relaying a message that intrigues readers and writers alike.
Anderson begins unexpectedly, denying any particular expertise on the subject of reality:
I do not know what reality is. I do not think any of us quite know how much our point of view, and, in fact, all of our touch with life, is influenced by our imaginations.
From here, Anderson expands on the idea that reality is but a kernel of Realism, that good authors find their core subjects, characters, and landscapes in the world around them, in their literal tangible lives, but then they grow and detail all of it with the imagination and a belief in what they write:
The work of any writer, and for that matter of any artist in any of the seven arts, should contain within it the story of his own life. There are certain beliefs I have. One is that every man who writes, writes as well as he can. We are always hearing stories about men writing with their tongues in their cheeks, but the truth is that if, for example, a man devotes his life to writing detective stories, he probably believes in the detectives he puts in his stories. If he writes cowboy stories, he really believes that cowboys in life are like the cowboys of the stories and the movies. They arenâ€™t, of course, but he thinks so.
For a writer as profoundly â€˜convictedâ€™ of Realism as Sherwood Anderson was, this focus on the massive and invaluable role of imagination in Realism is invigorating. Realism ultimately comes to be viewed as a catalyst rather than an endpoint, and as such, Anderson has no problem eventually killing it off in his fantastic close to the most poignant portion of With Oneâ€™s Own Eyes:
There is a reality to your book, your story people. They may, in the beginning, be lifted out of life, but once lifted, once become a part of the book, of the story-lifeâ€”realism, in the sense in which the word is commonly used, no longer exists.
With Oneâ€™s Own Eyes: Sherwood Andersonâ€™s Realities is available from Subito Press.
Subito Press is a nonprofit literary publisher based in the Creative Writing Program of the Department of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. We look for innovative fiction and poetry that at once reflects and informs the contemporary human condition, and we promote new literary voices as well as work from previously published writers. Subito Press encourages and supports work that challenges already-accepted literary modes and devices.
J. A. Tyler is the author of eight books of prose and poetry, including No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear, co-authored with John Dermot Woods (Jaded Ibis, 2012) and Girl With Oars & Man Daying (Aqueous Books, 2011). His recent work has appeared with Fairy Tale Review, The Brooklyn Rail, The Collagist, and Everyday Genius, and he reviews for The Nervous Breakdown and The Rumpus among other venues. For more, visit: chokeonthesewords.com.