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Review Essay Shoeless Joe Jackson meets J.D. Salinger: Baseball and the Literary Imagination ALFRED F. BOE W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982, pp. 265 Baseball, more than any other sport, more than almost any other human in fact, activates memory and imagination. Memory, through the vast of statistics, records, box scores, encyclopedias that record practically of every game ever played, every accomplishment of every player. through the myths, legends, exaggerations, and fantasies that have up around the game since its very invention by Abner Doubleday-itself myth. And the folklore of baseball, along with the many memoirs it has shows how thin and uncertain is the line that separates memory from how the two blend together in regard to this sport to form a American mythos. Did Ruth, e.g., really point out his 1932 Is it a factual memory or an imagined one? Another human activity that activates and harmonizes memory and imagina(when it's done right, at any rate) is literature, especially fiction. W.P. brings together baseball and literature in his novel Shoeless Joe-not by writing a novel about baseball, but by writing a novel in which baseball writing become parallel means of activating and harmonizing memory and to creat anagogic myth. Many other novelists, most notably Malamud in The Natural, and to a lesser extent Philip Roth in The American Novel, have used baseball mythically, but Kinsella goes beyond mere use of baseball as myth by incorporating the myth-making process itself as the essential content of his novel. Pairing the mnemonic and creative powers of the literary imagination on the one hand with the same powers of the baseball imagination on the other hand is not a unique achievement-Robert Coover has done it, too, perhaps more successfully, though also more oppressively and claustrophobically-but it is a praiseworthy one. In a marvelous article in The New York Times Magazine of September 26, 1982, "Odysseus at Fenway," classicist Emily Vermeule (picking up a hint from Roger Angell) imagines the archeologists of the future "perhaps reconstruct [ing] an entire society" from the "opaque," nearly indecipherable "texts" of box scores. But, she goes on to say, "archeology ... and the deciphering of even the most curious texts in the archives, can be dry work without a poet to give the results unforgettable rhythms for the national memory." Kinsella is such a "poet"-and an archeologist, too! His spokesman-narrator (and partial namesake) says at one point in the novel, "We are like archeologists exploring new territory." Archeologists, of course, actually explore old territory-but old territory become new by being brought back to light again. The artifacts and textsthe old territory- provide the memories, but they must be reconstructed, recontexted, and interpreted by the imagination-the synthesis becoming the new territory. Kinsella draws on the most mythic character of all baseball memory, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and one of the most mythic characters of recent literary memory, J.D. Salinger, for his imaginative fantasy of the meeting of baseball and literature.
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