It has long been recognised that creativity is a vital part of literature's contribution to the interdisciplinary concerns of this journal. But while creativity is readily apparent in a host of writers from Auden to Zamyatin, it can be harder to recognise the imaginative contribution of the literary critic. Although departments of literary studies are forever redefining their raison d'être and celebrating the intellectual diversity of faculty members, critical essays rarely merit description as creative acts and are even more rarely defined by their imaginative intensity. One exception to this rule is the work of John Schad, and Literature and Theology are delighted that he accepted an invitation to give the 2011 Annual Lecture, republished as the first article of this issue.
From the very start, Schad's work on literature and theology has been marked by playfulness and an attention to the creative possibilities of the literary form. All critics aspire to keeping the texts they analyse open to new readings, but ensuring that this aspiration does not lead to asphyxiation or imaginative expiration can be a challenge. In this respect, as in so many others, Schad's work has been a source of renewal, and his commitment to exploring new interpretative possibilities is evident in both the form and content of his writing. Early books, such as The Reader in the Dickensian Mirrors (1992), are methodologically innovative in their refusal to operate solely within an established theoretical paradigm. Schad's formal innovations took another step forward in 2004, however, with the publication of Queer Fish: Christian Unreason from Darwin to Derrida. As well as bringing to life a marginal and subversive Christian tradition, the book utilised extended sequences of associative thought to offer an alternative style of critical writing. As I commented when reviewing the work for Christianity and Literature, the book was ‘one of the most exciting and imaginative contributions to the field of religion and literature for some time’. But Schad's work took a stranger and still more exciting turn in 2007 with the publication of Someone Called Derrida: An Oxford Mystery. This is one of the best ‘critical’ works that I have read. I use the word ‘critical’ with caution, for it is a book that defies generic categorisation. It is, at one and the same time, an astute close reading of Derrida's ‘Envois', a moving memoir of John Schad's father, an investigation into Oxford wartime secrets, a mystery story, an intellectual history and a piece of creative writing. Schad's work has continued to push the boundaries of criticism since then: his series Critical Inventions, published by Sussex Academic Press, is outstanding, and his wonderful forthcoming book The Late Walter Benjamin (Continuum, 2012) is worth reading at the earliest opportunity.
Like others who have had the privilege to encounter John Schad, I am grateful for his support, friendship and inspiration. His work has done much to rejuvenate and enliven my own thinking, and thus it is apposite that I introduce an essay here that turns to a form so beloved by the Victorians and that resurrects the dramatic monologue to explore new imaginative possibilities. The essay that follows deserves to be read closely but it is also worth hearing, and I encourage the reader to listen to the recording of the original version of this lecture, given at The Hospitable Text conference in July 2011 and available on the Literature and Theology website as a podcast. That conference was committed to exploring new approaches in religion and literature and doing so in conversation with others. The invitation to Schad to give the closing plenary talk and also the 2011 Literature and Theology Annual Lecture was wholly appropriate, and I am delighted for this opportunity to invite others to engage with this creative and distinctive contribution.