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bureaucrat whose sole artistic policy

consists of placating the Helmsites on

the Hill. The report ofthe independent
commission evaluating the NEA not only
proposed that peer panels include
more laypeople and multicultnrists

and fewer artistsbut also suggested

that the chairman take more responsibility for the grants. There was no wisdom in either of these proposals. They
have helped to create a serious crisis in
the arts.

The anxiety of global influence.

What Is World Poetry?

et me begin with a gentle
heresy, that no poet has
ever made a poem for himself or herself alone. Poems
are made only for audiences. And unlike
the audiences for the more lucrative arts,
the audiences for whom poems are made
are always imaginary ones. I confess that
this heresy is itself imaginary: it forces us
to see an Emily Dickinson who dreamed
into being a century that could so richly
appreciate her work. Still, it is a useful
heresy, because it helps us to understand
the forces at work in the formation of a
creature that never existed before:
"world poetry."

The imaginary audiences of poets are

ruthless in their capacity for scorn and
extravagant in their capacity for approval. The real audiences tend to be far
milder in both. It follows that the imaginary audience, by the sheer intimidating
force of its suspected likes and dislikes,
has the greater power to shape the direction that a poet's work will take. The
imaginary audiences also have the tendency to grow swiftly and immodestly.
The poet may begin by imagining the
responses of a small group of friends
who profess interest in poetry, and who
will, for friendship's sake, probably read
and like what a poet bas written. Pretty
soon local poetry prizes are being awarded while crowds cheer, and they are followed in quick succession by national
fame, a place in the canon, and
American poets bave tbe provincial's
sweet gift of needing to dream no further
than an eternity of Englisb-speaking audiences. To write in the dominant language of tbe age is to have the luxtiry of
writing vvith unshaken faitb in tbe permaSTEPHEN OWEN, professor of Chinese

and comparative literature at Harvard

University, is tbe author most recently of
Mi-loii: Poetry and the Labyrinth of Desire

(Harvard University Press).

28 iHi-: NKW RfPiHi.ii. NOVEMBER 19.

nence of a culture's hegemony. But

poets in many otber countries and
languages must, as tbeir imaginary audiences swell, dream of being translated.
And tbus they must write envisaging audiences wbo will read their work in translation. For a poet, such speculation runs
the fine margin of nightmare. Not to
imagine being read and admired beyond
one's linguistic borders, however, is to
accept a painful limitation, a sense of
provinciality. A few ofthe hardiest poets
can do this; but those are the ones we
never read in translation, and tbus we
know very little about tbem.
The August Sleepwalker

by Bei Dao
translated by Bonnie S. McDougall
(New Directions. 144 pp..
$16.95, J)8.95 paper)

that cannot be exchanged for other

words. Poets who write in tbe "wrong
language" (even exceedingly populous
wrong languages, like Cbinese) not only
must imagine tbemselves being translated in order to reacb an audience of a
satisfying magnitude, they must also engage in the peculiar act of imagining a
world poetry and placing themselves
within it. And, although it is supposedly
free of all local literary bistory, this
"world poetry" turns out, unsurprisingly, to be a version of Anglo-American
modernism or Freneb modernism, depending on whicb wave of tolonial eulture first washed over the intellectuals of
the country in question. Tbis situation is
the quintessence of cultural begemony,
when an essentially local tradition
(Anglo-European) is widely taken for
granted as universal.
bave a friend who writes poetry in classical Cbinese and
"new poetry" in vernacular
Cbinese. He tbinks of bis classical poetry as "Chinese," as deeply embedded in its history, as immensely
pleasing to him in the crafting, but not as
an entirely serious endeavor. It is the poetry he writes for his friends. His "new
poetry," by contrast, is what permits him
to tbink of himself as a Poet, what offers
bim tbe hope of eventual recognition.
He sees tbe "new poetry" as simply poetry, as if it had no nationality or history.
He does not recognize the weight of local
European literary bistory tbat lies behind
some of tbe conventional moves that be
makes or the babitual images tbat he

Tbe formation of a world poetry tbat

anyone can write and tbat can be transThe Nobel Prize plays an interesting lated into something still recognizable as
role in shaping "world poetry," particu- poetry requires a corresponding redefilarly the poetry of the Third World. Its nition ofthe "local." Within "world polure can sometimes be immense: it is "in- etry," in other words, the poet must still
ternational" (tbat is, Western) recogni- find an acceptable means to declare bis
tion tbat casts glory on one's nation and or her nationality. Instead of a true napromises a moment when tbe provincial tional poetry, all poetries become merely
can stand in tbe global center of atten- ethnic. Poets often appeal to names, imtion. Tbere is a waiting line for the prize, ages, and traditions that serve to bolster
and a general opinion tbat every country local pride, and to satisfy tbe internationought to have its turn, on tbe assumption al reader's desire for "local color." At
that literary talent should be as fairly dis- tbe same time, the intricate learning pretributed as seats in tbe United Nations. sumed in traditional poetries is forbidTbe most interesting aspect of the Nobel den. Elements of local color in a poem
Prize for literature, however, is that it is are the verbal flags of nationality; and
commonly given for literature in transla- like a well-packaged cruise, tbey will give
tion. When the Nobel Prize is awarded to the international reader an altogether
a poet, tbe success of that poet's work in safe and quick experience of another
translation is inevitably an important, culture.
perhaps even a deciding, factor.
Apart from this carefully circumThis need to have one's work ap- scribed "local color," tbere is a strong
proved in translation creates, in turn, a preference for universal images. This
pressure for an increasing fungibility of poetry tends to be studded with concrete
words. Yet poetry bas traditionally been tbingspreferably tbings tbat are frebttilt of words witb a particular history of quently exported or imported, and tbus
usage in a single languageof words readily translatable. Phrases of local

weight or objects rich in local lore are

avoided, or tbey are framed, that is, they
are held up for poetic consideration and
provided with little commentaries that
explain them within the poem. There is
an illuminating contrast to this piactice
in the profligate use of American slang
and the fashions of popular culture by
many contemporary American poets,
who write heedless ofthe fact that in fifty
years not even American audiences will
be able to understand the allusions and
the wordplay.
e should finally introduce ourselves into tbe
strange cultural drama
of lyric poetry that is unfolding in the last part of the century.
IVe are tbe real international audience,
as opposed to tbe imaginary one. We
bave come to occupy some of tbe seats
left vacant for tbe imaginary international audience. There are only a few of
us scattered widely througb a buge auditorium. We shout to one anotber
across tbe empty chairs. We have been
assuredwe read it clearly in the advertising on the back of tbe books' dust
jacketsthat if only tbis performance
were taking place wbere tbe poet was
"at home." the auditorium would be
packed to overflowing witb cheering
crowds. Meanwhile, back bome, it often
bappens that the local audiences have
been assured that the international performances always play to cheering
crowds, and that only at home is the
poet inadequately appreciated.

What are we seeking when we come

into this auditorium? International audiences, real and imaginary, are usually
daunted by the strenuous demands that
are made by the traditional poetries of
otber cultures. At the same time, audiences do not want poetry from wbicb all
traces of nationality or etbnicity bave
been erased. Tbey want the poetry to
represent tbe otber country or culture.
Fbey seek some show of local color and
local issues within a kind of poetry that is
essentially familiar, easily accessible;
they seek a cozy ethnicity. And, if that is
the case, then we, as international readers, must recognize that this poet from
anotber land and from a different culture
is writing at least in part for us, writing at
least in part wbat he imagines will satisfy
us. He is writing m an idiom tbat bas
been formed from reading our ou n poetry. Moreover, these "new poetries"
new (Ibinese poetry, new Hindi poetry,
new Japanese poetryhave often been
formed by reading Western poetry in
translations, sometimes in very poor
translations. Wbich is to say tbat we,
the Anglo-American or P^uropean part of
the international audience, are reading
translations of a poetry tbat originally

grew out of reading translations of our

own poetic heritage. If poetry is, as the
cliche goes, wbat gets lost in translation,
this is a most troubling situation.
Or it may be that tbe international
readers of translated poetry do not come
in searcb of poetry at all, bui rather in
searcb of windows ttpon other culttiral
phenomena. Ihey may be looking for
some exotic religiotts tradition or political struggle. These Western fasbions in
exotica and causes are ephemeral things.
Who now reads lagore? He is a bargain
that fills the shelves ol poetry sections in
used book stores. In contemporary Cbinese poetry, tbe international reader is
likely to come looking for a reference to
the recent struggle for democracy. The
struggle for democracy in China is in
fashion, while otber ongoing struggles
for democracy bave won tbeir moments
of attention and faded from notice.
Quite apart from our political opinions, and quite apart from effective political action, tbere is a thrill at tbe representation of sufferingthe traditional
experience of pity and fear, coupled with
virtuous indignation. The suflcring of
oppression, however, does not guarantee good poetry, anymore tban it endows
tbe victims of oppression witb virtue.
And tbere is always a particular danger of
using one's victimization for self-interest: in this case, to sell oneself abroad by
wbat an international audience, bungry
for political virtue, whicb is always in
short supply, finds touching. Writing on
the struggle for democracy has very little
to do with tbe struggle for democracy,
and if anything vvortb reading comes out
of tbe writing about it, we won't know for
a whilenot until we can separate it
from its function as a selling point.
rom the broader case of
"world poetry," we may
turn to the particular case of
modern Chinese poetry.
Tbe tradition of classical poetry in Cbina
was a long and very complicated one. By
the end of the imperial period, in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
this was a sharp, often witty, highly nuanced and allusive poetry, and a poetry
much overburdened by its own bistory. It
was a weary poetry at a dead end. Perbaps
it was for the Cbinese tradition as a whole
that Bei Dao, wbo was born in Beijing in
1949, offered tbe following beautifully
elegiac image in "Random Thoughts":
steles wrapped in moss soft as silk
are like extinguished lantern.s


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gether with the reality of VVe.stcrn military and technical power. Western
poetry, in most cases Romantic poetry,
entered these traditions like a breath of
fresh air. Ihe excitement at the strange,
exotic poetry of Europe was not unlike
the West's excitement on encountering
Asian literary traditionsbut in this
case the excitement was coupled with
cultural shock, and often with national
Romantic poetry opened up a whole
new range of topics and modes of treatment, a whole new sense of what poetry
is. Yet Romantic poetry usually arrived in
translation, or through an imperfect
knowledge of the original languages.
Thus it came to China, as to other cotmtries. with little sense ofthe weight ofthe
cultural and literary history that lay behind it. It appeared as a poetry free of
history, which was the very lie that Romantic poetry told ahout itself, that it was
a miraculously new ihing. Nobody who
knows English poetry well can believe
that particular myth about English Romantic poetry (China's particular colonial poetic import), but to the outsider
the claim of novelty was credible, and it
gave a hope of escape from a history that
seemed to have failed.
rom that first hope for a poetry free of history, for
words that could be transparent vehicles ofthe liberated imagination and pure human feeling, many early twentieth-centnry poets
in Asian traditions created new poetries
that sought to break with their past. It
was a grand hope, but it was rarely realized successfully. After the initial encounter witb Romantic poetry, Chinese
poetry of this century has continued to
grow by means of the engagement with
modernist Western poetry; and as in any
cross-cultural exchange that goes in only
one direction, the culture that receives
influence will always find itself in the secondary position. It will always appear
slightly "behind the times." The VVestern tiovel was successfully assimilated
and transformed, hut the new poetries of
Asia often seemed thin and wanting, particularly in comparison to tbe glories of
traditional poetry.

Tbe fate of contemporary' poetry in

Cbma could easily serve as the figure for
a more profound sense of cultural loss
and decline, a fall from the center of tbe
universe to an uncertainty about wbere
and who one is in a world that no longer
has eitber a center or clear boundaries by
wbicb to orient oneself. Bei Dao writes
well of this in "An End or a Beginning":
Ah, my beloved land
Why don't you sing any more
Can it be true that even the ropes of the
Yellow River lownien
3 0 THt:NF.W R t l ' t ISE [C NOVEMBER 19. 1990

Like sundered luie-strings

Reverberate no more
'Iruc that lime, thi.s dark minor
Has also turned ils back on you forever

Leaving only stars and drifting clouds


or in " 7 b e Orange is Ripe":

Lei me into your heart
to (ind my shattered dream

espite these painful quotations, it is !o Bei Dao's

credit (and to Bonnie
Sentimentality was one of the conseMcDougall's) that The Auquences ofthe deceptive promise of immediacy and purity in the new poetry. gust Sleepwalkn- is freer of large doses of
PoetiT will always try to speak tbe diffi- Nutrasweet tban virtually any other modcult truths of tbe heart, and to break free ern Chinese poetry I bave read. Bei Dao's
of the tribe's cliches that involuntarily talents, and McDougall's considerable
rise to tbe lips to take tbe place of every- skill as a translator, make these among the
thing that is hard to say. But a successful oniy translations of modern (Chinese poetpoetry recognizes that this process is a ry tbat are not, by and large, embarrassing.
Bei Dao is one of a group of talented
struggle, that such words do not come
easily. As a culture acquires more his- younger poets to rise out of the upheavtory, credibly simple words seem more als of tbe Cultural Revolution into tbe
shaken and much changed China that
and more difficult to acbieve; tbose followed. These new poets were considbeautifully simple pbrases can only break erably more daring in their images, and
througb the cracks in poems, like tbe in their collocations of images, tban were
vegetation that grows only in the cracks tbeir predecessors. Tbey also grew more
of the mountains. When a poet achieves daring in the topics that tbey look up and
such a phrase or line, it seems like a in the sentiments that tbey declared. Almiracle.
though Western readers of twentiethcentury poetry may find little that is darucb eruptions of simplicity ing in tbeir clusters of images and their
are one thing. They occur in sentiments, daring is a notoriously relamodern poetry, and when tive quality. In the context ofthe intense
tbey occur, we honor tbem. conservatism of Chinese literature, sueh
But when a poet tries to write sucb words poetry gave the kind of tbrill tbat Westwithout baving won tbem, without hav- ern readers of the late nineieenih and
ing earned tbe right to say them, we are early twentieth century must have expein the presence of a pose. We have senti- rienced in tbe birtb of poetic modernism.
mentality. We wince. I wince when Bei (This comparison would be merely conDao hegins a poem:
descending if tbese poets were not seekA perpetual siranger
ing to produce precisely such a tbrill, and
am I lo the world
to do so precisely on the model of modI tbougbt I destroyed the only copy of ernist Western poetry.) The thrill of darthat poem wben I was 14, a year after I ing does not last long, to be sure; hut
wrote it. I thought we ali did. We de- after tbe smoke blows away, real poetry is
stroyed it tbe moment we discovered ihe often present. Altbough it is difficult to
immense difference between writing and see Bei Dao and his contemporaries as
reading wbat we bave written. Such sen- "major" poets, there is real poetry here.
From anotber point ofviewas well, the
timentality (or, perhaps, self-conscious
posing) is, however, the disease of mod- work of Bei Dao and some of bis contemern Chinese poetry, and a deception far poraries represents a welcome move in
deeper than all the stifling weight ofthe contemporary Chinese poetry, a move
past in classical poetry. In modern Chi- away from a narrowly defined and obvina, it appears in polilical poetry and ous version of political engagement. It is
apolitical poetry alike. It appears a few a great misfortune tbat the state's capacitimes in the poems translated in Bei ty for real btutality forces us to be interDao's The .ingust Sleepwalker. It may he a ested in what is so inherently uninterestpoet's single most important task to ing. The scars of the state's brutality
learn to avoid passages like tbe following appear here and tbere as topics in tbe
poems of The August Sleepwalker, and Bei
from "Rainy Nigbt":
Dao writes sucb poetry well (as in "An
End or a Beginning"). Still, if there is
Even if tomorrow morning
heroism in Bei Dao's poetry, it is not in
the muzzle and the bleeding sun
his overt opposition to a regime that is as
make me surrender freedom youth and
ludicrous in its transparent lies as it is
I will never surrender tbis evening
vicious in enforcing them. Such opposiI will never surrender you
tion is a political position that is, at the
let walls stop up my mouth
strongest, unsurprising. His heroism
let iron bars divide my sky
lies, rather, in bis determination to find
as long as my heart keeps pounding the
otber aspects of buman life and art tbat
blood will ebb and flow
are wortby of a poet's attention.

and your smile be imprinted on the

crimson moon
rising each night outside my small window
recalling memories

To write something valuable that is not

overtly and topically political is a small literary trimnpli in the I'etiplc's Republic of
China, tbough it is hardiv teinarkahle in
ibe context ofour hypothetical world |)oetry. In ber introduction. McDougall
makes tbe wise and essential point tbat a
Irtily apolitical poetry is impossible in
sucb a highly politicized world, that an osten.sibly apolitical poetry is itself a strong
political statement. Bei Dao pays bis political dues in the more conventional
coinage, in poems that demonstrate his
"political correctness" in opposing tbe
regime. Btit he is also capable o[ more.
estern readers will generally
welcome tbe
apolitical dimension of
Bei Dao's poetry as more
perfectly representing the range a "world
poet" should have. Vet an interesting
problem arises here. Chinese readers of
"new poetry" wiib whom I have spoken
tend to admire Bei Dao's earlier, more
engaged political poetry, and thev tend to
deplore his turn auay from politics lo
more private concerns. Wbo decides
what is valuable, what is a good tendency,
in a poet's worktbe Western reader or
tbe Cbinese reader? Wbose stump of approval carries more weight? Scbolars of
modern Chinese literat ure often object U>
ibe imposition oi Western criteria of literaryjtidgment on Chinese literature. It is a
wise caution. Bui is ibis Chinese literature, or literature that began in ibe Chinese language? For wbat imaginary attdifiicc bas tbis poetry been written?

Success in creating a "world poetry" is

not wiibotil its costs. Bei Dao lias, by and
large, written international poetry. Local
color IS used, but sparsely. Nor is sucb
truly imernaiional poetry merely the
achievement of'ibc translator, as skillful
as sbe is: most of these poems translate
ibeinselves. Tbese could just as easily be
translations from a Slovak or an Estonian
or a Pbilippine poet. It could even be a
kind of American p<jetry, though in ibis
final hypothesis a question arises that
must trotible us. If ibis bad been an
American poet writing in Kngbsli, would
this book have been publisbed. and by a
prestigious press? We must wonder if
such collections of poetry in translation
become publishable only because the
publisber and the readership have been
asstired tbat tbe poetry was lost in translatiou. But wbat il tbe poetry wasn't lost
in translation? Wbat if this is il?

i bis tnay aspire to he an international

poetry that sails over boundaries, but it
docs have local origins, origins tbat are
not Chinese: the apostrophe to one's
own ])ersonined poem, '"mv song," is as
alien to traditional C^bincse pociry as it is
familiar in ibe Weslern poetic tradition.
.And yel tbis figure of the iiiternatioiial
poem as a cloud is a well-chosen one. Bei
Dao's poems art- often just sucb shapes
in aerial motion: passing for a moment
into some impossibly beautiful intricacy,
then becoming mere pull. It is a new
poetry: its way is uncharted. It blunders
and sometimes finds real beauty. It is a
blind man's motion, and ibe song-cloud
mo\ing across spaces witbout frontiers
(an easily undergo a visual melaiiKupbosis of shape into the writing band that
moves across the blank paper, making
figtires but leaving no trace, as in
Li blind man gropes !iis way
my hand niuvfs over
the blank paper, leining imlhino; behind
i am moving

I am [he blind m;in

what do you wani to exchange wiih me

ihc while crane unfolds a sheei of drifting

on It IS wruieii your answer

btit I know noihing at ali

\\ ben Bfi Dao's poetry succeedsand

sometimes it succeeds wonderdillvit
does so not by words, whicb are always
trapped wilbin the nationality of language and its borders, but b) the
envisagements of images possible only
wiib words. McDougall also suggests this
in ber introduction. Ibis is a possible
solution to wbat a world poelrv migbt be,
a ua\ of uriiing poetry tbat is essentially
iraiislalable. (Hegel believed tbat all poetry cotild be translated witbout loss, because its true medium was not words btit
"poetic ideas.") Keeping in mind the image ofthe poem as a cloud blown by the
wind, we might consider an example of
(Hie of Bei Dao's successes, the final stanza of the opening poem "Hello. Hailuia
Mountain ":
II was a wind within a wind, drawing
.\ restless response IVom the land,
I whispered, and liie snowihike
Drilled Irom mv hand down ihe abyss.
His whisper is a small wind witbin tbe

In another metamorphosis of the image, the song-cloud, international traveler, and page of white paper can be- larger wind blowing iu the surrounding
come tbe flight of a wbile crain.-, uliitb worlrl. Tbe .song-clotid that issued from
is tbe traditional Chinese figure of tbe poet's lips undergoes yet anothei'
metamoipbosis and becomes j snow-


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Tbis is il. The poetry of The .-iiigust

Sleepwalker is a poetry written to travel
well, and it declares the fact proudly, as
in "'line":
Spriiiy has no nationality,
(Clouds are citizens of tbe world.
f'rit'nds again vvith ni;uikind.

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flake in the hand, caught and carried by

the wind of a poet's whisper and blown
into an abyss, where there are no margins and no frontiers. This may be a
darker and more frightening vision of
the truly international poem. National
poetry had a history and a landscape: the
shape ofthe poem was more or less fixed
and defined by its place in such a topography. The international poem, by contrast, is an intricate shape on a
blank background without frontiers, a
shape that undergoes metamorphoses. It
achieves moments of beauty, but it does
not have a history, nor is it capable of
leaving a trace that might constitute a
the book lying open on the labte
makes a rustling noise, like
ihc sound of a fire
or fan-like wings
gorgeously opening, flame and bird
in the space above the abyss

The poem is always in passage, the book

that is flame atid bird.
McDougall observes of Bei Dao's poetry that "the language on the whole
does not rely heavily on word patterns,
a particular vocabnlary. or special musical eflects." In the passage above, the
book that hovers like a bird above the
abyss is a brilliant image in the translatable sense. The image in itself would
probably have beanty in almost any language. McDougall, however, has translated this world poetry of fungible images into true English poetry, which
does mdeed rely heavily on word patterns, on a particular vocabulary, and
on musical efTects (not to mention several loud echoes of Anglo-American poetry). Any English reader who reads the
passage above ont loud should recognize a real mastery of this language,
which is a mastery of particular words
and tlieir placement. We smile reading
it, and our smiles are no more for the
uuage Itself than for the way in which
the image is embedded in the rhythms,
in the placement of caesuras, and in the
particular choice and arrangement of
It is only fair to offer this instance,
when the poet's brilliant image meets
the translator's magical touch for her
own langnagc. to counterbalance a further and troubling aspect of this new
world poetry, which is the power and
the conseqnences of the approval of
the international audience, that is, the
Western audience. I have in mind the
way in which the attention of a Western
audience is a function of successful advertising. Bei Dao is a well-known contempotary poet in China, bnt he is by
no means pre-eminent. By writing a supremely translatable poetry, by the
good fortune of a gifted translator and
32 TuK NKW RKPtniEU. NOVEMSEH 19, 1990

publicist, he may well attain in the

West the absolute pre-eminence among
contemporary Chinese poets that he
cannot qnite attain in China itself. And
the very fact of wide foreign (Western)
recognition could, in turn, grant him
pre-eminence in China. Thus we would
have the strange phenomenon of a
poet who became the leading poet in

his own country because he translated

The international andience admires
the poetry, imagmmg what it might be if
the poetry had not been lost in translation. And the audience at home admires
the poetry, knowing how much it is appreciated internationally, in translation.
Welcome to the late twentieth century.

The Saving Remnant


The Feeling Intellect Selected Writings

by Philip Rieff
edited with an introduction by Jonathan B. Imber
(University of Chkago Press, 416 pp., $55, $19,95 paper)

hy publish?'" Philip versaries and demanding of allies:

Rieff asked himself solemn and playfnl: pessimistic and
not long ago. "With hopeful.
so many authors, who
According to Rieff, the collapse of reremains behind to read?" Almost twenty ligion, its replacement by the remorseyears have pa.ssed since Rieff brought lessly analytic and critical sensibility
out his last book, Fellow Teachers; evi-exemplified by Ereud, and the degenerdently he meant what he said when he ation of the "analytic attitude" into an
urged authors to file away their best all-out assault on ideals of every kind
ideas instead of adding !o the "babel of an impulse to drag everything lofty into
criticism" that threatens to deafen ns the dusthave left onr culture in a sorall. If others exercised the same self- ry state. He does not expect immediate
restraint, we might have less reason to improvement, nor does he advance a
regret it in RiefT. Since there is little program oi cultural renovation, but he
hope that his example will become con- seldom speaks in the voice of doom
tagious, however, it is a good thing that and despair. Bad as things are, he
Jonathan Imber, a former student and thinks it is still possible to make a modnow a teacher of sociological theory at est contribution to the canse of truth
Wellesley College, has given us this an- and justice. It is possible, for instance,
thology of RiefFs uncollected essays to to find honorable employment as a
set against the rising flood of books teacher, provided that teachers do not
that continue to clamor for ill-deserved give in to the temptation to become
attention. We need this book at a "armchair prophets." Ihe university,
time when we are besieged by lesser notwithstanding its present disarray, is
booksbooks announcing breathtaking a "sacred institution," and teachers can
methodological and conceptual break- set an example for others if they apthroughs, recycling old ideas in new jar- proach their calling in a spirit of
gon, rediscovering the obvious, refusing reverence.
to acknowledge any predecessors or
worse, betraying no awareness of their
A certain ambiguity lurks in this exaltexistences.
ed conception ofthe intellectual life. Is
it the teacher's calling itself that is saReaders who have not yet made cred, or the culture historically preRiefPs acquaintance will find in this col- served in the university? Rieff is al his
lection something of what makes him best when he leans to the first of these
indispensable, and will be led to read positions, when he argues that the office
not only Fellow Teachers (1973), but alsoofthe devoted teacher is not to deify or
his earlier books, Freud: 'The Mind of the even defend a "dying culture" but to
Moralist (1939) and The Triumph of Ihe resist the "downward identification"
Therapeutic (19(>6). Those who already that threatens any form of culture at all.
admired him will find that their admua- His advice to teachers, which consists
tion was not misplaced. These essays re- largely of negative commandments, reveal an intelligence at once biting and flects his belief that intellectuals betray
unfailingly courteous; generous to ad- their vocation when they give in to the