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Volume 1, Number 1 · February 1, 1963
James Baldwin and the "Man"
By F.W. Dupee
The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin

The Dial Press, $3.50

As a writer of polemical essays on the Negro


question James Baldwin has no equals. He
probably has, in fact, no real competitors. The
literary role he has taken on so deliberately
and played with so agile an intelligence is one
that no white writer could possibly imitate and
that few Negroes, I imagine, would wish to
embrace in toto. Baldwin impresses me as
being the Negro in extremis, a virtuoso of
ethnic suffering, defiance, and aspiration. His
role is that of the man whose complexion
constitutes his fate, and not only in a society
poisoned by prejudice but, it sometimes
seems, in general. For he appears to have
received a heavy dose of existentialis m; he is
at least half-inclined to see the Negro question
in the light of the Human Condition. So he
wears his color as Hester Prynne did her
scarlet letter, proudly. And like her he
converts this thing, in itself so absurdly
material, into a form of consciousness, a
condition of spirit. Believing himself to have
been branded as different from and inferior to
the white majority, he will make a virtue of his
situation. He will be different and in his own
way be better.

His major essays—for example, those collected


in Notes of a Native Son—show the extent to
which he is able to be different and in his own
way better. Most of them were written, as
other such pieces generally are, for the
magazines, some obviously on assignment.
And their subjects—a book, a person, a locale,
an encounter—are the inevitable subjects of
magazine essays. But Baldwin's way with them
is far from inevitable. To apply criticism "in
depth" to Uncle Tom's Cabin is, for him, to
illuminate not only a book, an author, an age,
but a whole strain in a country's culture.
Similarly with those routine themes, the Paris
expatriate and Life With Father, which he
treats in "Equal In Paris" and the title piece of
Notes of a Native Son, and which he wholly
transfigures. Of course the transfiguring
process in Baldwin's essays owes something to
the fact that the point of view is a Negro's, an
outsider's, just as the satire of American
manners in Lolita and Morte d'Urban depends
on their being written from the angle of,
respectively, a foreign-born creep and a
Catholic priest. But Baldwin's point of view in
his essays is not merely that of the generic
Negro. It is, as I have said, that of a highly
stylized Negro, a role which he plays with an
artful and zestful consistency and which he
expresses in a language distinguished by
clarity, brevity, and a certain formal elegance.
He is in love, for example, with syntax, with
sentences that mount through clearly
articulated stages to a resounding and
clarifying climax and then gracefully subside.
For instance this one, from The Fire Next Time:
NYRB Holiday Sale

Girls, only slightly older than I was, who


sang in the choir or taught Sunday school, the
children of holy parents, underwent, before my
eyes, their incredible metamorphosis, of which
the most bewildering aspect was not their
budding breasts or their rounding behinds but
something deeper and more subtle, in their
eyes, their heat, their odor, and the inflection
of their voices.

Nobody else in democratic America writes


sentences like this anymore. It suggests the
ideal prose of an ideal literary community,
some aristocratic France of one's dreams. This
former Harlem boy has undergone his own
incredible metamorphosis.

His latest book, The Fire Next Time, differs in


important ways from his earlier work in the
essay. Its subjects are less concrete, less
clearly defined; to a considerable extent he
has exchanged prophecy for criticism,
exhortation for analysis, and the results for his
mind and style are in part disturbing. The Fire
Next Time gets its title from a slave song: "God
gave Noah the rainbow sign,/No more water
the fire next time." But this small book with
the incendiary title consists of two
independent essays, both in the form of
letters. One is a brief affair entitled "My
Dungeon Shook" and addressed to "My
Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of
the Emancipation." The ominous promise of
this title is fulfilled in the text. Between the
hundred-year-old anniversary and the fifteen-
year-old nephew the disparity is too great
even for a writer of Baldwin's rhetorical
powers. The essay reads like some specimen of
"public speech" as practiced by MacLeish or
Norman Corwin. It is not good Baldwin.

The other, much longer, much more significant


essay appeared first in a pre-Christmas
number of The New Yorker, where it made,
understandably, a sensation. It is called "Down
At the Cross; Letter From a Region of My
Mind." The subtitle should be noted. Evidently
the essay is to be taken as only a partial or
provisional declaration on Baldwin's part, a
single piece of his mind. Much of it, however,
requires no such appeal for caution on the
reader's part. Much of it is unexceptionably
first-rate. For example, the reminiscences of
the writer's boyhood, which form the lengthy
introduction. Other of Baldwin's writings have
made us familiar with certain aspects of his
Harlem past. Here he concentrates on quite
different things: the boy's increasing
awareness of the abysmally narrow world of
choice he inhabits as a Negro, his attempt to
escape a criminal existence by undergoing a
religious conversion and becoming at fifteen a
revivalist preacher, his discovery that he must
learn to "inspire fear" if he hopes to survive
the fear inspired in him by "the man"—the
white man.

In these pages we come close to


understanding why he eventually assumed his
rather specialized literary role. It seems to
have grown naturally out of his experience of
New York City. As distinct from a rural or
small-town Negro boy, who is early and firmly
taught his place, young Baldwin knew the
treacherous fluidity and anonymity of the
metropolis, where hidden taboos and
unpredictable animosities lay in wait for him
and a trip to the 42nd Street Library could be a
grim adventure. All this part of the book is
perfect; and when Baldwin finally gets to what
is his ostensible subject, the Black Muslims or
Nation of Islam movement, he is very good too.
As good, that is, as possible considering that
his relations with the movement seem to have
been slight. He once shared a television
program with Malcolm X, "the movement's
second-in-command," and he paid a brief and
inconclusive visit to the first-in-command, the
Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and his
entourage at the party's headquarters in
Chicago. (Muhammad ranks as a prophet; to
him the Black Muslim doctrines were "revealed
by Allah Himself.") Baldwin reports the Chicago
encounter in charming detail and with what
looks like complete honesty. On his leaving the
party's rather grand quarters, the leader
insisted on providing him with a car and driver
to protect him "from the white devils until he
gets wherever it is he is going." Baldwin
accepted, he tells us, adding wryly: "I was, in
fact, going to have a drink with several white
devils on the other side of town."

He offers some data on the Black Muslim


movement, its aims and finances. But he did a
minimum of homework here. Had he done
more he might at least have provided a solid
base for the speculative fireworks the book
abounds in. To cope thoroughly with the
fireworks in short space, or perhaps any space,
seems impossible. Ideas shoot from the book's
pages as the sparks fly upward, in bewildering
quantity and at random. I don't mean that it is
all dazzle. On the cruel paradoxes of the
Negro's life, the failures of Christianity, the
relations of Negro and Jew, Baldwin is often
superb. But a lot of damage is done to his
argument by his indiscriminate raids on Freud,
Lawrence, Sartre, Genet, and other
psychologists, metaphysicians and
melodramatists. Still more damage is done by
his refusal to draw on anyone so humble as
Martin Luther King and his fellow-practitioners
of non-violent struggle.

For example: "White Americans do not believe


in death, and this is why the darkness of my
skin so intimidates them." But suppose one or
two white Americans are not intimidated.
Suppose someone coolly asks what it means to
"believe in death." Again: "Do I really want to
be integrated into a burning house?" Since you
have no other, yes; and the better-disposed
firemen will welcome your assistance. Again:
"A vast amount of the energy that goes into
what we call the Negro problem is produced by
the white man's profound desire not to be
judged by those who are not white." You
exaggerate the white man's consciousness of
the Negro. Again: "The real reason that non-
violence is considered to be a virtue in
Negroes…is that white men do not want their
lives, their self-image, or their property
threatened." Of course they don't, especially
their lives. Moreover, this imputing of "real
reasons" for the behavior of entire populations
is self-defeating, to put it mildly. One last
quotation, this time a regular apocalypse:

In order to survive as a human, moving,


moral weight in the world, America and all the
Western nations will be forced to reexamine
themselves and release themselves from many
things that are now taken to be sacred, and to
discard nearly all the assumptions that have
been used to justify their lives and their
anguish and their crimes so long.

Since whole cultures have never been known


to "discard nearly all their assumptions" and
yet remain intact, this amounts to saying that
any essential improvement in Negro-white
relations, and thus in the quality of American
life, is unlikely.

So much for the fireworks. What damage, as I


called it, do they do to the writer and his cause
—which is also the concern of plenty of others?
When Baldwin replaces criticism with
prophecy, he manifestly weakens his grasp of
his role, his style, and his great theme itself.
And to what end? Who is likely to be moved by
such arguments, unless it is the more literate
Black Muslims, whose program Baldwin
specifically rejects as both vindictive and
unworkable. And with the situation as it is in
Mississippi and elsewhere—dangerous, that is,
to the Negro struggle and the whole social
order—is not a writer of Baldwin's standing
obliged to submit his assertions to some kind
of pragmatic test, some process whereby their
truth or untruth will be gauged according to
their social utility? He writes: "The Negroes of
this country may never be able to rise to
power, but they are very well placed indeed to
precipitate chaos and ring down the curtain on
the American dream." I should think that the
anti-Negro extremists were even better placed
than the Negroes to precipitate chaos, or at
least to cause a lot of trouble; and it is unclear
to me how The Fire Next Time, in its madder
moments, can do nothing except inflame the
former and confuse the latter. Assuming that a
book can do anything to either.
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Volume 1, Number 1 · February 1, 1963
Déjeuner sur l'Herbe
By Mary McCarthy
The Naked Lunch
by William S. Burroughs

Grove Press, 6.00

"You can cut into The Naked Lunch at any


intersection point," says Burroughs, suiting
the action to the word, in "an atrophied
preface" he appends as a tail-piece. His book,
he means, is like a neighborhood movie with
continuous showings that you can drop into
whenever you please—you don't have to wait
for the beginning of the feature picture. Or like
a worm that you can chop up into sections
each of which wriggles off as an independent
worm. Or a nine-lived cat. Or a cancer. He is
fond of the word "mosaic," especially in its
scientific sense of a plant-mottling caused by a
virus, and his Muse (see etymology of
"mosaic") is interested in organic processes of
multiplication and duplication. The literary
notion of time as simultaneous, a montage, is
not original with Burroughs; what is original is
the scientific bent he gives it and a view of the
world that combines biochemistry,
anthropology, and politics. It is as though
Finnegans Wake were cut loose from history
and adapted for a cinerama circus titled "One
World." The Naked Lunch has no use for
history, which is all "ancient history"—
sloughed-off skin; from its planetary
perspective, there are only geography and
customs. Seen in terms of space, history
shrivels into a mere wrinkling or furrowing of
the surface as in an aerial relief-map or one of
those pieced-together aerial photographs
known in the trade as mosaics. The oldest
memory in The Naked Lunch is of jacking-off in
boyhood latrines, a memory recaptured
through pederasty. This must be the first
space novel, the first serious piece of science
fiction—the others are entertainment.
NYRB / Names on the Land

The action of The Naked Lunch takes place in


the consciousness of One Man, William Lee,
who is taking a drug cure. The principal
characters, besides Lee, are his friend, Bill
Gains (who seems momentarily to turn into a
woman called Jane), various members of the
Narcotic Squad, especially one Bradley the
Buyer, Dr. Benway, a charlatan medico who is
treating Lee, two vaudevillians, Clem and Jody,
A. J., a carnival con man, the last of the Big
Spenders, a sailor, an Arab called Ahmed, an
archetypal Southern druggist, Doc Parker ("a
man don't have no secrets from God and his
druggist"), and various boys with whining
voices. Among the minor characters are a
number of automobiles, each with its specific
complaint, like the oil-burning Ford V-8, a film
executive, the Party Leader, the Vigilante, John
and Mary, the sex acrobats, and a puzzled
American housewife who is heard complaining
because the Mixmaster keeps trying to climb
up under her dress. The scene shifts about,
shiftily, from New York to Chicago to St. Louis
to New Orleans to Mexico to Malmo, Sweden,
Venice, and the human identities shift about
shiftily too, for all these modern places and
modern individuals (if that is the right word)
have interchangeable parts. Burroughs is fond
too of the word "ectoplasm," and the beings
that surround Lee, particularly the inimical
ones, seem ectoplasmic phantoms projected
on the wide screen of his consciousness from a
mass séance. But the haunting is less visual
than auditory. These "characters," in the
colloquial sense, are ventriloquial voices
produced, as it were, against the will of the
ventriloquist, who has become their dummy.
Passages of dialogue and description keep
recurring in different contexts with slight
variations, as though they possessed ubiquity.

The best comparison for the book, with its


aerial sex acts performed on a high trapeze, its
con men and barkers, its arena-like form, is in
fact a circus. A circus travels but it is always
the same, and this is Burroughs' sardonic
image of modern life. The Barnum of the show
is the mass-manipulator, who appears in a
series of disguises. Control, as Burroughs says,
underlining it, can never be a means to
anything but more control—like drugs, and the
vicious circle of addiction is reenacted,
worldwide, with sideshows in the political and
"social" sphere—the social here has vanished,
except in quotation marks, like the historical,
for everything has become automatized.
Everyone is an addict of one kind or another,
as people indeed are wont to say of
themselves, complacently: "I'm a crossword
puzzle addict, a High-Fi addict," etcetera. The
South is addicted to lynching and nigger-
hating, and the Southern folk-custom of
burning a Negro recurs throughout the book as
a sort of Fourth-of-July carnival with fireworks.
Circuses, with their cages of wild animals, are
also dangerous, like Burroughs' human circus;
an accident may occur, as when the electronic
brain in Dr. Benway's laboratory goes on the
rampage, and the freaks escape to mingle with
the controlled citizens of Freeland in a general
riot, or in the scene where the hogs are let
loose in the gourmet restaurant.

On a level usually thought to be "harmless,"


addiction to platitudes and commonplaces is
global. To Burroughs' ear, the Bore, lurking in
the hotel lobby, is literally deadly (" 'You look
to me like a man of intelligence.' Always
ominous opening words, my boy!"). The same
for Doc Parker with his captive customer in the
back room of his pharmacy ("…So long as you
got a legitimate condition and an Rx from a
certified bona feedy M.D., I'm honored to serve
you"), the professor in the classroom ("Hehe
hehe he"), the attorney in court ("Hehe hehe
he," likewise). The complacent sound of
snickering laughter is an alarm signal, like the
suave bell-tones of the psychiatrist and the
emphatic drone of the Party Leader ("You see
men and women. Ordinary men and women
going about their ordinary everyday tasks.
Leading their ordinary lives. That's what we
need…").

Cut to ordinary men and women, going about


their ordinary everyday tasks. The whine of
the put-upon boy hustler: "All kinda awful sex
acts." "Why cancha just get physical like a
human?" "So I guess he come to some kinda
awful climax." "You think I am innarested to
hear about your horrible old condition? I am
not innarested at all." "But he comes to a
climax and turns into some kinda awful crab."
This aggrieved tone merges with the
malingering sighs of the American housewife,
opening a box of Lux: "I got the most awful
cold, and my intestines is all constipated." And
the clarion of the Salesman: "When the Priority
numbers are called up yonder I'll be there."
These average folks are addicts of the science
page of the Sunday supplements; they like to
talk about their diseases and about vile
practices that paralyze the practitioner from
the waist down or about a worm that gets into
your kidney and grows to enormous size or
about the "horrible" result of marijuana
addiction—it makes you turn black and your
legs drop off. The superstitious scientific
vocabulary is diffused from the laboratory and
the mental hospital into the general
population. Overheard at a lynching: "Don't
crowd too close, boys. His intestines is subject
to explode in the fire." The same diffusion of
culture takes place with modern physics. A
lieutenant to his general: "But, chief, can't we
get them started and they imitate each other
like a chained reaction?"

The phenomenon of repetition, of course, gives


rise to boredom; many readers complain that
they cannot get through The Naked Lunch.
And/or that they find it disgusting. It is
disgusting and sometimes tiresome, often in
the same places. The prominence of the anus,
of faeces, and of all sorts of "horrible"
discharges, as the characters would say, from
the body's orifices, becomes too much of a bad
thing, like the sado-masochistic sex
performances—the automatic ejaculation of a
hanged man is not everybody's cantharides. A
reader whose erogenous zones are more
temperate than the author's begins to feel
either that he is a square (a guilty sentiment
he should not yield to) or that he is the captive
of an addict.

In defense, Swift could be cited, and indeed


between Burroughs and Swift there are many
points of comparison; not only the obsession
with excrement and the horror of female
genitalia but a disgust with politics and the
whole body politic. Like Swift, Burroughs has
irritable nerves and something of the crafty
temperament of the inventor. There is a great
deal of Laputa in the countries Burroughs calls
Interzone and Freeland, and Swift's solution
for the Irish problem would appeal to the
American's dry logic. As Gulliver, Swift posed
as an anthropologist (though the study was
not known by that name then) among savage
people; Burroughs parodies the anthropologist
in his descriptions of the American heartland:
"…the Interior a vast subdivision, antennae of
television to the meaningless sky…. Illinois and
Missouri, miasma of mound-building peoples,
grovelling worship of the Food Source, cruel
and ugly festivals." The style here is more
emotive than Swift's, but in his deadpan
explanatory notes ("This is a rural English
custom designed to eliminate aged and
bedfast dependents") there is a Swiftian
factuality. The "factual" appearance of the
whole narrative, with its battery of notes and
citations, some straight, some loaded, its
extracts from a diary, like a ship's log, its
pharmacopeia, has the flavor of eighteenth-
century satire. He calls himself a "Factualist"
and belongs, all alone, to an Age of Reason,
which he locates in the future. In him, as in
Swift, there is a kind of soured utopianism.

Yet what saves The Naked Lunch is not a


literary ancestor but humor. Burroughs's
humor is peculiarly American, at once broad
and sly. It is the humor of a comedian, a
vaudeville performer playing in One, in front of
the asbestos curtain to some Keith Circuit or
Pantages house long since converted to
movies. The same jokes reappear, slightly
refurbished, to suit the circumstances, the way
a vaudeville artist used to change Yonkers to
Renton when he was playing Seattle. For
example, the Saniflush joke, which is always
good for a laugh: somebody is cutting the
cocaine/the morphine/the penicillin with
Saniflush. Some of the jokes are verbal ("Stop
me if you've heard this atomic secret" or Dr.
Benway's "A simopath…is a citizen convinced
he is an ape or other simian. It is a disorder
peculiar to the army and discharge cures it").
Some are mimic buffoonery (Dr. Benway, in his
last appearance, dreamily, his voice fading
out: "Cancer, my first love"). Some are whole
vaudeville "numbers," as when the hoofers,
Clem and Jody, are hired by the Russians to
give Americans a bad name abroad: they
appear in Liberia wearing black Stetsons and
red galluses and talking loudly about burning
niggers back home. A skit like this may rise to
a frenzy, as if in a Marx Brothers or a Clayton,
Jackson, and Durante act. E.g., the very funny
scene in Chez Robert, "where a huge icy
gourmet broods over the greatest cuisine in
the world": A. J. appears, the last of the Big
Spenders, and orders a bottle of ketchup;
immediate pandemonium; A. J. gives his hog-
call, and the shocked gourmet diners are all
devoured by famished hogs. The effect of
pandemonium, all hell breaking loose, is one of
Burroughs' favorites and an equivalent of the
old vaudeville finale, with the acrobats, the
jugglers, the magician, the hoofers, the lady-
who-was-cut-in-half, the piano player, the
comedians, all pushing into the act.
Another favorite effect, with Burroughs, is the
metamorphosis. A citizen is turned into animal
form, a crab or a huge centipede, or into some
unspeakable monstrosity like Bradley the
Narcotics Agent who turns into an
unidentifiable carnivore. These
metamorphoses, of course, are punishments.
The Hellzapoppin effect of orgies and riots and
the metamorphosis effect, rapid or creeping,
are really cancerous onslaughts—matter on the
rampage multiplying itself and "building" as a
revue scene "builds" to a climax. Growth and
deterioration are the same thing: a human
being "deteriorates" or "grows" into a one-man
jungle. What you think of it depends on your
point of view; from the junkie's angle, Bradley
is better as a carnivore eating the Narcotics
Commissioner than he was as "fuzz"—junky
slang for the police.

The impression left by this is perplexing. On


the one hand, control is evil; on the other,
escape from control is mass slaughter or
reduction to a state of proliferating cellular
matter. The police are the enemy, but as
Burroughs shrewdly observes in one passage:
"A functioning police state needs no police."
The policeman is internalized in the citizen.
You might say that it would have been better
to have no control, no police, in the first place;
then there would be no police states,
functioning or otherwise. This would seem to
be Burroughs's position, but it is not
consistent with his picture of sex. The
libertarian position usually has as one of its
axioms a love of Nature and the natural, that
is, of the life-principle itself, commonly
identified with sex. But there is little overt
love of the life-principle in The Naked Lunch,
and sex, while magnified—a common trait of
homosexual literature—is a kind of mechanical
mantrap baited with fresh meat. The sexual
climax, the jet of sperm, accompanied by a
whistling scream, is often a death spasm, and
the "perfect" orgasm would seem to be the
posthumous orgasm of the hanged man,
shooting his jissom into pure space.

It is true that Nature and sex are two-faced


and that growth is death-oriented. But if
Nature is not seen as far more good than evil,
then a need for control is posited. And,
strangely, this seems to be Burroughs' position
too. The human virus can now be treated, he
says with emphasis, meaning the species
itself. By scientific methods, he implies. Yet
the laboratory of The Naked Lunch is a
musical-comedy inferno, and Dr. Benway's
assistant is a female chimpanzee. It is
impossible, as Burroughs knows, to have
scientific experiment without control. Then
what? Self-control? Do-it-yourself? But self-
control, again, is an internalized system of
authority, a subjection of the impulse to the
will, the least "natural" part of the personality.
Such a system might suit Marcus Aurelius, but
it hardly seems congenial to the author of The
Naked Lunch. And even if it were (for the
author is at once puritan and tolerant), it
would not form the basis for scientific
experiment on the "human virus." Only for
scientific experiment on oneself.

Possibly this is what Burroughs means: in fact


his present literary exercises may be stages in
such a deliberate experiment. The questions
just posed would not arise if The Naked Lunch
did not contain messages that unluckily are
somewhat arcane. Not just messages;
prescriptions. That—to answer a pained
question that keeps coming up like a refrain—
is why the book is taken seriously. Burroughs's
remarkable talent is only part of the reason;
the other part is that, finally, for the first time
in recent years, a talented writer means what
he says to be taken and used literally, like an
Rx prescription. The literalness of Burroughs is
the opposite of "literature." Unsentimental and
factual, he writes as though his thoughts had
the quality of self-evidence. In short, he has a
crankish courage, but all courage nowadays is
probably crankish.

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June 1, 1963: Louis Untermeyer, Letter

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reproduced without the permission of the
publisher. Please contact web@nybooks.com
with any questions about this site. The cover
date of the next issue will be January 15, 2009.
The New York Review of Books
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Volume 1, Number 1 · February 1, 1963
House of the Dead?
By Philip Rahv
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, translated by Max
Hayward, by Ronald Hingley

Frederick A. Prager, $3.95


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, translated by Ralph
Parker

E.P. Dutton, $3.95

This is an important book, perhaps the most


important that has come out of Russia in many
years. A completely authentic account of life in
the forced-labor camps under Stalin, it is cast
in a fictional form superbly adapted to its
subject. Its narrative tone and method, relying
on the selective accumulation of minute
factual particulars, finely controls the powerful
emotional content, never getting out of hand,
never descending to rhetorical presentation or
to any sort of preaching and moralizing.

The author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who is at


present teaching physics and mathematics in a
secondary school, served with distinction in
the Red Army during the war but was arrested
in 1945 on what is now officially admitted to
be a "baseless political charge," and was
sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. The
experience recorded in One Day no doubt
parallels his own, but he is not the novel's
protagonist. That role, from first page to last,
is reserved for the simple village workman,
Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who has no head for
politics or any kind of "learned conversation."
He is a wonderful creation, exhibiting certain
traits that are new as well as traits deeply
rooted in the Russian literary tradition. The
figure in that tradition he most reminds me of
is Tolstoy's Platon Karatayev. But there is also
a significant difference between them. For
Karatayev, standing somewhat apart from the
other characters in War and Peace, who are
portrayed with surpassing realism, is in the
main a mythic figure, an abstraction of
Christian goodness, while Shukhov, in no way
dependent on religious doctrine or precept, is
invested with a goodness that is altogether
credible, altogether embedded in the actual.
He fills in every crevice of his own nature,
without appeal to higher powers or utopian
and ambiguous dreams of saintliness.
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As all ideologies are alien to Shukhov, so none


can ruin him. Neither hero nor saint, existing
in an environment where the only time the
prisoners are not marched out to work in the
early mornings is when the thermometer goes
down to forty-two degrees below zero, he
yields neither to hope nor despair but depends
for survival on his own largely unconscious and
invulnerable humanity. Though in no way
exceptional, he is the unbeatable human being
whom the regime can at any time destroy but
never convert nor make over in its own image
thus giving the lie to Orwell's nightmare of
total demoralization in 1984. Humble yet
extremely resourceful in small ways, a man
whose self-respect demands that he do his
work properly and even joyfully, Shukhov has
been "walking this earth for forty years. He'd
lost half his teeth and was getting bald. He'd
never given or taken a bribe from anybody,
and he hadn't learned that trick in the camp
either." He knows that the authorities twisted
the law any way they wanted. "You finished a
ten-year stretch and they gave you another
one. Or if not, they still wouldn't let you go
home…. So you just went on living like this,
with your eyes on the ground, and you had no
time to think about how you got in and when
you'd get out." And why was Shukhov put in a
concentration camp? He had escaped from a
German prisoners-of-war cage and upon
returning to his own lines found himself
accused of treason. Though guiltless, he was
forced to give evidence against himself: "The
way he figured, it was very simple. If he didn't
sign, he was as good as buried. But if he did,
he'd still go on living for a while. So he
signed." Shukhov's fate is the essence of the
Stalinist terror-system.
However, the way in which the author chiefly
succeeds in his characterization of Shukhov is
not by harping on his innocence or putting any
kind of political gloss on his ordeal but by
depicting him throughout as a person in his
own right—not merely a victim and least of all
a symptom but always a person, even when ill,
starving, and freezing. The secondary
characters, such as Alyosheka the Baptist and
Tuyrin the boss of the work squad, are
portrayed with equal responsiveness to their
personal qualities. Now it is precisely this
newly won and truly existential personalization
of vision, so long outlawed in the Communist
theory and practice of literature, which
surprises and impresses us most in One Day.
As a novel it is not, in my view, the "great work
of art" that some people say it is; its scale is
too small for that. But it is a very fine book in
which not a false note is struck. Its theme, the
nature of man under extreme conditions of
inhumanity, is treated unpretentiously,
without despair or overt bitterness, and above
all, without the distempers and consolations of
ideology. It is the same theme that Dostoevsky
developed, though in a manner quite different,
in his House of the Dead, another account of
life in a Siberian prison, published almost
exactly a hundred years ago. Dostoevsky, too,
was a political criminal, sentenced by the Czar
to penal servitude. How greatly the Russian
people have suffered that their writers thus
tragically echo each other across a century!
One Day first appeared in the Moscow literary
monthly Novy Mir for November in 1962 in an
edition of 95,000 copies that was at once sold
out. Its publication in Russia thus clearly
marks some kind of breakthrough towards
freedom in Soviet writing. Thank God, the
world is still unpredictable after all. No one,
not even the most astute Kremlinologist
among us, could possibly have forseen that the
party-hierarchs would be prevailed upon to
permit the publication of a work so
devastating in its implications. It's all very well
to say that its subject fits in with Khrushchev's
renewed campaign against Stalin. That is true
only in an immediate and narrowly political
sense.

The novel's meaning, in its broader aspects, is


scarcely open to political manipulation. It is
senseless to see its meaning serving the
partisan interests of any faction in the Soviet
power structure. No, the integrity of this story
of an ordinary winter day, from reveille to
lights out, in the life of Prisoner No. S-854 is
inviolable. In the long run it cannot
conceivably benefit any authoritarian elite,
whether Communist or anti-Communist. The
lessons it enforces—such as "How can you
expect a man who's warm to understand a man
who's cold?"—are of a down-to-earth simplicity
that should make any ideologue of power
quail. And in the one "learned conversation" in
the book, overheard on the run by the
protagonist, we come upon the following
words in a very brief discussion of Eisenstein's
famous film Ivan The Terrible: "The politics of
it is utterly vile—vindication of a one-man
tyranny. An insult to the memory of three
generations of Russian intellectuals…. Don't
call Eisenstein a genius! Call him a toady, say
he carried out orders like a dog. A genius
doesn't adapt his treatment to the taste of
tyrants!" If Khrushchev can turn such
sentiments to his own use, he is by all means
welcome to them.

In a way it is a pity that we have on hand two


simultaneously published and competing
American editions of the book, for they are
bound to get in each other's way so far as
prospective readers are concerned, and the
more readers this book has the better.
However, both versions seem to me
satisfactory on the whole, though the
Hayward-Hingley translation (Praeger) is
somewhat more forceful and slashingly
idiomatic in style. The Parker translation
(Dutton) has been authorized in Moscow, but
that should not prejudice readers one way or
the other.

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Volume 1, Number 1 · February 1, 1963
Albee Damned
By Nicola Chiaromonte
Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
by Edward Albee

Atheneum, $1.95 (paper)

Edward Albee's first four plays were


remarkable for an unusual ability to imagine
and develop a dialogue that was both realistic
and absurd: true to life, that is. At the same
time, the playwright did not seem to know
what to do with the situations he had created,
except to end them with some abruptly
introduced trick. In the Zoo Story, for example,
the meeting between the tramp and the well-
paid intellectual unfolds for a while with all the
appropriate cruelty, and one is made to expect
a consistent development and a congruous
ending. Instead of which comes a very
incongruous trick: a knife is forced into the
hands of the harmless Madison Avenue
employee so that the tramp—suddenly made
into a psychological metaphor—can commit
suicide on it. Something similar happens to the
dialogue between the doctor and the nurse in
The Death of Bessie Smith, where a pitiless
description of the cold vulgarity of relations
existing in a hospital is suddenly turned into
the tearful story of the Negro singer who bled
to death because she was denied admission to
a Southern clinic.

The two plays that followed these, The


Sandbox and The American Dream, led theater-
goers to think Albee was headed away from
realism toward some kind of ironic allegory.
And in fact, in these two plays there is
something like an attempt to create the
American equivalent of the theater of Ionesco
and Beckett, to both of whom Albee is
obviously indebted. This is, however, no more
than a superficial impression; a realistic
inspiration clearly dominates these plays too,
while the comico-symbolic imagination is both
weak and uncertain.
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On the basis of his first four plays one could


not really make up one's mind as to the
direction in which Albee was headed, although
it was clear that he had theatrical talent.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? seems to settle
the question: Albee is headed for popular
success precisely because of the same
unconvincing mixture of lively dialogue and
incongruous tricks, of brutal realism and false
symbolism, that characterized his first plays.

This last play can best be described as a


photographic description of a running fight
between a wife and husband. Insofar as the
play is this, it is indeed successful in its own
very limited way. But insofar as it lays claim to
some deeper, symbolic meaning, it is pretty
unbearable.

The first act is innocent of any such ambitions,


and is quite readable, and obviously theatrical.
It is pure dialogue between a married couple
who not only dislike each other but are drunk,
and keep drinking relentlessly. This being the
case, what they say, and especially what the
wife says, no matter how brutal and obscene,
cannot on the face of it be of much
consequence. It is quite impossible to know
what these insults, accusations, grudges and
obscenities really mean. A drunken fight that
goes on from two in the morning until five is
hardly the best situation through which to
reveal the real relation between two human
beings. That they drink so much might indeed
be significant, but is it a sufficient
characterization?

This is where the playwright's tricks come in.


Had Albee faced the problem of carrying out to
its most extreme consequences the situation
he had actually begun with—the merciless
fight between husband and wife—he might
have written an interesting play. But then, of
course, he would have had to imagine not only
an interminable continuation of the fight itself,
and of the drinking, but also a theatrical action
—something that really happens between the
two characters—and not just a series of only
too probable and sordid exchanges.
Instead of inventing something, it would seem
that Albee made instead the unwarranted
assumption that his play had a symbolic
meaning, namely that his couple represented
at the same time the American couple and the
decay of Western civilization. Then he looked
for a mechanical way of stretching the
dialogue into three very long acts with an
ending that would be both theatrical and
pathetic.

The symbolic meaning of the play does not, of


course, exist—except in the author's mind.
What we are actually given is the description
of a battle between a rather formidable female
and an understandably depressed, although
resentful, male. The fight is complicated by the
presence of a second, younger couple
obviously headed for an even worse fate than
that of the two mature characters. But this
does not add anything to the meaning of the
play. It is a good theatrical device to provide a
kind of counterpoint to the main dialogue,
especially since the author seems incapable of
using his imagination, or unwilling, and the
main dialogue tends to become monotonous.

But this does not solve the problem of the plot


which is simply to end the quarreling, insults,
obscenities and drinking of the play by some
other means than complete exhaustion. To do
this, Albee resorts to one of the most unlikely
tricks in the history of the contemporary
theater. He imagines that the son to whom his
characters have been referring does not exist
at all—that he is only a creature of their
imagination, a melancholy fairy tale that the
two have been telling each other for years. The
poignancy of the situation is supposed to be
enhanced by the fact that, in the end, the
husband punishes his wife for having
mentioned this imaginary son in the presence
of strangers. He announces—in the presence of
the same strangers—that the fabulous son has
died.

And so Albee's pièce noire is suddenly turned


into a pièce rose. Much to the comfort of its
Broadway audience, one must suppose.

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Volume 1, Number 1 · February 1, 1963
Simone Weil
By Susan Sontag
Selected Essays
by Simone Weil, translated by Richard Rees

Oxford University Press, $7.00

The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois


civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois;
they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive,
and impolite, who impress by force—not simply
by their tone of personal authority and by their
intellectual ardor, but by the sense of acute
personal and intellectual extremity. The
bigots, the hysterics, the destroyers of the self
—these are the writers who bear witness to the
fearful polite time in which we live. It is mostly
a matter of tone: it is hardly possible to give
credence to ideas uttered in the impersonal
tones of sanity. There are certain eras which
are too complex, too deafened by
contradictory historical and intellectual
experiences, to hear the voice of sanity. Sanity
becomes compromise, evasion, a lie. Ours is an
age which consciously pursues health, and yet
only believes in the reality of sickness. The
truths we respect are those born of affliction.
We measure truth in terms of the cost to the
writer in suffering—rather than by the
standard of an objective truth to which a
writer's words correspond. Each of our truths
must have a martyr.

What revolted the mature Goethe in the young


Kleist, who submitted his work to the elder
statesman of German letters "on the knees of
his heart"—the morbid, the hysterical, the
sense of the unhealthy, the enormous
indulgence in suffering out of which Kliest's
plays and tales were mined—is just what we
value today. Today Kleist gives pleasure,
Goethe is to some a duty. In the same way,
such writers as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche,
Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Baudelaire, Rimbaud,
Genet—and Simone Weil—have their authority
with us because of their air of unhealthiness.
Their unhealthiness is their soundness, and is
what carries conviction.
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Perhaps there are certain ages which do not


need truth as much as they need a deepening
of the sense of reality, a widening of the
imagination. I, for one, do not doubt that the
sane view of the world is the true one. But is
that what is always wanted, truth? The need
for truth is not constant; no more than is the
need for repose. An idea which is a distortion
may have a greater intellectual thrust than the
truth; it may better serve the needs of the
spirit, which vary. The truth is balance, but the
opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not
be a lie.

Thus I do not mean to decry a fashion, but to


underscore the motive behind the
contemporary taste for the extreme in art and
thought. All that is necessary is that we not be
hypocritical, that we recognize why we read
and admire writers like Simone Weil. I cannot
believe that more than a handful of the tens of
thousands of readers she has won since the
posthumous publication of her books and
essays really share her ideas. Nor is it
necessary—necessary to share Simone Weil's
anguished and unconsummated love affair
with the Catholic Church, or accept her gnostic
theology of divine absence, or espouse her
ideals of body denial, or concur in her violently
unfair hatred of Roman civilization and the
Jews. Similarly, with Kierkegaard and
Nietzsche; most of their modern admirers
could not, and do not embrace their ideas. We
read writers of such scathing originality for
their personal authority, for the example of
their seriousness, for their manifest
willingness to sacrifice themselves for their
truths, and—only piecemeal—for their "views."
As the corrupt Alcibiades followed Socrates,
unable and unwilling to change his own life,
but moved, enriched, and full of love; so the
sensitive modern reader pays his respect to a
level of spiritual reality which is not, could not,
be his own.

Some lives are exemplary, others not; and of


exemplary lives, there are those which invite
us to imitate them, and those which we regard
from a distance with a mixture of revulsion,
pity, and reverence. It is, roughly, the
difference between the hero and the saint (if
one may use the latter term in an aesthetic,
rather than a religious sense). Such a life,
absurd in its exaggerations and degree of self-
mutilation—like Kleist's, like Kierkegaard's—
was Simone Weil's. I am thinking of the
fanatical asceticism of Simone Weil's life, her
contempt for pleasure and for happiness, her
noble and ridiculous political gestures, her
elaborate self-denials, her tireless courting of
affliction; and I do not exclude her homeliness,
her physical clumsiness, her migraines, her
tuberculosis. No one who loves life would wish
to imitate her dedication to martyrdom nor
would wish it for his children nor for anyone
else whom he loves. Yet so far as we love
seriousness, as well as life, we are moved by
it, nourished by it. In the respect we pay to
such lives, we acknowledge the presence of
mystery in the world—and mystery is just what
the secure possession of the truth, an
objective truth, denies. In this sense, all truth
is superficial; and some (but not all)
distortions of the truth, some (but not all)
insanity, some (but not all) unhealthiness,
some (but not all) denials of life are truth-
giving, sanity-producing, health-creating, and
life-enhancing.

This new volume of translations from Simone


Weil's work, Selected Essays 1934-43, displays
her somewhat marginally. It contains one great
essay, the opening essay here titled "Human
Personality" which was written in 1943, the
year of her death in England at the age of
thirty-four. (This essay, by the way, was first
published in two parts under the title "The
Fallacy of Human Rights" in the British
magazine The Twentieth Century in May and
June 1959. There it suffered the curious and
instructive fate of requiring a defensive
editorial in June, when the second part of the
essay appeared, replying to criticism of the
magazine's decision to publish the essay "on
the grounds that it involves heavy going for
some readers." It certainly speaks volumes
about the philistine level of English intellectual
life, if even as good a magazine as The
Tweentieth Century cannot muster an
enthusiastic, grateful audience for such a
piece.) Another essay, placed last in the book,
called "Draft for a Statement of Human
Obligations," also written the year of her
death, contains matter central to Simone
Weil's ideas. The remaining essays are on
specific historical and political subjects—two
on the civilization of Languedoc, one on a
proletarian uprising in Renaissance Florence,
several long essays on the Roman Empire
which draw an extensive parallel between
imperial Rome and Hitler's Germany, and
various reflections on the Second World War,
the colonial problem, and the post-war future.
There is also an interesting and sensitive letter
to George Bernanos. The longest argument of
the book, spanning several essays, develops
the parallel between Rome (and the ancient
Hebrew theocracy!) and Nazi Germany.
According to Simone Weil, who displays an
unpleasant silence on the Nazi persecution of
the Jews, Hitler is no worse than Napoleon,
than Richelieu, than Caesar. Hitler's racialism,
she says, is nothing more than "a rather more
romantic name for nationalism." Her
fascination with the psychological effects of
wielding power and submitting to coercion,
combined with her strict denial of any idea of
historical progress, led her to equate all forms
of state authority as manifestations of what
she calls "the great beast."

Readers of Simone Weil's Notebooks (two


volumes, published in 1959) and her
Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient
Greeks (1958) will be familiar with her attempt
to derive everything distinctively Christian
from Greek spirituality as well as to deny
entirely Chrisianity's Hebraic origins. This
fundamental argument—along with her
admiration for Provençal civilization, for the
Manichean and Catharist heresies—colors all
her historical essays. I cannot accept Simone
Weil's gnostic reading of Christianity as
historically sound (its religious truth is another
matter); nor can I fail to be offended by the
vindictive parallels she draws between Nazism,
Rome, and Israel. Impartiality, no more than a
sense of humor, is not the virtue of a writer
like Simone Weil. Like Gibbon (whose view of
the Roman Empire she absolutely contradicts),
Simone Weil as a historical writer is
tendentious, exhaustive, and infuriatingly
certain. As a historian she is simply not at her
best; no one who disbelieves so fundamentally
in the phenomena of historical change and
innovation can be wholly satisfying as a
historian. This is not to deny that there are
subtle historical insights in these essays: as
for example, when she points out that
Hitlerism consists in the application by
Germany to the European continent, and the
white race generally, of colonial methods of
conquest and domination. (Immediately after,
of course, she says that these—both Hitler's
methods and the "normal colonial ones"—are
derived from the Roman model.)

The principal value of the collection is simply


that anything from Simone Weil's pen is worth
reading. It is perhaps not the book to start
one's acquaintance with this writer—Waiting
for God, I think, is the best for that. The
originality of her psychological insight, the
passion and subtlety of her theological
imagination , the fecundity of her exegetical
talents are unevenly displayed here. Yet the
person of Simone Weil is here as surely as in
any of her other books—the person who is
excruciatingly identical with her ideas, the
person who is rightly regarded as one of the
most uncompromising and troubling witnesses
to the modern travail of the spirit.

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Volume 1, Number 1 · February 1, 1963
History on the Couch
By William Phillips
Crowds and Power
by Elias Canetti

Viking, $7.50

Sooner or later, Europe was bound to break


the American monopoly in the manufacture of
new social theories and facts. Since the war
the study of society has become an American
industry, and though the sociologists have
naturally been the biggest producers, a few
historians, some glossy journalists, and a
number of freelance thinkers have also made
their contribution to the national effort. There
were of course some solid works, but most of
the new studies were little more than progress
reports on the growth of American society.
They claimed to be empirical and open-minded,
but what they really did was to create a new
style of observation that made their theories
and insights look like facts. Some of these
studies used the new style for cultural
apologetics instead of analysis. Others seemed
to be more critical, and many of them
complained about the slickness of the culture.
But their complaints were themselves so slick
that they immediately became fashionable.
The result of all these advances in social
thought was that the thing criticized became
indistinguishable from the criticism of it, and
soon both became part of the same cultural
package.

Now we have a new work from abroad,


combining politics, psychology, sociology, and
certified to be the original, profound, and
imaginative book we have all been waiting for.
It is said to present a new view of civilization
that combines the qualities of vision with
those of analysis. The book is so extravagantly
well-blurbed, and by such respectable figures
as Arnold Toynbee, Kathleen Raine, C.V.
Wedgewood, and Iris Murdoch, that one is
actually put on one's guard instead of being
impressed. When a new book is hailed in the
way Crowds and Power is, as "a new Golden
Bough," "a Twentieth Century Leviathan," or
its author as the Spengler of the sixties, one
cannot help remembering how many great
books were born without such fanfare, or how
long they had to wait for serious opinion to
build up.
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Yet despite the fact that Crowds and Power


has been advertised as the thinking man's
guide to reality, it is very difficult to say just
what the book is about. Canetti's theme seems
to be that history boils down to two elements:
society, which is just a more complicated form
of what he calls the "crowd," and power, which
is created by the fact that the needs of the
"crowd" coincide with those of its rulers. Thus,
according to Canneti, we have the ruled and
the rulers. Now, this is not a very startling idea
or image; at most it is an insight, and not a
new one at that, since most studies of modern
society have dealt in one way or another with
the manipulation of the masses by leaders and
rulers. And the value of such an insight
depends on how it is argued and developed.
But Canetti does not really develop the idea;
what he does instead is to spin a web of
illustrations, associations, and analogies. In
this sense, he has written a poem. The trouble,
however, is that it is a bad poem, far too long,
cluttered up with home-made jargon, and
much too pretentious. Its method is to convert
truisms into metaphors, to state a fact as
though it were a discovery, such as that "a
soldier on duty acts only in accordance with
commands," or that war consists of one crowd
fighting another, or that "in revolutionary
periods executions are accelerated"; and then
to give these inflated facts all kinds of
historical resonance. Frequently, the idea itself
is a bad metaphor: the most picturesque
example is Canetti's description of
spermatozoa as a crowd, with one survivor.
Sometimes the metaphor is purely verbal, as
when Canetti says that in an inflation the "unit
of money loses its identity." Here we have just
the opposite of what goes on in a good poem:
instead of an original and concrete association
that puts things in a new light or makes for a
new experience, an ordinary observation is
given "poetic" overtones, and made to sound
more suggestive. And unlike good poetry
which loses in paraphrase, some of Canetti's
inspired rhetoric might easily gain by a
paraphrase.

The scheme of the book is quite simple.


Canetti begins by cataloguing the various
kinds of crowds and their attributes. Thus we
learn that the crowd "wants to grow," is based
of "equality," "loves density," and "needs a
direction." And all crowds are either "rhythmic"
or "stagnating." Then we discover that there
are: baiting crowds, flight crowds, prohibition
crowds, reversal crowds, feast crowds, panic
crowds, double crowds, invisible crowds, etc.
(No lonely crowds!) Next, Canetti goes back to
tribal cultures to explore what he calls the
pack, which is a more primitive form of the
crowd. Then Canetti brings the idea of the
crowd up to date by explaining such recent
phenomena as the rise of Hitler, the
parliamentary system, inflation, capitalism,
and socialism in terms of "crowd symbols."
Here, I think, is the most absurd part of the
book, for Canetti talks about both capitalism
and socialism as societies obsessed with the
idea of production as though production were
a disease. In Canetti's system, production is
nothing but "the modern frenzy of increase."
Since "increase" is a characteristic of crowds,
production becomes just another instance, a
double one, of the crowd gone wild, for goods
and consumers each make up a crowd. Finally,
Canetti goes into the question of power, which
he explains in a long and ingenious rumination
on the psychological myths that surround the
idea of the ruler in all civilizations. What we
end up with is a portrait of the despot as a
paranoid, whose "passion for survival" leads
him to destroy all those who might survive
him. The book closes with an impassioned
epilogue which sounds like a hopped-up
version of the current mood. Here Canetti
warns us that we are in a new dangerous
period, because "the survivor is himself
afraid." "Rulers tremble today," says Canetti,
"not…because they are rulers, but as the
equals of everyone else….Today either
everyone will survive or no-one."

There are a few nice observations scattered


through Crowds and Power, as when Canetti
says that a fire sometimes unifies a theater
more than the play can. But most of the book
reads like a psychoanalysis of history, and this
really says no more about history than logical
analysis does about a person.

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Volume 1, Number 1 · February 1, 1963
à la Mode
By Richard Poirier
Puzzles and Epiphanies
by Frank Kermode

Chilmark Press, $4.95

Frank Kermode is generally regarded as the


best practicing critic in England today, free of
the polemical or theoretical limitations that
have been ascribed to Leavis or Richards and
credited with the power, which Arnold required
of good criticism, "to ascertain the master-
spirit in the literature of an epoch." In
Kermode's case, this would mean literature
since 1890, especially its post-Romantic and
Symbolist tendencies, though he has done
creditable work on English pastoral poetry and
on Milton, Donne, and Shakespeare. Puzzles
and Epiphanies is a collection of his reviews
and essays written for English and American
periodicals from 1958 to 1961. The table of
contents would by itself call attention to his
versatility, listing twenty-four pieces on
various critics (Edmund Wilson, Northrop Frye,
Mario Praz, among others), a good many
novelists (including Robert Musil, Joyce,
Pasternak, Golding, Durrell, Henry Miller,
Waugh, Greene, Forster, Nabokov), a few
poets (Valéry and Betjeman), all of these
crammed with allusions to other writers,
dancers, and critics associated in some way
with what Kermode considers the main lines of
force in modern literature. Anyone who read
these essays and reviews as they appeared
could not fail to be impressed with Kermode's
energy, his self-assured erudition, his capacity
to apply himself nearly anywhere in English or
continental literature. To read the same pieces
in this collected form, however, is to find that
they are frequently repetitious of one another,
often densely written, and indicative less of
suppleness than of an obstinacy in the kind of
interest which the author brings to the great
variety of subjects to which he addresses
himself.
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To begin with, there is there is the sort of


repetition almost unavoidable in a book
composed of items not originally intended to
be seen together. Usually, all that can
intelligently be said of such matters is that
there should have been more vigorous
rewriting or editing, though here the editing is
of a sloppiness nearly delinquent. These rather
trivial annoyances are in this instance a
symptom of serious limitations in Kermode's
criticism of which he has himself become
aware, I suspect, in looking through this
collection. Out of Romantic Image, published in
1957, and the work continued from that book
in the brilliant opening essay of this volume,
"Poet and Dancer Before Diaghilev," Kermode
has made, quite unwittingly, I would guess, a
sort of gridiron through which he then looks at
too many of the books he has since reviewed.

What Kermode claims repeatedly is that the


literature of this century and much of the
criticism has been based on a myth of
dissociation between mind and body, form and
matter, and on the attendant myth that it is in
the power of art momentarily to mend these
breaks. In the process, so his account runs, art
has been made on the assumption that it could
constitute a second nature, dependent for its
meaning on nothing outside itself. The
fascination of Valéry and Yeats with the
primitive aspects of non-verbal art such as the
dance, the accompanying notion that art is an
essentially atavistic activity, mythical,
imagistic, the emphasis in modern criticism on
the impersonality of the poet and on the poem
as an autonomous structure, and the support
given these enterprises and assumptions by
the philosophies of symbolic form articulated
out of Kant and Herder by Cassirer and
Suzanne Langer—these are among the
components that have gone into the literary
culture of our time as Kermode sees it.

I cannot take issue here with Kermode's


account of the dependence of modern
literature on mythologies of artistic creation.
What I can say about the collection under
review is that the kinds of inquiry often called
for by the books and writers represented in it
are sometimes badly served by his obsession
with these mythologies and with the degree,
as he sees it, to which they have directed the
activities of modern writers. The deficiency is
obvious first of all in the relaxation of
Kermode's critical attention when he is
discussing novelists who share his view of
literary culture. There can otherwise be little
reason for his admiring the novels of Sir
Charles Snow, however timidly (he is "a great
deal easier and more pleasant to read" than
Beckett), or for his extravagant praise of such
a modish contrivance as Golding's Lord of the
Flies which, we are told, is in part about the
division of "our world into two cultures—the
followers of Jack and the admirers of Simon,
those who build the fortresses and those who
want to name the beast." The accounts by
which Doctor Zhivago becomes a kind of
Symbolist novel, that give both The Heart of
the Matter and the over-praised Justine
attributes of Huysmans, and that turn a
discussion of Henry Miller into a summary of
Kermode's theory of how the occult has
become a literary alternative to science are
typical of the degree to which many of these
reviews are less in the service of the books
they are supposed to elucidate than of
doctrines that are for the most part only
tangentially relevant to them.

Kermode deserves praise as a historian of


ideas more than as a critic. His reputed
freedom from critical dogma is an
achievement, if you think it one, but might as
easily be taken as a reflection of his more
absorbing interest in the ideological contexts
in which he places the books he reads, a kind
of placement to which novels have always
been especially resistant. He is most effective
when dealing with works that are committed
on the surface to an interest like his own in the
history of modern aesthetics and its relation to
contemporary culture: "Second Nature" on
(Valéry) and "Sillies" (a review of the
Cambridge of G.E. Moore and, incidentally, of
Leonard Woolf's Sowing) are examples, and so
is his rare combination of gossipy relish and
diagnostic power in telling the story of the
dancer Loie Fuller. Being at home with artists
more theoretically conscious of what they are
doing than are most novelists, he is also, of
course, especially strong in his reviews of
other critics. His analysis of Northrop Frye's
Anatomy of Criticism is impressive enough to
bring some pause, one hopes, to an increasing
and unfortunate academic vogue, and his
deeply admiring account of Wilson's Axel's
Castle, one of the best things in the book, is a
tribute to a literary historian of an older
generation in terms at once respectful and
potentially self-descriptive.

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Volume 1, Number 1 · February 1, 1963
New Editions
By Jason Epstein
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
by Edward Gibbon, edited by J.B. Bury

The Heritage Press, $22.50

The Heritage Press has reissued in three


volumes its indispensable edition of Gibbon's
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, with an
introduction by the late Professor Bury and
with his version of the text. This edition had
long been out of print, available only
sporadically on the secondhand market at
about fifty dollars. The Heritage Press edition
is to be commended for its handsome and clear
typography and design in which Gibbon's notes
appear, as they should, in the margins of each
page adjacent to the textual passages which
they are meant to amplify.

It is unfortunate, on the other hand, that the


publishers chose to illustrate their edition with
engravings by Piranesi who, though he was
Gibbon's contemporary, approaches Roman
antiquity in a somewhat more valetudinarian
spirit than Gibbon would have liked.
Furthermore, Piranesi's engravings, which
show the antiquities as they appeared in the
eighteenth century, half-buried and often in
ruins, surrounded by contemporary buildings
and out of scale, are, for all their brilliance,
hardly as illuminating as reconstructions of the
original states of these monuments would
have been and still less illuminating than
reproductions of the coins, medals, and
trophies to which Gibbon continually refers
and on which his argument so greatly depends.
Finally, the publishers have chosen to print the
engravings in a brown tone rather than in
Piranesi's own black, with the result that the
reproductions are not at all representative of
the originals.
Frederick Douglass Book Prize Announcement

It is also to be regretted that the publishers


did not take this opportunity to replace Philip
Guedalla's introduction, which was no good to
begin with and is now hopelessly out of date,
with something more apposite and scholarly.
This new printing might also have been the
occasion to give Professor Bury's admirable
text, which is now many years old, to a modern
scholar for further emendation.

Nevertheless, the new edition, whatever its


faults—and these include the binding, which is
too flimsy for volumes this large—is the best
we have and perhaps the best we shall have
for some time to come. It is to be hoped,
however, that in future printings the
publishers will replace the present end-paper
maps, which are very sparse, with maps that
are more informative.

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reproduced without the permission of the
publisher. Please contact web@nybooks.com
with any questions about this site. The cover
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Volume 1, Number 2 · June 1, 1963
Death in Jerusalem
By Stephen Spender
Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report on the
Banality of Evil
by Hannah Arendt

Viking Press, $5.50

Hannah Arendt's book is a brilliant and


disturbing study of the character and the trial
of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann, himself, scareely
seems to be one of the major figures in the
Germany that killed six million Jews. He is,
rather, an agent, conditioned to follow orders,
who had certain gifts as an organizer. In her
own summing up, Miss Arendt distinguishes
between the responsibility of an agent and the
passivity of a mere cog. As the moral argument
for Eichmann's execution, Hannah Arendt
writes in her conclusion:

Just as you carried out a policy of not


wanting to share the earth with the Jewish
people and the people of other nations—as
though you and your superiors had any right to
determine who should and who should not
inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is,
no member of the human race, can be
expected to want you to share the earth with
them. This is the reason, and the only reason,
you must hang.

(This final statement is perhaps the only


instance in which one is not entirely convinced
of the rightness of the author's touch.)

Eichmann in Jerusalem sums up for us the


immensely complex organization of those
branches of the Nazi Party which were
concerned with the "Final Solution" of the
Jewish question. It studies also the situation in
the various countries outside Germany which
made it in some places more difficult, in other
less difficult, to liquidate non-German Jews; it
gives a deep understanding of what was
historically unprecedented in the Nazi
adoption of genocide as a national policy
toward the Jews and toward, potentially, all
other nations.
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To many of us it may seem that Miss Arendt's


greatest achievement is not just to explain the
character of Eichmann within the setting of a
monstrous, guilt-laden history, but to translate
the guilt into the conscious and immediate
language of responsibility. Our guilt for the
evil of the world oppresses and hypnotizes us.
But Hannah Arendt stresses in her subtitle that
this book is her "report on the banality of evil."
The feeling that we all must in some
mysterious way share the guilt of the Nazis is
a sentimentality she deplores; nevertheless
banality is the atmosphere in which our
civilization breathes. Given the political
situation, the surrounding banality, with its
corruption of language, led to the program of
mass-killing. Responsibility would have
consisted of a day-to-day effort to keep one's
mind free of that banality, from the acceptance
of those abstractions which first produced the
mind and then the action of an Eichmann. The
meaning of this, not only for Germany, but for
all of us should be clear.

Eichmann was naturally a type upon and


through whom the Nazis could work: one of the
low, or lowered, who in the post-war Austrian
and German Republics had become
meaningless ciphers, and to whom the Nazis
offered a life of rhetorical meaning, on
condition, though, that he still remain
essentially a cipher. His opinions—even at
Jerusalem he held a good many, most of them
self-contradictory—did not come out of his
personality but out of a kind of non-
personality. He wore them like badges which
provided him with occasions for boasting. Thus
until Hitler decided on the "Final Solution"
Eichmann called himself a Zionist, a way of
drawing attention to the fact that he had read
Theodor Herzl's Der Judenstaat and learned a
little Hebrew. He boasted of these things not
only to his S.S. colleagues but even to his
Jewish victims. He nurtured the fantasy of
obtaining, through emigration or some
"political," as distinct from a "final," solution,
what he called "firm ground" to put under the
feet of the Jews. He entered with his "Zionist"
enthusiasm into Heydrich's scheme for forming
a "center of emigration" within the area of the
Polish swamps under the aegis of Frank's
"General Government." Miss Arendt cites an
S.S. officer's description of this "Jewish home":

There are no dwellings, there are no houses.


If you build, there will be a roof over your
heads. There is no water, the wells all around
carry disease, there is cholera, dysentery and
typhoid. If you bore and find water, you will
have water.

But Eichmann also worked out an


organizational plan for transporting millions of
Jews in the middle of the war (across waters
patrolled by the British fleet) to Madagascar.
(He seems to have confused Madagascar with
Uganda.) Just as his "Zionism" and "correct
behavior" were superimposed on a void of
personality, so his organizational gifts could
operate, as it were, in a vacuum.

When in the summer of 1941 Heydrich told


Eichmann that "the Führer has ordered the
physical extermination of the Jews," Eichmann
experienced the emptiness which resulted
from having badges of self-esteem stripped off
him. Soon afterwards he even gave way to a
human feeling and "for the first and last time"
acted against orders and had a transport of
Jews diverted from Russia (where they would
most certainly have been shot) to Lodz where
no arrangements for their extermination had
yet been completed.

He was further depressed when he visited the


headquarters of Odilo Globocnik (one of the
most enthusiastic interpreters of the Final
Solution) at Lublin. This was one of the few
occasions on which he witnessed the real
actions which the abstract "language rules" of
his organization were describing. At Lwów he
saw Jews being pushed into the vans where
they were gassed, "the most horrible sight I
had thus far seen in my life. The truck was
making for an open ditch, the doors were
opened and the corpses were thrown out, as
though they were still alive, so smooth were
their limbs." He saw too a fountain of blood
gushing out of the ground beneath which there
was a mass grave.

Yet loyalty to that negation at the center of all


the other negations which made up the
diabolism of the Third Reich—the Führer's will
—soon converted Eichmann's feeling of
emptiness into elation. He turned his virtuosity
to the organization of the Final Solution. Miss
Arendt traces the extinction of his conscience
to the Conference of the Undersecretaries of
State held at Wannsee in January 1942. This
meeting was held precisely for the purpose of
discussing means to carry out the Final
Solution, and it was anticipated that some of
those attending might make difficulties. But in
fact the Final Solution was greeted with
"extraordinary enthusiasm" by all those
present. It enormously added to Eichmann's
self-esteem when, in the cordial atmosphere of
a luncheon followed by drinks, after the
discussion of the "various types of possible
solutions to the problem (i.e., the different
ways of killing Jews)," he mingled socially with
the "high personages" of the Nazi regime, "the
popes of the Third Reich" as he called them. It
had been his privilege to prepare the
statistical material for Heydrich's introductory
speech, setting forth the program for killing 11
million Jews. And Heydrich seemed grateful,
because later in the day Eichmann was
permitted to "sit down near the fireplace" with
his chief, Müller, and with Heydrich.

What we see at the Wannsee Conference is the


cordiality of officials as they undertake their
unspeakably gruesome tasks, their unbending
joviality when they meet together as high-ups,
feeling themselves the more human because of
the abstractions which cover their inhuman
operations.

Miss Arendt's underlying theme is the


corruption of individual or personal values by
grandiose, perverted social aims which see
people not as individuals but as the object of
statistical calculations, as disposable, even
interchangeable, social units. The Nazis were
of course diabolists, and the Final Solution
therefore offers the supreme example of the
statistical approach to the human community.
But Miss Arendt means to warn us that this
abstract way of dealing with people upon
bases of statistics, even when attached to less
bad or even theoretically good aims, runs into
the danger of converting good into evil just
because people are looked upon as
abstractions and disposed of as such. The
Nazis corrupted not only their own followers
but also, to a great extent, their opponents
and even their victims by their dehumanizing
methods of thought and action. In this lies the
"banality of evil."

The most deeply distressing pages in this book


—pages which will doubtless give rise to the
most bitter recriminations—are those in which
Miss Arendt discusses the cooperation of the
Jewish Councils and of certain Zionist leaders
or representatives with the Nazis. Within the
context of war and of Nazi corruption, the
interests of the officials representing Nazis
and Jews could appear to merge and become at
some points the same. The one part of
Eichmann's story which he never abandoned in
the trial was that in Vienna in 1938 when he
had been in charge of "forced emigration" (i.e.
expelling the Jews from Austria), "he and his
men and the Jews were all 'pulling together'….
The Jews 'desired' to emigrate and he,
Eichmann, was there to help them, because it
so happened that at the same time the Nazi
authorities had expressed the desire to see
their Reich judenrein." So the Jewish leaders
would meet Eichmann in a cordial atmosphere
(he even shook hands with them, and seemed
in his behavior "perfectly correct") to arrange,
sometimes, for the emigration of the "best
Jews" to Palestine. The aims of the Jews and
the Nazis coincided at a time when both sides
could agree that there were "good Jews" who
qualified for salvation, "bad" ones who could
be disregarded.

Hence the situation arose that "wherever Jews


lived, there were recognized Jewish leaders,
and this leadership, almost without exception,
cooperated in one way or another, for one
reason or another, with the Nazis." And from
this follows Miss Arendt's appalling conclusion:

The whole truth was that if the Jewish


people had really been unorganized and
leaderless, there would have been chaos and
plenty of misery but the total number of
victims would hardly have been between four-
and-a-half and six million people.

The procedure agreed on between the Nazis


and the Jewish Councils gave the Nazis lists of
the names of all Jews in a particular
community, thus making it far easier for them
to fill the trains which went to the
concentration camps and the gas chambers.
This was the result of abstract calculations like
those of Dr. Kastner in Hungary, who could
claim that out of 476,000 victims he had saved
1,684 people. The promised land becomes the
common grave.
The joining of one aim with another, of
compromises, abstractions, euphemisms,
handshakes in hotel rooms and restaurants,
was the outer ring of concentric circles of
conditioning, whose outermost circumference
was violent death produced by war, and at
whose center were the actual victims,
behaving with a compliance which was also the
result of the surrounding complicity. We get,
finally, the spectacle of thousands of Jews
digging their own graves and submitting
without protest to being shot by mere
hundreds of the S.S. Moreover, as Bruno
Bettelheim points out in The Informed Heart,
the identification of the aims of persecutor and
persecuted was even reflected by some of the
victims themselves in the camps:

It came about that some of the political


groups formed to protect fellow prisoners
ended up giving full, if heavy-hearted,
cooperation to the extermination of thousands
of prisoners in order to save some of their own
group.

Miss Arendt points out, however, that in places


where the Jewish leaders did not cooperate
with the Nazi representatives and refused to
provide them with the necessary information,
far fewer Jews were apprehended and
subsequently murdered. Thus in Belgium it
was extremely difficult to collect the Jews
partly because their leaders had fled, making
it impossible to form a Belgian Jewish Council.
But in neighboring Holland, where there was a
Jewish police collaborating with the Nazis, the
result was a "catastrophe unparalleled in any
Western country." Again, in Denmark, the
Danes refused to take action against the Jews.
The King of Denmark declared that if the
Danish Jews were compelled to wear badges,
he would be the first to wear one, and when
the Nazis attempted to seize the Jews, the
Danes shipped them in the Danish fishing fleet
to neutral Sweden. Even some of the German
forces occupying Denmark sabotaged orders
from Berlin to seize Jews. There is evidence,
then, in favor of naive, straightforward and
unquestioning refusal to deal with
totalitarians; deviousness does not necessarily
pay. After all, as Churchill points out in his
history of the War, even Stalin was caught in
the trap of his own devious dealings with
Hitler.

The picture Hannah Arendt paints is extremely


depressing with respect to the past, and very
alarming for the future. She points out that
there is now a historic precedent for genocide,
and given the conditions likely soon to
confront governments as the result of the
population explosion, it is only too possible
that excuses will be found to follow the Nazi
precedent, covering it over, of course, with the
methods of a less primitive bureaucracy, with
subtler euphemisms, officialese and new
language rules.
Hannah Arendt shows the deep connection
between the actions of an Eichmann who could
think only in officialese, and whose idea of
virtue was loyalty to the clichés of Hitler, and
the corruption of the German language by the
Nazis. Having lived in Berlin in the late
twenties and early thirties, I think that a good
deal of what Miss Arendt writes about the
corruption of the language applies to the
German situation before Hitler. After the First
World War, at the time of the inflation, a whole
generation of young Germans was brought up
to think in political slogans. Political parties, of
the left even more than the right, endeavored
to politicize people at the earliest possible
age. Many of the young grew up to think of
murdering their opponents as the necessary if
not noble means whereby an abstract "correct"
course of history could win out over the
"wrong" historic forces. It was extremely
noticeable that with the young, abstract
clichés of political language which were taught
by one party were reversible, and could readily
be taken over by its opponents and applied to
opposite kinds of action. Thus in the early
years of Hitler's regime, when unemployment
was "cured," many young socialists (including
even some English ones who had learned the
German ideological language) suddenly, if
momentarily, welcomed the regime as a
socialist phenomenon appearing, it is true, in a
rather unexpected form. In the same way there
were political Christians ready to see behind
Stalin's moustaches the bearded figure of
Christ.

Nor does Miss Arendt's critique of banal habits


of thinking as a device camouflaging evil apply
only retrospectively. She discerns the survival
of "language rules" in the speech of Dr.
Servatius, the West German lawyer defending
Eichmann. Servatius declared the "accused
innocent of charges bearing on his
responsibility for the collection of skeletons,
sterilizations, killings by gas, and similar
medical matters." Interrupted by Judge Halevi,
who wished to correct what he thought must
be a slip of the tongue, Dr. Servatius replied,
"It was indeed a medical matter, since it was
prepared by physicians; it was a matter of
killing and killing, too, is a medical matter."
And this is a voice from West Germany in the
1960s.

Sadder than this, a heavy suspicion also hangs


over the Jerusalem court itself in these pages—
the suspicion that the prosecuting counsel—
and ultimately Ben Gurion—was not trying
Eichmann for what he did (which would have
been enough to hang him) but for the Nazi that
he was, and, more than this, for the crimes of
the whole Nazi regime against the Jews. It
would be useless to deny that the whole
Eichmann case was prejudged. There are
ample emotional excuses or justifications for
this, yet when one considers the effects of
precedents from this trial and the Nuremberg
trials on possible future views of international
law, one feels apprehensive. However, these
considerations lead beyond the kinds of
responsibility which are likely to concern a
reader of this article. There are much more
immediate responsibilities for intellectuals,
writers and educators which surely could be
fulfilled.

Eichmann's mind was ruined by miseducation


before it was distorted by politics. And even
supposing that a man like Eichmann can get
into a powerful position, should not one expect
that in a civilized country Eichmann's clichés,
his "language rules," his evasions and
euphemisms would have made him ludicrous to
an educated public? Perhaps the greatest
delusion of the Germans about themselves is
that they are a cultivated, educated people.
But then, when it comes to resisting the
"language rules" used by politicians (the
existence of the H-bomb has created a whole
new vocabulary of evasions), who is today
resisting?

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reproduced without the permission of the
publisher. Please contact web@nybooks.com
with any questions about this site. The cover
date of the next issue will be January 15, 2009.
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Volume 1, Number 2 · June 1, 1963
America Absolved
By Benjamin DeMott
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
by Richard Hofstadter

Knopf, $6.95

For saints and seers History is all one: they call


it terror (Eliade) or nightmare (Joyce) or inertia
(Nietzsche), and dream of escape. For lesser
men, though, the matter is complicated. Aware
of history as an oppressive dead hand on
experience, they think of it also as a
contrivance, that which historians make or
"do," and they tend to be optimistic about the
doings. Shrewd inquirers can find things out
about the past that, as the historian Marc
Bloch says, the past didn't know about itself,
or didn't wish to know. They also can learn
forgotten languages, social or political, which,
used with appropriate gingerliness as a means
of interpreting the present, win respect for
critiques of contemporary dogma that would
seem outrageous if delivered in contemporary
terms. Neither accomplishment enables the
inquirer to get the full weight of the monkey-
past off his back; neither offers the audience a
ready way up and out of time into eternity—
that for which seers have a crying need. But
both provide people with release in the form of
a glimpse of Now from the outside. And in a
faithless age the need for this release is so
great that whatever satisfies it deserves
regard as a kind of poor man's Grace.

As should at once be admitted, commonplaces


like these are irrelevant to ordinary works of
American history. Most studies of our past are
written by men who are simply passing
respectably through the professional day,
harming nobody, keeping facts in sight,
establishing that the humble act of being
sound about any subject demands hard work
(the point can never be well-enough
established).
NYRB / Chrysalids Holiday

And at first glance the treatise at hand


appears to deserve no higher praise than this.
The tenth book of a forty-six-year-old scholar,
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, promises
little to people who read professional tomes
for the pleasure of encountering (or imagining)
appurtenances of the lost world of leisure—
library loafers, claret lunches, fireside teas,
pretty calligraphy and the like. A whiff of
grimy worldliness, essence of textbook-TV-
timestudy academia, rises from its pages;
some provincial readers who turn them will call
to mind the stereotype of the Columbia prof as
the proprietor of a madly expanding one-man
insurance brokerage—a hustler nailing the big
premium every time he hits the street, quoting
rates in phone booths while nibbling a
desperate Nab, shooting back to the shop to
break in a fleet of new clerks and
stenographers (the staff Dean Barzun said
every professor should have) and all the while
flogging himself with the dream of getting out
early tonight to Bellmore to spend half an hour
with the kids. The author announces that he
worked on and off at this large volume for ten
years; in that period he delivered lectures in
series at a splendid variety of other
institutions (the universities of Michigan and
Southern California, Hiram College, Smith
College, Princeton—and Cambridge, overseas)
wheeled and dealed successfully with the
foundations (the Carnegie Corporation and the
Fund for the Advancement of Education were
among his supporters) and finished six other
books. His thanks go forth to no fewer than
four "research assistants," a Miss Gruber
among them. Toward the close of his book he
delivers himself on the natural isolation of the
intellectual ("The truly creative mind is hardly
ever so alone as when it is trying to be
sociable…. Facing the world…alone seems to
be the characteristic creative stance"), and a
page or two later he acknowledges the help
not only of the four assistants but of thirty-
three friends. And throughout he abides by the
noxious footnote rules which require an
academic author to drop off at the bottom of
every page, like a young mouser mewing
pridefully at the back door, a furry little ball of
dead adjectival tribute ("Marcus Cunliffe, "in
his penetrating study"…"Merle Curti, in his
suggestive little volume…." "For an excellent
statement about the numbers…see Timothy L.
Smith…" "For an interesting exercise in
definition, see Morton White…" "For a spirited
defense and appreciation…see Samuel Eliot
Morison…" "For a stimulating exploration…see
R.W.B. Lewis…" etc.).

Nor is it merely superficies and trivia of


production and composition that raise doubts
about the book's essential value. No one
before Professor Hofstadter had thought to
write a history of American attitudes toward
mind, tracing general cycles of hatred, love
and apathy from the 17th century to the
present, and avoiding such pitfall topics as
"highbrow anti-rationalism." But few
specialists in any period of the American past
have left these attitudes wholly out of account
—which is to say that the "field" of anti-
intellectualism is not one from which news for
professional Americanists can easily be
reaped. Professor Hofstadter treats patterns of
intellectualism and anti-intellectualism in
religion (from the Puritan clergy through the
Awakeners and Evangelicals to the evolution
controversy), in politics (from the decline of
the Federalist elite through Godkin and the
Civil Service reformers to the rise of the
expert), in business ("the vanguard of anti-
intellectualism in our culture"), and in
education (special attention to Dewey and the
gospel of life adjustment). The heroes,
episodes and books that figure in his most
entertaining pages—Davy Crockett, Henry
Adams in Washington, Billy Sunday, George
Washington Plunkitt of Tammany, Carnegie,
Vanderbilt, T.R. as "fighting intellectual,"
Robert M. LaFollette, the Scopes Trial, the
Brain Trust, Henry C. Link's The Return to
Religion, Adlai Stevenson—have been heard of
before. The evidence marshalled in support of
his perceptions often amounts only to a long
paraphrase of one or another recent, readily
available study. (Professor Hofstadter was
startled, presumably while reading Daniel
Aaron's Writers on the Left [1961], by the
continuity between traditional business
attitudes toward mind and those appearing in
leftist discourse of the 1920s and 1930s. He
pieces out this "insight" for seven anecdotal
paragraphs in which every quotation and
incident, as the footnote brightly reports, is
taken "from [Aaron], pp. 25, 41, 65, 93-4,
132n, 162, 163-4, 168, 209, 210-212, 216, 227,
240-2, 254, 308, 337-8 346, 409, 410, 417,
425.") And impatience, a force that
occasionally pushes him toward melodrama
and away from analysis, seems least well
controlled precisely when he approaches the
subjects—the psychology of the elitist
withdrawal in the 1820s for one—that he is
best placed to probe.

That in spite of these failings Anti-


Intellectualism in American Life does succeed
in recovering a forgotten language is owing
largely to the author's ease with complexity,
his readiness to present the brain-baiting of
the past in its full socio-political context. "To
be confronted with a simple and unqualified
evil is no doubt a kind of luxury," says
Professor Hofstadter at the outset, "but such
is not the case here; and if anti-intellectualism
has become, as I believe it has, a broadly
diffused quality in our civilization, it has
become so because it has often been linked to
good, or at least defensible, causes." The
position has shortcomings, of course: the
writer's fondness for qualification and distaste
for moralizing fervor prevent the neglected
truth which he brings back into view from
becoming the center of a passionate
argument. Alienated waifs and moony hipsters
on the one hand, Establishment apologists on
the other, will be piqued—but not shaken—by
his words; ordinary folk will perceive the
fatuity of some modern assumptions about
"the situation of the intellectual" without being
released from their weight. Yet, as these
remarks imply materials for a powerful critique
of contemporary cant lie ready at hand for the
reader of Anti-Intellectualism, and at those
moments when the author puts them to
effective use, the book rises to the level of a
major project of reclamation.

The neglected truth reclaimed, namely that


one man's anti-intellectualism is another man's
democratic aspiration, is well-represented in
the opening chapters, which explain with
admirable clarity why simplicity needs to be
laid by:

[Anti-intellectualism] first got its strong grip


on our ways of thinking because it was
fostered by an evangelical religion that also
purveyed many humane and democratic
sentiments. It made its way into our politics
because it became associated with our passion
for equality. It has become formidable in our
education partly because our educational
beliefs are evangelically egalitarian. Hence, as
far as possible, our anti-intellectualism must
be excised from the benevolent impulses upon
which it lives by constant and delicate acts of
intellectual surgery which spare these
impulses themselves. Only in this way can anti-
intellectualism be checked and contained; I do
not say eliminated altogether, for I believe not
only that this is beyond our powers but also
that an unbridled passion for the total
elimination of this or that evil can be as
dangerous as any of the delusions of our time.

But the force of the truth in question stems


less from the flat statements of the author
than from the language of the past that he
quotes. For it is this language—some of it
spoken by the elite, some by the unwashed—
which puts the reader in fresh touch with the
complicated, even dignified, feelings for which
the historian offers his defense.

In the elite voices, dignity is sometimes the


concomitant of a kind of humane pastoral
generosity, as when Jefferson contrasts the
moral sense of the ploughman with that of the
professor. (The contrast, favorable to the
ploughman, is made in terms altogether free of
the vices of self-hatred or sentimentality that
now unman some men of mind.) And
sometimes it is a product of the habit of
responsibility, as when Greeley remarks that
the reason the American yeoman wavers in his
natural respect for talent and learning is that
talent and learning are too often "directed to
the acquisition of wealth and luxury by means
which add little to the aggregate of human
comforts, and rather subtract from his own
special share of them." The voices of the
unwashed, in contrast, can be respected
because they are rooted, as Greeley implies, in
a real world—one in which men who cry out
against Establishment selfishness are
responding to fact not fantasy, and are moved
by commendable aspiration for their sons, not
by ressentiment. The North Billerica, Mass.
farmer whose anti-intellectual, anti-
Establishment pamphlet called The Key of
Libberty appeared in 1798 was, as Professor
Hofstadter admits, a crude man, unworried
about "the consequence of his policy for high
culture"—but he was no enthusiast of
ignorance. His paper opened with the assertion
that "Learning & Knowledge is essential to the
preservation of Libberty & unless we have
more of it amongue us we Cannot Seporte our
Libertyes Long." The point of the man's attack
on physicians, ministers, judges and "all
letirary men & the over grown rich" is that
their single concern is to elevate the status of
the professions:

…the few are always crying up the


advantages of costly collages, national
acadimyes and gramer schooles, in order to
make places for men to live without work and
so strengthen their party. But are always
opposed to cheep schooles & woman schooles,
the ondly or prinsaple means by which larning
is spred amongue the Many…. For if we apply
for a Preacher or a School Master, we are told
the price, So Much, & they can't go under, for
it is agreed upon & they shall be disgrased if
they take less.

And the historian, reviewing this charge in the


light of conditions of the age—"a time when
the vaunted common school system of
Massachusetts was being neglected"—is
obliged to assert that "there was a certain
rough justice in [it that] cannot be denied."

As already indicated, Anti-Intellectualism in


American Life has other ends in view besides
the pursuit of "rough justice" on this model.
Professor Hofstadter's decision about the
North Billerica farmer is that his position was
ultimately damaging to "intellectual culture."
He takes the same view of the NEA and the
gospel of life adjustment, of Charles Grandison
Finney and "Presbygational" evangelism, and
(at a lower level) of Cotton Ed Smith, who told
the Senate that Rex Tugwell was unqualified to
be Undersecretary of Agriculture because he
had never been a dirt farmer, hence was "not a
graduate of God's Great University." At no
point does he become an apologist for sunny
mindlessness. But at every moment he is
conscious that in a democratic society effort to
apply fixed labels to men in the name of mind
or of taste is unrealistic: whom the elite call
vulgar are also to be called brother, the
unwashed are also the unadvantaged, the
unrealized are never, flatly, the unredeemable.
"It is rare for an American intellectual," says
Professor Hofstadter, "to confront candidly the
unresolvable conflict between the elite
character of his own class and his democratic
aspirations." And it is largely because, in
conducting his historical inquiries, he himself
rarely shies from such confrontations, that his
book arrives repeatedly at hitherto
inexpressible truths. He succeeds in defining
psycho-political implications of the
contemporary intellectual's fascination with
mass culture—estrangement from democratic
faith among them. ("The…note of inhumanity,
which often creeps into discussions of mass
culture may be explained in some part by an
underlying sense of grievance against a
populace that has not lived up to
expectations.") And addressing himself to
deeper convictions of the same men, he is able
to name the precise shift of assumption that in
recent days has driven intellectuals on toward
extravagance and cant:

The prophets of alienation who speak for the


left no doubt aim to create a basis for some
kind of responsible politics of protest, but
when the situation of the intellectual is under
consideration their tone becomes strident, and
then one hears how much better it is to have
"blind unreasoning rejection" rather than to
make moral compromises; the talk is of
nostalgia for "earlier certainties that made
resistance easy," of the primary need of the
intellectual to discharge aggression, of the
dangers of becoming a "prostitute" or a
"traitor" to the fundamental obligations of the
intellectual's role, of the alleged antithesis
between social responsibility, which is bad,
and intellectual responsibility, which is good.
The point here is that alienation in the
intellectual is not simply accepted, as a
necessary consequence of the pursuit of truth
or of some artistic vision, but that a negative
stance or posture toward society is prescribed
as the only stance productive of artistic
creativity or social insight or moral probity.

Regrettably, those likely to be hostile to


Professor Hofstadter's account of the cult of
alienation are offered a weapon by the range
of his book's backward glance. The very
orthography of the key texts cited suggests
that intense democratic aspiration, perfervid
labor toward self-realization, belong to the
past. Yes, yes, in olden times scholars and
artists and professionals were abused in large
part because they seemed determined to
prevent others from rising to their rank. But
what of the last two decades? Why does the
learned professor not deal directly with Hiss-
Chambers or with the McCarthy years? If he
had focussed on these episodes would he have
found it possible to establish a relation
between anti-intellectualism and "humane and
democratic sentiments?" Would he still have
believed in the appropriateness (in a mass
society) of talk about excising anti-
intellectualism from benevolent impulses "by
delicate acts of intellectual surgery"? Isn't it a
fact that the professor makes his case by
avoiding the grittiest episodes in memory—
outbursts that did incomparably more damage
to "intellectual culture" than any he cites?

The questions are not trivial, and a journalistic


notice is hardly the place to engage them—by
arguing, say, that the anti-Establishment
furies of the late forties and mid-fifties are
themselves as complex in origin as any
released in the 19th century. (The critique of
contemporary dogma does indeed seem
outrageous when delivered in contemporary
terms.) Still there is some point in recalling
that only a few years before these furies
occurred Americans had undergone an
experience of hierarchical vigor which may
well have been for millions stunning in its
effect. The voice of privilege and command of
those days spoke often in a tone controlled
more by sniffishness than by manly love of the
flag, or by the sense of necessities of
discipline, and nobody could have loved it.—
You will not eat our food, wear our clothes,
enter our clubs; you will not speak until
spoken to; you will sir, salute, or snivel to
youth, incompetence, even apparent stupidity:
for you are not a college man. Had the Harvard
lieutenants and Bowdoin ensigns tipped a
universal wink, "military courtesy" would have
disappeared and doubtless military discipline
as well; but millions would have had a less
exacerbating encounter with "trained minds."
What was taught by the educated gentlemen
whose land and beeves were leaves and bars
wasn't manners alone but the very concept of
establishmentarianism, exclusiveness itself.
And how content were these lecturers, how
extraordinarily untormented in their
separateness! How remarkably comfortable
(for them) the transition from the rhetoric of
equality to the rhetoric of superiors and
inferiors! In the glance of brass-browed
military man there was that which probably
chilled countless dreams of mobility and self-
realization. And conceivably the resentment
and frustration thus amassed—anger at
university smugness known at first hand—
wasn't an insignificant part of the huge capital
drawn on by mind-baiters in the Hiss and
McCarthy years.

Does it follow from this that the events of


those years, the release of rage in persecution,
recreated democratic faith in America?
Perhaps a few who read these words could
believe that one man's experience might lead
him to contain his scorn of such a conclusion.
There were schoolboys going off to work in the
middle and late thirties, while others were
enthroned as fresh-men, who learned to envy
the rich and the lucky, and sustained
themselves on a smelly broth of feeling—self-
pity, no hope for the ambitious, BOYS BOYS
BOYS in the back page agency ads of the
Herald Trib—that was the staple too of the
soldier's life. And there are a few who have
acknowledged that the great upheaval of 1947,
the tearing down of the Ivy by the grocer's boy
from Whittier, meant something: they could be
turned on, the lucky ones, they did not own
the world…. The reviewer, a reporter, husband,
father and vet in his mid-twenties then, found
satisfaction for his ignorance in the baying of
that elite; he remembers to his shame (the
latter a belated achievement) that the episode
encouraged him in his "decision" to turn
student.

And while there are limits to the personal


reference, they are not so over-powering as to
cancel the relevant possibility—namely that
any moment in American life at which men of
ordinary intelligence and powerful desire
believe themselves to be blocked off, anti-
intellectualism is likely to become impure: a
mode for the release of decent aspiration as
well as of vicious, mindless envy. To think of
that discovery as absolution (everything
understood, everything forgiven) is, to be
sure, to become a victim of history on the
model Nietzsche described. But to think of it as
a further snippet telling on Professor
Hofstadter's "side," supporting arguments for
a complicated understanding of anti-
intellectualism, might be neither a hopeless
error nor an invitation to complacency. It is
true that the great American trick of
yesteryear was that of being oblivious to the
defects of virtues—but presently the trick is
that of being oblivious to the virtues of
defects. And both tricks cheat. Never in
England, say some, could a McCarthy terrorize
academies, politicians, best people: there the
challenge would be despised. But the
weakness here that could not despise, that
could only trim and whine and hide, was at
least a human villainy—evidence that in
America men charged as figures of privilege
are incapable of retaining their equipoise, can
actually be shamed for lighting each other's
candles, paying out to members only the soft
jobs, the easy chairs, the solid cots, the
whiskey in the rest area, the ham and jam
breakfasts, the coffee and buns at Battalion.
And that shame is a potency as well as a
disaster.

To repeat: the reassertion of connections


between mind-baiting and democratic
aspiration creates no ground for self-
congratulation, no wholly satisfactory
vocabulary of grace. The writer who takes up
the task of reviewing the links cannot think of
himself as engaged in producing a work that
the community of knowledge will welcome as a
necessary book. And it is possible—despite
truisms about the uses of history—that the
author of Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
would have contributed more had he dared to
face the chaos in memory. The result of his
labor, though, is far from another piece of
production-line Americana: courageously sane
at its best, the book demands praise as a work
which not only serves truth and the nation
simultaneously, but erects a new barrier
against despair.

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Volume 1, Number 2 · June 1, 1963
Buechner
By Robert Brustein
Complete Plays and Prose
by Georg Buechner, translated with an
introduction by Carl Richard Mueller

Hill and Wang, $1.75

Georg Buechner, the German dramatist, died in


1837, at the age of twenty-three, leaving
behind him an inflammatory revolutionary
manifesto, an unfinished prose narrative, two
complete plays and a scramble of disconnected
episodes in dialogue (undeciphered and
unpublished until 1879) called Woyzeck. These
facts are remarkable when we consider that
Buechner is generally conceded to be one of
the great seminal figures of dramatic
literature: even in a century notable for
untimely deaths and small leavings, his life
seems terribly brief and his literary output
extremely fragmentary. Still, the really
astonishing thing about Buechner is neither
the shortness of his career nor the meagerness
of his production: it is the exceptionally
modern quality of his temperament. Buechner
admired Goethe; he adored Shakespeare; and
he made a strong personal identification with
that obsessed 18th-century dramatist, Jakob
Michael Reinhold Lenz, who became the
feverish hero of Buechner's uncompleted
novel. But although the impact of all three
writers can be felt on his work, Buechner
seems to develop independently of literary
conditioning. Like William Blake, he is one of
those extraordinary prodigies who occasionally
bursts into the sky of history—unexpected,
unforeseen—and proceeds to cast his
illumination over future generations.

Our own age, in fact, is so heavily indebted to


Buechner that the temptation today is to treat
him less like a unique artist than like a literary
ancestor. In the introduction to his new edition
of The Complete Plays and Prose, for example,
Carl Richard Mueller discovers Buechner
lurking behind every modern dramatic
movement, and even calls Woyzeck "the great
grandfather of Willy Loman"! From such great
oaks do little acorns grow. Putting aside the
question whether or not Buechner finds his
apotheosis in Arthur Miller, we must admit Mr.
Mueller's claim that there is a kinship between
Buechner's plays and the plays of Naturalism,
Expressionism, Existentialism and the Theater
of the Absurd—that is, from a purely
philosophical standpoint. For Buechner,
trained as a medical scientist, clearly
anticipated the revolt of the modern drama
against the earlier, more flamboyant
Romanticism. Always sympathetic to humbler
forms of life, Buechner was annoyed by
Schiller, whose strutting heroes struck him as
"nothing more than marionettes with sky-blue
noses and affected pathos." But he was
antagonistic to all the larger claims made on
suffering mankind, and especially angry
against German idealism, which his character
Lenz calls "the most humiliating of insults to
human nature." Once having scandalized a
school chum with the pre-Nietszchean
observation, "Christianity does not please me;
it makes you pious, like a lamb," Buechner
went on to find all theoretical structures and
moral systems patently false, since they were
abhorrent to Nature. And Nature remained
Buechner's goddess, even as she came to seem
an ugly, diseased old whore.
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For Nature to Buechner was violent, accidental


and ominous in the extreme—a jungle where
man was caught in the underbrush to be torn
apart by wild beasts. Thus, after a short spell
as a radical social revolutionary, protesting
against the greed and inhumanity of the
German aristocracy, Buechner became
convinced that all human action was futile, and
that mankind was crushed "beneath the
horrible fatalism of history." This conviction, as
Mr. Mueller rightly observes, is thoroughly
implanted in all Buechner's central characters;
they are frozen into passive immobility,
enmeshed in a web of internal and external
forces. Danton, in that four-act death scene,
Danton's Death, is devoured by Robespierre,
rendered impotent by his sense of universal
chaos and human weakness: "What are we but
puppets, manipulated on wires by unknown
powers?" Prince Leonce, in that strange anti-
romance, Leonce and Lena, is consumed by a
soul-destroying indolence, one of those "who
are unhappy, and incurably so, simply because
they exist." And Woyzeck is the archetypal
victim, at the mercy of a cold, unfeeling world
in which God is dead and man is slowly dying
of a lingering disease.

This, of course, is the famous metaphysical


Angst, the feeling behind so much modern art;
and though Buechner occasionally borrowed
the robes of Hamlet and Lear, it was his
prophetic destiny to express Existential
discontent many years in advance of the
contemporary fashion, during a period of
radiant optimism and exuberant expectation.
Still, if Buechner's art is international in its
philosophical attitudes, it is peculiarly German
in its style and tone. The contemporary French
dramatist, for example, will usually make his
nausea and despair an occasion for self-
conscious theorizing, but Buechner is always
at one with his suffering characters, and
thereby invests them with febrile intensity and
hallucinated visions. Only Dostoevsky, among
non-German writers, strikes me as Buechner's
companion spirit, because Buechner's
characters are all afflicted with brain fever,
and Lenz seems very much like an early sketch
for Ivan Karamozov. On the other hand,
Buechner has a great many followers among
German artists, both literary and non-literary.
To a certain type of German mind which found
the Olympian idealism of Thomas Mann as fake
as that of Schiller, Buechner's ecstatic
nihilism, his surreal images and his
unremitting attacks on bourgeois morality
were very congenial indeed.

Buechner, in short, was the literary saint of


the Weimar Republic; one can detect his
influence on the satirical drawings of Georg
Grosz, the paintings of Max Ernst, the movies
of G.W. Pabst, the music of Alban Berg and the
plays of Frank Wedekind and Bertolt Brecht.
Brecht, especially, admired Buechner and
modelled his early plays on Buechner's work,
examining lower forms of life on an
abandoned, second-rate planet where even
hell is cold, and man freezes with loneliness.
But the sex nausea, the highlighted despair
and the sado-masochistic feelings which
inform plays like Baal, Drums in the Night and
In the Jungle of Cities are typical of a whole
species of Weimar art in a Buechnerian
tradition. For it is an art which focuses on the
deterioration of human beings until they are
revealed in all their naked insignificance or
brutality—an art which forecasts the coming of
the Nazis.

Buechner prophesied the Nazi pathology a


hundred years in advance of the event in his
masterpiece, Woyzeck; there he follows the
progress of an anti-hero stripped of morals,
ideals and civilized veneer. Woyzeck is based
on an actual historical case, that of a Leipzig
barber who had murdered his mistress in a fit
of jealousy. At the time, a debate had ensued
over whether the barber was mad. Buechner
handles the problem by ignoring it completely.
Woyzeck is certainly mad, but then so is the
entire world. Manipulated by a cold-blooded
society, and buffeted by his own
uncontrollable impulses, Woyzeck seems
human only in his ability to suffer; but in
comparison with his tormentors, he is
humanity itself. Frustrated and in-articulate,
Woyzeck represents mankind in its crudest
form—he is Natural Man, untaught, unmoral,
incorrigible. Lectured by his condescending
Captain on the need for virtue, Woyzeck
replies: "People like us can't be holy in this
world—or the next. If we ever did get into
heaven, they'd put us to work on the thunder."
To such born victims, morality is an
extravagance and virtue a luxury—or as Brecht
is to put it a century later: Erst kommt die
Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.

Like Brecht's, however, Buechner's social


judgment has a metaphysical foundation; it is
not just the system but life itself which
inspires Woyzeck's misery. To Buechner,
society is merely another form of nature, and
in the state of Nature, man is simply another
of the beasts. At the fairgrounds, Woyzeck
observes his natural cousins in a monkey
dressed as a man and a trained horse who
"puts society to shame." He becomes the
experimental object of a proto-Nazi Doctor who
feeds him on peas. And though the Doctor
holds that natural man is superior to the
animals because he can control his urine,
Woyzeck urinates against a wall—like a dog.
Even the Doctor's Pelagian view of human
freedom, ironically limited though it is, is
contradicted by Woyzeck's wayward flesh. The
natural man is without control, and Nature
itself is madness and disorder: "When Nature
gives way," observes Woyzeck, "the world gets
dark and you have to feel around with your
hands, and everything keeps slipping, like in a
spider's web."

Buechner further evokes this sense of


dislocation through the accidental,
unconnected form of the play—Woyzeck moves
blindly from episode to episode like the prey of
a spider being dragged down its web. His
frenzy increasing over his mistress' infidelity,
Woyzeck falls into a "beautiful aberratio" (as
the Doctor gleefully calls it), and in the grip of
a lucid, Shakespearean madness, he begins to
visualize the sexual act—the act of Nature—in
images of bestiality, foulness and defilement:
"God, blow out the sun and let them roll on
each other in their lechery! Man and woman
and man and beast! They'll do it in the light of
the sun! They'll do it in the palm of your hand
like flies!" It is the language of Shakespeare's
Lear, perceiving the whole of life dominated by
unrestrained appetite. It is the form of Nature
(anarchy and madness) discovering the
essence of Nature (lust and anger). And acting
on this terrible perception, Woyzeck cuts his
mistress' throat. Later, trying to wash the
blood from his hands, he falls into a lake—most
versions have him drown at this point, though
Mr. Mueller brings him back to stand trial—and
as some children heartlessly fling the news
("Hey, your mother's dead") at the woman's
orphaned child, the cycle of inhumanity begins
anew.

The play is exaggerated, but the exaggerations


of German art have become the truths of
German history: Woyzeck is the first
concentration camp man. The play is all the
more remarkable when we remember the date
it was written, but Buechner's capacity for
standing apart from his own time has made
him a part of ours. While his contemporaries
grew drunk on the rich wine of Rousseau, he
looked forward to a harrowing future of
universal, social and personal disorder. The
poet of isolation and ennul he chronicled the
death of the world in images of startling
power, foretelling the Second Coming in every
line of his art: "The world is chaos.
Nothingness is the world-god yet to be born."

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Volume 1, Number 2 · June 1, 1963
Spengler
By H. Stuart Hughes
Man and Technics
by Oswald Spengler, translated by C.F.
Atkinson

Knopf, $3.50
The Hour of Decision
by Oswald Spengler, translated by C.F.
Atkinson

Knopf, $5.00

It is characteristic of Alfred Knopf's loyalty to


authors he has long esteemed to have reissued
two of Spengler's minor writings which have
been out of print for ten years. In terms either
of sales or of intrinsic merit, I question
whether the books deserve such attention.
They are dated, chaotic and intellectually
disreputable; it is difficult to see what the
public of the 1960s will make of these tracts
written only a generation ago, yet under such
totally different circumstances. But now that
Knopf has performed his quixotic gesture, we
can only be grateful to him. It means that the
corpus of Spengler's translated work is back in
print again and that we can see him in
perspective as something more (or less) than
the author of The Decline of the West; we can
rediscover the second role which Spengler
himself considered as important as his
historical writing—his function as political
spokesman and national prophet.

After the phenomenal success of The Decline


in the immediate aftermath of the First World
War, Spengler faced a difficult choice. From a
retired Gymnasium teacher living in obscurity
in Munich, he had suddenly been transformed
into a public figure. His every utterance
commanded attention as a clue to the future of
the Western world whose cultural ossification
and political decay he had already delineated.
On one hand, Spengler might confine himself
to the task of enriching the historical
perspectives he had presented in The Decline—
taking a stand above the day-to-day battle as
the cool observer of the millenial (and
ineluctable) tendencies of history. The other
choice was to get into the fight and show his
own countrymen that all was not lost, that the
German nation, if only it could organize itself
aright, might provide the "Caesar" who would
give the Western world strength for a last-
ditch stand in the age of iron which it was
entering.
Frederick Douglass Book Prize Announcement

By temperament, Spengler preferred the latter


course. He was an activist and a German
patriot, and for the five years of Germany's
post-war turmoil, he devoted his major
energies to trying to steer his country toward
national order and hierarchical discipline.
Unfortunately, for this transition period in his
writing English translations are totally lacking.
We must go to the original texts for the
articles and lectures in which Spengler
preached his own brand of national
regeneration, and more particularly to the slim
polemical volume, Preussentum und
Sozialismus, in which he outlined his prophetic
suggestion of a reconciliation between German
socialist ideals and the Prussian military
tradition.

By 1924, Spengler's failure as a polemicist was


amply evident. With the apparent stabilization
of the German economy and of democratic
institutions, authoritarian conservatives of his
type went into temporary eclipse. Ill and
discouraged, Spengler returned to historical
speculations, toying for years with two vast
projects which finally became one—a
"metaphysical" book and a study of prehistory
in the Mediterranean basin. It was a fragment
of these broodings that he decided to publish
in 1931 under the title Man and Technics.

As an anthropological fantasy Man and


Technics was distinctly inferior to such
Freudian flights as Totem and Taboo and
Moses and Monotheism. The most pessimistic
of Spengler's works, it added little to the
warnings about the culturally devastating
effects of technology that had become routine
among social critics during the previous
generation. Moreover, by the time it was
published, its author had once again shifted
the focus of his interest. Unemployment, social
strife and the rise of Adolf Hitler had given
Spengler a second chance to preach to the
German nation.

The Hour of Decision—"Years of Decision" in


the original German—was, as its name implied,
Spengler's final call for action. The
circumstances of its publication are a curiosity
of literary history. When Hitler came to power
in January 1933, the book had been printed up
to page 106 (Spengler apparently kept writing
while the presses were already grinding away!)
and it was clear that the new rulers of the
Reich would find much of it objectionable. So
the author decided simply to cut the
manuscript where it was, adding a conciliatory
introduction and promising a second volume to
come. The latter never materialized: after
three months of hesistation, the Nazi
authorities declared the book unacceptable
and forbade its further circulation. Spengler
lived under an official cloud until his death in
1936.

These circumstances give The Hour of Decision


its historical and biographical importance. The
book provides Spengler's admirers with an
irrefutable defense—and a contemporary and
wholly spontaneous one, as opposed to a
contrived or ex post facto self-justification—
against the charge of his being a supporter of
Hitler's Reich. It is true that he had prepared
the way for Nazism by his harsh nationalist
utterances, his blood-and-soil effusions and his
search for a Caesar. But he resisted the
excesses of anti-Semitism, and he scorned the
Hitlerian rabble. As The Hour of Decision amply
documents, the "condottiere" Mussolini was
closer to Spengler's ideal. Perhaps it was no
more than aesthetic fastidiousness that
preserved him from being a National Socialist
—but, as George Orwell says of English
hypocrisy, that was at least a guarantee
against the very worst.

Both Man and Technics and The Hour of


Decision contain highly suggestive passages
on the West's relation to the non-European
world. Despite their antiquated terminology of
a "colored peril"—which our generation will
doubtless find both scientifically and morally
reprehensible—they demonstrate that in the
last phase of his life Spengler's gift for
prophetic insight was far from spent. Whatever
contemporary relevance these books possess
derives from an understanding that is only now
dawning on bewildered Westerners facing a
newly liberated Asia and Africa—the realization
that good will is not enough, that under a
superficial similarity of technics and political
institutions yawns an abyss of cultural
misunderstanding.

Yet such passages are no more than the


flickerings of a profound but clouded intellect.
As always with Spengler, we need to separate
out the majestic prose and the arresting
thought from what is merely pompous or
intellectually banal. Fortunately we are
assisted in this selection by the translator,
Charles Francis Atkinson, who brought to these
slighter works the same scholarly care he had
lavished on The Decline. All in all, it may have
been a blessing that Nazi intolerance forced
Spengler back on his earlier and more abstract
interests: his last years he occupied with
another—and more impressive—fragment of
his metaphysical and prehistorical
speculations which is untranslated and hence
far too little known. This amounted to a long
footnote to The Decline—and advisedly so. For
The Decline remained Spengler's monument;
nothing that he wrote subsequently much
increased or diminished the reputation he had
acquired by it. For those of us who have
learned to read Spengler selectively—as
literature and poetic suggestion rather than as
history in the strict sense—The Decline stands
as the supreme achievement in a troubling and
uncertain genre. Harsher, bolder, less
equivocal than Toynbee's, it has set its stamp
on the cultural pessimism that remains a
central and abiding element in the intellectual
history of our era.

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Volume 1, Number 2 · June 1, 1963
A New Beat
By Steven Marcus
The Tin Drum
by Günter Grass

Pantheon, $6.95

Oskar Matzerath, the narrator and protagonist


of Günter Grass' The Tin Drum, is a thirty-year-
old hump-backed inmate of a mental hospital.
Born in the city of Danzig in 1924, Oskar was
"one of those clairaudient infants whose
mental development is completed at birth and
after that merely needs a certain amount of
filling in." The son of petty bourgeois
shopkeeping parents, Oskar hears two things
immediately after he is born: first his father's
statement that his son will take over the store
when he grows up. The next words are his
mother's: "When little Oskar is three, he will
have a toy drum." Oskar quickly comes to a
decision that he "would never under any
circumstances be a grocer, that I would stop
right there, remain as I was—and so I did." On
his third birthday, he gets his toy drum, flings
himself down a flight of stairs, and stops
growing—and for many years thereafter "I not
only stayed the same size but clung to the
same attire." In order to be "exempted from
the big and little catechism," in order to "avoid
playing the cash register," Oskar makes the
modern grand refusal: he refuses to "grow up."
He remains a three-year-old drummer—
superior, detached, demonic, complete in his
deformity.

The Tin Drum is divided into three parts. The


first deals with the life and adventures of
Oskar, his family and their circle of
acquaintances in Danzig, and ends in 1939.
The second part concerns the War; and part
three is an account of Oskar's experiences in
post-war Germany and Europe, "the middle-
class paradise we are living in today." The
central undertaking of this novel, in other
words, is to deal with Nazi Germany from the
inside, a field of experience which has thus far
proved inaccessible to the literary imagination.
And it does so by taking and developing as its
point of view that one part of the human
constitution which remains least touched by
politics, most resistant to civilization in any
form, and in its untouchability and resistance
incorruptibly human—the primitive
unconscious, the id. On one side Oskar
represents this force—mad, selfish, insatiable,
indifferent to the commands and sanctions of
society. Existing in a state of anarchic and pre-
moral savagery, he remains peculiarly remote
from the organized and post-moral cannibalism
into which modern German civilization
propelled itself. The dialectic of The Tin Drum
consists of the interplay between the irrational
energies of Oskar and the irrational energies
of the modern social world, energies which do
not merely negate each other but oddly act as
counterparts as well.
Frederick Douglass Book Prize Announcement

This account distorts and simplifies and omits


a good deal; The Tin Drum is a large book, and
the conception of Oskar is not to be exhausted
by such a summary. It may, however, serve to
suggest something of this work's tone and
quality. The Tin Drum is a novel which has a
genuine concern for society, but it dramatizes
that concern largely by means of devices which
we associate with the imagination of the
absurd. Its symbols are not merely
multivalent; sometimes they aren't symbols at
all, or are symbolic of nothing beyond their
arbitrariness and deceit. Its point of view is
shifting and indeterminate; it regularly
dissolves into a welter of self-referring
rhetoric. It describes surreal events in dryly
dispassionate prose, and represents such an
action as picking up a pencil as if it were the
building of Boulder Dam. Its episodes are
frequently inconsequent, and when they are
not inconsequent tend to be circular, the
completeness of form embodying the sudden
collapse of content. It alternates between
scenes of the wildest and most scabrous
humor and long patches of groping, unrelieved
tedium. (The intention of imposing a special
kind of stupefaction on its audience seems to
me—however one wants to judge it—an
integral function of this literature.) Much of
the literature of the absurd uses these devices
to speak directly to "the human condition";
and its representations of society are almost
without exception abstractly symbolic. What is
new and interesting about Grass' work is that
it attempts to combine the devices of the
absurd, and the vision of experience which
they entail, with a thick, detailed and often
quasinaturalistic account of social reality.

The Tin Drum deals generally with


meaninglessness and impossibility in all
directions, but the absurdity upon which it
most repeatedly focuses and which finally
constitutes what must pass for its subject is
the absurdity of history. The Europe which
Oskar inhabits, for example, has lost,
destroyed or absconded with its own past; and
Oskar often thinks of going to America, "the
land where people find whatever they have
lost, even missing grandfathers." Yet Oskar
(like his creator) is a native of Danzig, half
Polish, half German; and he is sentimentally
attached to Polish history, which is itself a
fantasy of romantic defeat, of Uhlans attacking
armored tanks with lances, of conquest,
partition, and crazy, admirable patriotism. But
then so are the Germans attached to Poland—

I look for the land of the Poles that is lost to


the Germans, for the moment at least.
Nowadays the Germans have started searching
for Poland with credits, Leicas, and compasses,
with radar, divining rods, delegations, and
moth-eaten provincial students' associations in
costume. Some carry Chopin in their hearts,
others thoughts of revenge. Condemning the
first four partitions of Poland, they are busily
planning a fifth; in the meantime flying to
Warsaw via Air France in order to deposit, with
appropriate remorse, a wreath on the spot that
was once the ghetto. One of these days they
will go searching for Poland with rockets. I,
meanwhile, conjure up Poland on my drum.
And this is what I drum: Poland's lost, but not
forever, all's lost, but not forever, Poland's not
lost forever.

These forlorn snatches from the Polish national


anthem, however, lead Oskar back not so much
to the pathos of national history as they do to
a particular spot in space and moment in time:
a potato field in Kashubia where one day in the
distant past a man escaping from the police
hid for some hours beneath the four capacious
skirts of Oskar's grandmother. During that
interval Oskar's mother was conceived, all the
trouble was begun, and Oskar's fondest hope
is often to get out of all, preferably by
returning with his mother to his grandmother's
womb; failing that his "aim is to get back to
the umbilical cord; that is the sole purpose
behind this whole vast verbal effort."

But it is an effort doomed to failure, for


"History, blaring special communiqués at the
top of its lungs, sped like a well-greased
amphibious vehicle over the roads and
waterways of Europe and through the air as
well, conquering everything in its path"—its
abstractions at least as real as the people it
rolls over, if not more so. The War begins, and
"The Free Hanseatic City of Danzig celebrated
the Anschluss of its brick Gothic to the Greater
German Reich and gazed jubilantly into the
blue eyes…of Adolph Hitler, the Führer and
Chancellor, as he stood in his black Mercedes
distributing rectangular salutes." The
senseless, ant-like "purposeful industry" of the
War comes to a climax in the Russian descent
on Danzig. "For centuries Pomerelians,
Brandenburgers, Teutonic Knights, Poles,
Swedes, and a second time Swedes,
Frenchmen, Prussians, and Russians, even
Saxons, had made history by deciding every
few years that Danzig was worth burning." At
the sight of the still intact city, Marshal
Rokossovski "remembered his great
international precursors and set the whole-
place on fire with his artillery in order that
those who came after him might work off their
excess energies in rebuilding." And while
Danzig is burning Oskar looks out of a window
"and was amazed to see what a burst of
vitality our venerable old city had been able to
summon up." Yet the absurdities of Oskar's
observations are as nothing compared with the
behavior of his father, a minor Nazi official,
who while the Russians are blowing up the city
was "as bewildered as a child who can't make
up his mind whether to go on believing in
Santa Claus, and for the first time expressed
doubts about the final victory." And of the
post-war binge of prosperity Oskar remarks
that every binge is "followed by a hangover,
and one symptom of this hangover is that the
deeds and misdeeds which only yesterday
were fresh and alive and real, are reduced to
history and explained as such." Oskar rejects
history, but he beats on his drum to keep
memory fresh.

One of the more striking characteristics of the


literature of the absurd has to do with its use
of displacement. The Tin Drum employs this
device to considerable effect; it maintains a
large distance between the events it describes
and the emotions ordinarily "appropriate" to
those events. Indeed the short circuit of
emotion and event is sometimes absolute.
Such a maneuver acts to add another
dimension of distortion and negation to the
novel's imaginative view, but it also acts as a
positive defense against certain emotions and
as a means of controlling them. The events
with which The Tin Drum mostly deals normally
elicit the most violent emotions—disgust, rage,
horror, revulsion, murderous hatred. These
violences are mastered, modulated, distanced
and turned into comedy through the
separations, displacements and dislocations of
the absurd. The characteristic tone of The Tin
Drum is a cool exuberance, and this in itself is
something of an achievement. But at the
center of The Tin Drum there is another
displacement which both accounts for this
novel's particular interest and expresses its
author's dilemma. The whole novel is made
possible by the conception of Oskar, a totally
conscious, totally irrational, perpetual three-
year-old. But this conception also permits
Grass to bypass the most important, and
probably insurmountable, moral question
possible to a young German: What, had I been
old enough, would I have done then? Had the
choice been forced upon me, what decision
would I have made? Oskar's decision not to
grow up permits this confrontation to be
avoided, and this avoidance represents the
outer limits of this novel's moral and
imaginative vision. Yet we must recognize as
well that this evasion is inseparable from its
imaginative achievement and assertion, and
must consider once again that in such strange
shifts and twists does literary creation find its
origins.

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Volume 1, Number 2 · June 1, 1963
Shakespeare
By Andrew Chiappe
Shakespeare Criticism, 1935-1960
Selected with an introduction by Anne Ridler

Oxford University Press (World's Classics),


$2.75

Since Ben Jonson, in his commemorative poem


in the First Folio, applied his critical theory to
Shakespeare, stressing the "Art" that shaped,
ordered and clarified the copious inventions
and intuitions proceeding from his "Nature,"
Shakespeare's works have been the proper and
central concern of English—speaking critics.
Critical theories and methods have been tested
on the plays and poems, confirmed by them,
or, in some cases, have originated from their
study. (One thinks of Keats and Empson.) A
history of Shakespeare criticism would be a
basic history of criticism in English and might,
in fact, serve instead of a full account. Since
major movements of critical thought, the
shifting fashions and winds of doctrine, and
the wilder aberrations as well, are usually
encountered first in the limitless flood of
commentary that Shakespeare provokes, we
must look with more than a specialist's
interest at a volume like Mrs. Ridler's, which
attempts to select a sampling of "principal
trends" in the Shakespeare criticism of the
past quarter century.

This selection extends the previous selection


which Mrs. Ridler made of the Shakespeare
criticism of the years 1919 to 1935 for a
World's Classics volume published in 1936. The
earlier volume presented new and exciting
directions in the 20th-century approach to
Shakespeare: Caroline Spurgeon's early work
on imagery and "leading motifs," Granville-
Barker's examinations of dramatic meanings in
relation to the mixed modes of the
Elizabethan-Jacobean theatre, Wilson Knight's
study of symbolic and visionary patterns. Also
included were textual and historical analyses
by W. W. Greg and G. B. Harrison, and more
rigidly historicist readings by E. E. Stoll and J.
M. Robertson (whose untenable assumptions
about the origin of Hamlet, transmitted by T.
S. Eliot, have confused a whole generation).
More general and impressionistic essays were
included, by J. M. Murry, George Rylands and
Edmund Blunden, as well as T. S. Ellot's essay
on "Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca."
The theme most central to the collection was
borne, however, by those critics, led by
Granville-Barker, who saw Shakespeare's
context, as Mrs. Ridler pointed out in her
introduction, as "the theatre, and England
under Elizabeth," though disagreeing about
the nature of that theatre, and the
assumptions and attitudes of the Elizabethans.
To this generation of critics, Mrs. Ridler noted,
the "moral approach" of Pater and Bradley's
"practice of character extraction" had grown
alien.
NYRB / Names on the Land

Twenty-five years later the wheel, if it has not


come full circle, has swung through a
measurable arc. An echo of the once-
fashionable rejection of Bradley is still heard,
it is true, in F. R. Leavis' essay in this volume
("We have left Bradley fairly behind") which
incredibly fuses Bradley with William Archer in
the hyphenated phrase "the Bradley-Archer
approach." But elsewhere one critic (J. I. M.
Stewart) dares to speak of Shakespearean
Tragedy as "the best book on Shakespeare"
and the others treat Bradley's work with the
respect that has always marked major
Shakespeareans like Granville-Barker and
Wilson Knight, and offer his majestical
analyses no show of violence. More: we find
ourselves involved regularly in the discussion
(if not the "extraction") of Shakespeare's
characters in some of the best of these essays
(by R. W. Chambers, Wilson Knight, L. C.
Knights, J. I. M. Stewart, Helen Gardner). The
focus is once more on the establishment of the
dramatic image of man and the moral
implications of that image as Shakespeare's
central activity. Mrs. Ridler, noting this
tendency in her introduction, justly observes
that the study of characters is now more
closely bound to the whole contexts of the
plays. This stress on the "organic" wholeness
of the dramatic poem is strong throughout the
collection. Images, image-clusters, symbols,
ideas, formal patterns, conventions of thought
and stagecraft are seen achieving their final
realization in the human images which move
before us on the stage (or in the imagination)
and in their imagined actions. The force of
these elements in the plays is weighed by the
degree to which they are structured into the
characters and their acts, animating and
illuminating those, as the "enchared flood"
becomes part of Othello himself, the tempest
the dark heart of King Lear. The emphasis, as
Jonson insisted, is on the complex art which
makes meaningful the gifts of nature. If any
one has been "left fairly behind" it is the New
Critics in their more restricted efforts.

Much of this organic sense of the work was


implied, or directly presented, by Bradley—as
it had been earlier by Coleridge—and would
have been continuously available if the rebels
had troubled to read them fully and with care
(or at all) instead of mocking trivially at
Bradley's notes, or supposed notes, out of
context. The fineness of Bradley's analysis of
the images of man in action projected by
Shakespeare's art, the central substance of
any drama, was so subtle as to be distracting
in many cases; but it was always related to a
sense of the poetic shape, massed meanings
and rhythms of the whole play, and the vision
of a moral universe it implied. There were
moments when Bradley nodded; his
aberrations are famous, but they are very few.
Yet even Cordelia's childhood with her evil
sisters (a backward reflection in fact prompted
in us by some lines in the play) is more
relevant to the full meaning of King Lear than
are some of the floating strands of imagery we
have been asked to grasp at by those critics
who have detached symbol and image from the
central dramatic context. In extreme
developments of this criticism disengaged
from dramatic action, one has sometimes the
impression that a performance in the vital
Elizabethan-Jacobean theatre is imagined as a
private rite of language celebrated in the
presence of a crowd of indifferent groundlings
(and, in the better places, Donne, Essex,
Bacon, Ralegh, Sir Henry Wotton) in which
autonomous mechanisms of words, self-
sustaining, self-delighting, unsullied by any
relevance to the life words refer to, went
through their intricate motions. Yet the
groundlings, one suspects, and even Donne
and the others, continued to ask their vulgar
questions: What is the matter with Hamlet? Do
the vilest things "become" themselves in
Cleopatra? Is ripeness really all?

It is cheering therefore to see a reunion of


tendencies in the best work in this volume: an
attempt to gather the great deal we have come
to know about the texts, performances and
conventions of the Elizabethan-Jacobean
theatre, the still living but disturbed medieval
tradition, the great debates of the
Renaissance, imagery, symbolism, psychology
old and new, into a single focus on the organic
and complex poetic-dramatic art which
animates Shakespeare's plays. The tone—an
emphasis on both symbol and character and
their implications—is set by the longest of the
essays in the volume, Wilson Knight's "The
Shakespearean Integrity," which extends the
organic sense to the whole of Shakespeare's
mature work, and presents the coherence of
the Shakespearean vision of life as it develops
through the particulars of many dramatic
actions. We may not be able to follow
Professor Knight in his presentation of
Shakespeare as prophet, but he gives us the
formula for sound criticism: "Symbolism blends
with iterative imagery and that with the
persons of the play themselves, so that there
is scarcely an isolated or insatiable heart to
the organism." Dr. Leavis, in a relaxed
moment, shares this wisdom: "We are aware of
the subtle varieties of possibility under the
head of convention, and now we must keep a
vigilant eye open for the development of
theme by imagery and symbolism, and for the
bearing of all these on the way we are to take
character, action, and plot."

A combination of the approaches of Bradley,


Wilson Knight and Granville-Barker,
approaches not ultimately incompatible, holds
promise for a study of Shakespeare which will
attend to character, action, poetic and
symbolic structure, performance in a realist-
symbolist theatre, all related by that relentless
coherence which is a unique characteristic of
Shakespeare's mature genius. The best of the
critical essays in this collection make such a
combination: L. C. Knights on King Lear, F. R.
Leavis on Shakespeare's last plays, Kenneth
Muir on Pericles, W. H. Auden on music in
Shakespeare.

Other, more historical, essays are drawn from


that growing body of studies which relate the
works of Shakespeare to the history of ideas
and dramatic and literary conventions: R. W.
Chambers on Elizabethan-Jacobean attitudes in
Measure for Measure, Nevill Coghill on the
medieval tradition of the comedies, and
excerpts from Dover Wilson's The Fortunes of
Flastaff and E. M. W. Tillyard's Shakespeare's
History Plays. This approach requires a
constant caveat lest in recognizing the
continuing energies of tradition it overlook the
equally great energies of change that marked
Shakespeare's age, and thus fail to value
properly one of his chief accomplishments—the
reconstitution in the plays of a sense of world
and individual order, in many aspects
traditional, but an order which has endured
the questioning of the mature plays, and is
transformed by that questioning. Some
selections from scholars who stress the
counter-Renaissance tendencies in
Shakespeare—Theodore Spencer, J. F. Danby,
Patrick Cruttwell—would have made this
selection more representative.

No volume of this size can, of course, be truly


representative or give a comprehensive view
of the main tendencies of recent Shakespeare
criticism. Mrs. Ridler acknowledges this
limitation, and one cannot therefore quarrel
with her many omissions. Two or three such
collections would be needed to give something
like the full spectrum of work on Shakespeare,
especially in the United States, where fashions
in criticism proliferate in greater abundance
than in Great Britain, and also endure longer.
(The colleges are still full of unreclaimed
Stollites, for example.) In a larger volume, or a
series of small ones, one would expect to see
some of the significant work of Alfred Harbage,
Mark Van Doren, D. A. Traversi, Una Ellis-
Fermor, all of whom are omitted from Mrs.
Ridler's selection. The ritual elements in drama
(touched upon in this volume in H. D. F. Kitto's
essay on Hamlet) could be studied further in
the work of Francis Fergusson and C. L.
Barber. The psychoanalytic approach, though
it has produced much nonsense, has been so
widespread that it needs to be met with. There
is promise in some as yet tentative attempts to
link Shakespeare's pieties to that study of the
history of art forms which the art historians of
this century have analyzed with so much
scholarship and brilliance. And one may
quarrel with Mrs. Ridler's reason for omitting
any specimen of the work of William Empson:
that it requires "a complex technique of
understanding"; his essays on Folly and the
Fool in Lear in The Structure of Complex
Words, for example, are available and
illuminating to any one who brings to them a
merely active mind. Yet one must be grateful
to Mrs. Ridler for having gathered together so
many good essays, and for having established
firmly in her selections the salutary direction
which is coming to dominate Shakespeare
criticism.

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Volume 1, Number 2 · June 1, 1963
Cook's Tour
By Richard Poirier
V.
by Thomas Pynchon

Lippincott, $5.95

Nothing more intricately conceived than


Thomas Pynchon's first novel has appeared in
American fiction since the work in the thirties
by Faulkner, Nathanael West and Djuna
Barnes, the last two being among the writers
who have given him the courage of his artifices
and of the assumptions that go with them. V.
is full of self-mystified people consistently
avoiding direct relations with one another
through disguise or evasion, people living the
disrupted existences either of the Cook's Tour,
in one plot, or, in the other, of a kind of
contemporary tourism called "yo-yoing," the
pointless, repetitive passage and return on
any convenient ferry or subway. Neither of the
two interwoven plots is presented in sequence.
One involves a self-styled schlemihl named
Benny Profane, his naval buddies, and a gang
in New (sometimes "Nueva") York who call
themselves the Whole Sick Crew. The other is
an international melodrama of spying that
covers the years since 1898. It is reconstructed
by Herbert Stencil—the name meaning that he
is a copy of his father in the effort to keep
track of the elusive V. He cannot be sure what
V. is, whether she (or it) is not wholly a
fantasy.

Even the title of the novel is thus


cryptographic. V. comes to stand for anything
to which, in the absence of love, one devotes
his passion and curiosity. It can refer to a bar
called the V-note, where Benny and the Crew
listen to a jazz player named McClintic Sphere;
to Valetta on Malta: to a sewer rat, Veronica,
so named by a Father Fairing who wants, in his
efforts to convert the rats of New York to
Roman Catholicism, to make Veronica his first
saint and his mistress; to Venus, the goddess,
the planet, the mons Veneris—to Venezuela
and Queen Victoria, to Vesuvius and other
volcanoes, to the mythical land of Vheissu with
its iridescent spider monkeys. So far as Stencil
is concerned, however, V. is a lady
internationally renowned as spy, lover,
transvestite and impersonator. She has been
on the scene of various international crises
since her first appearance in Cairo during the
Fashoda incident in 1898. There, in her
nineteenth year, and under the name Virginia
Wren, she is deflowered by a British agent. The
next year she is in Florence coincident with a
manufactured crisis over Vheissu (and, of
course, Venezuela) during which she seduces
Stencil's father at the British consulate,
thereby becoming Stencil's mother. In
subsequent impersonations, she is identified in
Paris in 1913 as the Lesbian fetishist lover of a
dancer named Mélanie l'Heuremaudit. Still
later, she is placed in German Southwest Africa
during a native rebellion in 1922, and in this
instance is given two simultaneous identities
by Stencil: as a child of sixteen with white-
blond, hiplength hair and the information that
"I am Hedwlg Vogelsang, and my purpose on
earth is to tantalize and send raving the race
of man"; and as the older, more subtle Vera
Meroving who sports a glass eye, the face of
which is also a watch, and a star sapphire
sewn into her navel on Malta in 1919-she was
known then as Veronica Manganese. She
makes her last appearance, in Stencil's
increasingly weird dehumanization of the
figure, again on Malta in 1939 when, disguised
as a priest with a detachable gold foot, she is
knocked unconscious in a bombing raid and
disassembled by a group of children who are
less mean than inquisitive.
Frederick Douglass Book Prize Announcement

Roughly speaking, each story involving V. as


lady spy and seductress is given a chapter,
sometimes narrated by the author, sometimes
by Stencil to members of the Crew or to Dudley
Eigenvalue, a "psychodontist" who treats
patients for such ills as "heterodont
configuration." Alternating with these tales are
chapters devoted to the career of Benny
Profane—as yo-yo, schlemihl, hunter of
alligators in the New York sewers, or, as we
first see him, as assistant to a Brazilian salad
man at a borscht resort. It is here, at the
opening of the novel, that he meets the most
humanly identifiable of the characters, if that
is what they can be called, a Rachel Owlglass,
she who can see wisely without becoming a
voyeur. Though she is to become the moral
heroine of the novel, she is at first presented
with a satiric extravagance that puts an
excessive limit on the possible development of
the figures in the books. She is at the time a
Bennington girl, full of postures and a greater
desire for sexual contact with her MG than
with Benny: " 'Benny,' she cried—a little cry
—'be my friend, is all.' "

Anyone reading this account of the novel,


insofar as it has been possible to give one, will
probably take Rachel's "little cry" for
friendship with a kind of wry amusement. And
in fact that is what the novel itself seems to
ask of us, especially at this particular point
where the weight of surrounding caricature
bears heavily upon her. But the comic
intention is thwarted by an uncertain pathos,
and one comes to feel even this early in the
novel a considerable discomfort about its
alternations of pace and sensibility. Pynchon's
comic style resembles the zanier writings of
Evelyn Waugh or the early S.J. Perelman.
Inherent in the dislocations between this style
and the moments where the author wants to
evoke human sympathy and tenderness is the
guess that Pynchon will not feel that these
comparisons do justice to his book. And in
some important ways they do not. His
ambitions in V. are prodigious, enough to
demand comparison less with Perelman than
with the Joyce of the Circe episode of Ulysses.
He shows unusual capacities for philosophical
discriminations, an astonishing
knowledgeability—of history, medicine,
geography, sexual lore—all expressed with an
authoritative ease especially remarkable in a
young writer, and he has the eye and ear of a
great parodist. With such talents, he is limited
now only by his determination to show off. His
displays of genius tend to jostle each other out
of the way; his comic inventions are always so
active, his caricature so eager, that he cannot
effectively allow his characters the seriousness
and delicacy his thematic ambitions require of
them.

The insistent grotesqueness of this novel—


literally of confusing human, animate and
inanimate things—is Pynchon's way of showing
a world in which gestures of human warmth,
kindness or love are barely visible, and his
elaborately jumbled plots make it appear that
such gestures are unable, even temporarily, to
bring order and sequence to the lives of his
characters. The effect of his grotesqueness is
thus extremely pessimistic, especially since
the interweaving of the two plots makes the
decadence of life, public and private, seem like
a historical development that has been
accelerating since the end of the last century.
Obviously, Pynchon's view of modern existence
is too speculative to center on any
institutionalized villain or to expend itself in
yet another attack on "conformity." His book is
about the failure of human beings to arouse in
one another their potentialities for love and
hope. They choose instead to become, in a
metaphorical sense, inanimate, like Benny
Profane whom Rachel finally cannot save from
the Whole Sick Crew. Or they find some
hopeless animation in the madly ingenious
orderings of life around a phanton like V.,
creating in the process those international
situations that have no objective reality but
which express an unconscious, universal urge
to self-annihilation. The search for V. is not
along a path of human victory but of historical
fatality, constructed, even sought, by those
characters, by far the most numerous, whose
incapacity for love allows them to see the
human image only as a thing to see in the
spread thighs of a woman, for instance, only a
V. Being at first a participant in this surrender
to the inanimate. Rachel must of necessity cry
"be my friend" in a small voice, even though
her later scenes with Profane are the most
eloquently poignant in the book.

Pynchon would obviously like to imagine some


way out of the paralysis toward which his
comedy is always pointing. And yet wherever
he tries an alternative his style usually betrays
the effort. It becomes limp and platitudinous,
especially in the treatment of kindly
bartenders or, as he rather cloyingly alludes to
them, "young people." The advice which
McClintic Sphere gives himself—"Love with
your mouth shut, help without breaking your
ass or publicizing it: keep cool but care"—is
also a kind of stoic coda to the book. But in the
context of the startling energy, stress and
imagination of the prose devoted to the
grotesque shape which life assumes here,
McClintic's line, full of a sloganeering
crispness, sounds like so much pap. To have
therefore mocked it is more, no doubt, than
this brilliantly apocalyptic writer had the heart
to do. This means, I think, that while there are
still unmanageable conflicts in him he is strong
enough to evade them—a most productive
tension in a novelist, who, in his debut, earns
the right to be called one of the best we now
have.

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Volume 1, Number 2 · June 1, 1963
Literary Realism
By Alfred Kazin
Documents of Modern Literary Realism
edited by George J. Becker

Princeton University Press, $8.50

"Realism" is a boring term now, fit only for


textbooks. There are people who still use it
with interest. But these are either literary
scholars, who are concerned with the history
of ideas, the history of forms, the history of a
common way of seeing reality (which is what a
literary movement represents)—or
propagandists for art-with-a-purpose. No
intelligent novelist worries about "realism" any
more; what it stood for in the 19th century has
long since been absorbed into even the most
indifferent and machine-produced literary
entertainment for the masses. And when
"realism" is used to denote a positive ideal, as
it is by people more interested in sociology
than in literature, it is difficult to repress one's
indignation at the thought of what "realism" in
the Soviet Union, where it is not a literary
creed but the state religion, has done to
honest writers.

Why then bother with "realism" today? Why


read and review an anthology of this bulk,
laden with thoughts on realism by all those
19th-century writers, Russian, French,
German, Italian, Spanish, English, American,
for whom "realism" was a lively issue? The
answer is that the interest in "realism" has
been an interest in the novel. The novel is
nothing without "real life"; the novel has
always, whether supported by "realistic"
doctrine or not, been synonymous with
realism; the novel, even in our day, when so
many literary minds are expressly against
realism as a doctrine, seems to break down
whenever there is not vital enough or
consistent enough a sense of "reality." Even
the most pretentious and boding
epistemological French novelists of the new
wave don't seem to be able to write fiction or
even to talk about fiction except in relation to
"realism." For realism and the novel grew out
of the same need to describe and indeed to
systematize our literary ideas of the external
world. Realism and the novel had the same
roots in the "modern," sceptical, thing-
concerned instrumentalist world. Works
completely "romantic" are not novels, they are
romances; no matter how much there is of
romance in a novel by Cooper or Scott or
Melville, the relationship to the agreed-upon
and sensible external world is unmistakable.
Frederick Douglass Book Prize Announcement

It is true, as Professor George Becker says in


his comprehensive introduction to realism as a
movement, that "realism rarely, if ever,
dominated and controlled a whole work before
the middle of the 19th century; rather it was
controlled and its functioning directed by the
official aesthetic doctrine of a given time and
place, which was never before realistic." But
the novel with its peculiar openness—to the
life of crowds, groups, streets; to erotic detail;
to adventures and journeyings; to low life; to
thieves and prostitutes; to politics, scandal,
war, the stock exchange, the factory, the
fields, the labor exchange, the hiring hall—
would never have emerged as the great
modern form, the almost inevitable destination
that prose takes whenever it wants to make
things really explicit by dramatizing them, if it
had not emerged from the same interests and
beliefs as "realism."

Of course the novel is a form and "realism" is a


formula. But the deepest interest of the
formula is surely what certain "seizing"
imaginations (to use a key word in Henry
James' writings on the novel) made of it. Just
as there are textbooks of "realism" in
American philosophy which no one not a a
professor would ever open if they didn't
feature William James or Santayana, so no one
who just cares for literature would today, when
there is obviously no need for realism as a
doctrine to be an explicit and fighting issue,
pay any attention to "realism" if it weren't for
the fact that without it Stendhal, Balzac,
Tolstoy, Flaubert, James, Crane, Dreiser and
other pillars of the modern novel might never
have created their works.

Does it matter, then, that Dickens is not a full-


fledged realist? That in his preface to La
Comedie Humaine Balzac is grandiloquent in
his conception of it and that Zola, in Le Roman
Experimental, simply mechanical and
pretentious?

Yes it does—it matters not in relation to the


doctrine, which like all literary doctrines is
simply an agreed way of looking at reality, a
"truth" good for a season, but in relation to the
imaginations that are inspired by it. For me
"realism" is something that Balzac believed in,
or thought he believed in, and made use of as
if he believed in it. It was a creed, undeniably
pretentious, even in his hands obviously
stretched to suit his imperial temperament,
but which nevertheless gave him a convincing
picture of things, an idea with which to unlock
the voluminous 19th century. The fact that
Flaubert didn't really consider himself a
"realist," that he indeed resented and despised
the doctrines and dictionaries of the
movement, doesn't remove the fact that if
realism hadn't been in the air, if Flaubert
hadn't forced himself to participate in it
"once," as he said grimly, Madame Bovary
would not exist. Of course it is comic now to
read the reviews of the time in Professor
Becker's anthology and to learn that Bovary is
"arid" and "dry." Today it is impossible to read
the most beautiful passages in the book, like
Emma unfurling her umbrella in the rain,
without feeling a kind of compassion for
Flaubert, still hungry for "beauty," and
indulging himself in colors and textures as if
they were forbidden sweets. But it is less the
inconsistency of "realistic" method in Flaubert
that interests me now than it is the variations
in tone. These proceed, I suspect, from
Flaubert's impatience for effect, from the
extraordinary personal bitterness from which
he was always trying to escape into the effects
of brutality (which he called "objectivity") and
beauty. Flaubert was never really objective at
all, since he despised the public world and
wanted either to escape it or to parody it.

Realism-naturalism was a springboard to the


creative imagination. Despite the lack of
purpose in the universe that such doctrines
announce, no writer ever feels that a doctrine
is without purpose if he can make use of it.
When a man says that life has no fundamental
purpose and that his aim as a writer is
"merely" to show the objective facts of
behavior, he takes advantage of the supposed
meaninglessness and objectivity to show how
free, clever and dynamic he is in discovering
these profound truths. So long as men live in
time and can anticipate a future, they will
make use of ideas, even ideas of
purposelessness, to display their discovery of
truth. The Count de Vogue, a section of whose
remarkable book on Le Roman Russe is
included in this anthology, complained, as so
many thoughtful Christians did in the 19th
century, that realism-naturalism was a denial
of meaning and purpose in the universe. But
when a writer himself says, as Zola did, that
novelists have become scientists, that the
novelist now performs "experiments" on his
characters, that the "experimental" novel, as
he called it, "is simply the record of that
experiment," that "the whole experiment
consists of taking facts from nature," how can
we believe that Zola is a mechanism, that Zola
is anything but a free and creative human
being proud of having found his key to the
mystery of nature and society? Nietzsche
understood—Erich Heller quotes this in his
essay here on "The Realistic Fallacy"—that
"realism" in art is an illusion, that all the
writers of all the ages were convinced that
they were realistic…. "What then," asked
Nietzsche, "is it that the so-called realism of
our writers tells us about the happiness of our
time?…. One is indeed led to believe that our
particular happiness does not spring from
what really is, but from our understanding of
reality…. The artists of our century willy-nilly
glorify the scientific beatitudes."

Nietzsche, who was more penetrating than


perhaps any novelist of his time except Tolstoy
and Dostoevsky, and despite his private
instability actually more balanced a mind than
either, was no doubt right to see "realism" as
the artist's key to understanding, a form of
intellectual control and mastery—indeed, of
overwhelming pride. But Nietzsche, who even
as a philosopher was unique in his disdain of
system, understood better than most
philosophers—he was probably the most gifted
"poet" among the philosophers after Plato—the
relationship of any philosophy to imaginative
creation. Dante's cosmogony, which we
consider mistaken, does not keep us from
appreciating his poetry. Many a point of view
which we in our day consider absolutely true,
irrefutable, sensible, going to the heart of
things, nevertheless has not added a good line
to a poem, made a character live in a story and
shaped a beautiful line in any piece of writing.
Yet to write at all, one must see the world in
some comprehensive light; one must see it so
for oneself. Whether the character a writer
gives the world will fit in well with the present
age or be superseded by the next, the writer
must give a character to the world he lives in—
from its streets to its cosmos. He must believe
in the image of reality he uses. He must really
see things in its light.

"Realism" did this, passingly and scatteringly,


for certain novelists in the 19th century who
wanted to give direct impressions of life. Life
had opened up even more than the novelists
had. Realism liberated gifted people in the
lower class to discover their vocation as
novelists. If it hadn't been for realism, all
writers would have had to come out of the old
elites; like the French revolution,
industrialism, democracy, big cities, "realism"
opened the way to new talents. Of course
many such writers, notably Zola and Dreiser,
were intellectually pretentious. They posed as
thinkers, but were merely novelists.

Obviously this was not a loss; and in any event


"realism" as a way of interpreting reality soon
became banal, programmatic and even cheap.
As an authentic philosophy it fell apart in the
1890s, when imaginative new thinkers like
William James, Freud and Bergson put a new
emphasis on the autonomous and unconscious
resources of the individual. By now this, too,
as a way of seeing human beings for purposes
of imaginative form, has become so banal and
second-hand that it is impossible to imagine
works like Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury
coming out of the Freudian clichés of our day.
It may be that "creeds" in general are now
mistaken by the writer as tyrannical and
external; changes in the external world, which
in the 18th and 19th centuries the novelists
felt exactly suited to describe, now proceed
too fast for everybody except computers.
When one considers how confidently and
rhythmically the novelists of the past
advanced in order to display their mastery of
"fact" in the external world, it is not hard to
see why novelists do less well than they used
to. They simply don't know how to put so much
change into their books, and though they try
to look back, now, to the "age of psychology"
as to a golden age, it is clear that the psyche is
not of limitless interest as a subject for fiction.
Yet "realism" as a way of thinking, as an
approach to what we confidently still think of
as "reality"—outside of us yet still embracing
us in a single order of truth—will remain so
long as fiction remains the natural extension of
an age of prose.

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Volume 1, Number 3 · September 26, 1963
The Ideal Husband
By Susan Sontag
Albert CamusAlbert Camus by David Levine
Notebooks, 1935-42
by Albert Camus, Translated from the French
by Philip Thody

Knopf, 225 pp., $5.00

Great writers are either husbands or lovers.


Some writers supply the solid virtues of a
husband: reliability, intelligibility, generosity,
decency. There are other writers in whom one
prizes the gifts of a lover, gifts of
temperament rather than of moral goodness.
Notoriously, women tolerate qualities in a
lover—moodiness, selfishness, unreliability,
brutality—that they would never countenance
in a husband, in return for excitement, an
infusion of intense feeling. In the same way,
readers put up with unintelligibility,
obsessiveness, painful truths, lies, bad
grammar—if, in compensation, the writer
allows them to savor rare emotions and
dangerous sensations. And, as in life, so in art
both are necessary, husbands and lovers. It's a
great pity when one is forced to choose
between them.
Again, as in life, so in art: the lover usually has
to take second place. In the great periods of
literature, husbands have been more
numerous than lovers; in all the great periods
of literature, that is, except our own.
Perversity is the muse of modern literature.
Today the house of fiction is full of mad lovers,
gleeful rapists, castrated sons—but very few
husbands. The husbands have a bad
conscience, they would all like to be lovers.
Even so husbandly and solid a writer as
Thomas Mann was tormented by an
ambivalence toward virtue, and was forever
carrying on about it in the guise of a conflict
between the bourgeois and the artist. But
most modern writers don't even allow Mann's
problem. Each writer, each literary movement
vies with its predecessor in a great display of
temperament, obsession, singularity. Modern
literature is oversupplied with madmen of
genius. No wonder, then, that when an
immensely gifted writer, whose talents
certainly fall short of genius, arises who boldly
assumes the responsibilities of sanity, he
should be acclaimed beyond his purely literary
merits.
NYR Holiday Subscription Special

I speak of course, of Albert Camus, the ideal


husband of contemporary letters. Being a
contemporary, he had to traffic in the
madmen's themes: suicide, affectlessness,
guilt, absolute terror. But he does so with such
an air of reasonableness, mesure,
effortlessness, gracious impersonality, as to
place him apart from the others. Starting from
the premises of a popular nihilism, he moves
the reader—solely by the power of his own
tranquil voice and tone—to humanist and
humanitarian conclusions in no way entailed
by his premises. This illogical leaping of the
abyss to nihilism is the gift for which readers
are grateful to Camus. This is why he evoked
feelings or real affection on the part of his
readers. Kafka arouses pity and terror, Joyce
admiration, Proust and Gide respect, but no
modern writer that I can think of, except
Camus, has aroused love. His death in 1960
was felt as a personal loss by the whole
literate world.

Whenever Camus is spoken of there is a


mingling of personal, moral, and literary
judgment. No discussion of Camus fails to
include, or at least suggest, a tribute to his
goodness and attractiveness as a man. To
write about Camus is thus to consider what
occurs between the image of a writer and his
work, which is tantamount to the relation
between morality and literature. For it is not
only that Camus himself is always thrusting
the moral problem upon his readers. (All his
stories, plays, and novels relate the career of a
responsible sentiment, or the absence of it.) It
is because his work, solely as a literary
accomplishment, is not major enough to bear
the weight of admiration that readers want to
give it. One wants Camus to be a truly great
writer, not just a very good one. But he is not.
It might be useful here to compare Camus with
George Orwell and James Baldwin, two other
husbandly writers who essay to combine the
role of artist with civic conscience. Both Orwell
and Baldwin are better writers in their essays
than they are in their fiction. This is not true of
Camus, a far more important writer. But what
is true is that Camus's art is always in the
service of certain intellectual conceptions
which are more fully stated in the essays.
Camus's fiction is illustrative, philosophical. It
is not so much about its characters—
Meursault, Caligula, Jan, Clamence, Dr. Rieux—
as it is about the problems of innocence and
guilt, responsibility and nihilistic indifference.
The three novels, the stories, and the plays
have a thin, somewhat skeletal quality which
makes them less than absolutely first-rate,
judged by the highest standards of
contemporary art. Unlike Kafka, whose most
illustrative and symbolic fictions are at the
same time autonomous acts of the
imagination, Camus's fiction continually
betrays its source in an intellectual concern.

What of Camus's essays, political articles,


addresses, literary criticism, journalism? It is
extremely distinguished work. But was Camus
a thinker of importance? The answer is no.
Sartre, however distasteful certain of his
political sympathies are to his English-
speaking audience, brings a powerful and
original mind to philosophical, psychological,
and literary analysis. Camus, however
attractive his political sympathies, does not.
The celebrated philosophical essays ("The
Myth of Sisyphus," The Rebel) are the work of
an extraordinarily talented and literate
epigone. The same is true of Camus as a
historian of ideas and as a literary critic.
Camus is at his best when he disburdens
himself of the baggage of existentialist culture
(Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky,
Heidegger, Kafka) and speaks in his own
person. This happens in the great essay
against capital punishment, "Reflections on
the Guillotine," and in the casual writings, like
the essay-portraits of Algiers, Oran, and other
Mediterranean places.

Neither art nor thought of the highest quality


is to be found in Camus. What accounts for the
extraordinary appeal of his work is beauty of
another order, moral beauty, a quality
unsought by most twentieth-century writers.
Other writers have been more engaged, more
moralistic. But none have appeared more
beautiful, more convincing in their prefession
of moral interest. Unfortunately, moral beauty
in art—like physical beauty in a person—is
extremely perishable. It is nowhere so durable
as artistic or intellectual beauty. Moral beauty
has tendency to decay very rapidly into
sententiousness or untimeliness. This happens
with special frequency to the writer, like
Camus, who appeals directly to a generation's
image of what is exemplary in a man in a given
historical situation. Unless he possesses
extraordinary reserves of artistic originality,
his work is likely to seem suddenly denuded
after his death. For a few, this decay overtook
Camus within his own lifetime. Sartre, in the
famous debate that ended their famous
friendship, remarked savagely that Camus
carried about with him "a portable pedestal."
Then came that deadly honor, the Nobel Prize.
And shortly before his death, one critic was
predicting for Camus the same fate as that of
Aristides: that we would tire of hearing him
called "the Just."

Perhaps it is always dangerous for a writer to


inspire gratitude in his readers, gratitude
being one of the most vehement but also the
shortest-lived of the sentiments. But one
cannot dismiss such unkind remarks simply as
the revenge of the grateful. If Camus's moral
earnestness at times ceased to enthrall and
began to irritate, it's because there was a
certain intellectual weakness in it. One sensed
in Camus, as one senses in James Baldwin, the
presence of an entirely genuine, and
historically relevant, passion. But also, as with
Baldwin, that passion seemed to transmute
itself too readily into stately language, into an
inexhaustible self-perpetuating oratory. The
moral imperatives—love, moderation—offered
to palliate intolerable historical or
metaphysical dilemmas were too general, too
abstract, too rhetorical.
Camus is the writer who for a whole literate
generation was the heroic figure of a man
living in a state of permanent spiritual
revolution. But he is also the man who
advocate that paradox: a civilized nihilism, an
absolute revolt that acknowledges limits—and
converted the paradox into a recipe for good
citizenship. What intricate goodness, after all!
In Camus's writing, goodness is forced to
search simultaneously for its appropriate act
and for its justifying reason. So is revolt. In
1939, in the midst of reflections on the war,
which has just begun, the young Camus
interrupted himself in his Notebooks to
remark: 'I am seeking reasons for my revolt
which nothing has so far justified." His radical
stance preceeded the reasons which justified
it. More than a decade later, in 1951, Camus
published The Rebel. The refutation of revolt in
that book was, equally, a gesture of
temperament, an act of self-persuasion.

What is remarkable is that given Camus's


refined temperament, it was possible for him
to act, to cue into real historical choices, as
wholeheartedly as he did. It should be
remembered that Camus had to make no less
than three exemplary decisions in his brief
lifetime—to participate personally in the
French Resistance, to disassociate himself
from the Communist Party, and to refuse to
take sides in the Algerian revolt—and that he
acquitted himself admirably, in my opinion, in
two out of the three. Camus's problem in the
last years of his life was not that he became
religious, or that he subsided into bourgeois
humanitarian seriousness, or that he lost his
socialist nerve. It was, rather, that he had
hoist himself on the petard of his own virtue. A
writer who acts as public conscience needs
extraordinary nerve and fine instincts, like a
boxer. After a time, these instincts inevitably
falter. He also needs to be emotionally tough.
Camus was not that tough, not tough in the
way that Sartre is. I do not underestimate the
courage involved in disavowing the pro-
Communism of many French intellectuals in
the late forties. As a moral judgment, Camus's
decision was right then, and since the death of
Stalin he has been vindicated many times over
in a political sense as well. But moral and
political judgment do not always so happily
coincide. His agonizing inability to take a stand
on the Algerian question—the issue on which
he, as both Algerian and Frenchman, was
uniquely qualified to speak—was the final and
unhappy testament of his moral virtue.
Throughout the fifties, Camus declared that his
private loyalties and sympathies made it
impossible for him to render decisive political
judgment. Why is so much demanded of a
writer, he asked plaintively. While Camus
clung to his silence, both Merleau-Ponty, who
had followed Camus out of the Temps
Modernes group over the issue of Communism,
and Sartre himself, gathered influential
signatories for two historic manifestoes
protesting the continuation of the Algerian
War. It is a harsh irony that both Merleau-
Ponty, whose general political and moral
outlook was so close to that of Camus and
Sartre, whose political integrity Camus had
seemed to demolish a decade before, were in a
position to lead French intellectuals of
conscience to the inevitable stand, the only
stand, the one everyone hoped Camus would
take.

In a perceptive review of one of Camus's books


some years ago, Lionel Abel spoke of him as
the man who incarnates the Noble Feeling, as
distinct from the Noble Act. This is exactly
right, and does not mean that there was some
sort of hypocrisy in Camus's morality. It means
that action is not Camus's first concern. The
ability to act, or to refrain from acting, are
secondary to the ability or inability to feel. It is
less an intellectual position which Camus
elaborated than an exhortation to feel—with all
the risks of political impotence that this
entailed. Camus's work reveals a temperament
in search of a situation, noble feelings in
search of noble acts. Indeed, this disjunction is
precisely the subject of Camus's fiction and
philosophical essays. There one finds the
prescription of an attitude (noble, stoical, at
the same time detached and compassionate)
tacked on to the description of excruciating
events. The attitude, the noble feeling, is not
genuinely linked to the event. It is a
transendence of the event, more than a
response to it or a solution of it. Camus's life
and work are not so much about morality as
they are about the pathos of moral positions.
This pathos is Camus's modernity. And his
ability to suffer this pathos in a dignified and
virile way is what made his readers love and
admire him.

Again one comes back to the man, who was so


strongly loved and yet so little known. There is
something disembodied in Camus's fiction; and
in the voice, cool and serene, of the famous
essays. This, despite the unforgettable
photographs, with their beautifully informal
presence. A cigarette dangles between the
lips, whether he wears a trench-coat, a
sweater and open shirt, or a business suit. It is
in many ways an almost ideal face: boyish,
good-looking but not too good-looking, lean,
rough, the expression both intense and
modest. One wants to know this man.

In the Notebooks 1935-34, the first three


volumes to be published comprising the
notebooks which Camus kept from 1935 until
his death, his admirers will naturally hope to
find a generous sense of the man and the work
which has moved them. I am sorry to have to
say, first of all, that the translation by Philip
Thody is poor work. It is repeatedly inaccurate,
sometimes to the point of seriously
miscontinuing Camus's sense. It is heavy-
handed, and quite fails to find the equivalent
in English to Camus's compressed, off-hand,
and very eloquent style. The book also has an
obtrusive academic apparatus which may not
annoy some readers; it did annoy me. (For an
idea of how Camus should sound in English, I
suggest that curious readers look up the
accurate and sensitive translation by Anthony
Hartley of sections of the Notebooks which
appeared in Encounter two years ago.) It is
great pity about the translation. Yet no
translation, whether faithful or tone-deaf, can
make the Notebooks less interesting than they
are, or more interesting either. These are not
great literary journals, like those of Kafka and
Gide. They do not have the white-hot
intellectual brilliance of Kafka's Diaries. They
lack the cultural sophistication, the artistic
diligence, the human density of Gide's
Journals. They are comparable, say to the
Diaries of Cesare Pavese, except that they lack
the element of personal exposure, of
psychological intimacy.

Camus's Notebooks contain an assortment of


things. They are literary work-books, quarries
for his writings, in which phrases, scraps of
overheard conversation, ideas for stories, and
sometimes whole paragraphs which were later
incorporated into novels and essays, were first
jotted down. These sections of the Notebooks
are sketchy stuff, and for that reason I doubt if
they will be terribly exciting event to
aficonados of Camus's fiction, despite me
zealous annotation and correlation with the
published works supplied by Mr. Thody. The
Notebooks also contain a miscellany of reading
notes (Spengler, Renaissance history, etc.) of a
rather limited range—the vast reading that
went into writing The Rebel is certainly not
recorded here—and a number of apercus and
reflections on psychological and moral themes.
Some of these reflections have a great deal of
boldness and finesse. They are worth reading,
and they might help dispel one current image
of Camus—according to which he was a sort of
Raymond Aron, a man deranged by German
philosophy belatedly converting to Anglo-
Saxon empiricism and common sense under
the name of "Mediterranean" virtue. The
Notebooks, at least this first volume, exude an
endearing atmosphere of domesticated
Nietzscheanism. The young Camus writes as a
French Nietzsche, melancholy where Nietzsche
is savage, stoical where Nietzsche is outraged,
impersonal and objective in tone where
Nietzsche is personal and subjective to the
point of mania. And lastly, the Notebooks are
full of personal comments—declarations and
resolutions, one might better describe them—
of a markedly impersonal nature.

Impersonality is perhaps the most telling


things about Camus's Notebooks; they are so
anti-autobiographical. It is hard to remember,
when reading the Notebooks, that Camus was
a mn who had a very interesting life, a life
(unlike that of many writers) interesting not
only in an interior but also in an outward
sense. There is scarcely anything of this life in
the Notebooks. There is nothing about his
family, to whom he was closely attached.
Neither is there any mention of the events
which took place in this period: his work with
the Theatre de 1'Equipe, his first and second
marriages, his membership in the Communist
Party, his career as an editor of a leftwing
Algerian newspaper.

Of course, a writer's journal must not be


judged by the standards of a diary. The
notebooks of a writer have a very special
function: in them he builds up, piece by piece,
the identity of a writer to himself. Typically,
writers' notebooks are crammed with
statements about the will: the will to write, the
will to love, the will to renounce love, the will
to go on living. The journal is where a writer is
heroic to himself. In it he exists solely as a
perceiving, suffering, struggling being. That is
why all the personal comments in Camus's
Notebooks are of so impersonal a nature, and
competely exclude the events and the people
in his life. Camus writes about himself only as
a solitary—a solitary reader, voyeur, sun-and-
sea worshippers, and walker in the world. In
this he is being very much the writer.
Solitariness is the indispensable metaphor of
the modern writer's consciousness, not only to
self-declared emotional misfits like Pavese, but
even to as sociable and socially conscientious
a man as Camus.

Thus the Notebooks, while absorbing reading,


do not resolve the question of Camus's
permanent stature nor deepen our sense of
him as a man. Camus was, in the words of
Sartre, "the admirable conjunction of a man, of
an action, and of a work." Today only the work
remains. And whatever that conjunction of
man, action, and work inspired in the minds
and hearts of his thousands of readers and
admirers, cannot be wholly reconstituted by
the work alone. It would have been an
important and happy occurrence if Camus's
Notebooks had survived their author to give us
more than they do of the man, but
unfortunately they do not.

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Volume 1, Number 3 · September 26, 1963
The Eichmann Question
By George Lichtheim
The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann
by Moishe Pearlman

Simon Schuster, 666 pp., $8.95

The Eichmann trial has become the focus of a


controversy which transcends national and
religious frontiers. In Germany the issue has
recently been given an extra dimension by the
storm over Hochhuth's play, The Vicar: an
impassioned indictment of the Vatican's
wartime policy of silence, and especially of
Pope Pius XII, who is represented as
indifferent to the massacre of the Jews and
solely concerned with stemming the menacing
flood of Communism. With the German
Episcopate up in arms over this play, and a
fresh storm promised when The Vicar reaches
London and New York, as it soon will, both the
critics and the public have something bigger to
think about than the controversy over the
alleged failure of the various Jewish
organizations to resist or sabotage Hitler's
"final solution" which has followed, especially
in the United States, from the publication of
Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem.[1]
Cardinal Montini (as he then still was)
doubtless knew what he was doing last June
when, in what turned out to be almost his final
public act before ascending the papal throne,
he intervened in the columns of the London
Catholic weekly, The Tablet, with a pained and
angry defense of his predecessor. Hochhuth
happens to be a Lutheran, but the burden of
his charge—that to the Curia the Jews seemed
expendable—has already evoked an
embarrassed echo among some German
Catholic intellectuals. It would be agreeable to
be able to add that German public opinion as a
whole was shocked, but most Germans still
remember wartime sermons exhorting both
Catholics and Protestants to fight the Red
menace. Now that Christian Democracy is in
the saddle all over Western Europe, these
memories are both embarrassing and slightly
unreal, which may be the reason that news of
the controversy came as a surprise to the
British public, and doubtless to the American
too.
Frederick Douglass Book Prize Announcement

Looked at in this way, the Jewish catastrophe


becomes a fairly typical chapter in recent
European history, account being taken of such
trial exercises as the Turkish massacre of the
Armenians during and after the First World
War. Against this background the question
whether the Jews might have done more to
save themselves falls into place as a problem
of the second order. Or so it seems to people
in Europe (Britain, for the purpose of this
argument, being part of Europe). The case is
evidently different for Americans, and a
fortiori for American Jews who have hitherto
compensated an uneasy sense of guilt by a
resolute attachment to heroic myths. At the
core of this mythology one is not surprised to
encounter the consoling belief that the murder
of some four to six million Jews—mostly in
Eastern Europe—was experienced as a dreadful
crime by the surrounding peoples, whereas the
truth is that most of them welcomed it and did
nothing whatever to help the victims. Allied to
this central piece of myth-making, there are
other bits and pieces, such as the notion that,
having learned the truth at long last, the
Germans are now truly sorry, whereas in
prosaic fact most of them are sorry only for
themselves. It is to Hannah Arendt's credit
that she has dealt ruthlessly with these and
other sentimental fancies, though in the
process she has occasionally succumbed to the
temptation of emptying the baby out along
with the bath. That, however, is not what the
row is about. Even if she had stuck more
closely to what might be called her brief—
chiefly the massive documentation provided in
Raul Hilberg's Destruction of the European
Jews—it is certain there would have been an
outcry. The truth, even minus her
exaggerations, simply does not bear thinking
about. Which is precisely why it should be
thought about.
Clearly this particular debate will have to go
on for quite some time. An outsider such as
the present reviewer is not obliged to
comment on Mr. Justice Musmanno's pompous
rebuke to Miss Arendt in the New York Times
and the ensuing correspondence. It would
indeed be difficult to miss the point of her
book more completely than was done by Judge
Musmanno, but then he is in good company, or
at any rate in numerous company. One may
suspect that the bien-pensants are not going
to abandon their traditional image of a world
in which terrible things do indeed happen from
time to time, but only as inexplicable
departures from the normal. In their eyes Miss
Arendt's real crime is her suggestion that
Eichmann may indeed have been a fairly
average murder specialist and by implication a
fairly representative specimen of his
generation. Compared with this subversive
thought—which millions of people once under
the German heel (not to mention the Germans
themselves) know to be substantially true—her
minor infelicities pale. Even the occasional
touch of malice, e.g. in her treatment of the
Zionists (which some critics have rightly
singled out for condemnation) becomes a
secondary matter. There is, after all, a more
important question than her even entire
groups of people, such as fairness or
unfairness to individuals or the Jewish Councils
in occupied Europe. The question is whether
her account of the great catastrophe is
substantially true to the facts of European
history as they were experienced by millions of
people between 1933 and 1945; and on this
score it seems to the reviewer that she can be
faulted only for not being harsher on the Allies
and certain neutrals. In most other respects
the indictment stands. To the question why
more Jews were not saved, the simple answer
must be: because no one cared sufficiently,
and because quite a number of otherwise
respectable people felt in the privacy of their
souls that Hitler was doing their dirty work for
them.

All this is not to deny that Miss Aren't work


exhibits some characteristic faults of tone and
substance. These have been duly underscored
by her critics, notably by Lionel Abel in a long
and trenchant essay in the Partisan Review.[2]
In addition to her systematic unfairness to the
Zionists, who were after all simply trying to
save lives (and getting precious little help
from the Allies), there is her failure to point
out that in Southern Russia, where the Jews
were totally unorganized, the disaster was on
a scale paralleled only in Poland. It thus seems
extravagant to suggest that the Jews in
Eastern Europe would have done better had
they possessed no communal organization at
all.

One is less inclined to blame her for what she


says about some of the Jewish Councils in
Western Europe. No doubt they thought they
had no choice but to cooperate. Still,
considering that—to take one example—some
twenty thousand Jews survived in Holland by
"going underground," one does not quite see
why the twenty or so officials of the Jewish
community could not have done the same,
after closing their offices and destroying their
records, instead of setting themselves up as
an utterly useless buffer between their
charges and the Germans. A "failure of nerve"
which helped to bring about the total
catastrophe of the historic Jewish communities
of Europe must not be passed over in silence,
even though it may be said in extenuation that
the collapse of 1940 had temporarily turned
most Europeans into "collaborators." It took
years of Nazi savagery to produce a really
violent and widespread popular revulsion, and
by then Anne Frank and her parents had long
been deported.

To turn from these considerations to Mr.


Pearlman's confections is to descend from
tragedy to farce. Mr. Pearlman, a hard-working
journalist and an Israeli public-relations
officer, has manufactured an officially
sponsored account of the Eichmann trial which
combines vulgarity and triviality in about equal
proportions, seasoned with occasional flights
into pseudo-history. His approach to the
subject is one familiar to connoisseurs of pulp
fiction, though one may suppose that his style
has been consciously formed upon more
ambitious models, such as the thriller-
romances of Mr. Leon Uris. Quite early on, the
reader is introduced to a specimen which may
stand for all the rest:

"Adolf Eichman—that's the man who must be


brought to justice if he is still alive." The man
who thundered these words, punctuating each
with a fist-rap on the table, was a leader
without a state, head of the Jews in Palestine
and of the World Zionist Movement, silver-
haloed David Ben-Gurion, destined to become
Israel's first Prime Minister.

The year was 1945, shortly after the war.

Thus started the search for Eichmann, which


was to end fifteen years later in a South
American shantytown.

And so on. There are several hundred pages of


this sort of thing, interspersed with bits of
potted history and carefully chosen extracts
from the Jerusalem Court proceedings. To say
that Mr. Pearlman has succeeded in the almost
impossible task of reducing the Jewish
catastrophe to the level of a Hollywood
scenario, is to acknowledge at once his own
considerable talents in this genre and the help
he was indirectly afforded by the organizers of
the trial. One of his heroes, not surprisingly, is
Israel's Attorney General, Mr. Hausner, whose
fatuous rhetoric is here reported with the
reverence to be expected from a fellow artist.
Between the two of them, they pretty well
succeed in emptying the Eichmann trial of
whatever sense and dignity it might otherwise
have possessed. Hitler's lineal descent from
Pharaoh, and the consequent validation of the
Zionist view of Jewish history as an unbroken
record of disaster providentially ended by the
founding of Israel, are or them dogmas not to
be questioned. That was to be expected. What
we might have been spared was the artificial
inflation of Eichmann to world-historical
proportions: successor to "those classic figures
of barbarism, Nero Attila, Genghis Khan…."
(Pearlman dixit.) But once the Attorney
General had been let loose on this subject
there was no holding him, and the ensuing
absurdities were lapped up by a world-wide
audience grateful for the chance thus offered
to unload its own guilt-feelings upon the
monster in the dock: "…the one who planned,
initiated and organized, who instructed others
to spill this ocean of blood…" as Mr. Hausner
puts it. To the Germans in particular this
aspect of the indictment came as a heavensent
distraction from the theme of collective
responsibility. To the rest of the world
Eichmann was that familiar figure, a criminal
mastermind whom it was possible to
contemplate with mingled awe and
repugnance. In short, there was no catharis,
merely stupefaction or indifference.

There is material here for reflection on the


morality of an age too numbed by successive
horrors to make more than the ritual obeisance
to established standards. On balance, the trial
helped a lot of people to get over whatever
qualms they may still have felt. The arch-fiend
had been duly punished, and life could go on.
To this end it was important that Eichmann
should be made to bear the largest possible
load of what might otherwise have been
recognized as collective responsibility.
Whatever the trial may have signified to
Israelis, its meaning for the rest of the world—
barring those countries outside the Jewish-
Christian-Islamie orbit, where it simply failed
to have any resonance at all—quickly
established itself as an individual's expiation
for the sins of an entire continent. In a
morality play the curtain has to come down on
the destruction of evil, as the guillotine comes
down on the neck of the evil-doer: only then
can the audience rise reassured, safe in the
knowledge that the moral order is still intact.
No need to emphasize that this reassurance
was and is of special importance to a
civilization vaguely conscious of its religious
roots and of Christianity's ambiguous
relationship to its parent religion. It was hardly
possible for the Court in Jerusalem not to
sentence Eichmann to die. That in so doing it
missed an opportunity to transcend its own
parochialism must be counted among the
major lost opportunities of this age.
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Notes

[1] Viking Press, 1963


[2] Summer, 1963

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Copyright © 1963-2008, NYREV, Inc. All rights


reserved. Nothing in this publication may be
reproduced without the permission of the
publisher. Please contact web@nybooks.com
with any questions about this site. The cover
date of the next issue will be January 15, 2009.
The New York Review of Books
Home · Your account · Current issue · Archives
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Newsletters · Gallery · NYR Books
Volume 1, Number 3 · September 26, 1963
The Eichmann Question
By George Lichtheim
The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann
by Moishe Pearlman

Simon Schuster, 666 pp., $8.95

The Eichmann trial has become the focus of a


controversy which transcends national and
religious frontiers. In Germany the issue has
recently been given an extra dimension by the
storm over Hochhuth's play, The Vicar: an
impassioned indictment of the Vatican's
wartime policy of silence, and especially of
Pope Pius XII, who is represented as
indifferent to the massacre of the Jews and
solely concerned with stemming the menacing
flood of Communism. With the German
Episcopate up in arms over this play, and a
fresh storm promised when The Vicar reaches
London and New York, as it soon will, both the
critics and the public have something bigger to
think about than the controversy over the
alleged failure of the various Jewish
organizations to resist or sabotage Hitler's
"final solution" which has followed, especially
in the United States, from the publication of
Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem.[1]

Cardinal Montini (as he then still was)


doubtless knew what he was doing last June
when, in what turned out to be almost his final
public act before ascending the papal throne,
he intervened in the columns of the London
Catholic weekly, The Tablet, with a pained and
angry defense of his predecessor. Hochhuth
happens to be a Lutheran, but the burden of
his charge—that to the Curia the Jews seemed
expendable—has already evoked an
embarrassed echo among some German
Catholic intellectuals. It would be agreeable to
be able to add that German public opinion as a
whole was shocked, but most Germans still
remember wartime sermons exhorting both
Catholics and Protestants to fight the Red
menace. Now that Christian Democracy is in
the saddle all over Western Europe, these
memories are both embarrassing and slightly
unreal, which may be the reason that news of
the controversy came as a surprise to the
British public, and doubtless to the American
too.
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Looked at in this way, the Jewish catastrophe


becomes a fairly typical chapter in recent
European history, account being taken of such
trial exercises as the Turkish massacre of the
Armenians during and after the First World
War. Against this background the question
whether the Jews might have done more to
save themselves falls into place as a problem
of the second order. Or so it seems to people
in Europe (Britain, for the purpose of this
argument, being part of Europe). The case is
evidently different for Americans, and a
fortiori for American Jews who have hitherto
compensated an uneasy sense of guilt by a
resolute attachment to heroic myths. At the
core of this mythology one is not surprised to
encounter the consoling belief that the murder
of some four to six million Jews—mostly in
Eastern Europe—was experienced as a dreadful
crime by the surrounding peoples, whereas the
truth is that most of them welcomed it and did
nothing whatever to help the victims. Allied to
this central piece of myth-making, there are
other bits and pieces, such as the notion that,
having learned the truth at long last, the
Germans are now truly sorry, whereas in
prosaic fact most of them are sorry only for
themselves. It is to Hannah Arendt's credit
that she has dealt ruthlessly with these and
other sentimental fancies, though in the
process she has occasionally succumbed to the
temptation of emptying the baby out along
with the bath. That, however, is not what the
row is about. Even if she had stuck more
closely to what might be called her brief—
chiefly the massive documentation provided in
Raul Hilberg's Destruction of the European
Jews—it is certain there would have been an
outcry. The truth, even minus her
exaggerations, simply does not bear thinking
about. Which is precisely why it should be
thought about.

Clearly this particular debate will have to go


on for quite some time. An outsider such as
the present reviewer is not obliged to
comment on Mr. Justice Musmanno's pompous
rebuke to Miss Arendt in the New York Times
and the ensuing correspondence. It would
indeed be difficult to miss the point of her
book more completely than was done by Judge
Musmanno, but then he is in good company, or
at any rate in numerous company. One may
suspect that the bien-pensants are not going
to abandon their traditional image of a world
in which terrible things do indeed happen from
time to time, but only as inexplicable
departures from the normal. In their eyes Miss
Arendt's real crime is her suggestion that
Eichmann may indeed have been a fairly
average murder specialist and by implication a
fairly representative specimen of his
generation. Compared with this subversive
thought—which millions of people once under
the German heel (not to mention the Germans
themselves) know to be substantially true—her
minor infelicities pale. Even the occasional
touch of malice, e.g. in her treatment of the
Zionists (which some critics have rightly
singled out for condemnation) becomes a
secondary matter. There is, after all, a more
important question than her even entire
groups of people, such as fairness or
unfairness to individuals or the Jewish Councils
in occupied Europe. The question is whether
her account of the great catastrophe is
substantially true to the facts of European
history as they were experienced by millions of
people between 1933 and 1945; and on this
score it seems to the reviewer that she can be
faulted only for not being harsher on the Allies
and certain neutrals. In most other respects
the indictment stands. To the question why
more Jews were not saved, the simple answer
must be: because no one cared sufficiently,
and because quite a number of otherwise
respectable people felt in the privacy of their
souls that Hitler was doing their dirty work for
them.

All this is not to deny that Miss Aren't work


exhibits some characteristic faults of tone and
substance. These have been duly underscored
by her critics, notably by Lionel Abel in a long
and trenchant essay in the Partisan Review.[2]
In addition to her systematic unfairness to the
Zionists, who were after all simply trying to
save lives (and getting precious little help
from the Allies), there is her failure to point
out that in Southern Russia, where the Jews
were totally unorganized, the disaster was on
a scale paralleled only in Poland. It thus seems
extravagant to suggest that the Jews in
Eastern Europe would have done better had
they possessed no communal organization at
all.

One is less inclined to blame her for what she


says about some of the Jewish Councils in
Western Europe. No doubt they thought they
had no choice but to cooperate. Still,
considering that—to take one example—some
twenty thousand Jews survived in Holland by
"going underground," one does not quite see
why the twenty or so officials of the Jewish
community could not have done the same,
after closing their offices and destroying their
records, instead of setting themselves up as
an utterly useless buffer between their
charges and the Germans. A "failure of nerve"
which helped to bring about the total
catastrophe of the historic Jewish communities
of Europe must not be passed over in silence,
even though it may be said in extenuation that
the collapse of 1940 had temporarily turned
most Europeans into "collaborators." It took
years of Nazi savagery to produce a really
violent and widespread popular revulsion, and
by then Anne Frank and her parents had long
been deported.

To turn from these considerations to Mr.


Pearlman's confections is to descend from
tragedy to farce. Mr. Pearlman, a hard-working
journalist and an Israeli public-relations
officer, has manufactured an officially
sponsored account of the Eichmann trial which
combines vulgarity and triviality in about equal
proportions, seasoned with occasional flights
into pseudo-history. His approach to the
subject is one familiar to connoisseurs of pulp
fiction, though one may suppose that his style
has been consciously formed upon more
ambitious models, such as the thriller-
romances of Mr. Leon Uris. Quite early on, the
reader is introduced to a specimen which may
stand for all the rest:

"Adolf Eichman—that's the man who must be


brought to justice if he is still alive." The man
who thundered these words, punctuating each
with a fist-rap on the table, was a leader
without a state, head of the Jews in Palestine
and of the World Zionist Movement, silver-
haloed David Ben-Gurion, destined to become
Israel's first Prime Minister.

The year was 1945, shortly after the war.

Thus started the search for Eichmann, which


was to end fifteen years later in a South
American shantytown.
And so on. There are several hundred pages of
this sort of thing, interspersed with bits of
potted history and carefully chosen extracts
from the Jerusalem Court proceedings. To say
that Mr. Pearlman has succeeded in the almost
impossible task of reducing the Jewish
catastrophe to the level of a Hollywood
scenario, is to acknowledge at once his own
considerable talents in this genre and the help
he was indirectly afforded by the organizers of
the trial. One of his heroes, not surprisingly, is
Israel's Attorney General, Mr. Hausner, whose
fatuous rhetoric is here reported with the
reverence to be expected from a fellow artist.
Between the two of them, they pretty well
succeed in emptying the Eichmann trial of
whatever sense and dignity it might otherwise
have possessed. Hitler's lineal descent from
Pharaoh, and the consequent validation of the
Zionist view of Jewish history as an unbroken
record of disaster providentially ended by the
founding of Israel, are or them dogmas not to
be questioned. That was to be expected. What
we might have been spared was the artificial
inflation of Eichmann to world-historical
proportions: successor to "those classic figures
of barbarism, Nero Attila, Genghis Khan…."
(Pearlman dixit.) But once the Attorney
General had been let loose on this subject
there was no holding him, and the ensuing
absurdities were lapped up by a world-wide
audience grateful for the chance thus offered
to unload its own guilt-feelings upon the
monster in the dock: "…the one who planned,
initiated and organized, who instructed others
to spill this ocean of blood…" as Mr. Hausner
puts it. To the Germans in particular this
aspect of the indictment came as a heavensent
distraction from the theme of collective
responsibility. To the rest of the world
Eichmann was that familiar figure, a criminal
mastermind whom it was possible to
contemplate with mingled awe and
repugnance. In short, there was no catharis,
merely stupefaction or indifference.

There is material here for reflection on the


morality of an age too numbed by successive
horrors to make more than the ritual obeisance
to established standards. On balance, the trial
helped a lot of people to get over whatever
qualms they may still have felt. The arch-fiend
had been duly punished, and life could go on.
To this end it was important that Eichmann
should be made to bear the largest possible
load of what might otherwise have been
recognized as collective responsibility.
Whatever the trial may have signified to
Israelis, its meaning for the rest of the world—
barring those countries outside the Jewish-
Christian-Islamie orbit, where it simply failed
to have any resonance at all—quickly
established itself as an individual's expiation
for the sins of an entire continent. In a
morality play the curtain has to come down on
the destruction of evil, as the guillotine comes
down on the neck of the evil-doer: only then
can the audience rise reassured, safe in the
knowledge that the moral order is still intact.
No need to emphasize that this reassurance
was and is of special importance to a
civilization vaguely conscious of its religious
roots and of Christianity's ambiguous
relationship to its parent religion. It was hardly
possible for the Court in Jerusalem not to
sentence Eichmann to die. That in so doing it
missed an opportunity to transcend its own
parochialism must be counted among the
major lost opportunities of this age.
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Notes

[1] Viking Press, 1963

[2] Summer, 1963

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Volume 1, Number 3 · September 26, 1963
Inside the Whale
By Leonard Schapiro
The Future of Russia
by Harry Braverman

Macmillan, 192 pp., $5.00


The New Face of Soviet Totalitarianism
by Adam B. Ulam

Harvard, 233 pp., $4.95


How Russia Is Ruled
by Merle Fainsod

Harvard University Press, 684 pp., $8.95

Prediction in politics is a dangerous pastime.


One has to be very bold to engage in it, or
perhaps the boldness comes from a failure to
realize all the pitfalls. Mr. Braverman is
certainly more courageous than most of us. He
tells us what Russia is going to be like, and no
nonsense about it. What puzzles me is whom
he is trying to convince.

"The most characteristic Western view of the


Soviet Union," he tells us, "sees it as a fixed
and immobile dictatorship which will never
change until compelled to do so by an external
force." But where is this extraordinary view to
be found? Among millions of readers of tabloid
newspapers, no doubt—but they are extremely
unlikely to read Mr. Braverman's book. There
can be, after all, scarcely any informed student
of the Soviet Union who is unaware of the
major changes in the U.S.S.R. in the past ten
years, and they are the most likely readers of a
book of this kind. They will find a highly
optimistic projection of the Russia of the
future, for Mr. Braverman believes, as do many
others, that the economic development of the
Soviet Union will inevitably bring in its train
greater liberty, rationality, and general
relaxation. The trouble with this kind of
economic determinism is that forty-six years of
Soviet rule have conclusively proved the
primacy of politics over economics—there is no
reason to suppose that this primacy will
disappear in the future, so long as the
Communist Party remains in power. That is not
to say that there will be no development—after
ten years of continuous change further
modifications of the system can confidently be
expected. They may be in the direction
foreseen by Mr. Braverman—or they may not.
But they will depend on quite different factors
—the need of the party to adapt to the
requirements of a modern society, the skill
with which it maneuvers to keep the kind of
monopoly of power which neither logic nor
reason justifies, and a whole lot of quite
unpredictable human factors, which Mr.
Braverman does not take into account—the
personality of the next autocrat, for example,
in a country in which this factor has for
centuries been predominant in political life.
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Professor Ulam, though also much concerned


with the changes which are taking place in the
U.S.S.R., more wisely avoids the pitfalls of
seeing, as he puts it, "in certain political
trends the inevitability of the future." The
seven articles of which this book is composed
(six of them reprinted from previous
publications) deal with different facets of
change or contrast. One of the changes which
he discusses in several essays is the decline or
even death of ideology: he believes Marxism to
be a spent force as a doctrine, but drawing
new strength from practical successes which
are, rightly or wrongly, and presumably
wrongly, attributed to it. In his last essay he
uses with effect Boccaccio's story of the Jew
who is converted to Christianity by a visit to
Rome: the conditions which he finds there
convince him that if anything so venal and
corrupt can survive at all at the head of a
religious movement the future must lie with it.
This seems to me to be sound political
analysis. It is not Marxism-Leninism which
produces sputniks, but sputniks which enhance
the reputation of Marxism-Leninism. This is
indeed sound Leninism—it even has a grand
name, the "unity of theory and practice." It has
led many scholars (including Professor Ulam in
an earlier book) to the conclusion that
Leninism is not so much an adaptation of
Marx's analysis of society as a good system for
rapidly industrializing backward countries.
Most of these sensible and wellwritten essays
are, however, concerned to gauge the extent
to which the Soviet Union has evolved since
the death of Stalin. Professor Ulam (unlike Mr.
Braverman) tries to show the limits within
which evolution is possible, so long as the
party retains the kind of power which it shows
every intention of retaining. This is where
rationality comes into conflict with power—and
it is a bold man who is prepared to assume
that the party, with its extended monopoly not
only of power, but of administrative
techniques, will readily yield up power in the
interests of a more rational life. Soviet
agriculture is perhaps the most striking
example of the way in which rationality is
sacrificed in the interests of power. United
States farming produces, with one-fifth of the
Soviet agricultural labor force, 60 per cent
more products than the Soviet Union on an
area only two thirds the Soviet sown acreage.
Mr. Khrushchev is presumably aware of this.
But to give the Soviet farms the kind of
incentives and freedom which would
encourage increase of production would be,
according to deep-rooted Soviet convictions, to
place too much political power in their hands.
These and many other similar dilemmas
underlie the new form of Soviet
totalitarianism, and pose the problems which,
from its own point of view, it faces in groping,
as Professor Ulam says, "to retain mastery
over a changing society."

Professor Fainsod's classic work is, without


doubt, the most important single book ever to
have been written on the government of the
Soviet Union. The original education appeared
in 1954. This revised edition, enlarged by over
a hundred pages, takes account of changes up
to the end of 1962. Generations of students in
many countries have been trained on this
magnificent work, which has stood
impregnable against criticism for nine years.
The merits of the book are so outstanding that
they need no praise from me—the analysis
unfolds with a lucidity and balance, with a
mastery of sources, with a fairness and a
sense of the essential, which put all other
books in this field out of countenance. There
must be many teachers of Soviet government,
like myself, who feel that this new edition has
solved a problem for them. In public life, in
journalism, in politics, the revised Fainsod will
take its place as the most up-to-date handbook
for reference and, one hopes, close study.

The familiar shape of the book is unchanged.


The four parts, dealing with history, the party,
the system of rule, and the problems which
arise in the management of industry and
agriculture, have been supplemented and
enlarged in the light of new information and
sources. The last three parts have been
brought up to date by the inclusion of
developments since the death of Stalin. Here,
therefore, is a complete study of the most
durable of modern totalitarian systems this
book, rather than to prophecies, that one
should turn in search of the answer to the
question which fascinates us all—including its
most difficult, contemporary phase—the phase
of evolution after the stagnation of naked
terror. It is to what is going to happen in the
U.S.S.R.?

Professor Fainsod is much too good a political


scientist to indulge in prophecy. But he
provides, especially in his last chapter,
entitled "The Soviet Political System—
Problems and Prospects," some of the basic
realities which must be taken into account
before even intelligent guesswork (which he
leaves to others) becomes possible. Like
Professor Ulam, Professor Fainsod sees the
decline of ideological fervor—but he warns
against any facile assumptions that the party
leadership is likely to cast the whole structure
overboard. Unlike Mr. Braverman, he does not
see any necessary connection between
improved economic prosperity and greater
liberty. On the contrary, the better the party
succeeds in its materialist promises, the less
risk there will be of erosion of its power. This
view, which is a sobering corrective to much
facile optimism which is abroad these days, is
really only another aspect of Professor Ulam's
view, that material success is the greatest
bulwark of the system.
The conclusion with which one emerges from
re-reading this book (apart from a renewed
sense of its outstanding qualities) is that what
matters most in politics is built-in tradition.
This tradition in the Soviet Union is party rule.
This means in practice an indefinable habit of
reliance on more or less arbitrary constant
manipulation behind the scenes of the formal
and usually quite chaotic business of
government which appears on the surface. It
means government by the party secretary's
telephone, without which the whole unwieldy
structure would probably grind to a standstill.
Once this fact is grasped, speculation about
"erosion" of party power, and "pressure by
technocrats", and the other familiar gambits of
the many who speculate on the future of
Soviet power begin to fall into proportion. Of
course there will be change—there may be
gradual evolution or there may be drastic
change. A new generation of leaders may in
time adopt a different tradition, or lack the
skill to maintain the old. All is possible, and all
is largely unpredictable. But speculation which
fails to take this basic factor of Soviet political
tradition into account ignores the reality which
Professor Fainsod's pages so eloquently
depict.

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publisher. Please contact web@nybooks.com
with any questions about this site. The cover
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Volume 1, Number 4 · October 17, 1963
The Genius of Jean Genet
By Lionel Abel
Jean GenetJean Genet by David Levine
Our Lady of the Flowers
by Jean Genet, translated by Bernard
Frechtman

Grove Press, 256 pp., $6.50

It was from Sartre that I first heard of Jean


Genet. This was some years back, in 1947, if I
remember rightly. Sartre was visiting New
York, and the editors of Partisan Review asked
me to a luncheon for him. For most of the
luncheon not much was said, mainly, I think,
because of the language difficulty—our French
was labored and uncertain, and Sartre did not
know English at all; then too, at the start,
Sartre wanted to feel out what we, the
Americans, were like—especially what our
attitude was to him; and we, for our part, were
not at all sure about the existentialist views he
had proclaimed, or what his philosophy could
mean in this country, or to us. Anyway, the
conversation went haltingly until I said
something about Camus, who was already
enjoying a great vogue here; Sartre responded
swiftly: "Camus is a very fine writer, but
France has many other fine writers. Camus is
not a great writer, not a genius." He added,
"There is only one genius in France today."
Who was that, we wanted to know. Sartre's
answer was: "Jean Genet."

After which Sartre went on to speak of Genet,


and suddenly became himself. For Sartre, it
seems to me, is himself when he praises or
decries; he needs moral pretexts to show his
wit, his eloquence. And there was no question
about his loyal support of the writer almost
none of us knew at the time; we could not but
be impressed when he compared Genet to
Lautréaumont, then to Rimbaud, and even
intimated that Genet was the greatest of the
three—also the most "accursed." (I see from
Sartre's book, Saint Genet, just out in English
translation, that he has changed his mind
about Genet's forerunners and now places him
in the line of Baudelaire and Mallarmé.) Sartre
talked of Genet's life: a foundling, brought up
by foster parents, he had been sent to a
reformatory at a very early age; after that he
had resolutely embraced a life of crime: he was
a hoodlum, a thief, a male whore. (With about
twenty-seven convictions to his credit, Genet,
under French law, would have been sentenced
to prison for life had not French writers,
notably Sartre himself and Jean Cocteau,
obtained a pardon for him from the President
of the Republic.) We all tend to be incredulous,
I suppose, when told that someone we do not
know is great. But Sartre spoke most
convincingly, and there was certainly
something about Genet's story which
suggested that he might be another
Lautréaumont, even a Rimbaud. But then
Sartre made a remark which startled me. Of
Genet he said: "He has the style of Descartes."
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The style of Descartes? Years after that


luncheon, when, in Paris, I had read a novel or
two by Genet and also seen a play of his, I still
could not understand why Sartre had thought
of comparing his style with that of the
seventeenth-century philosopher. At a party I
repeated Sartre's mot, and a witty French
priest retorted: "But Genet is very
seventeenth-century; and he has the style of
its greatest writer—who, mind you, is not
Descartes." Would I have to hear Genet
compared to Pascal, I wondered. My priest did
as well, or even better. Of Genet's style he
said: "It has the tone, the rhythm, the surge of
Bossuet," and then went on to compare in
detail the prose of the seventeenth-century
churchman and orator with that of the modern
hoodlum, thief, and whore. I thought people in
Paris were losing their heads over Genet.

The style of Bossuet, no. I still see no reason


to compare Genet with the celebrated
churchman. Nor can I see any wit in the
comparison, unless made by a priest. But I am
now convinced that Sartre was perfectly right
in linking Genet with Descartes: the insight is
one of his most brilliant hits. But by Genet's
style Sartre could not possibly have meant
Genet's prose, which, in its sumptuousness, is
utterly unlike the austere—and so affecting
because unornamented—prose of the great
Descartes. Genet's prose is almost always
dressed up—often in drag. Sartre himself has
called attention to the ornateness with which
Genet in A Thief's Journal writes of Bulkaen's
behind: "Son postérieur était un reposoir."
("His behind was an altar.") In fact, in his book
on Genet, Sartre makes a very pejorative
judgment of Genet's prose, even describing it
as "false." Why false? Apparently because it is
interfused with poetry—according to Sartre, its
poetry corrodes and corrupts this prose. I
think here Sartre has yielded to a very French
view, one which I personally do not share.
Perhaps Alain said it best for all who hold this
view: True prose must be "poetry refused." In
any case, Sartre could hardly have meant
Genet's "prose," which he criticizes, when
speaking of Genet's "style," which he admires.

So Sartre must have had in mind Genet's style


of thinking when he said of the writer: "He has
the style of Descartes."

Our Lady of the Flowers, Genet's first novel,


written in the prison of La Fresne, and
certainly a masterpiece—the greatest novel, I
should say, since Faulkner was great—is also,
to my mind, the book of Genet which best
reveals his style of thinking. It is a style of
thinking which derives its order and
assumptions from the "I"—the style first
taught by Descartes.

I have chosen, though, to connect Genet with


Descartes through still another writer—one not
too well known in this country, but perhaps the
greatest and most original of all Cartesians,
and who has the advantage, for me, at least, of
being, like Genet, a modern: the philosopher
Edmund Husserl. Now it may seem strange to
compare a purely theoretical work like
Husserl's Cartesian Meditations, composed
mainly of lectures he gave at the Sorbonne,
with any novel, let alone a novel apparently at
such a remove from questions of theory as the
one written by Jean Genet in the prison of La
Fresne. However, the efforts of Husserl and
Genet are not at all dissimilar. About the
Meditations: In this work the German thinker
attempted the perhaps impossible task of
scaffolding our common world on the
structures of the solitary ego; he tried to set
up, within the confines of the self, a world
shared, or sharable, with other selves—on
which public world, in turn, all scientific
communication could rest. Now Husserl's effort
has been called a failure. Was not his common
world rather like the brothel designed by
Leonardo, which each client could enter and
quit without the risk of meeting any other
client? For there seems little "danger" of the
ego's meeting another ego in the maze of
Husserl's Meditatious. Just the same it remains
one of the seminal works of this century. I
heard the French philosopher Jean Wahl say of
it: "Husserl's Cartesian adventure failed." But
then he added: "Like all great enterprises."

Our Lady of the Flowers is not a failure. But


what I must explain is how this novel about
homosexuals and criminals suggests
comparison with Husserl's Meditations. The
German thinker began with solipsism. Genet,
isolated on his prison bed, begins, as radically,
with narcissism: Genet is masturbating. And in
order to make masturbation effective he calls
up images of the pimps, whores, and criminals
he has known or imagined himself to be.
According to Sartre [1] , so single was Genet's
interest in getting sexual satisfaction while
writing this book that the measure of his
interest in each of his characters was solely
whether he could keep an erection. Sartre calls
the novel "an epic of masturbation." I cannot
agree. The novel is purely lyrical, and the word
"epic" gives, I think, a wrong impression of it:
an erection is brief, an epic long-lasting.
Moreover, the book is not about masturbation;
it is about all those figures Genet could make
real to himself while masturbating.
Masturbation was his aim and end; but it was
also his method and means; by it he
elaborated his personal world into one he
could share sexually with others, and finally
into the actual social world of criminals and
homosexuals, male whores and pimps, which
he had known. This world, to my knowledge,
has never before been described by any writer:
Genet in his novel constitutes it for us almost
out of his own substance; in any case, out of
the very substantial sexual pleasure he took in
remembering and contemplating it. Thus it is
that the social world of homosexuals and
criminals of Our Lady of the Flowers has a
freshness, a spontaneity—a sweetness, even—
scarcely approached by those novelists who
describe the world "objectively."

But did not Proust begin as radically, with his


own impressions, and constitute, out of his
sensations and memories, the French society
of his time? Proust did indeed begin with his
impressions, but out of these he wrought only
those characters who could move him deeply;
the French society of his time he described
objectively. Often Proust reads like Balzac.
Now Genet—at least in Our Lady of the Flowers
—never reads like Balzac, but always like
Genet; even when describing "objectively" the
criminal and homosexual hierarchy he knew,
Genet always seems most intent on
remembering his own homosexuality, his own
crimes.

It may be asked: If Husserl could not make of


the private self the architect of a world with
others in it, then how was Genet on his
narcissist's couch able to construct such a
world? Can it be said that Genet, the novelist,
succeeded, where Husserl, the philosopher
failed? Let me make myself clear on this point:
Our Lady of the Flowers, though a beautiful
book, does not merit comparison with such
works as The Human Comedy, War and Peace,
and The Red and the Black. And Genet's novel
would have to be as inclusive and universal as
these to seriously challenge "objective"
thinking—even in literature. I do claim for
Genet that in Our Lady of the Flowers he
created out of his narcissism a world with
others in it. But this world is subject to a
severe limitation: the others whom Genet is
able to reach out to narcissistically are
essentially narcissists themselves, as strictly
separated from one another as Genet is from
them. But Genet has this very great strength:
the only world he wants to describe is the only
world he can describe subjectively, the world
of criminals and pederasts. To deal with any
wider forms of social life he would have to
attenuate, by objectifying, his method of
description.

I have said that Genet's Our Lady is lyrical: it is


necessarily that, given its method of
composition. The fable or plot of the book is
suggested at the outset by an image:

…I wanted to swallow myself by opening my


mouth very wide and turning it over my head
so that it would take in my whole body, and
then the universe, until all that would remain
of me would be a ball of eaten thing which
little by little would be annihilated: This is how
I see the end of the world.
Let me designate Genet's lyricism more
precisely. It is that of the passive homosexual,
as will be seen if one compares the image cited
above with an image from Lautréaumont which
expresses the feeling of the homosexual who
is active.

Oh that the universe were an immense


celestial anus! I would plunge my penis past
its bloody sphincter, rending apart, with my
impetuous motion, the very bones of the
pelvis.

The action of the novel is one of revenge: the


revenge of Divine, a passive homosexual, on
Darling and Our Lady, active pimps Divine
loves—and supports by whoring. Darling is a
thief as well as a pimp and Our Lady has the
special glamor of being wanted for murder.
The motive for revenge is "normal" jealousy
made drastic by Divine's feeling of inferiority
at being unable to play a male role. Darling
finds another whore; Divine manages to get
him arrested. And when Our Lady
unexpectedly submits to the Negro Gorgui in
front of Divine, the latter, despairing of sex,
attracts the police. Our Lady is sentenced to
the guillotine. But my point is that the lyrical
passage about swallowing the world, which
expresses Divine's passivity, is written into the
very plot of the narrative, and is also
indistinguishable from Divine's motives. The
image can no more be separated from the
rhythm of the story than the images of a poem
from what it says.

Does Genet succeed in creating real


characters? Divine, the balding male whore,
who, when provoked by the assembled queens
to prove that he is truly regal, takes out his
denture and places it on his head (Genet
remarks that it took much more grandeur of
soul to replace the denture) is certainly a true,
and even a great, character. Of course, Divine,
as Sartre has pointed out, is a projection of
Genet. But did the novelist create even one
character in this book who is not a projection
of himself? Without at least one such
character, Our Lady of the Flowers would be a
failure, even taking into account its limited
scope. But Our Lady, the murderer, is no
projection of Genet. He is less interesting than
Divine, and has less psychological depth, but
what Our Lady says and does has the
surprisingness of a person we find real, in
fiction or in life. When at Our Lady's trial the
judge asks him: "Why did you kill?" the
murderer replies: "I was fabulously broke."
This is an answer which was surely not
dictated by the author to his character.
Narcissism does have creative resources,
though Genet is probably the first author
since. Sade to have tapped them fully.

No doubt most of Genet's characters are roles


the author has played or wanted to play. And
here we see the limits of his theater, which
relies not on character as we normally
understand it, but on the different roles played
by persons who apart from their roles would
be quite interchangeable. What distinguishes
Claire from Solange in Genet's play The Maids?
Only the special roles they have decided to
play. They even exchange names. And are not
the Judge, the Bishop, and the General in The
Balcony virtually the same? They differ only
when they have put on their particular
costumes and gotton up on stilts. Sometimes
Genet writes as if other persons were real only
when invested by him with some special
authority. In fact, I think it must be very hard
for him to think of anyone but himself as real.
In Our Lady of the Flowers, though, I think
Genet has made his greatest effort to give
independent life to others and to treat them as
more than actors in his own drama. This is his
most realistic work.

Genet has written three other novels: The


Miracle of the Rose, Funeral Rites, and
Querelle of Brest. All are extraordinary and
should be translated. But I think only one of
them, Funeral Rites, is comparable in quality
to Our Lady of the Flowers, and this is the only
other novel by Genet in which he relies as
radically on what I have called his "Cartesian"
thought. The Miracle of the Rose and Querelle
of Brest are at times subjective, and at times
objective in the manner of other novelists.
Only in Our Lady of the Flowers and in Funeral
Rites does Genet's subjectivity, pushed to the
point of paroxysm, donate whatever objectivity
they have to others, things, and the environing
world. I am not going to claim that the
characters in Funeral Rites are very real. They
are essentially roles, more so even than the
lesser figures in Our Lady of the Flowers, and
in Funeral Rites there is no social world, not
even one like the world of pimps and queens
Genet described in his first book. But the
problem with which Funeral Rites begins is a
genuine, even a "social" and "objective,"
problem: How mourn for the dead? Jean D.,
Genet's lover to whom the novel is dedicated,
was a member of the French Resistance and
had been killed by a French militiaman. With
what ceremony should the living Jean grieve
for the dead Jean D.? The whole novel, in fact,
is nothing but the elaborate study of what
such a ceremony might be.

A ceremony is a social act. Genet in Funeral


Rites creates his own ceremony out of his own
subjective needs, just as in Our Lady of the
Flowers he created a whole social world in
order to pleasure himself sexually. The
ceremony Genet invents for mourning his lover
is very peculiar, most perverse. Jean, Jean's
lover, has been killed, as I said, by a French
militiaman. The funeral has not yet taken
place. And the living Jean, wondering how to
mourn for the dead, goes to the cinema and
there sees a newsreel fight between members
of the French Resistance and French
supporters of Pétain. Jean sees a young French
patriot killed by a young French pro-Nazi; he
imagines that the man killed is his lover, Jean,
and has an immediate impulse to give himself
to the killer. This fantasy is pursued
throughout the novel, in which there is much
about German pricks. In an imaginative flight,
Jean thinks of the prick of Eric Seiler, a
particularly brutal Nazi, who had begun his
career as the lover of the headsman of Berlin
[2] , as the V-I protecting Hitler himself. In
fantasy throughout the novel Genet is
buggered in his own person—or in the person
of French thugs or pro-Nazis with whom he
identifies himself—by brutal Germans; at the
end of the novel by Eric Seiler. Is this a way of
mourning for a hero of the Resistance, a man
valued for patriotic virtue? Or did Genet hate
his lover for having this virtue which he
himself did not possess? Genet identified
himself, as he makes perfectly clear, with
those French supporters of Hitler who took
Nazi orders simply to get revolvers in their
hands. So Genet could hardly mourn sincerely
as a Frenchman for his lover. Moreover, Genet
is a narcissist; his grief to be sincere had to be
avowedly a narcissist's. And how does a
narcissist grieve for the death of another?
Would he not have to have died himself in
order to understand the meaning of a funeral
rite? But at the end of his book Genet makes
clear what his ceremony really is and must be.
The living Jean will eat the dead Jean, at least
in fantasy; and the fantastic giving of himself
to the dead Jean's killers is a mere preliminary
to the real fantasy: the ceremonial eating of
the dead Jean. This is the great moment of the
novel and Genet's description is magnificent.
Personal, sexual, and religious feeling, half
hidden from one another in most of us are
called up imperiously by the author's words
and united by them into a mighty spell:

Once more he was swept along by the green


waves of anger; which rolled by in the night,
under a sky scratched with summer lightning;
the waters were full of alligators. On river
banks, criss-crossed with fern, savage
worshippers of the moon danced in the
thickets about a fire. The tribe which had been
invited to the feast became drunk with the
dance and with the thought of the treat in
store: the young dead man cooking in a
cauldron. It is sweet and consoling for me,
here among the men of a dark and quaking
continent, whose tribes eat their dead kings,
to find myself again with the natives of a
country like Eric's, so as to eat without risk or
remorse, the most tender flesh of the dead
man, to assimilate it to my own, to take the
best morsels with their fat in my fingers, to
keep them in my mouth and on my tongue
without disgust, to feel them enter my
stomach and know that their essence will fill
the very best parts of me. The boredom of
cooking has been spared me, while the heat of
the dance helped the body boil, extracting
from the flesh its magic essence. My palate too
was sharpened. I danced, blacker than the
blacks, to the beat of the tom-tom. I made my
body supple; I made it ready to receive the
totemic nourishment. I was sure that I was
God. I was God. Alone at the wooden table I
waited for Jean, naked and dead, to bring me
on a platter his own corpse. I presided, knife
and fork in hand, over a singular feast at which
I would consume his privileged flesh. No doubt
my head was aureoled; there was a nimbus
about my body: I felt my splendor going forth
like a spray. The blacks played on flutes of
bamboo and on tomtoms. Finally, coming from
I do not know where, Jean, naked and dead,
walking on his heels, brought me his corpse
well-cooked, placed it before me on the table,
and disappeared. Alone at that table, a God
whom the Negroes dared not look at, I ate…
Thus the death of Jean D. gave me roots. I
finally belonged to that France which I had
cursed, and so strongly desired…[3]

While eating Jean D., Jean is at one with


Germany, the country of killers; that is why he
refers to the African village where the rite
takes place as "a country like Eric's." Having
eaten the victim, Jean is united, and for the
first time, with France.

Certainly this imaginary rite will disgust many


readers. But I would ask them to consider what
ways are at their disposal for giving ceremony
to their grief for the dead. No doubt the
funeral ceremonies of the established religions
were at one time the result of some genuinely
subjective thought or feeling. But our
sensibilities are quite different now from the
sensibilities of those who invented the rites
which we still entrust our feelings to. Who has
not wanted to invent his own ceremony, be it
of grief or of joy? I do not like Genet's way of
mourning, but it does seem to me a real one,
created out of his own substance. All the same,
this creation of a rite, though something more
than a subjective act, is not equal in my view
to the creation of a world shared with others, a
world with the warmth and spontaneity of a
real society. So, remarkable rhetorically and
spiritually as is Funeral Rites, I cannot place it
on the same level with Our Lady of the
Flowers.

I must add, too, that Genet's plays,


Deathwatch, The Maids, The Screens—even
The Balcony and The Blacks—seem inferior to
me as intellectual efforts to Our Lady of the
Flowers and Funeral Rites.[4] Possibly the
theater and its needs have imposed on Genet
too many objective problems; his thought
proceeds most surely when he begins with his
intimate feelings and out of these tries to
construct the world. But who knows? Perhaps
some day this writer will give us a thoroughly
Cartesian play. In any case, is it not
remarkable that centuries after the death of
Descartes, a male whore and hoodlum,
speaking Descartes's language and using his
method, should have given life to the novel,
once the chief glory of French letters—and
which without Genet's efforts would be
moribund in France today.
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Notes

[1] Sartre's introduction to Our Lady of the


Flowers, taken for this edition from his vast
Saint Genet, can only be described in
superlatives: it is one of the most amazing
pieces of literary analysis I have ever read.

[2] In a book on Genet, not yet published but


which I have in proof, Joseph MacMahon
wrongly refers to the "headsman of Berlin" as
the "hangman of Berlin." This error, though,
suggested to me that Genet's pro-Germanism
is, in one respect at least, not unlike the pro-
Germanism of Proust's character, the Baron de
Charlus. In explaining Charlus's leaning toward
the Germans, Proust in a message of immense
subtlety notes this detail about his character:
"Now in him sexual pleasure was accompanied
by a certain cruel idea, the full force of which I
did not realize at the time—the man he loved
seemed to him like an adorable hangman." (My
italics.)

[3] Pompes Funebres, my translation.


Elsewhere in this piece, I have relied on Mr.
Frechtman's translations. About Mr.
Frechtman's translations of Genet in general: I
find them competent and accurate, though
uneven in quality. With The Blacks Mr.
Frechtman succeeded admirably; his versions
of The Balcony and of The Screens are not
nearly so good, and I do not think his
translation of Our Lady of the Flowers catches
the music of the original as well as one would
have hoped. One difficulty: there is much argot
in Genet's novel. French argot is not inelegant
and enters unobtrusively even into a style as
convoluted and thrice-refined as Genet's.
American slang is aggressively inelegant. Mr.
Frechtman has not entirely resolved the
difficulty. I find his version of The Screens
faulty in the same respect.

[4] I realize that this contradicts a previously


published judgment of mine about the value of
Genet's novels in relation to his plays. My
mistake came from judging the novels from
memory.

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Volume 1, Number 4 · October 17, 1963
Going for Baroque
By Creighton Gilbert
Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations
between Italian Art and Society in the Age of
the Baroque
by Francis Haskell

Knopf, 454 pp., $15.00

This is a fascinating book, on a fairly special


subject. To read it, one has to possess a
developed curiosity about historical causes
and effects, and know something about artists
of seventeenth-century Italy like Bernini,
Pietro da Cortona, Poussin, and Claude Lorrain.
Starting from that base, the author's Part One
ties the careers and the styles of painting of
these artists and others to the interests of the
patrons who made them prosperous. The
motivations of the Popes are the chief key: the
violent shifts of taste when a new Pope
appeared, the urgent need to create images of
power quickly during a single reign, the
preference for artists from the Pope's home
town, the relative submissiveness of the
Jesuits and other religious orders, all fall
vividly into place. Some of the trends which
Mr. Haskell illuminates and most of the facts
are known to investigators of Baroque, but
many items are the author's own finds, and his
synthesis offers much that is new to the
deepest specialist. Each of his criss-cross
presentations dovetails beautifully.

Rome in this century had far more than its


share of the best artists from everywhere, but
its political history, in the long view, was
trivial and therefore is unfamiliar. The
opposite is true of Richelieu's France,
Cromwell's England, or the Germany of
Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus. To tie
those potent figures to the dim art around
them would be anticlimatic. But in Rome the
historian can illuminate remarkable paintings
by their connections with people who made no
impact on the future, but did have tremendous
local power and willful and distinctive
personalities. This combination of major art
and unfamiliar background is Mr. Haskell's
luck. The deepened understanding of the
paintings occurs in a context of lively
character sketches, and the paintings are
worth it.
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The only significant complaint I have about


this first part is less the author's fault than a
general human failing. Phenomena which he
calls typical of this seventeenth-century
society often, in fact, existed a century or
more before, in the Italy of the Renaissance.
There was, after all, no big shift in habits of
living. There are merely fewer records from the
earlier period, a lack that happens to be
reinforced by the author's naturally greater
knowledge of the later period. Thus he says
that it was "new" and "most exceptional" in
the earlier period, to give artists noble titles,
but without hunting I can increase Mr.
Haskell's two earlier exceptions to seven, most
of them never held in awe as particularly great
(for example, Baccio Bandinelli). The graph
does go up later, but not at so steep a rate as
he thinks. On a larger point, he reports that
artists, once they were assigned a subject, had
"surprising" freedom in the actual look of the
resulting painting. His conclusion rightly
surprises him, not because it contradicts the
data assembled before, but only, I am afraid,
because it contradicts a well-worn convention
in art historical research. Our detailed
symbolic interpretations of paintings lead us
to deduce that patrons specified them, and it
is common to assume that this was the
standard practice. Yet evidence is very sparse,
and cases to the contrary are perhaps more
frequent even earlier. Not only was
Michelangelo asked to produce any theme he
liked, but Vasari informed his Duke what the
symbolic picture would be like that he was
preparing for him, and still earlier in Venice
Giovanni Bellini turned down a commission
from a too instinctive Duchess. She seems to
have had a more exceptional attitude than he.
On another related point, the author finds it an
innovation that certain pictures were not
commissioned at all, but painted and put on
sale to the public. But Carpaccio was doing this
a century before, and the practice probably
was quite widespread. Such amendments,
though, do not really affect the quality of this
book, since this is an area outside its
particular theme.

Mr. Haskell has intentionally written his two


main parts in quite different ways, because the
data are different. This is fitting, but it will
make the second part less attractive to many
readers. The first is tightly constructed. The
focus on the Popes provides a constant. The
Popes follow one after the other, without a
gap: most other patrons are affected by papal
attitudes as much as the painters are. But in
eighteenth-century Venice, the subject of Part
Two, there are only individual private patrons.
They overlap at random, and mainly collected
what was available instead of influencing what
was produced. The absence of government
patronage creates an unusual condition, but
cannot go far as a thematic device. The
Venetian patrons formed no network, but only
a scattering of more or less connected, more
or less socially typical or eccentric, individuals.
The situation in Part Two reminds us more of
those more ordinary books on the history of
collecting that titillate us with characters.
About-the patron whom Mr. Haskell rightly
considers the most important, the only one to
rate a whole chapter, he concludes that he
wavered in taste according to whatever
stronger influences happened to be nearby. In
any case the story is more familiar. We are
more likely to know about Canaletto's trip to
England and Tiepolo's to the Prince-
Archbishop's palace in Germany than about the
troubles of the Roman Jesuit leader, Oliva, in
getting artists for his church. Yet if the reader
is less impressed here, it is really to the credit
of Mr. Haskell, who has told the story as it
happened, more fully and with more balance
than has been done before.

Between these two main parts there is a brief


section on patronage of Italian artists in other
cities and abroad. I would like to take from it a
slightly more detailed sample of what Mr.
Haskell accomplishes, and use the same point
for my major criticism. He has found one truly
important patron in this area, the Grand Prince
Ferdinand of Tuscany. He was a belated Medici
who died at fifty before succeeding his father
as ruler in Florence, but he had, in almost
complete cultural isolation, discovered modern
art, in the sense of a non-formal,
impressionist, witty painting, a prophecy of
rococo. In particular he brought two painters
to Florence in 1704-09, Riccl and Crespi, giving
them their first chance and effectively drawing
them out of their provincial surroundings. This
opportunity had the effect of stimulating them
to do more remarkable work for Ferdinand
than they had been doing when they first came
to the Prince's attention and this stimulus
lasted them throughout lives in which they
were never to find a patron like him again. He
knew the special kind of painting he was
encouraging, and they have a genuine claim to
be "the two most interesting artists of their
period, both of whom were pioneering a break
with late Baroque conventions," and this
makes the Grand Prince Ferdinand very
impressive. He was the rare patron who had a
positive effect on a whole movement in
painting, and Mr. Haskell has retrieved him
from obscurity.

And yet he may have missed some more. Many


people would say there is a third most
interesting young painter of the period,
Magnasco, who also was informal,
impressionist, and witty. Magnasco was in
Florence too in 1703-1711, a peculiar choice
for his one venture outside his provincial home
territory, and for him too Florence was the
great stimulus to his maturation. His
biographer in Genoa sixty years later said he
had worked in Florence for the Duke Gian
Castone, Ferdinand's younger brother who
inherited the title. Even if he has not confused
him with the forgotten Grand Prince, it
establishes a contact. Mr. Haskell does not
mention Magnasco at all, perhaps because the
starting point of his researches was not the
artists but the buyers—his book is not called
"Painters and Patrons." Yet even if the
addition should turn out to be justified, it
would only be another consistent item added
to the framework he has established.
This is a very British book. Its attractive
typography can be spotted at once, now oddly
encased in the usual Knopf binding, a sort of
heavy General Grant-type version of Baroque.
It is written with urbane grace, though to be
sure the occasional error in grammar is
disconcerting in a Fellow of King's College,
Cambridge. ("The quality of the drawings…
justify enthusiasm.") But altogether its lack of
either evangelical pleading or muddy plodding
distinguishes it refreshingly from most
American books on similar topics.

Beyond that we should cite the English


publisher, who was ready to bring out a book
of such original investigations and not restrict
himself to duplicating the usual elementary
primers on Great Artists. He has provided a
really full index, which doubles the book's
usefulness. He even understood that, for
readers of a book like this, the footnotes are
pleasanter and smoother on the same page
than at the back, not just for pedants but for
people. Do American publishers lack such
initiative because they still believe more books
are sold per capita in England, a belief now
revealed in England as a myth? It is true the
British publishers have the special stimulus
that London is now filled with bright young art
historians. In fact it is the point of most
intense focus for such work just now
anywhere. This book is flanked by Ellis
Waterhouse's history of Italian painting in the
seventeenth century, just issued, and Michael
Levey's book on eighteenth-century Venice, a
deserved success about five years ago. Mr.
Haskell, who is thirty-five and whose first book
this is, may be studied like the people in his
book. He is involved in a competition of
brilliance, focused on Baroque Italy, because it
was urbanely brilliant too, because both
cultures show us the phenomenon of art
collecting as a profession, and because of the
huge stores of Baroque paintings in England.
This context continues to produce new
generations of talent.

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publisher. Please contact web@nybooks.com
with any questions about this site. The cover
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Volume 1, Number 4 · October 17, 1963
Holmes's Common Law
By H.L.A. Hart
The Common Law
by Oliver Wendell Holmes, edited by Mark
DeWolfe Howe

Harvard, 338 pp., $5.00

This famous book, now admirably re-


introduced to the general reader by Professor
Mark Howe, resembles a necklace of splendid
diamonds surprisingly held together at certain
points by nothing better than string. The
diamonds are the marvelous insights into the
genius of the Common Law and the detailed
explorations of the dynamic of its growth; they
still flash their illuminating light on the dark
areas beneath the clear and apparently stable
forms of legal thought. The string is the
sometimes obscure and hasty argument, the
contemptuous dismissal of rival views, and the
exaggerations with which Holmes sought to
build up the tendencies which he found
actually at work in the history of the law into a
tough, collective philosophy of society.
Holmes's genius as displayed here is that of a
historian especially of early law, and his
historical work, though since corrected on
many details, made, as Maitland immediately
recognized, "an epoch." By comparison, the
philosophy which Holmes drew from his history
was shallow, in spite of its interesting
connections, noted by Professor Howe, with
the Darwinism and empiricism of his day. It
now seems of value mainly as a stimulant and
to have little claim to finality, even as a
critique of the Kantian metaphysics to which it
was opposed.

The range of the book is vast; its topics include


the basis of liability for crime and for civil
wrongs or torts in early and later law, the
nature of contract, the law's use of the elusive
idea of possession, and the slow emergence of
modern ideas of the transferability of legal
rights. But the range is matched by the
scholarship. In the first thirty pages, besides
the texts of Roman Law and English statutes
and cases from the earliest times onwards,
there are references to Plato, Demosthenes,
Plutarch, Pausanias, Livy, Cicero, Aulus Gellius,
Pliny, and many others. This learning is always
gracefully deployed and never degenerates
into pedantry, and it is amazing that so much
could have been amassed by a man of thirty.
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In his Preface of 1880 Holmes told his readers


that his object in writing the book (which he
had delivered as lectures to a partly lay and
surely somewhat puzzled audience at the
Lowell Institute in Boston) was to construct a
theory. "Nous faisons une théorie et non un
spicilege." The theory was to hold together
and render intelligible the forests of detail,
some of it very ancient lumber, of which the
Common Law appeared to consist. Perhaps the
boldness of this enterprise appears greater
today than it did then. Sir Henry Maine, gifted
with similar talents for pregnant epigram and
historical generalization, though with perhaps
less learning, had successfully attempted
something similar for Roman Law in his
Ancient Law. The day had not yet then dawned
when a "law book" would mean, for Americans,
a vast tome constructed in, and for, law
schools—mainly with scissors and paste—or,
for Englishmen, a slightly smaller textbook,
uneasily designed to serve the needs of both
practitioners and students. The delineation of
first principles was still a respectable
speculative enterprise even for a lawyer.

When Holmes first began to write in the


1870's, he found that academic law was
dominated by a theory which had been
begotten by German philosophy on the body of
Roman Law. The great names were those of
Kant, Hegel, and Savigny, and the theory's
focal point was the respect, indeed the
reverence, due the individual and the
individual will. To this, all that was problematic
or in need of justification was referred.
Punishment was to be justified as a return for,
or even a cancelling out of, the blameworthy
exercise of the will; contracts were to be
enforced because they were made by the
meeting of human wills which they expressed;
possession—even the possession by a thief of
stolen goods—was to be protected by the law
because it was "the objective realization of the
will." To Holmes, this Willenstheorie seemed
either unintelligible or a romantic fiction,
incapable of explaining even the institutions of
Roman Law on which it purported to be a
gloss. Apart from its detailed errors, the whole
metaphysical approach appeared simply to
ignore the practical aims and exigencies which
shape any living body of law. In this ruling
theory of his day, Holmes discerned two
pathetic fallacies and devoted much of this
book to their exposure. The first fallacy was
that a legal system had a simple logical
structure and that its complexities could all be
explained as the deductive consequences of a
few leading principles. The second fallacy was
that there was a close affinity, if not identity,
between legal and moral duty and legal and
moral wrong. These were the ideas which, as
he wrote elsewhere, were to be washed,
perhaps washed away, in "cynical acid," and he
turned to English legal history to find it. In so
doing he professed himself convinced that in
the Common Law there was "a system far more
civilized than the Roman, framed on a plan
irreconcilable with the a priori doctrines of
Kant and Hegel."

In spite of the originality and generality of its


main themes, none of this book is easy
reading. It is essentially the work of a
professional legal historian in search of a
general theory, not that of a social prophet.
The most difficult passages are in the last
chapters which describe the slow, involved
process by which modern notions of contract,
and of legal rights as easily transferable
things, emerged from cruder primitive
conceptions. Here Holmes probed deep into
the technicalities of medieval Common Law,
and the often rebarbative detail is difficult
even for a lawyer to follow. But it is precisely
here that Holmes's greatest gifts were
manifested. He opened up fresh ground in this
area of legal science because he was so
greatly endowed with the ability to question
what had long seemed obvious. "The difficulty
in dealing with a subject," he observes, "is to
convince the sceptic that there is anything to
explain." So he set about to understand and to
expound how familiar modern legal
conceptions first became "thinkable in legal
terms." More—more even of philosophy—is to
be learned from following Holmes's
sympathetic reconstruction of the difficult
birth of modern legal ideas than from
attending to his overt philosophizing. To learn
how men came, with the aid of the strange
fictions and analogies depicted here, to
acknowledge that not only concrete things but
abstractions like legal rights might be
transferred from person to person, is to gain a
new comprehension of the natural history of
human thought. Indeed Holmes's touch was
very much that of the naturalist and was
perhaps influenced by the biological theories
of his day. Though he never adulated the past,
he thought recourse to it indispensable to
explain its remnants still present in modern
legal rules. It is, he said, "just as the clavicle in
the cat tells of the existence of some earlier
creature to which a collar bone was useful."

From his historical studies Holmes distilled a


number of maxims to be used as prophylactics
against the excessive rationalization and
moralization of the law, which were the
occupational diseases of the legal theorist.
Among these maxims is the famous warning
(too frequently torn from its context and
misapplied) that "the life of the law has not
been logic; it has been experience," and his
insistence on the importance to the
understanding of law on "instinctive
preferences and inarticulate convictions." But
his idée maîtresse, which in the end became
something of an obsession, was the principle
that, though the law often seems to make
liability to punishment or to pay compensation
for harm done dependent on the individual's
actual intention to do harm, this is most often
not to be taken at its face value. Here, he
thought, lay one of the cardinal differences
between early and modern law. "Though the
law starts from the distinctions and uses the
language of morality, it necessarily ends in
external standards not dependent on the
actual consciousness of the individual." Or
again: "The law considers what would be
blameworthy in the average man, the man of
ordinary intelligence and prudence, and
determines liability by that." These were
indeed powerful heuristic maxims dissipating
much misunderstanding in the fields of
contract and tort. But Holmes came to regard
them as more than valuable pointers to
neglected tendencies in the law. He sometimes
treats them as statements of necessary truths
("by the very necessity of its nature the law is
continually transmuting moral standards into
external or objective ones"), and in the most
celebrated chapter in this book he erects these
principles into a form of social philosophy
justifying what he describes as "the sacrifice of
the individual."

This is Holmes's greatly debated theory of


objective liability. Its central contention is that
when the law speaks of an intention to do
harm as a necessary constituent of a crime, all
it does, and can, and should, require (Holmes
never adequately discriminated among these
three) is that the person accused of the crime
should have done what an average man would
have foreseen would result in harm. In spite of
its subjective and moralizing language, the law
does not require proof of the accused's actual
wickedness or actual intention or actual
foresight that harm would result. Of course,
for common sense as for the law, there are
important connections between the
proposition that a man by acting in a certain
way intended harm, and the proposition that
an average man who acted in that way would
have foreseen it or intended it. For the latter is
good, though not conclusive, evidence of the
former. Nonetheless the two propositions are
distinct. Holmes, however, though well aware
of the distinction, thought that in general the
law did not and should not attend to it. This
was not because he was a philosophical
behaviorist, or because he thought that
subjective facts were too elusive for the courts
to ascertain. There is no echo in Holmes of the
medieval Chief Justice Brian of the Common
Pleas, "The thought of man is not triable; the
devil alone knoweth the thought of man."
Though many of Holmes's followers accepted
his theory of objective liability because of the
difficulties of legal proof of actual knowledge
or intention, Holmes does not rest his doctrine
on these merely pragmatic grounds but on a
social theory. His view was that the function of
the criminal law was to protect society from
harm, and in pursuit of this objective it did and
should set up standards of behavior which
individuals must attain at their peril. The law
may exempt those who, like the young child or
lunatic, are obviously grossly incapable, but
apart from this, if men are too weak in
understanding or in will power, they must be
sacrificed to the common good.

Certainly the criminal law bears traces of such


objective standards; indeed the elimination of
them has been the aim of many liberal-minded
reformers of the law for many years. But
though Holmes at one point says that he does
not need to defend the law's use of "objective
standards" but only to record it as a fact, he
devotes much of this chapter to showing that
the law here is reasonable and even admirable.
The arguments he uses are the poorest in the
book. He considers the objection that the use
of external standards of criminal
responsibility, taking no account of the
incapacities of individuals, treats men as
things, not as persons, as means and not as
ends. He admits the charge but thinks it
irrelevant. He asserts that society frequently
treats men as means: it does so when it sends
conscripts "with bayonets in their rear" to
death. But this reply is cogent only against a
stupidly inaccurate version of the Kantian
position on which the objection rests. Kant
never made the mistake of saying we must
never treat men as means. He insisted that we
should never treat them only as means "but in
every case as ends also." This meant that we
are justified in requiring sacrifices from some
men for the good of others only in a social
system which also recognizes their rights and
their interests. In the case of punishment, the
right in question is the right of men to be left
free and not to be punished for the good of
others, unless they have broken the law when
they had the capacity and a fair opportunity to
conform to its requirements.

Apart from this, Holmes's main argument is a


fallacy and unfortunately an infectious one. He
adopts the acceptable position that the
general aim, justifying a modern system of
criminal punishment, is not to secure
vengeance or retribution in the sense of a
return of pain for an evil done, but to prevent
harmful crime. On this basis he seeks to prove
that there can be no reason why the law
should concern itself with the actual state of
the offender's mind or enquire into his actual
capacity to do what the law requires. His proof
is that since the law only requires outward
conformity to its prescriptions and does not
care, so long as the law is obeyed, what were
the intentions or motives of those who obeyed
or whether they could have done otherwise, so
it should equally disregard these subjective
matters in dealing with the offender when the
law has been broken. This is, of course, a non
sequitur. Even if the general justification of
punishment is the utilitarian aim of preventing
harm, and not vengeance or retribution, it is
still perfectly intelligible that we should defer
to principles of justice or fairness to
individuals and not punish those who lack the
capacity or fair opportunity to obey. It is
simply not true that such a concern with the
individual only makes sense within a system of
retribution or vengeance. Indeed, Holmes
himself in discussing liability in tort stresses
the importance of such principles of justice to
individuals, but thinks their requirements are
adequately satisfied if the individual is
punished only for what would be blameworthy
in the average man. No doubt there are
practical difficulties in ascertaining the actual
knowledge or intention or capacity of
individuals in every case, but there is no
reason in principle why a maximum effort
should not be made to do it.

"The law will not enquire whether he did


actually foresee this consequence or not. The
test of foresight is not what this very criminal
foresaw but what a man of reasonable
prudence would have foreseen." When he was
a judge in Massachusetts, Holmes applied this
principle in murder cases at least twice and
the influence of his doctrine has been great,
both on the body and the theory of the law. In
1961 the English House of Lords endorsed it
and quoted Holmes's words. But little support
for it is now to be found in American legal
opinion and it is firmly rejected in the Model
Penal Code of the American Law Institute. The
decision of the House of Lords was greeted
with a storm of criticism and it is clear that
Holmes's doctrine is unlikely to be invoked in
English cases other than murder. But
paradoxically some of Holmes's opponents
even in America have darkened counsel as
much as his followers. For they have accepted
from Holmes the false suggestion implicit in
his argument that it is pointless to bother
about the individual's mind or capacity to
conform to law except where the aim of
punishment is retribution for moral
wickedness. They have asserted against
Holmes that we should indeed be concerned
with these subjective facts about the
individual, but agreed with him that this is so
only because it is necessary to establish the
moral wickedness of those who are punished.
This is a blinding over-simplification of the
complex issues surrounding the institution of
punishment, and it ignores the claims of those
liberal forms of utilitarianism which hold that,
though it is for the protection of society that
law breakers are to be punished, no individual
is to be punished who lacks the capacity to
obey.

Though there are these and other weaknesses


to be found in this book, almost everything
which Holmes said in it still reverberates. This
is not only a tribute to the magic and sonority
of his style. It still pays handsome dividends in
thinking about any subject on which Holmes
touched here, to begin with what he said, even
though, in some cases, it seems no longer
possible to stay with it.

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Volume 1, Number 5 · October 31, 1963
The Harlot's Progress
By V.S. Pritchett
Fanny HillFanny Hill by David Levine
Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure
by John Cleland

Putnam, 319 pp., $.95 paperback (paper)

Every age gets the pornography it deserves.


The people who are now making a fuss about
Fanny Hill, John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman
of Pleasure, do nothing about the real
pornography of today—the incitement to
violence, torture, maiming, and killing, often
topped up with sexual perversity, which are
presented with a sickening kind of
pleasurelessness, on the screens of television
and cinema and in pulp fiction. It can be
suggested (as Havelock Ellis once did) that
some kinds of pornography are socially useful;
they may allay evil desires by acting as a sort
of imaginative distraction. They may lead us
away from action into harmless fantasy.
Whether this is so or not, the real test is not
what the average man thinks; it is the test of
artistic merit, and if he is called upon to judge,
it is the average man's duty to find out what
artistic merit is. He will find himself
considering man's often brilliant exploration of
his own imagination. Nothing could be more
horrifying and inciting to sadistic action than
those terrible pictures of Goya's called The
Fantasies and The Disasters of War; however,
one sees, at once, that Goya's art transmutes
them and places them in that area of our
minds where the difficult but indispensable
moral and civilizing process can operate. The
same transmuting process can be seen in the
treatment of the classical but surely sordid
encounter of Leda with the Swan; in the
brothel paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec, in the
pathos and laughter of Maupassant's Maison
Tellier. I believe one can see it also in that
minor amatory exercise, Memoirs of a Woman
of Pleasure. No one is asked to say how
meritorious an artist is in these matters, but it
is essential for the transmuting element to be
recognized.
NYR Holiday Subscription Special

Since 1749 when it was first published in


London, many sensible people have thought
that Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, usually
known as Fanny Hill, had this element. It has
its place in the history of literature, not in the
history of smut. Smut never lasts. The story is
obviously inflaming, but even lane Eyre or
Lorna Doone inflames. Fanny, a country girl
abandoned in London, describes how she
enters a select brothel—note the word
"select"—and goes into prolonged, detailed
descriptions of several kinds of sexual
adventure and intercourse. In doing so,
however, she never utters an obscene word,
rarely descends even to colloquialism, never to
the clinical; she indeed writes an elaborate
literary language that would do credit to any
master of baroque and poetic utterance—shall
we say Henry James?—spoken in a drawing
room. And it is not shabby baroque. The
disconcerting thing about the book—as a piece
of "pornography"—is that it has charm. Many
have thought the intercourse of the sexes
brutal even when blessed by the Church; more
refined and indeed naturally sensitive or
passionate people have found the very
opposite. Fanny belongs to the latter category.
She is healthy, warm-blooded, delights in her
senses, is unashamed in curiosity, and is
distinctly self-aware. She is unrepentant in
pleasure or lust; but she truthfully perceives—
and this, I believe, without the sort of
hypocrisy that greater writers like Defoe or
Richardson insinuated—that she had physical
pleasure in lust but physical and spiritual
pleasure in love. Having made a lot of money
in her enforced profession about which, in the
true practical spirit of the eighteenth century,
she is complacent, she marries her first lover:
a success story that can be said to be a smack
in the face for Clarissa or Pamela.

No one pretends that John Cleland approaches


the range or power of Defoe or Richardson as a
novelist. His book is, on the other hand, the
nearest thing we have to an English Manon
Lescaut. But he must be seriously discussed
with these writers by the literary critic, for he
brings to life an important element in
eighteenth-century morality and feeling. Two
influences clearly bear on his mind. The first is
accidental. Residence in Smyrna as British
Consul and later in Bombay appears to have
removed from Cleland the morally ruthless,
brutal, or comic-brutal attitude to sexual life
which is so strong in the aggressive Anglo-
American traditions. (Charm, tenderness, a
concern for manners in love are pronounced in
Oriental works like The Arabian Nights and,
despite the clinical dog-Latin of timid
translators, in The Golden Lotus.) But the
strongest influence on Cleland is that concern
for the reform of manners which is the most
powerful force in the English novel during the
eighteenth century.

Part of this spirit of reform was the expression


of Puritan ambition or—more accurately—of
the beginnings of middle-class respectability;
it began under William III who, like most
Dutchmen of that time, was appalled by the
barbarity of English social life. The other part
was directed to polish, elegance, the
refinement of sensibility, and making men and
women physically clean and conversible. In the
end, the former hardened into hypocrisy and
the latter into arid artifice and eventually false
sentiment. Especially does the spirit of reform,
and the social revolution accompanying it,
affect the status of women who begin to
emerge as the custodians of society and, at
last, of their own persons. Defoe's Roxana
becomes a greedy kept mistress, because she
is determined to be as free as any merchant
and to be as much master of her person and
property as any man. Defoe's Moll Flanders,
thief and doxy and calculating fornicator, sins
for one motive only: to attain respectability.
She ends as the first Mrs. Grundy of Virginia.
Her morality and remorse—like Mrs. Grundy's—
are amiable but suspect. Though frank about
their sexual experiences, these ladies take it
as it comes and are incapable of describing
their inner life.

It was more profitable, as Mr. Peter Quennell


says in his excellent introduction, to compare
Fanny Hill with Richardson's heroines Pamela
or Clarissa; and also to compare Cleland's
moral attitude with the Hogarth of The Harlot's
Progress. The moral of Pamela is that lovely
woman must not stoop to folly; if she does, she
will miss both respectability and property. The
moral of Clarissa is "Better death"; and of
Hogarth's pictorial chronicle, that a life of
libertinage leads to self-destruction. To these
violent and general views, Fielding was the
aristocratic objector. It was notorious (a large
body of non-Puritan opinion agreed) that a life
of pleasure did not automatically lead to
disaster; that the virtuous Pamela was a sham;
and even that Clarissa was one of those
peculiar psychological aberrants who are
contented with nothing short of rape. Like
Fielding (in this way at least), John Cleland
holds to the view that manners can be
reformed only if one is truthful about private
experience and cultivates one's perceptions
and good sense. His story may be shallow, but
its content, within its limits, is not.

To this attitude Cleland adds his own


eccentricity as a writer. He was a bookish Scot
with a Celtic bee in his bonnet. He is eccentric
to the point of ridicule. It is true he was a
down-at-heel Bohemian who wrote his
sensational and daring Fanny Hill to make a
quick twenty guineas, when he was bankrupt;
yet his real interests were esoteric and
solemn. His hobby-horse was not sex but
philology. He sought to found a universal
language and wrote a Specimen of an
Etymological Vocabulary or Essay by means of
the Analytic Method, to retrieve the Ancient
Celtic.

Mr. Quennell quotes a long passage from this


obscure essay, which is dotty but reveals an
obsession with the metaphysics of the art of
description. Here is a sample of Cleland's
groping mind:

If then, I repeat it, if I am not mistaken in


this method of analysing words by an
individuation of ideas, syllable by syllable, and
through every particle that constitutes those
ideas…by means of which the existence of
things may be found in their natural records
and repositories, words satisfactorily
explained so as to convey undeniable truths by
implication…

If that particular passage suggests anything it


is a fervid preoccupation with metaphor and
the associations of words poetic or otherwise—
which is not, when one comes to think of it,
extraordinary in an eloquent Celt—that
inspired the florid and indeed the best
passages of sexual description in the book.
The evocation of what sexual pleasure is in its
particularity and in the imagination, was his
strong point. There he succeeded where better
and higher-minded writers—D. H. Lawrence
among them—have grotesquely failed. Cleland
is good about sex because he is good about
words. Elegance, energy and kindness, he
conveyed.

The absurdity of Fanny Hill lies here also;


where "pornography" does not brutalize, it
idealizes. The book is, in this sense, an erotic
fantasy—and a male fantasy, at that, put into
the mind of a woman. The male organ is
phenomenal to the point of absurdity. Cleland
is carried away by his sexual daydream. So
was Casanova, most of the time, for eroticism
is a kind of intoxication. But we must
remember that Fanny Hill was a sensational
book, written as a sensational counterblast
from the point of view of privacy to those who
were formulating the new public bourgeois
attitude to sex. In one sense Cleland is
engagingly feminine: the continual reference
to clothes, to furniture, to manners is that. But
Cleland has the naive male double view that
old whores are hardened and corrupt but that
young ones, though on the make, are also
rescuable—not by pious interference, but
through the experience of love. On the whole,
one would guess that Hogarth's view of the
bagnio was the correct one; for we notice
Cleland is a snob: his brothel is that fantasy,
the select brothel with no risk of the
eighteenth-century nightmare, the pox; but it
is odd that Cleland, who was either wrong,
exalted, or cynical, should have had a finer and
far less gross sexual sensibility than Hogarth—
except possibly in one or two gory sadistic
metaphors and in the disagreeable flagellation
scene. If that disgusts, it at any rate shrewdly
exposes the psychological distress of the
neurotic.

Fanny Hill may bore one—she admirs that an


ecstatic story like hers may become tedious
because there is nothing so tiring as repeated
ecstasy—but she leaves no bad taste. If we
don't believe her fairy tale, we believe her
feelings. Indeed she conveys the sense of
pleasure without guilt. (There, alas, she is no
realist.) After the eighteenth century, a book
like this could not be written in England.
Romantic morality reasserted itself and sexual
happiness retired from print into privacy and,
indeed, one does not want this private mystery
to be exploited or described too often, even by
the gifted.
After publication, the real pornographers got
to work on Fanny Hill. The book was pirated.
The pirates supplied obscene illustrations.
(One set of these by Cruikshank must have
been good, but it has been lost.) They dirtied
the text, added episodes. The illustrations led
to prosecutions. But as a minor fantasy,
deluding as a guide to conduct, but respectful
of our delight in the body, this halfsly,
halfingenuous manual is an interesting
footnote in the history of the English novel. It
reminds one of those improper carvings one
sometimes finds under the arms of medieval
choir stalls. Immodestly the flesh happily
persists.

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Letters

December 12, 1963: Hans Koningsberger,


Fanny

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with any questions about this site. The cover
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Volume 1, Number 5 · October 31, 1963
Keats
By Al Alvarez
John KeatsJohn Keats by David Levine
John Keats
by Walter Jackson Bate

Harvard, 732 pp., $10.00


John Keats: The Making of a Poet
by Aileen Ward

Viking, 450 pp., $7.50

A Man's life of any worth is a continual


allegory—and very few eyes can see the
Mystery of his life—a life like the scriptures,
figurative—Lord Byron cuts a figure—but he is
not figurative—Shakespeare led a life of
Allegory; his works are the comments on it.

Compared with Keats himself, Shakespeare


was lucky. Since we know so little of his life,
we are forced to stick to his work. And that,
mercifully, is enough to make all the diaries
and laundry bills in the world irrelevant. Not so
with Keats: his biography is insistent,
inescapable. After all, he himself contributed
so much towards it in his voluminous letters.
And what he left out was filled in by the
memoirs of his friends, their bickering and
gossip, which raise a dust that almost chokes
the poems.

For his life was, in pure form, an allegory of


the Romantic poet. Cover his face: mine eyes
dazzle: he died young. Had consumption not
got him, the reviewers been kinder, and he
and Fanny settled improbably into domesticity,
the lure of his work would, I think, be much
less—even if he had fulfilled his own most
stringent ambitions. As it is, his life, or rather
his death, somehow completes his poetry. For
in terms of mere bulk, there is not all that
much there.

His Endymion, as he himself well saw, is a


failure, and his Hyperion, fine things as it
contains, is not a success. But in shorter
things, where the matured power of moral
interpretation, and the high architectonics
which go with complete poetic development,
are not required, he is perfect.

However much we would qualify Matthew


Arnold's judgment, it remains more or less
true. Yet that in itself makes Keats very much
to the modern taste. Nobody writes long
poems any more, and scarcely anyone reads
them, unless forced. Indeed, in nearly every
way Keats is the most modern of the
Romantics: as Eliot once urged, he assimilated
the lesson of Shakespeare's use of language in
a wholly original way; he commands a
thickness of metaphor and even occasional
tricks of synaesthesia which predate the
Symbolists; he has a steady ambivalence to
death and the senses which goes well beyond
the pleasure principle. Above all, he is one of
us socially: not quite a gentleman, not quite
properly educated, and continually willing to
risk his social poise for his convictions; "I
always," he wrote, "made an awkward bow."
Add to all that his sharp critical insights into
his fellow Romantics, his belief in the
impersonality of great art, his unRomantic
vigor and toughness with himself, and he
seems a long way from the oversensitive
darling of the senses, "snuffed out by an
article" and then immortalized in Victorian
myth and Severn's posthumous sketches.
"There is," said his friend Woodhouse, "a great
deal of reality about all that Keats writes."
NYRB / Chrysalids Holiday

The factual reality and the myth of Keats's life


are investigated again by his two new
biographers, Walter Jackson Bate and Aileen
Ward. Professor Bates massive record will, I
imagine, be final until the scholars dig up
substantially new material—if any remains to
be dug. He meticulously goes through every
provable detail of Keats's life: his day-to-day
activities, journeys, meetings, dinner parties;
the people he knew, the books he read; his
dealings with his publishers and with the
literary tradition; the development of his
meters, his ideas and his finances (Abbey, his
guardian, turns out to be the villain of the
book, embezzling the legacies of the Keats
children). Every source is judged for its
reliability, every rumor weighed, and few not
found wanting. The result is not only a
monumental scrupulousness, at times more
monumental than readable, but also a fine
scholarly detachment. For all the amassed
detail, Professor Bate never pries: he has no
theory to pin on his subject; as best he can, he
lets the man speak for himself.

Professor Ward is not quite like that. Like


Bate, she gives a fairly detailed chronology,
but she is far less insistent on facts. She uses
even the chancier rumors, such as W. M.
Rossetti's theory of Keats's syphilis, and
weaves from hints elaborate and sometimes
novelettish arabesques:

As for Fanny, the nightmare of the summer


was over. She was now simply and truly herself
to him again, his young love, his beauty, his
own, no longer a figure of bale.

The gush sorts oddly with the careful research


which Professor Ward has obviously put into
the book. Still, exactitude is not primarily her
business. Her real interest is in the psychology
of genius. With Keats, this means his
relationship to his lively, seductive mother
who, like Hamlet's, remarried too soon after
his father's death, abandoned her children,
and returned only to die; the question then is
how this conflict worked itself out in the
psycho-symbolic patterns of his verse and in
his behavior. Professor Ward follows this line
more or less convincingly, though without
going very deep. Oddly enough, she is more
incisive about Keats's first poem, the vapid
"Imitation of Spenser," than about those later
gifts to the amateur psychoanalyst, like "La
Belle Dame Sans Merci" and the "Ode to
Melancholy."

Yet despite their differences, both biographers


are concerned with what is, fundamentally, the
sheer improbability of Keats's poetic career.
He was not, like Rimbaud, a prodigy from the
start. He was almost nineteen before he wrote
his first poem, and for some time after that his
development was slow, his talent uncertain. He
was, as Professor Bate insists, "surprisingly,
refreshingly remote from precocity." Yet the
whole progress, from the stiff beginning,
through the literary intoxication and Leigh
Hunt-inspired affectations of the first volume,
the strain of Endymion (in which he was, said
Byron, "viciously soliciting his own
imagination"), to the more assured romances,
and then to the final burst of great poetry, all
this occupies a span of only three years. Keats
is the supreme example of creative vitality and
concentration. "The Creature has a purpose
and his eyes are bright with it."

Yet this energy is only a necessary preliminary


to the great work. His mature verse may
depend upon this fullness of life, but it doesn't
really start until the vitality was brought up
short by the fact of death. The cycle of his
poetic apprenticeship begins and ends with a
death: that of his mother turned him to
literature—his almost obsessional reading at
school dates from then; that of his brother
made him a major poet—he began Hyperion
while Tom was dying, and in the twelve
months which followed produced all his most
important poems. Why Tom's death should
have triggered such an incredible burst of
creativity is, of course, impossible to say. No
doubt the shock, the sense of loss, and the
memories which were stirred up of his
mother's and father's deaths are all part of the
process. But what seems to have mattered
most was the contrast to his own vital energy;
that is, the impersonality of death, the need to
acknowledge that this thing happens despite
all the care and love and passionate denial in
the world. Critically, Keats had come to
understand this when he first outlined his
theory of negative capability. For that involves
something more than a literary insight into the
impersonality of great art. It also implies an
essential step in psychological maturity: the
acknowledgement of the independence of life
outside oneself, of the fact that Iago and
Cordelia exist in their own right, despite
oneself. The stage beyond that is the more
difficult acknowledgement of the fact that they
can equally cease to exist, despite oneself.

William Empson once remarked that the line


No, no; go not to Lethe, neither twist "tells you
that somebody, or some force in the poet's
mind, must have wanted to go to Lethe very
much, if it took four negatives in the first line
to stop them." Yet that passive, feminine
swoon into "easeful death" is only one element
in Keats's more complex effort to assimilate
death into creative power, to make it, that is,
part of his most intensely felt life. But that is
precisely what he seems to have been doing
when he rewrote Hyperion. The epic proper
can only begin after the poet has undergone a
kind of death:

Slow, heavy, deadly was my pace: the cold


Grew stifling, suffocating at the heart;
And when I clasp'd my hands I felt them not.
One minute before death my ic'd foot
touch'd
The lowest stair; and, as it touch'd, life
seem'd
To pour in at the toes…. "Holy Power,"
Cried I, approaching near the horn- ed
shrine,
"What am I that should so be saved from
death?" …
Then said the veiled shadow: "Thou last felt
What 'tis to die and live again before
Thy fated hour. That thou hast power to do
so
Is thy own safety; thou hast doted on
Thy doom." "High Prophetess," said I, "purge
off,
Benign, if so it please thee, my mind's film."
"None can usurp this height," re- turned that
shade.
"But those to whom the miseries of the
world
Are misery, and will not let them rest.
All else who find a haven in the world
Where they may thoughtless sleep away
their days,
If by a chance into this fane they come,
Rot on the pavement where thou rot- ted'st
half."

What is in question here is neither suffering


nor misery; it is, rather, the ability to
understand what death means, to die, as it
were, creatively, to transform the negative
into a capacity.

One of the nastier paradoxes of art is that,


despite all the effort involved, it is not
essentially therapeutic. Instead of summing up
and so disposing of past experience, it more
often seems to provide a rough sketch for
what is to come. The poet in writing brings to
the surface the conflicts which are nagging
him and then finds himself acting them out. So
though Keats's letters may have foreshadowed
his poetry, his poetry, in turn, foreshadowed
his life. Having got to the rare stage of being
able to use his understanding of death for
creative ends, he then found himself dying.
Revisiting the house in Well Walk, where he
had lived with his brothers, Keats told Hunt
that he was "dying from a broken heart." I
think he was lamenting more than the
deprivation and ruin of his own life—his whole
family either dead or inaccessible, and
marriage with Fanny Brawne no longer
possible—he was also lamenting his own death
as a poet. For he wrote nothing more. There
followed only what he called his "posthumous
life" in Rome, and his own horrified attendance
at his second death. Yet "That which is
creative must create itself." Keats understood
his death all too clearly, and he understood the
terrible wastage it involved. What he could not
have foreseen is that from these last pointless
months the whole legend of Romantic genius
should have been born—cold comfort, perhaps,
but in the end sustaining.

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Volume 1, Number 6 · November 14, 1963
The Megadeath Intellectuals
By Marcus G. Raskin
The Arms Debate
by Robert A. Levine

Harvard, 352 pp., $6.50

(The author of this review was formerly a


member of the White House National Security
Council Staff.)

The universities have become more and more


involved with defense policy since the
beginning of the cold war. Harvard, Princeton,
and Columbia now have sizeable institutes
studying questions of defense and so do other
universities. The money to finance these
studies generally comes from one of the
agencies that make up the National Security
Establishment—the C.I.A., the Defense
Department, the Atomic Energy Commission,
or the Office of Emergency Planning. Or it may
come from one of the foundations.

Most of the professors who work at these


institutes are also paid as "consultants" by the
Defense Department and similar agencies at
the rate of $ 50 to $ 100 a day. When they
work for corporations which are wholly
subsidized by the government—the missile
industry, for example—they may receive as
much as $ 300 a day. A good many are also
awarded handsome contracts to write papers
for one government agency or another. Beyond
this, there is a steady exchange of experts
between the universities and those special
organizations, like the RAND Corporation, the
Institute for Defense Analysis, and the Office
of Naval Research, which have been set up by
the Defense Department or one of its
branches.

What are we to make of these institutes and


organizations? After examining a good deal of
their work, while I was in the Government and
now that I am out of it. I have come to the
conclusion that their most important function
is to justify and extend the existence of their
employers. This is not to say that some of the
papers they produce are not valuable
contributions to defense policy. But the fact is
that most are not, and in the last analysis it
must be doubted that they are intended to be.
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Mr. Robert A. Levine, the author of The Arms


Debate, is very much a part of the world I have
been describing. Trained as a professional
economist, he wrote this book while a
Research Associate at the Harvard Center for
International Affairs, and he now works for the
RAND Corporation. His purpose is to compare
dispassionately the principal public positions
that have been taken on the question of a
desirable armaments policy—not only by
people within the area of officially sponsored
thinking, but by those on the edge of it, or
outside it altogether. He does not accomplish
this, but his way of going about it is worth
examining.

He proceeds by categorizing the "debaters"


into Schools of Thought:

First, we have the systematic Anti-War School


consisting of such people as Bertrand Russell,
Erich Fromm, and Paul Goodman. They want to
disarm unilaterally—and immediately—either
because they don't view the Soviet threat as
real, or because they consider that nuclear
arms cannot be an answer to a political threat.
They insist that preparation for war results
only in forms of totalitarianism.

Second, the Marginal Anti-War School (Arnold


Waskow, Charles Osgood, Amatai Etzioni),
which proposes that the U.S. maintain some
nuclear arms for the present but that it take
unilateral initiatives leading to negotiated
general and complete disarmament. Although
Levine does not characterize them as such,
they believe that disarmament, freedom, and
national security are not incompatible.

Third, the Middle Marginal School, which


Levine finds hard to categorize but in which he
includes such people as Herman Kahn, Sidney
Hook, Thomas Schelling, Morton Halperin,
Edward Teller, and himself. According to
Levine, this group wants (a) to prevent nuclear
war by having a so-called "second strike"
capability so that an attack on our nuclear
forces could be answered by an attack on the
enemy's nuclear forces; (b) to ameliorate the
effects of war if it occurs by controlling the
kinds of thermonuclear weapons used; and (c)
to use the threat of thermonuclear war to
accomplish political objectives in the classic
manner of Clausewitz. This group is closest to
the policy-makers of the current
Administration.

Fourth, Anti-Communist Marginalists, who


think that defense against Communism is more
important than the danger which might follow
from thermonuclear war. In their view all kinds
of wars are appropriate to defend ourselves
against Communism, although they would like
to keep violence down to "low levels."
Members of this school include Robert Strauss,
William Kinter, and Stephen Possony.

And finally, the Anti-Communist Systemists


who would use all methods to defeat
Communists up to and including thermonuclear
war. Here we find (or once found) Barry
Goldwater, Major de Seversky, and Fred
Schwartz.

Levine tells us that he constructed this


spectrum by judging whether the various
strategists consider thermonuclear war or
Communism the greater threat to the United
States and the world. What he has done, in
fact, is to manufacture a formula which
enables him to classify the differing viewpoints
conveniently. Although much of what he says
about the "debaters" is accurate, his
constricting formula leads him into serious
distortions. To take only one example, he
misstates the position of Waskow, Osgood, and
Etzioni by suggesting that they value
disarmament more than political freedom—
something they would certainly deny. Since
Levine puts these two values at opposite ends
of his spectrum, it is inevitable that he will
have difficulty in dealing with a theorist like
Waskow who believes that they are integrally
related.

Beyond this, Levine has made a disturbing


omission. He fails to link the actual weapons of
the arms race—bombs, missiles, chemical and
biological weapons, research and
development, etc.—to each policy position he
describes. We are never told, for example, how
many weapons, of what kind, are needed to
hold the Middle Marginal position, and what
sort of damage they would do. Because such
questions are not answered, the reader is left
with the impression that the arms discussion is
essentially metaphysical, with no reference at
all to numbers of weapons, the size of the
budget, or the power of the military
establishment itself.
But that is not what really offends me about
this book. I am more concerned with the fact
that Levine has created a debate which is more
sham than real—and that should not, in any
legitimate intellectual or moral sense, exist at
all. It is as if one were to describe a debate
between the proponents of cancer and those
who want to cure it. Indeed, until fairly
recently, discussions of nuclear war were quite
rarified and were not taken very seriously.
Most of the people who actually made high
policy thought that planning for nuclear war
was merely an exercise in the theory of
annihilation, that it could have no practical
consequences. As late as 1959, President
Eisenhower said that thermonuclear war was
unthinkable: What he meant was that in view
of Soviet nuclear power it could not be used to
accomplish any political objective of the United
States.

And yet during the Eisenhower administration


many atomic bombs existed, thermonuclear
weapons were in production, and
intercontinental missiles were being
developed. The various military agencies and
their supporters were following their natural
inclinations to obtain faster, stronger, and
more numerous weapons. At the same time,
however, it was reasonably clear to anyone
who knew the facts that the Soviet Union could
be deterred from attacking us, by a relatively
small number of nuclear weapons and missiles.
In order to justify the continued large scale
production of these bombs and missiles,
military and industrial leaders needed some
kind of theory to rationalize their use: they
had to prove, in short, that nuclear war was a
practical enterprise which could serve the
political ends of the state.

This became particularly urgent during the late


1950's when economy-minded members of the
Eisenhower administration began to wonder
why so much money, thought, and resources
were being spent on weapons if their use could
not be justified. And so began a series of
rationalizations by the "defense intellectuals"
in and out of the universities. In 1957 and
1958 Henry Kissinger of Harvard attempted
bravely but vainly to rationalize "tactical"
nuclear warfare. Then Herman Kahn of RAND,
along with Kaplan, Schelling, William Kaufman
of M.I.T., among others, argued that
thermonuclear war was indeed practical. They
developed theories of so-called "controlled
counterforce war"—that is, thermonuclear wars
which the U.S. would win by attacking specific
military targets: or by partially disarming the
enemy; or by "counterforce attacks": the
destruction of all the retaliatory or first-strike
forces of the opponent, but not his cities (even
though the cities and nuclear forces are
geographically adjoining). They talked of
brandishing nuclear weapons in conjunction
with an elaborate civil defense program—a
national will-stiffener which the policy-makers
could use to threaten an opponent at the
bargaining table.

By now all these proposals have been exposed


for one reason or another as useless for the
conduct of our defense or our international
relations; this has been generally recognized
by people who are familiar with both the
technology of the weapons and the policy
processes of government. For example, George
Kisiakowsky, President Eisenhower's science
advisor said to the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee:

I do not believe that we or any other nation


can find any real security in a continuing arms
race. It is now evident that the United States
and the Soviet Union each have the capability
to deliver an utterly devastating attack on
each other. To talk of winning such a conflict is
to misuse the language; only a Pyrrhic victory
could be achieved in a nuclear war. Under the
present conditions of unrestrained arms race,
it is certain that the numbers of warheads
each side might deliver will increase, as will
their yields. Perhaps even more threatening is
the prospect of an increasingly large number
of countries having nuclear weapons, with the
concomitant increase in the probability that
some will be used and that uncontrolled
escalation will follow.

The same thought was expressed by Dr.


Herbert York, former Director of Weapons
Development for the Department of Defense:

It is my view that the problem posed to both


sides by this dilemma of steadily increasing
military power and steadily decreasing
national security has no technical solution. If
we continue to look for solutions in the area of
science and technology only, the result will be
a steady and inexorable worsening of this
situation. I am optimistic that there is a
solution to this dilemma: I am pessimistic only
insofar as I believe that there is absolutely no
solution to be found within the areas of
science and technology.

But because statements of this kind have been


made we should not expect that the theorists
of the defense establishment will become less
active or numerous. Military procurement will
continue to flourish, and they will continue to
demonstrate why it must. In this respect they
are no different from the great majority of
modern specialists who accept the
assumptions of the organizations which
employ them because of the rewards in money
and power and prestige. Washington itself may
be seen as a city of apparently cautious and
responsible men who have mastered
sophisticated techniques but rarely concern
themselves with basic principles or objectives.
They know enough not to question their
employers' right to exist. And so it is with most
—not all—of the defense specialists who are
paid to justify violence. Because they have
accepted the premises of their employers so
readily, and applied themselves so
energetically to rationalization, they have
done much to insure that the present military
system will not be challenged, or partially
dismantled, by those outside it.

Promotion of this kind should not surprise us.


Justifying, selling, and rationalizing are an
important part of American commercial
civilization, and we are all involved in it. A
comparison can be made between the
specialists in violence and the Madison Avenue
hucksters about whom we have heard so
much. We are told that advertising people are
often bright and decent men; but they are
wholly committed to selling, justifying, and
repackaging their clients' products, whatever
they may be. If we wanted to find out about
the products, we would learn little by reading
the contents of their ads. On the other hand, a
student of social psychology might profitably
read the ads to understand the audience to
which they are directed, and he might well ask
to what extent certain prevalent American
concerns are reflected, or exploited, in one
advertisement or another. Now after reading
most of the officially sponsored literature on
arms strategy I have come to the conclusion
that, like most advertising, it cannot be read
for its content because very little of it has any.
It must be read for what it tells us about this
society, in much the same way that a social
scientist might read a Cadillac ad in the New
Yorker. In other words, most of this literature
can be understood only by examining the
motives of the men who wrote it and the basic
political and economic situation which has led
to the over-production of armaments.

Levine would object to this. Since he believes


that serious debate is going on, he insists that
all ad hominem argument is unfair, if not
pernicious. I think he shows here a common
American reluctance to discuss publicly that
sticky question: who paid whom to say what,
and why? (Note the historic importance and
current disarray of our conflict-of-interest
laws.) But more than that, there seems to be a
positive anxiety on Levine's part to portray the
arms strategists—and particularly those of the
Middle marginalist position who are rightly
described as being closest to policy making—
as people who have important substantive
ideas which must be taken seriously.

There are interesting reasons for this. A


majority of those who have drifted into the
field of defense strategy were trained in more
traditional disciplines—economics, applied
physics, mathematics, engineering, and, to a
lesser extent, the behavioral sciences. It is
understandable that the specialists in violence
should want to be taken seriously by their old
colleagues and to prove that there is some
intellectual and moral basis for the way they
spend their lives. If this could be proved, the
defense specialist could become more than a
huckster selling "counterforce" or "minimum
deterrence," and rationalizing the weapons his
employer has decided to develop. He would be
eligible to share once again in the image which
many academic men have of themselves as
balanced, independent, disinterested, and
good.

But this can be accomplished in only one way.


The specialist in violence must find an
authentic opponent to engage in debate—not a
customer to sell, or a client to please. And for
years this was difficult since most of the
critical opposition came from small groups who
were not to be taken seriously themselves.
After all, it was expected that the Quakers and
pacifists would disagree.

A few years ago, however, something new


began to happen. A quite separate group of
theorists including Waskow, Osgood, and
others—the group Levine calls the Marginal
Anti-War School—emerged. None of its
members was tied to the branches of the
Department of Defense or to any of the
officially sponsored "think factories." Seeking
ways to reduce substantially the level of
armaments, while increasing security, they
were soon able to pick apart many of the
arguments of the defense specialists and to
expose their spurious sense of statecraft.
Something that must have seemed like a
debate started to take place: the abstruse
rationalizations were being challenged. The
irony, however, is that, by simply finding
people to debate, the specialists in violence
have dignified their intellectual existence. By
assuming that there is a real debate, and by
taking seriously books like Levine's, the
academic community and the informed public
are led to think of the main antagonists as
equally rational and independent in their
thinking.

This is not the case. The debate as Levine has


cast it is neither the right debate nor the
interesting one. A useful arms debate can take
place only when we are willing to recognize
who is capable of thinking independently and
who is not, and why; it will require an almost
completely different cast of characters if it is
to produce hopeful solutions. A useful arms
debate, in short, has not begun. It can only
begin when we accept certain stubborn facts:
that our defense establishment has swollen to
grotesque proportions and is a menace to the
national security of a free society.

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Letters

December 26, 1963: Robert A. Levine, Arms


Debate
December 26, 1963: Albert Wohlstetter, Arms
Debate

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Volume 1, Number 6 · November 14, 1963
Aimez-Vous Apollinaire?
By Neal Oxenhandler
Apollinaire: Poet Among the Painters
by Francis Steegmuller

Farrar, Straus, 365 pp., $6.50

There is a certain kind of cultism that is


encouraged by the way in which Mr.
Steegmuller has chosen to write this first
English biography of Guillaume Apollinaire. He
begins by discussing at considerable length
the question of Apollinaire's paternity. No
doubt this is a legitimate subject for a
biographer, yet there has always been an
unfortunate tendency, reminiscent of palm-
reading and astrology, to derive Apollinaire's
entire character from his illegitimacy and his
mixed Slavic and Italian temperament. This
beginning is, to my mind, unfortunate, because
it leads us at once to the Apollinaire of the cult
—the mysterious Rabelaisian giant, the mal-
aimé smiling through his tears, the hero and
lover and practical joker, etc. This is the
Apollinaire perpetuated by the countless books
of memoirs and reminiscences that have
emerged from the pre-world War I period, but
one would hope that a biographer of Mr.
Steegmuller's gifts would go beyond this
stereotype. Apollinaire criticism has reached
the point where new avenues of exploration
are possible, and Mr. Steegmuller (who sets as
his goal in this book merely the establishment
of "facts") has missed an opportunity in not
giving us a new Apollinaire. Such a book might
have begun, for instance, with the quite new
insights into the poet's character that are to
be found in Marie-Jeanne Durry's study of
Apollinaire's religion.

Mr. Steegmuller has pursued the facts about


Apollinaire with scholarly enthusiasm. He has
interviewed government clerks, studied old
documents, and gives in an appendix a moving
account of an interview with Annie Playden,
Apollinaire's first Muse. But I find that he does
not make sufficient use of a prime biographical
source—the poet's writings. There is relatively
little analysis of Apollinaire's prose writings,
although Mr. Steegmuller has undertaken to
challenge the notion that Apollinaire was an
important critic of the arts. In fact, he holds
Apollinaire partly responsible for the barbaric
style of contemporary art criticism: "It (Les
Peintres cubistes) is a curious volume, much of
it written in the turgid, pseudo-metaphysical
style that Apollinaire seems to have been the
first to consider essential to a discussion of
avant-garde art but which has since become all
too familiar to readers of prefaces to art books
and introductions to exhibitions by
contemporary artists." This is a thesis that
should be backed up by textual analysis, but
Mr. Steegmuller does not undertake his own
investigation of this question. Instead, he
quotes Braque, Jacques Villon, Picasso, and
Kahnweiler, the "impresario" of the Cubists.
This constitutes an impressive array of
witnesses to Apollinaire's incompetency in the
arts, but it leaves the argument against
Apollinaire without content. Even if Mr.
Steegmuller is right, there is still much to be
said about Apollinaire's plastic and visual
sensitivity, as displayed in his poetry, perhaps
especially in those poems inspired by
paintings, such as "Les Fenêtres" and "La
Vièrge à la fleur de haricot à Cologne."
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The book's title leads us to expect a detailed


presentation of Apollinaire's relations with the
Fauve and Cubist painters, but here Mr.
Steegmuller does not go far beyond the
anecdotal. The great questions about this
milieu go unanswered. First of all, one would
like to know what esthetic principles, if any,
were shared by painters and poets alike. As it
is, Cubism seems to rest on joie de vivre and
heroic poverty which do not help much to
explain the esthetic consistency of the
movement. Isn't there, for instance, some link
between the eclecticism of Apollinaire and that
of Picasso? Painter and poet share a gift for
using the "found" object. Both have the ability
to span centuries by an adroit borrowing—
Apollinaire's medieval inspiration in "La
Chanson du malaimé" is an example. These
traits point to a quite new attitude toward
artistic conventions, an attitude of casual and
eclectic appropriations. Such an attitude
toward the tradition might be examined in the
perspective of Apollinaire's essay, "L'Esprit
nouveau et les poètes," of which Mr.
Steegmuller gives us a new translation. There,
Apollinaire says: "…the new spirit speaks
above all in the name of order and moral
responsibility, which are the great classical
qualities, the loftiest manifestations of the
French spirit; and it complements them with
freedom. This freedom and this order, which in
the new spirit are inseparable, are its hallmark
and its strength." But unity and order,
qualities that have been affirmed to exist in
Apollinaire's poetry, are not to be found there
in any way traditionally recognizable. We must
qualify any statement about unity and order in
this poetry, just as we must qualify the
"freedom" of this poet enslaved by an amorous
fatality, this Narcissus who cannot tear his
eyes away from his own sorrowing reflection:
"Oh my shadow in mourning for myself."

Despite the fact that a number of Apollinaire's


poems are based on paintings, there is no easy
exchange between the two arts. The spatial
structure of a Picasso painting has little in
common with the essentially temporal and
emotional structure of an Apollinairian lyric;
and, indeed, the reflective and contemplative
genius of the Cubist painters has little of the
intensely personal, lacerated quality of
Apollinaire's verse. Furthermore, Apollinaire
and his painter friends did not share a common
political, religious, or moral doctrine; one of
the characteristics of the period is its absence
of intellectual content. All this makes it
difficult to define Apollinaire's relation to the
painters; perhaps, indeed, the task would be
more appropriate for an esthetician or an art
historian than for a biographer.

In suggesting that Mr. Steegmuller might have


better defined some of these issues, I do not
wish to be ungrateful for the elegant book he
has actually written. He has verified and
brought together the rather meager
information available about Apollinaire. He has
done this in an eminently readable book, a
book that captures some of the fluency and
brio of its hero. Let I find that in perpetuating
the Apollinaire of the cult, Mr. Steegmuller has
chosen not to make the ultimate act of
involvement and self-identification that is
demanded by a major achievement in
biography. He remains cool, judicious, friendly,
amused.

From time to time, Mr. Steegmuller raises


major issues, then fails to pursue them to
ultimately illuminating conclusions.
Apollinaire's eroticism is a case in point.
Apollinaire's pornographic writings, his edition
of Sade, together with the erotic elements in
his letters and poems certainly offer material
for a thorough-going study of this special
aspect; indeed, there is perhaps no other lyric
poet on whose eroticism such complete
documentation exists. Some technical
knowledge of psychological analysis should be
part of the equipment of a biographer;
especially is this true of a biographer who
deals with a lyric poet, by nature a man
obsessed with erotic fantasies. I think Mr.
Steegmuller must have interesting opinions on
this topic; I wish he had gone further in
exploring it in his book.

When one considers the vast amount of


scholarship and research expanded on French
literature in this country, it seems strange that
we will leave the writing of major works in the
field of French poetry and Cubism to the
French. Few Americans undertake to write the
definitive critical study or the definitive
biography of a French author. American critics
and scholars of things French have yet to learn
the daring of Apollinaire's esprit nouveau.

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Volume 1, Number 7 · November 28, 1963
Lives of the Painters
By Meyer Schapiro
Born Under Saturn
by Rudolf Wittkower, by Margot Wittkower

Random House, 344, 89 illus. pp., $7.50

In popular opinion and to the psychoanalyst


artists are a special class of human beings with
psychological peculiarities connected with
their calling. Have they become artists
because of these traits or have they acquired
these traits from their practice of art? Are
these peculiarities universal or do they arise
from modern circumstances, from the aims of
art in our society and the recently developed
social situation? Is the current conception of
The Artist perhaps only a stereotype based on
a few painters whose strange lives have
impressed public imagination? Or does it
represent an ideology created by the artists, a
self-picture that sets them apart and justifies
certain liberties and demands?

These are some of the questions that the


authors of Born Under Saturn try to answer.
Their book differs from most approaches to
these problems by their historical method.
They have read the old texts about Western
artists and have extracted from the enormous
mass of evidence an enthralling story of the
changing behavior, fortunes, and ideas of
artists through the centuries, and in a sober
critical spirit have tested the common notions
about artists in the light of these documents.

Whatever the value of their conclusions, the


book is fascinating to read because of the
abundant quotations which bring to life so
many remarkable individuals. Ever since the
fifteenth century the painters, sculptors, and
architects have attracted the attention of
observers who have left us accounts of artists
of extraordinary character. And the artists
themselves have, in letters and diaries,
exposed directly their intimate thoughts and
feelings. Some of the material comes from the
records of the Italian courts—the testimony
concerning artist-defendants in lawsuits or
criminal trials. Stories of violence, murder,
rape, theft, jealousy, madness, and suicide;
anecdotes of the most bizarre eccentricity;
convincing praise of angelic personalities of a
rare serenity and noble nature; profound
reflections by artists on the problems of their
art—these are reproduced here from the
surviving texts in vigorous translations.
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I shall cite one example of the kind of


revelation frequent in this book. The authors
quote from a life of Andrea Sacchi, a Baroque
master in Rome, that
…he worked with an uneasy mind; knowing
perfectly well the difference between the good
and the better, he was never content.

When some friends of his reproached him


for his laziness and asked the reason for his
being so slow in his work, he answered.
"Because Raphael and Annibale Caracci
frighten me and make me lose heart." And he
added that it was the great misfortune of his
time not to have friends with whom he could
discuss the difficulties inherent in the painter's
profession and that this was due to one of two
reasons: men were either unaware of these
difficulties or, being aware, did not wish to talk
about them.

From another source we learn that


"although he spent whole days without
touching a brush, he kept on working until the
very end of his days."

At the risk of simplifying, I shall summarize the


more important conclusions drawn by the
Wittkowers from their study of the records.

For the Greeks and Romans and in the Middle


Ages the artist was, with few exceptions, an
artisan and, as a member of the lower classes,
was not respected even though his work was
admired. During the fifteenth century, when he
became something of a scientist and a scholar,
his situation changed. To realize his new
conceptions he had to know anatomy,
geometry, and perspective as well as classical
literature and art. Armed with this knowledge
and aspiring to a noble ideal of beauty and
truth, he came to be regarded as a free
creative mind working from inspiration like the
poet. Ideas, moods, and ways of life connected
with the primacy of the imagination were
cultivated then by painters and sculptors. Until
the fifteenth century the artist had been
classified by the astrologers with the highly
practical persons born under the sign of
Mercury—the artisans, innkeepers and thieves;
during the Renaissance he was placed with the
poets and philosophers under the sign of
Saturn and characterized by the melancholic
temperament typical for creative spirits. His
new status as an intellectual brought many
conflicts with the guilds to which he had
belonged and which had once regulated his
relations with patrons; he was increasingly a
free man and therefore exposed to the
insecurities of his independent position. We
hear much then of his obsessiveness, his
"creative idleness," solitude, and
introspection, and the uncertainties of work in
contrast to the organized busy life of a guild
craftsman. No longer protected by a guild and
not yet admitted to the upper classes, the
artist was a homeless individual in the
emerging competitive society. His unsatisfied
longing for an honorable place led to
rebelliousness and a defensive attitude, to
eccentricities of conduct and a bohemian
disorder. These helped to form the image of
the artist in the public mind that has lasted
until today. But the character-type of the artist
has changed from period to period with
changes in his tasks and patronage. So in the
seventeenth century the model of the
aristocratic worldly artist, at home in the royal
courts (Bernini, Rubens, Van Dyck), replaced
the preceding type of the refractory and often
neurotic painter. But the many stories of crime
do not distinguish the artist as a type; when
considered with respect to their time and
place, they are no less common in other
groups. Similarly, the records of artists'
suicides fail to confirm the idea that self-
destruction is especially frequent among them;
in fact, fewer suicides are reported among
artists than in other professions.

The Wittkowers give much attention to the


belief that the personalities of artists may be
discerned in their works. While admitting that
every work is personal, they deny that one can
infer the personality from the art. There are
paintings and sculptures by mad or neurotic
artists which seem perfectly sane, and by
supposedly atheist artists which look sincerely
devout. They distinguish therefore between
what they call the "generic character" of the
artists of a time—the qualities they have
acquired in functioning as artists in their time
and place, like the familiar character types of
the courtier, priest, merchant, lawyer, and
scientist—and the individual personality which
includes traits that find no direct expression in
the art.

In a chapter on "Genius, Madness and


Melancholy," the authors examine from this
point of view, supported by close reading of
the documents, the late Ernst Kris's study on
the psychotic sculptor, Messerschmidt, and
find it defective in essential details. They
criticize, too, the essay on Andrea del Sarto by
Ernest Jones and the books on Leonardo by
Freud and Kurt Eissler. In several instances the
psychoanalyst has interpreted as purely
personal some element of the artist's work or
behavior which is typical in his milieu. Without
criticizing Freud's theory as such, they
recommend the control of psychological
explanations of art and artists by a fuller
knowledge of history and especially of the
"generic character-types" of each period.

I agree with certain of these criticisms, but not


with all the arguments that the authors bring
in support—for example, their categorical
statement that in "the artifacts of psychotics…
(the) structure invariably falls to pieces." I do
not share their skepticism about the possible
contribution of psychoanalysis to the
knowledge of art—they go so far as to say that
psychoanalytic study "obscures more than it
clarifies historical situations." The general
problem is more complex than they seem to
recognize and psychoanalysis is hardly
disposed of by pointing to these failures. In
the application of Freud's ideas to the arts and
to history, much depends on the range of the
available facts as well as on the culture and
personality of the analyst. I have found little in
psychoanalytic literature on the method and
logic of these studies of art. Perhaps a new
impulse to self-criticism in this field will come
from the thoughtful essay by Brian Farrell,
published as an introduction to the new
Pelican edition of Freud's Leonardo—a
reprinting of the classic work with detailed
editorial notes that allow the reader to
acquaint himself with Freud's errors of fact
and above all with that crucial mistake about
the "vulture" that was caught by an historian
of art in 1923 and was strangely ignored by
Freud and his followers until the 1905's.

The concept of "generic character-types"


which, the Wittkowers suppose, correspond to
style-periods like Renaissance, Mannerism,
and Baroque, is not incompatible with
psychoanalytic theory, at least in some
formulations, even if these daring masters of
free association with history sometimes
confuse the personal and the cultural in
behavior. The concept leaves unexplained,
however, the part of exceptional individuals in
the creation of new norms. What the authors
describe as the generic type has been
constructed from the biographies of a few
artists and will hardly fit many others of the
same time. In asserting that in our day
"psychoanalysis has produced a new type of
artist-personality with distinct characteristics
of its own," they offer as evidence some
statements by painters as different as Picasso,
Chagall, Baziotes, and Rothko on the
subconscious or indeterminate source of their
art. Conceived in such broad and ideal terms
and limited to a few traits, their notion of
character-type does not permit us to grasp
what is distinctive in either the art or the
personality of an individual. (From the
examples of Rubens, Bernini, and Van Dyck,
how shall one understand the quoted text
about their contemporary, Sacchi?) One will
grant that there is no "timeless constitutional
type of artist," and that the work of art is not
"a mirror image of its creator" (what
psychologist has maintained that it is?), but
there remains an important if naive
assumption about the correspondences of art
and personality which the Wittkowers
themselves do not hesitate to apply in their
remarks about an artist like Pontormo and
which they seem to admit in principle when
they write: "Every work of art bears, of course,
the personal stamp of its maker." It is not clear
to what extent they will allow inference from
the characteristics of a period style to the
"generic character-type" of the artists of that
period.

There remains also, for both the psychologist


and the historian, the question whether there
are not special aptitudes of form-construction,
imagination, and expression, which appear in
the works of artists at all times, whatever the
typical style of the age, and which have been
recognized even when artists had the social
status of manual workers. In tracing the
passage from the pre-Renaissance craftsman-
artist to the post-Renaissance genius-artist,
the authors have assumed—too readily, I
believe—that artists in the earlier period,
because of their inferior social class, were
rarely seen as creative personalities different
from artisans. Before Ghiberti, they say, the
artist was not "conscious of his intellectual and
creative powers." Not only was Giotto
recognized during his lifetime as a great artist
of sovereign versatility, but the architects of
the French cathedrals, whose effigies were
sculptured in their imposing constructions and
inscribed with their names and praises beside
the tombs of bishops and kings, were surely
regarded as original artists in the modern
sense and were paid more than ordinary
craftsmen. In judging the culture of artists
before the Renaissance, it is worth recalling
that the designers of Hagia Sophia in
Constantinople, between classic antiquity and
the Middle Ages, have also a place in the
history of science as writers on mathematics
and physics. The phrase of Horace that
painters like poets have the audendi potestas
—the power to dare—(hardly applicable to
artisans) was quoted in the Middle Ages. Since
early times, I'm willing to believe, some artists
were thought to possess an uncanny gift
beyond that of mechanical skills and akin to
that of poets and thinkers, although the
literary expression of this view does not
appear until recently, and the description of
the artist's powers changes with the character
of his art and the prevailing ideas about
human nature.

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Volume 1, Number 7 · November 28, 1963
Cosmic Comics
By R.W. Flint
A Singular Man
by J.P. Donleavy
Atlantic-Little Brown, 402 pp., $6.00
The Maniac Responsible
by Robert Gover

Grove, 222 pp., $4.50


Visions of Gerard
by Jack Kerouac

Farrar, Straus, 152 pp., $3.95

This is a queer trio of books, damned if it's not,


two jolly fellows and would-be Fieldings down
with the cultural mumps and Kerouac, well…
more like Kerouac than would seem possible.

Donleavy and Gover were obviously plagued by


acute cases of the Problem of the Second
Novel. Our appetite for comedy has grown in
harness with the publicity machinery that
seems to drive a successful comic novelist,
especially a very young one, almost batty with
self-consciousness. No wonder in that either,
when you consider the rewards and difficulties
of raising a laugh.

Humor alone, that magnificent discovery of


those cut short in their calling to the highest
achievement, those who falling short of
tragedy are yet as rich in gifts as in suffering,
humor alone (perhaps the most inward and
brilliant achievement of the spirit) attains to
the impossible and brings every aspect of
human existence within the rays of its prism.
This little nugget, picked at random from
Hesse's Steppenwolf, gives some idea of what
the budding comedian is likely to run into as
soon as he begins roaming the halls of high
culture and discovers that while the Tragic
Sense of Life can be fairly neatly packaged and
sold across the counter at the universities,
humor remains protean, indefinable, the rarest
flower of the highest peaks, or so our culture
believes. There was little enough in Donleavy's
and Gover's first novels to suggest that either
of them would develop into Twains or even
Lardners, yet they can't be blamed, I suppose,
for the ambition that trips them up this time. If
your first successful formula is vulnerable to
parody and condescension, why not stop the
dogs' mouths with self-parody, relaunching the
once irresistible formula on a sea of irresistible
cultural chic? That's about what it comes down
to here.
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The formula of The Ginger Man was more or


less irresistible: a New York Irishman goes to
dreary post-war Dublin and gleefully re-Joyces
the joint. Don-leavy hit on a neat division
between Dedelean sensitivity, most of which
went into description, atmosphere and
resistance to dullness, and a blunt Gogarty
smoking-room gusto, most of which went into
action and speech. Jolly sex, moral anarchism,
male narcissism, cultural hooliganism; this was
one kind of antidote to leftist gloom and the
slicker, blander Herbert Gold kind of thing.
Dublin deserved it, Ireland expected it, New
York consecrated it. But there are not many
Dublins left where being Rabelaisian has all
that venerable tradition behind it, all that
lovely grim ready-made puritanism to set it
off, and Donleavy wisely refrained from trying
to flush those pigeons twice.

Back, then, to New York (spiritually if not


geographically) and a plunge into the
acidulous solvents of the new cool higher
comedy that flourishes these days under the
aegis of Genet, Beckett, Ionesco et al., an
atmosphere that Mailer says is best
reproduced at its source by Baldwin's Another
Country (no comedy certainly), to which I
would add Terry Southern's The Magic
Christian inasmuch as Donleavy seems to have
read it rather closely. To have kept his hearty
heterosexual chastity in this literary
maelstrom was quite a feat, almost saintly
indeed.

A Singular Man takes place in a disembodied


cosmopolis of sublimated dreamscapes
ranging through all the fantasy-factories from
The Ladies Home Journal "up" to Playboy and
Esquire. We move between such charming
addresses as Merry Mansions Two Eagle
Street, Thirty Three Golf Street, Dynamo House
Owl Street, 1 Electricity Street, Eel Street, Cool
Village, and the Goose Goes Inn, savoring
many such touches of Donleavy's affectionate
gift for the simple, not to mention the inane:
but make no mistake, this is still the Big Time
in every sense of the words, the Ginger Man
syndrome sky-written across the blue. George
Smith, our hero, is the same charming rat with
the numinous dong, now mysteriously rich and
vaguely "aristocratic," cursed with an angst
that makes him spend lavishly on an armored
car and a gigantic personal tomb. He has the
same nagging wife, now divorced with four
kids and grown piggish, a pathetic homebody
secretary-victim, a scandalously lascivious
Negro maid (archaic touch this) and finally, in
keeping with the grandiosity of the
proceedings, a gorgeous, capable, cynical,
simple-hearted insecure doll, Sally Tomson
alias Dizzy Darling, who is ultimately buried at
sea, "November The Twenty First, on Board
Sea Shark, Piper Seven, Foot Of Owl Street"
the invitation reads. I hope you gather by now
that all this Means Something, something we
will probably never know, and displays what
the jacket calls "boiling creativity."

And the prose! 402 pages of clipped, manly


telegraphy modeled on the interior monologue
of Ulysses, like three David Nivens reviewing
their love lives in a high wind on the polar ice-
cap; occasionally wonderful in its four-ply
parody—Amis, Waugh, Wodehouse,
Waterhouse, bughouse—sometimes cornily
funny, sometimes just infantile silly. In other
words, A Singular Man is like one of those
enormous California carnival floats advertising
some humble, unexceptionable commodity like
oranges. Which commodity, to be sure, is jolly
sex, and until the unlikely day when
"pornography" (let's not quibble; I like it
whatever it is) can be safely classified and
reviewed in chunks like science fiction, every
so often we can expect this pancultural
workout, this classy suspension of all the
categories, in return for our small meed of
uncomplicated fun.

Robert Gover's second novel, appearing so


close on the heels of One Hundred Dollar
Misunderstanding, has a fecklessly boyish,
slapped-up quality that requires even less
analysis than the Donleavy. It begins, quite
well, as a small-town who-done-it. Someone
has sunk a hatchet in the skull of a beautiful
young unprotected housewife and the
narrator, a local reporter, drives out to her
house in the early morning after an
unsuccessful seduction of the sex-kitten in the
next apartment and chews over the crime in
manly anguish in the company of a well-drawn
bunch of reporters, neighbors, and cops. All
this is A-OK, first class movie writing. But then
comes trouble. He drives into the hills to
meditate and meets a gruesomely sententious
old hermit who addresses him constantly as
"Kiddo," to his justifiable annoyance, and lays
claim to a large tract of metaphysical territory
out back somewhere, perhaps at New Thoreau
in Saroyan County. Anyway, our hero returns,
observing along the way many significant
road-signs revealing the Hollowness of Our
Culture, delivers his story to the paper, and
has another go at the kitten in a long spicy
episode during which one can hear the heavy
breathing of Mr. Barney Rosset in the
background. But once more the girl funks out,
our man is wretched and is finally nabbed by
the police on the fire-escape trying to get back
into her bedroom. So what does he do? He
confesses to the hatchet murder, which he
didn't commit, because, natch, we are all, all
"the maniac responsible" when it comes to
such nasty behavior as murder. Then a sort of
fantasy playlet, like, between the hero's after
egos (Fragmentation of the Self) and finally,
absolved, a last trip to the old man of the
mountains for a concluding word on the human
condition. I hope this summary has indicated
enough of the boisterous whirlwind tour of the
contemporary conscience that Gover has
provided in The Maniac Responsible. The girl
friend is something like Kitten of One Hundred
Dollar Misunderstanding but not enough. The
young man is a noisy rattle. The writing shows
promise.

Et alors…Kerouac canadien de Lowell,


Massachusetts, which I maintain is the best
and truest Kerouac, although this tear-soaked
monstrosity of a book seems designed to hide
the fact from all but his fellow anointed.
Kerouac has survived the nightmare, a parody
by John Updike anthologized by Dwight
Macdonald, and has nothing more to lose, no
further depths to plumb. To call Visions of
Gerard a self-parody, or even a hilarious take-
off on those creep biographies of wee sainted
children cut off in the cradle, would be wide of
the mark. Visions of Gerard is all-out
sentimentality of an intensity I believe
unmatched in Western literature. That is a
bold claim, but this is a book that goes beyond
any conceivable definition of courage. Like the
giraffe, it just exists. Who, beyond Kerouac's
friends, connoisseurs of New England
regionalism, and French Canadiana, will read it
I can't guess, but having been brought up a
few miles north of Lowell and driven through it
often, I found the book as fascinating as it
certainly is appalling.

Kerouac's besetting handicap in recent years


has been a certain deadness of ear, or
tonelessness, just at that mystic point in his
mind where he wants to be most alive, the
karma-kid and dharma-daddy of all the
philosophies, all the poetries. This has grown
on him steadily since the relatively
straightforward On The Road, so that the
sentimentality which was pretty well
sublimated into the fabric of On the Road here
separates out into child worship on the one
hand and near-gibberish on the other, with a
brief but solid core of excellent writing in the
middle. By now we have a sufficient idea of the
Christo-Buddhist-Hindu heaven that beckons
him on. He has much to say about that in this
book, contritely, worriedly, rebelliously.
Sometimes it thins to a diaphanous mist,
sometimes gathers into black thunderheads of
rhetoric. But the circumstances made clear is
that this turbulent psychology has firm roots in
his boyhood. Canuck life was one extreme
after another in that Nineveh-city of Lowell,
now one of the eeriest monuments in the
country, but in 1926 when this "novel" takes
place still a fairly busy mill town, polyglot and
church-ridden like modern Montreal. Men who
kept their heads above water, like the good
father Emil of this book, were as heroic in their
way as the East Side Jews of Malamud. The
section Kerouac devotes to Emil's Saturday
night on the town with his vaudeville cronies
behind Keith's Theater is some of the best
writing he has done, florid and generous in the
best style of romantic naturalism. There is a
good and a bad sentimentality, and this, if it is
sentimental, belongs to the good. And most of
the incidental description of the city's people,
winters, streets, churches, funerals and so on,
is tellingly real. "Winds all the way from the
nostril of the moose, coarse rough tough needs
in potato fields…" Kerouac's Zen Buddhism is
often a terrible bore, but his faculty of
sweeping down from the foggy heights and
picking up bits of truth like lint throws some
light on the oriental exoticism of life in those
almost-abandoned towns on the Merrimack.

But then there is Gerard, and Gerard is


unquestionably the sweetest, dearest, sickest
and most saintly tot in fiction since Little Nell,
her true bridegroom in heaven. I hope I won't
ever find out if there was such a child in
Kerouac's past. In any case, he dies at age
nine of rheumatic fever and his invalidism is
the plot of the book. As he lies there making
his perfect little drawings or playing with his
Erector set (a searing irony there!) or merely
saying how he hurts, he provokes excruciating
baby-talk from both his chronicler and all the
onlookers. It may have been like that. Plainly
Kerouac doesn't care. He apologizes for nearly
everything but this, or "his" family's fortitude
or the colors, sounds and smells of Lowell.

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reproduced without the permission of the
publisher. Please contact web@nybooks.com
with any questions about this site. The cover
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Volume 1, Number 7 · November 28, 1963
A Hero of our Time
By Susan Sontag
Structural Anthropology
by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Translated from the
French by Claire Jacobson, by Brook Grundfest
Schoepf

Basic Books, 432 pp., $10.00

The paradox is irresoluble: the less one


culture communicates with another, the less
likely they are to be corrupted, one by the
other; but, on the other hand, the less likely it
is, in such conditions, that the respective
emissaries of these cultures will be able to
seize the richness and significance of their
diversity. The alternative is inescapable: either
I am a traveller in ancient times, and faced
with a prodigious spectacle which would be
almost entirely unintelligible to me and might,
indeed, provoke me to mockery or disgust; or I
am a traveller of my own day, hastening in
search of a vanished reality. In either case I am
the loser…for today, as I go groaning among
the shadows, I miss, inevitably, the spectacle
that is now taking shape.

—from Tristes Tropiques


Claude Lévi-Strauss—the man who has created
anthropology as a total occupation, involving a
spiritual commitment like that of the creative
artist or the adventurer or the psychoanalyst—
is no man of letters. Most of his writings are
scholarly, and he has always been associated
with the academic world. Since 1960 he has
held a very grand academic post, the newly
created chair of social anthropology at the
Collège de France, and heads a large and richly
endowed research institute. But his academic
eminence and ability to dispense patronage
are scarcely adequate measures of the
formidable position he occupies in French
intellectual life today. In France, where there
is more awareness of the adventure, the risk
involved in intelligence, a man can be both a
specialist and the subject of general and
intelligent interest and controversy. Hardly a
month passes in France without a major article
in some serious literary journal, or an
important public lecture, extolling or damning
the ideas and influence of Lévi-Strauss. Apart
from the tireless Sartre and the virtually silent
Malraux, he must be the most interesting
intellectual figure in France today.
NYRB / Pinocchio

So far, Lévi-Strauss is hardly known in this


country. A collection of seventeen previously
scattered essays on the methods and concepts
of anthropology, brought out in 1958 and
entitled Structural Anthropology, has just been
published here. Still to appear are another
collection of essays, more philosophical in
character, entitled La Pensée Sauvage; a book
published by UNESCO in 1952 called Race et
histoire: and the brilliant works on the kinship
systems of primitives. Les Structures
élémentaires de la parenté (1949); and on
totemism, Le Totemism aujourd'hui (1962).
Some of these writings suppose more
familiarity with anthropological literature and
with the concepts of linguistics, sociology, and
psychology than the ordinary cultivated reader
has. But it would be a great pity if Lévi-
Strauss's work, when finally translated, were
to find no more than a specialist audience in
this country. For Lévi-Strauss has assembled,
from the vantage point of anthropology, one of
the few interesting and possible intellectual
positions—in the most general sense of the
phrase. And one of his books is a masterpiece.
I mean the incomparable Tristes Tropiques, a
book which when published in France in 1955
became a best seller, but when translated into
English and brought out here in 1961 was
shamefully ignored.[1] Tristes Tropiques is one
of the great books of our century. It is
rigorous, subtle, and bold in thought. It is
beautifully written. And, like all great books, it
bears an absolutely personal stamp; it speaks
with a human voice.

Ostensibly Tristes Tropiques is the record, or


memoir rather, written over fifteen years after
the event, of the author's experiences in the
"field." Anthropologists are fond of likening
field research to the puberty ordeal which
confers status upon members of certain
primitive societies. Lévi-Strauss's ordeal was
in Brazil, before the second World War. Born in
1908 and of the intellectual generation and
circle which included Sartre, de Beauvoir,
Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Nizan, he studied
philosophy in the late Twenties, and, like
them, taught for a while in a provincial lycée.
Dissatisfied with philosophy he soon gave up
his teaching post, returned to Paris to study
law, then began the study of anthropology,
and in 1935 went to Sâo Paolo, Brazil, as
Professor of Anthropology. From 1935 to 1939,
during the long university vacations from
November to March and then for longer
periods of a year or more. Lévi-Strauss lived
among Indian tribes in the interior of Brazil.
Tristes Tropiques offers a record of his
encounters with these tribes—the nomadic,
missionary - murdering Nambikwara, the Tupi-
Kawahib whom no white man had ever seen
before, the materially splendid Bororo, the
ceremonious Caduveo who produce huge
amounts of abstract painting and sculpture.
But the greatness of Tristes Tropiques lies not
simply in this sensitive reportage, but in the
way Lévi-Strauss uses his experience—to
reflect on the nature of landscape, on the
meaning of physical hardship, on the city in
the Old World and the New, on the idea of
travel, on sunsets, on modernity, on the
connection between literacy and power. The
key to the book is Chapter Six, "How I Became
an Anthropologist," where Lévi-Strauss finds in
the history of his own choice a case study of
the unique spiritual hazards to which the
anthropologist subjects himself. Tristes
Tropiques is an intensely personal book. Like
Montaigne's Essays and Freud's Interpretation
of Dreams, it is an intellectual autobiography,
an exemplary personal history in which a
whole view of the human situation, an entire
sensibility is elaborated.

The profoundly intelligent sympathy which


informs Tristes Tropiques makes all other
memoirs about life among preliterate peoples
seem ill-at-ease, defensive, provincial. Yet
sympathy is modulated throughout by a hard-
won impassivity. In her autobiography Simone
de Beauvoir recalls Lévi-Strauss as a young
philosophy student-teacher expounding "in his
detached voice, and with a deadpan
expression…the folly of the passions." Not for
nothing is Tristes Tropiques prefaced by a
motto from Lucretius's De Rerum Natura. Lévi-
Strauss's aim is very much like that of
Lucretius, the Graecophile Roman who urged
the study of the natural sciences as a mode of
ethical psychotherapy. The aim of Lucretius
was not independent scientific knowledge, but
the reduction of emotional anxiety. Lucretius
saw man as hurled between the pleasure of
sex and the pain of emotional loss, tormented
by superstitions inspired by religion, haunted
by the fear of bodily decay and death. He
recommended scientific knowledge, which
teaches intelligent detachment, equanimity,
psychological gracefulness, a way of learning
to let go.

Lévi-Strauss sees man with a Lucretian


pessimism, and a Lucretian feeling for
knowledge as both consolation and necessary
disenchantment. But for him the demon is
history—not the body or the appetites. The
past, with its mysteriously harmonious
structures, is broken and crumbling before our
eyes. Hence, the tropics are tristes. There
were nearly twenty thousand of the naked,
indigent, nomadic, handsome Nambikwaras in
1915, when they were first visited by white
missionaries; when Lévi-Strauss arrived in
1938 there were no more than two thousand of
them; today they are miserable, ugly,
syphilitic, and almost extinct. Hopefully,
anthropology brings a reduction of historical
anxiety. It is interesting that many of Lévi-
Strauss's students are reported to be former
Marxists, come as it were to lay their piety at
the altar of the past since it cannot be offered
to the future. Anthropology is necrology. "Let's
go and study the primitives," say Lévi-Strauss
and his pupils, "before they disappear."

It is strange to think of these ex-Marxists—


philosophical optimists if ever such have
existed—submitting to the melancholy
spectacle of the crumbling pre-historic past.
They have moved not only from optimism to
pessimism, but from certainty to systematic
doubt. For, according to Lévi-Strauss, research
in the field, "where every ethnological career
begins, is the mother and nursemaid of doubt,
the philosophical attitude par excellence." In
Lévi-Strauss's program for the practicing
anthropologist in Structural Anthropology, the
Cartesian method of doubt is installed as a
permanent agnosticism. "This 'anthropological
doubt' consists not merely in knowing that one
knows nothing but in resolutely exposing what
one knows, even one's own ignorance, to the
insults and denials inflicted on one's dearest
ideas and habits by those ideas and habits
which may contradict them to the highest
degree."

To be an anthropologist is thus to adopt a very


ingenious stance via-à-vis one's own doubts,
one's own intellectual uncertainties. Lévi-
Strauss makes it clear that for him this is an
eminently philosophical stance. At the same
time, anthropology reconciles a number of
divergent personal claims. It is one of the rare
intellectual vocations which do not demand a
sacrifice of one's manhood. Courage, love of
adventure, and physical hardiness—as well as
brains—are used by it. It also offers a solution
to that distressing by-product of intelligence,
alienation. Anthropology conquers the
estranging function of the intellect by
institutionalizing it. For the anthropologist, the
world is professionally divided into "home" and
"out there," the domestic and the exotic, the
urban academic world and the tropics. The
anthropologist is not simply a neutral
observer. He is a man in control of, and even
consciously exploiting, his own intellectual
alienation. A technique de dépaysement, Lévi-
Strauss calls his profession in Structural
Anthropology. He takes for granted the
philistine formulas of modern scientific "value
neutrality." What he does is to offer an
exquisite, aristocratic version of this
neutrality. The anthropologist in the field
becomes the very model of the twentieth-
century consciousness: a "critic at home" but a
"conformist elsewhere." Lévi-Strauss
acknowledges that this paradoxical spiritual
state makes it impossible for the
anthropologist to be a citizen. The
anthropologist, so far as his own country is
concerned, is sterilized politically. He cannot
seek power, he can only be a critical dissenting
voice. Lévi-Strauss himself, although in the
most generic and very French way a man of
the Left (he signed the famous Manifesto of
the 121 which recommended civil disobedience
in France in protest against the Algerian war),
is by French standards an apolitical man.
Anthropology, in Lévi-Strauss's conception, is
a technique of political disengagement.

Anthropology has always struggled with an


intense, fascinated repulsion towards its
subject. The horror of the primitive (naively
expressed by Frazer and Lévy-Bruhl) is never
far from the anthropologist's consciousness.
Lévi-Strauss marks the furthest reach of the
conquering of the aversion. The anthropologist
in the manner of Lévi-Strauss is a new breed
altogether. He is not, like recent generations
of American anthropologists, simply a modest
data-collecting "observer." Nor does he have
any axe—Christian, rationalist, Freudian, or
otherwise—to grind. By means of experience in
the field, the anthropologist undergoes a
"psychological revolution". Like
Psychoanalysis, anthropology cannot be
taught "purely theoretically," Lévi-Strauss
insists in several essays on the profession and
teaching of his subject in Structural
Anthropology. A spell in the field is the exact
equivalent of the training analysis undergone
by psychoanalysis. Not written tests, but the
judgment of "experienced members of the
profession" who have undergone the same
psychological ordeal, can determine "if and
when" a candidate anthropologist "has, as a
result of field work, accomplished that inner
revolution that will really make him into a new
man."

However, it must be emphasized that this


literary-sounding conception of the
anthropologist's calling—the twice-born
spiritual adventurer, pledged to a systematic
déracinement—is complemented in most of
Lévi-Strauss's writings by an insistence on the
most unliterary techniques of research. His
important essay on myth in Structural
Anthropology outlines a technique for
analyzing the elements of myths so that these
can be recorded on IBM cards. European
contributions to what in America are called the
"social sciences" are in exceedingly low repute
in this country, for their insufficient empirical
documentation, for their "humanist" weakness
for covert culture criticism, for their refusal to
embrace the techniques of quantification as an
essential tool of research. Lévi-Strauss's
essays in Structural Anthropology certainly
escape these strictures. Indeed, far from
disdaining the American fondness for precise
quantitative measurement of all traditional
problems, LéviStrauss finds it not
sophisticated or methodologically rigorous
enough. At the expense of the French school
(Durkheim, Mauss, and their followers), to
whom one would expect him to be allied. Lévi-
Strauss pays lavish tribute throughout the
essays in Structural Anthropology to the work
of American anthropologists—particularly
Lowie, Boas, and Kroeber. But his real affinity
is clearly to the more avant-garde
methodologies of economies, neurology,
linguistics, and game theory. For Lévi-Strauss,
there is no doubt that anthropology must be a
science, rather than a humanistic study. The
question is only how. "For centuries," he
writes, "the humanities and the social sciences
have resigned themselves to contemplate the
world of the natural and exact sciences as a
kind of paradise where they will never enter."
But recently, a doorway to paradise has been
opened by the linguists, like Roman Jakobson
and his school. Linguists now know how to
reformulate their problems so that they can
"have a machine built by an engineer and
make a kind of experiment, completely similar
to a natural-science experiment," which will
tell them "if the hypothesis is worthwhile or
not." Linguists—as well as economists and
game theorists—have shown the
anthropologist "a way to get out of the
confusion resulting from too much
acquaintance and familiarity with concrete
data."

Thus the man who submits himself to the


exotic to confirm his own inner alienation as an
urban intellectual ends by aiming to vanquish
his subject by translating it into a purely
formal code. The ambivalence toward the
exotic, the primitive, is not overcome after all,
but only given a complex restatement. The
anthropologist, as a man, is engaged in saving
his own soul, by a curious and ambitious act of
intellectual catharsis. But he is also committed
to recording and understanding his subject by
a very high-powered mode of formal analysis—
what Lévi-Strauss calls "structural"
anthropology—which obliterates all traces of
his personal experience and truly effaces the
human features of his subject, a given
primitive society.

In La Pensée Sauvage, Lévi-Strauss calls his


thought "anecdotique et géometrique." The
essays in Structural Anthropology show mostly
the geometrical side of his thought: they are
applications of a rigorous formalism to
traditional themes—kinship systems,
totemism, puberty rites, the relation between
myth and ritual, and so forth. A great
cleansing operation is in process, and the
broom that sweeps everything clean is the
notion of "structure," Lévi-Strauss strongly
dissociates himself from what he calls the
"naturalistic" trend of British anthropology,
represented by such leading figures as
Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown. According to
Malinowski, empirical, observation of a single
primitive society will make it possible to
understand the "universal motivations"
present in all societies. According to Lévi-
Strauss, this is nonsense. Anthropology cannot
possibly get complete knowledge of the
societies it studies; it studies only the formal
features which differentiate one society from
another, Anthropology can neither be a
descriptive nor an inductive science. It has
properly no interest in the biological basis,
psychological content, or social function of
institutions and customs. Thus, while
Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown argue, for
example, that biological ties are the origin of
and the model for every kinship tie, the
"structuralists," like Lévi-Strauss, following
Kroeber and Lowie, emphasize the artificiality
of kinship rules. They would discuss kinship in
terms of notions which admit of mathematical
treatment. LéviStrauss and the structuralists,
in short, would view society like a chess game.
Different societies assign different moves to
the players; there is no one right way to play
chess. Thus, the anthropologist can view a
ritual or a taboo simply as a set of rules,
paying little attention to "the nature of the
partners (either individuals or groups) whose
play is being patterned after these rules." The
analogy between anthropology and linguistics
is the leading theme of the essays in Structural
Anthropology. All behavior, according to Lévi-
Strauss, is a language, a vocabulary and
grammar of order; anthropology proves
nothing about human nature except the need
for order itself. There is no universal truth
about the relations between, say, religion and
social structure. There are only models
showing the variability of one in relation to the
other.

To the general reader of Structural


Anthropology, perhaps the most striking
example of Lévi-Strauss's theoretical
agnosticism is his view of myth. He treats
myth as a purely formal mental operation,
without any psychological content or any
necessary connection with rite. Specific
narratives are exposed as logical designs for
the description and possibly the softening of
the rules of the social game when they give
rise to a tension or contradiction. For Lévi-
Strauss, the logic of mythic thought is fully as
rigorous as that of modern science. The only
difference is that this logic is applied to
different problems. Contrary to Mircea Eliade,
his most distinguished opponent in the theory
of primitive religion, Lévi-Strauss sees no
difference in quality between the scientific
thinking of modern "historical" societies and
the mythic thinking of prehistoric
communities.

The demonic character which history and the


notion of historical consciousness has for Lévi-
Strauss is best exposed in his brilliant and
savage attack on Sartre, in the last chapter of
La Pensée Sauvage. I am not convinced by
Lévi-Strauss's arguments against Sartre. But I
should say that he is, since the death of
Merleau-Ponty, the only interesting and
challenging critic of Sartrean existentialism
and phenomenology.

Not only in his ideas, but in his entire


sensibility, the antithesis of Lévi-Strauss is
Sartre. Sartre, with his philosophical and
political dogmatisms, his inexhaustible
ingenuity and clotted style, always has the
manners (which are often bad manners) of the
enthusiast. It is entirely apt that the writer
who has aroused Sartre's greatest enthusiasm
is Jean Genet, a baroque and didactic and
insolent writer whose ego effaces all objective
narrative; whose characters are stages in a
masturbatory revel; who is the master of
games and artifices, of a rich, over-rich style
stuffed with metaphors and conceits. But there
is another tradition in French thought and
sensibility—the cult of froideur, l'esprit
géometrique. This tradition is represented,
among the new novelists, by Nathalie
Sarraute, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Michel
Butor, so different from Genet in their search
for an infinite precision, their narrow
dehydrated subject-matter and cool
microscopic styles and, among film makers, by
Alain Resnais, the director of the great Nuit et
Brouillard as well as Hiroshima Mon Amour,
L'Année Dernière à Marienbad, and Muriel. The
formula for this tradition—in which I would
locate Lévi-Strauss, as I would put Sartre with
Genet—is the mixture of pathos and coldness.

Like the formalists of the "new novel" and film,


Lévi-Strauss's emphasis on "structure," his
extreme formalism and intellectual
agnosticism, are the steely casing for an
immense but thoroughly subdued pathos.
Sometimes the result is a masterpiece like
Tristes Tropiques. The very title is an
understatement. The tropics are not merely
sad. They are in agony. The horror of the rape,
the final and irrevocable destruction of pre-
literate peoples taking place throughout the
world today—which is the true subject of Lévi-
Strauss's book—is told at a certain distance,
the distance of a personal experience of fifteen
years ago, and with a sureness of feeling and
fact that allows the readers' emotions more
rather than less freedom.

But in the rest of these books, the lucid and


brilliantly compassionate documentarist has
been overwhelmed by the aesthete, the
formalist. The whole point of the new novels
and films coming out of France today is to
suppress the story, in its traditional
psychological or social meaning, in favor of a
formal exploration of the structure of an
emotion. It is exactly in this spirit that Lévi-
Strauss applies the methods of "structural
analysis" to traditional materials of empirical
anthropology. Customs, rites, myths, and
taboo are a language. As in language, where
the sounds which make up words are, taken in
themselves, meaningless, so the parts of a
custom or a rite or a myth (according to Lévi-
Strauss) are meaningless in themselves. When
analyzing the Oedipus myth, he insists that the
parts of the myth (the lost child, the old man
at the crossroad, the marriage with the
mother, the blinding, etc.) mean nothing. Only
when put together in the total context do the
parts have a meaning—the meaning that a
logical model has. This degree of intellectual
agnosticism is surely extraordinary. And one
does not have to espouse a Freudian or a
sociological interpretation of the elements of
myth to contest it.

Any serious critique of Lévi-Strauss, however,


must deal with the fact that, ultimately, his
extreme formalism is a moral choice, and
(more surprisingly) a vision of social
perfection. Radically anti-historicist, he
refuses to differentiate between "primitive"
and "historical" societies. Primitives have a
history; but it is unknown to us. And historical
consciousness (which they do not have), he
argues in the attack on Sartre, is not a
privileged mode of consciousness. There are
only what he revealingly calls "hot" and "cold"
societies. The hot societies are the modern
ones, driven by the demons of historical
progress. The cold societies are the primitive
ones, static, crystalline, harmonious. Utopia,
for Lévi-Strauss, would be a great lowering of
the historical temperature. In his inaugural
lecture at the Collège de France, Lévi-Strauss
outlined a post-Marxist vision of freedom in
which man would finally be freed from the
obligation to progress, and from "the age-old
curse which forced it to enslave men in order
to make progress possible." Then:

history would henceforth be quite alone, and


society, placed outside and above history,
would once again be able to assume that
regular and quasi-crystalline structure which,
the best-preserved primitive societies teach
us, is not contradictory to humanity. It is in
this admittedly Utopian view that social
anthropology would find its highest
justification, since the forms of life and
thought which it studies would no longer be of
mere historic and comparative interest. They
would correspond to a permanent possibility of
man, over which social anthropology would
have a mission to stand watch, especially in
man's darkest hours.

The anthropologist is thus not only the


mourner of the cold world of the primitives,
but its custodian as well. Groaning among the
shadows, struggling to distinguish the archaic
from the pseudoarchaic, he acts out a heroic,
diligent, and complex modern pessimism.
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Notes

[1] It is shortly to be reissued by Atheneum in


paperback.

Letters

January 23, 1964: Arnold Tovell, Levi-Strauss

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Volume 1, Number 8 · December 12, 1963
Brief Encounter
By Richmond Lattimore
The Ancient Greeks: An Introduction to their
Life and Thought
by M.I. Finley

Viking, 177 pp., $5.00

Dr. Finley has managed to include a great deal


in this compact book. He has given a general
account, part exposition, part narrative, of the
"classical" Greeks from the heroic age down to
their absorption into the Roman Empire, the
rise of the polis or "city state," something of
its variations in politics, religion, literature,
philosophy, science, and the arts. There is
necessarily some skimping. Through the
middle of the book the reader's attention is
fixed almost exclusively on Athens. Since for
the fifth century, at least, we know more about
Athens than about all the rest of the Greek
states put together, writers of general
introductions to Greek life tend to give the
beginner an impression that Athens was the
only state where anything worth while was
going on. Dr. Finley is not always free from
this fault. "This is a personal analysis," he says
in his preface. Opinions are boldly and
trenchantly stated. Here is an example (p. 31):
…the temple was a house for a god, not a
place of worship. The rituals by which one
gave thanks to the Olympic gods or pleaded
with them or appeased them required no
temple but an altar; and altars existed
everywhere, in the homes and fields, in the
places of assembly, outside the temples—
everywhere, that is, but not inside a temple

The chapter on Greek science and technology,


the latter conspicuous by its failure, is
brilliant, perhaps the best in the book. Of
course, in so brief a discussion of vast issues,
this or that reader will find cause for
disagreement. A simple case is on page 16: "he
[Hesiod] tells us all about himself." He does
not, we don't even know whether he was
married. "The law is king" (p. 41) is not a good
rendering of nomos ho panton basileus (if that
is what it is meant to represent; sometimes
the absence of specific reference is irritating).
In general, Dr. Finley's concept of nomos
seems to me too narrow; the nomoi of the
Greeks include not only their laws but the way
they dressed and dined and the food they ate,
the way they married and the way they buried,
their mutual conduct within the family, and the
gods they worshipped and how they did it.
Here, despite their "particularism," there is a
remarkable degree of pan-Hellenic
homogeneity which I think Dr. Finley
underestimates (p. 35). Many conclusions are
bluntly stated rather than argued, but despite
my not infrequent personal disagreements, I
find this book more than stimulating. It is
enlightening.
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with any questions about this site. The cover
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Volume 1, Number 8 · December 12, 1963
Nabokov: the Prose and Poetry of It All
By F.W. Dupee
Vladimir NabokovVladimir Nabokov by David
Levine

Readers of Lolita may recall that Humbert


Humbert, who delivers himself of the contents
of the book while in confinement awaiting trial
for murder, is something of a poet. "You can
always count on a murderer for a fancy prose
style," he says, and you can count on this
particular murderer for scattered flights of
verse as well. His are "occassional poems" in
the most invidious sense possible. His muse
materializes only intermittently, and when she
does it is in response to situations of a kind
that do not, as a rule, give rise to la poèsie
pure—or whatever we may call the opposite of
occasional poetry.

Hoping, for example, to calm his restless Lolita


he improvises a bit of what he tells her is
"nonsense verse."

The Squirl and his Squirrel, the Rabs and


their Rabbits
Have certain obscure and peculiar habits.
Male humming birds make the most
exquisite rockets.
The snake when he walks holds his hands in
his pockets.

"Nonsense is correct," Lolita says mockingly


perhaps guessing that Humbert's weakness for
nymphets like herself lends the poem a certain
"obscure and peculiar" sense which she would
prefer to ignore. As poet, Humbert succeeds
no better with Rita, a temporary replacement
for Lolita, and one who knows her time is
short. He tries to stop her accusing sobs by
extemporizing some verses about a certain
"blue hotel" they have just motored past. "Why
blue when it is white, why blue for heaven's
sake?" she protests and starts crying again.
Humbert's lengthiest effort is a ballad, full of
literary allusions, double-entendres, and
straight French, with which he writes to
console himself for the loss of Lolita. One
stanza reads:
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Happy, happy is gnarled McFate


Touring the States with a child wife,
Plowing his Molly in every State
Among the protected wild life.

Humbert, like other of Nabokov's creatures,


foreign or nutty or both, has a flair for knowing
what is going on in the American literary
world, such as that "light verse" has been
made respectable by Mr.W.H. Auden and that
poetry of any weight lends itself nicely to
depth analysis. His own analyst, Humbert says
of his ballad: "It is really a maniac's
masterpiece. The stark, stiff, lurid rhymes
correspond very exactly to certain
perspectiveless and terrible landscapes and
figures…as drawn by psychopaths in tests
devised by astute trainers." He is aware, too,
of that American specialty, the belief that
poetry inheres in phenomena themselves
rather than in the poet, and that to write a
poem one need only catalogue phenomena in
impressive numbers. So he pounces upon a
mimeographed list of names of Lolita's
classmates, surnames and first names
intriguingly reversed for the purpose of
alphabetization (e.g., FANTAZIA, STELLA;
FLASHMAN, IRVING; HAZE, DOLORES). "A
poem, a poem, forsooth!" he exclaims, and
goes on to imagine the occupants of the
classroom: "Adorable Stella, who has let
strangers touch her; Irving, for whom I am
sorry, etc." Nor does Humbert's muse desert
him on the ultimate occasion. When, gun in
hand, he delivers sentence on his rival Clare
Quilty prior to shooting him dead, he does so
in the accents of a certain poem, well known to
the literary world, about sin, penitence, and
death:

Because you took advantage of a sinner


because you took advantage
because you took
because you took advantage of my
disadvantage…
"That's damned good," says Quilty, providing.
Humbert with an approving, if captive,
audience at last.

For Humbert, the uses of poetry are rather


low. He might even be said to prostitute his
muse. The uses of poetry for Nabokov are
high, though not so high as to rule out the
efforts of those who are compelled into song
by mixed motives, including lust, revenge, and
the hope of a check from The New Yorker. Like
that other master of prose, James Joyce,
Nabokov aspired in youth to be a poet. More
than Joyce did, he has continued to write verse
and to fill his novels with reflections on poetry.
The reflections are of major importance; the
verse—the verse in English at least—is minor,
as minor as verse could be and still remain
interesting. His forthcoming translation of
Pushkin's Eugene Onegin will conceivably
stand as his main poetic achievement. For
years he has been going on about Pushkin
("the gold reserve of our literature"),
meanwhile preparing us for the magnum opus
by translating other Russian poets. He brings
to poetry and the informal criticism of poetry
the same spirit of connoisseurship which fills
his work as a whole—an impassioned
connoisseurship that unites the naturalist in
him with the literary artist and does duty, it
would seem, for doctrine. He has a mind too
rich to be impoverished by ideas. Before 1939,
when he came to live in the United States and
started publishing in English, he contributed a
number of poems to Russian émigré
periodicals in Europe. Between 1943 and 1957
he wrote the fourteen poems which, described
as "his complete poetic works in English," were
collected in a miniature volume succinctly
entitled Poems (1959). Pale Fire, his most
recent novel in English (1962), consists of a
long poem, or quasi-poem, ostensibly written
by an American poet, and of lengthy notes
ostensibly supplied by a European-born editor.

The last novel Nabokov wrote in Russian has


lately come out in English—authentic
Nabokovian English. The Gift is a delightful
novel. It is also invaluable for what it tells us
about its author's relation to poetry and to
prose, in the past as, I venture, at present.
With The Gift as a main text, let us inquire into
those relations, to the extent that we can do
so in short space and with no knowledge of
Russian.

The Gift has been widely and pleasantly


reviewed during the months since it appeared.
So far as I am aware, however, no one has
pointed out that the book is a sort of hail and
farewell to the poetic muse considered as a full
time companion. A young poet formidably
named Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev is the
hero. (One of The Gift's best reviewers, Mr.
Stanley Edgar Hyman, tells us this was
Nabokov's own pen name as a poet—he signed
his novels V. Sirin.) An émigré Russian who has
forfeited much to the Bolsheviks—a country
estate, a St. Petersburg town house, probably
a father, possibly a future as a native writer,
Fyodor lives an exile's desultory life in Berlin,
moving from furnished room to furnished
room, giving stupid Germans reluctant Russian
lessons, writing verses, imagining the fine
reviews his recently published book of poems
will get, recalling his Russian childhood,
mingling diffidently with his quarrelsome
fellow exiles, losing his keys, getting his
clothes stolen at the Grünewald swimming
lake. His life is almost as unreal as the
phenomenon we find him scrutinizing on the
novel's first page: a moving van with "the
name of the moving company in yard-high blue
letters, each of which (including a square dot)
was shaded laterally with black paint—a
dishonest attempt to climb into the next
dimension." Fyodor seeks to climb into the
next dimension by the frail but not dishonest
ladder of poetry alone. True, he has a distinct
"gift" for it, a charming craze for words, and a
capacity for hallucination which verges on
secular mysticism. The first chapter is, among
other things, a little anthology of his poems.
They are about things remembered from his
childhood in Russia.

My ball has rolled under Nurse's commode.


On the floor a candle
Tugs at the ends of the shadows
This way and that, but the ball is gone…

Knocked from its hiding place by a poker, the


ball "Crosses the whole room and promptly
goes under/The impregnable sofa." The long
line nicely reproduces the effect of the ball's
trip across the room. But the ball remains lost.

As the novel unfolds, we see Fyodor's situation


—which resembles the ball's—reflected back at
him in various ways by people around him.
There is the tragedy (or tragic farce) of the
young poet Yasha, a recent suicide, whose
hopeless attachment to a German youth of the
blond and blue-eyed type forms, incidentally, a
grim parody of Thomas Mann. There is the
pure farce of Mr. Busch, a Latvian with
pretensions to poetry. Before an audience
choking with stifled laughter, he reads his
"new, philosophical tragedy." It is Faust out of
Brand out of Busch, and includes the following
conversation in a "Street of Sin":
FIRST PROSTITUTE

All is water. That is what my client Phales[*]


says.
SECOND PROSTITUTE

All is air, young Anaximines told me.


THIRD PROSTITUTE

All is number. My bald Pythagoras cannot be


wrong.
FOURTH PROSTITUTE

Heracles[*] caresses me whispering "All is


fire."
LONE COMPANION (enters)

All is fate.

"There is no great poetry without parody,"


Fyodor explains; and in The Gift the parodies
tend to be better than the poems. So Fyodor
begins to feel that he will eventually want "to
speak in quite another way, not in miniature
verse with charms and chimes, but in very,
very different manly words…" Indeed, during
an imaginary conversation with an older poet
he respects, he hears the man say: "By the
way, I've read your very remarkable volume of
poems. Actually, of course, they are but
models of your future novels." He stops trying
to recapture his own childhood and undertakes
to recreate in words, first the final days of his
beloved father, a celebrated naturalist who
has vanished on a scientific expedition to Asia,
the victim of an accident or of the Bolsheviks;
second, the life of Chernyshevski, the
celebrated social critic of the 1860's, father of
Russian utilitarianism, Lenin's mentor. For
these projects, Fyodor abandons verse, wooing
instead "the Muse of Russian prose-rhythms."
His assault on Chernyshevski's crude version
of the liberal imagination strangely
foreshadows the assault that Proust, at the
start of his career as a serious writer, made for
similar reasons on Sainte-Beuve. But Contre
Sainte-Beuve (which, incidentally, is of recent
discovery and could not therefore have been in
Nabokov's mind during the years 1935-37
when The Gift was written) is the tirade of tyro
when compared to Nabokov-Fyodor's explosive
yet touching portrait of Chernyshevski.
Rejected by a publisher as "a syringe of
sulphuric acid," the portrait is really part of
Fyodor's attempt to contemplate Russian
history without nostalgia—that nostalgia,
which, in Nabokov's view, so often ends in
paranoia. "Why," he asks, "had everything in
Russia become so shoddy, so crabbed and
gray, how could she have become so befooled
and befuddled? Or had the old 'urge toward
the light' concealed a fatal flaw, which in the
course of progress toward the objective had
grown more and more evident, until it was
revealed that this 'light' was burning in the
window of a prison overseer, and that was all?"
But Fyodor's attempt to climb into the next
dimension depends on other things than
writing. He must unite himself, as he does
after many false steps, with a pretty,
intelligent, hardworking girl who loves him and
his poems, her name being Zina Mertz. Zina
embodies, along with a poetic sensibility, the
advantages of good prose. Is this putting it too
neatly? The novel itself has a rather pat way of
making its points, a somewhat mechanical way
of contriving its games of reality and
appearance. After all, The Gift is a
comparatively early work. In most respects,
though, the mature Nabokov is in command.
Fyodor and Zina meet in a setting that is
prosaic with a vengeance. It is one of those
superlatively dreary interiors, epitomized by
the communal bathroom and the communal
bar of soap with the single hair in it, which
Nabokov loves to swoop down on, whether in
Berlin or the U.S.A., from the high-wire of
fantasy. This feeling for the commonplace at
its commonest shows that his affinity with
Joyce equals his affinity (more obvious in The
Gift) with Proust. Fyodor writes a poem
addressed to Zina but printed in prose. "Look
at that street—it runs to China straight, and
yonder star above the Volga glows!" Thus, in a
fashion, the man and the woman, the exile and
his homeland, the poet and the prose writer
come together.

Need we conclude that Nabokov has


"sacrificed" poetry to prose? I doubt it. The
English poems, all but two of them first printed
in The New Yorker, are, it is true, of a kind
called "lapidary." Nevertheless, as Mr.
Nathaniel Reicheck has suggested, "the poet
goes beyond the limits of his art without
violating its canon. This enlargement of a
traditional form is made possible by his
campaign to re-design the English language.
His prosody is a unique and subtle parody of
the original." This, again, may be overstating
things, but not by much. The English poems do
have a peculiar small excellence: perfect
lucidity, precise wit, the glow of a lighted
candle cupped in an expert hand against the
windy verse roundabout. "A Literary Dinner" is
Charles Addams glorified. The poem turns on a
misunderstanding such as might occur
between a hostess whose enunciation was
unclear and a foreign guest whose ear was
imperfectly tuned to slurred English. "I want
you, she murmured, to eat Dr. James." And so,
amid dull talk at the table, he does eat Dr.
James.

All was good and well-cooked, but the


tastiest part
was his nut-flavored, crisp cerebellum lum.
The heart
resembled a shiny brown date,
and I stowed all his studs on the edge of my
plate.

Such a nice foreign guest, obliging, hungry,


and neat. For wit mingled with lyrical delight,
"An Evening of Russian Poetry" comes closest
to being "great"—besides being a helpful
treatise on versification. Referring to the
Russian poets' "passion for expansion," the
lecturer goes on to exemplify it in several
asides, by turns paranoiac and nostalgic in
mood.

My back is Argus-eyed. I live in danger.


False shadows turn to track me as I pass…

Beyond the seas where I have lost a sceptre


I hear the neighing of my dappled nouns,
soft participles coming down the steps,
treading on leaves, trailing their rustling
gowns,
and liquid verbs in ahla and in ili,
Aonian grottoes, nights in the Altal,
black pools of sound with "I"s for water
lilies.
The empty glass I touched is tink- ling still,
but now 'tis covered by a hand and dies…

While writing these verses Nabokov was


elaborating the English prose which, somewhat
subdued in Sebastian Knight, sometimes out of
hand in Bend Sinister, would culminate in the
controlled sinuosities of Lolita, the almost
paranoid eloquence of Pale Fire. Kinbote's
eloquence, I mean, for the point of the novel,
rhetorically speaking, seems to lie in the
inflamed yet often beautiful writing of
Kinbote's editorial notes and the paler fires,
the intermittent beauties, of John Shade's
poem. Mary McCarthy has said much about the
book in her remarkable analysis and panegyric
in The New Republic. One need only add a few
words on Shade's poem. Distressed by his
daughter's suicide, the father tries to convey
his grief, his thoughts on death in general, in a
kind of Popian four-part epistle constructed of
the appropriate couplets. But he cannot rise
either to Pope's scarifying realism or to the
dashing architectonics of Pope's verse. Shade
starts to quote the great lines from the Essay
on Man:

See the blind beggar dance, the cripple sing,


The sot a hero, lunatic a king.

But he breaks the lines midway, adding that


"they smack of a heartless age." The poem has
an inner subject that goes unperceived by
either Shade or his editor, who imagines the
poem is about him and his "lost sceptre," his
living "in danger." The inner subject is the
blindness of Shade's grief, his helplessness
before the extremities of passion and death,
the spiritual deformity which was his
daughter's sole inheritance from him but which
the singing cripple and the crippled Pope do
not share. So the poem maunders along, lovely
in spots, penetrating in other spots, now
elegiac, now cheery. It clothes itself in a
simulacrum of Popian couplets without
attaining to the hard antitheses, the decisive
pauses, which are the prosodic mirror of
Pope's tougher mind. Shade is a portrait of the
poet as rustic American. The rustic American
poet could use some of Kinbote's passion—but
instead gets the bullet intended for Kinbote.
As so often in our author's books, it takes two
men to make a Nabokovian man—two men
who, however, rarely get together. With a
writer, if he is a genius, the duality may be
made to work for him, just as the Siamese
twins in the story, "Scenes from the Life of a
Double Monster," are finally put to work by
Uncle Novus. Nabokov has done the same with
the poet-novelist in him, made of them a team.
Thus he has been able to perfect an English
prose medium whose flexibility is adapted to
the astonishing range, the endless
contradictions, of his nature, of Nature itself.
Some of those future novels of which Fyodor's
poems were the models have, we know,
already come into being. After the translation
of Pushkin's novel in verse, others may follow.
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Notes

[*] It is Busch's fault, not the proofreader's,


that Thales becomes Phales and Heraclitus
becomes Heracles.

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Volume 1, Number 8 · December 12, 1963
Bogus Togas
By M.I. Finley
The Civilization of Rome
by Pierre Grimal, translated by W.S. Maguiness

Simon and Schuster, 531 pp., $11.50


The Revolutions of Ancient Rome
by F.R. Cowell

Praeger, 228 pp., $5.75

Towards the middle of the second century B.C.,


Cato the Censor wrote a manual, De
Agricultura, on the management of large
estates operated with slave labor. "Sell the old
work oxen," he recommended, "the wool, the
skins, the old wagon, the worn-out iron tools,
the aged slave, the slave that is diseased, and
everything else that [you do] not need." This
passage evoked in Plutarch several angry
pages: this is not mere miserliness, he
insisted, but excessive meanness of character.
Professor Grimal, on the other hand, finds no
room for the passage in the five pages he
devotes to Cato's book. He acknowledges that
some of the slaves lived and worked in chains,
but, he adds, "we are not to suppose that the
master employed such methods because he
liked them." Elsewhere (in reviewing Michael
Grant's The World of Rome) he expanded that
point in a most revealing way:

Is it just to state that "there is no trace of


humanity in Cato"…? The book on Agriculture
is just a handbook about the best way to make
money. Cato has no intention of passing
judgment on the human values of a system
firmly established around him—and it is
conceivable that even a good businessman
might be humane in his private life… We are
told that some of the most bloodthirsty jurists
of the past have been kind men, devoted to
their friends and quite amiable.

It is by such special pleading alone that it is


possible to reach the remarkable conclusion
that "Rome was the most marvelously humane
society that the world had hitherto known."
What about the proscriptions under Marius and
Sulla, in which both sides butchered thousands
of their opponents in the streets of Rome?
They get a single sentence and the word
"proscription" does not appear in the index.
The gladiatorial shows? Yes, that was pretty
shocking, but—
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it would be unjust to denounce it as a fault


peculiar to the Latins of Rome. As we have
already said, gladiatorial contests were of
foreign origin… The best of the Romans are
unlikely to have derived any pleasure from
them. The spectators consisted mainly of the
city plebs, packed with men from all the
Mediterranean lands. The great popularity of
gladiatorial contests dates precisely from the
period when the plebs had ceased to be,
properly speaking, Roman…

This racist defence—let us not mince words:


that is what it is in its purest form—is an old
story in the writing of Roman history. Mr.
Cowell shares it with Professor Grimal though
he judges Rome through spectacles of another
tint. Marius had a "coarse foul nature"; Sulla
"was worse"; Caesar may not have been
"mentally diseased, personally contemptible,
beastly or ruthless" like "dictators of our
recent memory," but his seizure of power was
a "personal revolution" in which "constructive
measures were few"; after Caesar, "never
again were free institutions to flourish in
Rome," yet his assassination was
"irresponsible folly." All that Mr. Cowell can
offer in explanation of the mess is a change in
"the general 'set' and direction of mind"
behind the process by which

freedmen and their descendants grew in


numbers to swamp the descendants of free
Romans. Here was a silent revolution which did
more to alter the whole tone and quality of
Roman civilization than all the political
revolutions put together.

Mr. Cowell has read his Livy. Does he really


believe that the pure-blooded senators of the
early books were less ruthless, less brutal,
more humane than Cato or Marius or Sulla, all
of whom were, so far as we know, untainted
"descendants of free Romans"? Or that
Plutarch, a Greek like many of the Roman
slaves and freedmen, had a weaker moral fiber
than the foul Marius?

These are not useful categories of historical


analysis in this naked form. "The general 'set'
and direction of mind" is not something which
just lives or dies or changes in mysterious
ways all by itself, "Caesar was not Rome,"
proclaims Professor. Grimal; the "conspirators
who smote him in the name of freedom…were
obedient to the very logic of Rome." With that
wholly meaningless remark we have attained a
new kind of Nirvana, the state of complete
emptiness.

I cannot rest there, however, without raising


the question of what is happening to reputable
publishing. Professor Grimal's text occupies
less than 300 pages. There are good maps and
charts and a large number of useful pictures.
The translation from the French is good. Then
comes the padding. No fewer than 48 pages
are occupied by chronological tables in six
columns, the quality of which may be
illustrated by the fact that the column headed
"Cultural Events outside Italy" has exactly
eight entries between 200 B.C. and 15 A.D.
(extending between pp.377 and 395), of which
five record the erection of buildings and a
sixth is the absurd entry under the year 100
B.C., "so-called La Tene III Celtic civilization."
In place of a traditional index there is a
"historical and biographical dictionary" of
nearly 100 pages, some of which is useful but
much of which merely repeats information
already given in the main body of the book.
The lengthy bibliography is altogether useless
for the audience to which the book is directed.
Most of the books are in French, German and
Italian, many completely outdated; some of the
most useful English works, such as Michael
Grant's or Rostovtzeff's Rome or Westermann's
book on ancient slavery are omitted; available
English translations are sometimes indicated
but usually not; no serious effort has been
made to check the latest editions. The notes
on the plates are equally shoddy: dates are
sometimes given, sometimes not, and the
same is true of dimensions.

I do not know who prepared all this apparatus


but the final responsibility is the publisher's
(in this case, I should say, an English firm in
the first instance). These are chiefly technical
matters that any good research assistant could
cope with. At $11.50 a buyer is entitled to
some consideration and even some expense.

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Volume 1, Number 8 · December 12, 1963
Science Fiction
By John Hollander
A Voyage To Arcturus
by David Lindsay

Macmillan, 244 pp., $4.95


Russian Science Fiction
An Anthology, ed. by Robert Magidoff

New York University, 280 pp., $5.00

The distinctions between true science fiction


and what is called fantasy literature are
zealously guarded even by consumers of the
magazines which publish both sorts of
material. In general, science fiction appears to
be more toughminded, and its aficionados tend
to think of the fantasy product as being
somehow intellectually inferior. And yet the
evidence is strong that the same sort of people
like both sorts of thing; it would be hard to tell
whether a rather typical kind of anti-literary,
know-nothing, do-it-yourself American
intelligence, that of an engineer or a
technician, would gravitate more towards one
than another. (Nasty footnote on the two
cultures: It is said that M.I.T. decided to start
up a decent humanities program when a
shockingly high percentage of a group of
students interviewed declared that the book
that had been most important to them was The
Robe). Indeed, it is a moot point whether never
having read anything good would make one
prefer science fiction's gimmickry or fantasy's
romantic corn.

The two genres are easily distinguished.


Kingsley Amis has remarked that "while
science fiction maintains a respect for fact or
presumptive fact, fantasy makes a point of
flouting these; for a furniture of robots, space-
ships, techniques and equations it substitutes
elves, broomsticks, occult powers and
incantations." From another point of view it
might appear that fantasy uses the traditional
imaginative materials of romance and ghost-
story, inheriting along with these a moral
climate in which beauty is virtue, and an
Unnatural Presence is. by and large. a Bad
Thing. Fantasy is imaginatively "softer" than
science fiction, and very often weaker, despite
its literary sources—the mythopoeia of the
English romantic poets, for example.
Sometimes, in a writer like H. P. Lovecraft,
there will be a conscious effort to create such
a mythological cosmos. But in general, fantasy
literature, unlike much good science fiction,
never strays too far from the Victorian-Gothic
world shadowed by latent sexuality, and shrilly
defiant of science. In general, too, mood is
favored over the structural gimmick of science
fiction, just as, in the writing, image triumphs
over idea. So that while, at worst, a science
fiction story will be a bungled bit of slick-
magazine drivel, creaking along on some
traditional science fiction donnée invented by
a writer back in the Thirties, a fantasy story
will usually end up as a bad poem.
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The sub-literary genre of science fiction has


contributed to the history of the novel by
providing models for Orwell, Eugene Zamiatin
before him, Huxley and, more recently, William
Golding. The legitimate projections of fantasy
would perhaps be in the novels of Charles
Williams, in the Tolkien trilogy, or in The Man
Who was Thursday. Golding, as a matter of
fact, seems to have more in common, in a book
like The Inheritors, with this latter group:
tragedy and its moral world, for example, are
illuminated by means of the technical devices
of science fiction, but for vastly different ends.
The basic science fiction narrative and
dramatic method involves projecting the
reader directly into a hypothetical world,
starting out in medias res with something like
"Lopp looked up at the moons, decided it was
time to leave, and turned on the
m'zorgzabber" and allowing the donnée or
gimmick gradually to dawn upon him. What
Orwell and particularly Golding realized was
that this discovery on the reader's part about
just what in heaven was going on, could be
turned into a complicated kind of anagnorisis
for very different purposes. A fictional
counterpart of this is the use by Conrad, and
Faulkner following him, of narrative murk, the
device that causes the reader to keep flipping
back through the previous twenty pages to
find out if he's missed an earlier reference. But
here the effect is melodrama. In science fiction
pure and simple, the effect is to allow the
reader's gradual doping-out of the puzzle to
stand for the transition from naturalism to the
world of the story: a coathook on which to
hang his disbelief, in short. But in fantasy
fiction, all that the fog of improbability can
generate is something its contemporary
authors can think of as "mood".

A Voyage to Arcturus, first published in 1920


and written by someone its American
publishers inadequately represent on the
jacket as "David Lindsay, the English author"
(this sounds like a prank of S. J. Perelman)
looks at first like an inept borderline case. The
opening is unquestionably that of fantasy
kitsch (and having mentioned Perelman, I can't
help quoting the first sentence: "On a March
evening at eight o'clock, Backhouse, the
medium—a fast-rising star in the psychic world
—was ushered into the study at Prolands, the
Hampstead residence of Montague Faull.")
After a chapter of this Sax Rohmer-minus
nonsense, we get some substandard science
fiction, in which the story's protagonist,
Maskull, a companion named Nightspore and
an interstellar visitor named Krag head toward
one of the planets of Arcturus in a ship
powered by the pull of light (a reciprocal of its
pressure) and exceeding, one must assume,
even its tractor in velocity.

But after landing on the planet Tormance and


meeting its English-speaking humanoid
inhabitants, Maskull, now alone, enters
another literary realm. For a bit of ludicrous
rubbish is transformed into a rather moving
heroic poem, a prose romance deeply rooted in
an English poetic tradition embracing Spenser,
Milton and the Romantics. The world through
which Maskull moves has a basically earthlike
geography and its inhabitants are individuals
rather than tribal groups or societies. They
inhabit a spiritual universe apparently divided
by a Manichaean struggle for sway between
one Muspel and one Crystalman. As the
protagonist journeys toward understanding of
his predicament, acquiring new organs of
perception at various stages of his journey, the
inhabitants become more and more confusing
about the nature of the two deities, or forces.
This is no Charles Williams world, where the
blacks and whites of eschatological light blot
out the muted colors of the light of common
day. Rather it is an original mythical
landscape, loosely allegorizing states of
human consciousness rather than ethical
abstractions. One wonders what readers
accustomed to science fiction or fantasy, in
which you can always tell the good guys from
the bad guys, will make of a journey among
unfallen men over a landscape having more in
common with parts of The Fail of Hyperion and
The Four Zoas (Blake is, I think, an extremely
strong influence here), with colors and shapes
taken from Prometheus Unbound. The final
resolution, in which the complex identity
relations between Muspel, Crystalman,
Maskull, Nightspore, and Krag are all resolved,
is far from being a traditional Christian one.

I don't think that such a book could have been


written in the guise of science fiction after the
Second World War. The genre developed to
such a degree that the inept opening would
have disqualified it, and the mixture of fantasy
and science fiction would be considered passé.
Not so in the Soviet Union, however. Robert
Magidoff has compiled and Doris Johnson has
edited an anthology of Russian science fiction
stories that certainly include elements of both
traditions. It is a little hard to judge some of
these against Anglo-American standards, for
we are given no dates of appearance of these
tales. Nor is Mr. Magidoff's introduction of
much help on this or any score, being far less
shrewd and ineisive than those of Issac Asimov
(despite their unfortunate prose mannerisms)
to a similar pair of anthologies available in
Collier Books paper format.

There appears to be a chronological span from


a story by Alexander Belyaev, which wouldn't
hold up very well against what was being
written here in the late Thirties, through two
excellent pieces by Ivan Yefremov, which could
appear, mutatis mutandis, in any respectable
American periodical (the ideology is troped in
rather elegantly, and the appropriate American
lib-lab material could easily be substituted).
The most recent story in the collection is
Dudintsev's "New Year's Fable," which doesn't
belong there at all. But if one can guess about
dates from the technological advances in the
stories, the Russians seem to be closing the
sophistication gap at last, with respect to this
literary form anyway.

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Letters

January 23, 1964: Oskar Anderson, Science


Fiction

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Volume 1, Number 9 · December 26, 1963
The Habit
By William Styron
The Consumers Union Report on Smoking and
the Public Interest
by Ruth Brecher, by Edward Brecher et al.

Consumers Union of the U.S., Inc.; distributed


by Simon and Schuster, 222 pp., $1.50 (paper)

The lamentable history of the cigarette is that


of a mortally corrupting addiction having been
embraced by millions of people in the spirit of
childlike innocence. It is a history which is also
strikingly briet. Cigarettes began to be
manufactured extensively around the turn of
the century, but it was not until as recently as
1921 that cigarettes overtook chewing
tobacco, as well as pipes and cigars, in per
capita consumption, and the 1930s were well
along before cigarette smoking became the
accepted thing for ladies.

The popularity of cigarettes was inevitable and


overwhelming. They were not offensive in
close quarters, nor messy like pipes and
cigars. They were easily portable. They did not
look gross and unseemly in a lady's mouth.
They were cheap to manufacture, and they
were inhalable. Unlike the great majority of
pipe and cigar smokers, whose pleasure is
predominently oral and contemplative, most
cigarette smokers inhale deep into their lungs
with bladelike, rhythmic savagery, inflicting
upon themselves in miniature a particularly
abrasive form of air pollution. Further, the
very fact of inhalation seems to enhance the
cigarette's addictive power. Unhappily, few
suspected the consequences in terms of health
until long after cigarette smoking had gained
its colossal momentum. That this type of auto-
contamination is a major cause of lung cancer
—that it is also a prime causative factor in
deaths from coronary artery disease,
bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, among other
afflictions—was established, and for the first
time well-publicized, only a decade ago. The
effect this knowledge has had upon the public
consciousness may be suggested by the fact
that sales this year reached the galactic sum
of one-half trillion cigarettes—one hundred
billion more than in 1953. There is something
historically intimidating in the idea that
cigarette smoking as a mass diversion and a
raging increase in lung cancer have both come
about during the lifetime of those who are now
no more than fifty years old. It is the very
recentness of the phenomenon which helps
make it so shocking. The hard truth is that
human beings have never in such a brief space
of time, and in so grand and guileless a
multitude, embraced a habit whose
unwholesome effects would not only totally
outweigh the meager satisfactions, but would
hasten the deaths of a large proportion of the
people who indulged in it. Certainly (and there
seems little doubt that the Surgeon General's
report, being released this month, will make
this clear) only nuclear fall-out exceeds
cigarette smoking in gravity as a public health
problem.
NYRB / Names on the Land

For its lucid presentation of the medical


evidence alone, The Consumers Union Report
on Smoking would be a valuable document.
"The conclusion is inescapable," the Report
begins, "and even spokesmen for the cigarette
industry rarely seek to escape it: we are living
in the midst of a major lung cancer epidemic.
This epidemic hit men first and hardest, but
has affected women as well. It cannot be
explained away by such factors as improved
diagnosis. And there is reason to believe that
the worst is yet to come." Yet despite this
minatory beginning the tone throughout is one
of caution and reasonableness, and the
authors—who manage an accomplished prose
style rare in such collective undertakings—
marshal their facts with such efficiency and
persuasion that it is hard to imagine anyone
but a fool or a tobacco lobbyist denying the
close association between smoking and lung
cancer. Yet, of course, not only lung cancer.
The Report quotes, for instance, data based on
an extensive study of smokers and non-
smokers among English physicians, where the
death rate from all causes was found to be
doubled among heavy cigarette smokers in the
group of men past 65, and quadrupled in the
group 35 to 44. And the Report adds, with the
modest and constructive irony that makes the
book, if not exactly a joy, then agreeable to
read: "These death rates among smokers are
perhaps the least controversial of all the
findings to date. For with respect to any
particular disease there is always the
possibility, however remote, that mistaken
diagnosis and other conceivable errors may
cast doubt on the statistics. But death is easily
diagnosed."

In the end, however, what makes the Report's


message supportable to those distracted souls
among the millions of American smokers who
may wish to kick the habit—or who, having
kicked the habit, may wonder if it is not too
late—is a kind of muted optimism. For all
present evidence seems to indicate that the
common cocktail party rationalization ("I've
smoked too long to stop now, the damage is
done") has no real basis in fact. In research
carried out by the American Cancer Society,
microscopic studies of the lung tissues of ex-
smokers have shown a process in which
precancerous cells are dying out instead of
flourishing and reproducing as in the tissues of
continuing smokers. Here the Report states, in
regard to a carefully matched group composed
in equal numbers of non-smokers, ex-smokers,
and smokers: "Metaplastic cells with altered
nucici [i.e., precancerous cells] were found in
1.2 per cent of the slides from the lungs of
non-smokers, as compared with 6.0 for ex-
smokers—and 93.2 per cent for current
smokers."

Certainly such evidence, combined with the


fact that ex-smokers have a lung cancer death
rate which ranges down to one-fifth of that of
smokers who continue to smoke, should be of
the greatest practical interest to anyone who
ponders whether it may be worthwhile
abandoning what is, after all, a cheerless,
grubby, fumbling addiction. (Only the passion
of a convert could provoke these last words.
The Report was an aid to my stopping a two-
pack-a-day habit which commenced in early
infancy. Of course stopping smoking may be in
itself a major problem, one of psychological
complexity. For myself, after two or three days
of great flaccidity of spirit, an aimless oral
yearning, aching moments of hunger at the pit
of the stomach, and an awful intermittent urge
to burst into tears, the problem resolved itself,
and in less than a week all craving vanished.
Curiously, for the first time in my life, I
developed a racking cough, but this, too,
disappeared. A sense of smugness, a kind of
fatness of soul, is the reward for such a
struggle. The intensity of the addiction varies,
however, and some people find the ordeal
fearfully difficult, if not next to impossible. I do
have an urgent suspicion, though, that the
greatest barrier to a termination of the habit is
the dread of some Faustian upheaval, when in
fact the deprivation, while momentarily
oppressive, is apt to prove not really cruel at
all.)

But it the Report is splendidly effective as a


caveat, it may be read for its sociological
insights as well. Certainly the history of
commerce has few instances of such shameful
abdication of responsibility as that displayed
by the cigarette industry when in 1952 the
"health scare," as it is so winsomely known in
the trade, brought about the crisis which will
reach a head in this month's report by the
Surgeon General. It seems clear that the
industry, instead of trying to forestall the
inevitable with its lies and evasions, might
have acquitted itself with some honor had it
made what the Report calls the only feasible
choices: to have urged caution on smokers, to
have given money to independent research
organizations, to have avoided propaganda
and controversy in favour of unbiased inquiry.
At the very least the industry might have soft-
pedalled or, indeed, silenced its pitch to young
people. But panic and greed dominated the
reaction, and during the decade since the
smoking-lung cancer link was made public, the
official position of the industry has been that,
in the matter of lung cancer, the villain is any
and everything but the cigarette. Even the
American Cancer Society is in on the evil plot
and, in the words of one industry spokesman,
"relies almost wholy upon health scare
propaganda to raise millions of dollars from a
gullible public."

Meanwhile, $200 million was spent last year on


cigarette ballyhoo, and during these last
crucial ten years the annual advertising
expenditure has increased 134 per cent—a
vast amount of it, of course, going to entice
the very young. One million of these young
people, according to the American Public
Health Association, will die of smoking-induced
lung cancer before they reach the age of
seventy years. "Between the time a kid is
eighteen and twenty-one, he's going to make
the basic decision to smoke or not to smoke,"
says L. W. Bruff, advertising director of Liggett
and Myers. "If he does decide to smoke we
want to get him." I have never met Mr. Bruff,
but in my mind's eye I see him, poised like a
cormorant above those doomed minnows, and I
am amused by the refinement, the weight of
conscience, the delicate interplay of
intellectual and moral alternatives, which go
into the making of such a prodigious thought.
As the report demonstrates, however, Mr.
Bruff is only typical of the leaders of an
industry which last year received a bounty of
$7 billion from 63 million American smokers.
Perhaps the tragic reality is that neither this
estimable report nor that of the Surgeon
General can measureably affect, much less
really change, such awesome figures.

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Volume 1, Number 9 · December 26, 1963
Dark Mission
By J.H. Plumb
Livingstone's African Journals 1853-56
edited with an Introduction by I. Schapera

California, two volumes (236 & 259) pp.,


$11.50

African explorers are at a discount—at least in


Africa. Their statues are being broken up or
removed to obscure suburbs. As one native of
Nyasaland remarked about Livingstone, "How
could he have discovered us? We were always
here!" For young nations struggling towards
independence, the recent past is often best
forgotten in order to obliterate the shame, the
frustration, the sense of inadequacy which
exploitation and submission always create. So
the stature of the great explorers—Mungo
Park, H. M. Stanley, Heinrich Barth, Richard
Burton and the rest will diminish. They will be
reduced to cosy adventure-reading a la
Moorehead, or buried in meticulous
scholarship à la Schapera. The careful
annotation of Livingstone's diaries and
journals, however, needed to be done and Mr.
Schapera has done it as well as it can be done
—minute variations between the journals and
the final published version, Missionary Travels
and Researches, are correct to a thousandth of
a comma, the failure to track down obscure
place names in the Barotseland Gazeteer
unflaggingly recorded, and plants, animals,
fishes described in the splendid rotundity of
their scientific nomenclature: for the addict of
editorial virtuosity this book could become an
obsession; but most readers might doubt
whether these rough notes deserved such
Herculean labors. However, they have been
performed, and this edition will last, awaiting
the historian, black or white, who will finally
judge the missionary factor in African history,
doubtless as a part of that greater and more
difficult evaluation of the role of the white man
in the development of Africa. Whatever the
color of the historian, the assessment will be
difficult, for ambiguities of motive are as
commonplace as the African atrocities
perpetrated by Arabs and Europeans.
NYR Holiday Subscription Special

In 1850, the condition of Africa was appalling


by any standards. Rarely in the history of the
world had human life been held in such
contempt. The Kabaka of Uganda had no
hesitation in shooting a page to see how a rifle
worked, but so low a view of the worth of life
everywhere abounded. Time and time again in
his sad, cool, compassionate way Livingstone
reports the terrible treatment meted out by
African chiefs and traders to their slaves.

Yesterday morning a man was deliberately


beating a poor captive from the east for having
endeavored to escape. She was quite naked,
and holding up her poor dress in both hands as
a sort of shield against the frequent blows of
hippopotamus hide.

At other times sick captives were left to die;


young children, wanted for sale, were
frequently torn from their families; tribal war
flourished as vigorously as disease. And
disease, in some ways, was a greater horror
than slavery. Animals as well as men were full
of it. Pestilence of every kind flourished with a
tropical luxuriance—partly because of climate
and hygienic conditions but also because the
vast majority of Africans, then as now, lived on
the threshhold of starvation. So life was
desperately cheap, and young and old, male
and female, were given away, driven away, at
times just thrown away. Although Livingstone
had grown up in the harsh and brutal
conditions of industrial Scotland, he could
never grow callous to the desperate plight of
ordinary Africans. And these journals possess a
nightmare quality.

Livingstone came to believe that there was but


one solution to Africa's plight—trade.
Conversion without economic development
seemed to him a hopeless crusade. Livingstone
saw God as working for man's future not only
through missionaries but also through sanitary
engineers.
The sight made my heart sick and sore…It is
distressing, besides, to see poor boys going
about picking up grains of corn which have
fallen in the Kotla—almost skeletons. Their
masters, being niggardly, yet retain them in
starvation, though their parents would gladly
feed them if only allowed.

We are parts of the machinery He employs


but not exclusive parts, for all who are
engaged in ameliorating the condition of our
race are fellow-workers, co-operators with God
—sanitary reformers and clergy of all sorts, the
soldiers at Sebastopol and sailors of the coast
of Africa, inventors of telegraphs and steam
engines, promoters of emigration and of prison
reform.

Wherever he traveled in Africa, he was on the


look-out for commodities to exploit, trade
routes to develop, for land on which white men
might settle, or Africans improve with new
crops. The salvation of the African lay through
Birmingham and Manchester, and Livingstone
and his fellow missionaries regarded
philanthropy at ten per cent as a natural,
reasonable, and entirely honorable act of
benevolence, particularly if conducted by the
British rather than the Boers or Portuguese.
About such an attitude it is easy to be cynical,
but in 1850 there was no other way. Dark and
bloody though the paths of colonial
exploitation have been, they have led towards
a future of human dignity for the African: and,
except for the vile regime of Leopold in the
Congo and a few other pockets of depravity,
the night of terror for the ordinary African was
first dispelled by colonial administration. And
succulent though the British pickings may have
been in Africa, Britons not only stamped out
the slave trade, but also launched Africa into
the twentieth century, and then quit with a
better grace and a better sense than most.
Throughout British involvement in Africa,
strong streaks of altruism lay side by side with
fatter layers of cupidity, but they were always
discernable. The British were at any rate
honorable. Livingstone was not alone in
wanting to end the bestiality, poverty, disease,
and brutality that was most Africans' lot, or to
stop the Arabs, who were making it worse, by
white control. His panacea was trade, industry,
better agriculture: in fact that self-same
economic growth which is still seen to be
Africa's salvation. To Livingstone this was the
key to the future. He had no illusions about his
own missionary efforts: so long as African
conditions remained barbarous, Christianity
was unlikely to flourish.

Indeed in these journals, as in all that


Livingstone wrote, there is a sense of social
despair that wells up from the very depths of
his nature. He suffered endlessly from fever
and dysentery; he derived no sense of
personal triumph from his immense journeys,
for these were in the Lord's hands. He lacked
the satisfaction that most explorers derive
from their own competence in the details of
their expeditions—Livingstone handled porters
badly, lost stores, moved at the wrong times,
and was the prey of every rascal, African or
Arab, whom he encountered. Indeed, at times,
it seems as if Livingstone were almost
deliberately making conditions worse for
himself: letting the worst happen so that he
might suffer it. His courage to endure his
endless tribulations, physical and spiritual,
sprang from the very depths of his personality;
it lay deeper than his beliefs, deeper even than
his Christian convictions. He needed to test his
endurance, to exercise his will in the vast
isolation of Africa, amidst sickness, loneliness,
pain, and, at the end of his life, in helpless
despair. He was seeking some mysterious
finality within himself. And so there could be
no success; the triumphant journey across the
continent, the hero's welcome in Britain, were
all meaningless. His path lay back into the
wilds of Africa, as he followed that way of
courage through which he had willed himself in
search of his identity as a man. It is this
integrity of will that gives Livingstone such
stature.

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publisher. Please contact web@nybooks.com
with any questions about this site. The cover
date of the next issue will be January 15, 2009.