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Clio Fall 1976 Vol 6 Iss 1 -- Volume 6, Issue 1, Fall 1976 -- Indiana University-Purdue University -- a349ade49edd1dd7bcd814cd7fd3397b -- Anna’s Archive

Fall 1976
An Interdisciplinary Journal of Literature,
History, and the Philosophy of History
Robert H. Canary*
Henry Kozicki
Review Editors:
Andrew McLean*
Carol Lee Saffioti*
Managing Editor:
George L. Dillon
Editorial Assistants:
Deborah Feasel
Teress Toigo*
Board of Advisory Editors
Harry Berger, Jr.
Univ. of Calif. Santa Cruz
Frank E. Manuel
New York University
Jerome H. Buckley
Harvard University
Earl Miner
Princeton University
Henry Steele Commager
Amherst College
Russel B. Nye
Michigan State University
Arthur C. Danto
Columbia University
Robert A. Skotheim
Hobart and Wm. Smith
University of Ottawa
Mircea Eliade
Robert E. Spiller
University of Pennsylvania
University of Chicago
W. Stull Holt
Thomas R. Whitaker
Yale University
University of Washington
Welles Scheene
Hayden V. White
Wesleyan University
University of Hawaii
Lewis Leary
University of North
Cedric H. Whitman
Harvard University
W. H. Dray
Basil Willey
Cambridge University
David Levin
University of Virginia
*Univ. of Wisconsin-Parkside
Cover designed by:
Moishe Smith
An Interdisciplinary Journal of Literature,
History, and the Philosophy of History
Volume Six, Number One
Fall 1976
The Benevolent Monster:
on KITSCH as an Aesthetic Concept
Radical Religion and the American
Political Novel
Since We Have Been A Conversation...
Relations of Literature and Science:
A Bibliography of Scholarship,
Matei Calinescu
Cushing Strout
Thomas R. Whitaker
ed. Walter Schatzberg
New Approaches:
reviews by Jeffrey L. Sammons, Ricarde J. Quinones, and
John P. Brennan
Historiography (Past & Present)
reviews by William J. Bouwsma, Barbara C. Bowen,
Richard Harvey, and Richard Reinitz
The Literary Imagination:
reviews by Terrence Des Pres, Walter G. Langlois, and
Clyde de L. Ryals
The Moot Motto
The historical novelist is, in fact, a historian
talent for imaginative
has been
to whom
is not a
novelist with an occasional taste for history.
Anthony Burgess, The Novel Now, 1967
CLIO’S interests fall into three broad categories: critiques of literature
wherein history or philosophy of history is shown operational as an ordering
means, literary analyses of historical writing, and historiography that deals
with the nature of historical and thus literary knowledge and narrative
(refer to “CLIO: A Prospectus” in Volume One). We are especially interested in such interdisciplinary essays as they illuminate the nature of
literature, history, and their pedagogical thrusts in an industrial society.
Articles appearing in this journal are. abstracted and indexed in the
Modern Language Association Abstracts, Historical Abstracts, America:
History and Life, Abstracts of English Studies, Western Historical Quarterly, The Philosopher’s Index, Community Development Abstracts, Language
and Language Behavior Abstracts, and Sociological Abstracts.
Contributions are welcome and should be sent to CLIO, Indiana
University—Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805. Manuscripts
should follow the MLA
Style Sheet, Second Edition, and should be
by a copy of the original and a return
In addition, cooperating as we are with the MLA
the editors request that all articles submitted be accompanied
with first class
abstract system,
by an abstract
of no more than 200 words, preferably on the MLA “Journal Abstract
Form,” copies of which (including Guidelines) can be obtained from the MLA
or from CLIO.
CLIO is published three times a year. Annual subscription cost is $6 for
individuals and includes a membership in the CLIO Association. Individual
copies are $2.25. For libraries and institutions, subscriptions are $15 a year
and individual copies are $5.
© 1976 by Robert H. Canary and Henry Kozicki
VI:1 1976
in the century,
pompier academicism and other similar perversions of taste
seemed irreversible, the art world indulged in the optimistic illusion that the amusing monster of kitsch would never again haunt
its precincts: it seemed safely confined to the flea market or to
the obscure—if thriving—industry of cheap imitations, humble
religious art objects, vulgar souvenirs and junky antiques. But
that benevolent and polymorphous monster had a secret and
deep-rooted power which few were aware of—the power to please,
and to satisfy “aesthetically” the easiest and the most widespread
popular nostalgias. Another important, though rarely suspected,
advantage of kitsch is that it lends itself naturally to irony—and
irony is, among other things, an obvious privilege of sophistication. From Dada to Pop, the rebellious avant-garde made use of
a variety of techniques and elements directly borrowed from
kitsch for its ironically disruptive purposes. Thus, when the
avant-garde became fashionable, kitsch came to enjoy a paradoxical kind of negative prestige. This seems to have been one
of the main factors in the emergence of the curious camp sensibility which, under the guise of ironic sophistication, freely indulges in pleasures offered by the most awful kitsch. Camp, we
may say, cultivates bad taste as a form of superior refinement.
The new fashion, born in intellectual
(originally homosexual)
circles in New York City, rapidly swept over the United States.
So no one will be surprised to learn that a highly esteemed
museum—with one of the best collections of modern art in the
world—can house a show consisting mainly of magnificent kitsch,
as redeemed by the sensibility of camp. In his New York Times
review of the big exhibition of contemporary American art organized at the Art Institute of Chicago in the summer of 1974,
Hilton Kramer suggestively groups the numerous painters representative of the camp spirit (the “grand master” being Andy
Warhol) under the label of “The Flea Market School.” He writes
with acerbity “... I have passed many hours in real flea markets
where the visual rewards were far greater.”' Such examples of
the proliferation and encroachment of kitsch in the domain of
high art justifies Kramer’s rather melancholy reflection that
“there are now no pockets of bad taste or vulgar display buried
in the past that are not ready for exhumation.”
Concepts like kitsch or camp are used with a frequency that
points, beyond a terminological fad, to a deeper problem of contemporary aesthetic consciousness. The steadily growing bibliography of kitsch can itself make us aware that although throughout the development of modern art many derogatory notions have
been coined to describe products of bad taste, they never became
the focus of the kind of intellectual interest of which kitsch is
now an object. It would have been difficult, even a few decades
ago, to imagine that the artistic or literary origins of kitsch were
to become subjects for doctoral theses and erudite disquisitions!
The fact is that the diffusion of kitsch has attained such
incredible proportions in our “postindustrial” and culturally
“postmodern” age that both the practical and theoretical issues
raised by this phenomenon acquire not only a certain urgency,
but also a degree of negative fascination.
What, then, is kitsch? Is it simply bad art—artistic or
literary rubbish? Or is it false art and, therefore, to be judged
in relation with such categories of falsehood as the counterfeit,
forgery or lie? Should it be considered as an unavoidable characteristic of mass culture? Is it a synonym for bad taste? Has
kitsch anything to do with beauty or ugliness? Is kitsch primar-
ily a notion to be discussed in aesthetic terms or does it involve
ethical considerations, too? And, if the ethical approach is justified, can one not go farther and conceive of kitsch theologically,
as a manifestation of sin to be blamed, ultimately, on the influence of the devil? These are some of the perplexing questions
which have been asked, and tentatively responded to, by authors
who have dealt with the subject. If such questions are relevant—
and we shall see that they are—the whole issue is one of bewilder-
ing complexity; and all the more so when we realize that there
is actually no single vantage point from which kitsch becomes a
simple or easily manageable subject.
To begin with, let us note that, historically kitsch is a fairly
recent word. It came into use in the 1860’s and 1870’s in the
jargon of painters and art dealers in Munich, and was employed
to designate cheap artistic stuff. It was not before the first
decades of the twentieth century that kitsch became an international term. As frequently happens with such rather loose and
widely circulating labels, its etymology is uncertain.
authors believe that the German word derives from the English
“sketch,” mispronounced by artists in Munich and applied deroga-
torily to those “cheap images” bought as souvenirs by tourists,
especially Anglo-American (cf. Gero von Wilpert, Sachwérterbuch
der Literatur, Stuttgart, 1969). According to others its possible
origin should also be looked for in the German verb verkitschen,
meaning in the Mecklemburg dialect “to make cheap” (cf.
Triibners Deutsches Worterbuch, vol. 4, Berlin, 1943). Ludwig
Giesz (in his Phiinomenologie des Kitsches, Heidelberg, 1960)
credits the hypothesis which links kitsch to the German
kitschen, in the sense of “collecting rubbish from the street”
(den Strassenschlamm zusammenscharren); kitschen has indeed
this specific meaning in the Southwestern part of Germany.?
The three main etymological hypotheses indicated before
seem to me equally suggestive—even if erroneous—because each
one accounts for a significant aspect of kitsch. First, there often
is something sketchy about kitsch. Second, in order to reach its
low-brow or middle-brow consumers, contemporary kitsch is supposed to be not only figuratively but literally cheap. Last, aesthetically speaking, kitsch might well be considered rubbish or junk.
Let me add that apart from those who derive kitsch either
from the English (the “sketch theory”) or from the German,
there are writers who favour less plausible views. According to
one of the latter, kitsch would come from the Russian verb
keetcheetsya, meaning “to be haughty and puffed up.” Kitsch,
Gilbert Highet thinks, signifies “vulgar showoff, and it is applied
to everything that took a lot of trouble to make and is quite
hideous.”* However improbable, such a derivation has the merit
not only of showing the basic uncertainties with regard to the
word’s origin, but also of suggesting the actual elasticity of its
present-day meaning. Moreover, Gilbert Highet is right to the
extent that he points out that kitsch is not always facile, and
that to produce bad art or poetry can sometimes require a great
deal of effort.
Whatever its origin, kitsch was and still is a strongly
derogatory word, and as such it lends itself to the widest range
of subjective uses. To call something “kitsch” is in most cases a
way of rejecting it outright as distasteful, repugnant or even
disgusting. Kitsch cannot be applied, however, to situations or
objects which have nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with the
broad domain of aesthetic experience. Generically, kitsch dismisses the aesthetic claims or pretensions of anything which tries
to appear as “artistic” without genuinely being so. Kitsch may,
then, apply to architecture, landscaping, interior decoration and
furnishing, painting and sculpture, music, cinema and TV pro-
grams, literature and anything subject to judgements of taste.
If we think of kitsch in terms of deceit or diversion, there are
obviously as many types of kitsch as there are possibilities of
misusing art. Limiting ourselves to literature, we can distinguish
two very broad categories, each one comprising an indefinite
number of species and subspecies:
(1) kitsch produced for
propaganda purposes (including political kitsch, religious kitsch,
etc.) and
(2) kitsch produced mainly for entertainment
stories, potboilers, slicks, pulps, comic books, etc.). We should
recognize, however, that the line of division between the two can
become extremely vague. From the point of view we may call
psychological, since it takes into account the kind of emotional
element involved in literary kitsch, we can distinguish between
“sweet kitsch’”—the “saccharine type’”—and the “sour” variety.‘
kitsch can occur
in a great many
different con-
texts, it is interesting to note that the concept almost completely
lacks what I would call “historical depth;” that is, it can hardly
be used in connection with anything older than the early nineteenth century. This is another way of saying that kitsch—not
only as a term but also as a concept—
is essentially modern. Even
if we can discover some formal relationship between kitsch and
mannerist or baroque art, kitsch seems to be, historically, a result of Romanticism. On the one hand, the romantic revolution—
insofar as it was a consequence of the eighteenth-century quarrel
between the “ancients” and the “moderns”—brought about an
almost complete relativization of the standards of taste; on the
other, many romantics (some of them truly great poets or artists
and, needless to say, having nothing to do with kitsch) promoted
a sentimentally-oriented conception of art which, in turn, opened
the road to various kinds of aesthetic escapism. One should not
disregard the fact that the desire to escape from the adverse or
simply dull reality is, psychologically, one of the main reasons
for the wide appeal of kitsch.
The theoretical and practical links between Romanticism
and kitsch have been convincingly pointed out by Hermann
Broch. Value systems previous to Romanticism were, according
to Broch, open in the sense that the goal to be attained remained
outside the system:
“Romanticism,” he observed in an essay
written in 1950, “is inclined in exactly the opposite direction. It
wishes to make the Platonic idea of art—beauty—the immediate
and tangible goal for any work of art. ... Yet, insofar as art
remains a system, the system becomes closed; the infinite system
becomes a finite system. ... And as this process constitutes the
basic precondition of every form of kitsch, but at the same time
owes its existence to the specific structure of Romanticism (i.e.,
to the process by which the mundane is raised to the level of the
eternal), we can say that Romanticism, without therefore being
kitsch itself, is the mother of kitsch and that there are moments
when the child becomes so like its mother that one cannot dif-
ferentiate between them.”® In an earlier essay dating from 1933,
Broch also spoke of kitsch and Romanticism, basing his parallel
on their common nostalgia for the past. Often, he said, kitsch is
nothing else than “‘an escape into the idyll of history where set
conventions are still valid. ... Kitsch is the simplest and most
direct way of soothing this nostalgia.”*® Replacing historical or
contemporary reality by clichés, kitsch thrives on some emotional
needs which are generally associated
with the romantic
To a large extent we can see kitsch as a hackneyed
of Romanticism.
Kitsch appears to be a recent phenomenon even if we identify
it simply with bad taste.
critics speak of the
“universality of kitsch” (theoretically a legitimate assumption),
they will never go into specifics beyond, let us say, the Baroque
This is perhaps
it is extremely
speculate about what bad taste was like in older times. This is
also because it may even be that bad taste did not exist in earlier
periods or, if it existed, it did not have the means to systematize
its conventions and to institutionalize its activities in order to
reach a large number of would-be consumers of specifically fake
art. This raises the question of the connection of bad taste and
the history of modern cultural industry, especially the advent of
the machine in producing and reproducing books and other types
of works of art. As a working hypothesis we may consider that
bad taste in modern times consists mainly of an ideologically
manipulated illusion of taste. That is why mass culture can be
described quite adequately in terms of ideology or false consciousness. If true art always contains a finally irreducible
element, an element which is constitutive of what we call “aesthetic autonomy,” art that is produced for immediate consumption
is clearly and entirely reducible to artistically extrinsic causes
and motives. To stress this important point it is useful to mention the distinction between genuine art and mass culture proposed by one of the representatives of the Frankfurt School, Leo
Lowenthal. A long-time student of the relationships between
popular culture and society (as in his book Literature, Popular
Culture, and Society, 1961), Lowenthal summarizes both his
personal position and the cultural philosophy of the Frankfurt
School as a whole when he says: “As far as there is any legitimacy to the concept of reductionism, it indeed applies to mass
culture. .. . While I totally reject a sociological approach to
literature which looks at the works of art as mere reflections of
society, the reflection theory is exactly the legitimate concept
to be applied to mass culture. In classical Marxian terms, mass
culture is indeed ideology.” And this is so because the significance
of the phenomena of mass culture “in no way consists in what
they have to say but rather in the extent to which what they say
is a generalizable statement about the predispositions and atti-
tudes of those consumers who in large aggregates are accepting
the merchandise.”* If we replace the notion of mass culture by
kitsch, this distinction becomes even more convincing. By kitsch
in this context we mean simply false aesthetic consciousness or,
to paraphrase Theodor W. Adorno’s definition of kitsch as the
“parody of catharsis,”* the parody of aesthetic consciousness.
During the 1930’s two of the leading members of the Frankfurt School, T.W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, introduced the
notion of “culture industry” (also referred to as “amusement
industry,” “entertainment industry,” etc.), which they defined
from a broader dialectical point of view and analysed in more
detail in their post-war collaborative work Dialectic of Enlightenment (first published in 1947).® Basically, this industry is concerned with supplying the (pseudo) cultural market with products specifically designed to induce relaxation. As far back as
1941, Adorno had described the need of the masses for distraction or “fun” as a result of the existing (capitalist) mode of production, as one of its products. Reformulating in a cultural
context Marx’s famous theory that the mode of production produces not only certain commodities but also the need for precisely those commodities, Adorno wrote: “The customers of
musical entertainment are themselves objects or, indeed, products
of the same mechanism which produces popular music. ... The
power of the process of production extends itself over the time
intervals which on the surface appear to be ‘free’. ... The people
clamor for what they are going to get anyhow.”!° What is difficult to accept in Adorno’s approach is the identification of
the “masses” with the “working class” in a conventional Marxian
sense. The fact is that, even at the time when the article was
written, the concept of mass culture applied to the middle class
as well. Today it is perhaps more obvious than three or four
decades ago that popular culture—to the extent to which it is
kitsch—responds to middle-class psychological needs which it
tries, rather successfully, to generalize to the whole of society in
an electronized world that resembles very much McLuhan’s
“Global Village.” This point will be argued later. For the moment we should admit that Adorno’s insight into the need for
“distraction” is quite accurate if we broaden the scope of its application and, besides manipulation and diversion, we realize that
the whole process of production and consumption of mass
(pseudo) culture is facilitated by an all-too-human readiness for
self-deception: “People want to have fun. A fully concentrated
and conscious experience of art is possible only to those whose
lives do not put such a strain on them that in their spare time
they want relief from both boredom and effort simultaneously.
The whole sphere of cheap commercial entertainment reflects
this dual desire. It induces relaxation because it is patterned and
Certainly, one of the main reasons for the growth of kitsch
since the beginning of the nineteenth century, to quote another
sociologist of modern culture, Dwight Macdonald, was the fact
that “business enterprise found a profitable market in the cultural demands of the newly awakened masses, and the advance
technology made possible the cheap production of books, pictures, music, and furniture in sufficient quantities to satisfy the
market.”!* But even if the association between kitsch and cheapness is often inescapable, we should not overlook the fact that
the latter notion is very relative and can therefore become, when
used as a unique criterion, dangerously misleading. What is regarded as cheap by a member of the upper-middle class can be
prohibitively expensive for somebody less well off. Let us also
note that sometimes bad taste can enjoy the possession of important financial means for the satisfaction of its whims and
We have, then, to recognize the existence, along with the
humbler varieties of kitsch, of a gorgeous kitsch which is the
privilege of the rich. We may add that even when it is inexpensive, kitsch is often supposed to suggest richness and luxurious
superfluity. Imitation gold or silver objects, colored-glass jewelry
sold in drugstores have undoubtedly something to do with kitsch.
As for actually rich, upper-class kitsch, the second half of the
nineteenth century and then the time-span which has been called
la Belle Epoque, can furnish a great number of examples. Even
the kings who happened to reign in that blessed period were
sometimes converts to kitsch, like Ludwig II of Bavaria who indulged frenetically in the most luxurious kind of bad taste. For
some writers (for instance, Abraham A. Moles'*) the real kitsch
has to be looked for precisely in that epoch, our own time being
characterized by the formation of a “neo-kitsch” style, in keeping with the demands of an affluent consumer society. Even if
we accept such a periodization of kitsch—and I do not see why
we should not—the cheaper contemporary variety has, so to
speak, its traditional roots in the pseudo-aristocratic aesthetic
notions of the rich nineteenth century bourgeoisie.
The kind of taste which is satisfied by the lower forms of
kitsch ought not to be confused with popular taste (although the
epithet “popular” has undergone an important change of meaning during the last decades, and today’s “popular culture” is
often pure kitsch). Throughout the centuries, popular taste
found its expression and natural satisfaction in folk art and
poetry, which are in no way aesthetically inferior to the creations
of high culture. Folk culture, the result of a long organic and
manifold creative-participatory process is, in spite of its sometimes awkward or naive appearances, highly elaborated and refined. What is important—to quote Macdonald again—is that
“Folk Art grew from below,” whereas “Mass Culture is imposed
from above. It is fabricated by technicians hired by business;
its audiences are passive consumers, their participation limited
to the choice of buying or not buying. The Lords of kitsch, in
short, exploit the cultural needs of the masses in order to make a
profit and/or to maintain their class rule—in Communist countries, only the second purpose obtains.”'4
Cheap or expensive, kitsch is sociologically the expression
of a life style, namely, the life style of the bourgeoisie or the
middle class. This style can appeal to both members of the upper
and lower classes and, in fact, become the ideal life style of the
whole society—all the more so when the society grows affluent
and more people have more spare time. Insofar as man chooses
the ambience that suits his tastes, he can have several distinct
types of relations with the objects that make up the decor of his
home life. Abraham Moles distinguishes no less than seven modes
of behavior in this respect: ascetic, hedonist, aggressive, acquisitive, surrealist, functionalist or cybernetic, and kitsch.'® And the
kitsch mode is absolutely opposed to the ascetic one, combining
all others in various proportions. The number of these modes
can easily be increased or reduced. But the basic conflict between
asceticism and hedonism remains in any ordering of these attitudes. Thus, keeping Moles’ classification in mind, it is not difficult to show that, asceticism excepted, all the other categories
can be subsumed to hedonism. Aggressiveness, like possessive-
ness, cannot be dissociated from the pleasure principle. Surrealism is nothing else than an extreme case of enjoyment of
quaint, unpredictable combinations, and functionalism (in this
context) is just another word for the “comforts of civilization.”
To understand the nature of kitsch we should analyze the
particular hedonism characteristic of the middle class mentality.
Its primary feature is perhaps that it is a middle-of-the-road
hedonism, perfectly illustrated by the “principle of mediocrity”
which always obtains in kitsch (this all-pervading mediocrity is
easier to notice in the more elaborate and exaggeratedly complicated forms of kitsch). The middle class being an active class,
its hedonism is confined to the use of spare time. It is a hedonism
of relaxation and, therefore, compensatory in nature. That is
why kitsch lends itself to a definition in terms of a systematic attempt to fly from daily reality: in time (to a personal past, as indicated by the kitsch cult of the souvenir; to the “idyll of history” ;
to an adventurous future by means of the clichés of science-fiction, etc.); and in space (to the most diverse imaginary and
exotic lands). At a practical level, the pursuit of relaxation requires that household activities be performed with as little effort
and as much fun as possible: this is how the gadget appears
(gadgets being produced by a specialized sector of the industry
of kitsch objects). Middle class hedonism is in principle open,
unprejudiced, eager for new experience: this openness, unhampered by any critical sense, accounts for the tolerant and sometimes heteroclite character of the world of kitsch. The superficiality of this hedonism can be matched only by its desire for
universality and totality, and by its infinite capacity for acquiring beautiful junk.
To put some order in an issue so confusingly multifaceted, I
think that the problem of kitsch must be considered from at least
three different angles: the first looks at kitsch as a product of a
certain category of “artists” or “makers” who communicate a
specific world-view through a definite set of procedures, techniques, or devices meant to appeal to a large number of consumers; the second takes into account the specific kitsch elements
which appear in the process of mass diffusion of art; and the
third looks at the role of the consumer who can “kitschify” even
a genuine work of art, and thus contribute unwittingly to the
enlargement of the world of kitsch.
I. What are the main features of a kitsch work from the
producer’s point of view?
If we admit that there is an actual
link between kitsch and Romanticism
we can define the former
in terms of a degraded, spurious and ultimately cheap outgrowth
of Romanticism. Kitsch is often sentimental, and the presence
of the clichés of sentimentality, combined with the facility of
access, can be a reasonably sure sign that we are dealing with
kitsch. Romantic sentimentality can account for two basic types
of kitsch: the rosy, idyllic, reassuring kind, and the sensationalmelodramatic kind, which certainly can be mixed in various degrees and proportions. But it would be wrong to think that kitsch
is exclusively sentimental. The opposite is also true, for there is,
for example, a whole highly conventionalized subliterature which
deals in a “cool” style with the most horrendous kinds of violence,
in an extremely wide range of subjects that extends from the
supernatural to gangster stories published in pulp magazines. The
relationship between sentimental kitsch and the “tough” variety
is one of complementarity, and we can easily imagine a reader
of violent novels who lives in a sentimentally kitschy home, with
artificial logs burning, for the sole purpose of intimacy, in a fireplace over which a bowl of plastic daffodils is placed to bring a
touch of “eternal” freshness.
Stylistically, kitsch can be defined in terms of predictability.
Kitsch is, as Harold Rosenberg puts it: “a) art that has established rules; b) art that has a predictable audience, predictable
effects, predictable rewards.”!* But literary and artistic conventions change rapidly, and yesterday’s successful banality can
lose both its appeal and meaning in the eyes of the large average
audience for which it was devised. This makes for the paradox
that older forms of kitsch (as expressions of bad taste) may still
be enjoyed, but only by the sophisticated: what was originally
meant to be “popular” becomes the amusement of the few. Old
kitsch may stimulate the ironical consciousness of the refined or
of those who pretend to be refined. This is possibly an explanation of the attempt to redeem the outrageously affected and artificial kitsch of la Belle Epoque in what is called “Camp” in today’s America. Concerning literature, we can mention the interest in older forms of bad writing. Thus, for instance, in his
already mentioned essay on “Kitsch,” Gilbert Highet professes a
high admiration (evidently ironical) for the poetic gems of the
nineteenth-century Scottish poet, William McGonagall, whom he
considers, quoting from the Times Literary Supplement, ‘‘the only
truly memorable bad poet in our language.” Along the same lines
is the Wyndham Lewis and C. Lee anthology, The Stuffed Owl:
an Anthology of Bad Verse (London, 1930), and, more recently,
Walther Killy’s essay on literary kitsch, supplemented with numerous examples anthologized according to thematic criteria.‘? It
is clear that such books are not meant for mass consumption but
for the intellectual amusement of a literary elite.
If we think of kitsch in terms of bad taste, we arrive at
another paradox, much deeper and more puzzling than the one
pointed out above: namely, the possibility of consciously using
bad taste (i.e., kitsch) in order to subvert the conventions of a
“good taste” which eventually leads to academicism. Baudelaire,
who is often regarded as a precursor of avant-gardism, had such
a possibility in mind when he wrote, in Fusées, about the intoxicating effect of bad taste, derived from “the aristocratic pleasure
of displeasing.” Avant-garde movements have often indulged in
such kinds of pleasure, satisfying their antiartistic urge by outrageously using a great number of kitsch elements, both in literature and the arts.'* Even if we accept Clement Greenberg’s view
that avant-gardism is radically opposed to kitsch, we have to introduce the important nuance that the avant-garde often resorts
to kitsch for aesthetically subversive and ironical purposes.!®
The way Marcel Duchamp treated a photographic reproduction
of the Mona Lisa, completing it with moustaches, goatee and the
apparently strange inscription “L.H.O.0.Q.”
(pronounced in
French, these mysterious letters result in the impudent remark:
“Elle a chaud au cul”) is well known and remains highly significant.
II. Turning now to the relationship between kitsch and cultural industrialization, we note that almost all those who have
written on the subject agree that mass diffusion of art through
the diverse media—radio, TV, large scale reproduction, records,
cheap magazines and paperbacks sold in supermarkets, etc.—is a
substantial factor in the “kitschification” of contemporary culture. This can be so even when the initial elements used (masterpieces of painting or of sculpture, novels turned into film-scripts)
are decidedly not kitsch.
It is evident that, psychologically, the mass media induce a
state of passivity in the typical onlooker: one simply turns on
the TV and is flooded with an indefinite number of technically
“predigested” images (which do not require any effort to understand). And, as we shall see, passivity, combined with superficiality, are important pre-requisites of that state of mind which
fosters kitsch.
According to Dorfles, the mass media are almost exclusively
designed for a hedonistic use of spare time: “All trace of a
‘rite’ in the handing out of cultural and aesthetic nourishment
by the mass media .
element has brought
he is faced with the
festations which are
. . has been lost, and this lack of the ritual
about an indifference in the onlooker when
different kinds of transmissions and maniforced upon him.’’?°
The media, Macdonald points out, contribute directly to the
advent of a perfectly “homogenized culture.” This process of
homogenization is reflected in that distinctions of age, intellectual
and social status tend to become irrelevant. A largely unified
audience has emerged, whose tastes and emotional needs are
skillfully manipulated by the technicians of mass culture. This
situation has been aptly described by Macdonald as a “merging
of the child and grown-up audience,” meaning: “(1) infantile
regression of the latter, who, unable to cope with the strains and
complexities of modern life, escape via kitsch (which in turn, confirms and enhances their infantilism) ; (2) ‘overstimulation’ of
the former, who grow up too fast.’”*! Let me add that the type
of artistic experience provided by the media becomes eventually
a norm for all artistic experience in the eyes of the hedonistically
conditioned consumer of our time. Literature is also supposed
to fit into that pattern, so that gifted writers, in order not to
lose their readers, resort to pop techniques and try to become
best-selling authors.
From an anti-elitist point of view this is a happy thing. A
critic like Leslie Fiedler, who has become recently impatient
“with all distinctions of kind created on the analogy of classstructured society,” is candidly proud of his growing interest in
“the kind of books no one has ever congratulated himself of being
able to read: books which join together all possible audiences,
children and adults, women and men, the sophisticated and the
naive. ... I am convinced that criticism at the moment can no
longer condescend to popular literature. ...”** This is a way of
underlining the “revolutionary” virtues of kitsch, i.e. of bad
taste, if we assume that taste is a privilege of the upper classes.
The ironic justification of camp (which remains undoubtedly
elitist) is replaced in the case of “populist” enjoyment of kitsch
by a feeling, probably spurious, of generous communion with the
people, a feeling which may help the radicalized intellectual get
rid of social guilt complexes. But to consider the world of pop
culture free from any association with the class-structured society, besides being naive, does neither change the predominantly
kitsch nature of pop, nor does it reduce the heavy dependence
of pop on the contemporary consumer’s civilization with its
culture industry. This specialized industry not only adapts itself
to fluctuating demands but is able to predict and to some extent
to create new fads: from its point of view deviance, nonconformism and radicalism can be readily transformed into market-
able items of consumption.
The tendency toward massification affects all the arts, but
- more directly the visual arts and music. All mechanical reproduction of paintings and sculptures in quantities limited only by
market demand definitely makes for kitsch. I will not discuss
here the degree to which uniqueness accounts for the aesthetic
value of a painting or sculpture. Nor will I argue about the
imperfect quality of reproductions. We can assume that some day
perfection or near-perfection will be achieved in this respect.
But even then the problem of the legitimacy of large-scale reproduction will still remain. In my opinion kitsch is not the immediate and automatic result of the process of reproduction; to
determine whether an object is kitsch always involves considerations of purpose and context. A reproduction, no matter how
poor, can be used properly or misused. That is why I cannot but
disagree with Gillo Dorfles’ unilateral approach when he states
that “we must regard all reproductions of unique works which
were conceived as unrepeatable as equivalent of real forgeries.’’?*
I think, for instance, that there is nothing kitschy about the use
of a reproduction of the Mona Lisa (perhaps the painting most
overworked by kitsch) in a study of art history; likewise, it would
be improper to speak of kitsch in connection with a Mona Lisa
slide projected for demonstrative purposes in an art history class.
But the same image reproduced on a plate, a table cloth, a towel
or an eye-glass case will be unmistakably kitsch. A number of
excellent reproductions of the same painting put beside each
other in a shop window will have a kitsch effect because they
suggest availability in commercial quantities. The mere consciousness of the industrial multiplication of an art object for
purely commercial reasons can kitschify its image.
The problem of music is even more complex. I do not intend
to discuss musical kitsch at the level of composition (kitsch may
be found even in great composers: for instance, Hermann Broch
considers Wagner’s music an example of high kitsch) ; nor will I
touch upon the question of kitsch at the level of interpretation
(it is obvious that a conductor can kitschify a musical work in
order to please an average and musically uneducated audience) ;
the point of focus here will be exclusively the kitsch resulting
from the production and use of musical records and tapes. To
simplify the matter I will refer only to classical music. Leaving
aside technical considerations (recording always falsifies to some
extent the live performance), we note that the simple fact that
recordings of great works are everywhere for sale creates the
possibility of misusing music. We are again faced with the problem of the lack of any “rite,” no matter how profane. The facility
of getting a record is to be coupled with the possibility of playing
it without actually listening to it. One can put on a record or turn
on the radio only to create a “musical background” while performing other activities: reading the newspaper, eating, drinking, chattering with friends, etc. Evidently, some works will be
less well suited for such use. This will be reflected in the decrease of the demand. Even in the domain of classical music the
record production is determined mainly by listeners who have
little musical education and who buy music that gives them the
illusion of easy, effortless access, satisfying at the same time their
cultural pretensions. Quality standards are still maintained, but
mainly due to the statistical relevance of a beneficial social
The world of mass consumption and mass culture is largely
a world of kitsch. But to be too pessimistic about this is to indulge in a deeper and more dangerous form of kitsch. If we
admit that kitsch is the “normal” art of our time, we have to
recognize that it is the obligatory starting point of any aesthetic
experience. As a starting point kitsch offers an extremely vast
and diverse amount of pedagogical possibilities (among which
one of the most important is precisely the revolt against kitsch).
Why should we then not accept the apparent paradox proposed
by Abraham Moles, namely, that the simplest and most natural
way toward “good taste” passes through “bad taste”? Moles
writes specifically: “The pedagogical function of kitsch has been
generally neglected because of the innumerable bad connotations
of the term and also because of the instinctive tendency of writers on this subject to overrate their own aesthetic judgement.
In a bourgeois society, and generally in a meritocratic one, the
passage through kitsch is the normal passage in order to reach
the genuine. . . Kitsch is pleasurable to the members of mass
society, and through pleasure, allows them to attain the level of
higher exigencies and to pass from sentimentality to sensation.
The relationship between kitsch and art is therefore particularly
ambiguous. .. Kitsch is essentially an aesthetic system of mass
Such an approach is somewhat reassuring,
especially when we consider it in the context of the dark, Cas-
sandra-like predictions of most students of kitsch. There is really
no need for alarm.
Certainly, this does not mean that kitsch in
itself is good and that its expansion in the modern
thing for which we should congratulate ourselves.
world is a
III. As I have pointed out earlier, the phenomenon of kitsch
cannot be adequately understood if the role of the consumer of
fake art is disregarded. This requires us to discuss the intricate
problem of what has been called the “kitsch-man.”
We note that
authors with widely different backgrounds like Hermann Broch,
Ludwig Giesz (a representative of phenomenology), Gillo Dorfles
(an aesthetician and art critic), Richard Egenter (a Roman
Catholic theologian) and others have devoted much attention to
the concept of the “kitsch-man.” A kitsch-man, to put it bluntly,
is one who tends to experience as kitsch even non-kitsch works
or, more generally, situations. In the tourist’s role, for instance,
the kitsch-man will “kitschify” not only cultural monuments but
also natural landscapes (Harold Rosenberg is right when he remarks that the Rocky Mountains are kitsch). What is characteristic of the kitsch-man is his hedonistically inadequate idea of
what is artistic or beautiful. For reasons that can be analyzed in
historical, sociological and cultural terms, the kitsch-man wants
to fill his spare time with maximum excitement in exchange for
minimum effort. For him the ideal is effortless enjoyment.
The notion of a kitsch-man becomes clearer if we think of
him not only in aesthetic but also in ethical terms. This combined
approach, whatever its theoretical difficulties, is almost unavoidable because the aesthetic attitudes of the kitsch-man—and
of the kitsch-artist as well—imply a basic moral ineptitude.
Hermann Broch makes a valid point: “The kitsch system requires its followers to ‘work beautifully,’ while the art system
issues the moral order: ‘Work well!’ Kitsch is the element of evil
in the value system of art.’”’?®
This element of evil can be identified in the fundamental
characteristic of kitsch, that of lying (for the equation kitsch —
“aesthetic lie’ see Umberto Eco’s essay, “La struttura del cattivo
gusto.”?*). Such an approach raises the question of intention.
In most cases the liar has the intent to deceive (whatever his
ultimate purpose), but there are liars who can and do persuade
themselves that what they say is or at least might be true. The
kitsch-artist may not have the conscious or explicit intention to
produce kitsch, although he comes close to it when he thinks of
his work not so much in terms of its inner validity (Broch’s
ethical injunction: “Work well!’’) as in terms of its appeal to a
wide category of consumers and, therefore, of its economic success. The kitsch-artist applies the rules of “beauty” in the same
manner in which the ordinary liar applies the rules of credibility.
Finally, whether he is able to persuade himself or not that what he
produces is good or honest art is completely irrelevant. There is
no need now to deal at length with the problem of the morality or
immorality of lying. There are, obviously, well intended lies.
There are liars who mislead in order to protect.
in order to please.
Others mislead
If, directly or indirectly, the promotion
self-interest is very often the reason for lying, we should not
forget that, at a higher level, lying is closely related to irony.
The ironist can pretend that he is incognizant of what he knows
(the simulation of ignorance is the key to Socratic irony); he
can feign that he likes what he actually hates, that he admires
what he despises, that he believes when in reality he is totally
disbelieving. It is noteworthy that, especially in its most obvious
forms, kitsch lends itself to ironical treatment. That explains
the appeal of kitsch to some of the most outstanding representatives of avant-garde negativism. That also explains the birth
of camp sensibility—in this case irony being little more than a
distinguished pretext for the enjoyment of kitsch at its worst.
To offer an analogy, the kitsch-artist lies aesthetically much
like a cheap “seducer” in ordinary life. He exploits (with a
variable degree of skill) the weakest points and easiest illusions
of his “victims.”’ But one should not forget that these ‘“‘victims”
themselves—suffering from a contemporary variant of Bovarysme—are perfectly willing to be deceived. The temptation to believe the “aesthetic lies” of kitsch (offering an escape from dry
truth and unpleasant reality) is a sign of either undeveloped or
largely atrophied critical sense. Mental passivity and spiritual
laziness characterize the amazingly undemanding consumer of
kitsch. Theologically, then, Richard Egenter may be right when
he identifies kitsch as the sin of “cloth.”
For the receiver of the
artistic message, Egenter thinks, there is almost always “an
opening for sloth and mere pleasure seeking, which becomes dishonest when the pretext of an aesthetic response is maintained. ...
For from both artist and beholder, art . . . demands effort and
seriousness; when this is not made, artistic activity becomes a
flight from reality. It can become not only a bogus reflection of
reality but an opening for the devil. Satan can present himself
as an angel of light more strikingly, and much more easily, in
an artistic symbol than in a scientific concept.’”’?* Let us observe,
however, that earnest effort and seriousness are not guarantees
against kitsch (the opposite is frequently true), and waggishness,
irony and self-irony can often have a salutary value. Historically
speaking, the modern reaction against Romanticism has more
than once taken the extreme
of levity and unseriousness,
recasting in a new mold the conception of art as play. Some fine
modernist poetry (e.e. cummings is a suggestive example) has
resulted precisely from such a stance. At all events, effort and
seriousness by themselves cannot offer a key to the problem.
This is all the more so if we realize that seriousness is not too
difficult to counterfeit. Real playfulness is certainly less easy to
imitate, and that would explain why most kitsch (especially of the
cheap elementary type) is overly sentimental and grave and very
rarely attempts at effects of humorous lightheartedness.
finally, is kitsch?
is unfortunately
no single
definition that is entirely satisfactory. However, combining the
historical approach (kitsch results from Romanticism), the
sociological approach (kitsch is closely linked to modern industrialism and to increasing leisure in society), and the aestheticmoral approach (kitsch is false art, the production on a smaller
or larger scale of various forms of “aesthetic lies”), we can come
close to an understanding of the phenomenon. Kitsch, we may
conclude, is a product of modernity, closely linked to the appearance and growth of aesthetic consumerism. Essential to the
recognition or identification of kitsch is a sense of ready availa-
bility in quantities limited only by the existing demand.
is produced for the market and, cheaper or more expensive, it
is entirely subordinated to the laws of the market. Crowd-pleasing, and often devised precisely for mass consumption, kitsch is
meant to offer quick satisfaction of the most superficial aesthetic
and pseudo-aesthetic needs or whims of a wide public whose ideal
life-style is that of the middle class. Basically the world of kitsch
is the world of aesthetic make-believe. The largely accepted definition of kitsch as bad taste (a definition which has often been
used even in this essay, explicitly and implicitly), remains too
vague. That is why we have tried to work out a parallel definition of kitsch in terms of aesthetic deceit and self-deceit. This
raises a series of moral issues (we have in mind, of course, an
aesthetic morality) which are well summarized in Hermann
Broch’s conception of kitsch as “the element of evil in the value
system of art.” But, as earlier indicated, the dangers of kitsch
should not be exaggerated. Offering “duplicates” of almost every
known art form, kitsch suggests (sometimes with more accuracy
than we would like to believe) the way toward the originals. The
“pedagogy” of kitsch is, needless to say, negative and involuntary. In an unexpected manner, this aspect of kitsch illustrates
the old comic motif of the deceived deceiver.
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana
1Hilton Kramer, “New Art of the 70’s in Chicago: Visual Bluster and
Camp Sensibility,” in the New York Times
(Sunday, July 14, 1974), Section
2, p. 19.
2For a discussion .of these and other assumptions
regarding the origin
of kitsch and its diverse shades of meaning, see Manfred Durzak’s essay
:“Der Kitsch—seine verschiedenen Aspekte” in Der Deutschunterricht, 19,
1967, 1, pp. 95-97; also, Jochen Schulte-Sasse, Die Kritik an der Trivialliteratur seit der Aufklérung (Munich: Fink Verlag, 1971), pp. 136-138. For
a general
bibliography of scholarship
der dsthetischen Wertung:
on kitsch, see H.
Bibliographie der
Schuling, Zur
iiber den Kitsch (Giessen, 1971).
3“Kitsch,” in A Clerk of Oxenford (New York: Oxford Univ. Press,
1954), p. 211.
4This distinction was worked out in Germany, in the late 1940’s and
elaborated upon by, among others, H. E. Holthusen in “Uber den sauren
Kitsch,” in his Ja wnd Nein (Munich: Piper Verlag 1954), pp. 240-248.
5“Notes on the Problem of Kitsch,” in Gillo Dorfles, Kitsch, the World
of Bad Taste. (New York: Universe Books, 1969), p. 62.
“Tbid., p. 73.
7Intervention at the Symposium “The Comparative Method:
and the Study of Literature,”
in the Yearbook
of Comparative
and General Literature, 23, 1974, p.-18.
*Asthetische Theorie (Frankfurt/Main, 1970), pp. 355 ff.
‘Cf. “Kulturindustrie, Aufklirung als Massenbetrug,” in Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklérung (Frankfurt/
Main: Fischer Verlag, 1969), pp. 128-176. The book has been translated
into English by John Cumming—Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York:
Herder and Herder, 1972).
10“On Popular Music,” in Studies in Philosophy and Social Science,
9/1941, p. 38. Similar ideas are developed by Horkheimer in the essay
“Art and Mass
Culture,” -originally published in the same issue of
Studies ... Horkheimer insists on the specifically false content of popular
art: “The opposition of individual and society, and of private and social
existence, which gave seriousness to the pastime of art, has become obsolete.
The so-called entertainments which have taken over the heritage of art are
today nothing but popular tonics, like swimming or football. Popularity no
longer has anything to do with the specific content or! the truth of artistic
productions. In the democratic countries the final decision no longer rests
with the educated but with the amusement industry.... For the totalitarian
countries, the final decision rests with the managers of direct and indirect
propaganda, which by its nature is indifferent to truth. Competition of
artists in the free market, a competition in which success was determined
by the educated, has become a race for the favor of the powers-that-be. .. .”
Quoted from M. Horkheimer,
Critical Theory, tr. by M. J. O’Connell
York: Herder and Herder, 1972), pp. 289-290.
11“Qn Popular Music,” ibid.
12“A Theory of Mass Culture,” in L. Fiedler, ed., The Art of the Essay
(New York: Crowell, 1958), p. 264. This essay, originally published in
Diogenes (Summer, 1953) was revised and enlarged as “Masscult and
Midcult”—see Against the American Grain (New York: Random House,
pp. 3-79.
I still prefer
the earlier version
greater impact.
13 Abraham A. Moles, Le kitsch: Vart di bonheur
its directness
(Paris: Mame, 1971).
14“A Theory of Mass Culture,” p. 264.
15 Moles, pp. 29-36.
16“Pop Culture: Kitsch Criticism” in The Tradition of the New, 2nd ed.
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), p. 266.
17 Deutscher Kitsch. Ein Versuch mit
hoeck & Ruprecht, 1962).
i8For a more detailed discussion of the deliberate use of kitsch by the
avant-garde, see the “Conclusion” of Dorfles’ Kitsch, pp. 291 ff.; see also
de Campos, “Vanguarda e kitsch” in A arte no horizonte
provdvel, 2nd ed. (Sao Paulo: Editéra Perspectiva, 1972), pp. 193-201.
19Greenberg’s “Avant-garde and Kitsch,” originally published in Partisan Review, VI, 5 (Fall 1939), is collected in his Art and Culture (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1965), pp. 3-21.
2° Dorfles, p. 30.
21“A Theory of Mass Culture,” p. 271.
22The Collected Essays of Leslie Fiedler (New York: Stein and Day,
1971), Vol. II, p. 404.
2 °Dorfles, p. 30.
24 Moles, p. 74.
2 5Dorfles, p. 63.
-6In Apocalittici e Integrati (Milan: Bompiani, 1965), pp. 67-132.
*7The Desecration of Christ, Engl. version of Kitsch und Christenleben
Franciscan Herald Press, 1967), p. 75.
Two meetings at the December gathering of the Modern
Language Association of America in New York are of special
CLIO interest. Both will be chaired by members of our editorial
Andrew McLean, chairman of the Literature and Science
Division, (formerly General Topics VII), announces the program “The Elizabethan World Picture Reconsidered.”
reconsiderations will focus on the poetics of the Elizabethan
World Picture (Leonard Barkan, Northwestern Univ.), on
synchrony and diachrony in the Elizabethan World Picture
(Herbert De Ley, Univ. of Illinois), and on the complexion of
Elizabethan science (Linda R. Robertson, Univ. of Oregon).
There will be ample time for audience reaction and discussion.
Robert Canary will chair this year’s version of the Literature and History seminar which CLIO has sponsored for several
years. The subject will be the theory and methodology of literary
criticism of historical writings, and the papers to be discussed
will include essays on Trotsky, Carlyle, Michelet, and others.
All papers will be distributed in advance, so as to allow time for
Copies can be secured by writing the chairman,
c/o the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
Time and place of these meetings will be announced
Fall MLA program.
in the
CLIO VI:1 1976
Cushing Strout
Erich Auerbach, in his account of the representation of
reality in Western literature, finds an anticipation of modern
literary realism in the Bible stories. ““When Stendhal and Balzac
took random individuals from daily life in their dependence upon
current historical circumstances and made them the subjects
of serious, problematic, and even tragic representation,” he
argued, they were doing in a modern way what the Biblical
stories do: portraying ordinary people “caught in a universal
movement of the depths which at first remains almost entirely
below the surface and only very gradually . . . emerges into the
foreground of history, but which even now, from the beginning,
lays claim to being limitless and the direct concern of everybody.”
Biblical characters live in an identifiably localized world, shaken
in its foundations and “transforming and renewing itself before
our eyes.””!
Auerbach’s Mimesis scrupulously recognizes as well, however, that the Christian view of reality “differs completely from
that of modern realism” in so far as it insists on a “figural” or
“typical” way of connecting events, not causally but as signs that
promise and fulfill each other. This mode can be established
“only if both occurrences are vertically linked to a Divine Providence, which alone is able to devise such a plan of history and
supply the key to its understanding.” The here and now thus
becomes “simultaneously something which has always been, and
which will be fulfilled in the future; and strictly, in the eyes of
God, it is something eternal, something omni-temporal, something already consummated in the realm of fragmentary earthly
event.”? In this sense the medieval view is not only anti-classical
but also anti-modern.
In Auerbach’s judgment the French Revolution first fostered
the modern consciousness of society being made and unmade
through convulsive processes of history. In the nineteenth century the emergence of socialism reinforced this awareness and
sponsored a secular theory of history as an evolving process of
stages in development. Yet by the end of the century social
theorists in France’s Third Republic had discovered structural
similarities between Christianity and Socialism, analogies which
could be underlined either from a conservative or a radical point
of view. Whether because of the erosion of Christian civilization,
according to the disapproving Gustave Le Bon, or because of
having a common source in the “peculiar dynamic character of
western civilization, obsessed by the desire for change and haunted by the notion of the infinite,” according to the approving
Henry de Man, the psychology of socialism was explained as an
expression of an essentially religious spirit.*
Modern scholars have tended to use the concept of displacement in accounting for secular religions. Freud used the term
to describe the unconscious transfer of an emotion to a substitute
object, masking the real locus of concern; it is one of the devious
ways in which the troubled ego seeks to relieve itself of the burden of conflicting feelings. Useful as the concept is in individual
psychology, it does not provide a historical explanation for the
social process nurturing political religions. For this reason the
pursuit of analogies may not tell us very much about how and
why in a particular situation religious feelings and attitudes have
been carried over into non-religious beliefs. The danger in such
efforts is to minimize the extent to which new points of view
establish real discontinuities with earlier outlooks and have influential effects because of these differences. Even so, calling
attention to similarities is a valuable reminder of how influential
Biblical categories have been on the imaginations of Western
writers, Jewish and Christian. This point is itself a historical
one—and easily missed by readers no longer familiar with the
Bible. Finding anticipations, as Auerbach did, poses the same
kind of dangers as finding displacements, but either strategy is
illuminating so long as distinctions are not forgotten.
The linkage between the Biblical idea of a movement in history and modern consciousness of social conflicts and change is
found best in novels that grasp the dynamism of millennialistic
and apocalyptic ideas. These categories may appear in stories
that lay claim to the label “realism” because they explore the
relations of individuals to the workings of a social system. A
prime candidate in nineteenth-century American literature is
Uncle Tom’s Cabin with its ambiguous pairing of a hopeful
millennial vision of changed hearts ending slavery, on the one
hand, and an anxious fear, on the other hand, that a legalistic
hardening of hearts may bring apocalyptic vengeance on a sinful
nation. Mrs. Stowe’s eschatological vision was split, however,
between the private, Christian, nonviolent resignation of Uncle
Tom and the political hopes of Eliza’s husband for a Christian
republic in Liberia. Ultimately, for all its impressive exploration of the system of slavery, the novel emotionally comes down
in favor of the sentimental hope of a loving, sacrificing family
as the remedy for the race problem, and in this respect it is more
evangelically Victorian than Biblical or modern.‘ Mrs. Stowe
later organized a story around a militant slave rebel, modelled
on the same Nat Turner whom William Styron over a hundred
years later made the messianic hero of doomed revolt, although
in Dred her Mosaic leader of the black Israelites is, as a character,
too much reduced to a bombastic symbol of vengeful “monomania”
and none of her other characters have any real relation to him.
Auerbach was interested in the Bible stories for their elements of incipient literary realism. To reverse his strategy would
be to look for Biblical elements of historical consciousness in
modern writers of realism. One might expect to find a luminous
example in the founding father of American realism, William
Dean Howells, because he was inspired by the Christian socialism
of Edward Bellamy, Tolstoy, and William D. P. Bliss’s Church
of the Carpenter in Boston. Howells in A Hazard of New
Fortunes (1890) did dramatize a violent strike in which his protagonist, a magazine editor, sees in the accidental death of a
capitalist’s son, a pacifistic settlement worker, an emblem of the
principle of Christ-like suffering for the sins of others. Yet the
editor rejects the strikers’ actions and, in reflecting on the
capitalist’s grief, concludes that penitence is the way to keep evil
at bay and to restore “the order of loving kindness, which our
passion or our wilfulness has disturbed.” This resigned acceptance of the workers’ social defeat belies Howells’s later prefatorial recollection of 1909 that when he wrote the novel “the
solution of the riddle of the painful earth through the dreams
of Henry George, through the dreams of Edward Bellamy,
through the dreams of all the generous visionaries of the past,
seemed not impossibly far off.”* The novel entirely lacks the
millennial passion of Bellamy’s Looking Backward and reflects
more accurately Howells’s own stoical coming to terms with the
private tragedy of his daughter’s death during the composition
of his story. Strong as it is in presenting a variety of socially
located persons with differing ideologies and values, the novel
is weakest in its sentimental and sketchy portrayal of the two
social ~ .rkers who have to do duty as futile, pale symbols of
nonviolent Christian anarchism.
After the turn of the century political reform and literary
realism flourished together. American writers were reporters
before they were novelists, and the investigative journalism of
the “muckrakers” popularized stories about the real workings of
social, economic, and political processes and morally evaluated
them in terms of the shameful failure of moral and political
ideals. The most influential and talented of these journalists,
Lincoln Steffens, linked together idealism and realism in his own
flamboyant way, but the combination of them was characteristic
of the muckrakers. Grandson of a Methodist preacher, Steffens
wore a gold cross on his watchchain and dramatized his mediator’s role in the McNamara bombing case of 1911 as the intervention of a true Christian who changed the issue from the guilt or
innocence of the bombers to one of merciful accommodation in
the interest of better labor-capital relations in the future. Persuading the employers to his view, but not the churches or the
court, Steffens was confirmed in his belief that only a vision of
the future could make men decent and that “sinners” rather than
the “righteous” were the only ones capable of responding to its
appeal in good will. When he enthusiastically hailed the Russian
Revolution in The Nation a year after Lenin came to power, the
muckraker wrote under the pseudonym “Christian,” John Bunyan’s Pilgrim: “The revolution in Russia is to establish the
Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, now; in order that Christ may
come soon; and coming, reign forever.”’
His Autobiography
(1931), however, is cleverly constructed so as also to illustrate
and develop the theme that “a new culture, an economic, scientific, not a moral, culture,” was fortunately emerging in the Soviet
Union as the wave of the future. Steffens’ Christian social gospel
without God was matched by a pseudo-scientific historicism that
admired both Mussolini and Lenin as men of action who were
supposedly empirically studying “the workings of elemental
forces, and they hitch their wagons to these—not to stars, but to
historically discovered and experimentally proved going concerns,” which they “prophesy and steer by” instead of judging
men and events. Steffens finally explained American corruption,
which he had once called “the shame of the cities,” in non-moral
terms as being merely “evidences of friction in the process of
pouring new wine into the narrow necks of old bottles,”*® making
over an agricultural people into an industrial one. Steffens moved
easily from a secularized Christian Socialism to a “scientific”
historicism because both positions enabled him to criticize either
conservative or liberal American attitudes.
A mixture of “tender-minded” idealism and “tough-minded”
realism in both politics and literature was characteristic of Ernest
Poole, muckraker, settlement house worker, and member of the
Socialist Party. His political novel The Harbor (1915) converted syndicalist politics into an implicit, covert millennialism,
couched in revivalist rhetoric, and presented overtly as the new
realism in literature. Naive and didactic in style, The Harbor
was a popular success and a monument to the radical populistic
hopes of the Progressive era before they were shattered by the
first World War. For its hero Billy, the harbor he sees from
Brooklyn Heights is not the quiet, safe haven idealized in a
preacher’s rhetoric. It is instead a harsh reality principle, introducing him to all those aspects of life left out of his mother’s
genteel and pious world: prostitutes, immigrants, class conflict.
It is also the world of his father’s warehouse, the big companies
of his girl friend’s father, and the scene of the dockyard workers’
strike. Each of these dimensions of the Brooklyn harbor is a
stage in the growth of the narrator, defining also the movement
of history from the mercantile dreams of his father to his fatherin-law’s vision of big business efficiency and planning, and culminating in the syndicalist politics of Billy’s college friend, Joe
Kramer, who was modelled on an I.W.W. organizer.
The novel blends this periodizing scheme with a psychological
theme of the narrator’s troubled efforts to reconcile the idealism
of his mother and the tough-mindedness of his father. For the
journalist hero the reality principle is always intrusively harsh,
seamy, and prosy, whether in his father’s business, the syndicalist’s activist contempt for creeds, the past, and art, or the grim
conditions of the workers in the stoke-holes of ocean liners. The
resolution of this conflict of legacies lies in Billy’s growing identification with a vision of “a world for all the workers,” a dream
in which hope and realism are allegedly fused. This synthesis
also defines his emergence from the gentility of his mother’s
culture into a career in muckraking journalism and the ambition
of writing a realistic autobiographical novel, detailing the major
changes in his ideals, the very story Poole’s readers followed in
The Harbor.
The Harbor is best understood as a conversion novel in which
the narrator tells a story that reflects a slowly achieved orientation tow..rds the meaning of his own life and the history of which
he is a part, an outlook formed through the failure of a series of
false idols. In this light the syndicalist figure of Joe Kramer
functions as a prophet, constantly intervening to tutor the narrator in the right perspective on reality and the meaning of the
future. Billy struggles against Kramer’s censure as he takes up
each new idol, but the prophet always arouses Billy’s guilt by accusing him of complacency or tender-mindedness. The religious
paradigm becomes even more apparent in the climactic dock
strike. At first the strike is not the “miracle” Billy hoped for of
organized mass action but only “mobs of angry men.” The harbor, he thinks, “held no miracles.” Yet soon he witnesses the
birth of “the great spirit of the crowd.” The ensuing description
of the strikers’ meeting turns it into a camp meeting when a
stenographer vocally joins the cause, her life thereafter becoming “as utterly changed as though she had jumped into another
Whenever he is emotionally identified with the crowd, Billy
sees the world in millennialistic terms: “And again the vision
came to me, the dream of a weary world set free, a world where
poverty and pain and all the bitterness they bring might in the
end be swept away by this awakening giant here—which day by
day assumed for me a personality of its own.” Striving to feel
multitudes “fuse together into one great being,” he encounters
another god, who is great enough to swallow up in the conflicts
of labor all the other wars. Jailed in the strike, Billy overcomes
his doubts and feels himself belonging to “the crowd” with “a
deep, warm certainty.”'°
Billy confesses that he lacks the
syndicalist’s belief in the imminence of a general strike, and he
has a wife and child to support by writing for conventional magazines.
his primary
is to write
a novel
through his struggle with the reality-principle of the harbor, he
has gained a “deeper view of life,” that is, of the possibilities of
mass action.
Poole was forced by history to confront the actuality of the
first World War and the cruel fact that the socialists in Europe
“had been swept on with the rest.” But his political religion was
immune to countervailing evidence because of the non-rational
power of his millennialist faith.
The new god was only sleeping
to gain new strength, Billy concludes, and he sees again “in
gleams and flashes” the world for all the workers as “‘the vision
of the end.”
Though he accuses Kramer of being tied to a stiff
Syndicalist creed as much as the reporter-novelist is to a wife and
home, the narrator still identifies with the mystical community
of “the crowd’; he feels apocalyptically that “all the changes in
the world seemed gathering in a cyclone now.” He finally envisages Kramer sailing to Europe with his revolutionary gospel,
and he hears the horn of the ship bellowing the end of “little
creeds and gods.” But in Poole’s view of reality its message
blends shock and “a dazzling passion of hope.” The war
not enough to dissuade him from believing that it might be
that “the time was near when this last and mightiest of the
would rise and take the world in his hands.”!! The political
religion that dominates the construction and the language of the
novel at its critical moments testifies to his secular version of a
millennial faith.
The religious dimension of secular politics became most
vividly evident in the 1930’s. It found its roots in the despair
over the worth of Western democracies, as they floundered into
a world depression, and in the totalistic form of social hope that
was promised by the Communist Party. Communists seemed to
present an image of courageous disciplined action justified by a
rigorous philosophy of history. Whereas the rebels of Poole’s
generation treasured freedom of thought and speech, Communists
guarded orthodoxy. “I belonged to a political party resembling
a religious order,” the German Communist Gustav Regler later
observed, “in which acceptance and obedience, not speculation,
were the first and last requirement. The intellectuals in particular were made to understand that only their talents were required of them, not their thoughts. We were all under the spell
of the Russian code, which, discarding the substance of religion,
the more rigorously applied its form.”!?
Even those immune to the lure of the Party could feel in the
1930’s that they were part of a dynamic historical movement that
defined the emerging meaning of individual and collective life.
The literary critic Alfred Kazin has defined this mood with retrospective eloquence:
History was going our way, and in our need was the very lifeblood of history. Everything in the outside world seemed to be
moving toward some final decision, for by now the Spanish
Civil War
had begun, and every day choked
was if the planet had locked in combat. In the same way that
unrest and unemployment, the political struggles inside the New
Deal, suddenly became part of the single pattern of struggle
in Europe against France and his allies Hitler and Mussolini, so I
sensed that I could become a writer without giving up my people.
The unmistakable and surging march of history might yet pass
through me. There seemed to be no division between my effort
at personal liberation and the apparent effort of humanity to
deliver itself. Reading Silone and Malraux, discovering the Beethoven string quartets and having love affairs were part of the
great pattern in Spain, in Nazi concentration camps, in Fontamara and in the Valley of the Ebro, in the Salinas Valley of
California that Steinbeck was describing with love for the op-
pressed, in the boilers of Chinese locomotives where Chiang Kaishek was burning the brave and sacrificial militants of the
I went
now, I felt the moral
contagion of a single idea.” 13
The American novel of the 1930’s that best captures the idea
of political religion in the decade is John Steinbeck’s In Dubious
Battle, published in 1936 when the Popular Front and the Spanish
Civil War began to enthrall the emotions of so many intellectuals.
Steinbeck was no Party member, and his behavioristic intellectual
perspective in the novel reflects much more of his friendship
with a marine biologist than it does the dialectics of Marxism,
despite the fact that the story is about a Communist-led strike
of migrant workers in California.
The Miltonic title from
Paradise Lost points, nevertheless, to the religious dimension of
the struggle which participants on both sides see as God and the
Devil, contending ‘on the plains of Heaven.” The distinction of
Steinbeck’s precisely worked out story is that instead of making
rhetorical or polemical appeals it engages the reader in a troubling analysis of the difficulties inherent in the Party leaders’
strategy for organizing and leading the workers in a struggle
for justice. The Modern Library jacketcover, ignoring the title,
piously refers to the “heroism” of people engaged in “‘a common
cause” as the essence of the story, but it is rather the dubiety of
the conflict that is most heavily underlined by the actual course
of emplotted events. Steinbeck knew that both the communists
and their bourgeois enemies would hate his book, because he presented neither the “ideal communist” nor the “thoroughly damnable communist” but human communists capable of both weakness and strength. He thought of his “brutal book” as being all
the more so because “there is no author’s moral point of view.” '4
Certainly there is no moralizing authorial voice in it, nor does he
resolve in any “solution” the ambiguities of the actions dramatized. But the novel is not merely a neutral report either. It
clearly sympathizes with the migrants’ efforts to resist their
exploitation by the growers, while at the same time it develops
an extended religious metaphor as a way of understanding the
strengths and the weaknesses of the radical leaders.
The structure of the novel turns around a continuing dialogue
between a new member of the Party, Jim Nolan, and an old
hand, Mac, who tutors him in the Party way of looking at things.
Mac’s strategy depends upon a ruthless subordination of means
to the end of winning converts, a result that may follow from
actions which are immediately harmful to the workers.
Mac hopes for intervention by the National Guard: “The troops
win, all right!
But every time a guardsman jabs a fruit tramp
with a bayonet a thousand men all over the country come on our
side. Christ Almighty! If we can only get the troops called
out.”!> The relationship between doctrinal pupil and teacher does
not remain static, however, because the teacher is shown to be
increasingly vulnerable to human doubts about his faith, while
the pupil eventually emerges as a more certain believer than his
As the story proceeds, detailing the price of Mac’s strategy
in terms of human suffering, the leaders come under the skep-
tical questioning of Doc Burton, a sad-eyed sympathizer. Doc
expresses a quasi-clinical curiosity, without “blinders of ‘good’
and ‘bad,’ ” about the strike which he compares to a wound, a
fever, an infection that has gotten into “group-men,” who merely
use ideologies to rationalize their instinctive energies. Apart
from this pseudo-scientific skepticism, he is convinced that “the
end is never very different in its nature from the means.” Steinbeck uses overtly to the point of bluntness the contrast between
him and the Communists to point up the religious form of their
atheism. Doc notes the religious gleam in Jim’s eye and calls it
“the vision of Heaven.” When a girl invites Jim into her tent
while her man has gone, the ascetic Jim passes her by, seeing her
with his secular faith as reminiscent of the figure of Mary he
had seen in his mother’s church. In the climax Jim is shot dead
“kneeling in the position of Moslem prayer.’’!®
The other side of Doc’s sad skepticism is his loneliness. He
thinks of Jim’s new-found political faith as supplying a coherent
sense of meaning to life that biological speculations about group-
man cannot match in terms of emotional satisfaction in identifying with a cause, making “a group of men be God.” Doc, having
“nothing to hate,” pathetically feels himself to be “working all
alone, towards nothing.’’'* As a character, he seems to reflect
some of that self-defeating intellectual self-contempt that intel-
lectuals were prone to feel in the 1930’s for not being sufficiently
engaged in manning the barricades, but Doc’s lament does not
make him (as it did many others) vulnerable to the temptation
to rationalize the brutalities of the Party. “We cast off our intellectual baggage like passengers on a ship seized by panic,”
Koestler later wrote of Party intellectuals, “until it became reduced to the strictly necessary minimum of stock-phrases, dialectical cliches and Marxist quotations. . . To have shared the
doubtful privilege of a bourgeois education, to be able to see
several aspects of a problem and not only one, became a perma-
nent cause of self-reproach.
We craved to become single- and
simple-minded.”'* Doc keeps his critical mindedness, but pays
the price of the reproach.
The power of the story is that it shows us what Jim’s hate
and faith concretely mean. His certainty of belief and identification with the cause becomes increasingly impersonal, even shocking to Mac, who finds his pupil becoming “a proper son-of-abitch,” a good Party man whom everybody would hate.'® Jim
accuses Mac of letting his personal hatreds and sympathies influence his conduct because he shares Sam’s desire for revenge
against the vigilantes who have burned a man’s barn, just as he
feels sorry for the victim, instead of subordinating everything to
considerations of tactics and strategy. By the end of the strike
Jim is eager to use his own wound to spill blood for the cause
by stirring up the crowd to make them fight instead of voting
to settle the strike. When he is used that way by Mac in the last
scene, Jim is dead, a corpse with no face, his lack of individuality
highlighted by Mac’s praise: “He didn’t want nothing for himself—” This last line of the book underlines the point that Jim
has arrived at a pitch of fanaticism for which anonymity of
martyrdom is the only appropriate fulfillment. Even his death
is swallowed up by the imperatives of Communist tactics.
In the debate between Doc’s skepticism and the Communist’s
confident faith Jim’s martyrdom is problematic. He was shot
because he and Mac went out looking for the missing and wounded doctor. This errand of mercy is never justified by any tactical
considerations. In fact, Mac earlier had urged Jim to go back
to town because it would be “bad economy” to waste his “genius
for the work” in “a two-bit strike.” The wounded Jim had
angrily rejected Mac’s suggestion by accusing him of protecting
him not for the Party but for his own reasons. The reader becomes more sympathetic to Mac because his personal feelings
are not always repressed, as Jim’s increasingly are. As the course
of events unfolds, the reader comes to see with increasing clarity
that the Communist leaders are not able to plan and control
things with the far-sightedness they claim to have. When Mac
learns that the crowd’s sight of blood has enraged them to tear
down a barricade, at first he exults: “They need blood. That
works.” Then he reconsiders and begins to voice Doc’s skepticism
about group-men’s predictability. “It doesn’t want the same
things men want—it’s like Doc said—and we don’t know what
it'll do. . . Jim, it’s swell when we can use it, but we don’t
know enough. When it gets started it might do anything.”?°
Doc’s unbelief has gradually subverted Mac’s belief, while Jim’s
belief grows more inflexible all the time. When in the very last
scene Mac has propped up Jim’s bleeding corpse to dramatize a
speech to the crowd, we no longer are sure whether it is personal
bitterness or Party tactics that Mac is expressing.
Following closely the turns of the plot, the attentive reader
is inevitably plunged into a thicket of doubts. Does Mac know
when he is acting from personal as opposed to tactical considerations? Does he have any consistent view of under what circumstances it would be useful to let the crowd see blood? At one
point Mac fears that the men will be like dogs who turn around
and rend a wounded member of the pack, if Jim rips off his
bandage to excite the crowd. Is this fear only a rationalization
of his personal feeling for Jim, or has Mac become persuaded by
“It’s kind of like Doc says to me one time,” Mac cautions
Jim, “Men hate something in themselves.” Jim as a true believer
will have none of it, scorning Doc’s ideas for being as futile as he
is. Does Mac’s later turn-about in using Jim’s corpse expose
Mac’s earlier tactic as a rationalization? Or, if Doc is right,
doesn’t it make Mac’s melodramatic speech to the crowd a risky
tactic whose unpredictability may defeat its purpose? The force
of these accumulating events reinforces the dominating idea that
the strikers are indeed opposed in dubious battle on the plains of
Heaven.” The final effect is to subvert the premise that Marxism
constitutes a science of history capable of planning its course
with a confident faith. Nothing in the story refutes Doc’s charge
that Mac is a crazy mess of “cruelty and hausfrau sentimentality,
of clear vision and rose-colored glasses.’’?!
In historical retrospect, Jn Dubious Battle is a novelistic version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s point, made a few years earlier in
Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) from a Protestant perspective, that Communism was “a secularized but still essentially
religious version of the classical religious dream” of a new
earth “emerging from catastrophe.” Like Steinbeck, Niebuhr
warned that any absolutism would be “a dangerous guide in immediate and concrete situations,” but “a splendid incentive to
heroic action,” for only the “ultrarational” hopes of true believers could provide the needed energy and courage to transform
a desperately troubled society in a time of massive unemployment.?? Neither the novelist nor the theologian reconciled these
paradoxical assertions; they simply expressed them, tempted to
believe that only uncritical fanatics could act.
By the end of the Spanish Civil War and the signing of the
Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 Western intellectuals were increasingly
on guard
the Soviet
Union’s example. European writers on the civil war, such as
André Malraux, Arthur Koestler and Gustav Regler severed their
relationships with the communists.
Hemingway’s For Whom
the Bell Tolls (1940) was begun as Madrid fell to the fascists,
and it was already an elegy for a cause whose failure, derived
from inner betrayals as well as from foreign interventions and
non-interventions, meant that the bell also tolled for the Western
democracies, now weakened by the lost cause as the fascists were
strengthened by success for a second world war. Hemingway’s
liberal hero looks nostalgically backwards to his religious feeling
of “consecration to a duty toward all of the oppressed of the
world which would be as difficult and embarrassing to speak
about as religious experience,” a sense of taking “a part in something that you could believe in wholly and completely and in which
you felt an absolute brotherhood with the others who were engaged in it,” like the feeling “you expected to have and did not
have when you made your first communion.”?* But the present
time of the novel is a much more dubious and troubling moment,
symbolized by his conversations with the cynical Russian journalist Karkov at Gaylord’s hotel. Karkov’s intimations about the
political machinations of the Party against Trotskyites and anar-
chists, as well as the scathing dramatization of André Marty’s
political paranoia as bureaucratic chief of the International
Brigades, display Hemingway’s use of Gustav Regler’s inside information about the Russian operation in Spain. Hemingway
caustically portrayed, as Regler observed, “the spy-disease, that
Russian syphilis, in all its shameful, murderously stupid workings, writing with hatred of the huntsman for the poacher.”
Remembering his earlier religious feeling of political dedication,
Jordan now speculates instead on his forebodings about whether
the “dual controls” involving Russian military advisors in Spain
would be gone after the war.
Jordan does not resolve his doubts. He accepts Soviet military discipline and organization on practical grounds without any
ideological commitment to Marxism; and he concludes pragmatically from Karkov’s tutoring that “the things he had come to
know in this war were not so simple,” and “if he were going to
form judgments he would form them afterwards.” Jordan can
remind himself of his American belief in the Jeffersonian verities of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” but concretely it is his love for Maria that impresses him as being “the
most important thing that can happen to a human being.” He
characteristically imagines that sleeping with Maria has had the
salutary effect of clearing his mind of political cant, stopping
him from becoming “as bigoted and hidebound about his politics
as a hard-shelled Baptist.”” The novel dramatizes the betrayal of
the cause by Spanish failures of solidarity even within Jordan’s
partisan band, and the wounded hero’s consciousness, as he waits
alone to ambush a fascist officer, is much more engaged with his
psychological struggle to avoid repeating his father’s suicide than
it is with any solacing sense of communion with his fellow-partisans.*° Political religion in Hemingway’s novel is a nostalgic
memory of lost innocence, a pre-lapsarian faith.
The revival of religion in the 1950’s made something vital
out of the political dimension of Christian traditions only in the
millennial expectations of a promised land of full equality, as
voiced by the Baptist preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr., in leading the non-violent civil rights movement. In the next decade,
tragically scarred by the assassination of black and white leaders
and the devious conduct of a hyperbolically violent and futile
foreign policy in Southeast Asia, apocalyptic political attitudes
became widespread. Thousands of protestors concluded that the
ordinary functions of society lacked legitimacy and had become
deeply corrupt. The New Left developed a wide spectrum that
included Students for a Democratic Society, which was torn between “participatory democracy” and manipulative politicizing,
black nationalists, and Catholic pacifists, urban guerillas, and
parodic, publicity-seeking “action freaks,” like Jerry Rubin. The
war, imperialism, and racism were the common targets, but there
was no unifying ideology or program, and in practice the various
factions came together only in a confrontation-style of opposition
to “the system,” that is, officials in government or on the campus.
One of the most influential of early spokesmen against the “establishment” on behalf of the young, Paul Goodman, was later
impelled by the proliferation of opposition to characterize the
scene in 1969 as being “like 1510, when Luther went to Rome, the
eve of the Reformation.” Adolescent conversions were “recurring
as a mass phenomenon.’’?®
Looking backwards at the decade from a near vantage point,
the American novelist E. L. Doctorow explored the interconnections between an older political religion of the 1930’s and the New
Left of the 1960’s in an imaginative and powerful novel, The Book
of Daniel (1971). Doctorow found a focus for his historical meditations by reconstructing novelistically the impact of the Rosenberg espionage trial (1951) on the executed communists’ two children, both of whom, in fact as in the novel, developed their own
relationship to the New Left movements of the 1960’s. Doctorow
substituted a girl for the younger Rosenberg son, but the parents
are treated, like the material from the Popular Front era, the
Peekskill riot of 1949, the trial of the Rosenbergs, and the march
on the Pentagon in 1967, with unusual fidelity to historical actuality.
The Biblical Daniel wrote during the Maccabean Revolt as
encouragement to Jews who had been robbed of their liberties and
persecuted for their faith under Antiochus Epiphanes.
American Daniel grew up in the Cold War hysteria of the 1950’s
when his parents, alleged atomic spies, were put to death. Like
the Old Testament tale, the novel is also partly epistolary and
replete with historical theorizing. Its didactic sections are appropriate to the hero as a child of a fervent, simple-minded Popular Front Marxist, who has taught his son to become “‘a psychic
alien” by seeing the political point of everything, from comic
strips to baseball. The novel is something of a detective story at
the level of plot, and some of Daniel’s legends also have the flavor
of being ancient detective stories in which a sage upsets the
judgments of less discerning folk, as in the story of Susanna
whom the Biblical Daniel defended in court by extracting conflicting testimony from her accusers. Similarly, the protagonist
of the novel, which involves a trial for conspiracy to commit
espionage, based on dubious testimony more than on hard evidence, eventually develops his own theory of what really happened to his parents. Danny concludes that his father and his
betrayer, idealistically conspired together (to his mother’s dismay) to cover for another couple, more highly placed in the
Party, whom they believed were actually involved in espionage.
What makes this theory historically plausible is Doctorow’s perceptive awareness that the Popular Front mentality included
within its perspective not only the possibility of dedication to the
Party’s objectives but at the same time a sentimental sense of
being heir to Jefferson, Paine, Jackson, and Lincoln, and a willingness to believe, as Danny’s father did, that American justice
was a real thing, guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Out of this
optimism Danny’s father was rashly willing to gamble that the
courts would never treat them as if they were spies.
Doctorow has an acute sense of his story being about political
religion. All of his characters, major and minor, are Jews; and
his novel explores three generations of frustrated hopes. Danny’s
mother’s Communism has something
grandmother’s ghetto faith:
of his senile
It was something whose promise was so strong that you endured
much for it.... The coming of socialism would sanctify those
who had suffered. You went out and took your stand, and did
what had to be done, not because you expected anything from it,
but because someday there would be retribution and you wanted
just a little of it to bear your name. If she had been religious
like her Mama, she would have conceived this as a memorial
plaque on the back of one of the pews in the Synagogue.?7
Similarly, the lawyer for his parents “perceived in the law a
codification of the religious sense of life,” finding irrationality
a sin and witch-hunting a form of paganism. A conservative
himself, he emotionally identified with Danny’s parents during
the trial (as the Rosenberg’s lawyer did) because “Ascher understood how someone could forswear his Jewish heritage and
take for his own the perfectionist dream of heaven and earth,
and in spite of that, or perhaps because of it, still consider himself a Jew.”?® Danny’s world, like the Biblical Daniel’s, is desperate: his parents are executed when he is only a young boy,
damaging his own psychic stability; his sister, discovering that
the name of her dead parents means nothing to a new generation
of anti-intellectual, media-conscious, “action freaks,” determined
to put down oppression with “put-ons,” kills herself in despair;
and Danny is himself finally ousted from the library at Columbia
University, where he is working on his thesis, by the SDS takeover of the building. An account of the making of a Jewish
American radical, who inherits his father’s Old Left rationalism,
while uneasily joining the New Left’s anti-war march on the
Pentagon, The Book of Daniel wavers between a first and third
person narrative mode, reflecting its protagonist’s struggle to
make sense out of the terrors of his life. (The oldest son of the
Rosenbergs followed a similar path of uneasy affiliation with the
New Left: “It was not an easy transition from Old Left to New
Left,” he has recently remarked, revealing also his enjoyment of
Doctorow’s novel.) ?*®
Doctorow names the third part of his novel “Starfish” after
an obsolete astrological sign implying the unity of belief with
intellect, language with truth, life with justice, a symbol for the
millennial fulfillment of the aspirations of political religion. The
starfish is also a creature capable of regenerating lost portions of
itself, even when cut in two. It points to the regeneration of the
Isaacson family, decimated by the death of the grandmother, the
eloctrocution of the parents, and the suicide of Danny’s sister.
Danny’s honoring of his sister’s unquestioning political faith
by his own more devious emergence as a troubled radical illus-
trates the point of the symbol.
The fictional family name sug-
guests its Biblical ancestor not only because of God’s demand that
Abraham be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (as Paul Isaacson
risked his family on his Popular Front faith), but also because
Isaac’s favorite first-born son, Esau, is the one with the problem
about preserving his inheritance, rather than selling it for a mess
of pottage. Danny’s sister had charged him with selling out because he does not accept the family myth of their parents’ total
innocence. But in his own fashion he is faithful to his radical
upbringing. Danny dresses like “a cafeteria commie” of the
1930’s in blue prison jacket and dungarees, and he interpolates in
his narrative analyses from New Left “revisionist” histories of
the Cold War. His radical political understanding of the trial that
convicted his parents brings him to accuse even the reformers
and moralists who protested against the execution of his parents
of being complicit with “the system.” From a Times reporter
he first learns of the probability that, despite the biased trial,
the Isaacsons were guilty of some kind of “third-rate operation”
that made them “feel important.”
Danny’s point of view transcends the Stalinism of the 1930’s,
the anti-communism of the 1950’s, and the Yippies-anarchism of
Arnie Sternlicht’s movement to “overthrow the United States
with images.”
Danny has his father’s passion for political
analysis and can think of only one event—a balloon flight to the
North Pole in 1897—that might conceivably be “invulnerable to
radical interpretation.” Characteristically, he thinks his sister
died “of a failure of analysis.” Tracking down his parents’
seeming betrayer to Disneyland, Danny spins out a witty political
analysis of the amusement park’s sinister implications, its substitutions of thrills for education and experience, its techniques
for handling large crowds, its use of exhibits by major corporations. It is all spun off in the same spirit as his father’s didactic
penchant for political collage of the ads on cereal boxes, the history of dissent, the stereotypes of comic strips, and the public
uses of baseball—“My father always gives you more of an answer
than you bargained for.”
At the same time Danny tries not to be in thrall to his
father’s disappointed but persistent expectations for America,
his anguish over his country’s failures to preserve liberal and
democratic ideals. Danny sees his mother as “the more committed
radical” because she “wasn’t to be surprised from the day they
were indicted.” Her politics was “like Grandma’s religion—some
purchase on the future against the terrible life of the present.’’*?
At the end of the novel Danny expresses a sense of his own link
with Jewish history by hiring “little old Jewish men” who make
their living in cemeteries to say the ancient prayers not only for
his dead sister but for his parents, whose names he now puts in
Hebraic form.
In keeping with this spirit he ends his own account of his
shattering experience, sardonically entitled “A Life Submitted
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Doctoral Degree in... Arch Demonology, Eschatology, and Thermal Pollution,” with direct quotation from the Biblical Daniel. The radicals who have produced a mini-apocalypse at Columbia University claim to have “liberated” Danny, and he smiles as he closes
his book to leave the library, for “it has not been unexpected.”
The campus revolution parodies and echoes the universal apocalpyse prophesied in Daniel for the chosen people. The Biblical
apocalpyse is “a time of trouble such as never was” when the
people “shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written
in the book.” Meanwhile, however: “Go thy way Daniel: for the
words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.”**
that moment there can only be false messiahs. For Danny neither
Russia nor America can be the promised land.
Facing a world in which both communist and democratic
ideals have been betrayed, Danny lives out a Biblical theme: “The
drama of the Bible is always in the conflict of those who have
learned with those who have not learned. Or in the testing of
those who seem that they might be able to learn.’”’*‘ This is also
the literary form of the story Doctorow’s Daniel has told, and in
this sense the Biblical story of Daniel as a “Beacon of Faith in a
Time of Persecution” is a true “type” of the growth of Danny’s
political perspective. Poole’s hero learns to hope; Steinbeck’s
Mac struggles against his doubts; Doctorow’s Daniel has to
transcend his family’s radical pieties in his pursuit of the truth
and his own political identity, as an heir of the Old Left and of a
traditional Jewish search for social justice.
At the end of Mimesis Auerbach described a new form of
“experimental” realism emerging between the two world wars.
He hoped that by exploiting a multipersonal consciousness, multiple time strata, and random everyday occurrences, rather than
great turning points, the techniques of vanguard novelists would
eventually bring to light “the elementary things which our lives
have in common.” They would transcend “the controversial and
unstable orders over which men fight and despair”—and about
which older realists wrote novels—by lessening the differences
between ways of life and forms of thought.** If so, the transformation of an older realism would have a happy issue. It was,
as it has turned out, too much to expect from modern literature,
nor did his hopeful prophecy count on the persistence of an older
realism that would be attracted to the specific forms and differences of those unstable orders over which men fight. It forecast instead what is recognizable now as a widespread anti-historical strain in much modern writing. The idea of political
religion as a structuring principle, however, was bound to bring
into focus precisely those movements which, in emphasizing mass
action and group differences emphasized the common only in the
context of conflict and disruption.
At the same time, however, it
has become clear that the techniques of the moderns, first made
familiar by Woolf, Proust, and Joyce, can also be applied to
historically oriented stories.
Doctorow’s novel is “experimentally” modern in its openended conclusion of three possible scenes, its broken interior
monologues, its frequent use of flash-backs, its form as the
hero’s own notebook. Because of its Biblical allusiveness it also
comes close to giving its horizontal view of reality a vertical
dimension of figural or typological connections. Yet most fiction,
by reason of symbolic devices and thematic concerns, suggests
an overlay of more than causal connections between events without thereby taking a “typological” view of reality in the medieval
sense. Doctorow’s mind remains modern in this respect because
the religious aspect of his novel derives from its grounding in a
Jewish yearning for social justice, a form of political religion
available to humanistic, not only to supernaturalistic, believers.
Poole’s lapsed Protestant hero, Billy, Steinbeck’s lapsed Catholic,
Jim, and Doctorow’s lapsed Jew, Danny, are politically “religious” in a secular sense. Danny’s account of his life resonates
with the Bible’s Daniel because the religion of his people is
traditionally less involved with theological propositions than it
is with radical hopes for fulfillment on this earth. Yet for all
three protagonists, the religious backgrounds of their rejected
pasts are alive, unrecognized and transformed, in their “unbelief”
precisely because it has the shape of political religion. Animated
by the passion for encompassing the process of history in an
overarching scheme of moral meaning, these radicals draw on
millennial and apocalyptic forms of thought within the framework of the realistic novel.
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
1Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western
Literature, tr. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, 1974), pp. 43, 554.
2Tbid., pp. 73-74.
3Quoted by Donald N. Baker, “Seven Perspectives on the Socialist
Movement of the Third Republic,” Historical Reflections. I (Winter, 1974),
(New York, 1974), pp. 177-84.
This history deals with the political
consequences of supernatural religion, rather than with the secularized
religion of politics analyzed here in the novels of Poole, Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Doctorow.
5Alice Crozier, The Novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe (New York,
1969), p. 40.
6Quoted in The New Heavens and New Earth, p. 233.
of Harriet
1974), p. 219.
8Lincoln Steffens, The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens (New York,
1931), pp. 796, 817, 862.
%Ernest Poole, The Harbor (New York, 1942), pp. 315, 320.
107 bid., pp. 321, 344.
11]Jbid., pp. 381-82, 386-87.
Billy’s doubts
rather than
hopes, Walter B. Rideout sees the novel not as radical but as “the exalted
voice of Wilson’s New Freedom,” idealizing change rather than revolt.
The Radical Novel in the United States 1900-1954: Some Interrelations of
Literature and Society (New York, 1956), p. 58. But the narrator’s
final apostrophe to “the book that has no end” is also to strength, surprise,
shock, and “a dazzling passion of hope”—Kramer’s own characteristics as
a prophetic figure.
12Gustav Regler, The Owl of Minerva, tr. Norman Denny (London,
1959), p. 168.
13 Alfred Kazin, Starting Out in the Thirties
(London, 1966), p. 83.
14Quoted by Peter Lisca, The Wide World of John Steinbeck
Brunswick, N. J., 1958), p. 114.
15John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle (New York, 1936), p. 33.
16] bid., pp. 143, 253, 342.
17]bid., pp. 254-56.
18Arthur Koestler, “The Initiates,” in Richard Grossman, ed., The God
That Failed (New York, 1951), p. 49.
19]bid., p. 266.
2 07bid., pp. 337, 316-17.
21Jbid., pp. 232, 206.
22Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York, 1947),
pp. 61, 199. This similarity with Steinbeck’s novel is ignored by Rideout who
excludes the story from his account of radical novels because a tract by
Steinbeck on migratory workers in California aims at integrating these
families into society rather than creating further class antagonisms. See
The Radical Novel in the United States, p. 325, n. 17. Steinbeck’s novel is
also curiously omitted from Daniel Aaron’s Writers on the Left (New
York, 1961). Joseph L. Blotner excludes it from his The Modern American
Political Novel, 1900-1960 (Austin, Texas, 1966) and accords it only a descriptive paragraph in The Political Novel (Garden City, N. Y., 1955), p. 14.
23Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (New York, 1947), p. 235.
24The Owl of Minerva, p. 293.
25For Whom the Bell Tolls, pp. 248, 136, 305, 164. Lawrence R. Broer
justly notes that rather than dramatizing a sense of human solidarity, the
novel presents “one forlorn individual after another, surrounded by omens
of death and disintegration.” Hemingway’s Spanish Tragedy (University,
Alabama, 1973), p. 94.
26Paul Goodman, New [Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative
(New York, 1970), pp. 60-61.
27E. L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel (New York, 1971), p. 42.
2 8]bid., p. 119.
29Quoted by Jonah Raskin, “Life After Death; the Sons of Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg,” Ramparts, 12 (November, 1973), 49.
30The Book of Daniel, p. 214.
31]bid., pp. 140, 301, 69.
327 bid., pp. 40, 42.
33] bid., pp. 302-303.
34]bid., p. 11.
35 Mimesis, p. 552.
VI:1 1976
R. Whitaker
Seit ein Gesprich wir sind...
Boulevard Bessiéres
10 April 1973
Begin tomorrow on that essay for Patterns'—despite your
reluctance, your fear of engaging the old riddle.
Riddle? Obsession. It’s been three months now since the
bleak afternoon when I first walked along rue Notre-Dame-des-
Champs, hoping somehow to recognize the corner where Rilke
might have come upon that poor startled woman who “pulled
too quickly out of herself, too violently, so that her face remained in her hands.”
An absurd but necessary pilgrimage.
For hadn’t I too, reading The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
one sweltering post-war summer on Mott Street, shuddered to see
a face from the inside .. . and a naked flayed head without a
Call it a trivial sign: the contagious hysteria of a timehaunted mind that has glimpsed its own emptiness. But write
it large. What is “history” but the nightmare lived by this violent fear of nothingness which is every “I’’? Doesn’t the insecurity that jerks this pen across the page also hurl fragments
of hot steel tonight into Cambodian faces?
And yet, the heather is already blooming in the Bois—within
the Jardin Shakespeare, as Dorothy has just told me, among the
pansies and the rue. Flowers of history? art? conversation?
And next month an Escher retrospective opens at the Institute
WHll it include that lithograph of 1956, “The
Print Exhibition,” in which a man is examining a print that
gyratingly expands to include the whole exhibition and himself?
All right, adjust the mask.
can be answered with words.
There’s a myth that the Sphinx
11 April
The proposed title simply won’t do. Hasn’t “man” become
irreversibly problematic? How can we speak of “the nature of
man,” now that every concept of “nature” itself means no more
than a relative face or a pragmatic fiction? And though some
of us want to reduce man to a technologically manipulable ‘“‘na-
ture,” how could we ever objectify the unknown presence that
founds and informs every act of objectification? Can my eyes
see sight? Can words disclose their source? Can any system of
thought show the necessity for its own axioms? Surely we must
admit that “man” is no object. But what then? Dismayed by
the relativity of our images, but terrified at the prospect of living
with an imageless reality in the immediacy of silence, we remain committed to an inquiry through speech. And we must
ask, not “What is man?” but “Who are we?”
But take it step by step: “Who are we who ask these
questions?” “We speak: therefore we exist-for-ourselves—and
find ourselves puzzlingly members one of another.”
Let that formula stand, instead of a Cartesian cogito, as our
intersubjective point of departure. Man is no aggregate of individual entities. (“I’ doesn’t in principle precede its correlative “you.”) And words aren’t merely the tools with which such
entities might refer to already existing objects. Language has
constituted our world and our selves. Each of us has come to
consciousness with-others-in-the-world only through a generic
speaking—of which our verbal speech is one elaborate kind. As
each reciprocally related member, man therefore knows himself
to be a community-being who must listen and speak—in order
to know himself more fully. If so, “history” isn’t just a labyrinthine nightmare from which the Stephen Dedalus in each of
us is trying to awake. It is also the necessary medium of what
we are: a mutual elucidation, a conversation.
Hdlderlin said it: “Much has man learned . .. Since we have
been a conversation... .” And doesn’t a similar thought underlie the concept of Verstehen that has so often bothered readers
of Dilthey’s notes toward a Critique of Historical Reason? “Understanding,” said Dilthey, “is the rediscovery of the I in the
Thou.” An unreducible premise. And we've seen various attempts to unfold its meaning: the dialogical “pointing” of
Martin Buber (that former student of Dilthey), the hesitant inquiries of Gabriel Marcel, the dialectical ontology of Louis
Lavelle, the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer .... Despite major differences, each shares the faith of Socrates that the philosopher
should “take for his model the conversation of one who is bent
on seeking truth.” And doesn’t each agree with Royce that we
are a community of interpretation—and with Husser] that the
greatest historical phenomenon is man’s wrestling for self-understanding? So understood, history becomes a revelation of the
possibility of dialogue. And the center of history is—hermeneutical experience.
Recall Merleau-Ponty’s
that the “order of in-
structive spontaneity,” which is “inaccessible to psychologism
and historicism no less than to dogmatic metaphysics,” is best
revealed to us by the phenomenology of speech:
When I speak or understand, I experience that presence of others
in myself or of myself in others which is the stumbling-block of
the theory of intersubjectivity. I experience that presence of
what is represented which is the stumbling-block of the theory
of time, and I finally understand what is meant by Husserl’s
enigmatic statement, “Transcendental subjectivity is intersubjectivity.” To the extent that what I say has meaning, I am a
different “other” for myself when I am speaking; and to the
extent that I understand, I no longer know who is speaking and
who is listening.
It is therefore “‘at the heart of my present that I find the meaning of those presents which preceded it, . . . and it is in the
actual practice of speaking that I learn to understand.”
Such conversation, as Merleau-Ponty knew, is problematic
enough. Every fresh speaking mediates the unknown by coming
upon predications that we can never make finally clear. Though
partly explicable in terms of previous language, they also convey
meanings that will emerge for reflection only through as yet undisclosed ways of speaking—which in turn will entail yet further
obscurities. We can articulate a “fact” only within such a provisional, self-transforming, and fictive context. Total transparency of utterance is an illusion.
And don’t we compound these difficulties in our usual haste
to speak without listening? Because we are constituted through
speech, every new speaking threatens our apparent identities,
our customary faces. Might a genuinely open attention undo the
familiar “me” altogether? Such defensiveness not only distorts
our linguistic mutuality; it also disrupts our reciprocity with
what seems unknowably “other” than man—but which must
somehow be speaking to and through us in order that we may
come to speech. As Mikel Dufrenne said, “man can speak of the
world only if the world speaks to him.” And many centuries ago
Yungchia, alert to our usual failure to listen to the unknown that
calls us, warned in his poem Chengtaoke: “When you are silent,
it speaks; when you speak, it is silent.”
If our situation is something like this, what follows for the
historian or literary critic? He will recognize that he speaks
toward truth, within the horizon of conversation. Avoiding “explanations” that reduce us to the mechanical result of causal
factors (and so invalidate themselves as explanations), avoiding
“objective” narratives that posit an impossibly supra-temporal
point of view and deny his own continuing dialogue with what
he interprets, he will interrogate and so recall or re-name some
part of our conversation from a later moment within it. For
him—somewhat as for Ortega y Gasset—“history” will be
“now” but not merely now, “my life” but more than my life has
yet known itself to be. And he will understand his own utterance
to be a speculative trouvaille, an attentive fiction—which may
deserve a similarly attentive response from others who through
such fictions intend truth.
So much for today. During the next few weeks I must find
some way to examine or develop this position, which seems precariously to reconcile me to history and the word.
12 April
I re-question
I first
twenty years ago—shortly after beginning to share Malte Laurids
Brigge’s dialogue with the past and his obsession with faces and
facelessness. First, a work that seems to recognize the situation
I’ve sketched: Conrad Aiken’s self-consciously fictive autobiography, Ushant (1952). Then a very different kind of work, a
modernist poem, both Catholic and idiosyncratic, in the tradition
of the visionary epic-romance: David Jones’s The Anathemata
(1952). Then a meditation on the history present to us in visual
art: André Malraux’s The Voices of Silence (1951). And then
a yet more explicitly “psychological” meditation on the metamorphoses of religious images: C. G. Jung’s Answer to Job (1952).
Each of these texts is one important kind of contemporary
speaking in and about history. And each, because it enacts its
own conversation with history through its verbal form, also tends
to become a kind of late romantic poem. Of each I can ask:
“Who are we?” “How is consciousness related to speech?” “And
to history?” And no doubt each text will put some hard questions
to me.
17 April
A text answers our questions only by asking and answering
its own. And for Ushant the primary question isn’t “What is
man?” or “Who are we?” but “Who am I?” Or, more fully: “If
I suspect that all ‘truths’ are relative fictions and that ‘I’ too, as
I appear to myself, am such a fiction; if nevertheless I experience a process whereby language extends consciousness and
consciousness extends language, ‘in circular or spiral .ascent’;
and if the meaning of any moment
within such evolution is a
correlative of the total shape of the utterance—then through
what kind of writing can I come to know myself?” Or, stated in
terms of literary history: “After so many works—Augustine’s
Confessions, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Rousseau’s Confessions,
Wordsworth’s Prelude, the later novels of Henry James, The
Education of Henry Adams, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man and Ulysses, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past,
Gide’s Counterfeiters, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!—have
shown with increasing subtlety the reciprocal relations between
art and awareness, how can I write an authentic autobiography ?”
Answer: An autobiography must now become an “essay” in
self-reflexive and potentially endless speaking toward truth. The
protagonist, the author’s persona, must interrogate the labyrinthine past which has been constituted by his life of meeting the
unknown and bending back upon himself in attempts to focus
his hidden reality. But the fluid duration of this interrogatory
action must be fixed and interpreted through a book whose implied narrator seems to be the protagonist himself at a later stage
of self-reflection. The resulting “cryptopoesis,” rather like some
multi-dimensional Escher print, will be a sufficiently whole and
self-explicating instance of the process of all conscious life—
and a self-declared fiction. Within its emergent form, “history”
too will become as actual as language allows, for history as ordinarily imagined is no more than a crude if systematic abstraction from the interplay of many complex centers of experience. Such a work can therefore share in what D.—the protagonist whose daylong shipboard reverie over his life is narrated
by Ushant—calls “the only true teleological ‘order of the day,’
... the great becoming fiat in the great poem of life.”
How does D. speak toward truth? As he sails for England
on a converted troopship, during this day in 1945, Ushant is
still for him an ambiguously prophetic dream of an endless regression of translators—and a pile of notes and abortive plans
that have accumulated for more than a decade. His life too seems
to have been “all translation’: his “soul’s landscape” is “like an
infinite series of overpaintings, a palimpsest in endless sequence,
which, no matter how often one removed the successive surfaces,
to reveal a new hieroglyph, forever came up with the same mystic
equation: YOU.” Translating that vista of translation, inter-
preting the “passacaglia” or “dream-series” of experience, is the
primary act of naming—the construction of one’s “onomasticon.”
As D. now engages once more in that process, he pays appropriate tribute to Santayana, Bergson, and Freud. And also, obliquely, to F. H. Bradley—for “the Tsetse’s brilliantly analytic
and destructive thesis in epistemology at Harvard . . . had contributed much to the ‘fixing’ of D.’s implicit intellectual or philosophical position, adding, as it did, the basic ‘why’ as to the
values of knowledge.” Taking that hint, I find in T. S. Eliot’s
dissertation on Bradley what might almost be an epistemological
ground-plan for Ushant:
. « . we
a right to say that the world
is a construction.
Not to say that it is my construction, for in that way “I” am as
much “my” construction as the world is; but to use the word as
best we can without implying any active agent: the world is a
construction out of finite centres. Any particular datum can be
certain only with respect to what is built upon it, not in itself: and
every experience contains the principle of its own self-transcendence. Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be
absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow
beyond itself and yet never escapes itself.
But as D. evokes the sense of many places (from Savannah
to Boston, London to Florence, Rye to Cuernavaca), sketches
witty vignettes of the literary generation between the wars, and
probes the troubled career of someone very like Conrad Aiken,
his hesitatingly elaborated sentences suggest that his real master
in self-analysis is neither Freud nor Bradley so much as Henry
James. Tracing the “intricate come-and-go” of his life, he reenacts the “mazelike pattern of persistence and devotion and
infidelity, which seemed to be perpetually leading him... in
ever-widening circles, outer and inner,” but which was really,
he decides at one late moment, the stratagem by which he could
remain forever on the floor of his childhood nursery. Doing
what? Reading for the first time a passage of verse which,
“unfolding and receding endlessly away, was indeed a passage, a
passage to everywhere; but from which he would return, at last,
to find that he had never in effect gone anywhere at all, and was
still, exactly, there.”
Is D. then a participant in creative evolution or an autoerotic and oral fixation? Certainly he knows that he provides
data for a Freudian case. Didn’t that child in the nursery, soon
to discover the suicide-murder of his parents, have to become an
alien always seeking a home—and leaving all homes in compulsive infidelity? What has built his labyrinth of replication but
the unconscious effort to rival his father’s unknowable mastery
of words, of woman, and of death? But D. also knows that such
a deterministic reduction is itself a suicidal attempt to explain
himself away. Freudian analysis here mockingly becomes its
own symptom. Can this predicament be transcended? Can egocentric retrospection become, through a “willing loss of self,” a
more creatively universal act of knowledge? Such, perhaps, might
someday be that all too difficult autobiography—D. can’t say.
But his life seems a hopeful sign, for in unfolding there to himself, he does seem to have gone somewhere. Just recently, during
a crisis and reversal while in New England, he has accepted his
American and personal heritage. Recognizing his emergence
from many “antecedent ghosts and essences,” finding that his
self-loving self is all those others, he seems freed now to love
others as that self. Can this present voice of the past now die
into future voices? Despite continuing resistance, narcissism
seems to have found its teleological direction. And that reconciliation sustains D.’s faith that consciousness, poiesis, and caritas
are aspects of a single light.
Ushant’s own way of speaking toward truth constitutes a
elaborate palimpsest than D. must meditate—and is a
qualified fulfillment of his dream. Placing his solitary reverie
as a lightly ironic fiction of the recent past, rendered through
a sinuous oratio obliqua, the book converses implicitly with its
own “antecedent ghosts and essences,” the works in that tradition of fictive self-disclosure from which it emerges, and with its
future readers. It therefore enacts for and with us a clarity of
historical and intersubjective awareness that D. hasn’t yet
reached. Through D.’s fluid and digressive maze of meditation,
the six chapters sustain a clear thematic progress: beginnings of
all kinds; the shaping of identity out of family ghosts; the maturing into equivocal existence; the unlocking of love and art;
the acceptance of death and loss; and the hesitant reconciliation
of infidelity and fidelity, egotism and artifact, flux and stasis.
But no subordinate unit is self-contained or resolved. As sentences, paragraphs, episodes, and chapters spiral through suspended
meaning toward inclusiveness, the entire writing becomes a
“pour-in-stillness” like that kakemono of a waterfall which D.
admires. And its dense symbolic texture becomes a pattern of
hieroglyphs that point to a single meaning: not the unnameable
self which calls D., but D.’s attempt to name that calling. In
this fiction we may find ourselves with Aiken.
Which means—doesn’t it?—that for Aiken life’s crucial
peripety is not in the past, but now, in this present speaking, as
he exorcizes the death-drive of his narcissist fixation, gives
himself away, and so moves back toward a shared dance of life.
Because this speaking doesn’t lock us into egocentric retrospection but emerges from and finally intends a transpersonal self,
it can appropriately conclude with a drowning and a rising, in
the first person plural, “ourselves now like notes of music ar-
ranging themselves in a divine harmony, a divine unison, which
as it had no beginning, can have no end—” If that endless end is
here seen darkly, through a narcissist gaze, Ushant must nevertheless have been a major step toward Aiken’s later “Letter from
Li Po,” which can move through estrangement and uncertainty
toward a quiet affirmation that “all mankind/and all it ever
knew is here in-gathered” :
The poets and the prophecies are ours:
and these are with us as we turn, in turn,
the leaves of love that fill the Book of Change.
The question establishing the labyrinth of Ushant is:
am I?” Every hieroglyph in the labyrinth is an implicit answer.
And the final answer, disclosed through Aiken’s naming of D.’s
attempt to name his calling, is “I am we.”
18 April
are, first of all, historical beings,”
said Dilthey,
after that, contemplators of history: only because we are the one
do we become the other.” That’s why autobiography is “the
highest and most instructive form in which the understanding
of life confronts us” and “the root of all historical comprehension.”
—But perhaps we are historical beings not first of all (I hear
Ushant reply) but only through a questionable palimpsest of prior
translation which has already constituted us-in-history. Caught
in that doubt, but sustained by the faith in language that has
enabled the doubt, we must now
transform Dilthey’s hermeneu-
tical circles into yet more ironically reflexive spirals of growth
as we seek our hidden identity.
—Agreed (I answer); but if our retrospection leads only
to the “I am we” of endless becoming, haven’t we merely undone
a coil of egocentric and skeptical illusion?
—Undoing may be growth. But how could you know? As
an academic you claim to admire texts which enact their own
meanings—but you yourself risk nothing more than assertion.
Such bad faith will never let you discover who you are. Hadn’t
you better abandon that proposed essay and write a fiction
about your own groping toward truth?
—But narcissist retrospection is exactly what I most distrust in Ushant... and in “history.”
—Then let the fiction come closer to your present act of
exploration. You'll pay for it, of course—and at a price that D.
himself thought far too high. You'll lose the formal clarity without which no advance in consciousness can be made.
—But don’t Aiken’s own Preludes tell a different story?
Remember that passage in Time in the Rock? If you see “that
the sum of all your notes is nothing . . . make a rich note of
that and start again.”
—So you've accepted the challenge?
19 April
Valéry once said that we have now entered the age of
structures in movement. In every intellectual field we must
operate from a moving locus, establishing contexts only to go
beyond them. In every medium the artist finds that his work
must become the self-explicating image of a journey toward a
hidden reality. As Octavio Paz has put it more recently, the “end
of rectilinear time” means that any work which “really counts”
as our century goes on must be “a form in search of itself.”
Mustn’t even my academic mind therefore abandon all forms
that pretend to outworn fixities? “What is given,” said MerleauPonty, “is a route, an experience which gradually clarifies itself,
which gradually rectifies itself and proceeds by dialogue with
itself and with others.” And H. Stuart Hughes once remarked
that the historian and psychoanalyst both “know that the way
to individual understanding lies through the almost imperceptible alterations that the historian’s or psychoanalyst’s mind itself
undergoes in the course of groping its way toward its subject.”
When we let ourselves find our form in that process, won’t we
come closer to those changing relations
experience which are history for us?
Let me therefore disavow in formal terms that “third
person” who is the objectification of our glibly depersonalized
view of the past. “I ought to have known,” says the Malte
Laurids Brigge who led me to this city, “that this third person
who pervades all lives and literatures, this ghost of a third
person who never was, has no significance and must be disavowed. ... He is the noise at the threshold of the voiceless
silence of a real conflict.” As Rilke made clear more than sixty
years ago, the most valid form through which a contemporary
historical consciousness can be disclosed is that of the fictive
journal—the journal of one who knows that he must address
himself, others, and even seemingly inanimate things as “you,”
and who also knows that behind every “I” or “you” is... the
nameless and faceless. “Is it possible,” asks Malte, “that the
whole history of the world has been misunderstood?” “Yes, it is
An essay for Patterns? No: a fictive journal, a present
speaking which must begin with my confused entry of 10 April
and then search for its own form. And as I now converse with
other texts, let me remain open to the Book of Change. Revision?
Only to clarify the emergent meaning of these notes: the “heart
of my present,” where “I find the meaning of those presents
which preceded it.”
Now sharpen the dialectic: turn during this Passion Week
to a text that seems to speak from Christian grounds against the
modernism that may have hypnotized me.
Easter 1973
Who are we?
Reread the first sentence:
of all discern him making this thing other.”
Change, again, even before we know it! But we
discern him? Who is he?
“We already and first
That’s the question for this poem—the grail question.
And the answer?
At one point you have read: “he... whose name is
called He-with-us.” But the whole poem gropes
to unfold the meaning of that name.
24 April
For The Anathemata (as that Quem Quaeritis dialogue
which came day-before-yesterday seems to suggest) the primary
question isn’t ““Who are we?” or “Who am I?” but “Who is he?”
Or, more fully: “If the truth revealed by the Incarnation is
universal, and if the poet is called to lift up signs of this truth
which will be both valid and contemporary—then how, in the
language of a century that seems to have broken from the
Christian tradition, can we name and celebrate who he is?” Or,
stated in terms of literary history: “After our signworld has
been altered by The Waste Land and Finnegans Wake, how can
we move back through such comic or ironic landscapes of history
and syncretic myth toward the more affirmative universalism
of Blake’s prophecies or the sacramental vision of Smart’s
Jubilate Agno?”
Answer: The poem of “epic” scope, which has increasingly
been devoted to the poet’s own search for imaginative order,
must now become “fragments of an attempted writing” (amplified by visual signs: inscriptions, a drawing, an unfinished
wood-engraving) which seek to re-call or re-name our cultural
heritage, and even prehistoric and geological deposits. Spenser
could allegorize the world of romance; Milton could boldly baptize or overturn what he drew from the classical tradition; but
a poet both modern and Catholic must try to re-name the implicitly Christian meaning of all rites and makings, and disclose
that meaning in pre-human evolution, without losing touch with
his immediate time, place, and inheritance. Only so may he
reach back to interrogate and celebrate with etymological precision him “whose name is called He-with-us”: that Emmanuel,
Logos, or creative Word who is already here before us and with
us, wherever we look or speak, “making this thing other” and
enabling us to apprehend that making through participating in it.
Though unlike Ushant in apparent theme and style The
Anathemata is much like it in bearing witness to our historical
(And one passage even explores the feeling of ultimate risk, near Land’s End, off the dangerous rocks of Ushant!)
No intimately personal retrospection here, but an array of
images shaped with a love of the matters of Troy, Rome, and
Britain, by one who is a “Londoner, of Welsh and English parentage, of Protestant upbringing, of Catholic subscription.” As
the formal equivalent of a reverie at Mass, the poem moves
digressively through pre-human breakings and transformations,
primitive rites and artifacts, questing heroes and mother-mistresses, and the journey of empire from Troy to Rome and on
to the Troynovaunt that became London—where we listen to a
sixteenth-century lavender-seller named Elen Monica (after the
mistress of Paris and the mother of Augustine ) who seems first
cousin to Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabelle. The introduction warns
that these “mental associations, liaisons, meanderings to and fro,
‘ambivalences,’ asides,” are about, “or around and about, matters
of all sorts which, by a kind of quasi-free association, are apt to
stir in my mind at any time and as often as not ‘in the time of
the Mass.’” David Jones is here a contemporary of Aiken’s D.
And as his poem repeatedly turns on itself in a context of cosmic
evolution (though with a vision of our century that suggests
Spengler rather than Bergson or Teilhard de Chardin) it is also
very much about the difficulty of its own making. Indeed, its
hesitant progression—what the introduction calls the “sprawl of
the pattern, if pattern there is’—shapes another palimpsest in
which meanings can shine through meanings, quite in accord with
the postulate that (as homo faber) we apperceive only in and
through our remaking of our inherited sign-world. Ushant be-
gins with D.’s memory of a dream in which he and three others
try to translate a novella in which they are characters who are
symbolically enacting D.’s own life. As an epigraphic sign of
its similar but more directly universal concern, The Anathemata
gives us a folk-fragment of infinite regression: “It was a dark
and stormy night, we sat by the calcined wall; it was said to the
tale-teller, tell us a tale, and the tale ran thus: It was a dark
and stormy night...”
The questioning celebration of The Anathemata, like that of
Ushant, proceeds through a maze of hieroglyphs for the one story
worth its telling. But because it begins with Ushant’s final
rocognition that “I am we,” this work is more evidently a timeless dance shared by author, speaker, and reader. And because
the question that establishes its labyrinth orients us at once
toward manifestations of the transcendent within time, this dance
of translation or hermeneutic exploration (which urges signs
from the past to disclose their relation to the poem’s germinal
metaphors) is more explicitly a grail ordeal. We aren’t far into
“Rite and Fore-Time,” with its many “turns of time,” before we
understand that “he” is by analogy Christ at the supper and on
the hill, the priest at Mass, the master of any ship, any hero, any
artist at work, and the New Light that informs the evolving
world. Wherever we turn, in these turnings that offer David
Jones’s equivalent of Aiken’s “leaves of love that fill the Book
of Change,” we already find “him making this thing other’—
which is the sacrificial action of sign-making. We can read this
first section as a commentary on the prologue to the Fourth
Gospel or on the text, “Before Abraham was, I am.” We can also
read it as an analogue to Augustine’s saying, “That which is
called the Christian Religion existed among the Ancients, and
never did not exist, from the beginning of the Human Race until
Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which
already existed, began to be called Christianity.” But because
“he” also informs “we” who speak and read, because man’s
necessary mode of apperception is through the gift of poiesis,
we discern him “already and first of all” in our very participation in this poem. In Ushant “I” find “us” but in The Anathemata “we” find “him-with-us” in an evolving but apparently
eternal order of signs.
Does the poem have a pattern?
Certainly. It is an anamnesis
in behalf of all who have fallen asleep, during which all that is
wrongly thought dead, profane, or anathema is by intention
lifted up as living and sacred, as anathemata or things “devoted”
and not “cursed”—for this work too has a punning title. Its
eight sections make a large chronological spiral, beginning with
a contemporary Mass, moving back to its prototype in the Upper
Room and on the Hill, then back to prehistoric times, then working forward
again, following the argosy
of Greek, Roman,
Christian culture to Britain and on to nineteenth-century London, then to a virtually timeless celebration of the cross (“Keel,
Ram, Stauros”’), then back to a mediation on the first Christmas
from the temporal/eternal perspective now attained (““Mabinog’s
Liturgy”), and finally to a naming of the center of the labyrinth
(in “Sherthursdaye and Venus Day’’) as the “Wanderer/whose
viatic bread shows forth a life,” the quest-hero on the sacred
wood of whom it may now be said, “He that was her son/is now
her lover/signed with the quest-sign/at the down-rusher’s ford.”
And after all our turnings (which re-enact that principle of
ring-composition central to the epic since Homer) we return to
the implications of the poem’s first sentence:
He does what is done in many places
what he does other
he does after the mode
of what has always been done.
What did he do other
recumbent at the garnished supper?
What did he do yet other
riding the Axile Tree?
The poem’s quest has been to discover, throughout our wanderings in exile, that axis of “othering.” Its liturgy of chronological and geographical questions has traced yet other mazes upon
its major spiral—the largest digression constituting the central
80-odd pages of the poem, as the archetypal master’s argosy is
queried from the Aegean to the Thames. And like the “grail”
and “argosy” motifs, the “labyrinth” itself enters the order of
signs—partly thanks to W. F. Jackson Knight’s Cumaean Gates,
which suggested historical and analogical relations among initiatory labyrinths, hillsites, caves, megarons, defensive enclosures of sanctity, maze dances, and magical turnings of all kinds.
Knight’s argument also helped to shape The Anathemata’s exorcism of death—not, as in Ushant, the death-drive of the individual ego, but that of our whole culture. The suffering of the
innocent (a major theme in Jones’s In Parenthesis, where the
Private Ball who is caught in No-Man’s Land between the
trenches seems both grai! quester and scapegoat) is here central
to history. With consciously Vergilian and Augustinian ambivalence, The Anathemata affirms that empire is a great robbery—
but also, finally, a manifestation of good. David Jones once told
Desmond Chute that the poem is a May-pole dance around the
stauros. And isn’t the stawros a sign of legal murder with imperial sanction? Yet the May-pole dance is a maze-dance, a
troia, which weaves a beneficent spell. It celebrates the sacrificial Axile Tree.
Just as “A Letter from Li Po,” where all is in-gathered,
comments on Ushant, so an apt comment on The Anathemata
comes from a later fragment of David Jones’s work in progess.
“The Tutelar of the Place” describes a ritual and hermeneutic
frolic in which the participants
laud and magnify with made, mutable, and beggarly elements
the unmade immutable begettings and precessions of fair-height,
with halting sequences and unresolved rhythms, searchingly, with
what’s to hand, under the inconstant lights that hover world/
flats, that bright by fit and start the tangle of world-wood,
rifting the dark drifts for the wanderers that wind the worldmeander, who seek hidden grammar to give back anathema its
first benignity.
Gathering all things in, twining each bruised stem to the
swaying trellis of the dance, the dance about the sawn lodestake on the hill where the hidden stillness is at the core of
1 May
Today The Anathemata invites me to engage in a digressive
dance in and about our labyrinth of labyrinths. For can it be
an accident that this poem and Ushant both move toward such a
form? Don’t our attempts to seek the hidden grammar of the
entire human conversation—with what’s to hand, under inconstant lights—now find the “labyrinth” an almost necessary
Of course,
The Anathemata
directly answers
the interlace
pattern of Arthurian romance and Welsh poetry. Gwyn Williams
in The Burning Tree has noted the Welsh antecedents, and Eugéne Vinaver in The Rise of Romance has provided (without
reference to Jones) a succinct description of such interlace, the
presence of which in visual art had been described by Worringer’s Form in Gothic and Focillon’s Life of Forms. Vinaver discusses the fact that this labyrinthine system (with its acentric
design, its forging of implicit links between independent episodes,
its use of the spiral as formal matrix, its digressive repetition
which gives each motive a potential infinity, and its necessarily
polyphonic whole) has re-emerged in modern literature. This
re-emergence, he says, results from no “revival of the medieval
view of the art of composition,” no return to the medieval doctrine of analogy; it is a “recurrence of one of the constants of
poetic structure.”
And yet, the interlace of The Anathemata clearly does enact
a return to such a doctrine. Even the anti-medieval labyrinth
of Ushant enacts a related doctrine of universal analogy. Might
the more ambivalent medievalism represented, say, by Pound’s
passion for the elaborate verse-carpentry of the trobar clus or
Joyce’s for the intricacy of The Book of Kells disclose a similar
interest? And would they all share in the meaning of this moment in our conversation?
Try it this way: The larger forms in our century are best
read as exploratory movements into the unknown. The epic itself has ceased to be the tale of a hero who destroys or defends
or re-founds the world-city, and has become the tale of the
poet-everyman who now (in the tale and in the speaking of the
tale) seeks the ground of that world-city which he potentially is.
And as the divorced traditions of the novel and the visionary
poem move toward reconciliation (in The Cantos, Ulysses, Absalom, Absalom!, Paterson, Under the Volcano, Olson’s Maximus
Poems, Duncan’s Passages ... ), we glimpse a comprehensive
“epic” form through which a personal speaking tries to name its
world. As that speaking composes what Aiken calls its “onomasticon,” it enacts a provisional and existential equivalent of the
medieval doctrine of analogy, the formal correlative of which
is the labyrinth.
Can I now extend the argument of “Voices in the Open”—
that perhaps too elliptical essay which The Iowa Review printed
a couple of years back? Wordsworth, Eliot, and Stevens—I said
then—explore complementary aspects of an increasingly problematic situation. In the most intense poetry of each, the speaker seems a solitary and self-reflexive “voice in the open” who
moves toward a horizon (for Wordsworth that of “Nature,” for
Eliot that of the unspoken, for Stevens that of “poetry”) from
which comes a paradoxical call. And each poet finds that the
“long poem” must now name the attempt of such a solitary voice
to name its calling. In Milton’s Paradise Regained—that earlier
poem of vocation in which the Word is led step by step into the
wilderness—the narrative voice can follow its model at some
distance and the poem can maintain a clear linear form. But in
Wordsworth’s Prelude the action of the narrator doubles more
ambiguously that of his wandering hero—and doubles back upon
it more circuitously. And in Eliot’s Four Quartets and Stevens’
Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, the poem seems challenged
to become an extended invocation to the muse, or a self-elucidating maze, in which a voice attacked by the temptations of Nar-
cissus tries to name a call that may be actual only in the moment
of naming.
Now, why a maze? Doesn’t an extreme and self-reflexive
openness—where no linear movement is dictated, where choice is
disturbingly free, where advance may be a complicated stasis—
feel like a perplexing closure? The horizon of the wilderness is
claustral. The open space, no less than the medieval world of
faith, calls up the labyrinth. But a labyrinth that we have constructed or solved, a labyrinth that momentarily names our world,
may also defend us against the anxiety of openness or nothingness which it images. And because no modern situation is totally
unstructured, there will be as many labyrinthine resolutions as
there are open situations in which we experience the call to become namers.
Think of our great range of daedalian craftsmen—from
Joyce and Beckett to Nabokov and Pynchon, or from Mallarmé,
whose Sacred Book would be a self-mirroring maze of words,
to Ezra Pound, who began in The Cantos by descending to converse with the voices of history and ended by stumbling on the
brink of silence: “Some hall of mirrors. / Quelque toile / “au
Louvre en quelque toile” / to reign, to dance in a maze, / To live
a thousand years in a wink.” And think, too, of our labyrinthine
visual art—of Monet’s versions of his Japanese bridge (which
yesterday in the underground gallery of the Musée Marmottan
invited our eyes to enact the coalescence of disjunctive intensities), of Picasso’s lifelong series of metamorphoses (which he
called “hoards of destructions”), of Pollock’s drippings (expressing on the scale of the human body, as Frank O’Hara put it, the
exploratory action of painting), and of de Kooning’s theatrical
backdrop—that huge and playful “Labyrinth.” In this context,
aren’t Ushant and The Anathemata versions of the form through
which the modern artist must name his attempt to name his
From somewhere in the fun-house, of course, John Barth
has claimed the labyrinth for “the literature of exhaustion.” It’s
a place “in which, ideally, all the possbilities of choice ... are
embodied, and—barring special dispensations like Theseus’
must be exhausted before one reaches the heart.” But then he
admitted that Borges himself, the master of such ideal labyrinths,
has a thread that enables him to recognize possibilities without
exploring them—and so to drive straight to that heart. Not exhaustion, then, but the tricky image of exhaustion? Every labyrinth, I suspect, far from embodying all possibilities of choice,
is itself constituted by a tacit choice which determines what can
be spoken and heard within it. That’s why every labyrinth, as it
meanders through a seemingly open field, is a hieroglyph for an
implicit question-and-answer. Borges, Beckett, and Barth ask in
their various ways: “What is meaning?” But they have ears only
for a version of this answer: “The truly heroic meaning lies in
asking the meaningless question.” For even if surrounded by a
verbal horizon seemingly denuded of “meaning,” the quester can
be called by the heroic: “hope,” Borges has said, “walks about
with a heroic will to deception.”
Does Eliot’s Gerontion meet us upon this more honestly?
Though he too claims to be lost among history’s “many cunning
passages, contrived corridors / And issues,” his will to self-deception isn’t heroic. And he seems to know, though evading his
knowledge, that even our labyrinthine denials of the metaphysical
may embody an implicitly metaphysical choice. The speaker of
The Waste Land not only shares that knowledge but also suspects
what the speakers of Ushant and The Anathemata more boldly
proclaim: that the labyrinth of our conversation with the past
is an initiatory ordeal. Vergil depicted the labyrinth on the
temple of Daedalus outside the sibylline cave that Aeneas had to
enter. In The Waste Land, the epigraphic siby] is herself trapped
within the speaker’s death-longing on this side of prophecy.
(And you, hypocrite lecteur?) But in David Jones’s poem, where
the ordeal is completed in every hermeneutic question, the punning motto can be a line from the Dies Irae: Teste David cum
Sibylla. Perhaps Borges himself almost admits the initiatory
meaning of our sign when he says: “Thus, from the trick’s
labyrinth of painted cardboard we have approached metapyhsics:
the sole justification and end of all themes.”
What choice have we? Must literature and history now assume this labyrinthine form—symptom of our fear, pattern of
our analogical naming, sign of our initiatory ordeal—or else
relapse into merely nostalgic fictions of naive clarity? (Even
our fashionable typologies seem to me such fictions: pseudo-objective categories that can have only a secondary heuristic value.
Not that the typologist himself is necessarily naive. The speaking of a Northrop Frye or a Claude Levi-Strauss, which pro-
.. .
ceeds from a meta-typological locus, participates in our labyrinthine task of constructing an anatomy or compiling an onomasticon.) Must the critic or historian himself construct a labyrinth
as he names his attempt to converse with the past? And must he
too approach metaphysics? (That heart of the maze, that hidden
stillness, is surely beyond me.)
This week let me respond to a critic, artist, and man of action who knows better than most of us that every serious reflection upon history must now bea self-conscious movement within
history, that the most solitary meditation is now called to participate in the entire human conversation, and that even silence—
now as always—has for us a human voice. What form emerges
from Malraux’s listening to the present voices of the past?
8 May
For The Voices of Silence the primary question isn’t “Who
am I?” or “Who is he?” but “What is art?” Or, more fully: “If,
in our self-consciously exploratory culture, painting has become
‘more intrinsically painting’ and art ‘an end in itself’; if nevertheless our feeling for the art of the past is ‘rarely independent
of the place it occupies in history’; and if, despite that fact, we
recognize that the works of diverse cultures which we now engage in an unprecedented dialogue have been radically transformed by time and by our own act of separating them from the
poetry and faith of their makers—then how can we who love art
name our calling?” Or, stated in terms of the history of art
criticism: “After the opposed dialectics of Hegel’s Philosophy
of History and Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy and Thus Spake
Zarathustra, after Spengler’s Decline of the West (with its paradoxical vision of hermetically closed and therefore mutually invisible cycles of culture) and Faure’s Spirit of Forms (with its
humanistic celebration of the Saint-Simonian “organic” and “critical” phases in art history), and after the relativizing of all
such meditations by our awareness that civilizations ‘cannot be
syncretized into a sort of cultural theosophy’ because man does
not proceed through accretion, growth, dialectical progression, or
eternal return, and also by our awareness that despite all historicism the history of art is the record of man’s emancipation
from history—how can we skeptics who yearn for the absolute
celebrate the meaning of art?”
Answer: A work of art criticism must now become a verbal
visual labyrinth—an “imaginary museum” or museum of
images through which a profoundly ambivalent mind can pursue
its questioning celebration. (That translator’s invention, “The
Museum Without Walls,” unfortunately cancels the labyrinthine
connotation of la musée imaginaire.) Far from being mere “illustrations,” the plates here must compose a parallel text with
which author and reader can meanderingly converse. No doubt
the work can meet some demands for discursive argument and
historical interpretation, for its major thematic sections (three
in The Psychology of Art, four in the revised and expanded
Voices of Silence) must set forth a variety of chronological sequences. But its real form must inhere in that whimsical, peremptory, and incompletely resolved movement which Maurice
Blanchot has rightly called its “apparent disorder.” Only through
such a maze (to which the closing “synopses” provide the barest
clue) can Malraux sustain a somberly playful recognition of the
perspectival and provisional nature of every historical sequence.
Only so can he enact his recognition of the discontinuity of the
imaginable past and the present continuity—the “common language’’—of the works of all ages. Only so can he be prepared to
see any work as a palimpsest of previous interpretation, as a locus
of new meaning to be released by unforeseen juxtapositions, and
as its own stylistic speaking which we now seem to hear for the
first time. In such a labyrinthine form, Malraux’s ideas don’t
lose their coherence. Rather, as Blanchot said, “they escape
from their contradiction, even though these contradictions continue to animate them and keep them alive.” Such a work can
share in the antinomies that Malraux hears in the voices of
silence themselves: our personal possession of the world and our
impersonal submission to it, our aestheticism and our humanism,
our agnosticism and our faith, our historicity and our awareness
of eternal presence. As a work intending to mediate other works
of art, The Voices of Silence can therefore enable us to participate
in its understanding of the human project as both an endless
dialogue and a final stylistic conquest.
In crude summary, Malraux’s argument is a bold paradox
indeed. What is art? For David Jones (who responds to Jacques
Maritain, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and Eric Gill) art is what it
has always been: our act of participation in the immanent and
transcendent order of sign-making.
For Conrad Aiken (who
responds to Bergson, Bradley, James, and Freud) art is our
participation in the more ambiguously teleological order of
creative evolution. But for André Malraux (whose aestheticism
is Nietzschean, and whose relativism moves toward an end-point
that subsumes Hegel by negation) art is that which has finally
disclosed itself to our agnostic modernism. To certain men with-
in the first culture that has lost all
as its own absolute: “That whereby
style.” Therefore “painting is—just
things visible serve style,” so “style
absolutes, art reveals itself
forms are transmuted into
painting.” But even as “all
serves man and his gods.”
The modern artist and art-lover see that art has always been
what it now explicitly is: man’s stylistic conquest of the world.
In whatever form, it is man’s answer to the Pascalian condition
humaine which is Malraux’s obsessive subject. And, as an answer
to destiny, art bears witness to “that eternal element in Man
which lies beneath the conscious threshold.” With that step,
Malraux’s heroic aestheticism (which often deprecates both the
unconscious and the transcendental) becomes a humanism of
immanence and of at least “unconscious” transcendence.
Malraux has reached the position confessed by Van Gogh in sentences
that will later serve as epigraph for The Metamorphosis of the
Gods: “In life and painting I can quite well dispense with God.
But, suffering as I am, I cannot dispense with something greater
than myself, something that is my whole life: the power of
creating.” But already in the second section of The
Silence—“The Metamorphoses of Apollo”’—Malraux
Voices of
is inter-
rogating the aftermath of Hellenic art in a spirit which suggests that of the speaker in Wallace Stevens’ humanistic labyrinth, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction:
Phoebus is dead, ephebe. But Phoebus was
A name for something that never could be named.
There was a project for the sun and is.
Malraux never clarifies the metaphysical relation between
this “eternal element in Man” and the “reality” which seems its
antagonist. But from the vantage-point provided by his metaphysical pathos, he can prize not only modern art, which enacts
a personal and self-conscious conquest, but also traditional
humanist and transcendental art of every kind. In tones of
equable and magisterial celebration he can reshape the antithesis
of “Western” and “Eastern” or “representational” and “abstract” which so concerned Hegel, Nietzsche, Strzygowski, and
Spengler. How can it finally matter, within this labyrinth,
whether a hieroglyph speaks of our freedom or our fate? They
are one in art.
We are left with a remarkable claim. It is precisely the
agnostic, disoriented, nihilistic, and faceless man of our time who
has grasped the true meaning of all religious art. Though he
“has lost his visage, this same ‘disfeatured’ man has redeemed
the world’s noblest faces from oblivion.”” Why? Because all faces
are his. As Walter Berger had said in The Walnut Trees of Al-
tenburg, “The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung
at random between the profusion of matter and of the stars, but
that within this prison we can draw from ourselves images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.”
The personal pathos of this project for the sun often shimmers beneath the surface of Malraux’s style. And on rare occasions it becomes quite plain. This evening, as the windows of
the Lycée Honoré de Balzac glittered from across the boulevard,
I came upon this sentence: “When the last noises of the day are
dying out in a Paris which, too, perhaps, is drawing to its end,
the words of Leonardo echo in my memory: ‘Then it befell me
to make a truly divine painting....’”
12 May
Twenty years ago, when The Voices of Silence was helping
to shape my understanding of W. B. Yeats’s dialogue with history, I found it an impressive and yet disturbing book. I still do,
though now—and especially during this Pompidou regime?—I
am yet more bothered by the thirst for Gaullist gloire that lurks
in its pages. But politics aside, its account of the “creative process” does seem to me not only informed but distorted by Malraux’s unresolved contradictions.
I must grant that the artist is genuinely “called” by an
‘inner voice”; that he converses with his predecessors and with
“destiny”; and that he builds up an artistic world by gradually
freeing his art from the pastiche which was his first vocabulary.
(For Malraux, as for Wdélfflin and Gombrich, paintings always
owe more to other paintings than to direct observation; but they
owe their greatness to their emancipation from previous art.)
But I must ask: Is the artist called to interpret life—or to impose a style upon the world’s chaos? Is speech, including artspeech, an interrogation of the real—or an imposition of mean-
Are we finally a conversation—or
an imperial
Turning within his labyrinth, Malraux answers each question
both ways; but his accent is upon the magisterial or imperial
power of Man.
That’s why he deprecates children’s art as “all surrender to
the world.” The “mere fact of being a man means ‘possessing,’
and... the attainment of manhood implies a mastery of one’s
(Against this, think of Herbert Read’s Education
Through Art.) Malraux can show brilliantly—in the contrasting
developments of El Greco and Tintoretto beyond Titian, and in
the filtering of Caravaggio’s art by Latour—how the artist’s
maturing is “the growth of his faculty of transformation.” He
can claim ambiguously that this growth is “directed, its orientation being neither unconscious nor deliberate but specific to his
personality.” And he can say plausibly that “the dialogue between each great artist and history is conducted in his own
But just as the “directing” involves for him less a
reciprocity between unconscious and conscious than a conscious
mastery of unconscious data, so his insistence on the artist’s own
language is not merely a recognition that each of us has a unique
linguistic perspective on the real. These are moves toward the
larger claim that styles “impose” meaning on experience, that
each “creates its own universe,” that the language of art is
“that of conquest,” and that all speech conquers insofar as it
“reduces” the chaotic “real” to construct a world in which man
is “ruler.”
But if “man” and “reality” are antithetical in this way, and
if Malraux himself would reduce all poetic and faithful art to an
imposition of meaning, how can he speak of the “radiant or
tragic archetypes” which the artist has “begotten”? How can he
call Latour “the interpreter of the serenity that dwells in the
heart of darkness”? How can he say, “It is a curious fact that
the fullest response to man’s vast yearning for human fellowship
should be found in the dialogue of a solitary soul with God. This
was the truth that Rembrandt realized in his art....” Laying
claim to that “truth,” the closing sentences of The Voices of
Silence will invoke the hand of Rembrandt as tacit witness to
“the power and the glory of being Man.”
How, after all, could it even be “true’—and not just a
necessary limitation of any claim to “truth’—that speech and
style are impositions of meaning? This work itself would then
be merely an imposition of its own doctrine of imposition upon
the absurd: one more stylistic conquest. Fortunately, Malraux’s
truth-seeking eye knows better than that—as do his recurrently
dialogical metaphors. Insofar as speech is conquest, it prema-
turely reduces and finalizes the “truth” toward which our conversation moves. (The more-than-Hegelian end-point from which
Malraux expounds the meaning of “art” is itself such a premature finality.) That’s why Merleau-Ponty’s answer to this book,
“Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence,” offers a sounder,
if no less paradoxical, doctrine of style. And why the speaker
of Stevens’ Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction must remind himself: “to impose is not / To discover.” And why we must always
give the last word to the re-opening movement of dialogue.
What question does The Voices of Silence put to me?
Through and despite its major emphases, it asks: “How can
you possibly eliminate the lust for conquest from your own
dialogical understanding?”
15 May
Who are we?
Ushant, The Anathemata, and The Voices of
Silence testify variously to a metamorphic process
called into being by a transcendent power immanent
—selves who must speak or make our way toward
source or identity. Each text understands language
that seems
in ourselves
our hidden
and history
to unfold through a triple dialogue: among ourselves, with
phenomena, and with our hidden identity. But because each
approach must describe itself in terms of an imperfect image of
what it approaches, and because its own speaking or making is
a function of its relation to what remains hidden, each text is
necessarily a complex hermeneutical spiral. Each knows a version of the dilemma posed by Heisenberg: “the object of research is no longer nature, but nature exposed to human questioning. Here, again, man confronts himself alone.” Or by von
Weizacker: “Man tries to penetrate into the factual truth of
nature, but in her last, unfathomable reaches suddenly, as in a
mirror, he meets himself.” As a present speaking in history,
each text assumes a commitment to a voice or calling whose
implications it seeks to unfold in accord with that commitment.
And each stops at the threshold of consciousness.
Of course, they stop in different ways. The Anathemata,
whose doctrines of analogy and evolution imply the preconscious
orientation of all making, approaches in questioning faith a
“supraliminal”’ which is manifest in the sacrificial order of
signs. The Voices of Silence, with its doctrine of something
“eternal” in “Man” which freely shapes destiny in art, declines
to speculate about the “subliminal” realm from which its amply
developed ambivalences emerge. And Ushani, though offering
a detailed account of the paradoxes inherent in its orientation
toward an unconscious source of fidelity and infidelity, creativity
and destructiveness, blockage and evolution, can go beyond its
own doubts only through a lyric fideism. What happens when
an analytical psychologist approaches these questions? Can Jung
provide more than yet another doubtful and faithful spiral?
speaking about history from within it, and in trying to speak of
the very source of his speech, can he penetrate to the heart of our
22 May
For Answer to Job the primary question is, “What does
the Western image of God now mean to me?” Or, more fully:
“If we are called through antinomies toward a dynamic equilibrium of self-knowledge, if God-images always refer to the
transcendent complexio oppositorum which is the ego’s source
and partner, if the Christian doctrine of evil as privatio boni is
most dangerous in our time of wide-spread unconscious eruptions of evil, and if my scientific work must finally be understood as the ‘self-realization of the unconscious’-—then how must
I respond to the God of ‘terrible double aspect’?” Or, in terms
of the history of Jung’s main concerns: “After Kant and Schelling, after Carus and von Hartmann, after Schleiermacher and
Otto on the experience of the ‘numinosum,’ after Freud’s attacks
(from Totem and Taboo to Moses and Monotheism) upon religion
as neurotic symptom, and after my own labyrinthine explorations (from Symbols of Transformation to Aion) of the value of
religious symbols—how am Icalled to name the manifestations
of the ‘numinous’ from The Book of Job to the dogma of the
Assumptio Mariae, and so to reformulate the insights of Joachim
of Flora, Meister Eckhart, Angelus Silesius, and Jacob Boehme?”
Answer: A commentary on the religious history of the West
must now confront—in outrage, sarcasm, reverence, and hope—
the noumenal source who stands beyond every human valuation
of good and evil. It must be a tense dialogue with the splendor
and darkness of the God who “wanted to become man, and still
wants to.” In religious terms, it must read The Book of Job as
an encounter between a seemingly amoral and unconscious
Yahweh and his suffering and morally justified creature—who
could be silenced but not answered by a voice out of the whirlwind. It must propose that the real answer, like all dialogical
transactions, meant a change in both partners. That answer—
prepared by Yahweh’s act of recalling his consort, Sophia or
Wisdom—was his incarnation in a perfect man: a further conscious differentiation between “good” and “evil.” But because
such a differentiation, though a necessary step toward full ethical
consciousness, left the “dark” half of the transcendent dangerously unconscious (as evidenced by the projection of wrath and
vengeance in The Book of Revelation attributed to John), the
blindly projected “shadow” of self-righteous opponents threatens
in our own time to bring devastation upon us all. Finally, this
commentary must express hope that a new ascendancy of Woman,
an increasing recognition of her role in the divine-human economy, may be preparing another step in the process of continuing
incarnation through the Holy Ghost.
In psychological terms Answer to Job seems to project upon
the three eras of a Joachite history the doctrine of individuation
that Jung had already formulated. Yahweh stands to Job as the
unconscious Self to the awakening ego; Christ appears an image
of the realized Self—but without the “shadow” that must be integrated within it; Sophia and Mary are images of the anima
who leads the ego toward further assimilation of the unconscious.
But is this a reduction of history or theology to merely psychological categories? No: It is personal testimony of the meaning
of “autonomous” images as Jung understands them to mediate
the unknowable process which is still creating us. Answer to
Job therefore carries to the limit Jung’s own wrestling with his
source, interlocutor, seeming opponent, and transcendent goal.
It intends to share with us the “inner confrontation of opposites”
which (as Jung says in Memories, Dreams, Reflections) “promotes the growth of consciousness.”
(The “spiritual adventure
of our time,” he had earlier said, “‘is the exposure of the human
consciousness to the undefined and indefinable.”) As an instance
of what it symbolically describes, Answer to Job moves toward
no amoral or composite God (despite Martin Buber’s objections)
but toward That beyond all images who may be known through
the “third” possibility which emerges to consciousness when we
face, without self-deception or evasion, the tension between opposites in an ethical dilemma.
(Though Ushant isn’t explicitly
Jungian, it is often just such a facing of the opposites.) The
emergence of such a “third”—often manifest in the image of the
“child”—characterizes that way of individuation which for Jung
is the meaning of continuing incarnation through the Holy
Answer to Job speaks with a fiery directness that is possible
only because Jung has already entered far into his own labyrinth
of psychological interpretation. And yet it also testifies to our
historical situation. It can be no theological tract, no objective
history, no psychological reduction—for it recognizes no external
grounds for objective probability. (With disarming modesty and
impatience, Jung brushed aside complaints that he had ignored
the results of higher Biblical criticism. After all, physics itself
must rest upon subjectively apprehended archetypes.)
Committed to a post-Kantian understanding of its inescapably intersubjective source, Answer to Job speaks toward truth within the
horizon of an ambiguous conversation. And it moves toward a
boldly relativized image of the Absolute. Does Jung dare to contemplate “the Christification of many” in the coming era of the
Holy Ghost? Yes: but he warns against the inflation to which
Nietzsche succumbed, reminding us of the split consciousness of
Paul, who “felt he was the apostle directly called and enlightened
by God” and also “a sinful man who could not pluck out the
‘thorn in the flesh’ and rid himself of the Satanic angel who
plagued him.”
That is to say even the enlightened person remains what he is,
and is never more than his own limited ego before the One who
dwells within him, whose form has no knowable boundaries, who
encompasses him on all sides, fathomless as the abysms of the
earth and vast as the sky.
26 May
can I “place” this text? Mirror of the historical prein which I participate? Fantasies of a latent schizo-
No answer comes.
14 June
Fireworks tonight, glimpsed between the apartments behind us. Dorothy and I held up Gwen to see. Somewhere up on
Montmartre, near Sacré Coeur. But for us, in the heart of my
present, what Bastille has fallen? I remain lost in Edwin Muir’s
... there’s no exit, none,
No place to come to, and you’ll end where you are,
Deep in the centre of the endless maze.
And Muir’s counter-theme in “The Labyrinth,” the world uttered by “the eternal dialogue”? Have I approached it at all?
Too many words these past nine weeks. Drop this journal.
Attend to the nothing beyond the opposites? Why not turn to a
very different kind of text—the discourses of that Hsu Yun
whom Jung was reading on his deathbed in June of 1961, having
become what he called “decently unconscious” and so, perhaps,
readier to accept a seemingly non-historical and un-selfconscious
way from which he had long held himself aloof. “He was enthusiastic,” Marie-Louis von Franz later wrote to Charles Luk,
translator of the volume—Ch’an and Zen Teaching: First Series
—which contains the words of Hsu Yun. “When he read what
Hsu Yun said, he sometimes felt as if he himself could have
exactly this! It was just it!” What old man was Jung
encountering—a Ch’an master or a Jungian archetype? In
“Thou” was what “I” now rediscovering itself?
enough, Hsu Yun’s
way of liberation takes me
back to the question of Ushant: “Who am I?” Not now, however, to be unfolded in a spiral of words. For Hsu Yun such a
question is a hua t’ow—an unanswerable query to be looked at,
cared for, at every moment. To contemplate a hua t’ou—which
is, so to speak, a thought before it arises—is to “turn inwards
the hearing to hear the self-nature.” A door to a wordless conversation?
In any event, this old man knows our Western and modern
predicament. He mentions another hua t’ou which brings to mind
the shudder of Malte Laurids Brigge when he startled a poor
woman somewhere along rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs:
was my fundamental face before I was born?”
1These journal notations were the essayist’s response to a
request that he prepare, for a projected volume to be called
Patterns of Literature and History, edited by the editors of
CLIO, a chapter dealing with “The Nature of Man in Literature
and History.”
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
VI:1 1976
This bibliography is edited by Walter Schatzberg, chairman
of the Bibliography Committee and published on behalf of General Topics VII (Literature and Science) of the Modern Language Association and will continue to appear annually in CLIO.
Bibliography Committee
Patrick R. Brostowin
Dennis R. Dean
Walter Schatzberg,
Frederick A. Spear
Robert L. Walters
Nassau Community College
University of Wisconsin Parkside
Clark University
Skidmore College
University of Western Ontario
I. General Studies
Aldiss, Brian W. Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1973.
339 pp. Rev. by Gary Goshgarian, Novel, 8 (1974-75),
Barbour, Ian G. Myths, Models and Paradigms: The Nature of
Scientific and Religious Language. London: SCM Press,
1974. 198 pp.
Barkan, Leonard. Nature’s Work of Art. The Human Body as
Image of the World. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1975. 291 pp. (A study of the cosmology of
the body image which assesses the influence of the
Timaeus, the theory of the four elements, astrology,
and natural
philosophy from antiquity
through the Renaissance.)
Otto. Bestiarium Humanum. Mensch-Tier Vergleich in
Kunst und Karikatur. Miinchen: Heinz Moos Verlag, 1974.
164 pp.
N. “Autobiography and “The two cultures’ in the Novels
of C. P. Snow.” Annals of Science, 32 (1975), 555-571.
(“An examination of the autobiographical elements in
Snow’s novels in the light of his conception of the novel
raises the question of whether his shift from science to
literature was exactly the result of a genuine choice and
also reveals that the two cultures dichotomy is embedded
in his personal experience.”)
Biggle, Lloyd, Jr. “Science Fiction Goes to College: Groves and
Morasses of Academe.” RQ, 6 (1974), 100-109.
Burke, Joseph R. and Gussenhoven, M. S. “Tides and the Affairs
of Men: Reflections on Art and Science.” AR, 33 (1975),
Chandler, Arthur. “The Faustian Infinite: Western Mathematics
and the Humanities of Endless Space.” WHR, 29 (1975),
Crouch, Laura Ernestine. “The Scientist in English Literature:
Domingo Gonsales (1638) to Victor Frankenstein (1817).”
DAI, 36 (1975), 2181-A.
Denbigh, Kenneth G. “Time and Chance.” Diogenes, 89 (1975),
David. “Technological Metaphor and Social Control.”
NLH, 6 (1974), 135-147.
Hafter, Monroe Z. “Toward a History of Spanish Imaginary
Voyages.” ECS, 8 (1975), 265-282.
Hammil, Carrie E. “The Celestial Journey and the Harmony of
the Spheres in English Literature, 1300-1700.” DAI, 33
(1972) ; 2326-A.
Lang, Berel. “Space, Time, and Philosophical Style.” Critical
Inquiry, 2 (1975), 261-280.
Lemke, Gerhard Hermann. “Sonne, Mond und Sterne in der
(1974-75) , 4434-4435-A.
Leprince-Ringuet, Louis. “Are We Scientists in Fact Artists or
Poets?” Leonardo, 8 (1975), 335-336.
McCue, Daniel L., Jr. “Science and Literature:
English Belles Lettres.” Albion, 3 (1971),
Portmann, Adolf and Ritsema, Rudolf, Eds.
Colour. Die Welt der Farben. (Eranos
Leiden: Brill, 1974. 492 pp.
Reiss, Timothy J., Ed. Science, Language, and
The Virtuoso in
The Realms of
Jahrbuch, 41).
the Perceptive
Mind: Studies in Literature and Thought from Campanella
to Bayle. [YFS, 49 (1973) ]..Rev. by Harcourt Brown, Isis,
66 (1975) , 427-429.
Schacterle, Lance and Welcher, Jean. “A Checklist of Secondary
Studies on Imaginary Voyages.” BB, (1974), 99-100, 106,
110, 116, 121.
Secret, Frangois. “Notes pour une histoire de l’alchimie en
France.” AJFS, 9 (1972), 217-236.
A. Ja. “On Certain Traits of Scientific and Artistic
Texts.” Semiotica, 14 (1975), 35-39.
Tuck, Donald H., Ed. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and
Fantasy, through 1968. A Bibliographic
Fields of Science Fiction, Fantasy and
Survey of the
Weird Fiction
through 1968. Vol. I: Who’s Who, A-L. Chicago: Advent,
1974. 286 pp.
Unsinger, Fritz. Wissenschaft and Dichtung; zum 25 jihrigen
Bestehen der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der
Literatur in Mainz. Mainz, Akademie der Wissenschaften
und der Literatur; Wiesbaden, in Kommission bei F.
Steiner (1974). 18 pp.
II. Antiquity and the Middle Ages
Nacht: Ein literaturgeschichtlicher Beitrag zur islamischen Heilkunde. Stuttgart: Fink, 1973. 79 pp.
Saul Nathaniel. The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in
Medieval Literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
1974. 223 pp.
Dalzell, Alexander.
“A Bibliography of Work on Lucretius,
1945-1972.” Class. World, 66 (1973), 385-427; 67 (1973),
Drake, Gertrude C. “The Moon and Venus: Troilus’s Heavens in
Eternity.” PLL, 11 (1975), 3-17. (Chaucer’s Troilus is
embedded in the medieval model of the universe.)
Gilliard, Frank D. “Chaucer’s Attitude towards Astrology.”
J. Warburg Inst., 36 (1973), 365-366.
Hamlin, B. F. “Astrology and the Wife of Bath: A Reinterpretation.” ChauR, 9 (1974), 153-165.
Leach, Eleanor Winsor. Vergil’s Eclogues: Landscapes of Experience. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974. 281 pp.
(“This new interpretive reading treats Vergil’s images of
nature as they relate to the philosophical and agricultural
writings of his contemporaries.’’)
O’Desky, Leona. “Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde: Astrology and
the Transference of Power.” DAI, 35 (1974), 3694-A.
Stock, Brian. Myth and Science in the Twelfth Century. A Study
of Bernard Silvester. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1972. 331 pp. Rev. by Richard Lorch,
The British Journal for the History of Science, 8 (1975),
Temkin, Owsei. Galenism: Rise and Decline of a Medical Philosophy. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1973.
240 pp.
West, David. “Lucretius’ Methods of Argument.” ClassQ, 69
(1975), 94-116.
III. Renaissance
Bauckham, Richard. “Science and Religion in the Writings of
Dr. William Fulke.” The British Journal for the History
of Science, 8 (1975), 17-31.
Caldwell, Wayne T. “ ‘Affliction then is ours’: George Herbert’s
The Temple as an Anatomy of Religious Melancholy.”
DAI, 34 (1974), 4190-A. (A study of Herbert’s debt to
Robert Burton and Renaissance science, medicine, and
Hamilton, Gertrude Kelly. “Three Worlds of Light: The Philosophy of Light of Marsilio Ficino, Thomas Vaughan, and
Henry Vaughan.” DAI, 35 (1974), 2222-A.
Heninger, S. K. Touches of Sweet Harmony: Pythagorean Cosmology and Renaissance Poetics. San Marino: Huntington
Library, 1974. 446 pp.
Juneja, Renu. “The Ground of Art: Cosmological Structure in
Ben Jonson’s Comedies.” DAI, 35 (1974-75), 7869-A.
(“The thesis approaches the comedies of Ben Jonson in
terms of the cosmological preconceptions, specifically the
Great Chain of Being and all the commonplaces associated
with it.’’)
Keller, Luzius. Palingéne. Ronsard. Du Bartas. Trois études sur
la poésie cosmologique de la Renaissance. Bern: Francke
Verlag, 1974. 141 pp.
Martin, Rose-Ann. “Nature and the Cosmos in the Works of
Remy Belleau.” DAI, 36 (1975), 1561-A.
Merton, Egon Stephen. Science and Imagination in Sir Thomas
Browne. New York: AMS Press, 1973. (Rpt. of 1949 ed.).
156 pp.
Phipson, Emma. The Animal-lore of Shakespeare’s Time, including Quadrupeds, Birds, Reptiles, Fish, and Insects. New
York: AMS Press, 1973. 476 pp.
Rhodes, Frank H. T. “Nicholas Copernicus, a Scientist for All
Seasons.” MQR, 13 (1974), 104-129.
Roberts, David A. “Mystery to Mathematics Flown: Time and
Reality in the Renaissance.” CR, 19 (1975), 136-156.
(The reduction of all higher things to finite and mundane
causes through natural philosophy; the art of satire.)
Rockwood, Robert J. “Alchemical Forms of Thought in Book I of
Spenser’s Faerie Queene.” DAI, 34 (1973), 3355-A.
Secret, Francois. “Littérature et alchimie.” BHR, 35 (1973),
Shirley, J. W., Ed. Thomas Harriot, Renaissance Scientist. Oxford: Clarendon Press: Oxford University Press, 1974.
181 pp. Rev. by J. A. Lohne, The British Journal for the
History of Science, 8 (1975), 183.
Shumaker, Wayne. “The Popularity of Renaissance Esotericism.”
BuR, 20 (1972), 45-52.
Walker, Judy Carol. “The Unity of Cyrano de Bergerac’s Imaginary Voyages.” DAI, 36 (1975), 1566-A.
Warnlof, Jessica Jean. “The Influence of Giordano Bruno on the
Writings of Sir Philip Sidney.” DAI, 34 (1974), 4222-A.
Wilson, Dudley, Ed. French Renaissance Scientific Poetry. The
Athlone Press, 1974. 185 pp. Rev. by A. H. T. Levi, DUJ,
68 (1975), 102-103.
Brants Verhiltnis
zu Wunderdeu-
tung und Astrologie.” In Studien zur deutschen Literatur
und Sprache des Mittelalters. Festschrift fiir Hugo Moser.
Berlin: Schmidt, 1974. pp. 272-286.
IV. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
Armogathe, J. -R. “Emendatio intellectus en Europe au XVII¢
siécle.” DSS, 106-107 (1975), 113-129. (Hearing and touch
as basis for perception of space in the seventeenth century.)
George E., Jr. “Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century
American Science: A Different Perspective.” ECS, 9
(1975-76), 178-191.
George A. “Great Moments in
Science.” ArQ, 31 (1975), 265-278.
(Goethe and phar-
Bentley, Christopher. “The Rational Physician: Richard Whitlock’s Medical Satires.” J. Hist. Med., 29 (1974), 180-195.
Beyette, Kent. ‘““Wordsworth’s Medical Muse: Erasmus
and Psychology in ‘Strange fits of passion
known’.” Lit. Psychol., 23 (1973), 93-101.
have I
Bickerton, David M. “A Scientific and Literary Periodical, the
Bibliothéque britannique (1796-1815): Its Foundation
and Early Development.” RLC, 46 (1972), 527-47.
Borkat, Roberta Sarfatt. “Moral Mathematics in Jonathan Swift’s
Modest Proposal.” Eighteenth-Century Life, 1 (1975),
64-67. (Use of mathematics and statistics by Swift to
convey religious and moral argument.)
Canavan, Thomas L. “Madness and Enthusiasm in Burton’s
Anatomy of Melancholy and Swift's Tale of a Tub.” DAI,
34 (1973) 269-A.
Curtis, F. B. “Blake and the ‘Moment of Time’: An Eighteenth
Century Controversy in Mathematics.” PQ, 51 (1972),
Debus, Allen G. “A Further Note on Palingenesis: The Account
of Ebenezer Sibly in the Illustration of Astrology (1792).”
Isis, 64 (1973) , 226-30.
De Port, Michael V. Nightmares and Hobbyhorses: Swift, Sterne,
and Augustan Ideas of Madness. San Marino, California:
Huntington Library, 1974. 164 pp.
Eckhert, Mary Ellen. “Astrology
Man: The Works of Marin
Importance in the Cultural
Century.” DAI, 36 (1975),
and Humors in the Theory of
Cureau de la Chambre and the
Evolution of the Seventeenth
Eberhard. Feuerwerke des Barock: Studium zum Offentlichen Fest und seiner literarischen Deutung vom 16.
bis 18. Jahrhundert. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1974. 248 pp.
Paul Lawrence. “Buffon and Daubenton: Divergent
Traditions within the Histoire naturelle.” Isis, 66 (1975),
63-74. (Two naturalists attempt to describe nature and
Fabricant, Carole. “The Garden as City: Swift’s Landscape of
Alienation.” ELH, 42 (1975), 531-555.
Foster, John Wilson. “The Measure of Paradise: Topography in
Eighteenth-Century Poetry.” ECS, 9 (1975-76), 232-256.
(“The influence of the advancing sciences of surveying
and topography partially accounts for developments in the
of eighteenth-century
Fullard, Joyce. “Satire and the New Science in England, France,
and Spain during the Enlightenment.” DAI, 36 (1975),
Furst, Daniel
C. “Sterne and Physick:
of Health
Disease in Tristram Shandy.” DAI, 35 (1974), 3738-A.
Guibbory, Ashsah. “Francis Bacon’s View of History: The Cycles
of Error and the Progress of Truth.” JEGP, 3 (1975),
Guthke, Karl S. “Haller und die Bibliothéque raisonnée.” Jahrb.
Freien Deut. Hoch., (1973), 1-18.
Hall, A. Rupert. “Newton in France: A New View.” History of
Science, 13 (1975), 233-250.
Hassler, Donald M. “The Disease of the Learned, Erasmus
Darwin, and Sensibility.” EnlE, 3 (1972), 118-119.
M. “Erasmus
and Enlightenment
lief.” EnlE, 1 (1970), 77-83.
Hegener, J. Die Poetisierung der Wissenschaften bei Novalis.
Dargestellt am Prozess der Entwicklung von Welt und
Menschheit, Studien zum Problem enzyklopidischen Welterfahrens (Abhandlungen zur Kunst-Musik-und Literaturwissenschaft, Band 170). Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1975.
521 pp.
Herrmann, Dieter B. “Die Copernicus-Biographie von Georg
Christoph Lichtenberg.” Zeitschrift fiir Geschichte der
Jardine, Lisa. Francis Bacon, Discovery and the Art of Discourse.
London: Cambridge University Press, 1975. 267 pp. Rev.
by David Knight, DUJ, 68 (1975), 96-97; Graham Rees,
Annals of Science, 32 (1975), 519-521.
Joel. “Physiology and Metaphor in Edward Taylor’s
‘Meditation. Can. 1.3.’.” EAL, 9 (1975), 315-320.
Crafts.” Nature, 247 (1974), 87-91.
Kinsley, William. “Physico-demonology in Pope’s ‘Dunciad’ IV,
71-90.” MLR, 70 (1975), 20-31.
Kirsop, Wallace. “Alchemists and Antiquaries in Enlightenment
France.” AJFS, 12 (1975), 168-191.
Kolin, Philip C. “The Elizabethan Stage Doctor as a Dramatic
Convention.” DAI, 34 (1973), 3406-A.
Lacombe, Anne. “La Lettre sur l’insertion de la petite vérole
et Les Lettres philosophiques.” SVEC,
Linden, Stanton J. “Francis Bacon and Alchemy: The Reformation of Vulean.” JHI, 35 (1974), 547-560.
Maggs, Barbara W. “Eighteenth-Century Russian Reflections on
the Lisbon Earthquake, Voltaire and Optimism.” SVEC,
137 (1975), 7-29.
Mazzeo, Joseph Anthony. “Seventeenth-Century English Prose
Style: The Quest for a Natural Style.” Mosaic, 6 (1973),
Metzger, Joseph V. “The Cosmology of Thomas Paine.” JLQ, 37
(1974), 47-63.
Miiller-Seidel, Walter. ““Naturforschung und deutsche Klassik:
Die Jenaer Gesprache im Juli 1794.” In Untersuchungen
zur Literatur als Geschichte: Festschrift fiir Benno von
Wiese. Berlin: Schmidt, 1973. pp. 61-78.
Niebyl, Peter H. “Science and Metaphor in the Medicine of
Restoration England.” Bull. Hist. Med., 47 (1978),
Obelkevich, Mary. “Manifestations of Philosophy and Science in
the Music of Seventeenth Century France.” DAI, 34
(1973), 3455-A.
Otten, Robert M. “The ‘ill-grounded quarrel with nature’: The
Projector as Metaphor in the Writings of Jonathan Swift.”
DAI, 35 (1974) , 2950-A.
Patterson, Anne E. “Descartes’ Animal-Machine and Neoclassical
Satire: Animal Imagery in Selected Works of La Fontaine and Swift.” DAI, 34 (1974), 6601-A.
Michel. “L’Age classique de la physique: D’Alembert.
et théorie
(1975), 43-65.
Probyn, Clive T. “Swift and the Physician:
Aspects of Satire
and Status.” Med. Hist., 18 (1974), 149-161.
Reynolds, Richard R. “Johnson’s Life of Boerhaave in Perspec-
tive.” YES, 5 (1975), 115-129.
Richter, Karl. Literatur und Naturwissenschaft. Eine Studie
zur Lyrik der Aufklérung. Miinchen: Wilhelm Fink, 1972.
238 pp. Rev. by Karl S. Guthke, GR, 50 (1975), 55-56.
Roe, Shirley A. “The Development of Albrecht von Haller’s Views
on Embryology.” Journal of the History of Biology, 8
(1975-76) , 167-190.
Rogers, Pat. “Gulliver and the Engineers.” MLR, 70 (1975),
Sambursky, Schmuel. “Licht und Farbe in den physikalischen
Wissenschaften und in Goethes Lehre.” Franos-Jahrb., 41
(1972), 177-216.
Scharnowell, Viktor. Von Newton zu Goethe. Beitriige zur
der Naturerkenntnis.
Verlag Die Pforte, 1973. 83 pp.
Schatzberg, Walter. Scientific Themes in the Popular Literature
and the Poetry of the German Enlightenment, 1720-1760.
Berne: Herbert Lang Co., 1973. 349 pp. Rev. by Markus
F. Motsch, MLN, 90 (1975), 707.
Schneider, Michael. “Of Mystics and Mechanism: The reception
of Newtonian Physics in Eighteenth-Century English
Poetry.” Synthesis (Cambridge), 1 (1973), 14-26.
Schueler, H. J. “Cosmology and Quest in Novalis’ ‘Klingsohrs
Marchen’.” GR, 49 (1974), 259-66.
Sena, John F. “Samuel Garth’s The Dispensary.” TSLL, 15
(1974) , 639-648.
Sena, John F. “Smollett’s Matthew Bramble and the Tradition
of the Physician-Satirist.” PLL, 11 (1975), 380-396.
Shapin, Steven. “The Audience for Science in Eighteenth-Century Edinburgh.” Hist. Sci., 12 (1974), 95-121.
Shifferd, Kent D. “The Origins of Modern Environmental
Thought: A Study of the Writings of Daniel Defoe, Denis
Diderot, and Karl Marx.” DAI, 35 (1974), 3656-A.
Sonntag, Otto. “Albrecht von Haller on the Future of Science.”
JHI, 35 (1974), 313-322.
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of Albrecht von Haller.” Jsis, 65 (1974), 336-351.
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Steer, A. G. “The Wound and the Physician in Goethe’s Wilhelm
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Stephens, James. Francis Bacon and the Style of Science. Chicago
and London: University of Chicago Press, 1975. 188 pp.
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Orthodox Spirituality.” DAI, 35 (1974), 387-A.
Tillman, James S. “Bacon’s Georgics of Science.” PLL, 11
(1975), 357-366. (In Bacon as well as in later essayists
there is a redirection of the didactic and idealistic themes
of the Georgics into a new literary form that substitutes
the rules of natural history for the science of husbandry.)
Van Helden, Albert. “The Telescope in the Seventeenth Century.”
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Wiener, Harvey S. “ ‘Science or Providence’: Toward Knowledge in Bacon’s New Atlantis.” EnlE, 3 (1972), 85-92.
V. Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
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49.” Critique, 14 (1972), 18-33.
Albanese, Catherine. “The Kinetic Revolution: Transformation
in the Language of the Transcendentalists.” NEQ, 48
(1975), 319-340.
(The transcendentalist version of the
correspondence theory.)
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(Science fiction as a successor to fairy tales and fantastic
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Coburn, Kathleen. “Coleridge, a Bridge between Science and
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explains the chronological basis of the novel by an analysis
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DAI, 35 (1974-75), 4426-4427-A.
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aesthetic. Nabokov wished to combine the qualities of art
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ern Australia: University of Western
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VS, 18 (1975), 277-308, 437-459.
Gliserman, Susan. “Literature as Historical Document: Tennyson
and the Nineteenth-Century Science Writers, 1830-1854.”
DAI, 34 (1974), 4201-A.
Greenberg, Robert A. “Plexuses and Ganglia: Scientific Allusion
in Middlemarch.” NCF, 30 (1975), 33-52.
Griffin, David. “The Science of Henry David Thoreau.” Synthesis (Cambridge), 1 (1973), 5-22.
Gruber, Howard E. Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of
Scientific Creativity. Together with Darwin’s early and
unpublished notebooks, transcribed and annotated by Paul
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1974. 495 pp.
Guedj, Aimé. “Le Naturalisme avant Zola: La littérature et la
science sous le Second Empire.” RSH, 160 (1975), 567-580.
Haeger, J. H. “‘Coleridge’s Speculations on Race.” SIR, 13 (1974),
Harris, Kathryn. “Robert Frost’s Early Education in Science.”
SCR, 7 (1974), 13-33.
Hegge, Hjalmar. “Theory of Science in the Light of Goethe's
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Herring, Phillip F. “Experimentation with a Landscape: Pornotopography in Ulysses-The Phallacy of Imitative Form.”
MFS, 20 (1974), 371-390.
Hume, Kathryn. “C. S. Lewis’ Trilogy: A Cosmic Romance.”
MFS, 20 (1974-75), 505-517.
Huntington, John. “Science Fiction and the Future.” CE, 37
(1975) , 345-352.
Jahn, Ilse. “Btienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire an Alexander von
Humboldt iiber Goethes Stellungnahme zum Pariser Akademiestrest.” Zeitschrift fiir Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin, 10 (1973), 59-67.
Karcher, Carolyn L. “Melville’s ‘The Gees’: A Forgotten Satire
on Scientific Racism.” AQ, 27 (1975), 421-442.
Kraft, Quentin G. “Science and Poetics, Old and New.” CE, 37
(1975), 167-175.
(Science aids the “new classicism”
[structuralism] in its fight against romanticism.)
Kurman, George. “Entropy and the ‘Death’ of Tragedy: Notes
for a Theory of Drama.’ CompD, 9 (1975-76), 283-304.
(Rising entropy and tragic man: to move is to lose.)
Laine, Barry. “By Water and by Fire: The Thales-Anaxagoras
Debate in Goethe’s Faust.” GR, 50 (1975), 99-110.
Laporte, Paul. “Turner to de Kooning: Non-Euclidean Geometry
to Quantum Theory.” BNYPL, 79 (1975), 4-39. (“The
traditional faith in Newton’s absolute space and time
began to break down with the appearance of non-Euclidean
geometry. Similarly, the traditional manner of painting
which identified space with substantial bodies was first
abandoned by Turner. In contrast to traditional ideas
where gravity reigned, painting as well as geometry and
physics began to develop the notion of a relational world
in which gravity was only a special case.”’)
Lee, D. C. J. “Renan’s Avenir de la science: Dialogue for an Ab-
sent Christ.” NCFS, 4 (1975-76), 67-88.
Leland, John P. “Pynchon’s Linguistic Demon: The Crying of Lot
49.” Critique, 16 (1974), 45-53. (“The Crying of Lot 49
is a fiction which explores the possibilities of language
and fiction themselves . . . Pynchon’s novel is not only
about entropy but is itself entropic.”)
Levine, George. ““V-2.” PR, 40 (1973), 517-529. (“The presiding
power is energy itself, gradually levelling human experience and feeling into geological strata.’’)
Lohmeyer, Dorothea. Faust und die Welt. Der 2. Teil der Dichtung. Eine Anleitung zum Lesen des Textes. Miinchen:
Beck, 1975. 427 pp. (Goethe’s scientific work is used extensively in this interpretation of Faust II.)
Lorman, Margaret. “Goethe und Lehmann: Morphologisches
Denken im 20. Jahrhundert.” Seminar, 11 (1975), 46-55.
(“Lehmann, both as a student of nature and as a creative
artist, adapts Goethe’s dynamic morphological views and
his concepts of polarity and metamorphosis to an aesthetics that is consistent with twentieth-century ‘pattern’ or
‘process’ thinking.”)
Lyon, James K. “Paul Celan’s Language of Stone: The Geology
of the Poetic Landscape.” CollG, 1974 (3/4), 298-317.
(An account of Celan’s use of technical terms from mining, geology, paleontology, geography, geomorphology,
mineralogy, and petrology as ciphers of the poetic process.)
Marre, K. E. “Experimentation with a Symbol from Mythology:
The Courses of the Comets in the ‘Ithaca’ Chapter of
Ulysses.” MFS, 20 (1974), 385-390.
McCarthy, Paul. “Elements of Anatomy in Melville’s Fiction.”
SNNTS,6 (1974), 38-61.
McDaniel, Judith. “Wallace Stevens and the Scientific Imagination.” ConL, 15 (1974), 221-237.
McIntosh, James. Thoreau as Romantic Naturalist: His Shifting
Stance toward Nature. Cornell University Press, 1974.
Rev. by Charles R. O’Donnell in AL, 47 (1975), 124-25;
by Judith Saunders in SJR, 14 (1975), 458-460.
Merrel, Floyd. “Jose Arcadio Buendia’s Scientific Paradigms:
Man in Search of Himself.” Latin American Literary Review, 2 (1974), 59-70.
Meyer, D. H. “American Intellectuals and the Victorian Crisis
of Faith.” AQ, 27 (1975), 585-603. (Cosmic homesickness
in an increasingly scientific age.)
Morton, Peter. “Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A Neo-Darwinian
Reading.” SoR, 7 (1974), 38-50.
Newton, K. M. “George Eliot, George Henry Lewes, and Darwinism.” DUJ, 66 (1974), 278-293.
Nisbet, H. B. Goethe and the Scientific Tradition. London: Insti-
tute of Germanic Studies, University of London, 1972.
83 pp. Rev. by Walter Schatzberg, MLN, 90 (1975),
Orange, A. D. “The Idols of the Theatre: The British Association
and its Early Critics.” Annals of Science, 32 (1975), 277294. (“In its infancy the British Association for the Advancement of Science derived a good deal of its inspiration from the writings of Francis Bacon. But the pursuit
of Baconian policies brought with it attendant dangers
which critics from Charles Dickens to the Times were
not slow to magnify.’’)
Ozier, Lance W. “The Calculus of Transformation: More Mathematical Imagery in Gravity’s Rainbow.” TCL, 21 (1975),
Perlis, Alan D. “Science, Mysticism and Contemporary Poetry.”
WHR, 29 (1975), 209-218. (I. A. Richards, Carl Jung,
Arthur Koestler, Galway Kinnell, A. R. Ammons, Robert
Pickering, Sir George. Creative Malady. London: Allen & Unwin,
1974. 327 pp. (Psychosomatic illness in Darwin, Florence
Nightingale, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)
Pison, Thomas. “Paterson: The Discontinuous Universe of the
Present.” CentR, 19 (1975), 325-337.
Poirier, Richard. “Rocket Power.” SRA, 1 (1973), 59-64. (“In
the structure of his books Pynchon duplicates the intricate
network of contemporary technological, political, and cultural systems.”’)
Jerrald. “Palindromes, Poems and Geometric Forms.”
CE, 36 (1974), 161-172. (Defines and discusses the palindrome form, with an analysis of poems by Wallace, Cummings, and Moore.)
Renner, Stanley. “The Garden of Civilization: Conrad, Huxley,
and the Ethics of Evolution.” Conradiana: A Journal of
Joseph Conrad, 7 (1975), 109-120.
Rosenthal, P. Z. “The Language of Measurement in Whitman’s
Early Writing.” TSLL, 15 (1973), 461-470.
Rudwick, Martin J. S. “Caricature as a Source for the History of
Science: De la Beche’s Anti-Lyellian Sketches of 1831.”
Isis, 66 (1975), 534-560.
Riillkotter, Bernd. Die Wissenschaftliche Phantastik der Sowjetunion. Eine vergleichende Untersuchung der spekulativen
Literatur in Ost und West. Bern, Frankfurt/M: Lang
Verlag, 1974. 306 pp. (The interdependence of ideology,
science, and literature is examined.)
Sadler, Frank Orin. “Science and Fiction in the Science-Fiction
Novel.” DAI, 36 (1975), 883-A.
Sanchez Sarto, Manuel. “Humboldt, el monstruo heraldico del
Orinoco.” CA, 203 (1975), 149-164.
Sanderson, Donald G. “Nietzsche and Evolution.” DAI, 35
(1974), 1709-A.
Schleussner, Bruno. “Science Fiction als Gegenstand der Literaturwissenschaft—Science Fiction im Fremdsprachen-unterricht.” LWU, 8 (1975), 72-83.
Schlossberg, Edwin. Hinstein and
ginary Discussion with
Beckett. New York: Links
Shaffer, Elinor S. “Coleridge and
Beckett: A Record of an ImaAlbert Einstein and Samuel
Books, 1973. 125 pp.
Natural Philosophy: A Review
of Recent Literary and Historical Research.” Hist. Sci., 12
(1974) , 284-298.
Schulz, Max F. “The Perseverance of Romanticism:
Organism to Artifact.” CLIO, 3 (1974), 165-186.
Sjoberg, Leif. “Harry Martinson: From Vagabond to Space
Explorer.” BA, 48 (1974), 476-485. (““Martinson’s prolific
output and his interests in technology, science and literature have contributed to his stature as poet and novelist.”’)
Smith, Allen North. “Stephen Crane and the Darwin Revolution.”
DAI, 35 (1974-75) , 6160-6161-A.
Scott, Robert Ian. “A Sense of Loss: Entropy vs Ecology in The
Great Gatsby.” QQ, 82 (1975), 559-571.
Suvin, Darko. “Communication in Quantified Space: The Utopian Liberalism of Jules Verne’s Science Fiction.” CLIO,
4 (1974), 51-71.
Tarullo, Daniel Americo. “The Darwinian Background of the
Railroad, 1865-1900.” DAI, 35 (1974-75),
7925-A. (Section V “presents literature of analysis and
protest against the railroad
and its Darwinian
Tatar, Maria M. “Mesmerism, Madness, and Death in E. T. A.
Hoffmann’s Der goldne Topf.” SIR, 14 (1975), 365-389.
Taylor, Charles S. “The Friendship of Art and Science: An
Inquiry into Nietzsche’s Writings before Zarathustra.”
DAI, 35 (1974), 1170-A.
Turner, Frank M. Between Science and Religion: The Reaction
to Scientific Naturalism in Late Victorian England. New
Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974. 273 pp.
Rev. by J. H. Brooke, The British Journal for History of
Science, 8 (1975), 262-264; by William H. Brock, VS, 18
(1975) , 372-374.
Turner, Frank M. “Victorian Scientific Naturalism and Thomas
Carlyle.” VS, 18 (1975), 325-343.
Twitchell, James B. “ ‘The Mental Traveller,’ Infinity, and the
‘Arlington Court Picture’.” Criticism, 17 (1975), 1-14.
[The symbol of infinity became one of Blake’s major
poetic icons, “suggesting as it does the infinite continuation of time (the drawn line) and the expansion and contraction of space (the area between the lines).’’]
Urban, Bernd. “Arthur Schnitzler und Sigmund Freud aus den
des ‘Doppelgaingers’:
Zur Differenzierung
dichterischer Intuition und Umgebung der friihen Hysterieforschung.” GRM, 24 (1974), 193-223.
Wasserstrom, William. “The Sursymamericubealism of Gertrude
Stein.” TCL, 21 (1975), 90-106. (Stein shares a “taste
for a cosmology which relates the human being to the
physical universe in terms of motion: the motion of
thought and the motion of natural energy.”’)
Weiss, Sydna Stern. “Scientists in Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century German Literature: Their Projects, Personalities, and Problems.” DAI, 36 (1975), 2233-A.
Weizenbaum, Joseph. “Science and the Compulsive Programmer.”
PR, 42 (1975), 235-250. (Drunkard’s search syndrome;
the magic computer system.)
David B. “Herschel and Whewell’s
tonianism.” JHI, 35 (1974), 79-97.
of New-
Yanella, Philip R. “ ‘Inventive Dust’: The Metamorphoses of
‘For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen’.” ConL, 15
(1974), 102-122. (In this poem Hart Crane demonstrates
an attitude toward scientific technology that is at odds
with the attitude of the major writers of the period.)
New Approaches
Structure and Society in Literary History: Studies in the History
and Theory of Historical Criticism. By Robert Weimann.
lottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia. 1976. Pp. x, 273.
Robert Weimann of the Berlin Academy of Sciences may
plausibly be nominated as the outstanding literary theoretician
of the German Democratic Republic. He is an Anglist by training and his first publications were on Shakespeare and early
English drama; his major theoretical works are a 1962 Marxist
analysis of the New Criticism and a 1974 critique of Western
literary criticism from T. S. Eliot and Leavis through French
structuralism. His work distinguishes itself from most comparable West German radical studies in three essential respects:
instead of disposing of Western and especially Anglo-American
criticism by dropping it into bins marked “formalism” and
“bourgeois scholarship,” he has undertaken to inform himself
about it and, moreover, respect its intellectual stature (“profoundly searching,” p. 19); his demeanor is civil and mature;
and he writes comprehensibly. Clarity of style is, on the whole,
typical of East German literary study, but much of the time it is
the mark of mental blandness and conformist timidity; on Weimann’s level it is more thoughtful and probing, and also unusually cosmopolitan. He has spent a substantial amount of time in
the United States recently; he has published in New Literary History, CLIO [5 (Fall 1975), 3-35], and elsewhere; and he has
taught at the University of Virginia, to which latter circumstance
we owe this book. On the other hand, there can be no proper
question of his orthodoxy and loyalty; he is one official voice of
East German Marxism. In the body of the text he goes out of his
way to assert his concord with his prominent institutional colleagues (p. 194, fn. 9), and in the preface he makes a point of
acknowledging, among others, several American and English
Communists. There are intermittent nuances in Weimann that
will strike the attention of anyone familiar with the habits of
contemporary East German critical discussion. But to estimate
accurately how he actually fits into the rather confusing picture
that East German intellectual and scholarly activity currently
presents would require a deeper student of that complex than I.
The book has been composed, in the main, from articles that
have appeared elsewhere and segments of Weimann’s previous
books, conscientiously revised and, where necessary, retranslated.
The result, however, is not a collection of articles but a coherent
monograph, which in turn reflects the exceptional degree of consistency in his thinking. The pervasive theme is set by the title
of the first chapter, “Past Significance and Present Meaning
in Literary History.” The concern is to develop a living relationship between a valid historical apprehension of the genesis
of a literary work and its meaningful impact upon a present
consciousness; the problem is to avoid the dilemma of antiquarianism and presentism by discovering the relevant aspects of
genesis and reception that are inherent in the literary object.
The second chapter is a historical and ideological critique of the
concept of tradition in the nineteenth century and in modernism;
the third an analysis of the dissolution of a usable historical past
as a standard of value in American literary history. In the fourth
chapter Weimann
departs from his usual Anglo-American
ground to mount a critique of structuralism’s denigration of extrinsic referentiality, and then to consider how the terms of
structuralism and semiotics might be made available to the kind
of literary history he projects. The final chapters endeavor to
apply the position to specific problems of criticism: first to the
practice of image analysis of Shakespeare, where he argues that
metaphor’s essence is found in extrinsic connections, not merely
in internal aesthetic relations in the text; and secondly to point
of view in the novel as involving the relationship of the author
to the world and society.
The chief features of Weimann’s kind of argument are its
orientation on a particular philosophy of history and its explicit
rationality. The basic position is, obviously, that of modern
Marxism: literature and art are the imaginative appropriation
of the world, a form of human labor changing and subjugating
the world and, at the same time, dialectically affecting the consciousness of man, who is the “product and the agent of his own
history” (p. 11). Literary historiography is thus properly the
development of an analytical awareness of present consciousness
as the product of the experience of past literature. One point to
be made about this allegiance concerns Weimann’s objections to
modern Western criticism, that “a temporal and progressive idea
of the literary heritage is surrendered in the process of the
diminution of its social and cultural functions”
(p. 83). The
Marxist assumption relieves him of any obligation to justify the
concept of progress introduced here, which is both assumed—the
book ends with a gesture to Hegel—and crucial to a consideration
of literary history as a vehicle of social value. Of course, it is not
the “peculiarly Anglo-Saxon, mechanical, and naive” notion of
progress (p. 99) ; however, the extent to which one can regard
the implied dialectical concept as an advance over Anglo-Saxon
simple-mindedness depends directly on the extent to which one
can accept the Marxist view of history, for otherwise a demand
for a historical, extrinsic interpretation of literature can be defended quite without a concept of progress and thus without
claims of the direct social utility of the enterprise. It is generally the case with Marxist literary history that the coherence
supplied by a fully articulated philosophy of history is purchased
at the price of intellectual adventure; since the history to which
literature is to be correlated is wholly understood, the results appear less as discoveries and encounters than as illustrations. The
rationality, on the other hand, I find refreshing and valuable.
Despite his concern for present consciousness and the reception
process, Weimann is not prepared to see the text as a Protean
object arbitrarily created by the apprehending consciousness, but
as a more or less fixed, historically grounded “given’’; in this
connection, here and elsewhere, he regularly refers, not uncritically but clearly gratefully, to E. D. Hirsch. Weimann is
suspicious of employing the rhetoric of fiction as a paradigm
for historiography, and with his customary pleasantness he remarks of Hayden White’s “metahistory” that it is “as ingenious
as, and possibly more fearful than, Northrop Frye’s patterns of
(p. 27). In dealing with structuralism, Weimann
firmly resists the “depletion of the signifié” and “the inflation
of the sign” (pp. 153, 173) ; but in his defense of referentiality
he acknowledges that in literature the referent of the sign is not
a concrete object but the “object of the metaphorical reference
of the standards and values of the imaginative world of the art
work to the experience of the real world of history” (p. 186).
Weimann deals with such fundamental issues that it would
take a monographic exercise to confront them adequately. It
must also be said that his critique of Western criticism is considerably more elaborated than his prescriptions for the practice of literary history. There are three areas, however, where it
appears to me that he invites a general critique. First, for the
sake of his argument he rather overestimates the dehistoricization of literature and the banishment of the concrete author in the
practice of Western scholarship and education. That he deals
with prestigious theoretical trends (which peaked some while
ago) is not to be doubted, but they have not been without alternatives from the beginning and have not wholly absorbed practical criticism and scholarly inquiry. His position appears as an
argumentative bias particularly in the symptomatic importance
he ascribes to Randall Stewart’s eccentric tract of 1958, American Literature and Christian Doctrine. Even Weimann’s special
concern for the relation of aesthetic form to sociohistorical
change and reader consciousness is not quite as neglected as he
believes. Just as examples: I find no references to Ian Watt,
Richard Altick, or William Charvat in any of his major writings,
and only a couple of fleeting ones to Kenneth Burke, which do
not suggest a first-hand acquaintance. Such omissions become
significant in the light of his exhaustive erudition in the more
conservative patterns of our criticism. Probably the most enduring contribution of the New Criticism has not been its
ideological drift, but the greatly refined sensitivity to the detail
of the empirical text and its campaign against the practice of
interpolating an imaginary surrogate text formed by the reader’s
own parochial expectations. Weimann acknowledges the value
of close reading, but he may underestimate the importance of
what we have learned in the last fifty years about the subtlety
and delicacy of literary texts.
A second aspect of Weimann’s argument, which might not
strike the American reader at once (though he explicitly points
to it, pp. 58-59 and fn. 1), is that it reflects, at a sublimated
level, the obsession of East German cultural politics with the
problem of tradition. Fundamentally this is a strategy to legitimize the East German state as the true successor to the emancipatory heritage in Germany, from the Reformation and the Enlightenment through Goethe, German Classicism, and such nine-
teenth-century realism as can be identified with the Communist
movement. (The tendency has generally been to regard Romanticism as a reactionary aberration, but the Anglist Weimann is
clearly unable to take that view.) In part the strategy has been
defensive, in the face of the tendency of some of us in the West
(and not only in the West) to regard West Germany, for better
or worse, as the real Germany, and East Germany as peripheral
and artificial. As much as Weimann’s theme may be an outgrowth of political apologetics, the Enlightenment allegiance at
his level of intelligence yields worthwhile considerations. An
example is his argument, mounted by reference to Samuel Johnson, that in rational criticism the tenor rather than the vehicle
of a metaphor, its extrinsic referent rather than its spatially intratextual aspect, should be our main interest. At the same time
the fixation upon tradition is necessarily associated with a rather
conservative canon of evaluation; while Weimann is less vociferous on this point than many others, the thrust of his argu-
ment is strongly anti-modernist and thus inhospitable to aesthetic
experiment and deviation on the boundaries of the normal and
the normative.
This brings us to my third point, which is the crucial core,
not only of Weimann’s position, but of the whole international
debate of which he is a part. To put it abstractly: critically, the
position seeks to interpret significant literature as an appropriation of the world in its wholeness within its respective historical
dimensions; normatively, it identifies value in literature according to the extent to which it apprehends wholeness; and ethically,
it regards a commitment to a recovered wholeness of culture
and society as the proper end of intellectual activity. Weimann’s
remark that the “Marxist approach” is “hostile to any apology
of alienation in whatever form it appears” (p. 235) is a tendentious way of stating the central issue. Here lies the watershed
between liberal scholarship and all alternatives to it, including
our indigenous New Left, to which Weimann adverts approvingly
on this point, though he is otherwise rather unsympathetic to it.
(Like many Germans, Weimann sees liberalism as primarily an
economic, rather than a political and ethical doctrine, and prematurely assumes its demise.)
The question is whether in a
modern pluralistic society literature and criticism can be made
to bear the responsibility for an accurately inclusive and integrative apprehension of reality and experience, whether to attempt to do so does not both impoverish the literary imagination
and overestimate its centrality. To be sure, to suggest this means
to abandon some of the universalistic and occasionally prophetic
pretensions of parts of our own criticism as well, which has
often been a defense of poesy and criticism not only as values,
but also as institutions. In Weimann, as in much modern Marxist
literary theory, the radical and the conservative coalesce in a
cultural philosophy presided over by Goethean organicism, but
the political efforts in our time to legislate such a recovery of
cultural wholeness certainly do not inspire confidence.
Thus the question of where the genuinely progressive position lies on this matter is deserving of serious debate. At the
same time, Weimann is persuasive and useful on the ideological
complicities of some of our modernist criticism. More generally,
his work is important as a model of cooperation of a Marxist
poetics with the achievements and modern practices of Western
criticism; the advantage to us will be great, but perhaps even
greater to the maturation and humanizing of orthodox Marxist
intellectual discourse. Another excellent recent effort of this
kind, worthy to be set beside Weimann’s work, is the Polish
theoretician Stefan Morawski’s Inquiries into the Fundamentals
of Aesthetics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1974).
Finally, the University Press of Virginia is to be congratulated on a fine job of book-making, a form of conservatism
in which, in the present circumstances, we may all uniformly
Jeffrey L. Sammons
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
Historical Drama: The Relation of Literature and Reality. By
Herbert Lindenberger. Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago
Press. 1975. Pp. xiv, 194.
From several fronts we are finally getting new approaches
to the history play. We speak readily of the comedies and the
tragedies as having their own dispensations, with their own kinds
of characters, situations, levels of rhetoric, conventions and pre-
vailing moments
in history, but are somehow
that the history play has its own
to ac-
need to approach the history play as an “imaginative mode.”
This phrase is borrowed from Herbert Lindenberger’s book,
which takes a large step toward establishing these new approaches, and does so by not only studying Shakespeare’s history
plays but by attempting what amounts to a topography of historical drama since then.
This study is not a “history” of historical drama, nor an
abstract model of the history play. Instead, from under general
topical divisions, Lindenberger draws out elements and confronts questions that help establish the boundaries of historical
drama. For example, in his first chapter he notes that the history play, more than other kinds of drama, seems bound to its
sources. There are certain realities that it cannot transfigure
without becoming ridiculous.
Furthermore, historical drama
seems more intensively to assert the continuities of past and present (probably because of historical drama’s close association
with a national consciousness). In his second chapter Lindenberger deals with three kinds of structures that seem most pervasive: they involve conspiracies, tyrants and martyrs.
Conspiracy should probably be considered under a larger heading
of rebellion. In any event, it lends itself to some introspection
and anguish of soul, as well as to highly dramatic rhetoric of
if a plotter is successfully
to tempt a potential co-
conspirator. Historical drama seems inclined toward plots dealing with tyrants: not only do they present the moral ambiguities
of deposition, but also the vicarious theatrical appeal of barbarism. Putting his own categories to critical use, Lindenberger
finds the martyr type of history play somewhat limited in its
dramatic potential (it seemed to flourish in the ethos of the
Counter-Reformation, with its other-worldly zeal).
Historical drama offers the enjoyment of identification with
the great figures — men and women — who have had the power
to affect history. By its very nature, the history play “magnifies.” Yet some of Lindenberger’s most interesting pages have
to deal with the difficulty of sustaining heroic language and action. He argues that not only over the long run of a cultural
epoch do we observe satirical tendencies of “demagnification”
set in, but that this can occur even within the individual play.
“Audiences and readers . . . can bear only a limited amount of
heroism before tedium, or, for that matter, laughter sets in”
(p. 66). The relationship of heroism and historical drama is ambiguous: in Shakespeare’s case the high-sounding ambition of the
Marlovian hero was ethically uncongenial—as well as outmoded—
to his historical world. Those characters who search for an Elysium in the crown—the Yorkists in the first tetralogy and
Hotspur in the second—are all found to be unsuited to the serious responsibilities of government.
Lindenberger is right in using Shakespeare as a primary
instance in support of the argument that there is something
distinctly “middle-ground” about historical drama. Perhaps this
goes back to the great archetype of the genre, the Oresteia, where
finally place must be made in the total life of the polis for the
memory-haunted conservatizing hard-hatted Furies, as well as
for the Apollonian forces of liberation and illumination. So, too,
Shakespearian conclusions reach for resolutions: in historical
drama antinomies are not radical, they can be transcended. In
another sense historical drama seems to mediate between the
public and the private worlds. The personal qualities and attributes of the hero are definitely at issue in determining who is
best suited to rule. The king in Shakespeare’s plays becomes
representative man—a model of the best use of the qualities his
people possess. Aesthetically historical drama seems to balance
the continuity of comedy and the finality of tragedy. It incorporates many terminations within the larger sense of the ongoing life of the community. And philosophically it brings together a “temporal view of things with views which .. . assert
their timeless nature: it is as though a historical world could
define itself only through a constant exploration of the boundaries
which separate the temporal from the timeless” (p. 114).
Lindenberger’s method is kaleidoscopic, never really forming a final image. Yet, there is a kind of prototype in his mind
where historical drama seems to have its fullest manifestation—
and this “model” is provided by the world of Shakespeare’s history plays. Indeed it is by setting the coherent patterns of
Shakespeare’s histories against those of the comedies and of the
tragedies that one is first moved to conceive of the history play
as an “imaginative mode,” as a world to itself. Consequently,
while rejecting a single pattern, what he calls “critical monism,”
and allowing for many shadings and exceptions, still one of Lindenberger’s continuing purposes throughout his study is to draw
attention to the historical changes that seemed to reduce the
possibilities of historical drama.
For instance, the “tyrant play” so powerful in the Elizabethan canon has become problematical since the kind of tyranny
that moderns recognize is that of “small-minded officials who
band together to withstand anyone who threatens the roles they
are assigned within the social order” (p. 41). Lindenberger reminds us that “by the nineteenth century the historical process
rather than the individual had become the chief carrier of heroic
action” (p. 63). The fact that the novel rather than drama became
the repository of “true history” is an indication of the reduced
role of the individual as an active force in the public world.
While on the one hand Lindenberger detects a “modern bias” in
favor of the lower social classes (something which did not exist
in earlier ages of drama), this nostalgia was more than balanced
by the Romantic sentiment and idealism that attempted to rise
above history, to avoid it. In Rousseau, Wordsworth, and Goethe
he senses “a tendency to skirt the complexities of the historical
world in favor of some ‘higher’ and less time-bound mode of
thinking and feeling,” and in Goethe particularly “a disdain for
the public world, a hankering after timelessness” (pp. 115-116).
Romanticism seems to mark the beginning of a wide separation
between the public necessities and identities and the private
virtues that it was the function of historical drama to bridge.
This led to that terrible dualism of nineteenth-century thought
between “realist” and “idealist” that could only prove harmful
to historical drama as well as other forms of life. Finally, with
Romanticism art itself became “a substitute, or even a ‘higher
form’” of the political power the individual felt he had lost
(pp. 163-164). The dimensions of the history play itself dispose
Lindenberger to such speculations involving some of the deepest
issues of the individual and his relations to society in recent history. Approaching a conclusion, this summary statement is instructive: “Although we can still imaginatively experience the
agonies of the power struggles in the great historical dramas of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the conception of power
which emerges in that diverse body of literature which we call
modern (and whose exemplifications we locate in works since
the mid-eighteenth century) is quite foreign to what we find in
Shakespeare and Racine. For we no longer see power as a property (if ever so temporary) of great individuals, but as a generally diffused force, which, whether we translate it into social
or economic (or even psychological) terms, is notable above all
for its oppressiveness” (p. 164).
Quite simply put, the contrast is enormous between Prince
Hal’s final commitment of his allegiances to the public values
and institutions of his day (to the world of time and of history)
and Stephen Dedalus’ conviction that history is a nightmare from
which he must try to escape (or Biichner’s earlier reference to
the “frightful fatalism of history”). Since one of the great
discoveries of the Renaissance was the reality of time and the
validity of man’s role in history (this mixed with a good dosage
of political realism rendered a highly dramatic view of the
world), one question which these cultural confrontations suggest
is that of whether historical drama can flourish independently
of historical values. Herbert Lindenberger’s book is valuable,
among other reasons, for showing us yet another area—that of
historical drama—where an aspect of the modern world can be
determined in relation to the Renaissance, where, in fact, we
continue to define ourselves historically in relation to the achievements of that period.
Ricardo J. Quinones
Claremont Men’s College
Claremont, California
The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance.
By Northrop Frye. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press. 1976.
Pp. x, 199.
The Secular Scripture, based on the
by Frye at Harvard University in April
the critic’s quest “for the canon of man’s
(p. 188). The verbal culture of a society,
Norton Lectures given
1975, is the record of
word as well as God’s”
Frye tells us, includes
two sorts of fictions, those which “illustrate what primarily concerns their society” and those which “meet the imaginative needs
of the community” (p. 6). Those of the former group are myths,
“a body of stories with a distinctive authority” like that of the
Bible in traditional European literature, and the poets who deal
with this central area of mythical concern are regarded as having “a special kind of seriousness.” Those of the second group
are the fabulous, intended primarily to amuse and having their
origin in folktale (p. 7). Mythical and fabulous fictions differ
in “authority and social function, not in structure” (p. 8), but
the social function of myths causes them to cohere in culturespecific, canonical books, while folktales are nomadic and centrifugal in tendency (p. 9). Eventually, however, the fictions of
secular literature, even though they may lack the centripetal
tendency of social concern and authority, become subject to the
gravitational pull of structural identity, and begin to cohere in
an “imaginative universe” (p.11). The quest thus begins with
a question: “Is it possible . . . to look at secular stories as a
whole, and as forming a single integrated vision of the world,
parallel to the Christian and biblical vision?”
To those acquainted with his work, the plan of Frye’s quest
will not be unfamiliar, nor will the distinctions made in the
opening chapter and summarized above. Chapters 3-5, an informal grammar of the personages and narrative patterns of
romance, deal with those archetypes arranged, like Dante’s nether
Hell, around the impulses of forza (violence) and froda (cunning). These chapters delight primarily because of Frye’s wit
as a raconteur; they instruct primarily because the ease of his
allusions convinces the reader that there is something to be said
for the concept of an imaginative universe that is, like the uni-
verse of modern cosmology, so isotropic that every galaxy is at its
center as well as very much like every other galaxy. In this
imaginative universe, the concept of displacement assures that
we will not ignore the particularities and localities of a text, but
understanding of the universe requires recognition of identity:
“It may be thought that I am considerably laboring what is after
all a fairly rudimentary principle of dramatic structure in various fields, the principle that the G-string comes off last. But
it is precisely the elementary facts of structure that we are so
inclined to overlook, and the social facts that we are inclined to
exaggerate” (p. 78). The song tells us that the ecdysiast must, to
achieve stardom, have her own gimmick; to stay out of jail she
must adapt her act to the local canons of plausibility and mor-
ality. The peril of unemployment, however, ensures her adherence
to the structural principles of her art.
Indeed, the popular literature that makes up much of the
“secular scripture” is, like the ecdysiast, subject to three sorts
of pressure. Structural demands tend to shape these fictions into
the four ritual movements Frye discerns in romance (p. 129).
Audiences exert that kind of pressure which ensures that fiction
writers will set their stories in a world familiar to the audience,
like the Galactic Empire of science fiction, a world which nondevotees might find ludicrously fantastic, but to regular readers
as familiar and plausible as the suburban dream world (mentioned by Frye on p. 166) is to viewers of soap opera. The third
pressure is the demand of the guardians of culture—academic
critics and superior court judges—that our fictions exhibit “high
seriousness,” or what is called in obscenity cases “redeeming
social value.” Thus fabulous fictions can modulate themselves
into mythic respectability by dealing creditably, if not credibly,
with society’s grocery list of concerns. The best parts of The
Secular Scripture (chapters 2 and 6) deal with this third pressure.
It is a pressure which leads to curious outcomes. Some
fictions are accepted into a “Platonic-Christian” framework of
concern, while others are relegated to the “doghouse” of popular
literature, the chief example of such segregation being the “great
tradition” of F. R. Leavis (pp. 41-42). A related effect is the
tendency of conservative social movements to “kidnap” romance
and adapt it to their own purposes, as in Stalinist “socialist
realism” (pp. 163-166). But genuine realism, Frye suggests,
leads us back by parody to the reality betrayed by a corrupted
imagination (p. 165). The recognition that romance and realism
are cousins destroys the illusion that imagination and reality
are ultimately irreconcilable, the illusion that is the basis of
mythological conditioning and bad education.
The goal of humanistic education, however, is not demytho-
logization but remythologization. While educationists are devoted
to the assimilation of “adjustment mythology” the goal of literary
education is to “help the student become aware of his own
mythological conditioning, especially on the more passive and
critically unexamined levels” (p. 167). Going from the existential “projection” of myth to its “recovery” and “recreation,” we
focus on the creative process itself, and the poet becomes the
hero who liberates the imagination (pp. 178-79). The final stage
of myth’s recovery is reached “when the poet entrusts his work
to the reader” (p. 185), who achieves self-identity—and the right
to silence—in the possession and contemplation of ‘“‘what has been
made,” the Sabbath vision of Genesis and the Mutability Cantos
(p. 188). Unlike that of The Golden Bough, the literary critic’s
quest ends not in myth discovered by sceptical reason, but rather
in myth recovered by imaginative participation. The canon of
the secular scripture is open-ended, perhaps, but it is the inspired
creation of the human imagination, including the critic’s, just
as the other canon is the creation of the divine imagination. And
since man is created in God’s image, or vice-versa, they are
basically the same.
This book can be cavilled at. Forza and froda relate Dante
nicely to Homer and to Machiavelli (pp. 65-66), but they are
not the basis of the ethical design of the whole Jnferno; only of
lower hell. Frye’s system of documentation, while perhaps not
as objectionable as others’ habit of putting half the argument
into footnotes, is little help to one who wishes to recover the
elements of the Sabbath vision, as Frye himself recognizes
(p. viii). And his argumentative style, which substitutes polyphonic discourse for the well-made paragraph, has long given
ammunition to hostile critics. For all that, it is a richly-textured
book, and it rewards well our attention to its critic-errant’s quest
for the canonicity of the secular scripture.
It is a quest which
turns up some interesting dragons to be challenged as problems
of research and teaching.
John P. Brennan
Indiana University-Purdue University
Fort Wayne, Indiana
(Past & Present)
Caesar Baronius: Counter-Reformation Historian. By Cyriac
Pullapilly. Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press. 1975.
Pp. xiv, 222.
This is a useful biography of a figure of major importance
in the Counter Reformation; and since Pullapilly has much to
say about the various movements and episodes in which Baronius
participated, his work also adds to the thin literature in English
on the ecclesiastical history of post-Tridentine Rome. He traces
the development of Baronius from his formation in the traditional piety of southern Italy through his encounter with the
Oratory of Philip Neri; he describes Baronius’s growing devotion to the historiographical scholarship to which Neri assigned
him; and he discusses his growing influence at the Curia, as a
result of the success of that work, and his involvement in increasingly demanding political and administrative responsibilities. Baronius became papal librarian, confessor to Clement
VIII, and a cardinal, played some part in the reconciliation of
Henry IV of France with the Roman Church, was almost elected
pope in 1605, and took an active part in the bitter altercation
between Rome and Venice during the interdict of 1606-7. Pullapilly is particularly good in displaying the intransigent, ascetic,
humorless, and at the same time utterly zealous and dedicated
character of this figure. One is tempted to see here the typical
mentality of the Counter (in contrast, perhaps, to the Catholic)
But the author is especially interested in Baronius’s massive
Annales ecclesiastici, at which he persevered through so many
distractions. Pullapilly describes its sources and its enthusiastic
reception among Catholic readers throughout Europe, and he
offers an extended analysis of its assumptions and method.
Baronius’s single motive was the defense of the papal church
against the Protestant charge that it had deviated from the
original perfection of apostolic Christianity; his work seeks to
prove the immunity of the ecclesiastical institution to change.
And it seeks to prove this oddly anti-historical thesis by a stark
enumeration of the “facts” as established through an accumulation of documentation. No modern positivist has been more certain of the objectivity of his data and their intrinsic power to
compel assent; as Pullapilly remarks, “Baronius removed the
burden of proof from the ecclesiastical historian and placed the
burden of belief on the reader” (p. 151). In his conviction that
historical composition is not a human work and his display of a
sequence of facts without causal analysis, as well as in his rejection of stylistic embellishment and his universalism, Baronius
reflects medieval rather than Renaissance histuriography; and
here too he tells us scmething important about the culture of the
Counter Reformation. By the same token, however, the Annales
has continued to be a useful repository of raw materials for later
Perhaps because of the lack of direct sources for the early
life of Baronius and for its more private aspects, Pullapilly may
be inclined to take too seriously the pious reports of Baronius’s
admirers and early biographers; and this sometimes gives a
quasi-hagiographical tone to parts of the book, although the
author himself is by no means uncritical of his subject. He also
tends to deal a bit too simply with such matters as the role of
humanism in the Counter Reformation or the connection between developments at the Curia and the Council of Trent. This
is, nevertheless, a solid and informative book.
William J. Bouwsma
University of California
Berkeley, California
By Herbert De Ley.
“Un Enchainement
Ottawa and Urbana:
Sherbrooke and Univ. of Illinois Press.
is usually considered
si singulier...”
Editions Naaman
Pp. 153.
to be one of the “great”
authors of France, but he is relatively little read and surprisingly
little studied. The sheer weight of his work (13 volumes in the
Treuttel edition; seven volumes of Memoirs alone in the Pléiade
edition) discourages students, and most know of him only a few
famous “portraits” and death-bed scenes.
Herbert De Ley’s book may well encourage more reading of
the Mémoires
of this superb
in the Foreword,
is to explore
dencies and conventions may have meant to Saint-Simon,” and
the exploration is original and interesting. There are twelve
chapters, each headed by an epigraph which is a quotation from
Saint-Simon or a contemporary. The meaning of this quotation
becomes clear only in the course of the chapter, which examines
some aspect of Saint-Simon’s attitude to, or use of, his memoirs.
I found particularly interesting chapters III, on the problems
of first-person narration; IV, on Saint-Simon’s “physiologie de
la faveur”’ and how it works; VII, on contrast and paradox; IX,
on Saint-Simon’s deliberate modifications of chronological order
and the reasons for them; X, on digression as an integral part
of memoir structure (some interesting comparisons could be
made with Montaigne); and XI, on theories of historical
The emphasis throughout the book is two-fold: on a detailed
reading of Saint-Simon and the voluminous contemporary and
earlier memoir literature (so that the erudition worn so casually
by De Ley represents a staggering amount of reading), and on
stylistic techniques as indicators of attitudes of mind. Many of
the stylistic discussions are fascinating, though sometimes too
brief. De Ley’s style is plain and unpretentious, and mercifully
free of the modern jargons which so often bedevil literary criticism. Some critical debts are apparent (Auerbach, Butor, Hubert) but the stylistic approach is the author’s own. His discussions are occasionally over-condensed and too spare, as though
in his anxiety to avoid pedantic over-emphasis he had gone to the
other extreme. The advantage of this method is that often one
will provide as much
food for general
might a whole page by a more “academic” critic.
Memoirs raise all sorts of difficult questions, which many
students of them simply ignore. Are we to treat them as history?
as political polemic? as literature? De Ley’s analysis cuts across
these narrow categories, and gives us insight into memoir-writing
in the broadest sense as well as into this particular author of
The book is an extremely well-informed, sensibly
balanced evaluation of Saint-Simon the man and the writer.
Barbara C. Bowen
University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois
New Directions in European Historiography. By Georg G. Iggers.
With a contribution by Norman Baker. Middletown, Conn.:
Wesleyan Univ. Press. 1975. Pp. ix, 229.
Once upon a time, Clio (the Muse of History) enjoyed
matriarchal sway over all the efforts to understand man and his
works. Her demi-muse was a nineteenth century Prussian, Leopold von Ranke, noted for his ability to chant “wie es eigentlich
gewesen” (how it really was) to his apprentices. Ubiquitous in
the nineteenth century, Rankean “scientific” historians deployed
their considerable resources over the whole range of Ranke’s emphases-politics and diplomacy, the nation-state, the self-revealing
facts to be found in historical sources, and the narrative style—
ad majorem Clio gloriam. By circa 1920, sundry social scientisms
under the influence of Marx and Freud held Clio according to
Ranke under seige in the outlying districts; by 1976, the citadel
had been taken and Clio deflowered—all was shambles in history,
just as it was in every other human studies discipline. It is that
shambles, or more precisely, the question of what form that
earlier dedication to scientific history takes today, which Iggers
Iggers does not claim to offer a comprehensive survey of recent developments in historical writings. His four chapters and
conclusion introduce the reader to selected aspects of: the crisis
of the Rankean school; the Annales version of French scientific
history; recent historiography in West Germany, and assorted
observations on modern social history, including Marxism. What
does he find in today’s historiography? He finds, in a large
sense, the dominant features of the modern temper—ambivalence,
fragmentation, a surfeit of choices, scientization.
Among the more obvious, and more serious, of history’s
ambivalences is that towards the individual, viewing him on the
one hand, as a conscious, willing, disposing, history-making entity, and on the other, as one whose will is thwarted by inherited
structures, whose head is full of illusions, and who is best studied
in his collective, socialized identity. Another: whether historians
should plunge into the rigor-inducing waters of the social sciences
with their theory, model, quantification, “hypothetico-deductive”
systems, abstractions, (and soporific prose), or remain on the
beach—dowdy, complacent, their purity and Rankean methodology intact. Again, many historians today are disposed to continue to affirm the primacy of politics, relations between states,
and the historical types who usually participated in such activity.
Others are equally disposed to affirm the primacy of socio-culturo experience, not only of the elite, but of the great unwashed
as well—or even especially. Historians also divide today on the
question of whether they ought to be content with the unique
event in time, as sacrosanct, as irreducible, or whether they are
obliged, for the sake of the meaningfulness of the past, to seek
(and seeking, find) patterns and structures in events perhaps
unknown to the historical actors themselves. The question is, in
what does the meaning of the past consist?
The modern temper consists of another
scientization. Iggers finds, not surprisingly,
tion” of historical studies in the past two
him, it is a Good Thing. He also finds
conspicuous feature:
“increasing scientizadecades (p. 3). For
it a discipline “little
characterized by consensus or agreement” (p. 6). He refers to its
eclecticism with regard to the use of theory and model. He is
right: one finds in today’s historical literature the whole range
of methodological options, from antiquarian gleanings at the local
level, 4 la Ranke, to super-sophisticated statistical analyses of
slavery. He concludes, “in our opinion, it does not necessarily
follow from this lack of agreement that history is in no sense a
science” (p. 175). Now surely he must mean more than that the
“aim” of history is to model itself on the most prestigious disciplines of the day, the natural sciences. He must refer to his
judgment that historical research itself, though not as scientific
as say, research in nuclear physics or microbiology, is at least in
large part scientific. The question then becomes, in what part?
Critical use of evidence? Yes. Consensus on scientific method
and models? By no means. Which raises this question: should
a claim to scientificity based only on critical handling of evidence
be regarded as valid?
Perhaps in the best of all possible worlds, historians would
leave off their earnest quest for scientificity and humbly reduce
their aims to two: getting the story straight, and telling it—to
students, to fellow scholars, and to the public—as felicitiously
as they can. Perhaps in that world also, historians would pursue
the correlation between cultural change and changes in modes of
historical research, without feeling unduly threatened by that
bugaboo of relativity.
For all that, Iggers’ book is indispensable for anyone troubled
by the current condition of history and other human studies.
The references section alone, pages 181-220, makes it worth the
Richard Harvey
Ohio University
Athens, Ohio
Consensus, Conflict and American Historians.
By Bernard
Sternsher. Bloomington & London: Indiana Univ. Press. 1975.
Pp. xiv, 432.
The consensus interpretation—the view that the American
past has been characterized by a continuous agreement upon
the fundamentals of liberal, democratic capitalism—shaped most
of our historical thought in the 1950’s and early 1960’s but it has
long since become a whipping boy for younger historians. In his
new book Bernard Sternsher offers a judicious evaluation of
some of the main concepts of consensus history in the light of
recent work in history and also the social sciences, particularly
political science. This book is well researched, and in spite of
some minor conceptual and some major organizational weaknesses it offers us useful insights into our present understanding
of the American past. Sternsher deals with history as well as
historiography as he seeks to determine how well the consensus
view has stood the test of subsequent investigation. Especially
valuable is his application of the findings of political scientists
to the question asked by historians about discord and agreement
in American politics. He leads us to the conclusion that some
versions of consensus history retain considerable validity, although conflict also has to be taken seriously into account.
Sternsher carefully distinguishes among several forms of
the consensus interpretation. Much of the book deals with the
three major generalizers of the post World War II generation of
historians, Richard Hofstadter, Daniel Boorstin, and Louis Hartz,
particularly the latter two. Sternsher argues that Hartz’s view—
primarily his “fragment” theory developed in his Founding of
New Societies—remains much more valid than Boorstin’s. Following the critiques by Jack Pole and John P. Diggins, Sternsher
judges Boorstin’s argument that the American consensus rests
upon a lack of theory unconvincing. On the other hand, he finds
Hartz’s emphasis upon a theoretical agreement on Lockean liberalism flexible and compatible with much of the recent literature.
This is persuasively argued. After Sternsher’s work, along with
that of Diggins, Pole and Gene Wise, it should no longer be possible to lump Boorstin and Hartz together in the indiscriminate
way some historiographers have done.
The book begins with a general examination of the consensus
view and a particular consideration of the causal theories of the
major consensus historians.
the limitations of consensus
Sternsher then points out some of
history. It does not apply to many
problems in the American past and its approach to such basic
factors as capitalism and democracy is in some respects too
abstract. Sternsher devotes considerable attention—perhaps too
much—to the question of the differences between the major
parties at various periods of American history. This is followed
by a section on the ways in which consensus does not apply to
such issues as violence and the increased divisiveness of the
1960’s. Moving back to his original focus, Sternsher next evaluates the critique of consensus history by New Left historians, a
group with which he is generally unsympathetic. Finally he examines the role of thought in history, finding that Hartz’s ap-
proach allows for the influence of both ideas and “realities,” and
he concludes with some questions about the applicability of
Hartz’s fragment theory to countries other than the United
The book is shot full of interesting observations either by
Sternsher himself or others whom he quotes. He is particularly
good and persuasive on Hartz and his criticism of Boorstin, although less original, is telling. In spite of a tendency to equate
Marxism with economic determinism Sternsher makes effective
use of Aileen Kraditor’s insight into the way in which consensus
may have functioned
as an
But there are a number of problems with this interesting
book. The most serious one is organization. The structure of the
book is unclear and Sternsher’s reasons for moving from one
topic to another are often obscure. It is as if a mad editor went
through the manuscript deleting the introductions to many sections and chapters and most conclusions and transitions. The
writing drifts in places, and the relevance of some of the things
he covers is not always clear. Also, at times his attempt to integrate history and historiography is confusing and his ways of
relating them to each other are not very subtle or complex.
Still, this is a book that accomplishes
perhaps more
than it claims, for it offers not only an evaluation of consensus
history but also a partial explanation for the major shift which
has taken place in the focus of historical attention in America
over the last decade. Much of the material he marshalls suggests
that one of the weaknesses of consensus history was its exclusive
concern with politics. We have learned that much of the conflict
in American history derives from ethnic, racial and religious
differences, and where economic class issues have been involved
they have often been expressed indirectly. This implies that to
understand politics and the American past more broadly we must
move from politics to social and psychohistory. That, of course,
is precisely what American historians have been doing in recent
years. Sternsher’s book presents us with one explanation for the
rise of the new social history, the most important way in which
we have gone beyond consensus and politics to a concern with the
broader lives of men and women in the past. Politics certainly
was a part of those lives, but politics can only be understood in a
social context, particularly in America where it has been made
to carry such a heavy symbolic load. If some historians first
turned to social history because of unanswered political questions,
now many historians see politics as a part Of social history, as
an arena within which both group conflicts and agreed upon
values have played their part.
Sternsher does us a great service by demonstrating the exhaustion of political history, even if that is not precisely the conclusion he himself draws. It is unfortunate that he was not
treated better by his publisher. A decent editorial job could
have made this into a really first class book.
Richard Reinitz
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, New York
The Holocaust
Langer. New
Pp. 300.
and the Literary Imagination. By Lawrence L.
Haven and London:
Yale Univ. Press. 1975.
At first glance this seems a much narrower book than its
title implies. The dozen literary works Langer examines—including novels by Fuks, Aichinger, Kosinski, Béll and Schwarz-Bart—
can hardly be said to represent the literary imagination. On
further consideration, however, the richness of Langer’s interpretations, plus his determination to confront the moral and
aesthetic issues of art after Auschwitz, give the book a coherence
and magnitude far exceeding the territory it covers. Langer assumes, not without anguish, that the Holocaust constitutes an
impenetrable boundary to human thought and imagination; that
events between 1939 and 1945 are the watershed of Western culture and thus of Western literature; and finally that both the
critic and the artist are therefore faced with the fact that traditional categories of conduct and identity, no less than those of
form and style in the arts, have been demolished by the very
event they could seek to explain.
As Langer formulates the problem, “the abyss between the
imagination of disaster and the disaster itself is deep and wide,
and perhaps for the first time in history . . . reality exceeded the
capacities of this imagination” (p. 106). From this it follows that
“the very nature of the reality it seeks to apprehend repudiates
the mind’s attempts to organize its insights into a comprehensive
pattern, or to suggest an interpretation of the events of the fiction consistent with the expectations of reason and tradition”
(p. 163). Yet Langer takes vigorous exception to the claims of
George Steiner and others that the Holocaust has rendered art
impotent. He suggests, rather, that a new kind of literature—an
art of encounter rather than resolution—has come into being. His
effort, therefore, is not to provide a survey of the many poems,
stories and novels which touch on the matter of the death camps,
but to bring all the critical discernment he can muster to the
analysis of key works which represent different writers’ attempts to mobilize the stunned imagination enough to confront,
if not transcend, the univers concentrationnaire.
Seeking to define what he calls the “aesthetics of atrocity,”
Langer settles on the term “irrealism” to characterize a mode of
representation in which familiar forms of human value and behavior have been so completely distorted by the “unreality” of
the Holocaust that those who experienced the event itself feel
no connection between “before” and “after.” This is an art of
rupture rather than repose, of disjunction rather than harmony,
in which fantastic abnormalities invalidate the norms of ordinary
life while at the same time, by contrast, bits and pieces of recognizable behavior serve to enhance the sense of a world gone
utterly mad. The central word in Langer’s critical vocabulary
is “tension”—tension between the normal and the inordinately
bizarre, between meaning and nonsense, between the daily round
and moments of overwhelming evil, as in the following exchange
of greetings between two camp inmates:
“So, you’re still alive, Abbie? And what’s new with you?”
“Not much. Just gassed up a Czech transport.”
“That I know. I mean personally?” (p. 89).
The tension here goes far beyond irony, and the fact that
these three lines could be construed as normal slang points up one
of the problems for a literature which dares approach the Holocaust: language itself is inadequate and some knowledge must
be assumed on the part of the reader. As Langer notes, “in the
literature of atrocity, no fiction can ever be completely that—a
fiction” (p. 91). The historical actuality in itself is too large,
too intractable, too infernally present; and thus imagination and
reality are always at odds, the former neither able to expurgate
nor properly assimilate the latter. Here, then, is an aesthetic
problem which is also a problem of communication between art
and its audience. And this is also why, as Langer points out, the
literature of atrocity cannot be tragic. In tragedy there must be
cause and consequence, there must be a common condition to
which all men and women are exposed and some transcendent
order which while it destroys the individual nevertheless invests
his or her struggle with dignity and meaning. But for those
consumed in the Holocaust there was neither meaning nor design, neither refuge nor consolation.
Nothing is understood,
nothing is purged or gained by dying. Men and women perish
for no reason, or survive as creatures so loathsome that only
excrement can evoke the quality of their being.
That is one of the conclusions Langer draws from his study,
and his remarks on Jakov Lind’s novels, as in much of the rest
of the book, there is a kind of impassioned commitment which
suggests that this particular writing—the literature of atrocity—
best reveals the condition of man in our time:
What a noble piece of work is a man—a manure pile that breathes.
If the Renaissance imagination could still conceive of the human
creature—even if only in an idealized form—in Hamlet’s splendid
rhetoric, the modern mind, with Lind as its spokesman, can find
nothing better than ordure as its symbol for this representative
figure of l’univers concentrationnaire. (p. 234).
The “representative figure” to which Langer refers is Bachmann,
the stupidly amoral protagonist of Lind’s Landscape in Concrete.
Langer has selected his examples with care, and it is Lind
who most successfully achieves what others like Kosinski and
Piotr Rawicz have also attempted—in Langer’s words, “the
literal de-moralization of reality, the reduction or deflation of
atrocity to a point of emotional indifference” (p. 229). Certainly
this is an honest response to atrocity, and likewise very effective
as a stylistic device. It also involves a moral judgment of visionary proportions, namely, that the Holocaust was a monolithic
event, completely savage and proof for all time of man’s essential
wickedness. For the writers Langer champions, the Holocaust is
seen as the apotheosis of evil, evil absolute and forever victorious,
evil as a metaphysical condition from which nothing can escape.
To arrive at this vision Langer must ignore the political
dimension of Semprun’s The Long Voyage and choose not to accept as valid the historical overview which Schwarz-Bart uses
to make Ernie Levy’s death significant in The Last of the Just.
He must also exclude reference to the vast documentation by
actual camp survivors, which speaks endlessly of evil but also of
countless acts of help, care and resistance among the prisoners
themselves. And he must, finally, not include in his study a very
different kind of Holocaust novel—Ilona Karmel’s An Estate of
Memory is a powerful example—in which the protagonists are
not victims merely; they are camp inmates who know very well
the difference between good and evil, and who manage to encourage one another and share what they have, thus weaving a
frail fabric of strength and mutual concern which keeps them
Ours is an age of manic search for an absolute, a search
which among other things created the Third Reich and which,
in its literary manifestation, sees in the Holocaust only that
“darkness visible” which Milton referred to in his description of
Hell. As Primo Levi has remarked, evil, more than good, suggests
infinity. Langer has mapped out one such quest for the infinite,
and his book represents a courageous job well done. But let us
not suppose that the “literary imagination” must confine itself
to the heroic, self-defeating task of confronting evil as though
it were the sole ground of existence. The Holocaust, in other
words, is not a metaphor. It was an actual event carried through
by actual men, and the massiveness of its evil should not obscure
the fact that against the Bachmann’s and Eichmann’s of this
world the requisite action is not despair or ironic detachment but
recognition and resistance. Insofar as the “literature of atrocity”
helps us to discern the nature of evil, and therefore the nature of
goodness, it serves an invaluable and very human cause.
Terrence Des Pres
Colgate University
Hamilton, New York
Malraux’s Heroes and History. By James W. Greenlee. DeKalb:
Northern Illinois Univ. Press. 1975. Pp. xi, 222.
Greenlee, as a literary scholar, limits his inquiry to a traditional textual analysis of Malraux’s seven major novels, and seeks
to clarify the way in which his heroes view themselves in relation to history. On the whole, he eschews any in-depth examination of what history (or History) is, either for Malraux or for
his characters. Greenlee’s basic contention is that Malraux’s
novels progress through three broad stages, from The Temptation of the West (1926) to The Walnut Trees of Altenburg
(1943). In what he calls the “Oriental” period (““Asian” would
have been a better term) through 1933, the major protagonists
are motivated primarily by an individualistic yearning for personal glory and immortality that is uniquely characteristic of
Western “adventurer” or conqueror types. Individualists like
Perken, Garine—and to a certain extent even Kyo and Katow—
are “defeated” and their lives unsuccessful because they cannot
turn history to their own ends or make it conform to the pattern
dictated by their individual wills. The next stage, represented
by Days of Wrath (1935) and Man’s Hope (1937) is more optimistic, in that history sometimes emerges as “an organized succession of events fostered by man’s will” (p. 184). In such cases,
the hero has the impression that his action—particularly when
they are undertaken in concert with his fellowmen—are part of
a larger movement transcending the individual and his desires.
The final stage in the evolution of Malraux’s position is represented by his last novel, The Walnut Trees of Altenburg. Greenlee contends that in this work Malraux’s heroes become so deeply
involved in the essentially metaphysical problem underlying man’s
presence in the world that they leave history to enter the “domain
of static ‘anti-history’” (p. 10). He concludes that Malraux’s
novels represent an attempt to give value to human actions in a
historical context, as a replacement for the transcendence that
was lost when the death of God alienated man from the universe.
As has often been pointed out, Malraux’s elliptical style
makes his novels ambiguous and subject to various readings.
Greenlee’s interpretations are of course oriented to support his
thesis regarding the evolution of Malraux’s view of modern man
in history. In some instances, these interpretations are fairly
traditional; at other times, they are highly original and perhaps
debatable; occasionally they are simply unconvincing. On occasion, the specialist reader will find himself responding to an
argument with “Yes, but .. .”, or “Perhaps, but ...”. To cite
only one example, according to Greenlee, Garine became involved
in the revolution in China for essentially the same individualist
“adventurer” reasons that led Perken into the jungles of Siam,
and in his view the lives of both Perken and Garine ended in
“failure”. While most readers would probably agree in the case
of Perken, Malraux himself—in his long 1929 discussion of The
Conquerors—amplified his text and made it clear that this was
not the way in which he viewed Garine. Of course, this is certainly not to imply that Greenlee’s discussion of the matter is
not productive, for it is—in large measure because it stimulates
the reader to reformulate his own ideas about the character and
his motivations.
Although this well-written book is interesting and provocative, it appears to this reviewer to suffer from two important
flaws. First, its author never really comes to grips with the
problem of Malraux’s concept of history and of History, nor
with his personal relationship to the historical movement of his
age, which was—by any standards—remarkable.
The whole
presentation of Malraux’s “Marxism”, for example, is grossly
simplistic, if not inaccurate, and his activities and writings from
the mid-1930’s are presented as essentially Communist in inspiration when actually they were fundamentally more anti-Fascist
in character. The second shortcoming of this study is that by
restricting his analysis almost exclusively to the texts of Malraux’s novels, Greenlee has seriously limited the validity of his
conclusions. Certainly, Malraux has always been aware of and
sensitive to history, and in a number of interviews, prefaces,
speeches, and other texts (both in the 1930’s and more recently)
he has commented specifically on the subject. Although it was
Greenlee’s prerogative to limit his discussion to the novels, most
informed readers will probably regret that he did not seek out
other texts which would have enabled him to make a broader
and more nuanced presentation of Malraux’s view of history.
On the whole, this is a carefully done study, but there are a
few minor errors of fact and at least one surprising omission:
Nietzsche is mentioned only once—in passing—in spite of the
importance of his ideas about the role of the human will in history. Occasionally Greenlee’s translations from the French originals are not entirely accurate.
(This is particularly notable
in the famous line from L’Espoir: “Transformer en conscience
une expérience aussi large que possible’, in which “conscience”
is rendered as “conscious thought” [p. 130] rather than the more
appropriate term, ‘“‘awareness”.) Moreover it is disconcerting to
see the adjective ““Malrauvian” used in place of the now generally
accepted “‘Malrucian’”’. This book is primarily for literary specialists, rather than historians or general readers; it does not
however, supersede Charles Blend’s profound, wide-ranging and
more generally accessible study, André Malraux: Tragic Humanist (1963).
Walter G. Langlois
The University of Wyoming
Laramie, Wyoming
Tennyson's Major Poems: The Comic and Ironic Patterns. By
James R. Kincaid. New
Haven and London:
Yale Univ.
1975. Pp. xii, 254.
It has been customary in Tennyson criticism to divide the
poet’s career into either two or four phases: the prelaureate and
laureate years; or, to follow Harold Nicolson’s scheme, the early
years, the years of first recognition, the Farringford, and the
Aldworth periods. James R. Kincaid now proposes a tripartite
division: early (to 1842), middle (1847-55), and late 1859 on).
He does this by classifying Tennyson’s major poems as either
ironic or comic, the middle period being a time of experiments
in comedy different from the ironic poems before and after.
Kincaid argues well, but in the end he does not quite succeed in
making his case. For two things mar the case: first, his dismissal of the “minor” poems, and second, his framework of
“comic” and “ironic,” terms about whose meaning the reader
can never be sure.
By using only “major” poems to support his argument
Kincaid disregards about half of Tennyson’s work. The domestic
idyls, the humorous and political poems, the laureate verses, and
almost all the poems of the last twenty years (with the exception
of a few monologues)—what the author calls “other forms and
other developments
in Tennyson”—are
omitted from considera-
tion because they are a mere “relaxation from the tensions of
irony and the difficult sort of comedy Tennyson wrote” or a
“dislocation” of a subtle irony. One may of course choose to deal
exclusively with what one regards as major poems but to establish a pattern for the poet’s whole career on the basis of only
part of the corpus is not to give an entirely accurate account.
A more serious objection may be made to Kincaid’s method.
He attempts to make the poems conform to a generic classification.
The trouble with this is that comedy and irony are not, at
least in the sense
the author means
cilable opposites;
the reconciliation
in which Kincaid uses them, genres. By irony
man’s isolation in a universe full of unreconcomedy, on the other hand, he uses to signify
of life’s discordant elements. The term “mode”
does not, so far as I can find, occur in the book. Yet, I believe,
it is in a modal rather than generic sense that Kincaid uses the
labels comic and ironic. If he had made this clearer, then he
could, in my opinion, have avoided forcing the poems into certain
molds; at the very least he could have been less opaque. He
could, for example, have spoken of Maud as simply a mixture of
modes instead of as “a generic battle” with a “doubled movement: irony ™-—~>
comedy; irony >
At times the discussion of genre comes perilously close to sounding like Polonius’s.
So much for the framework. The readings of the poems,
especially those prior to 1859, are excellent, done with a tact
not often encountered in criticism of Victorian poetry. I myself
often do not agree with them. I cannot be convinced, for example, that in Jdylls of the King there are no villains, that “there
no cause for Arthur’s
fall, no blame to be assigned.”
only the poem but also Tennyson’s comment on it seem to me to
point the other way. Yet even where I disagree with Kincaid’s
interpretations, I am full of admiration for his analysis and
The book, which makes almost no use of biography, contains
eight chapters, by far the largest (almost a fourth of the
volume) devoted to Idylls of the King, an appendix on the minor
poems, an excellent bibliography, and a good working index.
Something has gone wrong with the line setting on pages 96-97.
All in all, this is a good book which suffers from its framework. In spite of my misgivings about it, I recommend it as an
interesting work of criticism.
Clyde de L. Ryals
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina
Published by
The Graduate School, Boston University
Studies in Romanticism announces its Spring and Summer 1976 issues,
Psychoanalysis and Romanticism
Marc A. Rubenstein,
“My Accursed Origin”: The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein
Peter Manning, Wordsworth,
Richard S. Caldwell,
Margaret and the Pedlar
“The Sensitive Plant” as Original Fantasy
Ruth Sullivan, William Wilson’s Double
David E. Simpson » Keats's Lady, Metaphor, and the Rhetoric of Neurosis
M. Porter, Mourning and Melancholia in Nerval’s Aurélia
reviews by Daniel Kaiser, David Cavitch, Robert Coles, Philip B. Miller
Romantic Classicism
Shelley and the Religion of Joy
Frederick L. Beaty, Byron's Imitations of Juvenal and Persius
K. K. Ruthven,
Keats and Dea Moneta
Henry Rubin,
Keith H. Macfarlane,
Gerard's Painting of Ossian as an Allegory of Inspired Art
Baudelaire’s Revaluation of the Classical Allusion
Raymond Lister, “The Ancients” and the Classics
Pelzel » Mengs and his English Critics
David Irwin, David Scott: Hlustrations of Mysticism and the Supernatural
reviews by John Gage, Robert Essick, Anne K. Mellor
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welcome articles for consideration on these topics
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