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A

World More

Attractive

A

WORLD
A VIEW OF

by

MORE ATTRACTIVE MODERN LITERATURE AND POLITICS Irving Howe HORIZON PRESS New York h .

© 1963 by Irving Howe
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-21568

Manufactured

in the

United States of America

na

3

For Nina and Nicholas

Howe

Connoisseurs in Affection

Contents

Introduction

ix

THE HERO AND HISTORY
T. E. Lawrence:

The Problem

of

Heroism

1

CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION
Edith Wharton: Convention and the

Demons

of

Modernism

The Quest

for

41

59

Moral Style

Mass Society and Post-Modern Fiction

77

Black Boys and Native Sons

98

A

Quest for

Peril:

Norman Mailer

123

THREE AMERICAN POETS
Walt Whitman: "Garrulous
Robert Frost:

A

Very Last"

Momentary Stay

Wallace Stevens: Another
Blackbird

to the

Way

of

131

144

Looking at the
158

SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS
George Gissing: Poet of Fatigue

169

The Sod Beneath

192

Celine:

the Skin

Sholom Aleichem: Voice of Our Past

207

The

216

Fiction of Anti-Utopia

POLITICS

AND CULTURE

Images of Socialism
This

A

Age

227

of Conformity

251

283

Mind's Turnings

Man and Stalin
Edmund Wilson and the
God,

291
Sea Slugs

300

INTRODUCTION

Composed

between 1950 and 1963, the essays in
kind from literary criticism to political

in the years

book range in
from intellectual portraiture to cultural polemic. They
cover a wide spectrum of topics and figures, but if varied in
subject, they are, I believe, unified in outlook. Behind almost
all of them can be found a stable complex of values and convictions, a persistent concern with problems and ideas, having
to do primarily with that style of experience and perception
sometimes called the "modern." By the "modern" I have in
mind neither the merely contemporary nor the momentarily
fashionable, either in our culture or our politics. I have in
mind the assumption that the twentieth century has been
marked by a crisis of conduct and belief that is perhaps unprecedented in seriousness, depth and extent.
The "modern," as it refers to both history and literature,
signifies extreme situations and radical solutions. It summons
images of war and revolution, experiment and disaster, apocalypse and skepticism; images of rebellion, disenchantment and
this

analysis,

nothingness.

To claim

that all of these are visibly present in

the essays that follow, would be absurd; but

I

would say that

the sense of their presence has been a dominant pressure, setting both the terms

and the

limits, of

what

I

have written here.

the defining mode of vision." INTRODUCTION X Whether it ing of the be strictly literary. or a cross- in the study of T. an object worth scrutiny in its own right and in accordance with its own nature. A number of the essays are literary in character. literary criticism. will not be found here. E. but I remain convinced of the need for a democratic and radical renovation of society. by which a writer can be recognized and valued. even while socialist in the criticizing. The ideal of socialism has become a problematic one. through which to give a fresh embodiment to the values of freedom and fraternity. which forms many brings together so themes— the work presented in these pages takes its meaning and its shape as a response to the problem of the of ' its modern. What I have tried for has been to provide a description of the characteristic qualities. difficult studies. written from the assumption that self. strong reason to stress the integrity of the work There it- is of literature. I have hoped to isolate the terms through which he confronts the experience of our time. A good part of the effort to preserve the ani- . like literature can be autonomous but hardly self-sufficient. The few strictly political pieces in this book are drawn from a larger body of writing in which I have tried to speak for. to the whole of human experience. but the problem of socialism remains an abiding ideal. but I would also insist— and in the as last two decades it has become quite necessary to insist— that the work of literature acquires its interest for us through a and indirect. admittedly subtle. The kind of detailed or close analysis of particular texts which has been favored in recent years and which I have occasionally undertaken in lengthier relationship. the centerpiece of the book because it Lawrence. Some traditional doctrines of socialism now seem to me outmoded or mistaken. Being a mid-twentieth century means. a capacity for living with crisis. for anyone aspires to seriousness. the tradition of socialism. who doubt and reconsideration. or two— as primarily political.

and second because I wish to write.INTRODUCTION mating purpose of XI socialist criticism in the past decade can be observed by turning to the files of Dissent. as I am caught up. to an attack upon the growing acquiescence and conservatism of the American intellectual comself-questioning munity. another side has been devoted. the acceptance of the social status quo. The early 'fifties in particular struck me as a time in which too many intellectuals abandoned their traditional privilege and responsibility of criticism. the more speculative and less topical side of it. I find myself especially eager that such writings speak younger people to those who have come to their recall what hap- recently and seem not quite to pened in this country only a decade ago. them infirst commenting upon significant discussions of the past decade. has been omitted. but some of that effort. but for living men and women caught up. Now. journalists and artists always stood for a world that was more atbecause I believe to possess a certain value in . "In my eyes. If one side of my political writing has required the kind of and reorientation which must today go on among serious socialists. the quarterly of which I have been an editor. In "This Age of Conformity"— a polemic in which certain references may be seem dated but the controlling ideas of which seem to me still valid —I joined in a counter-attack which a few intellectuals launched against the turn to political quietism and conformity. the dilution of liberal- ism into a kind of genteel conservatism. only a few years later. Yet I have cluded a few pieces that are journalistic and polemical." Leon Trotsky once wrote. not for some dim posterity. in the years since the war. What- intellectual maturity ever struck me as merely journalistic or too closely interwoven with a transient polemic. can be found in these pages. I have brought together in this volume about half my periodical writing over the last twelve or thirteen years. "authors. with the problems and interests of our time.

I my friend Lewis Coser for entitled "Images of Socialism. William Phillips and Philip Rahv. some years ago the book editor of The Nation. action and reflection. perhaps." One need not accept Trotsky's political outlook in order to appreciate the force of his re- mark. and teachers.INTRODUCTION Xll tractive than any other. both as and a complex. ironic sense of the difficulties faced by those who would preserve a relationship between politics and literature. -I. gratitude to the Bol- lingen Foundation whose generosity gave me the time to com- plete the literary part of this book. and closest of all. To name them would be presumptuous. colleagues. the devoted men who have shared with me the burdens and it indicates respect for the intellectual life am especially grateful to permitting me to publish the essay pleasures of putting out Dissent." of which he Finally. editors of Partisan Review. and what has made the effort possible is above all else the presence of friends serving as models. I should like to record my is co-author. . But let me say a word of gratitude to a number of editors who have been kind enough to encourage my work while honest enough to criticize it. A world more attractive— from sentiments of this kind I have tried to live and work. .H. . Robert Evert and Gilbert Harrison at The New Republic. I wish to record my gratitude to Margaret Marshall. .

During the early 'twenties. E. even the exotic in Lawrence. Lawrence seems still to matter. we remain with him in history. Lawrence became a national hero.The hero and T. excitement. Why was that so very difficult? —Demian Time has mercifully dulled the image he despised yet courted: Lawrence is no longer the idol of the 'twenties. outrage. after his return from Arabia. whatever in his life If out of a sense that precisely the special. no longer "Lawrence of Arabia. the adventurer through whom Englishmen could once more savor the sensations of war and rescue emotions of sentimental grandeur. away He continues to arouse we come to him admiring was extraordinary. He is not yet a name to be put T. may illuminate whatever in our life is ordinary. What he had done in Arabia— more important. E. a footnote in dust. sympathy. history LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM I wanted only to try to live in obedience to the promptings which came from my true self. and even a glance at his life prompts one to speculate about the nature of heroism in our . what he had experienced —was epic in its proportions." But for the minority of men to whom reflection upon human existence is both a need and a pleasure.

THE HERO AND HISTORY 2 century. a reserved gentleman who is said never to have written a check or read a book. Thomas Edward Lawrence was born five sons in in 1888. In The Seven Wisdom the ideal of a forthright manly heroism. which Lawrence had supposedly rescued for an unheroic age. The to be an literary intellectual harassed man who had by ambi- read Malory between desert raids and later worried over the shape and rhythm of the sentences in his book. Lawrence raised her boys to be straightforward Christians— and the unambiguous piety with . This sad comedy was to continue to the end. Mrs. By then. The father. the second of a comfortable Victorian family. Partly to sal- which he himself had condoned. But transplanted from the desert to the lantern-slides where Lowell Thomas was conjuring for stainless version of "Lawrence of Arabia. eager to share in their growth. was a of mild sports. vage Lawrence wrote The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. And these were but a few of his transfigurations. So the book subvert. the English their the whole war-time experience shrank to farce. devoted himself to the domestic needs of his family and a number of lower rank. was soon transformed into the burden of self -consciousness. ambitious strong-spirited Scotch for her sons." of the Albert Hall. made himself into a pseudonymous recruit tending the "shit-cart" of his camp. sl bravura narrative packed with accounts of battle yet finally the record of his search for personal equilibrium and value. The mother. his public its own. became popular— and helped sustain the image it was meant to ever. The dynamiter of railroads Pillars of and bridges turned out tion and guilt. though in some ways esoteric. howit from vulgarities image had acquired a being and momentum of too. clearly woman. the true psychic center of the family. a burden he was never to escape.

But these . In the senior locals in 1906. .. he won prizes every year . (His friend. were in part the proofs of strength that a small-bodied person feels obliged to thrust at the world. "were never any trouble to Ned [Lawrence's boyhood name]. Almost have noted strong religious traits in all his all biographers Lawrence. rebirth. E. His escapades and feats of physical endurance. he refused training left formal belief during his adult years. Eric Kennington. In his youth Lawrence shared the family devoutness. not a prodigy. LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM 3 which two of them later met their death in the trenches of France must command respect even from those who might prefer a touch of rebellion. boyhood. . inquiring boy. this is impressive.000 entrants. serving briefly as a Sunday school teacher. strainings to- ward some absolute of value by which to brace his conduct. he was place first in and thirteenth in the first some 10. spoke of a "process without aim or end. of bright. but whatever mark this religious upon him." wrote Mrs. Lawrence. asked about sation in religion. creation followed by and then decay to wonder at and to love. But not a hint of God. In a family where all the sons were encouraged to a modest independence of bearing. lively. a god and certainly none of the Christian dissolution. Ned Lawrence stood out for his nervous boldness. Fewer have remarked on the tacit assumption he shared with many serious persons of our century: that the religious sen- could be nurtured only in a culture of radical skep- sibility ticism.T. has recorded a conver- which the adult Lawrence. both as a boy and then as a student at Oxford." Like a good many of the achievements that would later be dredged up from Lawrence's English language and literature class . a readiness to risk himself.") "Lessons.. in part symptoms of a vanity which took the form of needing always to seem original. One trait merits special notice. but hardly as remarkable as his Ned Lawrence was a admirers have wished to suggest.

the in public Sir home figured both as his wife. One may see it as a blow to his pride and self-esteem. an Anglo-Irish baronet off left and at Thomas a wife and four daughters in Ireland to woman who now with a former nurse. his ability to complete a major literary work— all show that Lawrence was not permanently disabled by the effects of this adolescent trauma. had run named His father. Bernard Shaw— letters that may be many read but cannot be quoted— Lawrence would claim that he had known these facts since before the age of ten. apparently the sons of a respectable Oxford gentleman. to mastery over contingency and pain. How deep a shock the discovery of illegitimate birth caused Lawrence. To what extent it should be regarded as a source of his sense of "homelessness" during the later years and his need to keep asserting himself in a series of new identities— this question demands speculation but does not permit a firm conclusion. I add this last qualification because we must allow for the possibility that whatever pain the revelation caused him. Ned Lawrence. The bare facts— his gift for leadership. At some point before entering Oxford in 1907 Lawrence discovered that he and his brothers. that Lawrence received a wound that would leave him crippled for life. his success in winning the loyalty of distinguished men. as does Richard Aldington in his venomous biography. if trauma it was. as an English boy raised on romantic notions and romantic books.THE HERO AND HISTORY 4 escapades and feats can also be seen as anticipations of his which the human will. might have felt it inter- . Like other of his stories about his past. In letters written years later to Mrs. this claim seems implausible: defensive mechanism is at work a here. One may see in the boy's discovery a matrix for those predispositions to suffering which would mark the later Lawrence. were actually of illegitimate birth. Chapman. But it is surely a vast simplification to claim. we do not really know. denies the flesh adult view that assert its not only its life is a test through desires but its needs.

Doughty. where he met the archaeologist D. Hogarth. ate lehen. His purpose was to prepare an Oxford thesis on the Crusaders castles. Suffering heat. When he inquired about Syria from C." warned Doughty." But Lawrence went." He photographed some fifty interest in antiquities. the older man sent back a note advising that the journey would be too risky. protector—at critical moments. and bread "almost leathery when fresh.T. the Syrian yoghurt. On his bedroom walls were pasted life-size portraits of knights who had performed heroic deeds in the Crusades. 1907. on bicycle trips through France. if a trifle too "composed. may He attended lectures by Flinders Petrie that helped spark his And he began spending time at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He lived with Arab village families. Lawrence tramped eleven hundred miles through Syria. "Long daily marches. fever and a beating at the hands of a thief. the interior of which was almost inaccessible to Europeans. LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM esting to 5 have a father capable of such unconventionality in behalf of love. M. 1908. and wrote letters to his mother which. who would become his mentor. . friend. Ned Lawrence visited cathedrals and castles." are still notable for an exactness of observation and phrasing beyond the usual capacity of an eighteen or ninteen-year-old boy. a kind of father. whose Arabia Deserta he knew and loved. A intellectually fondness for history led him to take bicycle trips through the south of England and make rubbings of monumental brasses. Large parts of the boy's experience were vital and traditionally wholesome. made careful notes. In the summer of 1909 he undertook a more adventurous trip: a walking tour of Syria. an average of twenty a day when on the move. "a prudent man who knows the country would consider out of the question. E. G. especially if undertaken alone. He romances of William Morris with a devoured the medieval relish that—hard as be for us to grasp— he would retain throughout his it life. During the summers of 1906.

"He it our brother. first nimble and erratic.THE HERO AND HISTORY b castles and established own to his satisfaction the main point of his thesis. or action to its extreme limits. the and when he took another hike through summer of 1911 which ended in bouts of fever and was Hamoudi who nursed him back to life. old civilization which has refined imagination. Perhaps for the Lawrence that first may be time we come upon qualities —an considered remarkable: in intense upon seeing fascination with the past. he called them— Lawrence worked as assistant. itself clear of household gods. a readiness to submit to the customs of a an eagerness to pursue an idea strange. still to feel the hypnotic pull one that was almost the antipode Toward the Arabs he would now be both stronger and less tender— certainly more of Western civilization. Hogarth. "our friend and leader. to the Hogarth and then Leonard Woolley. often hostile people. At Carchemish Lawrence formed a close— and in retrospect. Through the help of D." By his twenty-first year Lawrence was beginning seriously about a career in archaeology— though to think whether he thought seriously about the close work required by archaeological scholarship is another matter. drawn by ties abstract— than love. a ruthless insistence things for himself." One of us: a tribute ." the Arab would later say about Lawrence. As he wrote a few years later to a friend: "You guessed right that the Arab appealed It is to my the old. the expedition. is dig. significant— friendship with Sheik foreman of the Syria in the dysentary. important: In Syria Lawrence of an utterly alien style of life. Lawrence became attached in 1910 to a British Museum expedition that was to dig at Carchemish on the banks of the Euphrates. G. And something came more else. and half the trappings which ours hasten to assume. He is one of us. head of as it seems Hamoudi. miscellaneous. For most of the next three years— the happiest of his an life.

But what disturbs one is that there was a side of Lawrence— the eternal British undergraduate with his sneaking admiration for "public school" regard such an incident as a was a man whose ordeal pranks— that would lark. man ." anything but a of austere moral sensibilities. he and Woolley went off on a trip through the area that runs south of Gaza and Beerthat from sheba and east of Akaba. If the essential in Arabia burned every Lawrence bit of pomp out of him. actu- provide the British army with maps of a zone under Turkish sovereignity. which for us evokes the whole tangle of fraternity and aloneness in human relationships. Hamoudi touched unwittingly upon the problem of bad faith that would torment Lawrence throughout his time in Arabia. During the war Lawrence would break out superciliousness toward those military and an equally callow adulation of in a giggling men he found dense those." not the worst deed of our century. For in stumbling upon Conrad's phrase. . like Allenby. Had Lawrence been .LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM T. this "official abuse. and finally disturbed him. And The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. as the world hurried toward war. criticism might be given pause. E. Had he justified it in the name of military need. For once there is justice in a complaint by Richard Aldington: "None of the intellectuals writing on Lawrence has expressed the faintest regret or indignation at this official abuse of science and religion to screen politico- military activities. who was years this other never quite to disappear. amused him in its distance truth. . 7 would have pleased Lawrence. One fact more about the early Lawrence: In January 1914. ostensibly to retrace the routes of Biblical journeys for the Palestine Expeditionary ally to Fund. would hardly be worth noticing. there was another Lawrence. a Kiplingesque schoolboy susceptible to romantic vanities about the mission of England. he lesser who knows? Perhaps without this Lawrence we should not have had the man who would come to write found enlightened.

THE HERO AND HISTORY O II In the spring of 1916 Sherif Hussein of the Hejaz. E. in their very success. studying Hussein's three elder sons. who then had spent the war months as an impudent and quite envoy to the Hejaz. launched a revolt some time the British had been tempthim with promises of post-war independence. rightly enough against the Turks. the embodiment of Arab desire? The picture of Lawrence plunging into the chaos of the Arab world. hardly decisive and. Not until after his his assignment as British Liason officer in the winter of 1917 did he even begin to . Ali. but this shrewd fanatic had played a cautious game. their main advantage lay not in any capacities of their own but in the sluggishness of the Turks. Abdullah. With him went T. British head- quarters in Cairo sent an experienced as until Ronald official. Lawrence. exposing a poverty of pur- pose and leadership. But having and unable. measuring the worth of these princes could its leaders and quickly bringing order to is surely overdrawn Lawrence Arab troops ranks— this picture one judges by the limited powers actually enjoyed at the return to Cairo and to the if its moment. they now do more than harass faced the danger of being wiped out by counterattack. with lost the advantage of surprise their irregular bands. undistinguished staff captain in Military Intelligence. they had no master plan and barely an idea of why one might be needed. Feisal: each of which of become the focal point of rebellion. to entrenched Turkish posts. In The Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence liant description of his first exploratory visit camp whom has left from one Arab to another. Storrs. since British nor cared to risk the At first he neither trusted the infidel vengeance of the Turks. To provide help and soothe Hussein. For ing from his point of view. The Arabs were ignorant of modern warfare. led a body a bril- of troops. the Arabs gained a few local victories. descendent of the Prophet and protector of the faith.

Lawrence began by approaching the revolt not as a partisan but as a strategist.LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM T. could serve as the "armed prophet" of revolt: Feisal. who saw inefficiency all about them—which between two kinds of narrow-mindedness. the filled caution and reckless fanaticism of the Arabs. Feisal. For the revolt And could be to survive. decided Lawrence. to keep them in action? what kind to of an enterprise could they reasonably be expected assume and complete? To ask such questions was to enter . He approached it as a problem in dynamics: what was needed to move these people into action and." who displayed a posture of assurance and a patience for mediating tribal feuds. E. It was Hussein's who third son." his love for dress. each different is to say. his curious pleasure in guile of bending himself is little flamboyant to the ritual and politics. And added: Feisal responsive to the cues of Englishman with Arab it had better be this darting his "kitchen Arabic. the xenophobic suspicions of the Arabs. that hesitant improvisations to assign a is. nor did it yet have in his private reflections those metaphysical bearings that would later absorb him. it only by a man able to endow it with a coherent idea such as would appeal both to the predatory ship. yet not difficult to explain. "very and pillar-like. given their notorious inconstancy. who saw infidels descending upon them. The speed with which Lawrence now became a the revolt tall leader of Between astonishing. Yet the picture is 9 essentially faithful won it in the desert and own experience as a fable one grants Lawrence the right— he then through his book— to treat his of heroism: the right. The idea Lawrence first brought to the Arab revolt was not primarily a military one. command if such authority. and the routine military outlook of the British. reflecting a century— there arose in the Hejaz a vacuum of leader- vacuum had to be filled. which in the scheme of purpose to end did come to bear such a purpose.

unlike the city intelligentsia and middle class of Syria.THE HERO AND HISTORY 10 the realm of politics. pursue it having as with some freedom. since they were as quick to drop into discouragement as to flare into passion. Such considerations were obviously beyond the reach of most British officers. who saw only the noisy surface of Arab chaos and felt therefore that the best policy would be to bring in a sizable body of disciplined European troops. not as a system of ideas but as a makeshift theory of national psychology. The tribal Arabs with whom Lawrence had now to deal. He had to find transforming their primitive antagonism to the Turks into a facsimile of a modern purpose: but a modern purpose that could retain its thrust only by drawing upon the sources of the primitive resentment. But Lawrence could not wait (nor could the Arabs) until they became one. such as they themselves could barely express. would if if they were enabled to stir the Arabs into be- they were a nation. understanding Lawrence better. nation at all. would threaten the structure of Allied power in the mid-East. they and anticipations of national feeling. no matter how useful at the moment. The French mission in the Hejaz. a burgeoning sense of their possibilities. he could only think of a course of action which. Lawrence had to improvise a strategy of national politics for a cluster of tribes that neither was a nation nor had a symbols and tactics for politics. they contained perhaps the elements from which a nation might be forged. What might bring this about? Primarily the belief that they could or should be a nation. It knew that any mobilization of Arab consciousness. No wonder that Lawrence complained in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom about . had knew at best glimmers The Arabs were not a almost no tradition of nationalism. they were remnants and shards of what might once have been a nation. feared him more. and a strategy of conflict that pressed momentary cowarfare for which they them herence without risking the full-scale into were not prepared.

If not. British troops. they would have to be directed to other varieties of combat in which the more experienced Turkish army could not decimate them. at least until the Arabs gained some sense of their own powers." The moment Lawrence understood this. E. He understood that the nationalism of the colonial countries was often devious and venal. that today's oppressed might once freedom was won be tomorrow's oppressors. the religious particularism of the Arabs would have if skillful be grafted a facade of unity: from which. there might yet come the reality of national to existence. was more of the nature of peace— a national strike perhaps. Lawrence was not deluded. or the general problem of nationalism in our century. for a time. But he also sensed that meanwhile there lay imbedded in this nationalism an unformed yearning for dignity. Lawrence saw the revolt in succeed. If they could not be trained to positional warfare in the style of the period. the Arabs could be brought to act by this yearning. Upon the tribal the "blindness of European advisors. enough. rebellion rivalries. only if it used the language of autonomy. I do not mean to imply that Lawrence fully understood the workings of Arab society and religion. the revolt might it would fail. Far from it. except for a few technical advisors. If. it would have to be fought mainly by the Arabs themselves and appear to be led mainly by the Arabs themselves. But what he grasped with absolute mastery was that the revolt could succeed only if it wore the face of freedom. he was ready for his task. there the greed. In so reconstructing his situation. its political wholeness and .T. only if it became a cause. or the role of colonial rivalries among the great powers. would have to be kept away from the desert. To become a cause. LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM 11 who would not see that was not war: indeed. that there might follow a moral relapse which would make the whole effort seem a waste. Good light weapons and a steady flow of gold were indispensable.

THE HERO AND HISTORY 12 was. You know how big his repute is in Syria we can rush right up to Damascus. moral dynamism: not merely as it cupidity and narrowness of but as He ideal possibility. (From The Arab Bulletin) 1917 The Arab movement is a curious thing. . capacity for expansion . an it possessed the vision which. while still knowledge of the burdens of leader- despair. . but consider at least this sequence of passages. historically. It's a big game. written before. but never very deep. Hogarth) & to pull to roll . fouled by intrigue. and all poor today. up Syria by way of the Hejaz in the name of the Sherif. reached full ship. Am I here endowing Lawrence with a later claim ceptions he coherence he would but never really possess? Or assigning to him per- would reach. privilege: that knew they could might become. & biff the French out of all hope of Syria. It has however—in the same degree— over a very wide area. . (From a letter to D. It is as though you imagine a nation or agitation that may be very wide. not because the Arabs do not care. and anybody who had command of the sea could put an end to it in three or four days. . since all the Arab countries are agricultural or pastoral. On the other hand the Arab movement is (which is . 1916 A difference in character is that the between the Turkish and Arab armies more you distribute the former the weaker they become. G. if at all. It is really very small and weak in its beginning. but because they are smallness of numbers . only after the event? The record of his work and writings must stand as answer. shallow. during and immediately after the revolt: 1915 I want them all [the 'little powers" of Arabia] together. not sustain his vision: that was a cause for and despair Lawrence. imposed by few— and in their their poverty of . Balancing elation below thirty. was a cause He for elation. was the Arabs' spirit. and the more you distribute the latter the stronger they become. .

It is indiscreet has an East and a West and a South Border— but where or what it is on the top no man knoweth. for they are perhaps enemy an army ever the most elusive only to ask what Arabia It is.LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM T. Yet this pattern is surely too neat. an idea. so . finally the last statement. I fancy it is up to the Arabs to find out! (From a letter to his parents) 1920 . E. live on.. . . the simple-minded scheme for new person. . "biffing" the French. fudge. a thing invulnerable. . must be added that if the last passage gives us the essence of what the revolt could still mean to further qualification . had. which Lawrence would work into Seven Pillars of Wisdom. country) lies 13 a good deal of their strength. but not unsympathetic. but province soup with a knife. the presence or absence of the enemy was a secondary matter. Lawrence did not shed his And the he buried them beneath his later ones. when we had taught the civilians . . firm-rooted. perhaps The Turk we and as we wanted nothing material to offered nothing material to the killing. . we were but suppose we might an influence (as be). . would believe that rebellion was absolute. like it on the analogy of absolute warfare. for earlier views. . rising to The an earned and measured eloquence: the revolt as idea. neutral. nourished through long stems to the head. a development of thought and value almost to the point of establishing him as a First. . and deal with Analogy is slow and messy.. as undefiled conception. anyway. blowing where we listed. Our kingdoms lay in each man's mind. with what our to concern ourselves much with what they thought. In 1917 the notation of a newly-seen complexity: a notation somewhat And distant. but far more important. a whole. . and to make war upon rebellion is . intangible. without front or back. drifting about like a gas? Armies were immobile as like plants. (From "The Evolution of a Revolt") These passages chart Lawrence's growing mastery of state- ment. in We it men had won a to die for our ideal of freedom. We might be a vapour. We like eating had seldom did. . war. .

—the earlier passages provide evidence as to its less exalted realities. what "really" happened and what he made of it in memory. victim all in one. Even in Arabia history is not all muddle or chance. they were significantly Lawrence's not his alone. in writing The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. purpose. plan. But this possibility should not be allowed to blur the fact that there was discovery. : It is possible that the innovations in military tactics claimed Lawrence were neither so revolutionary nor calculated as has been supposed— though by now only specialists and old friends will have strong opinions about Lawrence as commander. It is possible that a good many of his glamorous desert raids were of uncertain value— though in guerrilla warfare bold acts can have consequences beyond their immediate military effects.— for by 1920 it often turned to ashes in his mouth. there is intelligence. but his most forcefully. In regard to so complex and elusive a mind as Lawrence's. It is possible that without British gold Lawrence could not have held together the Arab chieftains— though the crucial question is whether anyone else could have done it with twice as much gold. Perhaps. Lawrence gave dramatic form to his memories by condensing a long experience of discovery into a moment of sudden realization.THE HERO AND HISTORY 14 Lawrence. for What his plunge into the desert meant to Lawrence he never fully said. follower. no simple distinction can be enforced between action and response. perhaps because the main concern in his . he was leader. Lawrence neither was nor could be a detached observer. And to the extent that these were present in the revolt. But one thing seems certain: it was Lawrence who grasped the inner logic of the revolt as a moralpolitical act and it was Lawrence who breathed into it a vibrancy of intention it had not previously known. He tells us that his first commanding view of the revolt came to him in March 1917 when for ten days he lay sick in the camp of Abdullah.

Lawrence. scarlet loved to ride with Feisal at the head of a racing camel He loved to dress in spotless white robes. LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM writings was to present his relations to the 15 Arabs as a problem —a problem that could not be reduced to his private needs or desires. listening with tribal chiefs He He loved to sit in Feisal's tent. as Robert Graves insists. in his With a sharp eye for stylized effects. E.A. loved to compete with the Arab cause. This Lawrence took eagerly to the whole ritual- pageant of the Arab camps and Arab ceremonies and Arab pow-wows. one may cautiously reconstruct some of his responses. a warrior out of the barbaric past.. There are other possibilities. most English sense of the word. but they are little more than guesses.* From fragments of evidence left by Lawrence and those who were close to him." who is generally taken to be an Arabian Lawrence knew before the war. from teasing hints dropped by Lawrence to his biographers." But whether this person was. It has also been surmised. we do not know. disliked saw the Arabian an adventure in the simplest. . And he took a special delight in acquiring for himself a bodyguard of dark- skinned Ageyl fighters who formed a legion obedient to his * Some private desires there surely were. the cocky young so fiercely campaign officer by the military regulars as who had been in Cairo. sometimes and white. leading sheik of the Howeitat. He army. own way the tradition who have managed mid-East on romantic he continued of those English visitors to the to penetrate native life without ceasing to be immaculately English.A. though he knew that half the time they displays veiling weakness. This Lawrence suddenly found were mere himself cast in a role such as might satisfy the wildest fantasies of a middle class English youth raised literature. gravely and dropping an occasional word during negotiations who were edging toward Auda Abu Tayi.T. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom bears a fervid dedication in verse to "S. a woman Lawrence had met in Syria or whether it was the Arab boy Sheik Ahmoud whom he had befriended at Carchemish. that one motive for wishing to undertake the campaign in the desert was to reach "S.

An English 1918. . it would have threatened his mode of leadership. impressive: he convinced the Arabs that in basic stoicism. was an authentic motive in his Arabian experience.THE HERO AND HISTORY l6 command. The dream of "going back. He did something more subtle and. often in necessary silence.") And experience robbed him of compassion and perverted his kindness to the image of the waste in more intimate causes of suffering. to witness. a small Bedouin man clothes. From his return to the Hejaz until the day the British and Arabs entered Damascus. to show a contempt for pain which would win the respect of the most savage tribesman. ." of stripping to a more primitive self. to yield his body to exhaustion and then force it once again into war. and he had a gold Hejazi dagger in his belt. in their eyes. and on his head a wonderful silk kufaiyeh held by a gold agal. His feet were bare... Not only would that have been ludicrous. cloak over in position meeting Lawrence at Akaba in officer. somewhat operatic role. Lawrence accepted an appalling quantity of hardship. to had to flash ride camels on lacerating marches. repeated outbursts of cruelty (for the Arab's "sterile human which he hid. but it was also consciously used by Lawrence to further his public role. to be on guard against those who might betray him for gold or wish him out of the way so they might pillage without check. found him . outer bearing and daily practice he could become remarkably like them. which has so often fascinated Western man. He learned to walk barefoot on hot sands with the aplomb of an Arab. . there were other. Lawrence a price that one comes to disregard the But even to act out this pay so terrible and histrionics. . dressed in extremely good and expensive a richly braided and decorated goat's hair all. to go for days without food and then plunge his fingers into fatty stews. Lawrence never wished to persuade the Arabs that he had become one of them.

LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM For a man who was so deeply drawn 1J to the idea and the experience of overcoming—particularly a self-overcoming in came the sense foreshadowed by Nietzsche— the war in Arabia to be a through radical humiliation and pain. disgruntled in secret negotiations with the Turks. But through . had stupidly squan- dered a large sum of money and imperilled the was the shock had entered of learning that revolt. found himself in a situation where he might determine the character of his experience— or so it moments of lucidity. brought moments when such visions seemed utterly fatuous. test As he immersed himself in the life of the desert. There were wretched little raids where he had to use all his seemed to him in occasional strength just to keep his forces from disintegrating. men who also knew pain and showed were mere dumb bodies led to slaughter. since the Arabs. was a challenge worthy of a serious man.T. to be sure. To help steer the revolt past an enemy that would destroy it and allies that would disarm it. took pillage as the natural fruit of victory. To help make the Arabs into a free people was a task worthy of an ambitious man. repeating again and again the cycle of exertion—a moment of high excitement. trayal of events life. Auda. the wild desire to escape and finally a clenched return- Lawrence saw pade or he had his experience as more than a romantic esca- fearful discipline. Since in the bareness of the desert to remold demand. The fighting. Feisal's younger brother. the assured be- he would snatch a trophy of freedom. self-scrutiny. however. a plunge into activity. But they France Lawrence. In themselves courage and pain meant very were being killed in courage. the ugliness. There was the despair that followed a dis- covery that Zeid. he also his existence in order to found there the meet an possibility of historical an action through which to carve out a chosen meaning for his From the trivia. indifferent to consequences. E. the absurdity. then sickness. little. There his greed.

that comes but and must be seized with total desire. in Simmel's words. that Lawrence undertook the Arabian campaign as an adventure: the sense. in . And these are the motifs of his conduct that have made him so attractive to an age in which the capacities for heroism seem constantly to diminish. in the words of Georg Simmel would "determine its beginning and end according to its own formative power"— these were the yearnings that Lawrence discovered in the revolt. To leave behind the settled life of middle class England which seemed to offer little but comfort and destruction. rising above the limitations of moment and place. never knowing his capacity for sacrifice or courage. that an adventure is like a work of art. upon the Arabian campaign as an occasion for it meant courage and recklessness. if seized at all. to break with seized heroism not merely or primarily as the assumption that to life consists merely of waiting for things happen. and there remains still the possibility of that rare action by which a man. to carve out an experience which. "for the essence of the work of art is . reaches the heart of excellence— a possibility. but as it meant the possibility for stamping intelligence and value upon a segment of history. that it cuts out a piece of endlessly continuous sequence of perceived experience. . it is an attribute of both the work of art this form to make core.THE HERO AND HISTORY l8 it all Lawrence kept hoping in the desert. giving form . to abandon the clutter of routine by which a man can fill his days. perhaps He that he might do something fine something extraordinary. Put aside the posturing and play-acting. put aside the embroidered robes and gold daggers. he wished to "put a scar on the map. In the words of the hero of Malraux's The Royal Way." rarely It is also in this sense. as it a self-sufficient though defined and held together by an inner Indeed. us feel that and the adventure the whole of life is . . as Lawrence knew. so utterly unlike the one I noticed a page or two back. .

Is it fanciful to think that "modern" mode of heroism? So we have it seemed here a distinctly to Herbert Read ." About Lawrence this was not true. own He by a distrust and could not yield himself charisma. At the end he abandoned his adventure with a feeling that inaction might be the most enviable of states and a desire to transform heroism into a discipline for the purging of self. as at the point call him. moments Lawrence but surely not with felt one or another of classic fulfillment or ease. LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM 19 somehow comprehended and consummated. E. Consider the qualities implied by Simmel when he evokes the hero or. a confidence that a man with a he moves in rhythm with natural and historic forces. At these." in one another. a conviction that he has been chosen for his part and thereby lifted above personal circumstances. through an unimaginable exertion. Lawrence found it hard to believe in the very deeds he drove himself to perform. he was never certain of those secret gifts which for the hero ought to be an assured possession. Lawrence's career turns sharply from the pattern suggested by Simmel. "lives. and everything that led him to think of his experience in Arabia as an imposture shows it could not be true. His apparent fulfillment of the hero's traditional tasks mockery to his was undercut at every point of the idea of heroism." The hero is belief in his inner powers. not yet been differentiated from one another." Exactly what Lawrence came to hope for in the desert: that somehow. the whole of his would life be comprehended and consummated. "the adventurer of genius. "The advenif by mystic instinct. Though was indeed yoked to "the course of the the end the two moved in profound opposotion to his "individual fate" world. however. forever tyrannized by questions.T. he lived on the nerve's edge of consciousness. At one decisive point. where the course of the world and the individual fate have. so to speak. as he prefers to turer of genius." writes Simmel.

though perhaps less violently. an essential undoubt- self-possessed. an age of lame ducks. fall of 1917. ." Except for the ungenerous phrase about "physical folly. All of them converging. . essentially ." wrote Read. . "a man with a load on his mind. a man with a load on his mind. they accusations. Fortunately not recognized. By now it is Read claimed For better or worse. his feeling that he had apart. [Lawrence's mind was] not great with thought. but tortured with some restless spirit that drives it out into the desert." Read was here both accurate and meant his I perceptive.THE HERO AND HISTORY 20 when he reviewed The Seven "About the hero. but they point. ground for our continued think. a spirit that never triumphs over the body and never attains . he Wisdom Pillars of is is in 1928. spoilt . Lawrence was none of these. kept steadily growing. forced him into a of Lawrence's difficulties mode of life that has come to be described as the experience of extreme situations. to physical folly and self-immolation. peace. in the tangle of struggling with a vision he can neither abandon. So too did his need to subject himself to the crudest Some were of a personal character and would have troubled him. "a bulky man [who] sat on the bed in a night gown. the hero as he appears life is realize nor a man to admire. In the territory. . of responsibility in become a creature from both the Arabs and English. trembling and sweating . . self-reliant. others followed from the very nature of warfare. to the very Lawrence. "there ing directness . during a scouting expedition into Lawrence was captured by the Turks enemy at Deraa." As Lawrence assumed greater burdens the desert campaign. even if he had never come to Arabia. he was taken to be a deserter and brought before the local commandant. Colonel He was a lame duck in by introspection and self -analysis. isolated interest in almost impossible to accept as a model of the heroic the sort of divine ox that modern Read remarks as a partial depreciation. unintelligent. a soldier arrogant.

'Shame. Lawrence would of clinical hysteria: remembered the corporal kicking with his nailed boot to get I remembered smiling at him. though even in this extreme self-exposure.' Another slash followed. One giggled with amusement. almost it Pillars merged in a blur of pain." 21 There followed a scene in which physical torture and sexual violation Later. into my groin. was swelling through me: and then that he flung up his arm and hacked the full length of his whip I me up . From it he never fully recovered. or rather.T. . and my eyes mouth. He shied away from women unless they were notably maternal. . which recapture Lawrence's ordeal at Deraa anticipate a library of recollections by the victims of twentieth century totalitarianism. Few are more terrible than Lawrence's. Whether Lawrence was a practicing homosexual it is not possible to say here with any authority: the evidence of his friends ranges from genuine bewilderment to special pleading. but one reason it so tortured Lawrence in memory has to do with his sexual life. seems an incontrovertible fact. There are passages in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom which show that .. so honest about that side of himself which sought for masochistic pain. for years he would impress people as a man battling or three pages his nerves to maintain the The appearance of control. This doubled me half-over. trying impotently to scream. That Lawrence did not have what today we call a normal relationship with a woman. E. . as LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM though with fever. for a delicious warmth. . screaming. would have been enough to break stronger and more secure men. he could not quite succeed in being candid about the extent of his violation. you killed him.. only shuddering through went black: while within me the core slowly up through the rending nerves. in The Seven describe with a cold. and incident at Deraa his repeated expressions of disgust concerning the sexual act go far beyond the bounds of timidity or fastidiousness. probably sexual. Wisdom. A roaring. seemed heave to . of life . The two my open A voice cried.

of 1917 secret arrangement more public reasons for his despair. nor anything but hope itself. as they knew. to give 20 millions of Semites the foundations on which to build thoughts. he knew about the Sykes-Picot among Britain.. deeper privation. nor life. while I exploited their highest ideals. To be of the desert was." The an inspired dream-palace of their national reality. agreement a farce of the promises of independence that had been given by Lawrence— though not by him alone— to the Arabs. a France and Russia for perpetuating imperialism in the mid-East. .. was "a homesickness [which] came over me stressing vividly my outcast life among the Arabs. which made him all the sicker as he became a legendary figure among the Arabs. . no dividend of joy paid out. campaign. and made their love of freedom one more tool to make England win. But if. This made By treaty. "to restore a lost influence.THE HERO AND HISTORY 22 Lawrence was drawn to the idea or image of homosexuality as it occurred with apparent simplicity and purity among his young Arab warriors. as he flamboyantly wrote in the sup- pressed preface for The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. as one suspects. He had to further this hoped. There were the summer other. to endure as far as the senses would endure. to wage unending battle with an enemy who was not of the world." And when. his sexual impulses were usually passive and suppressed. Its style was accretive. Lawrence at a moment delivered a of climax in the Arabian "halting. sharper pain. Lawrence smarted under the knowledge that no matter what he would now say or do. that would have been all the more reason for suffering a poignant sense of where he was thrown into an exclusively isolation in the desert. half-coherent speech" to the Serahin tribeThere could be no rest-houses for revolt. male society and the habits of the Bedouins were accepted without fuss or judgment. he had no choice but deceit. and to use each such advance as base for further adventure.

" but also. assault- make ing his listeners at the point where he could worldliness fade. but he could not long bear the vision. the last free loyalty within our grasp.T. . old- fashioned romantic!— who believed in excellence and honor. our final leisure. There were moments when he saw. . guilt derived precisely from a lingering belief in the British claim to fairness. . he never reached a coherent view of the world struggle in which finally political he too was another pawn. On his thirtieth birthday. seem best of all our works. treacherous all through the campaign— but wondered whether in the light of self-interest they had not been justified. . . his whom problem might have been easier to bear. But he was not a principled anti-imperialist In fact. yet [also] a fantasy distempered with melancholy. Lawrence knew the Arabs had been selfish. . wrote And in a fine sen- Wisdom he brought together his complex feelings about the Arabs: "The Arab respected force a little: he respected craft viable degree: but most of more. his and he did shame and retain sentiments of national pride. in the wrong place. . E. Lawrence. narrow. during a peaceful day shortly . LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM 23 Death would and failure seemed God's freedom to mankind. He knew Doughty had been right in saying the Arabs had "a presumptuous opinion of themselves. enticing them "their into a net of deception. ." Had Lawrence been sentiments a principled anti-imperialist for of national pride were irrelevant. nearly the sole his armament. "always undid an Arab force. Lawrence was a man—hopeless. —he was speaking from new the center of his beliefs." tence in The Seven Pillars of . as he felt. and often had all it he respected blunt in an en- sincerity of weapon God had excluded from utterance. Despite superb intuitions. that his mere struggle whole adventure had been absorbed by a for power. he came at the wrong time." high indolent Victory.

There was a craving to be famous. the terrors and . he ceased to believe in his civilization or in any other. and what he chiefly recalled were the agony. . he had written to his friend Vyvyan Richards. his life was ceaselessly crossed by strange longings fanned by privations and dangers.. I must have had some tendency.THE HERO AND HISTORY 24 before the entry into Damascus. As it now seemed to him. "In the black light of vic- could scarcely identify ourselves. a triviality of success. This judgment he would later express most forcibly in the preface he wrote for The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. ... other people praised made me . he was incapable of subscribing to the doctrines he preached for the good of his country at war . without delusion: Four years ago I had meant to be a general and knighted when Such temporal dignities (if I survived the next four weeks) were now in my grasp. Lawrence tried to examine himself honestly. we to marched into Damascus. until he was aware of nothing but an intense solitude on the borderline of madness. Without that I should not have deceived men so well. thirty." Ill as Lawrence returned to England in November 1918. on fraud. . and a horror of being known to like being known. . like mine. hoping. the an end for Lawrence. and persisted two years in bringing to success a deceit which others had framed and set afoot.. for "a long . and the summary of this preface that Andre Malraux has provided might almost have been written by Lawrence himself: he was carried away at first by the appeal of liberty and was committed to its service that he ceased to exist. he lived under the constant threat of torture. despair jealously of I began to wonder if all established reputations were founded. some aptitude. so completely the mistakes. for deceit.. .. almost everything he had done was negligible in scale and value. . .. .. The hearing myself. . When the British and Arabs war came tory. .

T. But in his writings of the period— the impression is strengthened by memoires of his friends— one gains a sense of teeth clenched. hands tightened. and less well. E. except as it breaks past the limits of problem in its an suppression. wishing to shake seemed The peace conference was a few months away." Nothing of the sort proved to be possible. if only because it allowed independence to the Syrian coastal area which the Sykes-Picot treaty had reserved for France. He understood that the British." Lawrence realized that his proposal would be bitterly fought by the French. but on principle they half-do it than that we do it it is better that perfectly for them. a figure coiled with energy and purpose. a weariness beyond measure: as if he were trying to complete a necessary task and then lapse into silence. who was not would be It the order of civilization they bringing to the mid-East: a mixture of the worst of several possible worlds. it Lawrence But having yielded himself felt that as to an historical a matter of honor he had to see through. to all appearances. action. and vulnerable. His mind was never more supple than during these months in which he prepared to sabotage French and then British ambitions. to gain . with Hussein's sons as limited monarchs and with moderate guidance and help to come from the West. In England Lawrence sent a memorandum to the cabinet proposing the creation of several independent Arab states. Versailles would be coming. He remained. no long-suppressed people ever is. article Lawrence reached the core he published in 1920: "We have of the to be prepared to see [the Arabs] doing things by methods quite unlike our own. the Arab cause Time and again Lawrence found himself ill-prepared required pleading. far less admirable in hard to surmise by now peace than in war. That the Arabs were not ready for independence Lawrence knew quite well. LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM 25 quiet like a purge and then a contemplation and decision of future roads. Feisal off his responsibilities to the Arabs.

in the labyrinth of cynicism and interest that would comprise the Versailles treaty. he "functioned as representative of several Arab states which did not yet exist. in the words of the Swedish writer Erik Lonnroth. alone and powerless. At the peace conference his status was ambiguous. by now well briefed on his opinions and temper. and when the plane crashed near Rome.THE HERO AND HISTORY 26 any peace ally. "we will welcome him. an Arab" that Lawrence did come. actually. Colonel House and even Clemenceau. determined on a stern policy. his capacities declined. It was now his predicament that as his reputation grew. began to put up a show of truculence. would have to compromise with may did not foresee— and here one political their main charge him naivete— was that strong voices in England would be eager to work out an arrangement giving Syria to the French and allowing Britain to dominate Iraq. The painful accident. at What he with all. it became had decided to let France take Syria. in an English uniform. When the . ." to Yet it was precisely we "as badger and court Lloyd George. this was a small part of the bargain. notably in a popular congress held in Syria which proclaimed Feisal its head and independence its goal. Balfour. The Arabs. into the summer of 1919. were itching to drive Feisal's troops out of Damascus. But will not accept him as an Arab. And Lawrence. Formally he acted as advisor to the British delegation. and whose still vague contours he himself had greatly helped to form. brought him to a state As negotiations dragged clear that the British approaching nervous exhaustion." read the instructions of the French foreign minister. treated him with frigid correctness. In the spring he had taken an airplane flight to Cairo with the intention of collecting his notes for The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. "If he comes as a British colonel. sensing defeat. had suffered a broken collarbone and rib fractures. grew increasingly estranged from his countrymen. together with the recent death of his father and the crumbling of his hopes at Versailles. . . The French." The French.

. a loyalty resting more on principle than affection. "England and France got the lot. ment to their diplomacy. But it was hopeless. all he could do was persist in a quixotic loyalty to the Arabs." as Lawrence later said. strongly that he is on Arab Paris in any as a technical advisor We and the War Office feel to a large extent responsible for our trou- bles with the French. 27 flight to Cairo. sent a London Times arguing the Arab this letter to the case and declaring— though the editor did not print— that he regretted his war-time had no intention of living up to the promises it had authorized him to make the Arabs. in reality. since this French. "By the mandate swindle. we Lawrence regard the prospect of his return to capacity with grave misgivings." would "cause us An serious embarrassment with the the British Foreign Office attached to official of the Paris delegation wrote in confidence: "While fully appreciating the value of affairs. Lawrence was in no condition to lead anything." At a peace conference. they set up a panicky cry was returning to the mid-East to lead an Arab resistance. Law- . E. And this stubborness— let us call it by its true name: this absolute unwillingness to sell out— began to French heard of the that he an embarrass- strike his British colleagues as unreasonable. in some respects.LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM T. As he returned to Paris. . . it was a rupture of those bonds of faith that had made him a good and. He appealed to the Americans in the name of self-determination. Now he "looked at the West and actions since the British its conventions with By new government eyes : clearly they destroyed the end of 1919 the strain it all had become too for me." great. Lawrence kept searching for possibilities to maneuver. characteristic Englishman of his day. On July 17 Lord Curzon telegraphed Balfour that Law- rence should not be allowed to work with Feisal any longer. a lost cause. a man of principle can be decidedly irksome." What Lawrence now felt came to far more than personal disappointment. wrote pleading notes to the English leaders.

And he went to hear Thomas' lecture at least five times. is no single an- The vaudeville in which Lawrence was cast as prince of the a balm to feelings that had been hurt at desert. "he would turn crimconfusion. and neither justify nor excuse. the thousand and second Knight. perhaps betrayed. his war-time companion. It stimulated a kind of selfmortification. The truth is that it is hard to under- . But at best these are explanations. And then. He Seven Pillars of harassed himself mercilessly in the writing of The Wisdom. even after Hubert Young. only a complex of possible reasons. his sense of the distance between hidden truth and outer parody. But one must add. apparently in Arabia relishing his transformation into "a Strand-Magazine strum- mer. a Strand-Magazine strummer. his own connivance: a connivance in which vanity and masochism joined to betray him. "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia. served as Versailles: there was pleasure of a kind in being recognized at the Albert Hall and stared at in the streets. the Arabs. through also. for he was Thomas was doing moaned Lawrence in what far too intelligent not to see to him. Yet he failed to correct the numer- ous distortions." early 1920." How was this possible? Why did Lawrence permit and even encourage Thomas to continue? There swer. laugh in word Thomas. a twisting of the knife of public shame into the wounds of his ego. and hurry away with a stammered "spotted. over a million adoring spectators. "I'm a sublimated Aladdin. at the very moment of he was thrust into public notoriety through Lowell Thomas' illustrated lecture." When son.THE HERO AND HISTORY 28 rence told himself that he had failed." a spectacle that in London alone drew failure. Lawrence became a popular legend— cheap and vulgar— through the devices of a skillful journalist." reports of apology. His new public role appealed to his sense of the sardonic. protested Thomas' statement that the British officers had not accompanied Lawrence to the front.

perhaps too passionately on its theme: which is the felt burden of history rather than history itself. 'sublimity/ as Longinus would call it) and that they were The Karamazovs. Precisely during this period of failure. and in 1922 set up in proof at the Oxford Times. Zarathustra and Moby Dick. since it focuses too subjectively. Nor can it be taken as formal history. however. Well. The book is subtitled "a triumph. formally its central action. Yet not a hopelessly stricken man. heart-sickness and notoriety Lawrence kept working away with an insatiable ambition. Largely written in 1919. misleading. the book is one of the few original works of English prose in our century. unless of course kindness toward a stricken man. stand this episode. the manuscript was lost. often for whole days and nights. this must surely be read it is a triumph: a vindication of consciousness through form. and is as necessary for comprehending the twentieth century as Brecht's poems or Kafka's novels or Pirandello's plays. In another sense. at The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. . as an irony. and if Lawrence's name lives past the next half century it may well be for the book rather than the experience behind it. E. too obsessively. As autobiography The Seven ambiguous. You will observe that modesty comes out more in the performance than the aim. of 'Titanic' books telling (those distinguished : "An English fourth" Lawrence did not quite make. Yet the book as an act has become part of the history of our politics. my ambition was to make an English fourth. less Pillars of Wisdom is veiled. completely and painfully redone.LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM T. a direct revelation than a per- formance from which the truth can be wrenched. and harder we are prepared to show a still little to accept 2% it. Still. How ambitious he was Lawrence revealed in a letter to Edward Do you remember my Garnett: you once that I collected a shelf by greatness of spirit. for on one side of him Lawrence continued to behave like a tough and bouncy Irishman." and in regard to the Arabian campaign.

There are places where a man can stand still for a moment. in It is a is work and of purgation order to resist the pressures of memory. at increasingly frequent nomadic grandeur ment upon . The Seven disgorgement. succumb- is ing too easily to verbal mannerism and tending to wash away the distinction between history and fable. the victims of totalitarianism. It can be read as a narrative of high excitements and descriptive flourish." The feverish state in which Lawrence composed the book. perhaps transcended. so that the one I care for most is either repeated. as if The scene is rendered with fierce. to force the reader into a sensuous participation in Law- rence's experience. or syllable-echoed. a work of the most artful self-consciousness in which Lawrence is constantly "arranging words. for in this kind of narrative the reader must not be allowed to settle into any comfort of expectation. to be perfected out. the sudden killing of an Arab soldier. or put in a startling position. it It's write I a looking-glass." power depends upon a doubleness of perspective. Details are thrust out with brutal. exotic particularity. All ups and downs. Pillars of Wisdom also. the nightmare detachDeraa incident and then. especially the no flat early drafts— I tie myself into knots trying to reenact everything. even shocking intent. and never like writing in front of looking at the paper. engine full on or brakes hard on. the of a man like Auda. the model for a genre too characteristic of the age: a personal through which a terrible experience is relived. the horror of an assault of the helpless Turkish prisoners. The bleakness of the desert. a perilous one. as out.THE HERO AND HISTORY 3° Primarily the book that would become narrative burned by all is a work of art." strain of its Robert Graves has said that "the nervous ideal of faultlessness himself found that the book is is oppressive. This genre." and Lawrence "written too hard. —may Its help to explain why the book is "written too hard. but always at the imaginary scene.

LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM T. more But it is we have Lawrence was deliberately and trying to achieve large-scale effects. Unquestionably there are through a surplus of effort. a series of compositional feats matching the feats of Lawrence's adventure. and therein the book gains a kind To an age style is that usually takes likely to passages that fail of unity. may almost be called baroque: the style pursuing And while the reader has every reason to dis- . passages that contain sensibility than Lawrence could handle or justify. at first a mere scatterof ing of sentiments and then the growing and molding of surface. E. passages that betray the hot breath of hysteria. through the writer's struggle to write his book. a rhetoric of action passion that the thought. through wrenchings metaphor and perspective. detachable the nature of the set-piece. Yet through this accumulation of set-pieces there recurs the struggle of a self in formation. toward aloneness. sections detailing a more or less complete incident. and the book to crumble into a series of setpieces. pulls attention away from the toward something else. the turnings raids Lawrence conducted against sand other 31 and a thou- his self— these comprise the agitated surface of the book. dangerous to dismiss such writing simply because been trained to suspect the grand. By of intensity. like Melville's Ishmael. the merciless guerrilla intervals. they are so packed with nervous tion. these sections are and can be read human as self-contained accounts of bravado and ambitious phrasing as to life exhaus- Being detachable. bits Yet at every crucial point the writing. its prose plain. It The Seven is Pillars of the emergence of this self which keeps Wisdom from being a mere recital of excitements and horrors. Lawrence's seem mannered. It turns T the book: an "I" that is not at all the conventional first-person who comes narrator but an approximation of a figure into being. Because he tries to maintain an almost intolerable pitch Lawrence seems repeatedly to fall into a state of exhaustion. call attention to their as a form.

" It is a coercive prose. Soon the British decided they would have to modify their policy. the French were bombarding Damascus and spreading hatred with each discharge of their cannon. tion. series of it is at conciliatory sublimation. but twisted. He often uses words with a deliberate obliqueness or off-meaning. The common meaning of these key words is neither fully respected nor wholly violated.. Without an individuality. Lawrence strives for a style of thrust and shock. as it is a coercive book. and when Winston Churchill took over the Colonial Office in 1921 he offered Lawrence a post as advisor on mid-East affairs. All of scious planning: "I find that makes it more my fifth this followed from con- writing . which had been neither effective nor economical. right to Within a few months it and British governments entirely wrong. stranger than that twist of strangeness no one would feel a differentness. sometimes into freshness. sometimes into mere oddity.THE HERO AND HISTORY 32 criminate among these effects. it would be dull to condemn Lawrence merely for their presence. pithier. shapely. Lawrence now joined in political conferences in Cairo and for a brief time returned to the desert.. by way of balance. The a tensing of nerves and sensibility. a is reflections upon human incompleteness. where he helped . and the massed heads of the French the Versailles treaty. for passages of extreme sensibility. meant to shake the reader into a recognition of what No earth. be one more significant after the signing of became clear that he had been entirely about the mid-East. It is a modern book. and then. For Lawrence there was now entry into public life. of a sentence it was. By 1920 the British were pouring millions of pounds into Iraq in order to suppress Arab insurgents. behind the phrase. is broken possible on this with emotions of repose or resolu- no pretense throughout. so as to charge them with strangeness and potential life. one can end there result.

He was it. in his freedom. the literary world. and politics seemed dirty. he no longer knew how or why to faced by many who more find no sensitive men It live. morally depleted.T. wishing complete independence. and peace momentarily restored. a He had run through life and now had to face the cruel question of how to continue living though his life was done. physically wearied. than most had earned the right to speak of no way solution. took a less sanguine view. the British army but not the RAF withdrawn. recovering. which he admired to excess. Lawrence said that justice had finally been done but the Arabs. Perhaps Lawrence's trouble was simply that of a at the end of a great adventure. too fast. was the problem and Lawrence. returns home and possible to slide into quiet would choose and routine. man who. . ligion as dogma or institution left yet there burned in him a purpose he could neither find surely right moved him when he him as cold as in the past. a ." If this craving be a delusion. E. there could be no evading the central fact of his post-war years: that. of his generation. mean. could man with- out. some enlarging selfless nor name. Feisal allowed to assume the throne. Lord Halifax was desire for said that "some deep religious impulse some craving for the perfect synthesis of thought and action which alone could satisfy his test of ultimate truth and his conception of life's purpose. The ordinary ways of middle-class England he could not settle into. His labor in composing The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and then the interval of service under Churchill had distracted Lawrence from himself. . a mug's game. finds it im- (Some years later he book about a hero to translate the Odyssey. A greater measure of autonomy was granted the Arabs in Iraq. LAWRENCE: TOE PROBLEM OF HEROISM 33 work out a modus vivendi between the British and Arabs. made him wildly uncomfortable. Reout the strength of true conviction. it is one from which the world is fast . Now that both were done and nothing appeared to absorb or consume him.

" A year later. palled A the death of two brothers in the war." Lawrence would lapse into bouts of self-pity and puerile shows of vanity. to Eric Kennington in 1922. you think there have been many lay monks of my persuasion? One used to think that such frames of mind would have perished with the age of religion: and yet here they rise up.THE HERO AND HISTORY 34 whose return is endlessly delayed." he wrote several years later to the novelist Henry Williamson. . He ate poorly. purely secular. and sorry ing. "Noth- and a little ill. carelessly.) Whatever the reason. after he had joined the RAF. "The worst thing about the war generation of introspects. a Bedouin in a letter ignorant praise. But there were times when he expressed with a rare clarity and poignance. simplicity. if it is little to how much false the praise the reality compared with the legend: Lawrence. He would walk the streets of London for nights on end. In them famous men. he would stone for entire mornings. . hold myself voluntarily here: Do and yet I want to stay here till it no longer hurts me. "is that they can't keep off their blooming selves. His home in Oxford. . of affection separated from Paris. After his return remembered. the sense of drift he shared with so many of "What more?" he wrote his contemporaries. he wrote to I'm bored stiff: and very Lionel Curtis: "It's terrible to tired. she has him from many of his mother. his was painfully distraught. I know how merit. lost in moodiness and self-examina- life tion." there were two selves in "longing for the bareness. . he could occasionally burst out in oblique confession. Praise makes a man And when Graves remarked that self Robert is: how little luck: how sick. It is easy enough to dislike and judge the Lawrence of these days. but goodwill and understand- ing were not enough. was unbearable." Caught up as he was with his "blooming self. sit motionless as London he found new to by mist whom friends. to see how mean some people I wanted to respect have grown." Somewhat Lawrence wrote later Graves: "You see.

but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness"— they too were confronting the sense of the void. O. And Lawrence in the early thirties told a friend that himself to be "an extinct volcano. They omit the moments of common- place satisfaction. and I have done with intellectuality. the sense that human life had entered a phase of prolonged crisis in which all of its root desires . when so somber a figure as MaxWeber could speak of the "disenchantment of the world" and the likelihood that "not summer's bloom lies ahead of us. you see. This condition was by no means unique to Lawrence. I am so tired! I want so much to lie down and sleep and die. even a false god in which to believe." . Lord. a sense of the void. between them into the nihilism which cannot find. are mutually destructive. But that they are faithful to what Lawrence felt most deeply. when Pirandello drove skepticism to intolerable extremes in his plays. seems beyond doubt.T. I want to forget my sins and the world's weariness. those and values which make men continue to live. a closed oyster." Later still. in So I fall a note to an unknown correspondent. and grouped together in isolation. such passages unavoidably form a melo- dramatic picture. that they show the most important side of his post-war Lawrence life. with their variations on the theme of nada. the terror of purposelessness." Lawrence harshness o£ the desert— that state of is a symbol— and the over-civilized mind 35 of answered: "The two selves. E. Through these years suffered from a loss of elan. When Hemingway wrote his stories. Lawrence wrote: I have done with politics. probably in 1929. Die is best because there is no reveille. LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM which the desert European self. Taken from over a decade of Lawrence's life felt must . . They omit the plateaus of ordinariness which fill the bulk of any life. in being. I have done with the Orient. revealed itself as He suffered from a nihilism which a draining of those tacit impulsions. and he I discourage treasure-hunters from the use of tin-openers.

purely secular. "One used to think that such frames of mind would have perished with the age of religion: and yet here they rise up. But what rence. in England and India. Lawrence joined the Royal Air Force as an ordinary recruit under the name of John Hume Ross.THE HERO AND HISTORY 36 sustaining norms had lost their authority. But once this strain of the exotic is put aside. there remains a common a shared lot. Such a to the man. when his identity became after the as if to known. the basis for without it he might have been just with post-war malaise. he was forced to leave but allowed to join the regular army. Lawrence's decision to bury himself in the ranks was an extraordinary one. nerability in bearing the is to man his come. Had Lawrence turns heroism— suffering the aftermath of simply returned wholesome life of an English gentleman. fame and money were within reach. a all that was another young finally draws one making him seem not merely an exceptional representative man of our century. he would still have been noteworthy. afflicted to Law- figure but courage and vul- burden of consciousness. wipe out all he had once been. for a man who had fought all his life T. E. Lawrence reached these feelings in a unique way. Until his death in 1935 . writing neither The Seven Pillars of Wisdom nor the remarkable letters to Lionel Curtis. dilemma. when his pleas and the intervention of powerful friends persuaded Air Marshall Trenchard to accept him again. however. I would suggest that into a bewildered who now seems it is man this Lawrence— the hero who closest to us. There he remained until 1925. this time under the name of Lawrence served the RAF as clerk and mechanic. Shaw. In August 1922. Six months later. through the desert of Arabia rather than the trenches of France." Tensions of the kind Lawrence suffered during the years war cannot be borne indefinitely. His war-time record was remarkable. could hardly have captured the imagination of reflective people as the actual Lawrence did. For a man to whom power.

"Honestly. at All the explanations to- come gether are also unsatisfactory." he wrote to Robert Graves. old. E. LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM against the force of his own ambition. . for that . by an itch to make myself ordinary it ground-level: mob in a of likes: also I'm broke. came here slightly different explanations. I to eat dirt candidly. forced on me by an inclination toward by a despairing hope that I'd find myself on common ground with men . was a necessary step. and I'll come out odd in other men's sleep.. there is perhaps deeper statement of motive: "Sometimes to Eric a brief but we wish for chains as a variety/' There were other. except perhaps as they to an absolute need to break from his old self. Curtis. . for . And . he told till its taste is normal to me. to find domination whose taste equality only in have been cloyed with) action I've rejected: and the intellectual life: and the receptive senses: and the battle of wits. going to be a brain- It's odd than it less went I in: or at least he wrote for the catalogue in a preface that Kennington's exhibit of Arab portraits. and pain to live . through the torments of basic which he was ten years and one war too learned to claw his way barracks where he slept. It is I : . it 37 was a climax No suicide. the heroic Lawrence and the helpless Lawrence both. "Partly. Free-will I've tried.. an act of symbolic mortification. and is rejected: authority I've rejected (not my present effort. of less eyes. RAF to Less insure who brought out he wrote: his metaphysical side. some people he had joined the To Lionel himself a regular income. Somehow he managed training.T. ." . obedience. was cipline for freedom. He past the obscenities that filled the He found odd sensations of pleasure in breaking himself to obey men he knew to be un- . of self- single explana- whose whose dis- tion can account for thirteen years spent in a military spirit war with his passion chafed and humiliated him. subordination.

dispossession: And I was an Irish nobody. Forster. M. He was Lawrence did not happy. way found physical pleasure and a sense of freedom in racing his motorcycle across the made just in that ease. Thomas Hardy. had accepted his ful for long stretches of time. to find some version monasticism he craved. to make up for the from the war. to again his capacity for accepting pain. "adjustment. suffering acutely." But again: why did he do it? To stamp forever upon his conscience the need for refusing power. as with some of the greatest writers of the day: Bernard Shaw. which . ("One had but to watch him scrubbing a barrack-room table. I compensation.") He no table had been scrubbed lasting friends in He whom narrow English roads. companionship. (Hardy he venerated with a filial emotion which is one of the most simply "human" of his qualities. Like a character in Conrad. or if feel himself to be not happy. "to realize that before. We months of basic should not sentimentalize. to put himself beyond the possibility of taking power.) He tried his hand at critical essays. to distinguish himself in suffering— truth lies in all these but in none alone. bits of in service there was a failure. Except for the training. It Throughout the years were small pleasures. He made friends. Still. to return to the punish himself and test commonest of the guilts that lingered of common life. the "job-sense" that sees one through. with he lived on terms of intermittent well. E. it would also be sentimental to forget that he had surrendered. both the army and RAF." recalled a corporal from the tank corps. a peace of was a rough Today we would call it an at times there sorts. then peace- Whether he was stationed in England or Karachi did not seem to matter much: he was the same in one place as another. he achieved a severe responsibility in his daily work. became an Irish nobody.THE HERO AND HISTORY 38 worthy of And his obedience. I did something.

Some. because they show we us a typically intelligent English youth of a time increasingly hard to remember from the war years. In May. not an unburdening of secrets. man in agony and quest. G. this prince of our disorder. structured as a series The Wisdom. He turned the Odyssey into firm. He left his name entangled with a cluster of unanswered questions. like the few as a glass. 39 are neither quite first-rate nor merely commonplace: a fine one on Landor." in the sense Keats' are. often pungent English prose— some clas- have balked.LAWRENCE: THE PROBLEM OF HEROISM T. Lawrence crashed his motorcycle and died a few days later. Like his death was no completion. are valuable simply cies upon action. need not trouble us for a moment. Some. Wells. Others hold power in expression. form a grave impersonal confession. markedly an selfSeven but too exercise. are interesting letter should be. Mint. sudden breakthroughs to candor of speech. They are the letters of a man who deserves to live in the but the statement of a one by sudden bolts of imagination of his time. like the early ones. of set-pieces. often pleasing correspondence with an army of friends. Whether they are "great letters. a severely chiselled picture of barrack sometimes style. a respectable one on H. finished life: The Joycean in brilliant in evocation. but sicists it is He a living book. of his life. showing a decided advance in control over Pillars of His though hardly a substitute for the letters. never having recovered consciousness. They are not letters written systematically out of one impulse or idea. his . a rigid notion of what a Some. biography which some Englishman has more life faithful picture of the shifts than do either his own books still definitive to write. 1935. And he conducted a wide. to avoid two errand boys coming toward him on a road. a conscious effort to write. find or imagine. E. give a and turns in Lawrence's or the books written about him. it failed to much round off drama or his problem. transparen- like those to Lionel Curtis.

.

the respect of a certain writers. And be a writer this her in the universities. though not enough. a modest quantity of critical writing about her still commands just as But if some. the feelings have about justice has not yet their come to faded Edith seems particularly true of wit. she number of readers. Wharton's ap- prentice fiction in which sooner or later the word "clever" . the attention given the influence she exerts memories of her novels— then Wharton. Melville than she has. but several strides ahead of many twentieth century novelists who have received far more praise thorne. force if one believes her and maturity— not the peer of Haw- and James. It is difficult to imagine a study of Mrs. one judges by the treatment she receives in our standard literary histories. Edmund Wilson and the moti- wrote soon after Mrs. of her books are still in print. Years have passed.Contours of American fiction EDITH WHARTON: CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM "Justice to Edith Wharton"— this was the vating plea. of an essay title. upon present-day serious literary people are likely to to work has appeared. Wharton's death in 1937.

I quote a her early characteristic sentences from stories: The most fascinating female is apt to be encumbered with lug- gage and scruples. for years. though constructed with an eye toward "well-made" effects that are quite distant from the pas- finality of the tragic. Wharton between a worldliness that had not yet been raised to a style and a moralism that had not yet broken past the The rationalistic and conventional. For with The House of Mirth (1905). and epigrammatic— a prose of aggressive commentary and severe control. but in context often seems willful and strained. Such writing yields pleasure of a kind. however. Deal- ing with personal relationships among the leisured classes. girlishness. these stories are usually brittle and contrived. His marriage had been a failure. Mrs. but he had preserved toward is sometimes supposed to his wife the exact fidelity of act that excuse any divagation of feeling. caustic. Her body had been privileged to outstrip her mind. At its we associate with the best Mrs. to sion for accumulating evidence that naturalistic novel. reflections of the conflict in Mrs. so that. Wharton's style is terse. a full-scale portrait of a lovely young woman trapped between her crass ambitions and early stories hardly prepare one for the her disabling refinements of sensibility. the tie between them had consisted mainly in his abstaining from making love to other women. Wharton com- posed one of the few American novels that approaches the The book is close in philosophic temper European naturalism. At points of emotional stress.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 42 few failed to appear. she succumbs to a fault that is to mar all her novels except The Age of Innocence: she employs an overcharged rhetoric to . and the were destined to travel through an eternity of two . . the claw inside the glove. effort One it senses too quickly the behind the cleverness. work to come. .

Mrs. Wharton composed the kind of novel in which the its own right. to regard it as a force of assurance several senses of the term. the tyranny that circumstance can exert over Wharton was not an audacious writer. she does not seek for that illusion of transparency which might tempt that for Mrs. coherent figures to be portrayed through their actions rather than dissolved into a stream of psychology. a reader to suppose he is "in" the world of the novel. the presence of which we are never invited to forget. which the narrative point of view is quickly established and limited. . She wishes her audience always to be aware of her firm guiding hand. Mrs. Wharton's most is powerful one. sympathy with the experiments that were being Technically. Her locale and and in subject-matter are usually American. She novels is is a writer of limited scope. The House it does not need. the novel in which she dramatizes her sense of the pervasiveness of waste in human affairs and human desire. of Mirth it If cannot supnot her most Mrs. a closely designed if somewhat heavy container of narrative. in apprehensible. The historic span of her narrow. Wharton's own voice. she is and control. In reading her books one is always aware Wharton the novel is essentially a fixed form. Unlike such impressionist writers as Conrad and Faulkner. She felt little undertaken during her lifetime by the great European and American novelists. even if most of the time it comes through the austere tones of Mrs. like a clear and visible line of which the characters are taken to be rationally plot stands out in intention. In the a formal writer. but her view of the possibilities and limitations of the novel as a closer to such form makes her seem Europeans as Flaubert than to Americans like Melville and Twain.CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM 43 impose upon her story complexities of meaning port and intensities of feeling finished work. usually confined to those late nineteenth century realignments of power and status that comprise a high moment in the biography of the American bourgeoisie.

she fears it. Endless numbers of American novels would later be written on this theme. in the new raw towns of the Midwest. Mrs. In The Reef (1912) she composed a subtle though tenuous drama of personal relations. those sprawling prose epics which in modern fiction have been employed to depict large areas of national distorted. In The Custom of the Country (1913) she turned to— I think it fair to say. dealing with clashes among segments of the rich or with personal relationships as these have been defined. she was largely the innovator of— a tough-spirited. which deals largely with the price and advantage of moral scruple. where manners reveal moral and accepted forms of conduct may break under the desire. not with complete accuracy. and Sinclair Lewis would commonly be mentioned as a writer particularly indebted to The Custom of the Country. forever seeking new variations of tone and theme. or by the conventions of a fixed society. The arena of her imagination is the forefront of social life. She writes as a convinced rationalist. fierce. She respects it. and in her several important novels after The House of Mirth rarely troubling to repeat a success. she would as soon keep it at a distance. and despite her coolness to modernist innovations. but in her best stress. does she care to encounter the murk and puzzle of the unconscious. weight of personal work as a rationalist who knows how desperately besieged and vulnerable human reason is. Wharton had no gift for the large and "open" narrative forms. experience.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 44 The social range is also narrow. Within these traditional limits. and abrasive satire of the barbaric philistinism she felt to be settling upon American society and the source of which she was inclined to locate. but the truth is that no American novelist of our time— with the exception of Nathanael West— . Jamesian in manner and diction. Mrs. Wharton was a restless writer. "Civilization and its dis content s"— the phrase from Freud could stand as an epigraph for her books. Nor. despite an intense awareness of the pressure of impulse in human life.

a suavely ironic evocation of The Age is New York And finally of Innocence in the 1870's. in the of her superior novels there list (1920). The Bunner two poor women in Sisters. for the short novel was a form in which her fondness for economy of compassion that is protest cultivated . Summer. is also set in rural New England. New a severe depiction of gratuitous human suffering in a England a work meant to shock and depress. stories. of the Country. Wharton's nostalgia for the world from which she came with her criticism of its genteel timidities and eva- Wharton was also a master of the shorter sions. One or two other novelettes by Mrs. is suffer- not only a master- piece of compressed realism but a notable example of Mrs. for leaving us with a sense of admiration for the visible rigor of chanics and a sense of pain because of its meupon its total assault our emotions. Wharton.CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM 45 has been so ruthless. so bitingly cold as Mrs. New an account of the York. displaying a close and character which would surprise those knowledge of locale who suppose Mrs. also have a certain interest. forms of prose her short fiction. Ethan Frome. On occasion Mrs. wrongly. Wharton's ability to release through her fiction a disciplined far more impressive than the rhetoric of by many liberal and radical writers. for being so successfully the tour de force Mrs. Wharton merely to be the chronicler of the New York ings of rich. A could be fine selection made from and there are three short novels or novelettes —Ethan Frome (1911). is it has often been criticized. Wharton meant it to be— that is. blending Mrs. a more complex and thoughtful piece of writing. Wharton in assaulting the vulgarities and siderable gifts for caricature reached their Custom it Her confruition in The failures of our society. village. a novel that is hard to endure because and has therefore provides no consoling reconciliations never been properly valued or even widely read. such as the melodramatic The Old Maid. Summer (1917) and The Bunner Sisters (1916)— which are of permanent interest.

a brisk prose. Wharton disciple of James. In one large and pleasant for so is Mrs. but a mistake. an earlier writer. true that but not nearly if you come to Mrs. his devotion to craft trivial. a rapid dispo- theme and figures— served her well. Wharton's intellectual conservatism hardened an embittered and querulous disdain for modern she no longer really and she lost knew what was happening what had once been her main gift: in life. within an original writer. novels? A few are dull and earnest failures. that. his example a sacred one. that James's influence either not primarily the upon her work has been overstated or misunderstood. Wharton did regard Henry James. the Tree. her life. are barely superior to ladies' magazine sition of The remaining like The Fruit of In the novels written during the last fifteen years of fiction.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 46 effects— a sweeping narrative line. II One is of reason justice has not yet come to Edith Wharton the widespread assumption that she Henry James— a gifted disciple. the accurate location of the target she wished to destroy. repeated with maddening regularity by literary historians. and certain obvious limits. she is way herself as permanently indebted to many later writers. Wharton's Henry fiction. as artistic conscience. reveals the reluctance of scholars to suppose that anything can spring directly from the art of a writer without also having some I clearly specifiable source in would contend that Mrs. For as a model of he loomed made their calling seem made everything else seem her. James . to so gifted as the master. and too many others. then the expectation you will is itself probably be disappointed. The claim that James exerted a major influence upon Mrs. into Mrs. Now it is is be primarily a disciple sure. like The Glimpses of the Moon. America. Wharton's work with the expectation of finding replicas of the Jamesian novel.

Perhaps one could say that it was the lesser James that influenced the number of James's early novels left their of Mrs. There is some evidence of a direct literary influence. as she said. while the ending of the novel. Wharton] owes as much to [James's] The American and Madame de Mauves as it does The point seems to be enforced writes that to direct observation. as this retaliation. is also time Still. Wharton's lesser Mrs. To say this. then. Wharton's "feminine" takes upon itself the privilege of moral the presence of differences between two .CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM 47 persuaded her that the composition of a novel should not be a mere outpouring. Brown when he "The picture of the Faubourg Saint Germain in Madame de Treymes [a story by Mrs. by E. Wharton's work and sufficient influence. Wharton was skillful at observing manners and in most of her books more dependent than James upon the use of such observation. Wharton's "feminine" are of a kind that deside and thereby are mostly beyond the reach of James. but it only some minor instances of Mrs." Yet here too qualifica- the refined agonies of conscience which tions are needed: Anna Leath experiences in this novel pend on Mrs. Wharton." This is largely correct. so painfully tendentious preceded it. K. it is finally for the strength of her personal vision and the incisiveness of her mind that we should value her work. he who had formulated craft to was. but a be studied and mastered. it and damaging to all that has dependent on Mrs. influence. is to indicate a serious qualification: for if James began as a novelist of manners he soon became something else as well. and although Mrs. A mark upon that side work which is concerned with the comedy of social manners. "about the only novelist his ideas about his art. side." "inspiration"— which is James was her something rather different from an In this respect. affects is not ground for the usual claim of a pervasive Jamesian Brown is also correct in noting that "from the begin- ning to the end The Reef is Jamesian. however.

so important a . And though left almost en- a figure of "the old America. for herself. The intellectual backgrounds of the two writers are quite different. I think." but for calling Edith in taking those statements at face value she somewhat led is.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 48 remove the writers does not Can we go any in is clear. major lack in her writing is and her literary loss. D. Leavis Mrs. Now American thought to which the in its recast in the speculations of his father it is precisely this element of mind of Mrs. which lights up even the darkest of James's novels. Wharton was raised and upon which she drew so heavily in her fiction. is into a writer excessively like His dependence on the manners of "the ing group of people tirely being astray. since any trace of that urge a to transcend- ence. Wharton's description of James's novels adequate. The whole Emersonian tradition. was behind." Such statements form part of Mrs. Though had casional residence. as his art matured. and that is one reason Mrs. that glow of the vision of the possible. regard to The Reef that influence qualified of the little by nature and came. own right and as it was Henry James. Wharton's remark that James "belonged irrevoca- cites bly to the old America out of which he was was and possibility of influence. vapidity. Leavis's ground Wharton "the heiress of Henry James. Wharton was since she escaped its closed: both to her literary profit. Wharton could not respond favorably to James's later novels. further? In a valuable essay Q. Mrs." and that I also "essentially a novelist of manners. and the manners he were those situation to observe vanishing group of people among whom he had grown up. James temperament with the both as it came down New to a New his closest ties of intellect England him Yorker by birth and oc- and of philosophical idealism. it him transforms clearly in- little vanish- among whom he had grown up" was never very great and. Sr." James came from a milieu quite different from the one in which Mrs.

less more aggressive. her it is wish to write with plan and economy. perhaps in the style of which may owe something to the cold brilliance of James's prose in The Bostonians. wealthy this life of New York nineteenth century. Economically world was dominated by an established class consisting of the sons and grandsons of energetic provincial merchants. Wharton's impatience with feeble hero as an agent of traditional values. to care about leisure. Wharton's most important novels hard to detect any specific Jamesian influence. the caustic satire of The Custom its of the Country and Mrs. The truth is alien to her. while each of her three best novels —The House Age early or late James. Wharton's preoccupation with Lily Bart as victim of her social milieu. the modu- The Age of Innocence and Mrs. Wharton's novelettes are in setting. theme. clearer. Wharton's involvement with the world of her birth— all this seems her own. House The Custom of Mirth.CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM 49 formative element in James sensibility and so pervasive in his was later books. that in Mrs. and characteriza- The Custom of the Country. Ill Mrs. is Her narrative line her sense of even the life is is all more usually more despondent. Wharton's best novels portray the during the and latter third of the socially. but a few of his direct than his. lated style of Her and characteristic style sharper. open And to the idea or possibility of redemption. of the Country and The Innocence—is a work notably different from either the of of Mirth The somewhat naturalistic method of The and Mrs. metaphorical than James's in less novels. Perhaps it can be found in her conception of the novel as a form. it and enough had gained enough wealth leisure to think of setting . tion quite alien to James. In the 1870's and 1880's this class did not yet feel seriously threatened by the competition and clamor of the nouveaux riches. But Mrs.

nation was becoming industrialized. more vigorous. financial empires established in the alien cities of the Wall Street itself. versation. good English. Husbands rarely went cultivated segments of the to their offices "downtown. waves of immigrants were descending upon New York.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 50 up itself as a modest may seem racy aristocracy. unchallenged and untroubled by the motions of history. age. was Good felt to con- be de- Taste and form were the reigning gods. something one have was strict in its With tepid steadfast- style. Midwest Such developments made the provincial ruling class of "old New it were being as well as in inevitable that York" should suffer both assault and assimilation by newer." and there were long midday lunches and solemn entertainments in the evening. good manners. 'scenes/ except the behavior of those In the same novel she wrote: who gave "What was or rise to was not played a part as important in Newland Archer's them. visibly. As Age Mrs. good cared about culture too— culture as a static and devoted And in to live by. and less American bourgeoisie. In "old New York" no one soared and no one was supposed. Its had to possess but did not one great passion was to be left alone. not the less tyrannical for their apparent mildness of administration. and this of The course was the one privilege history could not bestow." 'the thing* New York as . it of was a world composed of people "who dreaded who placed decency above courand who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than scandal more than disease. Leisure ruled. to sink. but it aristoc- should serve to suggest the difficulty of building an enclave of social prece- dence in the fluid bourgeois society America was then becom- ing. Quite free from any disturbing intensities of belief or aspirations toward grandeur of decorum and narrow ness it form. sirable. though of a not too taxing kind. it its itself to finished quantity. Wharton remarked with gentle sarcasm in The Innocence. The phrase modest a contradiction in terms. this class conventions.

and fabulously servative group enriched. choice or escape. At her strongest and most characteristic. unfulfilled. She loved "old New York" with that mixture of grieving affection and protective impatience Faulkner would later feel toward Mississippi and in a York. Yet as it also left her dissatisfied. failure. she of the writer who his generation. Wharton kept returning to this theme. perhaps lifelong trauma. the desperate product of a pressure of [personal] maladjustments. and impo- from one ambiguity to another. half with the nostalgia of a survivor mourning the loss of vanished graces." relieves an emotional is She yearned for a way of greater intellectual risks example by denouncing that might bring a brilliant strain life and yield greater emotional rewards than her family and friends could imagine. half in the cool spirit of the anthropologist studying the death of a tribe. when she is utterly without mercy toward "old New York": she sees it as a place of betrayal. and only after a time did she find ner's attitudes it in her dedication to writing. Toward up Mrs. decline. was "the assault upon an old and con- by the multitudes enriched. beyond would serve her as lifelong memory. so Mrs. and It it Saul Bellow toward the Jewish neighborhoods of Chicago. especially in The House of Mirth. Edmund Wilson on edge. Her work. . There are moments. ." his forefathers York" was a world that had entered was happening in the years of Mrs. "old What Wharton's youth. Just as Faulk- toward his home country have kept shifting Wharton combined toward her home city feelings both of harsh rejection and haughty defense.." Mrs. . . as Louis Auchincloss remarks.CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM. "was . by the business expansion of the preceding decades.. lifelong subject. Wharton the world in which she grew retained a mixture of feelings that anticipates those of later American writers toward new New their immigrant childhood and youth was too fatally her world. has remarked. its all. 51 the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of New And above thousands of years ago.

For a novelist to be so profoundly involved with a known and measured society offers many advantages. fully and from the inside." . for she was one of the two or three among them who knew. when she came to write her autobiog- raphy. Mrs. To read these money late and fast. being so close to her ma- As with Faulkner. through an expert scrutiny of manners. Henry James had used that life as an occasion for fables of freedom and circumstance in his later books. . "It word should used to seem to me. in spirit distorts. and where conspicuous effort to make more of it seemed still more vulgar. so deeply as Mrs. . was to collect brilliant guesses John O'Hara has felt his way along the provincial outposts of the America that made its and fragments of envious insight. everything have chosen came to her . One reason for continuing to read The House of Mirth. an interloper in the world of wealth. both as privilege and burden. F. is able to discriminate among the gradations of power and status in the world of the rich. the subject seems to the writer. Now I see that one of its uses lay in preserving a few drops of an old "that the group in into vintage too rare to be savored by a youthful palate. Wharton. to grow up in a family of the established rich: a family where there was enough money and had been money long enough for talk about it to seem vulgar. In her old age. and There were other advantages terials. not the writer the subject. she was mellower—though perhaps the really be. suppresses. The Custom of the Country." she wrote. harder— in spirit. which I grew up was like an empty vessel which no new wine would ever again be poured.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 52 tence. what the life of the rich in this country was really like. Scott Fitzgerald. books is to discover how both the surface of social the novel of manners can register life and the inner vibrations of that surface reveals. and The Age of Innocence is the shrewdness with which Mrs. But no American writer has known quite Wharton what it means. Wharton wrote about her segment of America with an authority few novelists could surpass.

" Toward the end of her career Mrs. Its tragic im- and ideas. Even here we must reduce the traditional notion of the tragic to the pathetic on one side and bleak on the other. that moral values can be tested in a novel by dramatizing the relaessay at self -discovery. Only once in her novels did she achieve a tragic resonance. that might have been a subject appropriate to moral or social tragedy. she had little alternative to the varieties of comedy that dominate her books. Wharton found it more and more difficult to employ her material with the success that marks her work between 1905 and 1920. "could a society of irresponsible pleasure-seekers be said to have. and that was in The House of Mirth where Lily Bart is shown as the victim of a world that had made possible her loveliness and inevitable her limitations. Her later novels are shoddy and sometimes mean-spirited in the hauteur with which she dismisses younger generations beyond the reach of her understanding or sympathy. in Mrs. there was characters. on the 'old woes of the world/ any deeper bearing than the people composing such a society could guess?" And answered: "A frivolous society can acquire dramatic cance only through what its she signifi- frivolity destroys.CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM with the pressure and inexorability of a felt 53 memory. Had "old and bitter resistance to the nouveaux riches. she asked herself. so valuable to a writer who prizes economy of structure. How. Wharton showed a York" gone in blind complete awareness of her problem. but since there was far less conflict than fusion between the old money and the new. little Wharton's world that could provide her with a subject large in social scope New and visibly tragic in down its implications. each turn to the locale of her youth raised the possibility of a And re- new The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence she could work on the assumption. tionships between As she in books like fixed social groups knew herself and mobile quite well. These novels bristle with her implication lies in its power of debasing people . In discussing this novel Mrs. if the term is to be used with approximate relevance.

it to be something better. Wharton. If the incongruity between desire and realization is a recurrent motif in her writing about per- . hoping to find there some token of security by which to satisfy the needs of her imagination. she still wondered to what extent the style and decorum of "old New York" had at least made possible some of the aspirations she had cherished since childhood. was an almost pagan worship of physical beauty"). Mrs. At best the world of her youth had been an aristocracy of surface ("In that simple society. though extremely conservative in her opinions. and throughout most of her life she struggled with this desire and her recognition that it was an impossible. and are notable for a truculence of temper. was aware that the ground on which she took her moral stand was dissolving offer the speculation that Mrs. nagging her treat- at them in a language they could not. to the world of her birth. she sought for tangible embodiments. proved ment to be the American novelist of the rich.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 54 patience before the mysteries of a world she could not enter. understand. She turned. even unreasonable desire. a hardening of the moral would arteries. In the inevitable disappointment that followed. I Wharton. of the values to which she clung— for she could not be content with the fabulous imaginings Henry James spun in his later novels. in social groups or communities." she recalled. the world of twentieth century America. at times with open savagery and "there but she had always wanted at other times with a feeling as close to wistfulness as she could tolerate. At the end she was alone. with the best will in the world. She had wanted to look upon it as potentially an aristocracy of value. Having a thoroughly earthbound mind. almost too willing to slash away at their mediocrity because she did not know anyone else to turn toward or against. whose intelligence should never be underestimated. and then she became glacial in her contempt. beneath her. least merciful in She kept harassing them. But even when she recognized this. something beautiful and truly distinguished.

to the nerve of her pride. both as agents of moral dissolution and as life needed that to be kept possibilities of fresh sternly in check.CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM sonal relationships. organized society— was profoundly human need and desire. There were always avail- number of personal somewhat forbidding culture. This condition which is to establish a somewhat different melancholy that runs through American literature. an incongruity she it is 55 also observed in her dealings with the public world. she felt that somehow and she could the world had hardened and turned cold. was a solitary. Wharton felt misanthropy was more distinctly . overcame Melville that beset Twain. She would have nothing to do with able to her. men and women of high if them. like so many of those younger deracinated novelists who both interested and disturbed her. a friends. meanings collapsed. she felt that the universe— which for her is virtually to say. find no vantage point protective distance from from the strain of it. She was a writer haunted by what she disliked. and the flow of organic life been replaced by the sterile and mechanical— is quite as acute in her novels as in those of Hardy and Gissing. IV The writers texture of Mrs. and holding fast. surely different that at What from the metaphysical desperation in his later years or the Mrs. The malaise which many intelligent people during her lifetime— the they were living in an age when energies had run inhospitable to troubled so feeling that down. Like them. with tight-lipped stoicism. Wharton's novels is dark. yet in her most important books they kept reappearing. haunted by the demons of modernism as they encircled her both in life and literature. clinging to values for which she could find no place. Like so whose education occurred during the many decades latter of the nineteenth century. once she settled in France. Wharton. But what emerges from a scrutiny of her work as a whole is that Mrs.

Wharton's general hostility toward "modern" ideas must have predisposed her against Freudian psychology.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 5^ "European" in quality. always to fail each other. need and capacity. Wharton had a highly developed. must be borne this more than What "must be borne without help" is we seek through the inexorable disarrangement of everything intelligence and will to arrange. a profound impatience with the claims of the ruling sex. The inability of human at the beings to achieve self-sufficiency drives them to seek relationships with other people. more related servatism which and manifests life itself as human possibilities of to that rationalist con- a perennial motif in French is a confirmed skepticism about the relationships. Wharton's vision of things— and on the extent intellectual we can only specu- which her personal unhappiness conseem always to prove inadequate. and spirit that number in a keeps of her novels one finds a suppressed feminine bitterness. In one of her books she speaks of "the sense of mortality. Mrs." and of without help. at least in regard to the possibilities of the human enterprise. only an instance of what Mrs. they seldom "come through". Mrs. always to be the victims of an innate disharmony between love and response. in Mrs. they fail Mrs. a laziness of them from a true grasp of suffering. This feminist resentment seems. Things." I "its loneliness. In Mrs. Wharton's novels. do not work out. in turn. and these relationships necessarily compromise their freedom by subjecting them to the pain of a desire either too great or too small. Men especially have a hard time of it in Mrs. Wharton felt to heart of the be a more radical and galling inequity human scheme. per- . am the way it convinced she meant by the prospect of death. yet one is repeatedly struck by the fact that. Wharton's heroines less from bad faith than from weak imagination. Wharton's world. there is an underlying closeness of skepticism between her assumptions and Freud's theories. late to tributed to it— human beings In their notorious vanity and faithlessness.

sense of the power of everything in organized social existence which checks our desires. from romantic energy or mere hunger for meaning in life. Wharton understands how large is its its force. or he has to act out his rebellion. Yet she has no respect for blind acceptance.CONVENTION AND THE DEMONS OF MODERNISM 57 haps overdeveloped. and she believes. Yet much of Mrs. that most of us lack the strength to pay. But many of her books. that . the price. rebel against the fixed patterns of their world. irremediable conflict and while she had at least as healthy a respect as he did for the uses of sublimation. and in regard to them not true at all. how must be paid for a personal assertion against the familiar ways of the world. simply. it is is hardly such as to persuade her of merely such as to persuade her of Mrs. despite its attractions of surface and order. and time after time expresses her distaste for "sterile pain" and "the vanity of selfsacrifice. At the end he must surrender to the social taboos he had momennot quite true for this is some of tarily challenged or wished to challenge. Wharton's critics have assumed that she was simply a defender of harsh social conventions against all those who. endless the nagging pain. A good many of Mrs." It is hard to imagine another American writer for whom society. she believed that we must endure an between nature and culture. seldom find any way From this up with sub- impasse she could out. Her sense of the world goodness. for he either has not been able to summon the resources of courage through which he has discovered that the punitive greater than he had supposed. she also knew that the human capacity for putting stitute gratifications is limited. What is true is that most of her plots focus upon a clash between a stable society and a sensitive person who half belongs to and half rebels against it. Wharton's work contains a somewhat chill and detached sympathy for those very rebels in whose crushing she seems to connive. or power of society is learned that the conventions he had assumed to be still retain a certain lifeless wisdom. Like Freud.

with Wharton would have responded W. of conduct She lacked the vocabulary of happiness. a certain minor magnificence. in her best work. what might be called the magnificence of the bleak. Mrs. imaginative embodiment to defeat or shreds of the his gift for it. old tragedies. old failures. Wharton's vision of severe limitations." This sense of fatality has. and often an exorbitant price. the doors locked. But whatever Mrs. brought to that move beyond She lacked our aspirations. Wharton could absolute courage. Mrs." she with fate. And there. of course. Everything that reveals the everything conditioned. but a succession of pitiful compromises "Life. She its experience can grind them persuaded men that the knew how only too well into hopelessness. what sardonic to the lines of desires pleasure. Auden: Every farthing of the cost All the bitter stars foretell Shall be paid. it is: wrote in The Fruit of the Tree. In a has life final reckoning. how it can leave need for choice contains within itself the seeds of tragedy and the impossibility of choice the power sources of pain. She believed that brings with it see. there human soul. serenity. H. old beliefs. she Where she failed was in giving the human will seeking to resist full novelistic life. She lacked James's ultimate summoning through images the purity of children and the selflessness of girls. of concessions to old traditions.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 58 figures so thoroughly as a prison of the she seems to say. Ameri- cans are not trained to accept this view of the tion. that and there it is nothing to recommend it contains at least a fraction of the truth. the bars firm. "is not a matter of abstract principles. human situa- except the fact How well. . she looked at with what the heart a price.

to front only the essential facts and see when I if I came no mere fancy had to teach and I had not lived. "because to live deliberately. once intimate. especially that segment of But in the mid-nineteenth century most of them believed that. to go to the woods: Hawthorne would have preferred a warm study. man could reach out toward both God and his inmost self— the two were not always kept distinct in Emerson's New England— without having first to be greatly concerned about the intervening barriers of society. institutions. conventions. as it comes The first to us in the Hawthorne. American writing. and . But of social forms. discover that to suggest that in this it released the dominant concern of nineteenth century Ameriit composed in New England under the influence of the transcendental philosophers. not.THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE went "I I to the wished of life. woods. by discovering a new freedom in the openness of the natural world. ambitions burdens there is very little. Not many American writers have cared. is at major outburst of work of Emerson. seeking to establish a fresh sense of man's relation to the universe." wrote Henry David Thoreau. and metaphysical. literally. deal- ing with problems of personal being." It is one sentence Thoreau could not learn what to die. can writing. Melville and Whitman.

Unlike the Melville of Moby Dick believe that the destiny Hemingway web of society or the and that his salvation of The Sun Also is the true locale of man's can be found.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 60 Only during the last decades of the nineteenth century does the idea of society as an overwhelming and inescapable force appear in American literature. both those contempt and those who relax confront society with a vigilance that is who an- in acceptance. In two later novelists. that cannot be found in the earlier American novelists." It breaks the will of the characters or bends to their desires. they found at all. Dreiser and Mrs. . new to American literature. Wharton are closer to utterly different in literary in Sister Carrie the central tradition of the nineteenth century novel both in England and continental Europe than they are to the Ameri- can writers preceding or following them." a hovering and often menacing presence. and that it can be examined in terms of relationships of power. and it takes on a "thickness. Dreiser and Mrs. Theodore Dreiser and Edith Wharton. For such novelists society becomes a force. The important writers of period differ radically in their responses to society: this Mark Twain looks upon it as insidiously enclosing and asphyxiating. Though method and social opinion. William Dean Howells treats it simply as the neutral and sometimes benign medium of daily existence. an actor apart from the central characters and not to be reduced to a mere "background. In their eagerness to observe social detail and their commitment to the view that the power of circumstance is a power over the human soul. Wharton in The House of Mirth assume that society exists. economic interest and social status. the idea of society becomes a central preoccupation. if Rises. But nounce their all of these writers. intractably. and Frank Norris for it becomes a mysteri- ous agency dispensing pleasure and destruction with promis- cuous brutishness. Henry James regards it as both the solvent of innocence and the necessary theatre for high drama.

which can give direction and coherence to human conduct. strongly to reaffirm— traditional views governing our moral existence. a tradition has figures conspicuously lished in ously. which in part he was. unbroken justifications. to regard it as loss of his- a necessary part of literary experience. of the world as it is. but at his best. way By now in quite the and therefore not so a painful conclusion toward which their novels and poems might reach as a necessary assumption from which their novels and poems had to begin. Like every other sensitive writer of the past hundred years y they also need to question— even in if. But Dreiser and Mrs. Wharton's novels. so that readers have come. This attitude found an important anticipation in the stories of Sherwood Anderson. his mind and temper having been formed in the rural mid. a writer who began to publish only a few years before Hemingway and Fitzgerald but who was clearly a man of an older generation. with a certain torical perspective. in the haunting tales and sketches he wrote about American loneliness. however. values was an accepted fact. They too are involved in that peculiarly anxious and persistent search for values which forms so promi- nent an aspect of the moral history of our time— the search for secure assumptions. .west. Wharton are not mere mere photographers passive recorders. he helped pre- pare the way for the modernist writing of the 'twenties.THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE 6l within society. that began publishing shortly after the First World War. For the generation of American writers. The younger writers would soon be brushing Anderson aside as a sentimentalist. some of Mrs. II That search is by now not only a component of the which it familiar but an expected been estaband often omniver- serious novel. the crisis of traditional values it had been the crisis of much was no longer a problem for writers in the late nineteenth century.

. conveying a vision of the native landscape cluttered with creatures." . and children factory. soon to become a legend in our when at the age of thirty-six he abandoned his paint larly that culture. devote himself to the cult of art and thereby.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 62 Anderson did this through the example of his particu- life. as he might have said. new generation of writers. Things a clas- is human bewilderment. too. for is whom reveals is this human world of back-street gro- nothing can happen because everything too late. As it aban- dons the naturalist impulse of a Dreiser to represent society in overwhelming tableau of human younger writers to find a way detail and moves toward an expressionist deformity. a generation that begins to publish after the First World War and reaches its finest achievement during the mid-'twenties. Winesburg. moment of climax." work. to that. They formed "really the first generation in America. wife bohemia to strike out for the of Chicago. all who held power and . Winesburg helps to confirm the in their sense of American life of imaginatively transcending Perhaps the most vivid account of this and their desire it. . set a significant example. a sense of experience shared and enemies encountered. has come from the poet and critic John Peale Bishop. They felt themselves to be cut off from the world of all who had come immediately before them. twisted oddities. but they were not united by a communion of youth. of truth literary fore. In his essay "The Missing All"— the title is taken from an Emily Dickinson poem that begins "The missing All prevented me how from missing minor things"— Bishop described the young literary men returning from the war felt they had been cheated not merely of health and time but more im- and honor. speak of a crisis of and what Winesburg the cost of collapse. There had been groups be- portant. "front only the essential facts of life. one hardly feels it enough have gone beyond values. Ohio sic American portrait of dead stumps. His the debris of crisis. grotesque and pitiful remnants of Confronted with tesques.

never sparing ourselves any achieved and the good or new world dawned. As Bishop wrote: The most tragic thing about the war was not that it made so many dead men. Youth could win. it did not that annihilate its it." she meant the God of her fathers. but every abstraction would have sustained and given dignity to their suffering. It feelings left adrift the Western countries. when Bishop borrowed her phrase. as without values. and nowhere has been expressed so poignantly as in the introduction T. even if hardened and distorted in America by Puritanism. he had in mind not merely the image of God but a whole way of life that had been the heritage of classical Christianity. This perception— it is more a perception . The war made the traditional morality inacceptable. This sense of having been betrayed and powerful among young people in where it all was formed the psychic foundation for that "communion of youth" Bishop so keenly observed.THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE 63 spoke with authority. but that it destroyed the tragedy of death. and they thanked us kindly and made their peace. When Emily Dickinson spoke of "the Missing All. but in revulsion from its moral disorder. Lawrence would write for The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: it We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous. the God of Christianity. and that was now clearly in the process of crumbling. They were not in rebellion against the political order of Western capitalism. and was pitiably weak against age. it revealed its end the survivors were immediate inadequacy. E. We lived many lives in those whirling cam- to paigns. but be fought for. a world left to face. had We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth. but not learned to keep. Not only did the young suffer in the war. is one of the strongest behind the writing of the 'twenties. yet when we men came out evil: the old again and took from us our victory and remade it in the like- ness of the former world they knew. So that at they could.

They do not even is no need the to is them a premise that strikes start. the very desire to find an honorable style of sur- vival in a time of moral confusion indicates a certain strength of moral intent. But more important. Cummings and Dos Passos there could no longer be any question clinging to traditional values. more imof "idealism. they without violating their feelings about courage and dignity. enough and lived in a magnified fear of platitudes. as so entirely obvious they feel it their work. the point- change lessness of trying to credo of private disaffiliation are assumption in their it. They were struggling to survive. The it. they were concerned with something more desperate. there For writers the early of could not even be a question of trying to find a new set of were beyond such ambitions or delusions. and the problem that troubled them most was how to do this values. To be sure. and the necessity for some (Hemingway's "separate peace") work quite as the need to grapple with inherited but fading Christian pieties form an assumption in the work of Hawthorne and Melville. like Hemingway. and the hope of preserving courage and dig- nity while experiencing a crack-up of values implies the con- tinued hold of certain values. but be known about the premise from which they dramatize do. become are raised to the level of a troubled self-consciousness. more fragmentary. if they had ever had it. however. the hope of achieving a coherent and ordered moral perspective. Fitzgerald.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 64 than a belief or idea— is seldom the dominant subject in the work Hemingway and of dominant his fact that needs to contemporaries. extremely problematic Even when they these. they knew it was their lot to spend their lives in uncertainty." mediate. They had given up. we are here discussing Almost by scale beliefs or ideals : instinct they went through just this backed away from large- they had had enough of rhetoric. The kind of writers crisis. as men of sensibility . It demonstrate or discuss it— only their critics hopelessness of the familiar social world.

" whether with grace or or evasion. Of . Though often bohemian and sometimes dissolute. if that seemed too ambitious. They saw their task as a defensive one: the preservation of residual decencies even when they could not quite provide sufficient reasons for wish- And ing to preserve them. they were ready to settle for a severe insistence upon keeping honest among. or to serve as a substitute for a that could no longer behavior by which to survive decently. the idea still in New is more urgent England notion of "making do. themselves. or a fragmentary code of The search is if there were—the not— a secure morality for a moral style. style is Or to put it a twentieth century equivalent— only far and desperate— of the How be a rigorous. and with. courage the great problem. exalting of moral falsity. even an more homely terms. Ill The ential great problem. Ernest Hemingway. were in search of what I propose to call a moral style. I mean by this improvised phrase: a series of tentative embodiments in conduct of a moral outlook best of these writers they could not bring to and rituals made a series of gestures full statement. later on. moral outlook be summoned. these writers nourished a sense of and finally as monastic as Flaubert's. not because they grasped alive meaning but because they felt that to keep allow others. they had taken upon themselves the obligation to keep their calling as austere It was if an undefiled word. is a search undertaken by men who have learned that a life constricted to the standard of faute de mieux can obligation.THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE who had lost their 65 way and knew it. to grasp The it its alive full would it. above all. in the work of the most influ- American novelist of our time. which I take to be fundamental to the best American writing between the First World War and the depression years." one "makes do. as drama consisting in the fact that there behind it.

in turn. stricken Spaniards: men and women always on the margin. soldiers tired gangsters. There emerges from this gallery the characteristic Hemingway world: the hero who is wounded but wound in silence. life colors of figures are literary expatri- ates in the wastes of nada. yet it is noteworthy he rarely attempted a frontal or sustained representation of life in the United States. Hemingway touched the imagination of American readers whose lives. central to all "modern- also ist" writing. who is defeated but finds a hero of the bears his remnant of dignity in an honest confrontation of defeat. Hemingway seems best to have captured the tone of human all malaise in an era of war and revolution.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 66 the writers who began to print after the First World War. indeed. began to influence its experience— not for the came to imitate art. for he seems always to have understood that common experience was not within that. for all their apparent ordinariness. rich first familiar with the shape and time. were marked by the desperation which would become his literary signature and which is. lives These readers. while doing his reach. often tried to endow their with meaning and value by copying the gestures of defiance. homeless cafe-sitters. is not Hemingway's world? His recurrent skill. distraught young women grasping at physical sensations as if they were a mode of salvation. bullfighters nerve and Hemingway soon who have lost their young men without purpose. who is sensitive but scorns to devalue his feelings into words. In almost all of Hemingway's books there is a tacit assumption that the deracination of our life is so extreme. which they found in Hemingway's work. the devotion to clenched styles of survival. barely able to get by from day to day. Because he had penetrated so deeply to the true dilemmas of the age. wounded who would sign "a separate peace" in order to withdraw from the world's battles. everyone must . By evoking the "essence" of the modern experience through fables of violence that had their settings in Africa and Europe. Who. so. by now.

crisis and death. the true. the combat with the bull. Frederick Henry. even the heroic. "Grace under pressure": becomes the ideal stance. But note: to make a last stand— for if defeat is accepted in Hemingway's world. this maximum stories efforts to find of exposure. The Hemingway hero is a man who has surrendered the remake a tiny part of it. the circle of aficionados. a substitute for the social world. a version of the manly testing which this world does not allow. are men who have seen too much. a mixture of stylized repression and inarticulate decencies.THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE find a psychic shelter of his 67 own. a place in which to make a last stand. as Edmund Wilson claims. most of Hemingway's heroes. The Hemingway hero turns to his code. who want no more of this world and now seek to act out the choregraphy of heroism as world in order to a kind of private charade. humiliation and rout are not. It may be way shows a true. Or as he puts it in describing Romero's bullfighting in The Sun Also Rises: "the holding of this his purity of line through the Hemingway's novels and theme. yet these be- occasions for a stubborn. His fictions present come moments of violence." All of can be read as variants upon improvised gestures and surrogate codes for the good. of Hemingway's characters. the hoped-for moral style. for some of them. this And what is own ex- code? The determination to be faithful to one's . the part in which he can share honor and manner with a few chosen comrades. Heming- but at his best he wishes to squeeze from them some precarious assertion— or perhaps more accurately. some credible facsimile— of value. a monastic order of crippled heroes. The bull-ring becomes. Jake Barnes. so that manners become the outer sign of an inexpressible heroism and gestures the substance of a surviving impulse to moral good. that taste for scenes of killing. quixotic resistance through which the human capacity for satisfying its self-defined obligations is both asserted and tested.

and above all.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 68 perience. He writer. All not to The Sun wanted I it. seldom venturing epithets more precise than "fine" and "nice. so that finally one learns what one can- not have and then even not to want make it. Nick Adams finding his bit of peace through fishing with an exact salvaging . afraid and bored. and that requires a tight control over one's desires. writing with that marvellous courage he then had. the inupon avoiding self-pity and public displays. and new artifice for tension. Life now if he feared to risk a in keeping an consists equilibrium with one's nerves. the cold water of the creek in which one fishes or the purity of the wine made by Spanish peasants. not to fake emotions or pretend to sentiments that are not there. which allowed him to brush past received ideas and show Nick Adams alone. the assumption that the most precious feelings cannot be articulated and that if the attempt is made they turn "rotten". a fuss while learning. in the He He name of naturalness he modelled struck past the barriers of culture to disregard the reticence of civilized relation- wrote for the nerves. In his very first stories Hemingway struck to the heart of our nihilism. a style a and pomp. there will be found an experience that can resist corruption (which is one reason Hemingway approaches these sensations stoicism that can suffering bearable." as death through naming). the belief that loyalty to one's few friends mat- more than the claims and dogmas of the world. and always a published his best novel The Sun Also Rises in his mid-twenties and completed most of his great stories by the age of forty. He started a campaign of purge of terror against the fixed vocabulary of literature. the with a kind of propitiatory awe. and seemed ships." Hemingway was always a young writer for the young. the ters sistence desire to salvage from the collapse of social make life a version of hope that in direct physical sensation. bewildered. As Jake Barnes says in Also Rises: "I did not care what was how to live in it was all about.

whatever scrap of There honor. Frederick Henry. it We perhaps of any we know life.THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE ritual in the big 69 two-hearted Hemingway river. the panic that follows dissolution of nihilism into the blood-stream of consciousness. Hemingway was not so foolish as to suppose that fear can all his best stories. the panic that finds unbearable the thought of the next minute and by the minute after that. we unlike Jake Barnes. they can. it even if. Lady Brett. because but also because into our awareness. . But Hemingway touched upon something finally be overcome: to deeper. did. rich Americans and failed writers: all are at the edge. can sleep at night: life. our anxieties. from "Fifty Grand" "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" are concerned to improvise a momentary truce in the hopeless encounter with fear. The compulsive stylization of his prose was a way of letting the language tense and retense. and then the prizefighters. Hemingway's early fiction made his readers turn in upon themselves with the pain of measurement and consider the question of their sufficiency as men. and no one need contemplate it for very long: Hemingway. and for the moment He touched the quick of of his excellence he stood ready to face whatever he saw. Jake Barnes. almost ready to surrender and be done with it. in his early writing. upon the panic. yet holding on to whatever fragment of morale. it is part of modern Hemingway drove all know its succession this experience. Nick Adams. something that broke forth in his fiction as the most personal and lonely kind of experience but was formed by the pressures Century of 20th His great subject was history. struck to the who have know what to do heart of our nihilism through stories about people come to the end of the line. matadors. is a truth which makes our faith in human existence seem absurd. but has lost those tacit impulsions which permit life to continue. who no longer or where as an encompassing condition of moral disarray in which one to turn: nihilism not as an idea or a sentiment.

Few American writers have commanded the social portraiture of Edith fables of so fine a sense of social gradations. and through the to clenched shape of his stories he kept insisting that no one can escape.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION JO group and regroup. in his apparent he has improvised. stories renewal. his are actually incitements to personal resistance and often seem. Scott Fitzgerald's novels seem closer to Wharton than to the moral Hemingway. Fatalistic as they immersed in images of violence and death. and the once taut and frugal prose imitate turns corpulent. moments of truth come to all of us. As a satisfaction with the moral result the later style Hemingway. since it is in the nature of the quest for a moral style that the very act of approaching or even finding it sets off a series of discoveries as to its radical limitations. contrast to that shapelessness through and principle as barrier which is of panic by definition. it in his best is almost certain to break work Hemingway often shows that does. however. his devotion to this code yields him fewer and fewer psychic returns. Hemingway forced consider such possibilities. After a time. not merely in terms of class relationships but even which in more in the subtle nuances of status our country often replace or disguise class relation- . begins to and caricature himself: the manner becomes that of the tight-lipped tough guy. while beneath the panic that had taken it hold of the characters and then of the reader kept spreading The prose served both inexorably. The poet John Berryman once said that we live in a culture where a man can go through his entire life without having lish once to discover whether he his readers is a coward. IV At first glance F. A code pressing so painfully on the nervous system and so constricted to symbolic gratifications down— indeed. and very tautness allowed the reader finally to estab- its some distance and then perhaps compassion.

The preceding paragraph condenses the kind of critical attacks to which Fitzgerald was subject during his career: it is true. For the man who composed The Great Gatsby and The Last Tycoon was a writer who had gone to war against the unexamined convictions of his youth. the ease they moved through the years. and his talent. by a vision of allowed him neither rest nor fulfillment. But seem sym- in addition to the of his "extreme environmental sense" a gift for rendering social manners. he stared with a deep yearning at the blessings of the rich. because money means power and when you have power you can do anything— you can even. had triumphed. obliterate the past. Fitzgerald was an eternal adolescent infatuated with the surfaces of material existence. he wor- shipped glamour. Like Keats before the candy shop. all through his life. profligacy and bolic tokens of that historical Fitzgerald who made foundation of his the Fitzgerald tragic personal fate moment.THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE ships. Fitzgerald is 71 a writer very much of the historical moment. he wor- totality of false values. all of it true. He thought that in the American dream of money there lay im- bedded a possibility of human realization. but above shipped the three together in a all. His work was a glittering celebration of immaturity. He worshipped money. the American fear of aloneness and limitation. but not the whole truth about his writing. and at a terrible price in suffering and blood. the wunderkind of the jazz age. there was who had been seized and driven earthly beatitude which. This was the writer who noted that "all the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them— the lovely young creatures in my . and thereby enabled to cultivate their own sense of what life might be. and security with which apparently free from the tyranny of work and the burden of circumstance. the laureate of the twenties. he worshipped youth. as Jay Gatsby supposes. He felt that youth was the greatest of human possessions. indeed a kind of accomplishment for which the young should be praised.

and finally irrelevant.. suitably ornamented. "is the ability mind at the same time. is capable. and in his retain the ability to function. In his best writing— which consists not merely of one or two novels and several novels went to ruin. has remarked: "his style keeps reminding you . the my millionaires stories blew up. Fitzgerald human of illusion tried to preserve Supremely American that something of the sense of which had first led him to be enticed by the vulgarity of money and the shallowness of youth. stories but also of a succession of extraordinary passages ap- pearing almost anywhere in his books. vulgar and meretricious beauty. Yet there is more to Fitzgerald than this counterposition of early illusion and later self-discovery." to hold still two opposed ideas he once wrote. and at the same time of his judgment as to the worthlessness of the ornament and the corruptibility of the beauty.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION J2. ("The test of a first-rate intelligence." The preceding paragraph condenses the kind of critical praise with which Fitzgerald was honored in the years after his death.") he was. was that depreciapotentiality tion of material values in the name of some moralistic ideal . diamond mountains of my short were as beautiful and damned as Thomas Hardy's peasants." He knew— it was to release this knowledge that he created the looming figure of Monroe Stahr in The Last Tycoon —that "life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat. it is true." As one of Fitzgerald's critics.." Fitzgerald knew— it was to anchor this knowledge that he put Nick Carraway into The Great Gatsby as narrator— that the vitality and ambition of Jay Gatsby were lavished on a "vast. all of it true. but only if one also remembers how accurate were the attacks against him. Andrews Wanning. He knew how impotent. of his sense of the enormous beauty of which life. like sudden flares beauty and wisdom— Fitzgerald confronted both early and later self-discovery from a certain ironic distance. and that the redeeming things are not liappiness and pleasure* but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.

Where Hemingway had tried to salvage a code for men worship. youth and glamour. his turning was true. Fitzgerald tried to construct a vision of human possibility at its center.THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE which had become a writing. William Faulkner. even if more still as a discipline than of the fresh to his a dogma. for a mode even though he it seldom style out of the came to a search. enjoyed a more secure sense of social place and moral tradition than either Hemingway or Fitzgerald. some token of grace in a world where grace could no longer be provided by anyone but man him- at the very best. they were surely false. it was sporadic. The impact fundamentalist Protestantism of the South was imagination. for self. as even in he later turned upon them. named He it society. series of flickering intuitions than assured values. marred and precarious. but his turning he kept some essential part of his earlier and— one is inclined to say—he was right to do so. the . He enjoyed neither doctrinal support in religion nor a buoying social goal nor even a firm awareness of traditional culture that might have helped him and enlarge this vision. tried to create a in turn. and finally at the very least. endlessly rehearsed. at the margin of society. this depreciation come partly because drove 73 it to reinforce the power of material values. and we. ists to last of the three major American novel- begin writing in the decade after the First World War. can moral urgencies of desire and talent. As Fitzgerald had likely to worshipped wealth. could not come to grips with the society that money and to concern themselves with partly be- cause any claim of indifference to such a concern was in America be a mere Sunday pose. had He actually men set attitude in American thought and sensed that. Fitzgerald was struggling to achieve something of vast importance for our could hardly have enlarge upon it. of gracefulness in outer life and. more a sustain Necessarily.

he had nevertheless been bruised by the troubles of the outer world. Provincial adrift. Faulkner began as a thoroughly "modern" writer.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 74 power of a commanding historical myth. "lost" in the aftermath of a though the early Faulkner was. for when Faulkner composed his despairing estimate of social loss in The Sound and the Fury he was also portraying some of the central disabilities of modern civilization. it would later be Yoknapatawpha County. both as man and writer. But he had available. the myth of heroic Southern reistance and defeat in the Civil War. as in the series of novels set in of a generation that it is terrible war. 1942— represents an increasingly severe and fundamental criticism of the homeland. the belief still a reality in his early experience. the homeland he to the familiar places of the knew with an intimacy beyond love or hate. was every- where ship. In one major respect. caught up with the same emotion of uprootedness and uncertainties of value which afflicted Hemingway: his early novels Soldiers Pay and Sartoris reflect. Not merely of the South alone. and the idea of kin- tacit awareness of the bonds of family and clan. resources which Hemingway and Fitzgerald lacked. however. But the foreground subject in the Yoknapatawpha novels Moses is in the immediate present and recent past of the South: the way . a was be to deep felt in the world of his youth. Each of Faulkner's novels written during his great creative outburst— from The Sound and the Fury in 1929 to Go Down. and for all his attachment to the Southern homeland he always retained a lively conviction as to the pervasiveness of malaise in modern life. and Fitzgerald tried to impose his vision of human possibility upon such recalcitrant material as the lives of the veiy rich and very young. to be sure. Faulkner could still turn back to a living segment of American society—back South. though not nearly so well as those of Hemingway. Where Hemingway turned in his novels and stories to a marginal world he had partly observed and partly imagined.

THE QUEST FOR MORAL STYLE
in

which

its

75

claims to grandeur prove to be aspects of delusion;

pretensions to gentility, elements of corruption;

its

compulsive racialism, a poison coursing through

moral

life.

its

and its
whole

In the novels written during this period Faulkner

ranged through almost every area of Southern

life,

beginning

with a wish for nostalgia and ending with the bleakness of
accepted truth.

At every point

in these novels Faulkner

there were

if

principles to

which he could look

ards.

He

had available—

available— persons, places and

or wrote as

still

for

turned back, as neither

moral support and stand-

Hemingway nor

Fitzgerald

could, to the hillsmen, the poor farmers, the Negroes
children, all of

whom seemed

to

and the

him apart and pure,

sur-

viving in the interstices of a decadent society, unable sig-

enough to serve as
figures of moral and dramatic contrast. The MacCallums,
Dilsey, Cash Bundren, Lena Grove, Ike McCaslin, Lucas
Beauchamp, Miss Habersham, Ratliff— these are some of the
change

nificantly to

its

course, yet vital

characters in Faulkner's world

who embody

some portion

charity.

of goodness

and

often be, they are nevertheless there,

in their

conduct

Defeated as they

may

and because they are

there Faulkner did not yet need to invent a moral style in the

Hemingway and Fitzgerald did.
Now, in what is obviously a simplification, one can regard

sense

the whole development of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha saga as

a gradual discovery that these figures, for

and

virtues,

prove

less

and

less

all their

attractions

competent as moral guides for

the contemporary world. That Faulkner clearly sees as
is

suggested by the history of

Ratliff,

much

the choric figure in the

Snopes trilogy who is so marvellously self-assured in The
Hamlet but so fumbling in The Mansion when he must approach the modern South. Slowly, Faulkner has been exhausting the psychic and moral resources he had supposed to be
present for him in the world of Yoknapatawpha; slowly, he
has been emerging to the same needs and bewilderments that

CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION

?6
other writers

now

feel.

The

idea of a return to primitive sim-

plicity retains its strength in Faulkner's

books insofar as

it is

kept by him at a certain distance from the present, or can be
recognized as metaphor rather than prescription. In his later

books Faulkner

still

turns for moral contrast

and support

to

the kinds of characters he had admired in the earlier ones—

the back-country saints, the earthy madonnas, the Negroes, the
children, the

good simple men. But now

it is

with very

little

you need only contrast his use of
Nancy in Requium for a Nun with Dilsey in The Sound and the
Fury. He turns to such figures because he has nowhere else
to go, and he turns to them not with any firm conviction as to
their moral power but simply in the hope of imposing on and
through them his own hopes and standards. With the figures
who had once been for him the bulwarks of life he must now
try to "make do," late in his career; and not very skillfully,
of the

old conviction:

learn to improvise a moral style.

The
It

search for moral style

burden of demanding that
of value
to

is

places a tremendous burden

we

recurrent in

upon

modern

literature,

literature provide us

writing.

almost the

with norms

find impossible to locate in experience. It tends

demand from

literature a kind of prophetic gratification

which would have seemed decidedly strange

to earlier genera-

tions of readers. Yet precisely this aspect of the work of such
modern figures as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner makes
them seem close to us, writers whom we continue to regard
as the spokesmen for our needs and our desires.

MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION

Raskolnikov

The

is

lying on his bed: feverish, hungry, despondent.

servant Nastasya has told

have him evicted.

He

which she writes that
is

to

him

that the landlady plans to

has received a letter from his mother in
for the sake of

money

marry an elderly man she does not

Dounia
And he has

his sister

love.

already visited the old pawnbroker and measured the possibility of

murdering

her.

There seems no way

out,

no way but the liquidation of the

miserly hunchback whose disappearance from the earth would

cause no one any

grief.

Tempted by

simply because they are strong,

weak, Raskolnikov

lies there,

the notion that the strong,

may impose

their will

upon the

staring moodily at the ceiling. It

must be done: so he tells himself and so he resolves.
Suddenly— but here I diverge a little from the text— the
doorbell rings.

Dear
It is

A

letter.

Raskolnikov tears

it

open:

Sir,

my

pleasure to inform you, on behalf of the

Guggenheim

Foundation, that you have been awarded a fellowship for the

study of color imagery in Pushkin's poetry and its relation to
the myths of the ancient Muscovites. If you will be kind enough

Nevsky Prospect and Q Street, arrangements can be made for commencing your stipend immediately.

to visit our offices, at

(signed)

Moevsky

CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION

jS

Trembling with

bows

his

head

templated can

Raskolnikov sinks to his knees and

joy,

in gratitude.

now be
is

terrible deed he had conhe need no longer put his

way ahead, he tells
way now clear

theories to the test; the

But Dostoevsky:

The

forgotten;

the

himself,
for

is

him?

clear.

May

not

Raskolnikov's salvation prove to be Dostoevsky 's undoing? For

Dostoevsky must now ask himself: how, if the old pawnbroker
need no longer be destroyed, can Raskolnikov's pride be
brought to a visible dramatic climax? The theme remains, for

we may

imagine that Raskolnikov will

still

be drawn to notions

about the rights of superior individuals; but a

new way

of

theme will now have to be found.
common assumption of modern criticism that Dostoev-

realizing this
It is

a

sky 's ultimate concern was not with presenting a picture of so-

nor merely with showing us the

ciety,

difficulties

impoverished young intellectual in Czarist Russia.

faced by an

He was

con-

human being, acting in the
disenchantment, may take upon him-

cerned with the question of what a

name
self.

freedom or

of his

Yet

we

cannot help noticing that the social setting of his

novel "happens" to

theme:

fit

quite exactly the requirements of his

the situation in which Raskolnikov finds himself

it is

and metaphysical problems which,

that embodies the moral
as

we

like to say,

form Dostoevsky 's deepest

interest.

The sudden removal of Raskolnikov's poverty, as I have
it a moment ago, does not necessarily dissolve the
temptation to test his will through killing another human

imagined

being; but
ting

the

it

Raskolnikov
ture.

those

does eliminate the immediate cause for commit-

murder.

Gliding

may now end

Like the

rest of us,

from fellowship

life as

he

once, unlikely as

tempted

to

it

has

fellowship,

a sober Professor of Litera-

will occasionally notice in himself

dim urges and quavers

beyond the assuagement

to

that speak for hidden

of reason.

now come

powers

He may remember
to

that

seem, he was even

murder an old woman. But again

like the rest of

MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION
he

us,

79

unworthy of a

will dismiss these feelings as

civilized

man.

The

case

is

not hopeless for Dostoevsky:

writer of his stature.
tizing the

was

He

can

now

it

problem that had concerned him

to be, the novel before

never

for a

is

invent other ways of drama-

Moevsky's

in the novel as

letter arrived;

but

it

it is

questionable whether even he could imagine circumstances-

imagine circumstances, as distinct from expressing sentiments

—which would lead

so persuasively, so inexorably to a revela-

do those in what I am
unimproved version of Crime and Punish-

tion of Raskolnikov's moral heresy as

tempted

to call the

ment.

From which

it

will not

our standard of living

is

be concluded,

needed

with extreme or vivid situations.

I

hope, that a drop in

in order to provide novelists
I

am

merely trying to suggest

that in reading contemporary fiction one sometimes feels that

the writers find themselves in situations like the one

I

have

here fancied for Dostoevsky.

II

Let us assume for a moment that

we have

reached the end

of one of those recurrent periods of cultural unrest, innovation

and excitement that we

call

"modern." Whether

we

really

have no one can say with assurance, and there are strong
arguments to be marshalled against such a claim. But
wishes to reflect upon

some— the

if

one

interesting minority— of the

novels written in America during the past 15 years, there

is

decided advantage in regarding them as "post-modern,"

sig-

nificantly different

modern. Doing

from the kind of writing

this helps

of recent novels:

one

usually call

to notice the distinctive qualities

what makes them new.

their distinctive failures.

we

a

And

it

lures

It

tunes the ear to

one into patience and

charity.

That modern novelists— those,

say,

who began

writing after

CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION

80
the early

work

of

peculiarly anxious

knows. By

now

Henry James—have been committed to a
and persistent search for values, everyone

this

search for values has

familiar but an expected element in

modern

become not only a
fiction. It

has been

a major cause for that reaching, sometimes a straining toward

moral surprise, for that inclination to transform the

art of

which sets modern
apart from a large number of 18th and even 19th cen-

narrative into an act of cognitive discovery,
fiction

tury novels.

Not

so frequently noticed, however,

modern

is

the fact that long

had come to suspect and even assault
traditional values there was still available to him— I would say,
until about the Second World War— a cluster of stable assumpafter the

novelist

tions as to the nature of our society. If the question,

we

"How

there

was a

remarkable consensus in their answers to the question,

"How

shall

live?" agitated the novelists

without

rest,

do we live?"— a consensus not so much in explicit opinion as in
a widely shared feeling about Western society.
Indeed, the turn from the realistic social novel among
many of the modern writers would have been most unlikely
had there not been available such a similarity of response to
the familiar social world. At least some of the novelists

who

abandoned realism seem to have felt that modern society
had been exhaustively, perhaps even excessively portrayed
(so D. H. Lawrence suggests in one of his letters) and that
the task of the novelist was now to explore a chaotic multiplicity of meanings rather than to continue representing the
surfaces of

No

common

experience.

matter what their social bias, and regardless of whether

they were aware of having any, the modern novelists tended
to

assume that the

social relations of

men

in the

world of

capitalism were established, familiar, knowable. If Joyce could

write of Stephen Dedalus that "his destiny was to be elusive of
social or religious orders," that

and supposed

his readers to

was

partly because he

know what

knew

these orders were. If

" this is people the tradition and has so enriched modern fiction. Balzac and Zola: they could go beyond them. tangible. That Fitzgerald may have known little more than the names of these spokesmen. ruled One might not know what to make of this one knew what was happening in it.MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION Lawrence in his later that paid as social world little 8l works could write a new kind of novel attention to the external phenomena of the as to the fixed conventions of novelistic "char- was partly because he had already registered both of these— the social world and the recognizable solid characters —in Sons and Lovers. serves merely to confirm my point. The Carlyle. whose gifts for conceptual thought were rather meager. A novelist like F. might be remembered. as everyone it laments. and who bemoan this. The rapidity with which such criticism was accua mulated during the nineteenth century. one might remark to those literary the absence of "tradition. but society. were in flux. whether by Marx or modern novelists to work of Flaubert and Dickens. enabled the feel they did not need to repeat the . enormous accumulations of sentiment. Values. Nietzsche or Mill. Scott Fitzgerald. the whole lengthy and bitter assault upon bourgeois norms that had been launched by the spokesmen for culture. Between radical and conservative writers. as between both of these and the bulk of non-political ones. there were many bonds of shared feeling— a kinship they themselves were often unable to notice but which hindsight permits us to see. but at least criticism that novelists it now might direct against society had behind enormous pressures of evidence. that he drew upon their work with only minimum of intellectual awareness. they are tacitly absorbed to become a basis for a acter/' that new mode of vision. Every calculus of gain. was by a still there: hard. The observations of class relationships in the earlier novels are not discarded by Lawrence in the later ones. world. could draw to great advantage upon the social criticism that for over a century had preceded that has been available to him.

and one reason for this assurance was that by the early years of our century the effort to grasp this world conceptually was very far advanced. whether traditional or modernist. the readiness to assume that X stands for Y. of and spiritual meanness. is tive as the radical writers. may not have been aware of the various theories The novelists . neither would so much as think to question. its sensuous same among the conservaand their ideas about the costs and quite the possibilities of rising in the bourgeois world are not so very- different either. the modern novelists could yet work through to a relative assur- ance in their treatment of the social world. which is a prerequisite for the very existence of the novel. desirable or false. the presence or impact of these social groups as they formed part of the examined structure of class society. for without some such assumption there could not occur the symbolic compression of incident. Neither writer felt any need to question. social background and literary method as Theodore Dreiser and Edith Wharton. it becomes clear that in such works as Sister Carrie and The House of Mirth both are relying upon the same crucial assumption: that values. their stories take the their on enormous weights of implication because we are ready to assume some relationship— surely not the one officially proclaimed by society. nor a mere inversion of complex and scale of social place It is this it. In both novels "the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. can be tested in a novel by dramatizing the relationships between mobile characters and fixed social groups. Beset though they might be by moral uncertainties.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 8% sense of the banality of middle class existence." the heartbreak house of modern city. and as Carrie Meeber and Lily Bart make way up and down the social hierarchy. If one compares two American novelists so different in formal opinion. assumption that has been a major resource of modern novelists. but significant relationship— between the still some observed and the evolving measure of moral value.

that the novelists could count on them without necessarily being able to specify or elaborate them. and even the folklore of the masses. with enviable naivete. the city and modern industrial society. a species of philosophical romance. and through manners about the moral condition of humanity. That . Since then. as we are likely to find in a novel by Jane Austen or Balzac. this surely ceased to be true by about 1880.MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION 83 concerning capitalism. or to develop (outside of the South) personalities rooted in a sense of tradition. when ideas in novels. they are transposing to a critics "find" which had become so to seize them as state of abstraction those assumptions familiar to novelists that they were able sentiments. stratified society or of what one critic." Nor am I saying— what seems to me much more dubious— presumed absence in recent years of a fixed. at least. there has been "enough complication of appearance to make the job interesting." I am not sure that was ever true of American fiction— the encounter between Ishmael and Queequeg tells us as much about manners ( American manners). instead. in words of Lionel Trilling that echo a been in more famous complaint this Henry James. there has of means for the display of country "no sufficiency of a variety of manners. or to write good novels dealing with social manners and relationships. But even if it is granted that the absence this of clearcut distinctions of class made it impossible in the nine- teenth century to write novels about American society and encouraged. no opportunity for the novelist to do his job of searching out reality. not enough complication of appearance to make the job interesting. it does not matter. calls "an agreed picture of the universe" makes it impossible to study that the closely our social human life. These ideas had so thoroughly penetrated the consciousness of thinking men. In general. Part of what tial have been saying runs counter I view that writers of prose fiction in to the influen- America have written romances and not novels because.

sent. the mass we mean they society. And notice or stumble against By the mass society half welfare and is. like everyone else. half garrison society in which the population . not an common a notion that lacks It is common does not yet merit consent. younger writers. I be done we know. are no longer quite so available as they were a few decades ago. but at best this accredited description. or that distinctions in manners have ceased modern the to be have usually been present broken down. new significant. the extent. even it one can Still. they find extremely hard to say what that "newness" consist of— such writers recognize that the once familiar social categories place-marks have now become as uncertain and elusive and as the moral imperatives of the nineteenth century seemed to novelists of fifty years ago. is possibilities. say with some assurance that the more sensitive con- if. simply because they wish merely to suggest that certain assump- modern which have long provided novelists with symbolic economies and dramatic conveniences. a relatively comfortable.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 84 of these things can all have been done. We speak of the growth of a "mass society. and that ties for say: as tacit this presents the younger writers. durability and significance which no one has yet measured. To say this is not to assert that we no longer have recogtions concerning society. I the something new which would suggest. for it is merely a useful hypothesis. It theories about society— theories New is to suggest that which for novelists assumptions— have partly a great many new difficul- which also to difficulties. those work and who careers they feel that at whatever among the peril to their must grapple with something new in contemporary experience." a term I shall try to define in a of moment. Ill In the last two decades there has occurred a series of changes in American life. No one can. nizable social classes in the United States.

indifferent and atomized. amiability and meanness. tend to lose some of their binding-power dom now upon human beings. No social scientist has yet come up with a theory of mass society that is entirely satisfying. is unable to deal successfully with recent American one who a novelist life. no novelist has quite captured its still amorphous symptoms— a peculiar blend of frenzy and sluggishness. become elusive and problematic—which is not. as- sumed both by the older sociologists and the older novelists. .MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION 8$ grows passive. which coherent publics based on definite interests and opinions gradually fall apart. himself mass-produced like the products. 4) Passivity becomes a widespread social attitude: the feeling that life is a drift over which one has little control and that even when men do have shared autonomous opinions they cannot act them out in common. like the family. are now either neglected or debased into mere occasions for public display. This bare description of the mass society can be extended by noting a few 1) traits or symptoms: Social classes continue to exist. while focussed only upon those changes would be unable to give his work an adequate sense of historical depth. 3) Traditional ceremonies that have previously marked moments of crisis and transition in human life. thereby helping men to accept such moments. however. vast num- through life with a burden of freethey can neither sustain nor legitimately abandon to bers of people float social or religious groups. diversions and values that he absorbs. to say that such correlations no longer exist. and in which man becomes a consumer. 2) Traditional centers of authority. I would venture loyalties. yet the visible tokens of class are less obvious than in earlier decades and the correlations between class status and personal condition. and the society cannot be understood without reference to them. ties in the guess that a novelist unaware of the changes in our experi- ence to which the theory of mass society points. in which traditional and associations become lax or dissolve entirely.

match. comes to an end. one could no longer assume as ." good or bad.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 86 5) As perhaps tematically never before. they should help illuminate the problems faced by the novelists whose work began to appear shortly after the Second World War. In a sense they were quite prepared for that— the whole of modern literature taught them to expect little else. They had to confront not merely the chronic confusion of values which has gripped our civilization for decades. though the quantity of busy-ness keeps increasing and the number of events multiplies with bewildering speed. 8) The era of "causes. in actually composing a novel. must have been still more troublesome: our society no longer lent itself to assured definition. 10) The pressure of material need visibly decreases. opinion and is manufactured sys- "scientifically." 6) Opinion tends to flow unilaterally. Nor does it mode of anal- matter that no actual society ever reach the extreme condition of a "pure" mass society. yet there follows neither a sense of social release nor a feeling of per- sonal joy. polemic are mechanics. but become increasingly aware it is cartoon and not a description of Amer- a cartoon that isolates an aspect of our experience with a suggestiveness that no other ysis is likely to may of dependence and powerlessness. issues are "ironed out" or "smoothed away". the value of the theory lies in bringing to our attention a major historical drift. from the top down. reflection upon the nature of society is replaced by observation of its quantities: it 7) Disagreement. But they had also to face a problem which. 9) Direct and first-hand experience seems to evade human beings. people their social Now this is a social ican society. strong beliefs seem anachronistic. If there is any truth at all in these speculations. instead. and even been known to as a result. agnostics have feel a certain nostalgia for the rigors of belief. in measured becomes a market commodity. controversy. felt to be in bad taste.

might physical question of conflict. and had called upon American writers to make their choice. it is close to absurd. the maniacs read Mein Kampf. Some years ago Van Wyck Brooks had spoken of the conflict between the life of the spirit and the life of commerce. Raskol- be troubled by the meta- still what a human being can allow himself. The only way handbook on home to write a appliances. fellowship in hand. is the relationship between the writer and his materials. no doubt. this hyperbole. Now people no longer have any opinions. to find code in tively projecting the difficulties that its own were being erased. taken as half-comic reaches a genuine problem. . they have refrigerators. Taken literally. guidelines of both our social thought ways and It was as if the literary conventions young German writer has recently remarked: There's no longer a society to write about. the to catch the spirit of the times is Volkswagen. whether or not he read Brooks. sumption of the novel that how to reclaim the central as- telling relationships can be dis- covered between a style of social behavior and a code of moral judgment. in part. Instead of illusions we have television. or if that proves impossible. Or as a of imagina- right— these were the faced the young novelists. but only if of he were aware that this new Raskolnikov had to be seen in wife and a two-year-old ways significantly different from those of the traditional modern novelists. but Raskolnikov as a graduate student with an anxious young baby—what was the novelist to make him? Something fresh and valuable. instead of tradition.MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION 8/ quickly as in the recent past that a spiritual or moral difficulty could find a precise embodiment in a social nikov. How to give shape to experience increasingly a world increasingly shapeless and an fluid. Almost every important writer in twentieth century America. In former years you knew where you stood: the peasants read the Bible. Most of them did. The problem.

criticism of American life though often not through realistic . or perhaps too shrewd. But was the culture Was conflict and society between spirit and commerce. but they seemed. the mere fact that they had a profound impact upon were now being seriously raised their work. postwar prosperity. amorphous. as with the Camus spirit plane. The values of accommodation were there for the asking. For almost two decades now there has been an outpouring of "affirmative" novels about American businessmen— Executive but I Suites do not know of a single serious in various critic who shades. finds these books anything but dull and mediocre. At least in our time. to life of the spirit. to deal with the postwar experience directly. work society should inform the of our novelists? It hardly matters which answers individual writers gave to these questions. with speak for the qualifications. perversely. Those few who favored a bluntly "positive" approach American society found it to hard to embody their sentiments in vibrant— or even credible— fictional situations. on the esthetic same ambition. they could express their passionate. of rebellion and it "is born simultaneously expresses.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 88 implicitly accepted his statement as the truth whatever lapses or and chose. Most of them were unable." But what has been so remarkable and disconcerting those writers found it who wished is that to preserve the spirit of rebellion also extremely hard to realize their sentiments in novels dealing with contemporary life. the novel seems to lend criticism. they preferred tangents of suggestion to frontal repre- sentation. the itself irrevocably to the spirit of has remarked. to resist creative use. between so acute during the postwar years? still not a continued belief in this conflict a stale and profitless hangover from the ideologies of the be ground thirties? Might there not among the visible signs of our careless that a new and more moderate vision of for feeling.

be taken in. Morally the young novelists were often more secure than Few of them were as susceptible to money and glitter as Fitzgerald.MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION through fable. Yet the problem remained: it said to their credit. the despairing contentment. and they saw— often better than they could say— the hovering sickness of soul. but portraiture 89 picaresque. happily "placed" than the writers the twenties and early thirties. To be novelists at all. But to do it one needs to be Chekhov. Hemingway's with identification expatriates. need to live in They do. is not that novelists need social theories or philosophical systems. Literature is not our novelists resisted the of sentiments. the prosperous malaise. Faulkner's mourning over the old South. in to the ideas of speculative thinkers. good portion of what is most fresh in recent American fiction derives from sentiments. prophecy and nostalgia. few succumbed to hallucinatory rhetoric in the manner of Faulkner. they were less their predecessors. how can one represent which by its nature is vague and without shape? It we know. Troubles signify a strong but unfocussed sense of dis- . Wright Mills made between troubles and economical assumptions that. an environment about which they can make some ultimate way. who began to publish in They lacked the pressure inevitable subjects as these take shape in situations They lacked and equivalents of Fitzgerald's absorption with social distinctions. as novelists. are related Let me borrow a useful that C. however. had fine ones. and that My is hard. yet a mood of facile self-congratulation which came upon us during the postwar years. distinction issues. few had Hemingway's weakness for bravado and swagger. Sentiments they in abundance and often Gertrude of locales. but to twist a remark of Stein's. they had to look upon our life without ideological delusions. malaise. let me hasten to add. literature is made not made of sentiments. point. Yet. can be done. They were not. Better than any other group of literate Americans.

they need to be working in a milieu where there issues. sameness of their misery. come to . A few serious writers did try to fix in their novels the amorphous "troubledness" of postwar American experience. that classes are to write and one of those full-scale narratives its He chose of parallel society is both sharply visible and that a novelist can arrange a between members of these classes which will be dramatic in its own right and emblematic of large issues.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 90 turbances and pain. strands of plot— a technique composed which assumes that distinctly articulated. concern themselves with troubles. while issues refer to troubles that have been articulated as general statements. trying in The Deer Park to compose a novel about the malaise of our years. avoided the cumber- someness of the traditional social novel but could find no other structure that tried to would give coherence embody his keen if to his perceptions. But in its effort to portray our drifting and boredom full-face. not issues. And is at least in the troubled years after the some awareness of Second World War was precisely this awareness that was often lacking. in the sufficient force. in its fierce loyalty to the terms of feeling would. In The Violated. also having no inevitable reason for separate existence. as a rule. Norman Mailer. seem significant. conflict —these assumptions could not operate with and as his characters. Novelists. melted into one another. Vance Bourjailly seemed consciously to be dramatizing a view of American it society quite similar to the one I have sketched here. But for the material Bourjailly chose—the lives of bewildered yet not uncharacteristic drifters during the past two decades intrinsically interesting. collapsed into one another. an enormous realistic narrative about some ordinary people who reach adulthood during the war. Mailer unstable vision in a narrative about people whose extreme dislocation of experience and by the very fact of their extreme dislocation. But to write with assurance and economy about troubles. so the strands of his narrative.

very close to it. rather tagonist. contemporary writer move him greatly. through their inner quality. the continuing problem of the looks for great emotional issues to The anguish struggling to keep his job is limited dramatic opportunities life offers "normal" what drama has impelled Tennessee Williams is in art are not large-scale. It is perhaps this belief that He into the areas that his art inhabits. its whom he fall back upon his pro- which he found tried to say that hard to show. but The writer its possibilities who wants to "let go" has figuratively to leave the urban and suburban and either go abroad. he adultery out of the lives of the bourgeoisie. or go into those few pockets of elemental emotional life left in this country. as an extending parable. investigate the highly neurotic. and locales that are apparently far re- These writers are tones of postwar American sensitive to the know they life. responding to immediate American experience by choosing subjects moved from that experience yet. Yet they do not usually write about postwar experience per se: they do not confront ambush it. IV A whole group of novelists. the past.MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION its own gi The Deer Park tended conception. . of the advertising executive anguish indeed. or the few pockets of elemental emotional life—many of our best writers have pursued exactly these . toward Throughout the novel Mailer had to through own claus- tonal than outward. Abroad. moods and that something new. The film similar phenomenon: to When Vittorio it as much as they try Stanley Kauffmann has noted a critic de Sica was asked why so many of his films is said to have replied. to become a trophobic work. "But if you take deal with adultery. . different and extremely hard to describe has been happening to us. who left?" has recognized that most It is . among the best has found itself of recent years. driving attention inward. of contemporary so he has left life to the violent and the grimy. go into the past. peculiarities.

but through the if psychic pressures breaking is really searching for a per- spective for estrangement that will be relevant to our day. dom it is to self-aware- Saul Bellow's The Adven- a picaresque tale about a cocky Jewish boy moving almost magically past the society. the deepest Africa of boy's books. spirits sleep. bull-fight so that stir it also a kind of paean barriers of American to the idea of personal free- most recent novel Henderson the Rain King seems an even wilder tale about an American millionaire venturing into deepest Africa. Bellow's soon realize that his ultimate reference where many Though is to America. In The Field of Vision Wright Morris moves not backward in time but sideways in space: he contrives to bring a dreary Nebraskan middle-class family to a Mexican the excitement of the blood and ritual will ness. tell but clearly his troubles are not meant to refer to his gen- eration alone. yet it motives a wish to recapture intensities of feeling is we have apparently lost but take to be characteristic of an earlier decade. And while. but soon one realizes that he means his story to indicate possibilities for personal survival in a world The precocious and bewildered boy Catcher in the Rye expresses something increasingly compressed. but when he writes that men need a shattering experience to "wake the spirit's sleep" we in hostile circumstances. D. vastly different in quality. Salinger's of the moral condition of adolescents today— or so they us. in part. In convey their attitudes toward contempo- The Assistant Bernard Malamud has writ- ten a somber story about a Jewish family during the Depression soon becomes clear that one of his impelling years. Herbert Gold's The Man Who Was Not With It is an account of marginal figures in a circus as they teeter on the edge of lumpen life. these novels have in . In A Walk on the Wild Side Nelson Algren turns to down-and-outers characteristic of an earlier social we look to the novel we see that he moment. in J.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 92 strategies in order to rary experience. on the face of tures of Augie March is it.

These novels man's merit admiration for defending the uniqueness life. at the moment. almost a national obsession— for personal identity and freedom. needs some kind of placement. It unavoidable and it courageously. are deeply concerned with the fate of freedom in a mass society. but the assertiveness of idea and vanity of style which creep into such books are the result. I think. the social patterns of recent American constantly projecting moral criticisms of They approach shaped by it that experience on the throughout. life. of willing a subject onto a novel rather than allowing it to grow out of a sure sense of a particular moment and place. yet are colored they gain from it and their true subject: the recurrent search— in America. have no wish Still. In their distance from fixed social categories and their concern with the meta- physical implications of that distance. It may help strengthen my point— critics ought not to . because he lacks social definition and is sometimes a creature of literary or even ideological fiat. of this uniqueness. But the theme of personal identity. if it is to take on fictional substance. I is a difficulty that seems.MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION common a 93 They do not repreAmerican experience. And it is here that the "post- modern" novelists run into serious troubles: the connection between subject and setting cannot always be made. yet are essential quality. to be more a product of the will than of the imagination. And its sly. yet refer to it certain obliqueness of approach. tends to be not very individualized. like The Invisible Man and The Adventures of Augie March. it had tion of personal identity in may of but they suffer from having to improvise the terms to disparage writers who face be said that the proclamarecent American fiction tends. the manners. They tell us rather little about the surface tone. a setting in the world of practical affairs. these novels constitute what I would call "post-modern" fiction. if I better use a fashionable phrase. and the "individual" of their novels. sent directly the postwar constantly. Some of the best postwar novels.

John Braine and John and about England. for reasons I have tried to suggest. the quick apprehension of contemporary life which. for ascetiit is not clear whether it is a better or a bigger share of the material and cultural goods in con- temporary England that these writers want. more It life. Gripes can be transformed into causes. English writers face a predicament of the welfare These state: it rouses legitimate desires in people of the "lower orders". ambitions cloaked as ideals. many American that of critics— notable. decaying gentility. it is exhilarating. the young men in San Francisco seem largely . Their work touches upon sore spots in English delighting others. of course. for writers point of arousing For society this them only to the power of meeting. you can hardly deny that in their early novels one finds something and notation of the focussed desire. But while you can feel righteous or even hostile toward Amis and Braine. which is to say: it vision of English social relations. but it satisfies new demands beyond its may be irksome. fake culture. And men" are particularly fortunate complaints lead them to deal with some of the the "angry young in that their traditional materials of the novel: frustrated ambition. Kingsley Wain are blessed with something precious to a writer: a subject urgently. frozen snobbery. a dialectic of interests.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 94 strengthen such points too much— if I moment turn for a to the two most-discussed literary groups of the last few years: the "angry young men" in England and the "beat generation" writers of San Francisco. Through comedy they are able to structure their complaints. By contrast. hurting some people and threatens the Establishment. relentlessly imposing itself upon a good cism—who point out just They have earned the scorn their imaginations. it partly satisfies these desires. Partly because they write in Amis. perhaps likely its present leaders. opposition. has become somewhat rare in serious American fiction. All of rest upon a coherent though limited It its creates tension. survival.

prove to be entirely opportunistic and momentary. they huddle together in gangs. fear of impotence. is the ultimate rebellion. and send back ecstatic reports to the squares: Having a Wonderful Time. They are suffer- ing from psychic and social disturbance: and as far as that goes." they sing out an eternal fantasy of the shopkeeper.MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION 95 a reflex of the circumstances of mass society. they are right— there is much American in one a pain. cowering before papa. Feeling themselves lonely and estranged. In their incoherence of feeling and statement. veritable mimics of the American tourist. for right burning shame. But they have no clear sense of are troubled. predicament of rebellion in a mass society: they are the other side of the their American hollow. The "angry young men" their protest will of life to give how they or principle to in England. create a Brook Farm of Know-Nothings. and some a clear sense of even if why them seem opposed in anything. They do not get happily drunk. that It is necessary to have some contact with institutions and people in order to be frustrated and angry. I crisis. that they don't even have the capacity for improvising vivid fantasies. . under the surface is dictate their behavior in every These writers. Having Wonderful Kicks! But alas. they do not have a Wonderful Time. They [the San Francisco writers] have the theory that to be affectless. can say what it is that hurts. illustrate the painful. would contend. all the while it is clear that they are terribly lost. and it is these anxieties that care. In contempt for mind. they mirror the incoherent society that clings to them like a mocking shadow. hurt feelings. speechless and powerless tantrum. being rebuffed by mama. In their yearning to keep "cool. and what is more pitiable. writers fail to understand. as Paul The San Francisco Goodman has remarked. not to but this is a fantasy. As they race meaninglessly back and forth across the continent. they are at one with the middle class suburbia they think they scorn. though not inevitable.

But it may not be too rash to say that the more serious of the "post-modern" novelists— those who grapple with problems rather than merely betraying their effects- have begun to envisage that enormous changes in we may be on human history. then a predicament may ravage you but you caricature and it cannot cope with Where it. burdens. and their sexual revelations. particularly in Kerouac's The Subterraneans. possibilities that and criticisms. but that we novels themselves can only find a fiction are reflected in the in the space of the and series of distraught compulsive motions. and that of the second almost invisible. appear to them are those which struck * Both of these literary tendencies— the English "angries" and American "beats"— have all but disintegrated in the last few years. They can't. a useful way of indicating how and why the English novelists have found it easier to articulate their sense of social complaint than the Americans. merely glanced by the idea of the "mass society. settled ending is possible here. a society a society with forms. finally I hope. Yet the contrast made above remains. The themes of what modern" vaguely is I have called "post- San Francisco writers as symptom. since it is not of certain that anyone can. The achievement of the first now seems a modest one. duties and pleasures. that is. then. they bring to bear minders of The human a barrage of moral potentiality. and for that." fill our novelists with a sense of foreboding. the threshold of These changes. re- tacit exhortations. . because the tendencies I No have been noticing are still in flux. does in the unmapped beyond. perhaps. in- exist: justices. requirements. still open to many pressures and possibilities. No wonder. for if you shun consciousness as if were a plague. dream themselves out of the shapeless nightmare of California. of the promise and confusion of American writing today. are as sad as they are unintentional. I think. and through the strategy of obliqueness.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 96 many them preferring milk shakes and tea.* does this leave us? In the midst. that in Kerouac's novels one aware that somewhere. we should not blame them.

the nightmares our "post-modern" novelists are trying to exorcise— the It begins to solace and like the itself mind grows dizzy and recalcitrant. One such we are moving toward a quiet desert of moderation where men will forget the passion of moral and ered that he did not possibility is that spiritual restlessness that has characterized Western society. E. become a satiety. no longer be the condi- That high culture as increasingly problematical we and perhaps reach some point of obsolescence. This case is adjourned!" . the "aura of the human" be replaced by the nihilism of will That the main question tions of existence understand it but existence will become will will itself. . That docile attendant to an automated civilization. no longer a Quixote or a Faust. with rumblings about eternal truths. exacerbated judge in Faulkner's The Hamlet. cries out. But before such prospects— they form the bad dreams of thoughful men. "I can't stand no more .MASS SOCIETY AND POST-MODERN FICTION at T. That the human creature. 97 Lawrence when he returned from Arabia and discov- know how or why to live. .

from Uncle Tom's to Native Son." attacking the kind of fiction. that had been written about the ordeal American Negroes. it it. the protest novel proves choked with rage has this unable to transcend kind of writing become. its own "unspoken recognition of shared experience which creates a way of life." is real . but through social victim or a to confine the known Wright represented. the Negro. Negro all his life.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS James Baldwin first literary public not came the notice of the American to through his own fiction but as author of an impassioned criticism of the conventional Negro novel." a tougher and more Cabin of the explicit polemic against Richard Wright and the school of naturalistic "protest" fiction that test novel. wrote Baldwin. The pro- undertaken out of sympathy for need to present him merely mythic agent of sexual prowess. its is as a it hastens to the very tones of violence he has Compulsively re-enacting and magnifying his trauma. and two years later he printed in the same magazine "Many Thousands Gone. So cannot show the Negro as a unique person or locate him as a member of a community with its own traditions and values." The failure of the protest novel "lies in its insistence that it is [man's] categorization alone which and which cannot be transcended. In 1949 he published in Partisan Review an essay called "Everybody's Protest Novel.

he hoped "to prevent myself from becoming merely a Negro." that "literature and sociology are not one and the same. or even. As Baldwin put it some years later. would go further. it Baldwin s rebellion against the older Negro novelist who had served him as a model and had helped launch his career. Baldwin. The novel is an inherently ambiguous genre: it strains toward formal autonomy and can seldom avoid being a public gesture. the genuinely difficult issue of the relationship between social experience and literature. Yet in Notes of a Native Son." it is equally true that such statements hardly begin to cope with the problem as of how a writer's own experience human affairs in a work of affects his desire to repre- sent fiction." and for the Negro writer. and the issue Baldwin raised is one that keeps recurring. Baldwin could also say: "One writes out of one thing only— one's ence of a man own experience. was the experiwhat could it be in this skin. hardly matters whether the trap if he is sprung from motives of hatred or condescension." with a black What. If it is true. transcending the sterile categories of "Negro-ness. was not of course an unprecedented event. . No longer mere victim or rebel. Baldwin's formula evades. Baldwin said in "Everybody's Protest Novel. Baldwin's essays were also a kind of announcement of his own intentions. but now. then. He wrote admiringly about Wright's courage ("his work was an immense liberation and revelation for me"). precisely because Wright had prepared the way for all the Negro writers to come. is to be a writer at all." whether those enforced by the white world or those defensively erected by the Negroes themselves. through rhetorical sweep.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS Like all attacks launched 99 by young writers against their famous elders. The history of literature is full of such painful ruptures. he." The world "tends to trap and immobilize you in the role you play. the Negro would stand free in a self-achieved humanity. the book in which his remark appears. usually as an aftermath to a period of "socially engaged" writing. merely a Negro writer.

how some impulsion as think or breathe. had been to hell and back. political or private. released or buried? "sociology" of his existence formed a constant pressure on work. it made impossible a repetition of the old . his literary for James Baldwin's early essays are superbly eloquent. so little noticed when one gets swept away by the brilliance of the language that it takes a special effort to attend their argu- ment. he wrote: "Hughes an American Negro poet and has no choice but to be acutely aware of it. he too. Later Baldwin would see the problems of the Negro writer with a greater charity and more mature doubt. but with a pain and ferocity that nothing could remove. American culture was changed forever. without could he to protest. No matter how much qualifying the book might later need. And it is not hard to surmise the reasons for this change.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 100 country? so much be it The How could a Negro put pen to paper. into many exile. and not merely in the way this might be true any writer. II Gawd. like some of the later ones. He is not the first American Negro to find the war between his social and artistic responsibilities all but irrec- is oncilable/' All but irreconcilable: the phrase strikes a note sharply different from Baldwin's attack upon Wright in the early fifties. are marred by rifts in logic. The day Native Son appeared. harsh or mild. disfull the gifts that would enable him to playing virtually in become one of the great American rhetoricians. like times over. Ah wish all them white folks was dead. Reviewing in 1959 a book of poems by Langston Hughes. In the intervening years Baldwin had been living through some of the experiences that had goaded Richard Wright into rage and driven him Wright. But these essays.

the decent and men who from complicity or neglect shared cultivated white in the responsibility for their plight. as vision. He other. come Many he had times he had room carrying luggage or food and seen naked white women lounging about. the autobiographical narrative he published several years later. the fantasy that in his humilia- Negro somehow retained a sexual potency— or was it a made it necessary to envy and tion the childlike good-nature?— that more still to suppress him. that they hated every when seeming most acqui- and that often enough they hated us. In Black Boy. and in that way. the hatred. had been there weight of first. I was a non-man .: BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS In lies. If such as Baldwin and Ralph Ellison were to younger novelists move beyond Wright's harsh naturalism and toward more supple modes of that was possible only because Wright courageous enough to release the full fiction. his anger. Wright forced his readers to acknowledge his anger. I felt human beings any- doubly cast out/' With the publication of Native Son... ment. if none wrested for himself a sense of dignity as a man. all its crudeness. no one ever had before. A blow to recog- man. however. He Wright Speaking from the black wrath of be a punish- insisted that history can told us the one thing even the most liberal whites preferred not to hear: that Negroes were far from patient or forgiving. for "blacks were not considered way .. the at the black novel forced him to recognize the cost of his submission. fear and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture. the novel forced him nize himself as an oppressor. unmoved by shame at his into a hotel presence. Wright would tell of an experience while working as a bellboy in the South. 101 melodrama and claustrophobia of Richard Wright's novel brought out into the open. Native Son assaulted the most cherished of American vanities the hope that the accumulated injustice of the past would bring with it no lasting penalties. A blow at the white man. retribution.. were scarred by of their suppression even fear. that they moment escent. he forced his .

and to one of its most terrifying symptoms he gave the name of Bigger Thomas. They do things and we can't. what the whites understood that the white man's notion of uncontaminated Negro vitality. "who does not have his private into a Bigger Thomas riving in the Wright drove . skull. little as it had to do with the bitter realities of Negro life. "No American Negro exists. Bigger was drawn —one would surmise. for even as the white people their chauffeur are decent and charitable. Enormous courage. then rendered a trifle conscious and thrown back at those who had made him what he was. sexual violation. a discipline of self-conquest. his narrative to the very core of phobia: sexual fright. Bigger Thomas was a part of Richard Wright. They got things and we ain't. no admirable intellectual or formidable proletarian." The novel barely stops to provision a recognizable social accidentally kills is a liberal of sorts. not even at the edge of the electric chair. "We black and they white. who hire Bigger as even as the girl he power and the privilege.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 102 readers to confront the disease of our culture. lost its blood. theirs is the . a part even of the James Baldwin who stared with horror at Wright's Bigger. a boy stumbling numbed and unexpended illiterate black murder and never. was required to conceive Bigger Thomas. lost forever to his hatred and his fear of the world. unable either to absorb him into his consciousness or eject him from it. And he grasped the way in which the sexual issue has been intertwined with social relationships. fantasy of rape is a consequence of suppose themselves to deserve. reflected some ill-formed and buried feeling that our culture has run down. for this was no eloquent Negro spokesman. deliberately— from white fantasy and white contempt. become febrile. breaking through to an understanding of either his plight or himself." Baldwin would later write. Bigger was the worst of Negro life accepted.. He He American understood that the guilt. Brutal and brutalized.

situations both through the pressures of his rage and the gasping hope of an ultimate catharsis. concerting reason that Dreiser had a white and skin for the dis- and Wright a black one. though preserving some of the devices of the naturalistic novel. the author yields himself . pitifully little: "he had murdered and created a new life for himself/' Beyond that Bigger cannot go. it is a if novel in which the writer withdraws from a detested world and coldly piles up the evidence for detesting it. Wright confronts both the violence and the cripping limita- Thomas. For Bigger white people are not peobut something more. The mood is apocalyptic. for he was committed to the literature of extreme aggressive. no Negro novelist can really hold for long. Wright wished his readers into awareness. the tone superbly Wright was an existentialist long before he heard the name. especially the Dreiser of An American Tragedy who knows there are situations so oppressive that only violence victims with the to pummel hope of dignity. Behind the book one senses the molding influence of Theodore Dreiser. by a scientist surveying a field of operations. to over- power them with the sense Yet the comparison is of society as an enclosing force. "a sort of great natural force. as The usual naturalistic novel is written with detachment. finally of limited value. tions of Bigger ple at like all. Native Son is a work of assault rather than withdrawal. can provide their Like Dreiser. often contenting itself IO3 with cartoon simplicities and yielding almost entirely to the nightmare incomprehension of Bigger Thomas. a stormy sky looming overhead/' violence does he gather a little meaning And only through in life. like Dreiser.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS world. At first Native Son seems still another naturalistic novel: a novel of exposure and accumulation. deviates sharply from its characteristic tone: a tone Wright could not possibly have maintained and which. charting the waste of the undersides of the American city. Native Son. it may be.

into a uni- Between Wright's Communist there fied vision of things. of the familiar social world but a self- contained realm of grotesque emblems. Black Boy. the lawyer retreats helplessly. faults flat in burdened. Bigger 's cowering perception of the world becomes the most vivid and authentic component pushed to an extreme turns here into of the book. seems more a brute energy than a particularized characters have accessories reality. Indeed. and his beliefs as a fusion. syntantically over- admire from a The long speech by (again a device apparently bor- rowed from Dreiser) is ill-related to the book itself: Wright had not achieved Dreiser's capacity for absorbing everything. Negro an ultimate bear only by himself. for Wright is too honest his simply to allow the propagandistic message to constitute the last word. Max Bigger's radical lawyer see. Richard Wright . should be said that the endlessly-repeated criticism Wright caps tends to this feelings as a is melodrama with a party-line oration oversimplify the novel. there is if Wright were persuaded for each that. the projected union between political consciousness and raw revolt has not been achieved— as apart. even the most recalcitrant philosophical passages. heavy with journalistic anyone can slag. which appeared is a slighter but more skillful piece of writing. That Native Son has grave language is often coarse. the the Negroes being mere stock either "agit-prop" villains or heroic Wright finds it easier to distance than establish from the inside. the last word is Max but to mercy of his given not to Bigger. Apart from Bigger. and it is unreality pours Yet that it through Negro hardly a genuine gap that a good part of the novel's in. For at the end Bigger remains at the hatred and fear. Naturalism something other than no longer a replica a kind of expressionist outburst.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 104 in part to a vision of nightmare. itself. little and the whites Communists whom The who figure. all ideology trial that he can five years after Native Son. rhythm.

the Negroes and judges He of a grin- examines the without charity or it The young wear the mask idyllic life of com- pensation—for he already knows. Alfred Kazin. murder and crude The Stalinist homilies. had found in Wright a troubling obsession with violence: he chose to write the story of Bigger Thomas as a grotesque it is because his own indignation and the sickness of the age combined to make him dependent on violence and If crime story. become a member of the Communist Party. by torrential scenes of cruelty. and publish his first book of stories called Uncle Toms Children. Ill Baldwin's attack upon Wright had partly been anticipated by the more sophisticated American critics. a small classic in the literature of self-discovery. This autobiographical memoir. Wright has managed to achieve the beginnings of consciousness. even the very great- said about the author of certing to reflect . through a slow and painful growth from the very bottom of deprivation to the threshold of artistic achievement and a glimpsed idea of freedom. seventeen. to astonish the reader hunger. where he will work on a WPA project. something quite similar could be Crime and Punishment. for examples. he soon picked up a precocious knowledge of vice and a realistic awareness of social power. last phrase apart. that to be oppressed By the time he is means to lose out on human possibilities. preparing to leave for Chicago. Wright learns how wounding it is to ning niggerboy in order to keep a job. in his heart and his bones. and as he moved from his helpless to a grandmother whose religious fanaticism ( she was mother a Seventh-Day Adventist) proved utterly suffocating. it is disconupon how few novelists. and then enlighten him by shock. is packed with harsh evocations of Negro adolescence in the South.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS 105 came from a broken home. rape. flight.

Both truth and terror rested on a gross fact which Wright alone dared to confront: that violence is a central fact in the life . what Bigger Thomas means to him. Bigger an authentic projection of a social symptom of Wright's Obviously both. but a primary and inescapable truth. and For the it reality. Kazin's on the assumption that a critic can readily distinguish between the genuine need of a writer to cope with ugly upon rests realities writers and the damaging moral and psychic his one finds life. everything from which he had pulled himself out. with an effort and at a cost that is almost unimaginable. More effects. who deals with the most de- graded and inarticulate sector of the Negro world. perhaps not even the deepest one. For the novel as a genre seems to have an inherent bias toward extreme such as violence. the very act of writing his novel. a way of dredging up and then perhaps shedding the violence that society has pounded into him. perhaps even impossible. For a tinction novelist who has lived through the searing experiences that Wright has there cannot be much his subject minded critics. A certain amount of obsession a writer like Richard Wright. the dis- between objective rendering and subjective immersion becomes still more difficult. Without the terror of that nightmare it would have been impossible for Wright to summon the truth of the reality— not the only truth about American Negroes. reality pressing upon all of Wright's work was a nightmare of remembrance. could pass this kind of moral inspection. And when we come to valid portrayal of violence it. effect these realities But in regard to very hard to it may have contemporary distinguish between a and an obsessive involvement with may be necessary for the valid portrayal— writers devoted to themes of desperation cannot keep themselves morally intact.106 CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION est. What is the effort to confront is possibility of approaching with the "mature" poise recommended by high- for such a writer more. or is Is he a "dependence on violence and shock?" could not be otherwise. cruelty and the judgment like. important.

There were times when Baldwin grasped than anyone else. must or take. either Kazin's or Baldwin's Isaac Rosenfeld while review- Negroes and all men who to suffer social injustice." Is it he this point better he could speak of the "unrewarding rage" also impudent spoke of the book as "an immense liberato suggest that book to relief and pleasure that be a liberation was precisely he. all that any Negro writer can. also struggles to transcend ceed seems obvious.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS IO7 and crippling him with a "No American of the American Negro. part of [Wright's] itself fully suc- are born humanity found only in acquaintance with violence. the psychological the attitudes violence. defining harshness few other Americans need suffer. he was trying to suggest the historical context. must . the terms of hesita- making a judgment. haste. one More criticism subtle is may doubt and humane than a remark made by ing Black Boy: "As with That he did not it. precisely the other Negroes. It would be well experience that to see this violence as part of open is to a historical moral scrutiny but ought to be to Thomas may shielded from presumptuous moralizing. but anyone reading Native Son with mere courtesy must observe the way in which Wright." Surely Rosenfeld was not here inviting an easy acquiescence in violence. Negro exists who Thomas does not have his private Bigger living in the skull/' Now I think much or with would be well not it to judge in the abstract. Bigger be enslaved an hunger for violence. the violence that gathers in the Negro's heart as a response to the violence he encounters in society. even while yielding emotionally to Bigger's deprivation. tion. and tion for still more. like so one reason he its many felt the rage. and in hatred of the oppressor. toward not to propose the condescension of exempting Negro writers from moral judgment. If of Native Son. which condition take. To all Negro writers say this is dynamics. but to suggest the terms of understanding.

seriously confronted in his early essays. with a weary skepticism and proceeded to transfer the values such writers were attacking to the perspective from which they attacked. was no way to "prove" that Dreiser.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 108 have felt upon seeing those long-suppressed emotions finally breaking through? The kind of literary criticism Baldwin wrote was very fashionable in America during the post-war years. Negro "accepted a theology self-hatred he "wants glories in his hatred. that was because he could not really in the If Wright portrayed the violence gripping Negro was because he was really obsessed with it. He would describe accurately the limitations of Bigger Thomas . as Baldwin that denies him to die because he life. protested." this did not constitute a criticism of Wright unless one were prepared to assume what was simply preposterous: emobeyond the This was a ques- that Wright. that less service in behalf of a generation of intellectuals soured on the tradition of protest but suspecting they might be pigmies in comparison to the writers who had In reply. and so one had to keep inthere sisting that of ities such writers were nevertheless presenting actual- modern experience. Farrell and Wright were not contaminated by the false values they attacked. If Dreiser wrote about the power hunger and dream of success corrupting American society. this criticism made by those approached radical and all ideal claims. not merely phantoms of their neuroses. If Bigger Thomas. Mimicking the Freudian corrosion of motives and bristling with dialectical agility. they were contaminated. especially naturalist writers. since they were mere mortals living in the present society. probably." if in his said. that was because he was really infatuated with them. for all his tional involvement with Bigger. could not see limitations of the character tion Baldwin never he had created. The word "really" or more sophisticated equivalents could do end- escape life. If Farrell showed the meanness of life Chicago slums. it.

Wright or his book. In response to Ellison. all the oppressed of the world. perhaps because portant.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS and 10Q by one of those rhetorical leaps at which he is so would assume that these were also the limitations of then. In a remarkable sentence appearing in "Everybody's Protest Novel. It it is the least ideological. Wright would have said me (I virtually during the summer of 1958) that only through struggle could and be most notably Adventures of Augie March. more extreme: its I rich diversity was forced to conceive of a novel unburdened by the narrow naturalism many triumphs to the final and unrewhich marks so much of our current fiction. to men with black for that matter. another ground for Baldwin's attack was his re- Still luctance to accept the clenched militancy of Wright's posture and man. we need only to do what is infinitely more difficult— that is. Today quote the words he used in talking to skins. made by Baldwin in writing about Native Son." which has led after so lieved despair This note of willed affirmation— as if one could decide one's —was deepest and most authentic response to society! heard in many in Saul Bellow's to strike one Baldwin and other works of the early fifties. Ralph Ellison expressed this view in terms still "Thus to see America with an awareness of and its almost magical fluidity and freedom. bears him out." Baldwin wrote. this dimension being the rela- . that the younger writers would have to learn in their own way and their own achieve their humanity. remains im- complained that in Wright's novel "a necessary dimension has been cut away. Wright with a touch of bitterness yet not without kindness. time. our life. said happened since. we need not battle for it. accept as both novelist it/' so What Baldwin was saying many American intellectuals here was part of the outlook took over during the years of a post-war liberalism not very different from conservatism. "our humanity is our burden. it is likely as a note whistled in the dark. All that has One criticism He was a lesson. gifted.

no matter how great the need for it. left his father's house. not as he wished to show it as a living culture of who. as indeed from everyone else. for example. It is to struggle may not exact a still greater a question that would soon be tormenting James Baldwin. even when deprived. whether the refusal price. can one avoid the conclusion Baldwin has thus that in this effort far failed to register a major success? His first novel. "comto most Negro protest novels has led us all to believe that in Negro life there exists no tradition. sustain the Jew even after he has . is voice grow harsh . traces the growing-up of a is an enticing Negro boy in . ." The climate of the book. How pre- one does sympathize. no possibility of ritual or intercourse. perhaps." All one can ask. can one not sympathize with such a program? cisely as And how. moral tenacity and right to self-acceptance. by way of reply. that depth of involvement and unspoken recognition of shared experience which creates a way of life. IV In his in its own diversity and richness. but there can be little doubt that in this respect Baldwin did score a major point: the posture of militancy. but minor work: Go it Tell It on the Mountain. as evidence of worth." It could be urged. no field of manners. such as may. that in composing a novel verging on expressionism Wright need not be expected to present the Negro world with fullness. .CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 110 tionship that Negroes bear to one another. and almost against his will. in the And he meant of the distinctiveness of Negro its show the Negro world a mere spectre of protest. mon . For "Even the hatred of squalor / Makes the brow grow stern / Even anger against injustice / Makes the . balance or nuance. exacts a heavy price from the writer. share of common humanity. novels Baldwin hoped to life men and women emotions and desires also to evoke something in America.

there was no alternative. than the violence and outrage of Native Son. each had life to release his own agony before he could regard Negro with the beginnings of objectivity." Religion has of course played a central role in Negro life. and the miserly consolations of black Calvinism. seems to flat failure. a Christianity the stripped of grace and brutal with fantasies of submission and No work of American fiction reveals so graphically the way in which an oppressed minority aggravengeance. which would signify that he accepts the denial of his personal needs. Baldwin wrote from the intolerable pressures of his own experience. which would probably lead to his destruction in the jungles of New York. Giovannis Room. to scream out God's word from "a merciless resolve to kill my father rather than allow my father to kill me. Like Wright before him. But it would be a mistake to claim too much for this first novel. which is to recur in Baldwin's fiction. other oppression through the torments of religious The novel is also striking as a modest Bildungs- roman. vates its own fanaticism. It abandons Negro life me a entirely (not in itself a cause for judgment) and focusses upon the distraught personal young Americans adrift in Paris. the education of an imaginative Negro boy caught in the heart-struggle between his need to revolt.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS 111 atmosphere of a repressive Calvinism. but also with a disconcerting kind of sentimentalism. any more advantageous a theme for gathering in the qualities of Negro kind of religious experience dominating Tell It culture. and the intensity is due to Baldwin's absorption in that religion of denial which leads the boy to become a preacher in his father's church. Baldwin's second novel. The probhomosexuality. in which a rhetorical flair and a conspicuous sincerity often eat away at the integrity of event and the substance of character. a quavering and sophisticated sub- . is relations of several lem of confronted with a notable courage. The novel is intense. yet one may doubt Go that the special on the Mountain is any more representative of that life.

but he remains tied to the memory of the older man. province to city. but quite another for a writer with Baldwin's background and passions to succeed in bringing together his sensibility as a Negro and his sense of personal trouble.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 112 mission to the ideology of love. local color. ranging in tone from disturbed affection to disturbing malice. from South to North. whose novel Invisible Man is a brilliant though flawed achievement. since no white man No could man could have written it. yet Ellison writes with an ease and humor which are now and again simply miraculous. What astonishes one most about Invisible Man is the apparent freedom it displays from the ideological and emotional penalties suffered by Negroes because the freedom is admirers like to suppose. genre quaintness and jazz chatter. in which he tries to break from his rebellious dependency upon Wright. The beginning is both nightmare and farce. There are clear allegorical intentions (Ellison is "literary" to a fault) but with a book so rich in talk and drama would be a shame mere depths. for long stretches Invisible Man does escape the formulas of protest. know with such intimacy the life white of the Negroes from the inside. Together with several other Negro boys it to neglect the fascinating surface for the . naive faith to disenchantment and perhaps beyond. Baldwin has not yet managed— the irony is a stringent one —in composing the kind of novel he counterposed to the work of Richard Wright. He has written three essays. in this country— I say "apparent" not quite so complete as the book's Still. The Negro writer who has come closest to satisfying Baldwin's program is not Baldwin himself but Ralph Ellison. It is one thing to call for the treatment of character as integral and unique. A timid Negro boy comes to a white smoker in a Southern town: he is to be awarded a scholarship. Invisible Man is a record of a Negro's journey through contemporary America. standing with Native Son as the major fiction thus far composed by American Negroes.

the boy dreams that he has opened the briefcase given him together with his scholarship to a Negro college and that he finds an inscription reading: "To Whom It May Concern: Keep This Nigger-Boy Running. At the end of this section. terror— and then the boy delivers a prepared speech of gratitude to his white benefactors. whether and you will suffer penalties. Blindfolded. talent without can save a novelist: he wildly inventive. where a sumptuous is blonde tantalizes and frightens them by dancing in the nude. he way. rickety structure of and those who exposed (in profit from it cannot bear to have the reality dependent upon the this case. At the end. He goes to his college and for having innocently taken a white ginmill which ence to follow this pattern. and a big wheel in the some not entirely odyssey from submission to autonomy specified Ellison has an abundance of that primary which neither sion. Practical jokes. becomes a soapboxer for the Harlem Communists. His down whole experi- a pretense. that the college is Northern white millionaire). fel- craft nor intelligence is complete. Harlem. his language sings. humiliations. the darling of the low-travelling bohemia." a free-for- which they pummel each other all in drunken shouts to the of the whites. his Negro world. The boy then leaves for New York. and his after witnessing a frenzied race riot in "finds himself' in is richly. a Southern sharecropper calmly describing how he seduced his captured so ." He keeps running.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS he 113 rushed to the front of the ballroom. since the Negro respectability rests upon pretense or accident. No other writer has much of the hidden gloom and surface gaiety of Negro life. the Negro boys stage a "battle royal. Strip is by choice also happens to be a is expelled donor through a Negro brothel. where he works in a white-paint factory. There is an abundance of superbly-rendered speech: a West Indian woman inciting her men to resist an eviction. his scenes rise and dip with ten- people bleed.

To write simply about "Negro experience" with the esthetic distance urged by the critics of the fifties. The rhythm of harsh and nervous. And exist. mad. No party leader would ever tell a prominent Negro Communist. exactly how jive. is The observation making zootsuiters walk. as one of them does in Invisible Man: "You were not hired [as a functionary] to think"— even if that were what he felt. dealing with the Harlem Communists. by those of the Man The middle section of Ellison's novel. That the party leadership manipulated members with deliberate beyond doubt. and even than Wright and Invisible is less if less prophetic than Baldwin. Ellison well as they do. less grossly. He and In- can accept his people as they are." a Negro on a horse dressed in the costume of an nationalist. in their blindness and hope: —here. appears Abyssinian chieftain. for plight and protest are inseparable political knows If this quite as Native Son 'thirties. the antagonism between American and dian Negroes works itself West out in speech and humor. but this cynicism was surely more complex and guarded than Ellison shows it to be. from plight or the Negro world does protest. unbear- ably pathetic. from that experience. finally. a Harlem street-vender spinning Ellison's prose alertness. marred by the ideological delusions of the is marred. like a beat of harried is expert: he knows exactly how stylization their principle of life. does not ring quite true. is a moral and psychological impossibility. figures so vicious theme during the post-war Ellison makes his Stalinist this and stupid that one cannot understand how they could ever have attracted him or any other Negro. carrying spear and shield. in the way a 'fifties. Such cynicism is . But even Ellison cannot help being caught up with the idea of the Negro. good portion of the writings on years does not ring quite true. absurd. and charging wildly into the police— a black Quixote.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 114 daughter. seemingly apart in the final scene Ellison has created an unforgettable image: "Ras the Destroyer.

tried to preserve Communist an independent radical out- look. is the sudden. "Could politics ever be an expression of love?" This question. way. He became and literature of the rising African them he felt hurt at how great was the distance between an American Negro and an African. It violates the reality of social between external conditions and personal as the determinism of the 'thirties. unprepared and implausible assertion of unconditioned freedom with which the novel ends. world he knew to be changing but could not grasp with the assurance he had He had Ellison's he makes no attempt much fact re- stumble upon to cannot always be willed or asserted into existence.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS 115 passages are almost as damaging as the propagandist outbursts in Native Son. discovery that American literary people in the 'fifties. way. Though the unqualified assertion of self-liberation was a favorite strategy among of his experience. it is insubstantial. tinged occasionally with black nationalism." his refusal to be the "invisible man" whose body is manipulated by various social groups. but And it hero asserts the to specify them. "infinite possibilities" and the interplay The unfortunate mains that to define one's individuality social barriers also vapid life." will. is all quite as too much Freedom can be fought seems hardly an accident that even as Throughout the find his place in a 'fifties Party. more troublesome. more portentous than profound. As the hero abandons the Communist Party he wonders. of it which stand in the "infinite possibilities. He absorbed in the nations. Richard Wright was struggling to felt in his earlier years. cannot easily be reconciled to a Still character who has been presented mainly as a passive victim Nor is one easily persuaded by the hero's "my world has become one of infinite possibilities. both as it breaks the coherence of the novel and reveals Ellison's dependence on the post-war Zeitgeist. but politics when visiting . resigned with some bitterness from the though he in the for.

" is such as the a projection of that state. 'fifties he full of existentialist jargon applied but not really absorbed to the Negro theme. He was a writer in limbo. When Negro liberals write that despite the prevalence of bias there has been an improvement in the life of their people. steadily experimenting. years were difficult for Wright. which is Wright published another novel. but one ought to hesitate before denying the relevance of such images or joining in the cism of their use. such statements are reasonable sary. it may man who kept writing. partly. what he remembered other Negroes must remembered. a And he stood by the pride of his rootlessness. And in that way he kept faith also have with the experi- . In the late 'fifties Long Dream. For Wright was perhaps justified in criti- not pay- ing attention to the changes that have occurred in the South these past few decades. be. This book has been cized for presenting Negro South through "old- life in the criti- fashioned" images of violence. somewhat friendly with the intellectual group around Jean-Paul Sartre but finally a loner. in response to the younger men who had taken his place in the limelight and was truly a dedicated writer. Lived Underground. But what have these to do with the and neces- way Negroes feel. his last four- teen years in Paris. The and displays a con- set in Mississippi siderable recovery of his powers.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION Il6 found life in America and he spent intolerable. with the power of the memories they must surely retain? About this we know very little and would be well advised not to nourish preconceptions. for their feelings may be much more moduWright remem- closer to Wright's rasping outbursts than to the lated tones of the younger bered. In the early published a very poor novel The Outsider. novelette "The Man Who and his better fiction. since he neither partly because he These made last a true home the changing life in Paris nor kept in imaginative touch with of the United States. and Negro novelists.

since the accumulation that makes for depth and solidity . His most interesting in a 11 J posthumous out of the depths. highly disturbing: one finds first The unevenness it clumsy and. In Man Who in a world Lived Underground. clear line of chronological development." Wright shows a sense of narrative rhythm. Eight ing the last 25 years of his life. his often mode of expression. Some of the stories. Time after time the narrative texture is broken by a passage of sociological or psychological jargon." are enby Wright's sardonic humor. to is to be found Men. But Wright was correct in thinking that the problem of detail is the most vexing technical problem the naturalist writer must as essential to his ultimate effect of shock face. of his writing hard to understand how the same man. the humor of a man who has known and released the full measure of his despair but lived knowledge nor release matters finds that neither "The of despair. such as "Big Black Good Man. can be so brilliant and inept. perhaps the later Wright tried too hard. failed to remain sufficiently loyal to the limits of his talent.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS ence of the boy speak for those who had fought his way who remained there. efforts I think. read too much. written durThough they fail to yield any fiction after Native Son collection of stories. these stories give evi- dence of Wright's to break out of the naturalism which was his necessary is literary restlessness. from paragraph to paragraph. doned naturalism I more in recent terse and think he went astray whenever he aban- entirely: there are a few embarrassingly bad experiments with stories employing self-consciously Freudian symbolism. it and bruise as dialogue to Hemingway's ultimate effect of irony and loss. which is superior to any- thing in his full-length novels and evidence of the seriousness with which he kept working. Wright needed the accumulated material of cumstance which naturalistic detail provided was his cir- fiction. The main literary problem that troubled Wright years was that of rendering his naturalism a supple instrument.

In "The Man Who Underground'' Wright came close to solving this here the naturalistic detail some is put at the service of a radical image— a Negro trapped projective flaws. work: he had told his contemporaries a truth they paid him the tribute of trying to forget Looking back to the early essays and Baldwin. however. pay with his youth. world of freedom. hard and dismal decade. the he had found upon the faces of James their aura of gravity. birth. many of us. he had somewhat full of hopes and projects. the story is Lived problem. Like lost his intellectual way but he kept struggling toward the perfection of his craft and toward a comprehension of the strange world that in his coming into he had done so bitter. as He wanted to move. or be a brutal moralist. for satisfying in a sewer. both for its and despite tense surface and elasticity of suggestion. further than they at little be dismissed. heart of stone. and he self -creation. and past which a generation of gratuitous was In the most fundamental sense. the writers Russian who came from the lower orders had to pay for with their youth. intellectuals could desire of a greatly talented of by which older by their brilliance of gesture. After one most of sheer pathos of these early writings. to . to dearly. as Wright had not beyond the burden or bravado to enter the One would need a Richard Wright of his stigma. what way this all is the they reveal the to escape the scars— to escape his elders them? —which and knew to be and unlovely. grace. his last years assumed said that what the aristocratic as their birthright. Richard Wright died at 52. James Bald- win did not want had paid so been able wanted to.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION Il8 can also create a pall of tedium. Chekhov once writers fiction it. one wishes to see a invite: —to see past writers could strikes young man and why should he not have wished first be enticed.

not at all "literary" somewhat lacquered way the earlier Baldwin was able achieve. as the jazz musician Rufus Scott. which he portrays with a ferocity quite new in his . a sophisticated distant cousin of Bigger of self-destruction. we can. rasping and thrusting. For- and before all. the Negroes would retain their hatred and the whites giveness cannot be speedily willed. make our circumstances. at best. But we do not to remake them. and true. could score against it the points Baldwin scored against Wright. The narrative voice a voice of anger. tory we have made is that the nightmare of the his- Even allows us no immediate escape. It is not a pretty thought. but neither "unrewarding rage". heavy-breathing with the pant of suppressed bitterness. In about half of Another Country—the best judge— the material is half. not in this country. No longer is Baldwin's prose so elegant or suave as it was once. can even be imagined there will have to be a fuller dis- charge of those violent feelings that have so long been suppressed. in this book it is harsh. Baldwins most recent novel Another Country is a "protest much as Native Son3 and anyone vindictive novel" quite as enough to make the effort. Thomas. try And all the recent writing of Baldwin indicates that the wishes The be sentiments of humanity which had made him rebel against Richard Wright have now driven him back to a position close of his youth could not realized. clumsy. if all the visible tokens of injustice were erased. goes steadily down the path worn out in the effort to survive in the white man's jungle and consumed by a rage too extreme to articulate yet too is amorphous to act upon. first as it is it a mere has the sad advantage of being Baldwin embodies it in the disintegration of Rufus. to Wright's rebellion. it their fear if willed at and guilt. And what that voice says. I would handled in a manner somewhat reminis- cent of Wright's naturalism: a piling on of the details of victimization.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS feel 119 anything but sympathy for this desire. no longer held back by in the to the proprieties of literature.

of communication. He greatest essayists this country has ever has brought a new luster to the essay as an art form. whose recent essays. literary until recently make it a serious competitor to the almost unchallenged as the dominant genre in our time. without the veined milieu. a form with possibilities for discursive reflection and concrete drama which novel. in the hard-driving ambi- it it another novel: a nagging entanglement of personal relationships- involuted. the emptiness that seeps through the lives of many cultivated persons and in response to which he can only reiterate the saving value of true and lonely love. The two pulls upon and Baldwin's future it quite do most as hard to lay hold of contemporary experience as other novelists. once he moves away from to reconcile. grindingly rehearsed. These portions of Another Country tend to be abstract. the style of these essays is a remarkable instance of the way in which a grave and sustained eloquence— the rhythm of oratory. the leading intellectual two or three produced. even if who means to climb up to many people. the fllled-out world. whites success she has to bloody a good do ably. reach heights of passionate exhortation unmatched in modern American writing. Whatever his ultimate success or failure as a novelist.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 120 fiction. few years James Baldwin has emerged as spokesman for the Negroes. but . in order to that of prefer- it. life— which has fiction. Bald- if the Negro theme. a novel needs: as win. pursued with quasi- and cut off from any dense context of social come to be a standard element in contemporary The author of this novel is caught up with the problem religious fervor. as in The Fire Next Time. finds his attention are difficult as a novelist is decidedly uncertain. Apparently drawing upon Baldwin's youthful experience as the son of a Negro preacher. and then as he embodies tion of Rufus' sister Ida. Baldwin has already secured his place as one During the a national of the last figure. Another Country has within portrayal sterile.

. Baldwin must pronounce with and struggle with militancy. even the violence Baldwin had begun by rejecting. that to assert his doomed with humanity he must release the sickness of the West. Its formal creed does not interest him. black boys on at best. In his role as spokesman. from the very anger. remake them. he gives way on occasion his rage.BLACK BOYS AND NATIVE SONS that 121 rhythm held firm and hard— can be employed deeply suspicious of rhetorical prowess. for he knows shoddy. some of his deepest needs But we do not make our circumstances. torn by the conflict between his assumption that the Negro must find an honorable place in the life of American society and his apocalyptic sense. there can be no question but that the refusal he then made of the certainty no other choice. that this society is beyond salvation. Like Richard Wright before him. yet whatever role of protest reflected faithfully and desires. mostly fear but just a little hope. try to to native sons. and the truth is that Baldwin's most recent essays are shot through with intellectual confusions. and the arena of choice and action always proves to be a little narrower than we had supposed. Baldwin realizes far better than in his novel the goal he had set himself of presenting Negro life through an "unspoken reports recognition of shared experience. but he discipline munity is is impressed by its it to be capacity to evoke norms of from followers at a time when the Negro comthreatened by a serious inner demoralization. Baldwin has discovered But if rage makes for power it does not always encourage clarity. And again like Wright. One generation passes its dilemmas to the next." Yet it should also be recog- nized that these essays gain at least some of their resonance from the tone of unrelenting protest in which they are written. we can. And an age in in pieces like the on Harlem and the account of his first visit South. he has at the moment may have been the objective inadequacy of his polemic against Wright a decade ago. to the lure of black nationalism.

" human solidarity The words come from Camus: they might easily have been echoed by Richard Wright: and today one can imagine them being repeated. with a kind of by James Baldwin. could be spoken in our century.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 122 "It is in revolt that man goes beyond himself to discover other people. but . not to recognize that for the men who must live by them the cost is heavy. and from this point of view. and impudent. rueful passion. is a philosophical certainty. No more important words it would be foolish.

it assaults without equivocation almost all the decorums of liberal moderation and cultural picture of the artist as Dopester. for in it. A rowdy. he has a sharply realistic sense of the odds: he knows that a writer who sets out on a deliberate search for peril may end by paying heavily in strength and spirit. he has packed more of his essential drives and desires. as well as fiercely tellectual and italiziced running commentary which forms a rough-stroked literary corner. The running commentary. even outrageously tal- ented. young Seeker. But one thing is clear. sl miscellany of stories. no one can yet and bugle-tooting. At the moment respectability.A QUEST FOR PERIL: NORMAN MAILER Whether Norman Mailer candidly admits he For is will become the great writer he ambitious to become. musings and conundrums. intense and exciting book. essays. I think. Rebel and Outside this book may well be more interesting than Mailer's three novels. that say. all packed together with an is. done with bravado and good . Anyone who wishes how to see how remarkably versatile Mailer he has painted himself into an inmust first look at his Advertisements for Myself. all of his chest-thumping simply as a writer he is enormously. excerpts from novels.

CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 124 humor. which and they read novel. is that while superb at evoking an aura and springing a sequence of action. one can also see the weaknesses which have marked Mailer's fiction until very recently: first. written in college as imitations of proletarian fiction teristic and Dos Passos. with a nervous jabbing accuracy lends some support to Mailer's claim that the book has "the air of our time. are included which astonishingly well. and full of a one of the few is his public self— his personality. claims— into a matter of legitimate a writer like Hemingway once weakest sections of the book. in a both the best and struck by Mailer's ab- solute unwillingness to settle into his achievement. am passionate belief that "I which imprisoned with a perception than making a revolution in will settle for nothing less the consciousness of our time. 'thirties journalism. second. for arranging sensory notation so that there will emerge a shaped and tacit meaning. It is post-debouncy and high in rhythm. already reveal his charac- mixture of professional skill fessional stance. In is interest. Several excerpts I remember as a very bad and a refusal of the pro- from Barbary Shore. his im- patience with a style as soon as he comes close to mastering it. as at times with an utter willingness posure. In these pieces. betraying too strongly the influence of often flat and ungainly. Mailer's early stories. that his prose. as in The Naked and the Dead. authority orgiastic stories hollow of which and nihilism stalking one another this century. he has not yet looked into or cared about a character deeply enough so that . or really a string of brotherly tips. his devotion to restlessness as a principle of both life and work. one did. contains pressive Mailer. his way to risk full ex- some of Mailer's best writing. in this rasp against adjustment. Beware the death called maturity— so runs a recurrent motif." Mailer younger writers who has made his ideas." There follow a illustrate his large capacity for in the few war mimetic vivid- ness.

intellectual ad- many of an historical period ruled Americans smooth now by func- and increasingly deprived of the hunger for Utopia. drained. and succeeds merely in pleasure. Mailer observes the burned-out rancor. Here. states of in literary terms. Is that "the reflective strifeless live will it possible world" in which most cultivated prove to be the world of tomorrow^ . throw off the gripes of middle age makes a bold. the one stimulus that can now them jerk into a moment's vitality. a few Jewish ex-radicals— a dentist. What a dreary compromise is life!" Reading central figure "enters the universe of sleep. almost in allegorical and—here Mailer leap— watch together a porno- graphic movie. so "The part of Man Who of Augie March seem self- Studied Yoga" makes a good The Deer Park seem willed and theoretic." At the heart of Mailer's recent ventures lies literary and a fear which he shares with people: the fear of tional rationality stasis. to con- writing like that of "Seize the work in front with absolute candor the ruins of experience.A QUEST FOR PERIL: NORMAN MAILER 125 the character can burst out of the fictional schema something The "The single best thing Mailer has written Man Who and into own. be a recorder of "the flat and familiar dispirit of nearly all days. the came sourness of the generation that 'thirties. a to live in such a avoiding once more admirable this story. At the end. the man who seeks way as to avoid pain. All of his recent writing seems to ask. weary maturity in the to of both their comforts and complaints. Tired. suffer the noise of their wives. Just as "Seize the Day" makes a good part indulgent. I can't wondering help whether Mailer's recent decision to choose extreme being for his central subject Perhaps his true gift is to is. a wise one. like a life of his is a long story. a lawyer. They exchange Sunday afternoon together New bits of gossip. Studied Yoga/' which occupies a place in his Day" in Saul Bellow's: the one which the writer breaks past his self-image. in transparent prose. again jaded and dull. a comic-strip writer— spend a York.

in which sexuality is new in sources of danger of be- coming a mere metaphor. but by now it has become something else. . At one point he suggests that for man to restore his self and reaffirm his potency would mean to re-create the vital image of God. I can t help seeing a touch of truth in Jean Malaquais' criticism that in "The White Negro" Mailer was searching for a new "vanguard" to replace the slumbering proletariat. in its own right. But qualifications are needed.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 126 a glass enclosure in which there will be a or failure. Mailer's search probably began in the political terms Malaquais suggested. and for those of us raised. since God cannot be God until man becomes man. God becomes the name of his desperation. Still more recently. Some conflict seems to be involved here. would now do for them. What new self- the socio-economic posi- was supposed to do for or to it. Without succumbing to the genetic fallacy or being scornful of a dilemma which in some ways I share. a quest for a free-floating state of being in and desire forever expanded become the measures of life. and partly it may remain that. Mailer seems to have turned toward a which desire satisfied generalized quest for new sources of energy. by the ethic of striving. the unbroken by convention or morality and acted out in life rather than piddled away in psychoanalysis. Mailer shows signs of the ideologist whose ideology has melted away. motion and rebellion. or ruined. a concern with the orgasm tion of the working class hipsters' drive for self-gratification. a propelling force to jog history. between a therapeutic vision of desire and an ethic of what might be called a permanent revolution of the senses— it is a conflict between the Mailer who thinks of sexuality as a mode of health or reconcilation to the self and the Mailer who thinks of it as a strategy for social and personal revolt. tests or transcendence? It is minimum of courage a prospect invoked by the rise of mass society. dissatisfaction and renewal it is a disturbing prospect.

Far from being a figure of violence. Here again one can see Mailer's hunger for new possibilities and modes of transcendence. one widens it falling back upon a curious analogue to be reciprocally for others as well. that "in if he had lapsed into widening the area of the possible. with the orgasm replacing union with the godhead. behavior. other ethical culture. daring and freedom." Mailer seems to by means of "The White Negro" is Adam Smith's in- which innumerable units in conflict with each other achieve a resultant of harmony and cooperation. weak is really the ultimate in feeling. in self -estrangement: inhibited. not only Malaquais' criticism but also another and very effective one by Ned romanticizing the hipster. and . beards. though I think that here Mailer's argument staggers a why For he never succeeds in showing little. yet one nomenon living may be new style of forgiven for wondering whether the phe- itself is really there. a remarkable display of dialectical prowess and phenomenological searchings into a life.A QUEST FOR PERIL: NORMAN MAILER 12J This mixture of Lawrence. Reich and some Marx carries the further implication that the achievement of sexual well-being or even a proximate version of it would have revo- lutionary social consequences. and man finding the kingdom of heaven in the darkness of night. borne aloft on the thrust of a resurrected phallus. says Polsky. who argues especially when he Polsky that Mailer tries to is create a philosophy of Hip. even if they break forth in claustrophobic sexual images— a kind of transcendence from below. The hipster. does he exist? Do specimens. caring mostly to be left alone by the driven in cops. the transfer of energy need take place from sexuality to than remarking. almost as sociality. visible hand. bearing the psychopathic grandeur with which Mailer invests them. other sorry little chaps. our but Mailer's brand of hipsters? I am emboldened alry to reprint to ask because Mailer has had the chiv- from Dissent. the hipster. where the discussion first ap- peared. actually walk the streets of cities? Beatniks. Emerson.

"The On six or Man Who seven years Mailer will write a story Studied Yoga. away by the think Mailer I fertility and tourists. several prosperous A little their meet for quiet conremember the excite- hipsters will wistfully." The plot will be a depressing Sunday afternoon. which certainly should not be done for long. ments of II. that our mass society.D. seems it likely astonishing capacity for absorb- its may well succeed in hasn't already.CONTOURS OF AMERICAN FICTION 128 whatever hardly a force that for good or evil can shake else. if it and in trans- forming his world into a docile subculture regularly visited by and social workers. Perhaps. and now middle-aged former versation. Even one puts aside the ethical question. this kind of thing can be very dangerous to writers. the society in which he hides. they will youth and how. domesticating the hipster. these have gradually . he in origin. Mailer ing. anthropologists Meanwhile. with ing friend and foe. and junkie. as one wishes him luck. he will also allow some play to his conventional but exceptional gifts for social observation and nar- him and to see to rative. Professionally infatuated with language. he seems at one shocking point in "The White Negro" to be praising the violence of a if hoodlum who beats up an old storekeeper. they are prone to develop treacherous powers of self-delusion and incitement. Ph. even as he tries to embody his new perceptions in fiction. be psychosomatic in the hipster. is trying to enter and the problem will new areas of experience be to what extent and feel- his ideas will help what extent they will predetermine his vision. I expect that in called simple. social rot. Put another way. in danger of being carried is brilliance of his own Using cancer as a synecdoche for the spread of begins to talk as Hunting he knows if it to an emblem of energy for metaphors. as of the many is shown only too strongly twentieth century writers self- by the experience who have become fas- cinated with violence. it will not seem captious to add the hope that. with time.

re-create for them the kicks of By the past. . Nothing can now 120. as people not accustomed to reading. What a dreary compromise is life!" . neither drugs nor orgy.A QUEST FOR PERIL: NORMAN MAILER evaporated. electricity in their souls will start to flicker. . . they will find almost as stimulating as a pornographic movie But soon the would be for squares. violence nor promiscuity. and the story will end with the central figure entering "the universe of sleep. chance one of them will pick up a volume of that forgotten writer Marx and read a few apocalyptic pages— which.

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in whom the promoter and the mystagogue are closely allied. it serves him right! Seldom has a great poet engaged in such adolescent mystifications with regard to himself and his work. seldom has a poet so promoted a cult of worship in which he served as both prophet and martyr— though toward the end of his life even Whitman. soon attached themselves to the roomy dogmas near his books. transubstantiation. one feels like blurting out. rather than a subject of critical appreciation. because they didn't write like Whitman. somewhat later. felt they had to keep sticking pins into his reputation until would collapse. People with notions about cos- mic consciousness. indeterminate sexuality and. Academicians wrote studies trying to persuade one another that they really cared whether Whitman was a neoplatonist or a pantheist And many poets and critics a believer in metempsychosis. grew tired of his disciples and began to mock blatantly them his in a need way beyond their capacity to notice. or of the past few decades. anti-fascist unity.Three American poets WALT WHITMAN: "GARRULOUS TO THE VERY LAST" Whitman has not been very sometimes fortunate in his critics— and. to think of himself in Whitman became a As a result of a variety of prophetic victim of his own legend roles. it .

a of social complexity. truly a whom about prophet— "I will certainly elude you. I am convinced. A second Whitman as a sexual chamlinsey-woolsey Lawrence— a Law- without the bother of Frieda. major line of criticism has exalted pion or liberator. obscure what is best in the poems themselves and create public images of the poet that." One main lic line of criticism has stressed Whitman as pub- spokesman. for good or bad. that is. can only estrange him from the audience he deserves. but such critical approaches. while the sexualist Whitmanites write as As if their hero had never a national prophet lived in a country.THREE AMERICAN POETS 132 All this has made it extremely many him and barriers of our culture stand traps Whitman difficult to get at the poet and almost impossible to get at have no choice but to begin with his Whitman once said— and here he was directly: too in the way. a sort of rence. thereby accepting his claim to embody the col- American democracy in his rather eccentric Thereby too it has been forced into the position lective spirit of individuality. Of inducements and provocations for seeing Whitman in these vatic postures his work offers no lack. of placing the greatest valuation upon programmatic poems. That these approaches to Whitman also happen to be in violent conflict with each other makes for a fine bit of cultural comedy: the nationalist Whitmanites sniff way when the other they get to the sex poems. admirable seems light-years away from us. its as be- sense it was original almost "pas- and assurance. For all that Whitman's poems often speak about city life they do not really capture its terrible newness. perhaps even refuses. a procedure that his more grandiose invites the embarrass- ment of having to take his formal ideas seriously. and much vigor and as one wants to preserve something of bias. full The Jacksonian mind. Whitman now seems inadequate cause he so cheerfully lacks. We critics. nor do they register their anticipatory awareness of the problems raised by industrialism and the toral" in its innocence .

him in expres- despite mixed feelings toward a writer close to sion but alien in temperament. Basil de Selincourt's book. were it not that in his later poems one finds frequent signs of bewilderment before the kind of America coming into existence after the Civil War. and them after reading all of one cannot help wishing that Whitman had indicated some faint awareness that the sexual liberation bring new To troubles of An seldom helpful is early conservative merit of being among too great hostility. while presenting a powerful cultural state- ment. since none of them succeeds in getting past Whitman's persona and into surely the most challenging that faces his poetry. criticism are studies. however. it remains neglected because most . This task is American but criticism. his Studies in Classic American Literature. its Whitman it as the succumbs to the Great American acute remarks on his poetic technique. the fact that Whitman's was a pre-industrial mind would not matter at all ( it certainly doesn't matter for innumerable poets before him ) century writers fresh and relevant. Whitman suffers from an opposite difficulty he has done his work too well. finally ing Whitman as comes through by hail- one of the great pioneers in transcending the body-mind dualism. however. Yet none of these books will quite do for us now. contains actually wrote. others are troubling because of the abstractness with which they celebrate the : need for concrete experience. no one is now likely to be shocked by the "Children of Adam" or "Calamus" poems. many Van Wyck Coming American Bard. the first as the like Bliss Perry's Naif. As a sexual prophet. walt whitman: garrulous to the very last 133 mass society which helps keep the work of other nineteenth- To be sure. that the dominant modes of Whitman say. though English fondness for seeing number not to slight a book what Whitman Brooks' chapter in Americas Whitman he proclaimed might own. D.. Some of them charm us. Lawrence in of fine has the to describe. H. without hysteria or is of Age.

Allen writes. the book will be read by graduate students in American Literature. just look at these . who writes that Whitman "a second-rate poet had no capacity for any feeling save of the cloudiest and most general kind. and this of course helps contribute to the tone of definitiveness. forget the philosophy. . After having spent a lifetime study- ing Whitman— the to write a jacket says twenty-five years— he page about the poems that has a touch originality or even eccentricity. Allen that a thoroughly tion for have to Milton Hindus' collection of essays Leaves of Grass: Hundred Years by intention or After is another matter: it presents. however. is one of those over-stuffed biographies that have recently able. His credentials as a is unable of critical critic may be tested by his opinion that Whitman's verse lacks irony.THREE AMERICAN POETS 134 American people either are indifferent to literary him Whitman or mere loud-mouth. that Mr. disagree- ." About Whitman's private life Mr. a vivid picture of the schisms. to be a virtue since. Allen manages to avoid a point of view on almost every controversial aspect of Whitman's life or writings. lines! Meanwhile a new outpouring of Whitman books has begun. to qualify as a definitive study. One whether not. a deficiency which turns out. Well. there are a few signs that Whitman is again being considered by serious critics. The Solitary Singer. is fashion- dull enough Mr. The extreme version of critic Yvor Winters. he tells us. it become can be said without hesitation. wide-eyed essay by Randall Jarrell which simply points to Whitman's achievements in language. prophecy. The book. as if to say: For God's sake. by Gay Wilson Allen. "irony results from self-pity or loss of faith." As against such admirably direct wrong-headedness. "he had not made up his mind instinctive or did not know whether sex meant primarily an hunger or responsible paternity"— which indicates may have a thoroughly wholesome mind but wholesome mind is not the ideal qualificaa biographer of Walt Whitman. notably a brilliant. forget the think of this latter as a opinion comes from the powerful .

" His Whitman— book Chase has since written about Whitman— is neurotic. Fiedler's essay points the direction for a revival of serious interest in Whitman. . of calculating common sense and philosophical insight. . Middleton Murry invokes the religious sense behind Whitman's democracy. . though I think he sometimes runs wild in imposing his favorite critical tags coed with everyone in France. The Chase Whitman as a "divided.walt whitman: garrulous to the very last ments and cross-currents in recent Whitman 135 criticism. Chase rejects the claim that Whitman was actively and the portrait is further developed in the .g.. violently energetic and profoundly indolent by turns. unhappily. an utter anticulture flesh. stuc- "Whitman's America was made the Noble Savage as a Continent"—which is made bright but hardly verifiable by Whitman's verse). in a characteristic prose rant. however. William Carlos Williams. ending with a rejection of the vatic Whitman and an acceptance of the Whitman who writes of private experience. on a writer already Romantic notion out of Rousseau and Chateau- briand of an absolute anti-Europe. Hindus plumps for Whitman the nationalist or perhaps supernationalist. but in terms so vague and grand it might as well be his own religious sense that is being honored. one a witty history of Whit- man's reputation. and the other by Richard Chase in which he presents the best portrait of Whitman that has yet been composed. two Leslie Fiedler in first-rate essays in which he offers the book. There by are. the else's (e. writes as if were one of the inalienable rights for which the American Revolution was fought. a Whitman whom he calls "Pan-American" and compares. given to sharp transitions from manic self-assertion to painful selfdoubt. a shifting mimetic brilliance and Dionysian inspiration. of essay presents personality. with Dostoevsky the pan-Slavic and free verse Wagner the pan-German. multiple amalgam of sycophancy and sloth. Kenneth Burke buries himself beneath the grassy debris of free associations on the word "leaves". Mr. whimsical and witty.

Masse. diffuse reminded somewhat of Turgenev. in and unfocused. in the is external world. instead as a man in to sharp expression One is homosexual or both. for then irony it is and humor—Whitman all and his role "Having pried through the than sticks to my own how much in its half hidden at the Whitman announcing strata. perhaps rightly. a writer endowed with a curi- is ously impersonal tenderness. Whitman a large fleshiness. aware he was of the ambiguity of reading the poetry. / fat to gain amusement in sheer oddity of being Walt a kosmos. strange- its ness and price. a description some biographers take. himself "one of the toughs. but I think it must be applied to his life and work as a whole. Whitman the En speaks for the national ethos." but the greatest esthetic pleasure of this lonely Americans know to be effete. to those strategies and stratagems by which he sends his as- sumed and hypothetical their possibilities. a kind of pansexual that come the sexual impulse did not but remained empathy available to all objects. selves out into the Almost all world to discover American writers tend to be furtive— they have to in this country.THREE AMERICAN POETS 136 persistently heterosexual. or that accept to recognize is easier to grasp staring we the accredited national I find no sweeter bones. to refer to his sexual history. but he Whitman calls is actually a solitary. but Whitman assumes the role with a greater consciousness of necessity. the divine average. counsel'd with doctors and calculated close. whether sentient or not. but sees him whom latent. II It is a priceless historical joke that the one poet as the National Bard should lack Whitman virtues. analyz'd to a hair. whom masculine frame was also combined with a maternal And like Turgenev. himself knew this. a secretive watcher. Bohemian is the opera good and his taste in general runs . " In his old age he once declared himself to be essentially furtive.

but not with I mind those desperate estrangements the intention of calling to and which involves a sexual fraternity fiercest anxieties eccentricities the writers of our own term is likely to suggest American society time. times feels that Whitman's critics serve indulge the feeling that Whitman him serves and right. America if him its one some- one may also right.walt whitman: "garrulous to the very last" 137 toward the delicate and the rococo. It was easier to who be a Bohemian then. also brought unhappy results: . who a threat to their protective code of manliness— must it be thoroughly unacceptable poetic spokesman. to be sure. but his vision of the democratic life— because can only arouse the see in it among Americans. have said that Whitman was a Bohemian. for long stretches of Leaves of Grass dissident. Whitman puffs out his chest with the rhetoric of democracy. it seems a secondary actor. when used about in the nineteenth century was sufficiently loose and self-confident not merely to give most people a sense of social possibility but also to allow a margin for the survival and even the health of those did not accept the dominant values. only occasionally providing that resistance to from it. as it was easier to be a political or intellectual and by that token being a Bohemian in the 1850's did not mean a life as alienated and self-afHicting as it must often mean today. allowed him to become a furtive experimenter sibilities of and to test out variant pos- the self without having to worry about the pres- sures of society nearly as much as European writers had to worry. and that it was this very spaciousness which allowed him to take chances in his poetry. It a is all to the nation that fancies comedy of errors. The idea of society had not yet become so overwhelming as it is with us. but he became something better—found that between America and himself there were large spaces. perhaps tion for the for the fact that even wastes. The human writer desire who which we have learned aspired to fulfill to expect Emerson's prescrip- American poet—and who almost succeeded. This freedom.

. Scratch an American primitive and you often find an American decadent. is literary needs. . and the miracle is that all the while he managed to write a sizable amount of great poetry.. though not of course with the German sociologist Georg Simmel Stranger. "If wandering. he has not logical characteristics. as in the careers of Anderson and many between a coarse populism and a precious The price our writers have paid for trying. wearying artiness. In the career of Whitman. Whitman had little choice. Given the disintegrative pres- sures of his family background. The most fruitful of his personae. the nature of American life and culture at the time he began to write. He is. the potential wanderer. to Hart Crane and Sherwood others. of these two The stranger is being discussed here.. the socio- form of the "stranger" presents the unity . in the too cavalier toward the past of both poetry. so to speak. not in the sense often touched upon in the past. a scrappy education.. although he has not moved on. . to force themselves into the role of folk or tribal poet. has Whitman in been in mind. the one that corresponds autodidacts— given most to the reality of his personal and described.THREE AMERICAN POETS 138 it made Whitman much Europe and European literary conventions he And it made him into who would try. so to speak. . it tempted him into discarding had barely the first tested. of the many American earnestness of their isolation writers and with the seductive beat of the national music in their ears. this effort could lead only to a oscillation swallow the idea of America whole has almost always been a series of relapses into the shallowest kinds of estheticism. ." writes . Whitman had to try to move back and forth between national and private themes. by an essay called The Simmel the liberation from every given point in space and thus the conceptual opposite to fixation at such a point. as the wanderer who comes today and goes tomorrow. as wide and wooly as the educations of most of our literary all this. let alone understood.

rather infrequent among demigods. At times this self expands to the condition of a protean demigod istic who absorbs all creatures into his creative will yet is saved from solipsism by the grace. . however con- ambiguous status. The self of the poem is fluid. . by the fact that he has not belonged to it from the beginning. . a quasi-mystical dissolution of individual consciousness. He is fixed within But his position in this group is determined. At times the self of the poem sinks to an almost mineral tranquillity. his Myself. defined by its unwillingness to rest in definition. is here which seems to blur all distinctions made acceptable and often rendered readers because it . . a poet both remarkably close to everything character- and indigenous in our culture and extremely alien and remote from it. a torpor approaching nonidentity. quite lost the freedom of coming a particular spatial group." Simmel limits himself to examples based on a clash of cultural and does not consider the still more interesting case where the "strangeness" of the stranger derives not from national differences but from a fundamental divergence of outlook and value that has sprung up within a culture. It is styles in the poet-prophet such as Whitman that this divergence is most vividly dramatized. of having a sense of humor. that he imports qualities into it. committed with a mixture of ingenuous faith and comic skepticism to that belief in possibility which is possible only to Americans. . Does not Simmel's description illuminate Whitman the poet? The man who comes today and stays tomorrow. . the "merging" impulse disturbs many in quality of being. the poet-prophet whose role is made possible by his "unity of nearness and remoteness" and is sanctioned by the readiness of his culture to accept. the potential wanderer whose position in the group is fixed but who imports qualities into it— is this not the author of Song of ditionally. essentially. Locating the stranger as "a unity of nearness and remoteness.walt whitman: "garrulous to the very last" 139 and going. The famous "oceanic" impulse which Whitman shares with other romantic poets.

to who is he. It me my the hum my of vision.THREE AMERICAN POETS 140 moving by the clear evidence—Whitman seldom or hide it— that the self of the poem also acts tries to deny from a deep anxiety and loneliness. Reduce it from philosophical common human tremor. / Only the I is the twin of provokes I witness want. not music or or lecture." tries on new the man. the know and share." "Speech unequal to measure sarcastically. "I have no mockings or arguments. as his corresponding withdrawal from them." These lines are spoken by a Stranger in the midst. it is forever. one asks with an irritation all too pretend to be so assured and reassuring about our destiny? Yet between the extremes of his cosmic megalomania and the disintegration subjected." "Not words. and Whitman's pos- session of all possible selves. it Walt you contain enough. entirely committed to the idea of freedom as something unfinished and still to be made. This cosmic straining loses its much that of apparent pretentiousness once its it becomes being presented as an emblem of the poet's it is we very fears all grandiosity to a clear fears. and Whitman. What self matters. is not the variety of postures the assumes in the poem but the charm and wit and openness which they are assumed. however. becomes close and intimate. I suffer 'd. I . The self is seen as an experiment in potentiality. To be of passion with sure. there is gravity that lends comedy to which the sometimes fluid self is the rich substance of the poem. why dont you out then?" "Agonies are one of am rhyme says let it changes of garments. Whitman occasionally succumbs to rhetorical bluster and a kind of inane benignity— and human. / itself. the quiet that acts as a counter-principle to the poem's surface expansiveness. not custom lull I like. not even the best / your valved voice. and wait. a fear of annihilation which prompts urge to cosmic identification. the elegiac it so exquisitely dignified a tone. a Stranger who is integral to that from which he moves apart." "I was there. as the gayest of "pragmatists. The poem is in this sense the most American of poems.

One thinks of them as moments of twilight. or a place of rest. At his best. a master of the precise. which seems to me his single greatest poem. Anyone who even glances at Song of Myself— anyone who turns to the power with which Section 5 ends ("And mossy descriptive scabs of the worm fence. He reaches such moments in occa- Song of Myself and for almost the whole of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. exposes himself in moment after the struggle all his vulnerability. Here let me simply say a word about one of them. There are passages in his long poems. the language becomes hushed and controlled. A quietness begins. elder. heap'd stones. It between the self is the and everything and hurts and destroys the self. comes to a momentary stop. a master of the kind of writing which by its combination of unfamiliar elements brings us to the surprise of a new insight or observation. in which the struggle of the self to locate a principle of movement. and whole shorter ones. with scrupulous modesty. and in Song of Myself he is frequently at his but I best. Whitman delicate a master of phrasing.weed") or to the very next section in which the grass "the flag of my disposition" and then a few beautiful uncut hair of graves" or to the final sections death ("You bitter hug of mortality") is accepted and yet parried— should see that a poet with a great One gift for is lines later "the where approached and this is the work of language.walt whitman: garrulous to the very last "selves" almost as if they were new clothes— I 141 make the com- parison partly to suggest an excessively American nonchalance hope that after a moment it will also suggest a certain reticence and even shyness. the variety of the solitary. somewhat similar to those shadowy intervals between sleeping and waksional passages of . is and epigrammatic statement. mullein and poke. the poet. the blessed moment when anxiety has not been suppressed or dispelled but brought that resists to its proper subordination. not Walt the kosmos but Whitman of the main jobs for the critic describe. Whitman would be to modes and tones in which Whitman writes.

of the Cradle Endlessly of gained It Rocking it is with the assurance life. These are moments of rare psychic balance. but few writers have managed to create verbal equivalents as beautiful as those of Whitman. everyone knows them in one way or another. Yet even as we sense that behind his absorption with death there are we pockets of the morbid. Theologians without theology by focusing upon those emotions of awe before the external world and of gratitude for being present in it for a few moments. has become customary to speak of such writings as a reflection of the religious sense. when the unconscious is still not without some capacity to extricate when the will is and free yet we are ourselves from it. It is in these moments that he writes most remarkably of death. feel that in such chants as Crossing Brooklyn Ferry the morbid has been. Whitman writes of death in the terms of late romanticism. not exorcised. which all sensitive human beings share. held in control. since it continues to have a claim upon us. the poise that goes beyond the triviality of "accepting" death try to salvage their faith but consists of a readiness to find a kind of peace in the determination not to accept. as an adored agony he is waiting to immerse himself in. . that in Brooklyn Ferry the certainy of his it is to take on the being of those who and muse upon the continuity and the that when he croons his love to death in non-being in the future like himself will stand tragic finality of Out life. We are concerned here with the poise toward which we strain. but resisted.THREE AMERICAN POETS 142 ing. and active present to our sense of things yet is relaxed and uncensorious. But to speak of such feelings as uniquely religious is arrogantly to pre-empt what is pervasively human. It is and breath one of here speaks of life. and thereby made into something other than the great creative paradoxes that when Whitman of death he does so with the accent when he acknowledges itself. At his frequent second best and occasional worst.

This is true in a way. A final note: power It is generally said that Whitman declined War. a man. O needed. Once that is done. Soon to be lost praise is . is 143 an unorthodox one. In his very old age he wrote a twelve-line poem called After the Supper and Talk in which he describes his reluctance to leave— we need hardly be told what it is that he must leave: in poetic after the Civil Shunning. line.walt whitman: "garrulous to the very last The Whitman I have been presenting and surely incomplete. nor could any be sufficient. and a poet. ever so little Farewells. for aye in the Garrulous to the very No . for frank pathos and relaxed gaiety of that final way so loth to depart! last. should end. This is the the . the poems of the later years being obviously more fragmentary and short-breathed than those of the earlier ones. But among the later pieces there are some with the most subtle refinement and humor. would claim nothing more than that I he allows for a usable strategy for getting into the poems. darkness—loth. messages lessening— dimmer the forthgoer s visage . and form. it no doubt be necesary to return to will the other. the public Whitman. postponing severance— seeking to ward off the last word.

as he contemplates the thinning landscape of his world and repeatedly finds himself before closures of outlook and experience. in the company of the moderns. and which it would be impossible to mistake for the work of anyone else. With their temperament and technique he has in common. like the best of most writers. nor is he as difficult in reference and complex But in structure as are the great poets of the 20th Century. he This Frost is shares with them only a little vision of disturbance. is small narrow in scope and seldom the object of popular acclaim. These lyrics mark Frost as a severe and unaccommodating writer: they are ironic. quite unlike the twinkling Sage who in his last years became the darling . Despite a lamentable gift for public impersonations and for shrewdly consolidating his success in a country that cares poetry. This Frost seldom ventures upon major experiments in meter or diction. both as to subject and tone. Frost has remained faithful to modern mind in search of its own about little what Yeats calls "the meanings. There are a dozen or fifteen of his lyrics which register a completely personal voice. almost against his will." ROBERT FROST: A MOMENTARY STAY The best of Robert Frost. he ends. problematic in his style of thought. in quantity. troubled and ambiguous in many of the ways modernist poems are.

To many this will seem an outrageous judgment and to it is neither. What I have said about others a harsh one. lady schoolteachers. word. at all correct. wit and modesty. should be taken as my judgment. Twenty years ago Malcolm Cowley compared Frost to Hawthorne. Emerson and Thoreau and shrewdly noticed the narrowing of sensibility he had come. the thought a display of provincialism. praise. most of them uniting satire and didacticism. In his long poems. his utter faithfulness to the New . breadth and strength: he ties of the great which he is New at his worst. short in all these quali- And the other quality for often praised. they often live in one's as a harshly of as original or distinguished mind. strictest critical standards. to represent: falls Englanders. At his best Frost is 145 a poet of elusiveness. he can even approach a hard and unmannered wisdom.ROBERT FROST: A MOMENTARY STAY of the nation. apart from of his first-rate work. represents the that. somewhat monochromatic picture might. Height. An early long poem. Frost is at his worst." him foreshadows the sly folksiness that to native moralists. of memorable poems dramatic monologues and dialogues set in While neither realistic vignettes as the best of his lyrics. but Frost can and must be said about Measured against the if all but the greatest writers. it is with the cleverness of a man in of holding fast to his limitations. "New Hamp- would later endear and miscellaneous middlebrows. In the least happy sense of the shire. The verse is limp. he does not posture in blank verse nor does he reinforce the complacence of his audience. Frost has also written a small in another vein: northern New number England which present social exhaustion. pseudo-phallic"). the poem is mannered: Frost catering to his idiosyncracies Even when he is clever ("Lately converse with a New York alec / About the new school and minor virtuosities. the manner coy. And sum a few scattered pieces.

" a kind of irrational romanticism that left him a "spiritual drifter. and public declamation ends as mere vanity of pronouncement. when it and arithmetical. illustrates the It is a pose of and sometimes even heartlessness. conservatism declines into smallness of mind." ReadMasque of Reason" where ing such passages as the one in "A God declares— tell Job why I tortured him won't be adding to the torture. It has cross-fertilized with alien philosophies. last decades of his Because life. political fashions changed during the the aged Frost found himself being applauded for precisely the sententia which had previously. reached is New inclined to be narrow is finest its not one of the virtues they knowingly cul- realized that the growth only when England spirit. God crustiness and liberalism. spirit. and with good reason." work— "A Masque of Reason. there of "mistaking whimsical impulse for moral choice. had a way were all of Frost. In these poems conversational tone slips into garrulousness. Job. Much Soil. Frost permits himself such mindless flippancies because he knows . and it reflects the feeling of a writer that he need no longer engage with the problems of his time. They stands alone. been attacked." "Build Mercy" and the bulk of "Steeple Bush"— of Frost's later "A Masque of hardening of his public pose.THREE AMERICAN POETS I46 England tivated. the homespun Horace scrutinizing man. In such writing he is the dealer in packaged whimsies. But now won individualism the admiration of readers his hard-shelled who experience had increasingly to acknowledge that longer do: perhaps that is why in their it own would no they wished to admire it in poetry. strongly tempted to go along with Winters. Frost. we had If this would be no choice but completely to accept the powerful attack launched upon him some years ago by Yvor Winters. wrote Winters. I'm going to And I —one trust was is just it showing off to the Devil.

the picture sharp. a writer of lyrics that often achieve a flawed or partial is clear. Frost the national favorite is a somewhat different He his limitations will figure. often implying a serious criticism of the society in poet lives. especially the uncon- sidered respect good Americans feel obliged to "nature. The appeal of such poems be called a mode of rests upon Frost's use of false pastoral." They yield too readily to the They show common notion for of poetic genius as an unaccountable afflatus: At least don't use your mind too hard. the rhythm "Mending Wall. "Birches/' past easy that characterizes major writing." "The Death of the Hired Man." "The Pasture"— such poems are not contemptible but neither are they first-rate.ROBERT FROST: A MOMENTARY STAY that by now his audience has been trained to admire his faults at the very point It is where they become magnified by a familiar story: the writer come 147 who cleverness. But trust my instinct— I'm a bard. The pastoral seems to turn urban or sophisticated bucolic retreat. facilities depend too much on stock sentiments. what might Traditionally. And they create a music too winsome and soothing: This saying good-by on the edge of the dark And An young in the bark happen to harm the cold to an orchard so Reminds me of all that can orchard away at the end of the farm. They lack the urge to move distinction: the language ingratiating. but it life and away which the in disgust from to celebrate the virtues of does not propose that simple characters or simple virtues. It we rest with either accepts the convention of simplicity in order to demonstrate the complexity of the . pastoral poetry employs an idyllic rural setting with apparently simple characters in order to advance complex ideas and sentiments. does not struggle to over- end by parodying them.

he has his gift to the sincere become a figure deeply integral to our culture. In his lesser poems. our society displays an unflagging nostalgia for the assumed benefits and beauties of country the social realities and the popular images there who Americans millions of live in cities life. All that can be said by way of quali- that not the is a bit who bends whole or best Matters are more complicated of Frost still. Frost comes very close to that. They like to fancy themselves as good rugged country folk. like "Acquainted With the Night. mirroring for pastoral fancies. and found only. the more will many Americans feel a desire some assuaging counter-image— woodsy. wholesome. village whittlers and small-town eccentrics. or suppose they would have a better profitably and happier life if they were. among tight-lipped farmers. but fication." and "Stop- ping by Woods on finest. As a writer misapprehensions of his readers. Frost is theirs. brows who adore him must claim him fication as their in fairness and the middle- be granted the right to own. He in provides them with ennobling texts which both share and reinforce the merse themselves. justifying like its middle-class for need New The which they imand magazine The more a false consciousness in He becomes his audience. It might be convenient.THREE AMERICAN POETS I48 and only in an real. Between a fatal is split: and suburbs preen themselves on homely virtues they neither possess nor could employ if they did. Yorker influences the quality of sophisticated life. inferior kind of romantic poetry is the pretense of the pastoral taken at face value. to a draw a sharp Snowy Evening" line is between are also among his also a dangerous simplihis popular and superior . Over- doing precisely whelmingly urban. is so skillful a performer that some of his most popular poems." "After Apple-Picking. He falls back upon the rural setting as a means of endorsing the common American notion that a special wisdom is to be found. however. And the second-rank Frost is their poet. melancholic— such as Frost can provide.

like Dickens. such as studies in frustration. but the result is would be appropriate only to a poems rely too much on often that the photographic anecdote. The best of this "Home Burial" and "Servant to Servants. they share number of faults. often the frustration of women who no longer bear the weight of suffering. a wisdom resting on moral health. is no "com- no sustaining world in which Town or Winesburg Ohio The men and women of Frost's no Tilbury to define social boundaries. they are figures left over dying culture. He tries to conform to the hard outlines of economical portraiture and to avoid the kind of detail that novel. as has always been the case with those major writers of the past two centuries. country people deprived. Frost lacks the patience. poems are is can isolated. a relatedness to the physical world. and the world they live in by a dead or has begun turning into stone. right in want- a renewal of primary experience. New England predecessor.ROBERT FROST: A MOMENTARY STAY way poems. There munity" behind these they can move: there figures. These poems are falls back upon ready- New England of rural realism: who are poor and by derangement. but events seldom do. Precisely the shading and implication one misses in Frost's dramatic poems are what distinguish the dramatic poems of his immediate Robinson. families torn apart group. I think. Edwin Arlington Though not nearly so brilliant a virtuoso as Frost. both to cultivated persons and to the to speak mass audience. Powerful as some of these dramatic pieces are. The two have a 149 of shading into one another. the involvement." are as a depressed landscape. And part of what admire or look for in ing: ordinary readers Frost's his poetry they are. and the deep concern with moral nuance that are essential a to a writer wishing to evoke human character. In his dramatic poems Frost seldom made pastoral. . who managed Mark Twain and Sholom Aleichem. The events they depict are supposed to speak for themselves.

without the mediation of formal thought or religious sentiments. as they confront basic and obliquely notice the special dislocations of our time. can be unnerving— they offer neither security nor solace. he is writing of distinguished lyrics. Frost achieves a cleaner verbal surface and a more abundant in moral detail on their performances as dramatic poets." "Rembrandt to Rem- brandt" and "The Three Taverns'— poems beside which Frost's work in the same genre seems stiff in portrayal and crude in psychology. usually extremes of loneliness and psychic exhaustion. Robinson seems a major poet and Frost a minor one. observing some natural event or place with a pure sense of the dynamics of reception. it is only. post-social. now supremely hard on himself. They set out to record such tremors of being in their purity and isolation: as if through a critical encounter with the physical world one could move beyond the weariness of selfhood and into the repose of matter. To read ruthlessly these poems. gives close and hard battle to his own experience.THREE AMERICAN POETS 150 Robinson writes from a fullness of experience awareness that Frost cannot equal. For while Frost can be a master of nuance. also knows that the troubles very intensity with which these moments are felt makes cer- . But Frost." "The Wandering Jew. They seek to capture those moments when we confront experience in its bareness. And Compared that he does in his small number is strictly when he and sentimentalism have been for sheer human life. but Robinson and insight. commands No and a tragic other American poet so rich a sense of moral life as does Robinson in "Eros Turannos. but he lacks almost entirely Robinson's of the middle range of experience. or almost only. purer diction. when he speaks in his own voice. They are the work of a poet who. The command life of Frost's and the perspective from which it is poems is seen a desperate one. Frost has a strong grasp on melodramatic ex- tremes of behavior. bears down with full seriousness Here the archness purged.

" in Height for What It "Never Again Would Song Be the Same. with the necessity of shaped meaning." "The Most of Bird's It. They present a scene in the natural world. in natural process. heal-all" how an albino spider perched on a "white forms a dumb-show of purposeless terror. pools will "Spring Pools". once again its which the narrator dition in 151 and that what then remains is the prisoner. They focus upon a of intense realization." "The Oven Bird." "Provide." "Neither Out Far Nor in Deep. but more often one that brings the "I" of the poem starkly against a falls upon a drama of enThe event or situation—how spring be sucked dry by the absorptive power of trees. They conclude with the starting both painful reflection that the central must forever spiral back to its point— cannot be dissolved. the effect and final. in "Design"." "The Lovely Shall be Choosers. ." "Dust of Snow. a lighting-up of down to wisdom." "Design. They attempt not a but an attack upon it moment hope and a dimming- full seizure of an event. Approaching a con- own strains to achieve a sense of one- ness with the universe and thereby lose himself in the delight of merger. from the oblique. familiar self. brief. And in their somewhat rueful turning back to the discipline of consciousness." "Happiness Makes Up Lacks in Length.ROBERT FROST: A MOMENTARY STAY tain their rapid dissolution." "Acquainted With the Night. these lyrics return. Frost's superior lyrics include: "Storm Fear/' "An Old Man's Winter Night." "Desert Places. Provide. so that the stress counter and withdrawal." "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. and they demand from the reader These poems are a sharp recognition of their brevity. That Frost sees and quandary of selfhood— that own is struggles with this it dilemma seems to me one reason for say- modern compared unfavor- ing he inhabits the same intellectual climate as those writers whose presumed disorder is often ably to his supposed health." "Spring Pools. chastened. sometimes one that is "purely" natural and apparently unmarred by a human observer." "Directive" and a few others.

delight Despite the critical in poetry. trees that To darken by any brook or river. chill and shiver. unaided.THREE AMERICAN POETS 152 how moment encompasses an obPlaces". apprehending a moment in nature. Exactness of description can be very moving. As a rendering of a natural event. the flowers beside them. Perhaps that is what Frost meant when he said that poetry "begins in and ends in wisdom. but that will also. the poem is precise. merely a snapshot of the external world: These pools that. at first. through the very perfection of completeness. the flowers beside them soon be gone. in "Storm Fear"—is rendered with a desire to make a picture that will seem complete in itself. along a line of speculation. still reflect without defect. "Spring Pools" is an example of a poem that seems. in "Desert may fearful storm not. be able to rescue itself. Frost's greatest poems. . though The total sky almost And like Will like And yet not out But up by roots The in forests. are those which end upon a coda of reflection. expert and complete. to bring dark foliage on. there dogma which looks down upon statement nothing inherently superior about the is of these kinds. have it in their nature and be pentup buds summer woods- Let them think twice before they use their powers To blot out and drink up and sweep away These flowery waters and these watery flowers From snow that melted only yesterday. how a family caught in a the loneliness of a winter server unawares. carry an aura of suggestion beyond Frost allows for the sensuous pleasure of itself. not to linger over scene or pleasure but to move beyond them. but he soon cuts since the point is it short. as it first happens." These lyrics can be placed on a spectrum ranging from a few that seem entirely focussed upon a natural event to those which move past the event toward explicit statement.

quires statements. but beyond that. and the critical problem in regard to Frost." he extent that he his Poetry has always been many modernist guilty of a modernist is means writers dogma remarks as an adverse full of statement. It is a poem about and problems dissolves for descriptive self-sufficiency. in its how much he can muster in defending the poem against ence. When Cleanth Brooks writes that "Frost does not think through his images. his ability to make the statement seem an adequate climax to the remarkable descrip- The problem tive writing that has preceded approached with a priori notions tween imagery and statement it. not in any hierarchy of value which everything into the "spiritual. but Frost does not cross the poem. to the texture of the to which the statement and notable in diction. involving the ways in which they seem both close and ultimately distant. the man equivalence between nature and to the description quickly brings a writer edge of the sentimental. who he re- to the criticism. or any other writer. and the extent right serious in thought . the poem— partly through a skillful play with prepositions in the tenth line— suggests how hard yet necessary it is that the brief love- youth be sucked dry to form the strength of our liness of Where poem moves beyond and implication is in its problematic use of a parallelism between natural event and human experience. is not one to be about the relationship be- in verse. Most of Frost's superior lyrics and one measure of their success end with is direct statement." but in a poised equality of perceiving. leaves to the reader the problem of what symbolic import to infer and tact it. fulfillment or irony. hinges on the extent to which the concluding statement is related. is in its own through logical poem. of thinking. An implied prime. even the poetry of are supposed to confine them- selves to symbolic indirection.ROBERT FROST: A MOMENTARY STAY and so it is 153 in "Spring Pools". the poignancy of youth. his infer- spring pools.

oh. is All animals are smothered in their I in the looked into going past. The loneliness includes And lonely as it is me A blanker whiteness With no far. the poem is very but there follows the conclud- fine. the ground almost covered smooth in snow. ing stanza— They cannot scare me with their empty spaces Between stars— on stars where no human race is. nothing to express. brings observer: it be less— will of benighted snow expression. in a very human Snow falling and night falling fast. I have it in me so much nearer home To scare myself with my own desert places. "The Oven Bird" presents a picture of a bird which in mid-summer of the lapsed spring: sings loudly. as it a neat illustration of Frost's characteristic and weaknesses. strengths lines is but to In most of the lyrics I have named Frost handles this problem with assurance. unawares. as if in celebration . but the weakness of the last four due not to the fact that Frost ventures a statement. the poem is is Cut out the a perfect small lyric. stanza and "Desert Places" stands. fast I But a few weeds and stubble showing The woods around it have it— it am lairs. theirs. In a field And moving way. the quality of the statement he ventures.THREE AMERICAN POETS 154 In "Desert Places" Frost starts with a description of a natural scene and then. —in which Frost collapses into the kind of coyness one has come final to associate with his second-rank poems. too absent-spirited to count. that loneliness Will be more lonely ere Thus last.

And comes that other fall we call the fall. and the theme. re- sembles that of "Spring Pools. Then come the concluding lines. luminary clock against the sky further Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor I have been one acquainted with the night. showers The writing here." The bird is assigned. also to the lines that immediately follow. The familiar "Acquainted With the Night" owes a good part of a man I its have stood When Came far streets alone at still night— and stopped the sound of away an feet interrupted cry over houses from another street But not —but haunting quality not merely to Frost's evocation of walking the to call me back or say goodbye. something of the poet's stoical resilience: The bird would cease and be as other birds But that he knows in singing not to sing. Many of Frost's first-rate lyrics unite with similar success a rapid passage of description and a powerful concluding state- ment. as a pleasing conceit and not a sentimental indulgence. right. garded as an epitaph of his a statement that can be re- whole career: The question that he frames in all but words Is what to make of a diminished thing. in which Frost achieves a triumph of modulated rhetoric. though treated with greater toughness.ROBERT FROST: A MOMENTARY STAY 155 He says the early petal-fall is past When pear and cherry bloom went down in On sunny days a moment overcast. both vivid and witty. . lines of enig- matic statement indicating an ultimate dissociation between the natural world and And One human desire: still at an unearthly height. is satisfying enough.

and perhaps not of any poetry worth reading a second time. and then a somewhat broken or subdued return to reflectiveness. "sensible" they are not. quite different from "ordinary speech. These lyrics speak of the hardness world. natural its re- of the cer- tainty of physical dissolution. Auden it has become a commonplace to say. If anything. does. quiet sensible. Try reading "Spring Pools" or "The Most of It" in a voice approximating to ordinary speech: it cannot be done. H. They demand a rhythm of enticement and immersion. tokens of benevolence. Frost writes as a modern poet who shares in the loss of firm assumptions and seeks. that Frost's style "approximates to ordi- nary speech" and that "the music and is always that of the speaking seem an adequate way of describing Frost's lyrics. They are poems that must be read with a restrained intoning. Quiet these lyrics may be. to provide some tentative basis for existence. through a disciplined observation of the natural world and a related sequel of reflection. they are antipathetic to the notion that the universe is good or delightful or hospitable The symbols to our needs. It is a way of reading enforced by their structure and purpose: the structure and purpose of wisdom-poems." This does not philosophy nor wanderings in romanticism.THREE AMERICAN POETS 156 In discussing such poems as W. "against confusion. but also of the refreshment . as in transcendentalist poetry." as he once remarked. Frost's best lyrics aim at the kind of wisdom that is struck aslant and not to be settled into the comforts of an intellectual system." The best of his poems are neither indulgences in homely voice. short of violating the rhythm of the poem. a hastening surrender to unreflective nature— which means a rising and tensing of the voice. of its and recalcitrance of the absolute indifference to our needs and fusal to lend itself to an allegory of affection." though milder than declamation. It is the wisdom of a mind confessing its nakedness. some "momentary stay. inherently they establish in relation to the natural world are not. caught in its aloneness.

Instead of proving human when it neared In the And And someone else additional to him. Pushing the crumpled water up ahead. move on. all the voice in answer he could wake Was but the mocking echo of his own For From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake. Some morning from the boulder-broken beach He would Is not its cry out on own life. then in the far distant water splashed. and bethemes cause is it one of the greatest poems ever written by an is American: He thought he kept the universe alone. And nothing ever came of what he cried Unless it was the embodiment that crashed cliffs talus on the other side. because it seems best to illustrate what I have been trying to say. As a great buck it powerfully appeared. ." which dramatizes our desire for cosmic solace and the consequence of discovering we cannot have it. But after a time allowed for it to swim. And landed pouring like a waterfall. And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread. that what it wants love back in copy speech. in consciousness. original response. I shall end by quoting this poem. because it is the kind of farewell that Frost might have appreciated. The lyric that best illustrates these "The Most of It. 157 brief submission to the alien- always provided one recognizes the need not stopping for rest but remaining locked. alone.ROBERT FROST: A MOMENTARY STAY that can ness to be found through a of nature. But counter-love. And forced the underbush—and that was all.

Stevens was the kind of poet a good who wrote methodically and deal. the blessings of inspiration. much insistently of a piece. flaunter of rare chromatic enemy of the day's routine. what ultimate religion. under the pressure of time. afficionado of strange hats. even the gamesman of epistemology words. Writing verse seems to have become for him a means of wresting convictions of selfhood: the visible token of that wrote about. the masks of Wallace Stevens are wearing away. explorer of Yucatan. now seem as preparations for a homelier reality. Crispin's pilot. —these roles yield to Stevens' "basic reflecting upon for that "inmost allegiance" an American poet slate. would be proper to a wholly free and disillusioned spirit? —George Santayana Gradually. apparently without waiting for. though always delighted to receive.WALLACE STEVENS: ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE BLACKBIRD What inmost allegiance. His work both in its is which he therefore very success and failures." age and searching solitary lives in a lonely by which men might live out their years in thousands of Hartfords. and not because they have become obsolete or been proven deceptive but because they to have figured mainly Gaudy mystifier. .

that his early admirers could hardly avoid thinking of this world as primarily a sensuous landscape. the second too academic. the main job familiar with his decor: the exotic places. in the hands of new exegetes." In an early study of Stevens. the tropical language. could be maintained only if one focused on the shorter poems and neglected "Sunday Morning" and "The Comedian as Letter C. it hardly went very far toward penetrating his deeper concerns. and was regarded as a series of variations on the philosophical theme of the relation between reality and imagination. hoots. since at his prolific second-best he had a it way now of sounding like a versifying philosopher. while true and useful. the apparent fin-de-siecle estheticism. far from being mere exotica. as usual. Stevens' poetry. Later there was a tendency to read Stevens as if he were a versifying philosopher. It was a view that lingered into Mari- anne Moore's description of Stevens as "a delicate apothecary and precipitates"— though in that last word there saw more than she said. flip nose- So luxuriant did the world of his poems seem. and words that ran through the poems. and from neither could one gain a sense of what might be urgent or particular in Stevens' work. While this was a way of reading Stevens that could yield genuine pleasures. so free of traditional moral demands. Blackmur quickly saw that the strange cries. were needlessly limiting as aids toward a fuller apprehension was too narrow. and even when confined to Harmonium of savors is a hint that Miss Moore.ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE BLACKBIRD After the publication of was of his critics to become Harmonium 159 in 1923. of the poetry: the first Poetry written mainly about the writing of poetry— could that be the ground for any large claim as to the interest . P. the cheerful jibing at bourgeois norms. a misfortune for which he was himself partly to blame. the thumbing of his titles. was said to be about the writing of poetry. were oblique and humorous tokens of a profoundly serious effort to grapple with the distinctively "modem" in modern experience. Both of these statements. R.

And that is why it seem neither a paradox nor a conceit to say that in Stevens' poetry the social world upon history is is but dimly apprehended while a perspective brilliantly maintained: history as through his consciousness of living and writing it filters at a given The disorder that occupies the foreground of so much modern literature is calmly accepted by Stevens. appearing in his work not as a dominant subject but as a pressure upon time. At the base of Stevens' work. though sharply re- which has troubled so many persons in the twentieth century. but . it. was unfortunate rhetoric overruning thought. gift for portraiture-in-depth good many modern examine society closely or even notice of time. an assault was not prepared as a poet Stevens Lacking that "novelistic" is in with a relatively explicit so valuable to a to confront. poem the result. In a somewhat similar sponsive to the sensitive crisis way of belief Stevens. OwYs Clover he did write a politics. all subjects. he sees no need to linger before the evi- dence: there is enough already. A any length trained con- noisseur in chaos. as he later acknowledged. directly or deeply involved in has begun to move beyond it. Only rarely does it emerge in his poems as a dramatized instance or fiction. .THREE AMERICAN POETS l60 command from Stevens might Imagination literate readers? and reality— did that not increase the peril of regarding Stevens gambit as a shuffler of epistemological categories? Neither enough. another way is needed is for looking at the blackbird. as a force barely acknowledged yet always felt. upon a subject which which poets. lies a pressing awareness of human disorder in our time— but an awareness radically different from that of most writers. . Stevens seldom and tries almost never manages to evoke the modern disorder through When representations of moral conduct or social conflict. is not himself it. Stevens does not it directly for he simply absorbs "the idea" of it. He knows and feels When he writes that .

true. ." clear that Stevens is relatively free from religious or ideological nostalgia: The When we that there comes a time can mourn no more over music That much truth is so is motionless sound. . Without shadows.ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE BLACKBIRD The death of Satan was a tragedy For the imagination. Perhaps they are also a phemous. with him. clearly secular. The At flesh. Only occasionally does one find in Stevens that intense yearning for a real or imaginary past which has become so . without magnificence. will soon be constant/' Yet disbelief / Blares if one compares him to Eliot and the later Auden. and then hopes that emotional equivalents can be found in One's self . Here. many blue phenomena the force of these lines is . it becomes describes himself as He propitious place. releasing of comic humaneness. A capital Negation destroyed him in his tenement And. and the mountains of one's land. as elsewhere in Stevens. Stevens can resemble the typical day (or the idea of the typical intel- intellectual) and "A most inappropriate man / In a most uncan appear to regret that "The epic of oftener and soon. . . a secular imagination measures the loss that it suffers from the exhaustion of religious myths and symbols. There comes a time when the waltz Is no longer a mode of desire. dirt. the it is the stone. since l6l an attitude blas- little hard to imagine a religious writer making it is quite this complaint about the consequences of the death of Satan. a mode Of revealing desire and is empty of shadow. times. lectual of his the bones.

THREE AMERICAN POETS l62 prevalent an attitude in our century. not alone from the esthetic point of view. of his esti- own work: Poetry Exceeding music must take the place Of empty heaven and its hymns. but for what they reveal." where the guitar serves as the instrument of poetry. for the support they give. . its comic modesty. in stolid." which do seem to deal explicity with one belief. own Stevens creations is not directly affected by the usual religious or intellectual uncertainties. In the Blue Guitar. lovely in . of is instead a recog- where we happen to be. Yet Stevens Comedian is too much as Letter of a realist. . Ourselves in poetry must take their place. its since in the absence of a belief in . . to . finds a recapitulation of a progress Stevens has already taken. new burden on Stevens' reckoning. Even in those poems. the mind that still moves within the ing belief yet strives for a direction and orbit of momentum some wanof its own. to suppose that the crisis of belief can be quickly over- come either by private decision or public commitment. the mind turns and examines them. but in learning to write as he were a forerunner of "The crisis of Man With if in his poetic person post-crisis. There both sensitive and nition. not in freeing himself entirely from the belief or its emotional aftereffects (for to claim that would be impudent). such as "Sunday Morning" and "The Comedian as Letter C. imposes a the poet God. And this. Stevens relates this role to an mate. . at least not nearly so much as by the predicament— and possibilities— of the mind experiencing them. too C") of the sheer in "The human exist- aware (as inertia of ence. for what they validate and invalidate. post-ideological man. Even in the chatter of your guitar.

what shall about the but rather. How shall we live with and then perhaps beyond the crisis of belief?— it is to confront this question that Stevens keeps returning to the theme of reality and imagination. but because his main concern is with discovering and. Stevens knew very well. . such— interested in epistemological forays as is nor because he is fascinated with the creative process— though that too." Only here and there an old sailor. of personality. is the poetry. taking easily on a tangent what other writers can hardly bear to face." by "white night-gowns. With socks of lace And beaded ceintures. Or green with yellow rings. enacting the possibilities for human self-renewal in an impersonal and recal- citrant age. the age can be. Not merely because he though he is. through his poetry. so one's identity obsessively rehearsed in premise from which Stevens moves to Stevens does write directly about such topics. "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock. poem. None of them are strange. often with lightness and humor. we do Stevens poses as his ultimate question not. the loss of the self in problem of discovering din of public claims— all modern literature. How recalcitrant that The fragmentation social roles. In this world "People are not going / To dream of flat baboons and periwinkles.ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE BLACKBIRD 163 Accepting the condition of uncertainty and solitariness as unavoidable once man has freed himself from the gods." ordinariness and sober nights. how shall we with live and perhaps beyond it? And one reason for thinking of Stevens as a comic poet is that he makes this choice of questions. crisis of belief. When it is this. are haunted of its amid a is An early little about houses that for Stevens the uniform None are green. Or purple with green rings.

I hope drunken will not it sailor seem suggest that this frivolous to embodies a central intention of Stevens' mind. but man whose eye is its to the in Stevens' poetry the eye is the central organ of consciousness. They are written to rediscover. Catches tigers In red weather. they try to enlarge our margin of auton- omy. neither exhorting nor needing to exhort but demonstrating through poetry the possibilities of consciousness. he dreaming still keeps before him the figure of that old sailor in red weather. trade stands outside the perimeter of busy . and that when Stevens in his later poems turns to such formidable matters as inquiries into the nature of reality or the relation between the perceiving eye and the perceived object. Each nuance of perspective noted in a Stevens poem matters not merely in as a comic prod to animation. And nudge own right. they are incitements our sense of what to intensifying remains possible even today. The elaborate conceptual maneuvers of Stevens' longer poems have as their objective not any conclusion in the realm of thought but a revelation in the realm of experience. his among other work loom the defeats and losses of the century. but also as if the idea of poetry were a synecdoche for every potential of consciousness. and help us rediscover. Time and again Stevens turns to the clause. he needs to be read not only on the level of explicit statement. a almost dead. because in the And he can do background of this. reasons. Drunk and asleep in his boots. as if poetry were that which can help liberate us from the tyranny of mechanical is life and slow dying. When Stevens writes about the writing of poetry. Stevens a revolutionist of the imagination. "It is as if .THREE AMERICAN POETS 164 one who by age and dullness . the human gift for self -creation. .

can slide into gifts as a stylist means of reaching to his deeper formula and habit. . His extraordinary as a aggravate rather than lessen this danger. And perhaps the greatest weakness in his poems is a failure to extend the possibilities of self-renewal beyond solitariness or solitary engagements with the natural world and into the life of men living together.ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE BLACKBIRD . a moralist— a moralist of seeing. which then perception. since they allow him to keep spinning radiant phrases long after mind has stopped moving. the 165 mind And as it followed by another opening of is these. has written some of his most poignant his Stevens' habits lines about this very limitation: "I cannot bring a world quite . The reader accustomed to and devices may even respond too well to the poems. no matter how it may be seen. At other times Stevens' insistence upon human possibility can itself become mechanical. and thereby makes" its own life There may be thirteen or three hundred and thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird. . a ruthlessness in the demand for joy. Stevens' use of the theme of reality and imagination concerns. But in his relaxed and Stevens is. and the mind behind the eye. I think. but what matters is that the eye. . (Yet Stevens. What also matters is that the mind behind the eye should remember that the blackbird." for that clause charts a characteristic turning or soaring of his mind. it a moralist of style this way sorts: might well take unhurried way I may seem to be making Stevens into which readers awed by his urbanity of to be implausible. should encompass the life of these possible ways and the excitement of their variety. are openings to the reaches out toward drama of new modes of awareness from moment to moment. is always ' there in its Putting mysterious tangibility. for their characteristic inflections and themes have a way of setting off responses which are proper to Stevens' work as a whole but have not been earned by the particular poem. humorous with self-knowledge. in turn. Like any other convention.

however. Nothing of Throw its jocular procreations? the lights away. It may be a sheer pleasure in the freshness of the physical world: How should you walk in that space and know Nothing of the madness of space. And bearded bronze. act of discovery by which sentience is regained can Be the finding of a satisfaction. a woman dancing. and may Be of a man skating. as if self gains . Stevens transforms each variant of perception into a validation of the self. Be no chimera of morning. Sometimes the self is to achieve renewal by a sympathetic merger with the outer world: One must have a mind of winter To regard the frost and the boughs Of the pine trees crusted with snow At other times the withdrawal. "It's a strange courage / you give me. The poem of the act of the mind. . / I sing a hero's head. Half-man." Stevens quotes William Carlos Williams' lines. a kind of assurance from entire to grant the outer world its own being. ancient star" and then proceeds to tell the star: Lend no part to any humanity You in its own light. When . but not a man. The that suffuses half-star. / Although I him as I can / And reach through him almost to man. In "Nuance on a Theme by Williams. Nothing must stand Between you and the shapes you take the crust of shape has been destroyed. a woman Combing." large eye / patch At his best.) THREE AMERICAN POETS l66 round. . / Although I patch it as I can.

Here. single sounds. A gold-feathered bird Sings in the palm. shape to all human meaning. are Stevens' last probings. last of Stevens' work. the Whatever self it had. the last quiet efforts to realize life through connecting with whatever The idea of the world. poems the cleared mind listens for solitary sounds in winter. like Chinese paintings in their simplicity and Tightness. . feeling. that has given Reading these of discovery. became the self That was her song. be- contemplation: The palm at the end of the mind. rises In the bronze distance. comes the now final object of as lucid as its is not human. Beyond the last thought. for she was the maker And 167 sea. if anywhere. These finally in Stevens' last astonishing poems. a foreign song. without any Without human poems one encounters again the theme the desire to transform and renew. .ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE BLACKBIRD In the "Idea of Order at the outer world by endowing Key West" it the self "takes over" with a perceptual form: She was the single artificer of the world In which she sang. the "ultimate religion" of our secular comedy: The honey of heaven may or may not come. is the answer to Santay ana's question. And when she sang. waiting patiently for death. But that of earth both comes and goes at once. . .

.

Some European moderns GEORGE Some GISSING: POET OF FATIGUE writers are born with place abrasions of daily its vulgarities life one skin too few. which anyone had chooses to do his work against the comforts and persuasions of the world. for them. they simply endure. . plaint. They compose their books by registering with a petulant honesty the blows that circumstances have thrust upon them. they When to To them they speak their com- do so in the hope that the wounds suffered by a defenseless self are not merely haphazard accumulations of pain but have some ultimate. withdraw from the troubles of human existence seems neither possible nor desirable. and In their relationship to society they neither accept nor rebel. perhaps redeeming significance. attack nor retreat. The common- become a torment seem a purposeful affront. Forever on the brink of self-pity. one feels they exemplify the notorious intuition of Thomas Hardy that in the modern era men have begun to lose the will to live: quite as if there were a thinningout of blood which makes us creatures forever subject to the complication of our nerves. in reading their poems and novels. These writers are not nor as a rule precious. that stock of animal better have who spirits. esthetes. they seem deficient in that crude energy. And sometimes.

He was the Gissing. except in one book. the late-Victorian writer about remarked that he is whom Virginia Woolf has neatly "one of those imperfect novelists through whose books one sees the life of the author faintly covered by the lives of fictitious people. a pharmaceutical chemist with . kept Gissing from becoming a first-rate writer— for the first-rate writer can usually of his own move beyond the narrowness. life. the life of utterly miserable. His was the kind have been drawn from one of those harsh that were being written all of life that could naturalistic novels through Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. town of Wakefield 1857. Gissing achieved a certain fame toward the end of his career: he was praised by literary men so different as the radical English novelist H.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 170 The kind am of figure I sketching here a distinctly "mod- is ern" one. During most of sing was his forty-five years. But by he survives his as little books are literature who is still more than a name. G. George Robert Gissing was born in Yorkshire. His fate in the histories of English be respectfully dismissed to or now as a morose writer turned for his material to the city poor but could not present them with the vitality and humor that had distin- guished the great English novelists earlier in the century. Wells and the conservative American critic Paul Elmer More. or penalties. perhaps the sole talent he cultivated with zest and released with abundance. but far from the it. and only one two of in print. and he finds a real-life model in George Gissing. the closeness between his personal experience and his literary work points to limits of imagination which. eldest son of Thomas in the on November 22. Indeed. England. There is whole of some truth in this view of Gissing." Respected though seldom popular during his lifetime. He had George Gis- a positive talent for un- happiness.

G. and from common in mid-nineteenth-cen- him the novelist inherited a (A recent critic. was one of those earnest free-thinking who were fairly tury England. Wells. an aloofness from ordinary people. "did not associate with the children of any other shopkeepers in Wakefield. H. has wittily complained that in his novels Gissing seems often to imply that "the sole end of life was that men and women should read. repeatedly winning prizes in school. never departed from him. and encouragement had quickened his imagination and given it was the cardinal formative influence of his father's voice. there is an irremediable conflict. has remarked that the father life. The tone of his never departed from him. between a disinterested commitment to scholarship and a need to share in the common pleasures of mankind." Gissing would later recall. particularly if it was poetry he read. when he read aloud. Gissing would always cling to the notion that between the life of the mind and the life of the senses. his father's gestures. which took the form not so much of the usual class snobbery as of a more self-conscious and precarious kind of cultural fastidiousness. Walter almost compulsive bookishness. and discovering in himself that love for the Greek and Latin classics which would be the only source of intellectual stability in his life. fierce. his father died. in a lively sketch of Gissing. his father's gestures. its enduring bias for literary The elder Gissing autodidacts activity.") Gissing also inherited from his father a certain feeling of superiority toward the mass of men. When the boy was thirteen. Yet it meant he would also suffer the emotions of premature loneliness that so often afflict an unusually bright boy.GEORGE GISSING: 171 toward culture which a flimsy education kept him aspirations from POET OF FATIGUE satisfying. The mother managed to send him to a decent Quaker school. his father's voice." One result was that the boy became something of a prodigy. "We children. Allen. and from .

his letters display a gravity beyond what can be expected from even the most serious of The characteristic instabilities of his temperament were now beginning to show themselves: moments of high excitement in discovering some natural beauty or literary excellence followed by periods of depression in which he would be equally savage to his fellows and himself. and briefly imprisoned.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 172 he went on there. he was by the shabby-genteel poverty But of his youth. and soon he was committing a series of petty thefts in the men's locker room at Owens College in order to provide Nell with money. whose training had— in the good and bad senses— been too fine. Nell Harrison. It is of his day and novels. of him. he led a bleak and deprived existence. soon to be the temperament of a man. Gissing soon found himself in the position of the edu- cated young man no longer at home in the world of his lower- middle-class origins yet lacking those opportunities and graces would enable him to enter the world of common enough to the England even of our own. sufferings. and fell in love— with a seventeen-year-old Her plight stirred his imagination. a Had there been for the world. that his very growth of character. to prostitute. all of precisely such a too vulnerable Gissing soon by young man. in fact. unfitted him H. dismissed from school. Driving himself to win honors. in one of Gissing's better that a dilemma Exile. cultivation. Wells's notable phrase. . so boys. as a scholarship student to Owens College in Manchester." money enough for Gissing to retire to the of a gentleman-scholar producing an occasional essay life Greek metrics. his loneliness. He was caught. in bringing out both gifts and weaknesses. G. It was the temperament of a boy. at fifteen. Born in he describes with a notable objectivity the humiliations and embarrassments Made self-pity. deformed as on he would have been spared the miseries ahead he might never have written novels at all. He became. in man who "had no social nerve. the point where he indulged himself in fantasies of rescue.

a robust will or nervous system not being among to his brother dated 1881. even. . edge of starvation. Two make a little years later he married Nell Harrison. some illusion or at any rate some specific attraction. complaining over his inability to provide the popular entertainments she had been taught to desire." left for it. . As the domestic situation grew worse Gissing . and . indeed so completely nervous that life. endowments. This is circumstances. of home . . for which he never had words.. restrained and tedious. earned a few dollars by writing mediocre stories for a Chicago paper. but he found that hard to do. settling to his life-long career as a writer of serious fiction and trying to money on the side as a tutor. of which no record remains. In a his letter he reveals something of the out- come: I am getting most frightfully nervous. In 1877 he was back in London. greatly the consequence. . . The puts me I dread the slightest variation from my humdrum doorbell ringing. suppose a perfectly peaceful and intellectually-active life is one of those blessings I shall only be looking forward to until I there is no time man can work. . or the postman's sudden knock into palpitation and head-swimming. some charm. taught school in Waltham. His home training had made him repressive to the explosive pitch: he felt that to make love to any woman he could regard as a social equal would be too elaborate. I know. Nell proved herself a shrew. . Wells has written shrewdly about the marriage: Clearly there was for him something about this woman. very . Massachusetts. "the night cometh when no . tried to con- tinue writing. and several times approached the in America. and after a few months of happiness their into a predictable routine of quarrels and life fell miseries. . . . GEORGE POET OF FATIGUE GISSING: The upshot was 173 that Gissing left England to spend a year where he wandered about. while Gissing could find neither energy nor language for counterattack.

Soon. the own experience. and the extent to which he later exaggerated the privations of his early years in London— these quite resolved by are questions debated but not his biographers. whether to him. Our addiction to psychology should not prompt us to forget that the reason some people do not eat enough is that they cannot get enough to eat." The book brought him no success and little notice. a girl of poor background and scant education.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 174 The prediction as to his future was all too accurate. How poor Gissing really was during the he invited some of the miseries that came 1880's. of which one or two are still worth reading. In 1891 Gissing married again. were not merely imagined by Gissing but had a substantial basis in also suggests that the physical hungers of Harold his Biffen. this time Edith Underwood. one of the earliest attempts by an English novelist to life of the working class from "the inside. yet somehow Gissing did manage to write. Again. did he see her again. loneliness. After a time Nell left Gissing and returned 1888. over- work. In 1880 he published amateurish but touching Workers in the his first novel. elements in Gissing's character that would prompt him to compound his career as a serious the difficulties made inevitable by but unpopular writer. to her old when he was ways on the streets. Gissing was a good-looking man and intensely drawn to women. There may have been. the Dawn. as they were to him— the power of sexuality to mold and destroy a . and not until called to a slum to claim her body. and the torment of trying to cope with a wife who kept sinking into alcoholism and illness. however. who at first seemed exactly the sweet young thing Gissing thought he wanted. his life was present the unrelievedly hellish: a mixture of poverty. All during these years. but the evidence Edwin Reardon and two novelists in New Grub Street. she revealed herself as a vulgar and irritable woman. but in the next decade he published seven more novels. his characteristic mistake. and undoubtedly were.

he turned to poor uneducated girls. energetic. he could not imagine such ladies as possible wives. concerning the relations between men and women. Consciously he aspired toward ladies of inand refinement. precisely the kind who at first would be awed by his cultivated manner and later become impatient. George like own life continued to be make money he kept driving himself Meredith. he could write in a letter to his brother that the purpose of Workers in the Dawn was to launch a strong (possibly too plain spoken) attack upon certain features of our present religious and social life which to me appear . but as a man haunted by a sense of social inadequacy and doomed to a life of poverty. but happiness that comes too late has a bitter taste. than he last years of his life he did find some happiness with an intelligent Frenchwoman. perhaps a resi- of Victorian morality. and H. Wells. G. insecure. By the 1890's Gissing could be described as a well-known novelist. He end Gissing man he had died in a village in the Pyrenees in 1903. and self-pitying always been.GEORGE POET OF FATIGUE GISSING: man's ideal ambitions can be there was also in his due mind a 175 throughout his work. But felt painful confusion. and distellectuality appointed. he to regard himself as a radical in politics and an agnostic in religion. and in order to to write more books. was still and at the the nervous. II By the time Gissing published his had come first novel in 1880. and not yet corroded by the skeptical pessimism of his later years. Young. In the of greater length. and books should have. fervent. though his income remained faction in being admitted to the friendship of famous writers small. bitter. Yet his wretched. He found satis- company and sometimes the Thomas Hardy. and now and again formed friendships with women of this kind. To assuage his strong sexual needs and his equally strong needs for solace and companionship.

above all. I plainly seek to show the . Herein I am a mouthpiece of the advanced Radical party.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS I76 highly condemnable. In another letter to his brother. but neither well thought out nor deeply imagined as. the "scientific" sociology of Auguste Comte which proposed to chart the transformations of society in objective and measurable terms. to the neglect of the terrible social evils. As ." I shall never write a book which does not keep all these ends in view. I attack the criminal negligence of governments which spend their time over matters of relatively no importance. hardly resembling the kind of disciplined party that would soon be created by European socialists. . by due also . regards religious matters. and... Gissing's ism was a genuine and often generous enthusiasm. "free us. to show the hideous injustice of our whole system of society. moral and mental) of our poor classes. . for it was example. nobility of a faith dispensing with all we are accustomed to call religion. the socialism of William Morris and George Bernard would social- Shaw be. to preach an enthusiasm for just and high ideals in an age of unmitigated egotism and "shop. to give light upon the plan for altering it. These sentences both echo and anticipate— not in the rashness of their concluding vow—a great least of all many state- ments of idealism made by young writers upon discovering the The radicalism of Gissing's apprentice years some months to attend working-men's clubs in world's injustice. led him for London where after a time but the significance of for these clubs were he began making public speeches. wrote Gissing. For a year or two Gissing was drawn to Positivism. and having for its only creed a belief in the possibility of intellectual and moral progress. Gissing wrote with greater intensity of feeling: I mean to bring home to people the ghastly condition (material. and would also. vague in outlook and loose in mem- bership. this activity still should not be exaggerated.

now marked his treatment of those "just and high ideals'' he had once said would animate all his books. was closely allied to the "religion of hu- manity" which flourished among English writers in the half of the nineteenth century fer the and which attempted to trans- emotions of worship from the traditional ends of tutional religion to the manizing the life of more immediate latter insti- possibilities for hu- man. "it will be a rather savage attack on workingclass aims and capacities. This. which are to be artistically. often to was. withdrawn as it were from the immediate interests of the moment. Both his character and his experience disposed ward him to- a conservative aloofness: —intellectually. a novel published in 1886. I rather think. he said. and the afflictions of others are to be material for observation. is at last the final stage of my development. more authentic despair of a sensitive man who can neither yield himself to the awards and penalties of life nor keep himself safely at a distance from them.. . if not much else. I find myself suddenly possessed with a great calm. in Gissing's understanding of it. . A major impulse of his character— the impulse to withdraw from the threatening arena of human relationships— blotted out those sentiments of fra- which he had been attracted in his youth. but temperamentally. .GEORGE GISSING: attention to its which we are POET OF FATIGUE laws.. In the midst of desperate misfortune I can pause to make a note for future use. a rather facile version of Carlyle's the far elitist philosophy. it certainly ternity to certain narrowness of spirit. . And a be found among disenchanted former radicals. As early as the summer kind of of 1883 this aloofness had hardened into a crotchety self -justification: The world is for me a collection of phenomena." That. ." This doctrine. Writing to his brother about Demos. Soon enough Gissing lost his interest in political movements and philosophies of progress. from the 177 state of social anarchy into at present plunged. In the midst of the most studied and reproduced serious complications of life.

but one can make a world within a world. was much too willed.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 178 Brutal and egotistical it has that to do with me. even desperation. a plight that one of his biographers would call "desyearn for. partly as a recoil from the harshness and vulgarity of industrial capitalism. personalization. but these Gissing could seldom reach and never long preserve. It is ill to have been born in these times. a token of and suppression. What a fact? to reply. but it is only fair to add that such views could be found among many European writers at the end of the nineteenth century. partly as a reaction to the growth of social radicalism among the lower classes. Gissing's skepticism. his belief that which he lived ("thoroughly mean. A great deal. The result was damaging to both work. man who we cost.. it was also a personal trouble. one is similar to that state of would be if it is tempted called by most people. of a man who has nothing else. His detachment." the gradual removal of affect from the rounding world. and preserve one's soul. . he wrote: Keep apart. keep apart. wind- his pervasive the age in baggish") marked a decline in the vigor of English conviction that democracy and science life.. not least of all because he could maintain only intermittantly and at large psychic of the detached artist as a type. When Gissing heard that William Morris had been arrested at a socialist meeting in Hyde Park. and somewhat curdled pessimism. would lead to a his new . to which he clung with the tenacity. empty. These lines record an abandonment of and earlier opinions display a portion of his psychic malaise. so very different in quality from true emotional fright poise. For while apparently detachment most writers occasionally what Gissing was invoking here was far more than a strategy of creative observation. sur- and his life this attitude When we think are likely to imagine a has achieved a measure of serenity or at least self- composure.

the ambitious plebeian intellectual who feels himself scorned and mocked and bears the burden of his estrangement either in humiliating silence or grudging complaint— this is a central figure in Gissing's world. show them- problems of literary temperament. distinction or originality as a thinker profit from being regarded experience of people who but he showed and his little books seldom as "novels of ideas. His development should be familiar to anyone wishing to understand his novels. and philosophical . they selves largely as turns of emotional bias. it matters. which make for the peculiar quality of his work. In Gissing's modern history— these attitudes intellectual classes of the day. his fear that men 179 like himself. and desires of the intellectual classes— that Gissing the is life concerned. were becoming obsolete and could not hope to check the drift of were widespread among the coming to little more than the cliches of an alarmed snobbism. often own books such or rise to a attitudes rarely sink to the level of journalism commanding historical vision. devoted to an "aristocracy of brains" and a style of classicism." It is with the care about ideas— the troubles. however." Gissing was certainly a thoughtwho makes people think. Virginia Woolf is right in saying that "Gissing is one of the who believes in the power of mind— . em- barrassments.GEORGE GISSING: POET OF FATIGUE cultural barbarism. the declassed solitary wedged between indifferent sectors of society. ful man who read widely. His single greatest power of educated lies in depicting and partly educated persons who are and unhappy precisely aged to lift themselves out less approach the precincts of to the extent that they root- have man- of a lower-class environment cultivation. less in own its right than as a clue to the inflections of his tone as a novelist. perhaps too widely. (One of . literature of his day. but in the work of the serious writers acquiring depth and conviction. The and psychically dis- placed person. in the social extremely rare novelists . To say this means to modify the view advanced of Gissing's critics that intellectual he is by some primarily a novelist of ideas.

) SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS l80 his later novels is called Born and the phrase could and work. as he try painfully to reconcile and if he could insinu- sensations. There is hardly a Gissing novel which does not have one or two sympathetic and penetrating analyses of feminine character." he writes about a character in a subtle "it . the relationship between Gissing and his protagonists is wary and sophisticated. intellectu- intelligent. The perspective of alienation. He shows intuitive grasp of their condition. these life sing during the is women come last years of one of the roles. all good with the kind of women he worships and beyond his grubby reach. Sometimes the identification between Gissing and his enfeebled heroes is open. is also brought to bear upon a number of other themes in Gissing's work. almost as ate himself into their secret thoughts it calls to the forefront of English But he does more than describe them. a budding ality with constricted social often neurotic. analyses which seem to be done not from the rough approximations of a masculine outsider but from a close and intimate knowledge. as in New Grub Street. and Gis- novelists to notice and describe them. Many of was her Demos. so that he can dramatize their problems without succumbing to self-pity. stand as an epigraph to both his life This alienated figure— he will soon be appearing every- where in modern literature— provides the perspective from which the events in Gissing's novels are seen. which can enclose moods ranging from the desperate to the embarrassing. acute in the presentation of those "odd them in one of his later novels ) who women" (as feminism with their feminine natures. and thereby cause for that whining tone which disfigures his lesser books. in Exile. are close to his own: misfortune. But he is extremely Gissing is not at as pure. first Somber. sometimes. noble. their problems. such women are usually fantasy figures. related more to his private troubles than to the books in which they appear. and the nineteenth century. most notably in his treatment of women. "to have happens.

In essence. very well said. The embarrass- ment of the man who feels himself habitually nothing to envy." The kind of alter man who responds to and embarrassment— be of discomfort women from it a stance Gissing himself or an ego in one of his novels— can be particularly keen in his perception. to pitying and despising. Some such view of Gissing's special quality may help us with a problem that has vexed his finally—what really—is his somber figures trooping attitude as a novelist critics. enables him to enter the imaginative life of women far more deeply than a more "masculine" writer could. with varying degrees of confusion and stress.GEORGE GISSING: POET OF FATIGUE l8l which feelings too refined for the position in fate had placed her. He was always a stranger. A less sympathetic account is offered by Frank Swinnerton in his book on Gissing: another as hold all of He lived among the poor and "studied" them. Gissing This is . for something of his own psychic make-up. but he lived among them by reason of the most lamentable necessity. . homeless and miserable. and he studied them without ever learning their spiritual language. yet for a novelist like Gissing ill at ease is does pro- it vide a compensating group of insights. Malaise too can be an opening to sensibility. what he looked for in his favored characters was their solitude. those through his novels like squadrons of misery? The English critic V. Pritchett has remarked that went through all the phases from social indignation on behalf of the poor. . and ending by agreeing that freedom for him must mean solitude. . climbing out of one class only to find the one above shallow. some element of overwrought involvement with feminine suffering. even sary: Gissing did not so if some amendment much change from one is neces- attitude to them simultaneously. What toward the poor. S.

SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS

l82

Gissing was "always a stranger." But he was

It is true that

among

a stranger not merely

the poor: he could not find a

place of rest anywhere in English society.

he

lived

among

necessity"— but
dwellers live

true that

It is also

the poor "by reason of the most lamentable
that not precisely the reason

is

among

most slum-

the poor?

Gissing lacked certain important kinds of feeling in regard
to the poor, as

as a whole.

he lacked such feeling in regard

He had

very

ousness which lights

craft

which

up the

He knew

Sons and Lovers.

humanity
joy-

half of D. H. Lawrence's

first

almost nothing about the pride of

figures importantly in

Arnold Bennett's novels

He would

about the Five Towns.

not have shared the admirawhich such recent writers as

tion for the spirit of solidarity

Richard Hoggart and

to

communal

sense of that

little

Raymond Williams

tradition of English working-class

life.

locate in the radical

For most of

his career

Gissing saw the poor not as a force within society but as a
scattering of victims.

He had

only a faint awareness of the

English workers as a socially formed class with a style and
morality of

were

lost

its

own; the poor of London,

and often degraded

souls for

as

he knew them,

whom

the struggle to

survive ate up their vital energies; and in his more charitable
moments he knew that circumstances had made them what
they were, it was hardly their fault, even if he himself wished

desperately to escape their presence. Like George Orwell,

another English writer

he would not stoop
brutalizes, that
less

it

who came

to the

to sentimentalism.

drains the

human

poor as a "stranger,"

He knew

spirit in

that poverty

a slow and relent-

way. Once he had passed beyond his early radicalism,

Gissing's attitude

toward the poor was perhaps deficient in

high-mindedness: at times distastefully snobbish and other
times pitifully frightened. But

it

does have the supreme virtue

of candor, for Gissing exposed the
his mixture of

sympathy and

in the suffering of

men and

whole of

disgust, his

his

his

confusion,

muted wish

overwhelming desire

to share

to escape

GEORGE
it.

GISSING:

Some

POET OF FATIGUE

183

of the poor have themselves

been known

to hold

similar feelings.

The experience of poverty was so painful to him that he
settle upon a steady idea concerning it. Poverty

could not

meant, for most of his
te use

life,

an inescapable condition;

it

was-

an overworked but here quite accurate term— a trauma

haunting his imagination even after he had gained some material comfort.

He

once wrote that for Dickens poverty, though

a major formative influence, had not lasted long enough "to

The same, alas,
he himself knew only

corrupt the natural sweetness of his mind."

could hardly be said about Gissing, as

him

too well. Life never allowed

to strike a truce

with

it.

In The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, a book of
musings written at the end of his career, Gissing remarked: "I

am no
with

friend of the people

.

.

they inspire

.

they

fear; as a visible multitude,

and often move me

to abhorrence.

.

.

."

me

make me

with

distrust,

shrink aloof,

That was one

could say with equal urgency: "I have hungered in the
I

have

laid

my head

to feel the heart

classes/

in the poorest shelter; I

and

side,

not a very attractive side. But there was also the Gissing

who

streets;

know what

burn with wrath and envy of

it is

'the privileged

"

Gissing's

view of poverty was

poor themselves: he hated

it

finally close to that of

and would not assent

to

the

any

softening of his hatred.

Ill

Alone among Gissing's books

a

classic,

interest

is

a

work

large,

New Grub

of abiding value

but the claim

primarily that of a

work

it

Street survives as

and power.

Its historical

makes upon our attention

is

of art. Here, one feels, Gissing's

deepest emotions are objectively rendered and transformed;
here, those impulses to self-pity

books are subdued

which mar a good many

of his

to the discipline of ironic observation.

SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS

184

New Grub

Street satisfies

few of the standards which mod-

ern criticism brings to the study of

fiction. It is cast

within the

heavy frame of the three-volume Victorian novel— all too

now used

with Gissing, the cause of padding, but
copious portrait of English literary

life.

that aggressive and flaunting brilliance

modern

fiction.

The techniques

of

The

we

often,

to present a

writing

itself lacks

often associate with

modern novelists— foreshort-

ening of plot to allow for dramatic concentration, placing
biased and implicated observers close to the center of action
in order to

make

for complexity of perspective, jumbling nar-

rative sequences to involve the reader in a struggle for the

meaning

of events— these

are books that

he

do not figure

in Gissing's books.

They

move along at an even, almost sluggish pace;
upon long patches of dialogue; and the events

relies heavily

are usually registered through an omniscient observer standing, or

pretending to stand, at a considerable remove.

Gissing's treatment of character

there

is

also conventional.

is

does not provide the burrowing psychological analysis

come

to expect

from modern

He

fiction.

and heard

of them, or

he provides brief summaries of

His characters are usually treated as
synthetic entities, even

open

if

mood; the modern tendency
of psychological notation

is

we have

allows the reader to

from what can be seen

infer the inner life of his characters

Grub

While

a strong sense of reality behind his every page, he

if

his

own.

they were fixed and

to changes of impulse

and

to dissolve character into a stream

not yet at work in his novels.

New

Street remains in structure a Victorian novel, 1 but the

subject and informing vision are post- Victorian: the setting of
his

drama

is

the

modern

jungle of loneliness and

city, that

1

Gissing was aware of the changes being wrought by the major writers
of his day. In 1885 he remarked: "Thackeray and Dickens wrote at enorFar more artistic, I think,
mous length, and with profusion of detail.
is the later method of merely suggesting; of dealing with episodes, instead of writing biographies. ... In fact, it approximates to the dra.

.

.

mode of presentment." In his own work Gissing seldom approached
"more artistic" method, and it is open to question whether his work
would have been improved if he had tried to.
matic

this

GEORGE

POET OF FATIGUE

GISSING:

The book

strife.

subject

it

is

not at

all difficult, it is

What New Grub

tiresome.

academic fashion

from the

Street asks

not some feat of analysis, but a considered fullness

of response, a readiness to assent to, even
its

and to

transparent,

to a "close reading" in the current

would be
reader

is

185

if

not agree with,

vision of defeat.

The problem

of

human

integrity,

how

it

may

be

thrive or

thwarted in a range of circumstances, recurs at every crucial

moment

in

New Grub

Street.

Like

many

writers to

him, Gissing focusses upon the literary
efforts of serious artists like

to

do

their

life,

come

Edwin Reardon and Harold

work decently and earn

subject with an abiding interest for us, even

have become dated; and as

comes
of

clear that

men

which

we

assaults sensitive

world.

One

of "solidity"

It is

some

if

read the book

a

of the
it

be-

are being invited to regard the struggles

and Reardon

like Biffen

we

Biffen

bread honestly in an

their

atmosphere of cant, commercialism, and corruption.
details

after

particularly the

human

problem

as instances of a

beings throughout the

modern

reason the book so fully conveys the impression
is

that Gissing

knew

the literary and journalistic

worlds of his day with a mordant precision.

He knew them

not merely in the factual sense which enables

him

to define

the exact shade of malice in Clement Fadge's book reviewing, or the peculiar talent (for

it is

a talent of sorts) Jasper

Milvain shows, or the combination of literary enthusiast and
grinding hack to which the pedantic Alfred Yule
or the preposterous success
for a

we

which no

article will

More important than

this factual

magazine

inches. 2

in

reduced,

is

won by Whelpdale with

his

plan

be longer than two
accuracy

gain from the novel that the experience

it

is

the sense

presents has

been earned, absorbed, stamped with the authority of pain.
2

Are Gissing's

details really so

dated?

Would he

find

many

surprises,

other than technological ones, if he were to visit Manhattan? For now
Jasper Milvain is a television producer transforming the classics into
"spectacles," and as for Whelpdale, there can be little doubt which

magazines he works

for.

SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS

l86
Gissing

is

lish novelist

a

London

a master of place, weather, atmosphere.

No Eng-

except Dickens so fully captures the greyness of

winter, the greyness of lives spent under

who wander

the greyness of the people

its streets.

its

pall,

When

Gis-

which Marian Yule forces herwork in the foggy light of the British Museum; when
Marian and Jasper Milvain walk home at night through the

sing describes an afternoon in
self to

dreary streets;

way

when

Alfred Yule meets the starving eye doc-

cheap restaurant; when Edwin Reardon makes

tor at a

half across

London

to visit his estranged

his

wife— at such

moments we encounter not merely the depressing aura

of a

late-nineteenth-century city, but also the visible effects of that
city as a social institution,

An

tions.

and

air of tiredness

New Grub

of

an agency of inhumane human
staleness

the poet of fatigue.

New Grub

Street

sprawling one. Its

hangs over the world

everyone were working too hard,

Street, as if

Among

not eating well, living badly.
is

rela-

English writers Gissing

3

is

a large novel, but not a shapeless or a

somber impressiveness depends on a

bal-

ance struck by Gissing between the needs of dramatic representation and those of thematic rigor. Everything

by

Gissing's personal vision of

life,

is

controlled

yet neither characters nor

events are allowed to stiffen into mere illustrations of ideas.

Gissing was subject to a temptation few nineteenth-century

English novelists could

resist:

that of crowding his pages with

and incidents which would simulate the
bustle— but, unfortunately, also the chaos— of human existence.
Only a genius like Dickens could manage this without cripan excess of

figures

pling losses, and even he suffers frequently from a promiscu-

He was aware of a literary kinship with the late-eighteenth-century
poet George Crabbe. In a letter to his sister dated 1888 he writes: "I
His verse stories anticipate in a remarkhave been reading Crabbe.
able way our so-called 'realistic' fiction; they deal with very low life.
The description of locality is minute, in a way which only modern prose
writers have made common; he delights in the dreary and depressing
scenery of the Suffolk coast, in squalid streets, in poverty-stricken cham-

3

.

.

.

.

bers.

.

.

."

.

.

GEORGE

POET OF FATIGUE

GISSING:

187

ous display of material. Gissing, not at
his novel

on more severe

all

a genius, organizes

New Grub Street we
mind shaping the con-

principles. In

are aware of the presence of a mature

tours of the plot but also allowing the characters a

autonomy and idiosyncratic existence.
Throughout New Grub Street persons and

of

measure

destinies are so

balanced that one stands in tragic or ironic juxtaposition to
the other, and

which

is

may seem

trasts

objectivity

and

embody

together

all

Gissing's

the vision of

human waste

dominant perception. Abstractly, these con-

obvious, but Gissing handles

them with an

restraint that gives the novel its

aura of pro-

found moral seriousness.

A

between Whelpdale and Alfred
Yule. Neither a fool nor a knave, Whelpdale has a glimmer
of intellectual conscience, only he never allows it to interfere
with his demands upon life, and his pliability of character
enables him to slide into the comforts and vulgarities of modern journalism. Irascible in manner and awkward in person,
Yule is the kind of man with a positive genius for making
simple contrast

is

that

himself disliked, yet he
critic:

he cares about

pedant. But this

is

is

also

literature,

a serious

even

if

if

not very gifted

with the dryness of a

no mere black-and-white counter-position

destructive side of literary life— indeed of the

enough into the
whole social ar-

rangement—to make clear that Yule, for

his learning, is

of venality

and

rectitude. Gissing sees deeply

also a hack, a compiler of encyclopedia

all

copy who has turned

may seem
Whelpdale
to
against Yule, but circumstance erects a
troubling parallel between them.
A more deep-going contrast is that between Edwin Reardon and Jasper Milvain, the contrast between a man of slender
his

daughter into a slavey. Character and conviction

pit

but genuine

talent,

who

he cannot quite attain

values the idea of excellence even

it,

if

and a man who regards himself as

a commodity for sale on the market. This counterposition, too,
is

not a simple moralistic one. Reardon

is

weak, petulant, with-

at an appropriate distance. is to determine the fortitude keeps to a course already taken. Reardon allows his conscience to work upon dinary the him. The of Gissing's and the assignment of a pure-spirited idealism and humane stoicism to Biffen removes for Gissing the tempself-awareness. does Gissing slacken his critical of Reardon. but in Gissing's view. its we would either drifts with the world current. Milvain is facile ambitions are those of the vast majority of or- lain. beside Reardon he has placed the likeable and quixotic Harold two characters represent complementary aspects Biff en. so does he manage win a growing sympathy for his failure. and one may even say that few judgment to the extent that Gis- sing brings out the feebleness of Reardon's will. response we success in rendering And one it is the make. however. floats as a Milvain or goes The problem of integrity is. for his men and his methods for attaining them no worse than common run. related to human what character mainly does and persistence with which a man character. to Gissing's him as a figure of reason Gissing brings this need and off is that vulnerability.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS i88 out those reserves of combativeness his vocation requires: something within moves steadily toward selfand mediocre but hardly a vil- his character destruction. This sympathy rests not on any illusion as to Reardon's power to ento dure or a concealed identification with his weakness. like or struggles under as a Rear- of course. and therefore the presents for him the greatest risks. Milvain works upon his conscience. Milvain proclaims his opportunism as a gesture of apparent candor which enables him to be all the more cynical. Gissing would seem be suggesting here an important and difficult observation: that once men have made a fundamental choice of vocation. against don. At very points. Reardon is whom Gissing figure who New Grub obviously the figure in is Street with most intimately involved. Reardon exposes himself to the blows and pressures of the world. . to traits of character matter a good deal less than One to suppose.

a blend of accurate judgment and humane forbearance. chapter chapter. almost Hardyesque tolerance. is due to something else: the re- markable. and this Reardon. Endlessly touching in her eagerness you sorry I wear . yet there are moments when he veals those discomforts of conscience we re- recognize as the mark. It is promised standards or surrendered to a sleazy sort of his worldliness. yet is plays touches of consideration for those about he dis- him and we are ready to accept his claim that with a somewhat higher income he would be a reasonably decent man. two young women.GEORGE tation to upon POET OF FATIGUE GISSING: shower pity on Reardon. Only novelists thing about the enormity of social pain are likely to preserve a decent restraint in moral judgment. as otherwise he might. finally odious. Its local vividness of por- by trayal. which enables him to grasp it is for men simply to get by. of the human. Such contrasts and balances of character help create the over-all "architecture" of the book. his treat- admirably free and Jasper Milvain. but of a writer with a profound reserve of experi- how difficult who know some- ence behind him. Perhaps the most admirable examples of Gissing's capacity for plastic characterization are the Yule and Amy for love ("Are vain. and my innocent question seems to plunge to the very heart of injustice ) to dislike. Gissing shows toward the tolerance not of a writer who his has com- characters. Marian for very Amy Reardon we are invited good reasons. for example. ) Alfred Yule is an ill-tempered bully. Gissing ment commands both of character is And because in this book the knowledge and restraint. or brand. to Reardon's defense. yet she too not as a female monster but as a woman of is presented mixed qualities . 189 and back fall demonstration of his cultural and moral as a result he need not rush. plastic. Marian is hair short?" she asks Mil- a figure repeatedly caught in the delicate motions of her feelings. (That is just the point: what he is prepared to do for the higher income. Gissing can now Biff en for the positives.

that seem to contain the book in a few words or gestures. her remorse. as Gissing finely remarks. bits meaning the and pieces of action. she could not for made moment her a great part of her affliction. word about Gissing's capacities last Somewhat it is like to the Hardy. When Reardon comes to Brighton to visit their dying child. for the remorse is genuine. he commands in as a novelist. One thinks of of the moment when Reardon reading a torn portion of by Amy: "he a newspaper. sort of self-satis- The last phrase tells us a very great deal about Or there is the moment. yet she too is takes considerable vanity or self-assurance not to see in oneself at least a trace of Amyism. the except that. "between the beginning and the end of his speech like Yule. "Hers was the kind of penitence/' writes Gissing in one of his caustic sentences. Amy to is human—it be judged. is genuine. soon after Reardon's when Amy and Milvain meet in London and witiiout fied pathos. a thing he would never have glanced at under ordinary circumstances. money. she is it is Good will cannot painful to admit. often detestable." This is a sign of the novelist's true power: to notice so accurately the mechanical gestures of a sorrow. man left numb by moment following Marian's protest of when Yule replies with genuine dignity. but because they live by different assumptions of value. "which is forced by sheer circumstances on a nature which resents any form of abandon herself to unreserved grief what she had done or omitted." Yes. and the sense of this defect humiliation. for the moment. and enough lead her One precisely the kind that will soon arms of Jasper Milvain. might. death. New Grub Street a notable gift for symbolic condensation through fragments of incident. bridge these assumptions. With somewhat better circumstances she would make Reardon a satisfactory wife." men he softened into a . and became quite has just been left sat in- terested in the report of a commercial meeting in the City.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 190 and motives. they are separated not primarily because of her wickedness or his weakness. Or there is her father's abuse.

There was much in our existence he did not see. we should from the only kind of novelist what he saw. more deeply.GEORGE POET OF FATIGUE GISSING: 191 saying anything explicit. to be just as Gissing is far sure. But from the limits of . Such its details are way through put to the service of the vision that works the whole of the novel." This. about suffering he was seldom wrong. accept. It values of is which Amy and Milvain. merely by the hint of a smile. no longer and coo in their of Reardon. it asserts the power which triumphs so flagrantly in the destinies of that "injustice of men. Gissing drew that power of rejection which makes New Grub Street a work approaching greatness. bask a vision of disenchantment with the modern life and. quite "understand" each other. is far from all of the human story. concluding in the bit- ter ironies of the scene in troubled by the memory genteel success.

in the nineteenth century. nor beyond temptation of any sort. but a romanticism gone sour and turned in upon itself. He hopes neither to reform nor to cure the world. That in the end it will crush him. he is .CELINE: THE SOD BENEATH THE SKIN The underground man. the ordered world-view of the rationalists. the optimism of the radicals. like Julien Sorel. he has no fixed place among the social classes. moderation and reasonableness. Elusive and paranoid. A creature of the city. Even while tormenting himself with reflections upon his own glory. For he believes— it is the one thing he believes entirely— that the world is intent upon crushing him. He speaks in the accents of ro- manticism. he plays a great many parts yet continues to be recognizable as a type through his unwavering rejection of official humanity: the humanity of decorum. like Faust. he never doubts. both first enters as literary figure European awareness and social type. burrowing beneath the visible structure of society. As rebel against the previously secure Enlightenment. he rejects the claims of science. He is tempted neither by knowledge. and idealism as the most absurd of vanities. The idea of ambition he regards as a derangement of ego. he lives in holes and crevices. only to escape from beneath its pressures. and he takes a spiteful pleasure in delaying its victory.

the underground man first appears full face in Dostoevsky's novels. with mocking self-approval. but this psychic quick-change artist can also Above mercilessly ironic about that self-pity. so important to West- ern society. The assumption that man is rational. he be is a master of parody. Here he assumes his most exalted guise. all else. for at he is gratified by the stigmata of his plight heart and regards his pain as evidence of distinction. fixity. refuses definition. are is definable. Nor need the sequel for his pride. derisive of intellect. starved for who offer he it. lives in a chaos of subterranean passions. and dialectically resourceful love and scornful of those Meek and coherence. Gratified. In Notes from the Underground he scrutinizes his motives with a kind . as a whole man suffering the burdens of consciousness. that the humility is no more than a curtain of exposure end there. From a conviche abases himself toward everyone: it tion of his inferiority —toward everyone but the men of ordinary decent sentiments who seem to have escaped the abyss of suffering and are therefore regarded by him as objects of contempt. He can move in quick succession from satanic pride to abject humility and then recognize. His the end of the belief that the being can be understood by means of a static human psychology. in radical conflict with the first. he indulges in a vast self-pity. the more than his He THE SKIN own 1Q3 man hates still more—hates hateful self— the world above ground. Yet to say this is also to notice his conviction of superiority. and in accordance with the modernist spirit. arrogant.CELINE: THE SOD BENEATH underground insignificance. he person with a unique ensemble of but as a history of traits is seen not as a experiences that often are impenetrable and gratuitous. Beneath each layer of his being there quivers another. Brilliantly anticipated in Diderot's fiction. and the assumption that his character so important to Western the underground emergence man signifies literature. Rameaus Nephew. could go on forever. both threatened when appears on the historical scene.

" Working Paris. and then. during which he was severely wounded and had to undergo several operations years he on his skull. breaks through the wrinkled Thus far. with figures as various as Andre Gide. at least. though seldom with resources and intensity of grandeur that Dos- skin of tradition. In the twentieth century the underground own his man comes into and. during the forgotten writer Louis-Ferdinand thirties. . relationships that are commonplace yet utterly decisive in revealing the impossimoralists of both Christianity bility of escape from his poisoned self. The book was an immediate critical success. as if to silence the and humanism who might urge upon him a therapeutic commitment to action. it is his century. Ramon Fernandez and Leon Trothis first novel." he once wrote. In France. II Louis-Ferdinand Celine was born in Paris in 1894. "I should never have written a line if I'd been able neighborhood of to sleep. He apmodern literature. he enters a few relationships with other people. historical reality and chorus. Celine as a doctor in a poor wrote and published in 1932 of the Night (Voyage Au which he picked up the story of his life at the close of adolescence and carried it through his middle years. Author. pears everywhere in the intellectual toevsky accorded him. Journey to the Bout De La Nuit). Throughout his was tormented by migraines. he is is beyond if by Dostoevsky could be now his dispute. like a rise of pus. the half- Celine published several novels in which he expressed with exuberant completeness the underground man's revulsion from the modern world.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 194 of phenomenological venom. sky saluting its End in irascible vitality. central character running the whole show. His life was shaped primarily by his sufferings in the first world war. "My own remaining trouble's lack of sleep. And man the underground as portrayed taken as the product of an overwrought imagination.

" of the Night is argot. and only on occasion does rise to it an unqualified indignation. Celine's valueless existence as for granted. nights. It is not a voice of cultivated sensibility. Celine writes in a tone of cheerful nausea. sputtering. each following upon the other with energy and speed. The End drawn and even those with a command of literary French find it difficult. nor of moral anguish. For just as the hero of his novels is utterly unheroic ("I wasn't very wise myself but I'd grown sensible enough to be definitely a coward forever"). Fierce. sometimes on the verge of hysteria. is not at than their of all what we have come of exposure and to expect in the contemporary literature shock. so is the style of these novels the opposite of literary and academic conventions. a tone largely beyond bitterness or protest. and manic extravaganzas. as if he had decided to leave behind the metaphysics of Dostoevsky and the emotions of romanticism. it is an "anti-style.CELINE: THE SOD BENEATH THE SKIN Journey to the End of the Night episodes. loosely-related 195 composed is as a series of a string of surrealist burlesques. Dostoevsky's underground man trembles in fright and despair be- no longer regards a anything but a fact of life to be taken fore the possibility of nihilism. As a statement of intention this is far less original . "so that it pulses more than it reasons— that was prose of Journey to the from Parisian my goal. "To resensitize the language. brawling. Especially important here with Dostoevsky. The life the distended memories material in these novels yet the voice of the narrator is sleepless frequently appalling. While the sort of novel Celine wrote— a wandering first-person narrative." a deliberate nose-thumbing at classical decorum." Celine has written. he fables of horror was describing less the actual events of his hallucinatory echoes. picaresque in structure and expressionist in manner—presupposes an intimate relationship between author and central character. for it suggests how is the comparison radically the under- ground man has experienced a change of character.

quite ferent to the cautions of morality. forget can be. a it token of that "psychology of exposure" through which the nineteenth century unmasked itself and the twentieth shivers in self-conThe triumph of literary modernism is signalled by a tempt. . in anything. he acts out the slogan of the declassed and dis- abused: Je T The men fiche. with a jovial toughness. and meanwhile. to vividness. Not that he infatuated with notions about the sacredness of truth. Not by chance. . introspective turns of self-analysis. of the novel is something of a louse. When our time is up. so it as a blend of asylum and must be. beyond the promethean his novels is he looks upon modern society abbatoir.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS ig6 than he supposes. His aim is to burst who is at one and the same time a miserable sod and an outraged man. yet a to one virtue: he man who dislikes lying to himself. simply that in weighing his own feelings no one else. sincerely— attached. The underground man who moves through ges- ture. is also a dominant motif in modern literature. romantic agonies— Celine will have none of these. one of the few values to which Celine is genu- inely—one almost says. even plativeness. He neither cares about a fixed literary tradition nor worries about such tiresome souvenirs as formal tidiness. indif- can lay claim moments if with of contem- himself: is to forget. and to let yourself be smashed without ever realizing how thoroughly devilish men greatest defeat. so it is. The In one of his infrequent he tells is It is he wants an honest measure: he intends to be sincere with himself. Sincerity is . but in its very familiarity with the general impulse of modern modern it fits literature. to launch the diatribe of a Parisian cal refinements. Psychologi- out. and above all to what it is that has smashed you. but neither must we forget . writers Celine does not hesitate to sacrifice perfectly Like most composure unity of effect to ferocity of expression. we people mustn't bear malice.

Bardamu. revolution effort to upon the world other than the right to publicize the aggressions of candor. and in its name absolutes can be toppled. and can lead to meta- and God. even to the point of opposition. not the general's— is that his feet Running for the general. are official ever composed on this theme. violence and exasperationbecomes the ruling passion of Celine's narrator.THE SOD BENEATH THE SKIN CELINE: 197 turn from truth to sincerity. In the terrible freedom it allows him. reward— Bardamu's. Poincare president of the Republic. Sincerity becomes the last-ditch defense for men without belief. soon enough. in which the narrator casually volunteers army (why not?). For a while he serves as runner to a senile. the second involves an discover our demons within. undirected flight. that bullets whistle and he must run. in their reduction of for the among the most scathing Bardamu prepares to go off to glory to nihilist farce." Vive la France! Bardamu learns. in the lawlessness of abandonment. Celine. and makes no claim physics. prepares "to open a show of lapdogs. . meanwhile the Bardamus must exploit the resources of his smell. From opening pages. from the search for objective law to a desire for personal response. to The first involves an effort apprehend the nature of the universe. sincerity is a bomb shattering the hypocricies of the Third Republic. suicide. he is constantly running from the terrors and apparitions of his world. a force of darkness and The dominant motif its of the book is its anti-intelligence. or as he now calls himself in the novel. Bardamu comes to a major decision: if he is to survive he will have to stop running for generals and begin running from them. Heroism is for Sundays. morality dispersed and intellectual systems dissolved. The pages describing the war-time experiences of Bardamu. is trapped in the first world war and unable to think about it. war. delicate and and rose-loving general. he refuses to take it seriously. their cowardice. Sincerity of feeling and exact faithfulness of language— which now means a language of fragments.

. nothing more to look book. from France to a fantastic trading post in a rot- tal to ting African jungle. three feet below ground I . When . . will be streaming with maggots. where. lines. no way of getting away from . ." my disillusioned flesh absurdly rot- . of all of this. bleary. stinking more horribly than a heap of bank-holiday dung. For there is ing . a virtual for. lead to nothing. ward. they're less dangerous. The African episode is a journey to the death of archaic tribalism. it's Backward or for- all the same. in Africa. all ting. from one hospi- another. it. you. are: "Let's hear no more Bardamu's for Robinson." Images of death streak the novel." Celine is obsessed not merely with the inexorability of death but even more with the vision of putrefaction: ". "a great heap of worm-eaten sods like me. where he proposes a scheme for where he is getting ready to run off with the company's funds. in Detroit. still running up and down stairs to earn a few francs. they're rather frighten- they can stand up. his down-at-the-heels and laconic Go to the edge of hopelessness and there you will find character double. there's no doubt about it. Repeated through the book as a mock-ritual. The one peaceful spot he is a post in an insane asylum. first as a bum and then as a worker on the Detroit assembly lines. shivering and lousy. these meetings between underground man and shameless alter-ego Robinson: in the front desertion." Throughout the book Bardamu keeps looking for a strange named Robinson. he becomes an indigent doctor. from the African jungle to the industrial jungle of America. ". they're thinking of killing Whereas when they're ill. the American a jour- ney to the death of industrial civilization.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS I98 And so he runs: from the army to the rear. for here modest is as all quests are futile. . when people finds are well. where he provides tips on brothels. . even one so When Robinson dies there and the concluding words of the manifesto of disgust. . from America back to France.

Beneath that debris there misshapen core of moral sentiment.. learns to hate the think of filth! it swinishness! . such a bilious and sizzling rhetoric. The misanthropy of the earlier novel ripens written in a fitful into outright paranoia: but with such bubbling energy. perhaps a flicker of positive vision? Doesn't the enormity of Celine's hatred indicate some hidden yearning for the ciple good which he himself can hardly express? In prin- it is hard to deny such a possibility. than Journey to the End An even grizzlier testimony of the Night. such a manic insistence upon dredging up the last recollection of ment Plan is a prolonged recital betrayal: Death on the the child as victim of the world. venality . all the ordures! Yes.. one might suppose." and a boy. and its tone is one of joyous loathing at having to turn back in memory to the miasma of youth." But the particular truth about this novel is less ennobling. he made me choke to . less assuaging.. . but it may well be a can seldom com- pete for attention with Celine's rich provisioning of symptoms of disorder and sensations of disgust. and can be lavish with bottom-dog compassion. 199 of our century: flight from death equals flight there in this wild and rasping novel perhaps is something more. some yearning for the good.. Ill In Death on the Installment Plan (Mort a Credit) Celine returned to his childhood and adolescence in order to complete the record of his experience.BENEATH THE SKIN CELINE: THE SOD The algebra But to death. this presumptive yearning for good hard to discover. As a force within the book. Celine's second novel is and exuberant prose. whole social order: "It Still Almighty. . is indispen- sible if he is to summon the energy needed for so vindictive an outburst against "man's viciousness. God of all the treachery of things! . I'd had the whole collection of my bellyful. Celine too has his humanities. perhaps because it is buried beneath the is debris of disillusion. Install- of cheating.

with nothing on his stomach. In one section of the novel. not with the excited youth but with the tameness of an old man. he is an absolute virtuoso: "She brings up the right into the wind and I get it full in my face. here defenses can be lowered and nerves unravelled. . I. . And who knows. If only he could start afresh. End modern literature Both are sequels and a profound yearning for to the running motif in Journey to filth and hopes to and a bit of peace. at conversation. . The adolescent hero ment Plan masturbates curiosity of a of And in modest pleasures Death on the Install- systematically. . . this solitude it is also possible to enjoy the of masturbation. there The yearning is . this an act of sincerity. now. and only when alone for the as secret sharer of his potency. . Pleasure can come only from with himself. All a paranoid ever wants let alone. teacher. . is underground a kind of good . . and be rid of the rubbish of the past not be done." Vomit links crumb as a . . ." it a wish that to be satisfied on his terms "to be would re- is quire nothing less than a reconstruction of the universe. When Celine describes retching. a set-piece displaying Celine's with a he describes a stay in an English country-school. . stomach gives one more fruitless effort to disgorge the whole of his experience. who I find I have. my with Celine's to bring up! . . where he little neither of idiot whom boy and an unobtrusive woman troubles With the dumb and him by attempts gentle he finds a paradise of muteness. man gifts himself. Ah. lot the whole stinking stew that's been gurgling in her throat the of the Night: one runs from the find a corner of quiet . but can- always one more crumb of recollection. after all turn . yes. finds a happiness of sorts through taking long walks at their best. much haven't so . as he runs through the darkness of the night.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 200 Two linked motifs control the book: the richest account of retching in solitude. for solitude is poignantly developed in Death on the Installment Plan. perhaps faith.

Lusting sweet American nurse with piquant buttocks. Maestro of the organ that remains sincere. and one can know women. he submits to the most humiliating debaucheries . In Journey to the End of the Night he declares himself "appalled by my realization of biological ignominy. places is all ney to America climaxed by a where he is the one organ he can cities. He least offensive flinches before the sensual attributes of the body. and the prolonged stench of dying. simply awe-stricken— Cortez before the Pacific! joyous "its is is other. an underground urinal visit to in New York. intolerable enough. Celine verse: on one the world at large. —by mound smells. still more intolerable." Forever exposing himself to the multiplicity of merde. and on the side. Celine reacts not merely to the hideousness of our social ar- rangements but even more.CELINE: THE SOD BENEATH THE SKIN 201 IV There are writers in whose work a theme can barely be kept apart from a personal obsession. A by by it smells whiff up that remains of past experience. in his lust: worms will reign over that flesh too. "It's and things come to their end." the last two words of this clause breaking forth as the very source of Celine's inspiration. an enormous bad it is that people. and psychological illness. becomes the literary source of a boundless creative energy. nations." His jour- a prolonged exploit in olefactory revulsion. is communion of filth. the he shudders Had man engaging he seethes with rage. Being a twentieth century Parisian. which dictate the stupidity of death. trust implicitly: one of these. the big nose. through some perverse dynamic. Celine The Nose and the Mound. and every time he sees a in the physiological functions after Lola. to the very conditions of existence itself. he would have found himself a Manichean sect and spat upon sensual appetite as the taste of the devil. Celine lived in the early Christian era. of merde. destinies. Celine learns that his nose one's nostrils depicts a severed uni- he himself.

Sartre his fury at and Camus may be students what. he from himself he would capable. . Where finally can the compul- sion to sincerity." life is "I am mere . by comparison with in the metaphysic of nausea. all begins and ends of us are despoilers. what then remains? Comedy and Nausea. but do they know about Celine.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 202 precisely from being unable to avoid decay. Celine is run- ning not merely from society but from the sight of every living creature. there is a wracking struggle of opposed life-principles. slobs." Or again: "The very idea made me howl with terror. But once that has been said and said again and again. while in Celine rot is sovereign and flesh serves as argument for a gargantuan cosmic deception. Gawd. once Celine has spent the virtuosity of his rhetoric upon the denunciation of language. but which after a time comes also to signify a recognition that even he is hopelessly impli- cated in the physicality against which he rages. The Cheat of Language. lead but to silence? Celine writes: "I grow foul as soon as anyone talks me. an act which at seems the physical first equivalent of his readiness to abandon self-respect as a luxury too dangerous for this world. whose balked sense tion with filth. of Swift. all it be distrusted. I hate it when they prattle. is now its mere theoretic understand somewhat better the run- End ning motif of Journey to the of the Night. over the knowledge that the self that is alone ines- Death on the Installment Plan he often befouls himself as a child. it is and running. to the last shameless self-revelation. In trips flee. while Celine we Perhaps can an empiric master. is to drivel unless thou art . . Celine's outlook upon life is narrow-spirited and tire- . Cut away from its context in the novels. . . Having to talk again— oh." to Anything beyond the reach of the nose talk about human with the breviary: cheats. but there is One thinks of purity melts into a fascina- a notable difference: Swift's writ- ings almost always chart a descent from idea to matter. actual qualities? In the art of nausea they are specialists.

. both of Celine's novels lag. unfortunate but free. . Celine metier it enough to be a true is neither satirist." It is this perspective of comic nausea that accounts for the and vividness of Celine's novels. His The nausea that makes to the comedy that makes a kind of savage burlesque. as it is especially happens. What saves him THE SKIN as a writer his invective from the sewers. for they are really more like a vaudeville. Celine is the sense that Swift was. In this business they are asked to lucky. I'm through with my customers Were onto the bowels now. eye. he is 20^ that makes he so enjoys roaring nausea into some- his End thing deeply comic. for to be monolithic and exhausting." In Death on the Installment Plan his boss. after suffer- ing the afflictions of the jungle. In terms of sheer performance they contain pages rivalling Dickens. than coherently developed fictions. ear. a bogus scientist. bellies. . he solemnly observes that "horses are They go through the war. he "does not like the country . creating a carnival of sensations. he remarks that he misfortunate because. but their . In Journey to the of the Night. With noisy verbs and cascades of adjectives. . the grand alimentary canal. them right this time Ferdinand! Not their heads. a Philistine begin to grab-bag of skits. recoil from experience is linked relish the experience of recoil— beyond that he cannot go. . launches a typical Celinesque diatribe after having failed in a piece of chicanery: 'Til get Their bellies. and Genius. Their digestions shall be the spirit for keeps! . . yet once the climax of a skit point in waiting either for its is known there is seldom much conclusion or repetition. . His hatred him lead on the to stake everything fear of abstraction specific incident." During his visit to Africa. Ferdinand. By its . not a satirist in intelligent nor discriminating him him is tends Strictly speaking. Halfway. he assaults nose.CELINE: THE SOD BENEATH some. talk- ing about the war. despite the remark- able energy of disgust the two writers share. But precisely this vivid- ness soon reveals Celine's limitation as a writer. but they're not seem to believe in it. like us.

Irritation and outrage. even when rendered with comic genius. A mere accumulation of misfortunes. falls. and he moons like a schoolboy. that his is really without his novels seem show and he any genuine attitude or values. but there is something exasperating. it is with an embarrassing callowness. triviality and betrayal grate on his nerves almost equally. the technical difficulty reflects a deeper problem in literary intelligence. so infatuated with the invective he sends hurtling through his pages. He is unable to distinguish among the kinds and degrees of loathesomeness. becomes enervating unless the misfortunes are controlled by some principle of selection.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 204 very nature. This is a technical difficulty. he aster. He does not know what to do with his outpourings. One comes at times to suspect that Celine writes total emptiness. Driven by his raging indiscriminateness of feeling to greater assertions of cynicism. except to multiply them. roars with the So overwhelmed . he opposite error of sentimentalism. The ultimate limitation in Celine's work is a limitation of intelligence. it would be difficult to quarrel with Celine's description of twentieth century experience. about a writer who same passion against nuisance and disis he by his demon of dirt. Except on grounds of radical incompleteness. the of time: it is skit cannot be sustained over a long period essentially a virtuoso device and virtuosity holds one's attention largely through initial shock or brilliance. at times even stupid. but as always. When life are his simplistic always predictably. The opening of a Celine novel clusive in is so seductively vigorous in meaning that little manner and con- remains for further development. he cannot surmount his brilliant monomania. some idea of greater scope than the probability of further misfortune. that lost. between a speck of dust and a mound of filth. Let a Detroit prostitute show him an ounce of kindness or an inch of thigh. At such points like charades in which the gestures of enacted but the content has been ethics from a of energy hides a void. into the he falls in love.

the corruption of the French language and the Sino-Japanese war. Celine's reflections served only to reveal the radical limitations of the kind of modern novelist who presents his intellectual inca- pacity as a principled anti-intellectualism. a philistine blessed with genius but a philistine nonetheless. but essentially the prediction correct. took a trip to Russia and shortly thereafter wrote a called Mea Culpa in which. he indulged himself in a wild harangue against the inherent bestiality of mankind. In 1936 Celine. In 1938 he published a book entitled Trifles for tract in a Massacre ( Bagatelles pour which he blamed the Jews un Massacre ) for everything . There now begins a visible disintegration of Celine as both writer and person." was a little dawn" need not concern us Trotsky's timing "the off. Either the artist will make his peace with for the lie the darkness or he will perceive the dawn. The dissonance must resolve itself. Andre . Celine remains something of a philistine. by now a famous writer. a dreary from the defeat of Napoleon to the rise of surrealism. For thentic sense of affliction and all his gift for all his au- comedy.CELINE: THE SOD BENEATH THE SKIN 20$ seems unable to think— and in the kind of novels he wrote. together with little book some shrewd obser- vations about the Stalin dictatorship. Celine did manage to write a second novel with the same attitudes as those in Journey to the of Trotsky was End of the Night. thought can be postponed but not dismissed. and what he meant by here. Apart from the humor and inventiveness of his novels. Shortly after the appearance of Journey to the Night there appeared a striking critical essay End of the by Leon Trotsky praising the novel— "Celine walked into great literature as other men walk into their own homes"— and predicting that Celine "will not write a second book with such an aversion and such a disbelief in the truth.

it seems obvious that Celine did in fact During the second world war Celine played a dishonorable role. a late fiction that has almost no literary value but some pathological interest. offered the sad by the French authorities in absentia. (See the preface to GuignoFs Band. the depths of the underground man's soul Celine brought forth all mering seem a classical instance a writer suffers in his purely literary work powers of mind are unequal From is its effluvia. Young readers in the late fifties and early sixties who have come to admire Beckett. His career. made But at was "his his peace . sentenced. like that of Ezra Pound. living at peace with the Nazi occupation forces and expressing admiration for the Vichy collaborators. but now mean what he said. but not required to serve his time in prison. in all their brilliant imperfection. Genet and Burroughs seem hardly to know that behind these writers. His so that the world could see two what was sim- novels. unable to transcend the foulness which authentic and entirely legitimate subject. where he lived in semi-retirement. self-exiled to Denmark. he was convicted. of how to his when his powers of imagination.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 206 it to be a satire on the assumpwas impossible that a writer of Celine's gifts could Gide. took tion that it mean what he said. During the last decade of his life— he died in 1961— Celine was allowed to return to France. stands the disheveled but reply that he had merely been an "abstentionist.) After the war the French government accused Celine of having been a collaborator and he. likely to survive the sickness of their inspiration." And not he alone. reviewing the book. there. a lonely and embittered man. the end." Tried formidable figure of Louis-Ferdinand Celine. both as predecessor and possible influence. he with the darkness.

Even today we cannot be quite certain that our affection for him rests upon a strict regard for the words he put on the page. His genius was acknowledged. rather than a parochial nostalgia. look lacking in complexity and rebelliousness— it he showed no appreciation of distinguished Yiddish by saying Aleichem's even said that existentialism. tried to explain this condescension that laughter. But my explanation would be that the Jewish intellectuals simply did not know what to make of Sholom Aleichem: they did not know how to respond to his moral poise and his invulnerability to ideological fashions. the characteristic effect of stories.SHOLOM ALEICHEM: VOICE OF OUR PAST Fifty or sixty years ago the Jewish intelligentsia. but his importance skimped. Perhaps own is so. It has been customary to say that Sholom Aleichem speaks . Soon torical expedition. With the passage of the years embarrassment has replaced by indifference. Socialist and Yiddishist ideas. Sh. young. To the intellectual Jewish youth in both Warsaw and New York he seemed old-fashioned. is for children Sholom and old people. to salvage his work. Niger. the critic. its head tended to down upon Sholom Aleichem. armed with we shall be needing an been his- footnotes. not the the young are notoriously solemn. buzzing with Zionist.

gleeman of the shtetl— is radically false. The conven- for a his Sholom Aleichem was a folksy humorist. For he does not command the range of a Balzac or even a Faulkner. from the quavering senwhich keeps him at a safe distance. He never set himself up as cultural spokesman or institution. it may be doubted that he does speak for the whole shtetl culture. Toward the dominant Jewish ideologies of his time Sholom Aleichem showed a characteristic mixture of sympathy and skepticism. something for which. in the pauses and suggestions between the words even more than the words themselves. having . Sholom Aleichem speaks he advances the conscious program of that culture. is to To say that a writer represents a culture imply that a certain distance But that is not at all exists between the two. When we say that Sholom Aleichem speaks for a whole culture. In that sense. Sholom Aleichem speaks for the culture of the east Eurofor a whole in saying that culture.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 208 whole people. and precisely this modesty enabled him to achieve a deeper relation to the folksmassen than any Jewish political leader. we can mean that in his work he represents all the significant levels of behavior and class in the shtetl world. He needs tional estimate— that a sort of jolly be rescued from his reputation. ambition. in the inflections of his voice and the gestures of his hands. and he does not present himself as the kind of writer who is The him untouched. the relationship between Sholom Aleichem and the culture of the east European Jews: it is something much more intimate and elusive. he had no interest in boring people. that pean Jews because he embodies— not represents— its essential values in the very accents and rhythm of his speech. but saying this we might remember that people have not spoken very well for him. primarily concerned with social representation. thereby encompassing the style of life of the east European to timentality Jews in the nineteenth century. however. of literary "scope" leaves Nor can we mean. in the style of Thomas Mann at his worst. or disease.

Sholom Aleichem gave to the Jews what they instinctively felt was the right and true judgment of their experience: a judgment of medium of irony. his medium is so drenched with irony that the material which comes through it is often twisted and elevated into direct tragic statement— irony multiples itself to become a deep winding are monologues. But he was their judge as well: he ridiculed their pretensions. winding in direction. and he constantly reiterated the central dilemma. full of verbal by-play. that simul- love through the great poet of Jewish taneous tragedy and joke. the only II In his humorous yet often profoundly sad stories. as important in its as T. the irony of their existence at all. Sholom Aleichem uses a sparse and highly con- trolled vocabulary. Many upon of his stories close to the oral folk tradition. I modern writer who may truly be said to be a culture-hero. think. He is. still sadness. but always . he celebrated their communal tradition. he mocked their vanity. S. of their existence— the irony of their claim to being a Chosen People. we Aleichem everything that European Jews is 209 can barely find a name. Sholom Aleichem s Yiddish verbal achievements of way one of the most extraordinary is modern literature.sholom aleichem: voice of our past so little experience of it. In Sholom is deepest in the ethos of the east brought to fulfillment and climax. slow in pace. a writer whose work releases those assumptions of his people. Sholom Aleichem is the humanism and Jewish transcendence over the pomp of the world. he defended their style of life and constantly underlined their passionate urge to dignity. which undercut opinion and go deeper into communal life than values. those tacit gestures of bias. Eliot's revolution in the language of English verse or Berthold Brecht's infusion of street language into the German lyric. indeed. For the Jews of Eastern Europe he was protector and advocate.

we mean." says Tevye. or if you are darkest night. and God itself. another who is a revolutionist and ends in Siberia. On the by hearing your voice. no of Jews that could God longer find complete deliverance in the traditional could not conceive of abandoning Him. "there are experienced on the subject of hunger. him. the folk voice quarreling with from an abundance of keyed way all that love. The world of Sholom Aleichem is bounded by three major only someone characters. they can tell if you are hungry and would like a bite to eat. each of whom has risen to the level of Jewish Menachem Mendel the luftson. describing the sadness of a wheezing old clock. delights in displaying his uncertain and Biblical learning. a third— could anything be . and Mottel the cantor's spontaneous possibilities of Jewish childhood. in the form one who is whom he speaks.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 210 immediate and warm imagery in tone. own its low- by humaneness. worn-out Yom Kippur'— and how sad that is who has heard such a cantor and therefore knows the exquisite Tightness of the image can really say. His is based on an absolute mastery of the emotional rhythm of Jewish life. simply really starving. stays close to the sources of Jewish slightly fundamentally sardonic. Tevye remains rooted in his little survival. archetype: Tevye the Dairyman. like the people for is constantly assaulted by outer forces. but to celebrate the earthly condition: poverty hope. what could you do with poverty but celebrate Kasrilevke. he writes that it was "a sadness like that in the cantor toward the end of song of an old. town. The world comes to of undesired sons-in-law: poverty-stricken but romantic. who represents the loving. No therefore. and skeptical of deliverance from above and had never accepted the heresy of deliverance from below. most insidiously. For if you had become yet choice remained. Tevye is Solid. mensch. one might say "In it? authorities specialists. criticizing realizing in or should mean. Tevye represents the generation innocent." Tevye.

in Sholom Aleichem. Life bound by a sense is precarious. but his fundamental prin- to keep moving. in Jewish character. between a totally integrated culture and a culture that by a leap of history would soon plunge into the midst of modern division and chaos. Through Tevye and Menachem Mendel. Strange things happen: a enchanted. ment 211 Tevye's opposite. those that were Jewish and those that were not. Menachem Mendel. Yet it was the mark of Sholom Aleichem's greatness that. of restlessness worse—who is is and unlearned. a woman's corpse mirror and sees the face of a Czarist and money is dragged looks at himself in the officer. a clock strikes thirteen. between the past of traditional Judaism and the future of Jewish politics. coming as he did at this point of transition. of speculation free idealization. insurance agent. The love and longing he directs unfound millions are the love and longing that later Jews direct toward programs and ideologies. Sholom Aleichem creates his vision of the Yiddish world. He remained unmoved by the fanaticisms of his time. matchmaker. coal dealer. he lost history of the east . He and fancy- has a great many occupations: broker. of community affection. yet always becomes disappears in the Kippur.sholom aleichem: voice of our PAST worse?—who a Jew but is a gentile. flanked by toward little his Mottel. he is driven by the modern demon. Ill Sholom Aleichem came at a major turning point in the European Jews: between the unquestioned dominance of religious belief and the appearance of modern ideologies. a timid little Jew uncertain. and finally— it ciple in life is is inevitable—writer. even surrealism. coarse. fearful. and a fourth—this rich. personifies the ele- and soaring. He is the Utopian principle of Jewish life. There is a strong element of fantasy. he betrayed no moral imbalance or uncertainty of tone. synagogue during Yom tailor across the snow.

between the sacred and The world he presented was secular. To say but equally irrelevant. relaxed. His —of that moment lives securely aware of a humane fulfillment— pure. or to put it more an actor into the vital drastically: God is Tevye is there. that he did not believe in but God is living question. distinction. Jews in which a people untroubled by any dualism. hardly in the history of the with itself. What Sholom Aleichem believed in was the Jews who him and about him. But Tevye. God In Sholom Aleichem's stories He is God. He stands between the age of faith and the age of ideology. and it was seen remained a vision of absolute assurance. In reading Sholom Aleichem one seldom thinks to wonder about his opinions. is because there. Or perhaps he believed in those Jews who lived so completely in the orbit of their fathers— fathers who had surely believed in God— that there was no need for them to lived with ask such questions. yet the vision as it constantly precarious from which transcended— both the concern with the other world that had marked the past and the eagerness to transform this world that would mark the future. read him. but only rarely does it betray anxiety. probably false. is but simply because in the life of the Jews. most of them Jews still believing in God. For than it was believed in him it was not a for the people God may be who true. does he believe in God? Another hopeless there because . not because there His heavenly status. not any recognition or denial of He figures as God becomes absorbed existence of the people.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 212 himself neither to the delusions of the past nor the delusions work is the of the future. but I doubt that there has ever been a reader naive enough to ask whether Sholom Aleichem really believed in God. it is To no more say that he also irrelevant. It was a vision controlled by that sense of Jewish humaneness which held the best of— even fearful. His work abounds in troubles.

sholom aleichem: voice of our past
Tevye believes

question.

213

something more important than

in

And Tevye

believing in God; he believes in talking to God.

God

talks to

an old friend

as to

we

or assuage: Tevye, as

whom

one need not

say in American slang, gives

flatter

Him an

earful.

we may

Tevye,

able—though

God

assume, makes

also a little

proud

at the thought that,

He

countless failures of His world,

extremely uncomfort-

amid the

should at least have created

who can make him so sublimely uncomfortable. And
how does Tevye do this? By telling God the complete truth.
It is not a pretty truth, and if God would care to dispute
a Tevye

anything Tevye has told him, Tevye
discuss

it

with

Him

further.

is

entirely prepared to

But whatever other mistakes

He

may have made, God is too clever to get into an argument with
Tevye. God knows that Tevye does not fear Him: a Jew is
afraid of people, not of God. So perhaps you can see how
absurd
in

whether Sholom Aleichem

to ask

it is

really believed

God: —Sholom Aleichem who created a character to serve
God.

as the conscience of

comes through

All this

in

Sholom Aleichem's

stories as

a

blend of rapture and the absurd, sublimity and household

Nor

ordinariness.

it

is

confined to Sholom Aleichem alone.

In the poems of Jacob Glatstein, one of the great living
Yiddish writers, there

monologues

God/

And

my

My

to

to

is

a whole series of loving

God. Glatstein writes:

all

my

I

sleeps

and

dream

of

God
I

my

.

.

sorrowful

.

of

my

unbelief

watch over him/

is

My

same poem, Glatstein

magnificent

.

.

.

My God

weary brother dreams the

people."

Had Tevye lived through the
is how he would have

years, that

my

love to

words

bite of food with me." Later, in the

adds: "The

and estranged

sit with Him upon a stone/
And there He sits with me,
my companion, clasping me/ And shares His last

companion ...

pour out

friend,

"I love

events of the past thirty
felt.

SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS

214

IV
Sholom Aleichem believed in Jews as they embodied the
virtues of powerlessness and the healing resources of poverty,
as they stood firm against the outrage

against the very idea of history

itself.

of history, indeed,

Whoever

is

unable

an outlook as at least an extreme possiwhoever cannot imagine the power of a messianism
turned away from the apocalyptic future and inward toward a
living people, cannot understand Sholom Aleichem or the
moment in Jewish experience from which he stems.
It is here that the alien reader may go astray. He may
fail to see that for someone like Tevye everything pertaining
to Jewishness can be a curse and an affliction, a wretched
joke, a source of mockery and despair, but that being a Jew
is nevertheless something to be treasured. Treasured, because
in the world of Tevye there was a true matrix of human
to conceive of such
bility,

sociability.

The
stories

stories

Sholom Aleichem

told his readers

were often

they already knew, but then, as the Hasidic saying

words but the melody. What
Sholom Aleichem did was to give back to them the very
essence of their life and hope, in a language of exaltation: the

goes, they cared not for the

exaltation of the ordinary.

When Tevye talked to his horse, it was the same as if he
were talking to his wife. When he talked to his wife, it was
the same as if he were talking to God. And when he talked
to

God,

it

was the same

as

That, for Tevye, was what

it

he were talking to
meant to be a Jew.

if

Kierkegaard would never have understood

his horse.

it.

V
Between Sholom Aleichem and his readers there formed
community of outcasts: edele kaptzunim. Millions of words
flowed back and forth, from writer to reader and reader to
a

sholom aleichem: voice of our past
writer, for

215

no people has ever talked so much in all recorded
companionship did not rest upon or even

history; yet their

require words.

The

last

thing

I

wish to suggest here

is

an image of the

sweetly pious or sentimental. Sholom Aleichem did not hesitate

and they were generous at
reciprocating. Having love, they had no need for politeness.
But the love of which I speak here is sharply different from
that mindless ooze, that collapse of will, which the word suggests to Americans. It could be argumentative, fierce, bitter,
violent; it could be ill-tempered and even vulgar; only one
to thrust his barbs at his readers,

thing

it

could not be: lukewarm.

The Jews never fooled Sholom Aleichem. Peretz, I think,
was sometimes deceived by the culture of the east European
Jews, and Sholem Asch tried to deceive it at the end of his
career. But with Sholom Aleichem, even as he was the defender
of the Jews and their culture, there was always a sly wrinkle
near his eyes which as soon as Jews saw it, they said to themselves: Im ken men nisht upnaren, him you cannot deceive.
That is why, when you go through his stories, you find so
little idealization, so little of that cozy self-indulgence and
special pleading which is the curse of Jewish life. Between
Sholom Aleichem and his readers there is a bond of that wary
respect which grows up among clever men who recognize
each other's cleverness, enjoy it and are content.
Middleton Murry once said of Thomas Hardy that "the
contagion of the world's slow stain has not touched him." This
magnificent remark must have referred to something far more

complex and valuable than innocence, for no one could take

Hardy

to

be merely innocent;

artist's final
it

in

it

must have referred

power, the power to see the world as

and yet not succumb

Sholom Aleichem.

to

it;

and that

is

the

it is,

to the
to love

power one

finds

THE FICTION OF ANTI-UTOPIA

sometimes as though the whole modern world of capiand Communism and all were rushing toward some
enormous efficient machine-made doom of the true values of

"I feel

talism

life/'

This sentence was written in 1922 by

Max Eastman,

then

a prominent intellectual defender of the Russian Revolution.
It

contains the crux of

what would

later

enchantment; and the need to speak

why

it

fill

volumes of

dis-

constitues one reason

the intellectual experience of our time has been so full

of self-distrust

and

self-assault.

For some decades there had

already been present a tradition in which conservative thinkers
assaulted the idea of Utopia as an impious denial of the limitations of the

human

lot,

symptom

or a

of political naivete,

or a fantasy both trivial and boring— this last view finding a

curious echo in Wallace Stevens' dismissal of the Utopia called

heaven: "does ripe

have

in

fruit

from the conservative
from

never

mind and propose

fall?"

But the kind of

to call anti-utopian

tradition,

fiction I

does not stem

even when wryly borrowing

it.

Eastman's sentence would not seem remarkable

if

spoken

by G. K. Chesterton or Hilaire Belloc; its continuing power to
shock depends upon our knowledge that it came from a man

THE FICTION OF ANTI-UTOPIA
of the

left.

And

21J

anti-utopian fiction, as

it

seeks to

embody the

by Eastman, also comes primarily from
Eugene Zamiatin (We) is a dissident from

sentiments expressed

men

of the

left.

Communism; George Orwell (1984)

New

Aldous Huxley (Brave

a heterodox socialist;

World) a scion

of liberalism.

The

peculiar intensity of such fiction derives from the writer's

discovery that in facing the prospect of a future he had been
trained to desire, he finds himself struck with horror.

work

of these writers

upon

ful turning

is

their

The

a systematic release of trauma, a pain-

own

presuppositions. It

is

a fiction of

urgent yet reluctant testimony, forced by profoundly serious

men from their own resistance
What they fear is not, as

to fears they cannot evade.
liberals

and

have, that history will suffer a miscarriage;

always
fear

is

be a monster. Not

that the long-awaited birth will prove to

many Americans

radicals

what they

are able to grasp this experience:

few

of us

having ever cultivated the taste for utopia, fewer

still

have

suffered the bitter aftertaste of anti-utopia.

however,

comes with the

it all

anti-utopian novel
totalitarian world,
ing.

To minds

lies

For Europeans,

ferocity of shock.

Behind the

not merely the frightful vision of a

but something that seems

still

more alarm-

raised on the assumptions, whether liberal or

Marxist, of 19th-century philosophies of history— assumptions
that the

human

enterprise has a purposive direction, or telos,

and an upward rhythm, or progress— there
fear that history itself has proved to

not because

because

it

it

has turned

also the churning

away from our

expectations, but

betrays our hopes precisely through an inverted

fulfillment of those

progress realized,
novel.

is

be a cheat. And a cheat

is

And behind

expectations.

Not progress denied but

the nightmare haunting the anti-utopian
this

nightmare

lies

a

crisis

of thought

by serious 19th Century minds
more painful than doubting the

quite as intense as that suffered

when

they discovered that far

existence of

God was

questioning the validity of his creation.

SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS

2l8

Whether to

distinguish literary genres or sub- genres through

purely formal characteristics or to

upon the

insist

vance of subject, theme and intellectual content,
of a problem for theorists of criticism. It

regard to
genres. I

fiction,

am

which

less

is

is all

is

the

something

more

so in

a genre than a menagerie of

inclined to think that in regard to prose fiction

formal characteristics will never

strictly

crucial rele-

suffice,

even while

remaining necessary, for proper description; and so

I

shall

note here some of the main intellectual premises shaping anti-

utopian fiction and then a few of those formal properties by

which

it

may be

distinguished from the familiar kinds of novel.

The first of the intellectual premises I have already remarked upon: what might be called the disenchantment with
history, history both as experience and idea. The second is
closely related. It is the vision of a world foreseen by a character in Dostoevsky's The Possessed who declares his wish for
a mode of existence in which "only the necessary is necessary."
Zamiatin's We, the first and best of the anti-utopian novels,
portrays a "glass paradise" in which all men live in principled
unprivacy, without a self to hide or a
thus reflects, as Orwell later

mood

would

Charlie Chaplin in a sequence of

to indulge. Zamiatin

in his "telescreen"

Modern Times,

and

the fear that

the historical process, at breakneck-speed and regardless of

our
all

will, is

taking us toward a transparent universe in which

categories are fixed, the problematic has

unhappiness
ing. In

Brave

is

been banished,

treason and the gratuitous act beyond imagin-

New World docile human

creatures are produced

in a hatchery: the ideal of man's self-determination, so im-

portant to Western liberalism, becomes a mocking rationale
for procreation

by norm. One

We remarks to

one of the well-adjusted "You want to encircle

of the "disturbed" characters in
:

the infinite with a wall" and shifting from the metaphysical
to the psychological, adds:

mean. As you would put
finity,

from imbeciles

it,

"We

are the

happy arithmetical

the integration from zero to in-

to Shakespeare."

. since human mind and whatever the Party holds to be truth none of the anti-utopian must hasten I to add. One may such as salvait will lead to ." Substantial rationality is "an act of thought which reveals intelligent insight into the inter- Karl "substantial" relations of events in a given situation. no hope for adventure. has anything to do with invoked mysticism. of functional organization of actions receiving a functional position no means that . by an itself be considered rational. . characteristic.. no it margin for novelty. . and "functional. "is not external. This world of total integration contingency and myth. way organized in such a that it leads to a previously defined goal. Reality exists in the nowhere else . The rational raised to an power becomes irrational its god. . But a certain kind of rationalism. In his abstract way Mannheim upon the nightmare-vision what men do and what they a world is appearing in which hits of the anti-utopian novelists: that are become unrelated. every element in this series and role. consists of . And Mannheim remarks: The violent shocks of crises and revolutions have uncovered a tendency which has hitherto been working under the surface. . . is permits no shelter for surprise. a series of actions ." Functional rationality. that ." Reality . . is not an objective fact to be acknowledged or is transformed or resisted. . irrational eschatological goal. namely the paralyzing effect of functional rationalization on the capacity for rational judgment.. Reality. .THE FICTION OF ANTI-UTOPIA 210. deprived of accident. truth.. novelists. the goal strive to attain tion. writes Orwell in 1984.. The sociologist Mannheim distinguishes between two kinds of rationality. so organizing one's ascetic behavior that this goal. . it is the culminating fabrication pro- duced by the hubris of rationalism. . at least in their novels. the parallel in conduct to the process of industrial rationalization. It is by however.

[and almost as We. realization of how strange. on the heights. that remark of the 19th Century anarchist in the do not want "I be to I. there arise once In Brave more a spontaneous appetite New World it for individuality. I want be We. The schema two to drop the burden of freedom. he engages in a discovery of hood through a We and pride echoing Bakunin] that 'We' devil. I believed . discloses the ethos of his forgotten Christians *God/ and T from the if The a. New World Huxley This kind of "techni- state." to of the anti-utopian novel requires that in one or forlorn figures. takes the form of historical nostalgia. . The ancients "knew" that the greatest. beyond." They strict when he rationality" who govern remarks that "The people not be sane Brave shows a keen awareness of the distinction between "substantial" and "functional may technique split apart. naked. in how self- thoroughly is: Evening the sky is covered with a milky-golden tissue. know . the Brave New World but they are not madmen. All three of our writers have a lively appreciation of the need felt by modern men need crystalized Michael Bakunin. so that fecundity while value becomes live. Nothing is . that has lost its is self-assurance. that is. and their aim not anarchy but social stability." have series of world when he remarks that the "knew a vice. by the requirements of functional rationality. . bored skeptic— their god. . frequently visible in a society And in his preface to is . and one cannot see what is there. that resignation is narrator of virtue But as a deviant is artificial.. that crystalline. indecent I had firm faith in myself. lived there. and brilliant forays into self -consciousness. in 1984.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 220 technique and value have been mad spins forward with a debased to a mere slogan of the cism. blue. sports from the perfection of adjustment.. a yearning for a personal relationship that will no end other than its own fulfillment. the very notion of selfhood half- from from the dead- ening health of his society." Spengler has remarked. We there.

I see know . artificial biological intelligence less as realities to selection in Brave New World. All three of may become an seen by Zamiatin. consciously life. it is also susceptible to be susceptible to our anti-utopian novels are dominated by an overwhelming question: can human nature be manufactured? Not transformed or manipulated or debased. and indestructible core. .". truth and love which would be hard to maintain. "he" with his straight brows I yes. . my for the first time in see clearly. for the life. they can be transformed into their very oppo- . one tacitly assumes that there that for If all of its plasticity it retains is a some human human nature. Furthermore. and an operation similar to a lobotomy in We. historical look in the mirror. which Orwell and Huxley as a cultural idea.. since these it obviously can be. freedom. is It is surely that . surviving for these men of be counted on than as potentialities to be nurtured. for then of psychological relativism. they whatever possibilities for the very idea of a limit to the malleability of strivings in human nature They must assume that there are men toward candor. "he. yet they have no choice but to recognize that at strivings any particular can be suppressed historical moment effectively. When speaking about the historical determinants of nature. Orwell and Huxley wrote simply from the premise would deprive themselves of drama their theme allows. Zamiatin. And I . the product of the liberal era. my time in first and with indispensable assumption of existence. but manufactured by will and decision. I myself as some "him!" am I The idea of the personal is self. cannot be suppressed indefinitely. and because growth and decline.221 THE FICTION OF ANTI-UTOPIA knew that I And all about myself.. surprise. a stranger. in modern technology there appears a whole new apparatus for violating human nature: brainwashing and torture in 1984. But then . it historical destruction. And not only can desire be suppressed and impulse denied. precisely. for us has a fact within history.

and noiselessly unbend its springs of action. but in bolder and keener. In a spects Brave number New World is of intellectual inferior to confronting this central question Huxley problem sees that the it is first and literary re- 1984 and We. in problem regarding anti-utopian according to its ways somewhat which we read ordinary own premises and different fiction limits. anti-utopian fictions are not novels at all. but I suspect that for com- . not merely Dostoevsky's prophetic speculation but also the quieter fear of Alexis de Tocqueville that "a kind of virtuous materialism may ultimately be established in the world which would not corrupt but enervate the soul." The main is to learn to which is literary read it to say. from those by novels. that "the secret of to like. But gives this counterposition of a particularly sharp edge is freedom and happiness the fact that through the refine- ments of technology Dostoevsky's speculation can be realized in social practice. Like so many other manifestations of our culture. He lumping is all we have fic- lost in critical niceness prose fiction under the heading right of course. Northrop Frye has usefully distinguished among kinds of tion in order to remind us that by our habit of of the novel. for raised by Dostoevsky— will the satisfaction of material wants quench the appetite for freedom?— relates not only to totalitarian dictatorships but to the whole of industrial society. in Brave New virtue liking what you've got is and happiness and World. learn.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 222 so that people sincerely take slavery to be freedom sites." Ultimately the anti-utopian novel keeps returning to the choice posed by Dostoevsky's legend of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov: who must human tentment of the what now the misery of the human being bear his burden of independence against the concreature at rest in his obedience. Strictly speaking. the anti-utopian novel keeps rehearsing the problems of the 19th Century: in this instance.

better to teach readers to discriminate kinds of novels. .THE FICTION OF ANTI-UTOPIA mon usage the and that among effort to revive may be it categories it such distinctions is a lost cause. expectations that are the heritage of 19th Century romanticism with upon individual stress and the scrutiny of intimate relations. If New World 223 becomes moment accept Frye's books like We. a kind of fiction that . . The Menippean satire thus resembles the confession in its handle abstract ideas and theories. . Raymond Williams complains "a substantial society he is if dramatic that When it society the English critic that the anti-utopian novel lacks and correspondingly substantial persons. and Brave we do clear that for the are not really novels portraying a familiar social world but what he Menippean calls satire.. would be a mistake for an anti-utopian novel to provide the usual comspeculate that it we expect an extended amount of psy- plement of three-dimensional characters such as in ordinary fiction. . and presents people as mouthpieces of the ideas they represent.. One might even the author of if recovered at all. Accept this description anti-utopian novel come and the usual complaints about the to seem irrelevant. For the very premise of anti-utopian fiction is which such elements— "substantial persons'— have largely been suppressed projects a world in ." offering a description but intends quite as its consciousness. . which is stylized rather than naturalistic. ability to intellectual pattern. By its very nature the anti-utopian novel cannot satisfy the expectations often unreflectively. At its most concentrated the Menippean satire presents us with a vision of the world in terms of a single . or to venture . and differs from the novel in its characterization. 1984. substantial and must now be painfully recovered. about the ordinary novel: we hold. deals less with people as such than with mental attitudes . a critic complained that a sonnet lacks a complex plot. . psychological analysis it as a depreciation.

surely places difficulties. utopian novel strains. a wistful hope usually unrealized by the concluding page. become the possibilities toward which the tion. and complaining that he fails to do what state. The "flaw" provides the and particulars of the conflict. which it. anti-utopian novel lacks almost of fiction: it acterization." the weakness of the remembered or yearned-for human. must confine it logical nuance. in the anti- utopian novel. Yet. and this testify. . the anti-utopian novel does through a variety of it formal means: 1) It posits a "flaw" in the perfection of the perfect. sarily grotesques: power and of speech they resemble persons human idea of the with the such books are neces- figures of and must struggle 1984 are Julia in The major engaged finally an in as an idea.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 224 For these books try to present a world which individuality has become obsolete and personality etiological specification. lost to experiment risks of contempla- The human relations which the ordinary novel takes premise. But there can be no point in in the nature of things The has been absorbed by his function this is the task he cannot do. as achieves itself to a in the way of psycho- hardly pretends to a large accumulation of we can all impact. This "flaw. That the writer of anti-utopian fiction must deal with a world in which and by the society quota of man upon him a considerable he sets himself. What the Winston Smith effort to salvage the means and the possibilities of solitude who have to regain as its anti- in the ordinary novel appears as the tacit assumption of the opening page is now. it its all the usual advantages rudimentary kind of char- much cannot provide suspense. while it simultane- ously insures that the outcome will be catastrophic. in a sign of subversion. Since the ending of the anti-utopian novel is predictable and contained. functions dramatically in the anti-utopian novel quite as the assumption of original sin or a socially-induced tendency ward evil possibility to- does in the ordinary novel.

This idea consists. To stay too close to the prob- able means.THE FICTION OF ANTI-UTOPIA so to say. His style. a stoppage of history at the expense of its actors. Knowing all of its monotony and substantiating too well the inevitable direction of things. Leading to— must be It 2) ple and historically manding an idea at once dramatically simcomplex: an idea that has become a com- in the grip of passion. can be surprised only by the ingenuity of local anti-utopian novels. less so for book its is And among detail. we we respond reading the anti-utopian novel less projects than to the urgency of the projection. Huxley's is notably clever. man who Zamiatin is feels himself imperilled both passionate and brilliant. to appear merely implausible power employing what render its to shock. his own clever and by driven. the tension creates it on a developed plot than on an overpowering less conception. for the anti-utopian novel. I would Our call writers meet means to sur- this difficulty by the dramatic strategy and the . Orwell's vating passion. of verisimilitude. sustains his vision throughout the book way that a mere But since the anti- in a linear unfolding of his fable never could. an astonishing mosaic of violent imagery. to lose the very reason for its existence. but too rationalistic and self-contained: he does not write like a vision. here arises a possible basis for comparative valuations impressive for its moti- local composition. it becomes involved with special problems That is— 4) It must strain our sense of the probable while not violating our attachment to the plausible. utopian novel must satisfy the conflicting requirements of both a highly-charged central idea and cleverness in the man- agement of detail. finally. in a catastrophic transmutation of values. within depends its 225 very beginning. In to the world it And since this monomania— involves the dangers of both management 3) It must be clever in the detail.

" Still dependent on this vision of the Golden Age. . The enchanted dream has become a nightmare. 5) In presenting the nightmare of history undone. This means. . . but a nightmare projected with such power as a validate the continuing urgency of the dream. the anti-utopian novel thus shares an essential quality of all modern literature: it can realize its values only through images of their violation. . of the essential pattern of the total state. to remember the power that the idea of Utopia has had in Western society. by just step." Their projected total one step beyond our known reality— not so much a picture of modern totalitarian society as one and no more than one an extension. "is the most unlikely of all the dreams that have been. "The Golden Age. but for it men have given up their life and all their strength Without it the people will not live and cannot die. above it must engage in an act of all.SOME EUROPEAN MODERNS 226 narrative psychology of "one state is more step. depend on the ability of its readers to historical recollection." wrote Dostoevsky.

" said Tolstoy. . but also in the sense that This essay was written in 1954. a stake in the criticism of the present." This able sentence could haunt one a lifetime. That God should be seen as the symbolic objectification of his desire thus became both a glorification of future God and a and a radical strengthening of man. for And not merely in the sense many people throughout the world.Politics and culture IMAGES OF SOCIALISM (with Lewis Coser) "God. Without sanctioning the quently made between should like to twist Tolstoy's ism that is the it is name facile identification that is fre- and socialist politics. alist criticism into meant also have wanted is a psychological to turn this ration- a definition of his faith. "is the name of my desire. many directions." a belief in God But he must necessity. provides moral sustenance. life may have intended partial assent to being insupportable without some straining toward "transcendence. He must have that precisely because his holiest desires vision of realities remark- reverberates in so it met in the God he was enabled to cope with the quite unholy of human existence. Tolstoy the idea that. a vision which. we remark to our own ends: social- religion of our desire.

At so late and unhappy a moment. As soon art. These dreamers and system-makers have one common: The growth of their desire to storm history. "Leviathan"). foresight and regularity of work an almost effi- religious ob- ligation. tralized system of rule. bourgeois emphasized calculation." as "an as men began artificial tion of the natural work of the protection and salva- to look at the state as "a man.228 it is POLITICS AND CULTURE a vision which objectifies and gives urgency to their criticism of the human condition in our time. by the growth of a new. created for man" (Hobbes. It name the is of our desire because the desire arises from a conflict with. in the interests of efficiency. however. is removed from the rationalistic. the world that vive in any meaningful way were tionship to the world that is. would drive men began tendency to this its re- by an increasingly cen- to conceive of a society that conclusion and be governed completely by rationality. far Its imagery ecstatic visions that ac- company the religiously inspired rebellions agitating feudal society in last its autonomous moments. and an extension from. and the manner of constructing it cides with —to invert what exists— is an element binding together all pre- Marxist Utopias. But not only the increasing rationality of political power inspired the thinking of social philoso- phers. nor could the desire sur- it not for this complex rela- is. it took but . thing in the modern Utopian idea accompanies the slow formation of the centralized state in Europe. As the traditional patchwork of social institutions in Western Europe was placed. they were stirred style of life that and made ciency. can one still specify what the vision of socialism means or should mean? Is the idea of Utopia itself still a tolerable one? The impulse to imagine "the good society" probably coinhuman history.

ready and perfect. . . sentence that betrays both his bias and his pathos. a rebellious Calabrian monk will. Utopia. before execution. muddy brain. like the Russian terrorists. or imagined violence. exists in the . comes Fourier. . and the people. to wait for the one capitalist. either through actual violence." the race being "managed for the good of the commonwealth and not of private individu(surely no book als. be art" could Thomas Cam- of the 17th Century. the sudden seizure of history by a Utopian claw. Salvation there is one sees the is traits of many pre- imposed." Education and indeed it is conceived along entirely rationalistic must be. an all-powerful ruler called the Great Metaphysicus more absurd than the Beloved Leader)." And here we come upon is in a "a beast with a a key to Utopian thought: the chasm between the scheme and the subbetween the plan. In Campanula's Utopia. Marxist Utopias. galling sense of a jects. only one City of the Sun. mute and indifferent. Sexual relations are organized by state administrators "according to philosophical rules. by special functionaries. home the who with daily at noon. a book called Wisdom. which may be taken as an economical image of modern practice: naturally. In his City of the Sun Campanella decrees— the Utopian never hesitates to decree— that those sentenced to death for crimes against the Godhead. he needs no more than one. so that in the their end they own condemnation. lines.) Intellectuals salesman who will finance cannot shape history try to rape it. has he writes to deal with recalcitrant materials: the people. conceived in his "City of the Sun" of such a perfect work of art. (Poor Phalanxes in his belfry. delivered from above. Campanella for felt that the Great Metaphysicus.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM one more step to 229 imagine that this "work of rendered perfect through foresight and panula. liberty and the higher magistrates are to be rationally enlightened. Let no one will acquiesce in say history is unforeseen. unquestionably designed from the most idealistic of motives. as he forces perfection upon history.

" The point need not be overstressed. authoritarian element we find in the Utopians far less to psychological malaise or is due power-hunger (most of them were genuinely good people) than to the sense of des- . he no doubt means it to wither away. Etienne Cabet. The same Fourier who envisaged the transformation of brine into an agreeable liquid and the replacement of lions and sharks by mildly domestic lions" and "anti- "anti-sharks" also writes with the deepest under- standing of the need for both the highest specialization of labor in modern society tion of labor in order to tion. Dein centralization lands. and the greatest variety and overcome the monotony of alterna- specializa- Puzzling over the perennial teaser set before socialists— "Who'll do the dirty work?"— Fourier comes up with the shrewd psychological observation that enjoy dirt and. an enlightened ruler who refuses to stay power longer than is necessary for establishing the new society. The . But it is not merely a question of desirable visions. No doubt. a disciple of Robert Owen and Saint. In the most far-fetched and imbedded mad fantasies of the Utopians there are brilliant insights. certainly no nearer than Con- central authority as far stantinople. Robert Owen wanted a free cooperative society. envisaged the revolutionary dictatorship of Icar. and the republic has "revised all useful books which showed imperfections and it has burned all those which we judged dangerous and useless. some did harbor strong streaks of authoritarian feeling which they vicariously released through Utopian images.23O POLITICS Two AND CULTURE centuries after Campanella." stressed in Morelly's Utopia. Meanwhile Icaria has only one newspaper. The Utopians were not —or not merely— the unconscious authoritarians that hostile critics have made them out to be. it should be located from France as possible.Simon. is The phalanxes "Floating of Fourier are to function without Is- any and if there must be one. . but this is far from the whole story. it is children who most .

. These new social systems were foredoomed as Utopian. we delight in the stupendously great thoughts and germs of thought that everywhere break out through their phantastic covering. the ordained social order that in realizing God's will en- sures man's happiness.1 ) IMAGES OF SOCIALISM 23 peration that frequently lies beneath the surface of their fan- be tasying. Auguste Comte specifies that in the "State of Positive Science. . It into pure phantasies. . . Given the desire to impose Utopia upon an indifferent his^ which derives. and to bald reasoning. All pre-Marxist Utopian thinking tends to ahistori- cal. the more completely they were worked out in detail. it follows logically enough that the Utopians should for the most part think in elite politics. We can leave it . a desire of alienation from the flow of history. to the literary small fry to solemnly quibble over these phantasies. Once Utopia is established. as com- pared with such 'insanity/ As for us. to see neither possibility nor need for relating the of the good society For Fourier it is to the actual image workings of society as it is. simply a matter of discovering the "plan" of God. as the Utopi- ans might have preferred to say. then. In his "Socialism. by the example of model experiments. (Socialism for Fourier indeed the is name of his desire— but in a very different sense from that which we urge!) The imagined construction of Utopia occurs outside the order or flux of history: it comes through fiat. Utopian this process and Scientific" Frederick Engels describes with both sympathy and shrewdness: was the was necessary. which today only crow over the superiority of their own make us smile. whenever possible. . in the main. to remove these task of reason. (Emphasis added. to impose this upon society from without by propaganda and. from a deep sense tory." society is to be ruled by an elite terms of . history grinds to a standstill and the rule of rationality replaces the conflict of class or. the conflict of passions. the more they could not avoid drifting off Society presented nothing but wrongs.

232 AND CULTURE POLITICS The Utopia of intellectuals. Marx gave new power tifically. the workers. isolated Utopian have but the small core of intellect that. By "real" studying capitalism both as an dynamic. "scien- . Hence. II Utopia without egalitarianism. who saw the possibility of linking the Utopian desire with the actual development of social "ideal" structure and a life. But in the main our generalization who reformers holds: lack some organic relationship with major historical movements must almost always be tempted into a more or less benevolent theory of a ruling elite. must quickly degenerate into a vision of useful slavery. like himself. Marx was enabled to avoid the culties of his predecessors: ahistoricism He had. to be inaugurated by the sudden triumph of reason over the vagaries and twists of history— what other recourse could a the elite. lonely." to the revolt against history within history. but not of the major socialist figures these. living in the afterglow of the French Revolution. controls and guides? Saint. little too squarely— within the course of and having found in the proletariat that active "realiz- ing" force which the Utopians could nowhere discern on the social horizon. by locating it. Having placed the drive toward Utopia not beyond but activities of a squarely— perhaps a history. Marx found the sources of revolt within the self-expanding of the economy itself. Utopia dominated by an aristocracy of mind. major segment of the population.Simon. the importance of Marx's idea that socialism is to be brought about. Marx was the difficulties of his first two major and the diffi- elite theory. rhythms desired a revolt so to speak. begins to perceive the mechanics of class relations and the appearance for the first time in modern history of the masses as a decisive force. and self -destroying The Utopians had against history but they could conduct it. to be sure. only from the space-platform of the imaginary future. own. in the first by the instance.

He did not foresee that the nature of leisure would become. the machine might do for trial all humanity what the slaves had done for the Greek patriciate. that to stay. which means bureaucracy. the destruction of equalitarianism. after the IndusRevolution. Marx was one industrialism all social of the and "the mass society" were here irrelevant. did not foresee that the rise of totalitarianism might pre- sent mankind with choices and problems that went beyond the capitalist/socialist formulation. a society might have been established at any point in historical time which followed an equalitarian distribution of goods. But what he did foresee was crucial: that the great decisions of history would now be made in a . Conceivably. that sheer physical exhaustion from which the great masses of men had never been free. even under capitalism. of course.a IMAGES OF SOCIALISM 233 of technology. they weren't It is true. but there would have been neither goods nor leisure enough to dispense with the need for a struggle over their distribution. he did not foresee—he could not— good many consequences of He both political thinkers to see that schemes which ignored or tried to controvert were not merely fact first this tremendous historical fact. did not foresee that "mass culture" together with social atomization (Durkheim's anomie) would set off strong tendencies of demoralization working in opposition to those tendencies that He made for disciplined cohesion in the working class. he concluded. made poswhich men could "realize" their humanity. are likely to survive the span of capitalism. Now. if only because the brutalizing burden of fatigue. though only conceivably. This was the historic option offered mankind by the Industrial The development sible a society in Revolution. while not necessarily insoluble. as great a social and cultural problem as the nature of work. police. that even this interesting. He did not foresee that industrialism would create problems which. an oppressive state. as it is now being offered again by the Atomic Revolution. could now for the first time be removed. and in sum.

the class that come what may. The transition to social- ism. An interesting Marx's predecessors.POLITICS 234 mass society. he merely analyzed its peculiar position in society. he called the "utopian so- . neither sentimentalizing the lowly nor smuggling in a theory of the elite. which did not prevent his disciples from making them of social change. Utopia or barbarism. Concerned as he was with the mechanics of class power. His theory of "increasing misery'— be it right. which is the traditional mode of justifying an elite. as many of his critics have suggested. wrong or vul- garized—implied that the proletariat would soon include the overwhelming bulk of the population. Anyone who Day has read the chapter in Capital on the Working Engels' book on the conditions of the English workers that they measured the degradation of the workers to or knows an ex- As for the idea of the proletariat as an elite. was seen by Marx power as the task of the vast "proletari- anized" majority. Marx made no special claim for its virtue or intelligence. would always remain propertyless. that the "stage" upon which AND CULTURE this struggle would take place had suddenly. those division whom of labor took place. far from being assigned to a "natural" elite or a group. this was a fundamentally democratic point of view. Correct or not. formulations so brief as to be cryptic. as the class most driven by the workings of capitalism to both discipline and rebellion. into dogmas. The few remarks to be found in his early work and in such a later book as The Critique of the Gotha Program are mainly teasers. There is another indication that Marx did not favor an elite theory by mean to his special "placing" of the proletariat. And when Marx declared the proletariat to be the active he was social force that could lead the transition to socialism. the "laws of motion" of the existing society. tent precluding sentimentality. and the strategy Marx paid very little attention to the description of socialism. dramatically been widened far be- yond its previous dimensions.

and soon the haziness came to seem coming hazier and a condition of perfection. Marx. Lenin. sketched a vision of socialism profoundly democratic. the image of socialism kept behazier. given the state of the the mid-19th century it was indispensable toward to turn (Germany) and practical problems of national life in class or- ganization (England. And why in the meantime. de- cided to focus on an analysis of those elements in the present that made possible a strategy for reaching the ideal future. so that cooks its could become cabinet ministers. and even the "bourgeois principle of equality" would give way to the true non-measurement: "from each according to each according to his need.000 landowners. could say that "After the 1905 Revolution Russia was ruled by 130. partly as a reaction to their brilliant day-dreaming." But this freedom of his ability and to democratic vision did not sufficiently affect his immediate views of political activity. as if a means could be intelligently chosen without an end in view! In his State and Revolution Lenin.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM cialists. As a response to Fourier. why worry about the face of the future. The "revisionist" Social Democrat Eduard Bernstein could write that the goal is nothing. was much good sense in this create absurd blueprints? Saint-Simon and Owen there European labor movements attitude. so that in his crucial pamphlet Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? written traditional Marxist in 1917." 235 had devoted themselves to summoning pictures of the ideal future.000 mem- . . perhaps in lieu of activity in the detested present.) But the Marxist movement. perhaps unavoidably. . And yet we are told that Russia will not be able to be governed by the 240. with far greater fullness than Marx. as if to view that the socialist brush aside the transformation re- quires a far greater popular base than any previous social change. paid a price for this emphasis. in humanity would break out of which the mass of dumbness. the movement everything. As the movement grew. .

" Ill Perfection. The assurance. The result what God had been was often a deifi- to Fourier. gave the Marxist once and for all its cation of History: goal. but our and memories of others. conflict and failure comb had largely disappeared. in that the image of socialism held by many Marxists— the image which emerged at the level of implicit belief— was one of a society in which tension. and found there finally came use of the word "scien- fetishistic than which nothing could provide a greater sense of tific. It would be easy enough to the works of the major Marxists in order to prove this we prefer to appeal to common experience. to own knowledge and memories as well as to the knowledge statement. inconceivable subjects were discussed but almost never the . the future would take care of itself and require no advice from us." What happened was that the vision of socialism— would it not be better to say the problem of socialism?— grew blurred in the minds of many Marxists because they were too ready to entrust it to History. there soon came to be forgotten was that it is we." true meaning. indeed. movement a feeling that it had penetrated to the essence of History. History be- to many Marxists— a certain force leading to a certain And if indeed the goal was certain. in the present. True enough. In the socialist movement one did not worry about the society one wanted: innumerable and. or likely enough to was no need to draw up fanciful blueprints. in a way.POLITICS 236 AND CULTURE bers of the Bolshevik Party— governing in the interests of the poor and against the rich. who need the image of the future. But the point that be taken as certain. face of socialism— which is not at all effort to paint it in detail— was that conventional and the same as an absurd it tended to lapse into a lifeless "perfection. not those who may live in And the consequence of failing to imagine creatively the it.

But if we want sustained speculations on the shape of this better life we have to turn to radical mavericks. beyond human reach. Marx's contribution to cept for some cryptic disciples if human thought is immense. but ex- pregnant phrases.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM idea of socialism (how 237 for History. and lent a certain form to their desire for a life. This is not quite so fatal it might seem. Only occasionally was socialism envisaged as a society with its own rhythm of growth and tension. to the Guild Socialists. since what probably mattered most was that Marxism stirred millions of previously dormant of a criticism as people into historical action. And to such better . sometimes it slipped off. the vision of socialism had a way of declining into a regressive infantile fantasy. easily the three and The Party melted into one!) had eliminated that need. neither he nor his have told us very much about the society in behalf which they called men into battle. a fantasy nial of protection. Our criticism is not that the Marxist movement held to a vision of Utopia: that it did so was entirely to its credit. Socialism was the Future— and sometimes a future made curiously respectable. Sometimes it degenerated into what William Morris called "the cockney dream" by which efficiency becomes a universal solvent for all human problems. There could hardly be a need who wondered how some to reply to those critics of the peren- human problems could be solved under socialism: one knew they would be. unwittingly. the middle-class values that the radicals had now violently rejected their vision of the good being reinstated. a life without some glimmer of a redeeming future being a life cut human. to the anarchists and libertarians. Strategy itself. Our complaint is rather that the vision of Utopia grew slack and static. in society. change and off from the distinctively conflict. gave expression to their claims and yearnings. In effect. to the equally repulsive vision of a society in which men become rational titans as well-behaved and tedious as Swift's Houhynhnms.

and how he exploded one evening when we let ourselves go by speculating out loud that once the classless society was installed. "suffered visibly when one of us stopped to caress preColumbian pottery. But we think it may be useful to suggest some of the qualities that can make the image of socialism a serious and mature goal. In his paradoxical and unsystematic way Wilde quickly comes to a sense of what the desirable society might be like. is rather fail to appear. of Trotsky has a point. being within history. do not interest us. like most surrealists." History is a process which throws up new problems. as the deeplyheld identification of it with perfection must mean. he writes. . but that apart. I still see the look of blame he fixed on Rivera when Rivera stated that the art of design had declined since the epochs of the cave. to be sine. and socialism. There is no total fulfillment. . whose The Soul of Man Under Socialism is a small masterpiece.* As Engels remarked. causes other than economic— might not . is that it The great advantage of social- "would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which." Breton. too liberal with other people's blood. his implied criticism . presses so hard upon almost everybody. IV We succumb to that which we criticize. Trotsky. and by showing how Wilde arrives at the distinctive virtue of it will make possible what he calls Individual- capitalist society it saps individuality. nor is there an "end to time. Socialism: that ism." By focus- ing upon "the unhealthy and exaggerated altruism" which demands from people. Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky took part. as well as some of the difficulties in that goal: • Socialism is not the end of human history. to raise at every point above the level of previous societies. new questions. elaborate schemes pected to solve humanity all these problems or. new conflicts. there * In his achievement of is no final syn- book Entretiens the French surrealist Andre Breton records a dialogue in which he. writes Breton. new causes of bloody conflict— that is. ism. for that matter.POLITICS 238 AND CULTURE a writer as Oscar Wilde. in the present condition of things. cannot be exdo not wish to Blueprints.

Even the "total abolition" of social classes. Cooperation compatible with is ble without conflict. of socialism is to create a society of cooperation. is Freedom may then mean that we the pursuit of more worthwhile causes suffering. marriage. pain and death intelligent radical has ever last into a socialist society. while conflict. no would is man a problem. is harmony indeed inconceiva- implies a stasis. any society— from. 239 only contiuued clash. but not necessarily. conceive of them today would in a socialist society. say. these other problems might rise to a so as to But also become social new problems leading to problems as be present we urgency. To be denied that such crises but the point to be stressed that with the elimination of our major material troubles. as a reliance upon some abstract "historical force" that will human conciliate all The aim • strife. What do away with those sources of want is simply which are the cause socialists conflict to of material deprivation and which. The hope for a conflictless society is reactionary. crises. difficulties that sheer friction between the might well result human being and from the society. in turn. help create psycho- and moral logical can devote ourselves to of conflict. so new much conflicts. The mere existence of being only among the more spectacular of his sure. Traditionally. In a socialist society there would remain a whole variety • of human difficulties that could not easily be categorized as social or non-social. no small or easy thing.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM thesis. the process of "socializing" those recalci- known trant creatures is a difficulty. would not or need not mean the total abolition • of social problems. or at least not universally. of harmony. posed by social critics Marxists have and lumped all the difficulties reality into that "transitional" state that . as children. with birth.

we list here a few of them: 1) Bureaucracy Marxists have generally related the phenomenon of bu- reaucratism to social inequality and economic scarcity. in and economic conflicts. there arises a policeman to supervise the distribution of goods. (Michels' theory is Law One need not ac- of Oligarchy" in order to see powerful but it tends to boomerang: . some Thus deformation. us from AND CULTURE capitalism to socialism. given the policeman. while socialism itself they have seen as the society that scend these difficulties. but intending to suggest a bias or predisposition. while making it easier still to avoid considering— not what socialism will be like— but what our image of it should be. This view of bureaucratism seems to us invaluable. and while in a socialist society these other causes might not be aggravated by economic inequality and the ethos of accumulation as they are under capitalism. they would very likely continue to operate. or bump. bureaucratic formations of a parasitic elites sense. "represent" bureaucratism more which batten upon a it in political signifies a Similarly. it is would auto- There are other causes for deformation. Without pretending to "solve" these social problems as they might exist under socialism. a matically be this social classless society free of bureaucracy. Thus. Yet would be an fertile error to suppose that because a class society ground for bureaucracy. made This has it a little would tran- too easy to justify some of the doings of the "transitional" society. though not necessarily a destruction.24O is POLITICS to guide. cept Robert Michels' "Iron this. scarcity. there will be an unjust distribution. of democratic processes. limited kind are seen as social class yet. they have seen the rise of bureaucracy in Leninist Russia as a consequence of trying to establish a workers' state in an isolated and backward country which lacked the economic preGiven requisites for building socialism.

which The many idea of a division of govern- Marxists have dismissed as a bourgeois device for thwarting the popular will. But most important of the sheer problem of representation. would de- serve careful attention in planning a socialist society. of course. Similarly. hence." status for doing so? No why when should there is one can answer except by positing some theory of which we do not propose to do. all we can a strong wariness with regard to any theory which dis- advance the counts in can lead to size in power and to misuse his this question definitively "human Citizen town or the funcwould probably ac- using them. Certain institutional checks can.) human troubles. often to "experts. between democracy mocracy as an expression of popular sovereignity and de- as a pattern of government in which the rights of . the distinction made in English political theory. because they require an ever increasing delegation of authority. mental powers. the political units much as it is problem of sheer burden a likely to burdens any other society. but neglected by Marxists.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM anyone convinced by 241 that socialism it impossible will have is a hard time resisting the idea that democracy Thus the mere presence of equality mean an not necessarily A were more interested is of wealth in a society does equality of power or status: cumulate more power and want status. though one need not suppose that it would have to perpetuate those elements of present-day parliamentary structure which do in fact thwart the popular will. the possibility of mis- no pressing economic motive urge is nature. all is the fact that as soon as authority tive" there must follow a is delegated to a "representa- loss of control and autonomy. (Socialists have often replied. ) Then economic and socialist society as non-economic motives possibility that again. he Citizen impossible. be suggested for containing bureaucracy. and large political or economic units." obvi- ously provide a setting in which bureaucracy can flourish. But A if in the politics of his tioning of his factory than Citizen B.

* But such proposals can hardly be expected made large unless they are in a culture to bulk very where the motives private accumulation and the values sanctioning nificantly diminished. etc. distinct social purposes or interests. as an indi- fundamentally incapable of being represented. vidual. then the it for good is that it socialist citizen and pro- seems to put a premium on who prefers to raise begonias relegated to a secondary status by comparison with the one who prefers to attend meetings. And here branch of the we have socialist who have land. by loseph Buttinger) may be . stresses cooperation have we believe. he similar to the original writes. consumer. If." voting. a society that is pluralist rather than unitary in emphasis.POLITICS 242 AND CULTURE minority groups are especially defended. Cole seems to follow in the unattractive tradition of "the life of the member" party. . In general. resident. "a human image being. envisages the socialist society as one in which government policy among Cole also puts forward the provocative idea of "func- tional representation. Because. in his capacity of worker. to a measurable degree. G. needs to be honored. Cole. a good deal to learn from a neglected movement. for example. exercised. that recognizes the need for diversification of function rather than concentration of authority— this is the desired goal. the Guild Socialists of Eng- given careful thought to these problems. serious objection to this idea "activity. H. whereby the movement swallows up the whole life of those who belong to it. as that a resultant of an interplay socio-economic units that simultaneously cooperate and conflict." a many should have "as votes. man is is. is he has and separately distinct." somewhat of the Soviets. as ceases to be a manipulated object subject. is to create the kind of make growth of socialist consciousness A * A must prove society that can undercut those prestige factors that for bureaucracy. D." so that the sig- and becomes a motivated an important bulwark against bureaucracy. the goal of socialism man who. ( Cf In the Twilight of Socialism. artist. a society that accepts conflict.

that a democratic society requires. Social planning. Only in such small units is it possible for the non-expert to exercise any real control. a great deal of traditional socialist thought has stressed economic centralization as a prerequisite for plan- between capitalism ning. none of the flexibility. power of Leninism. Certainly. this geois revolution. Partly. the new forms of energy permit an economical employment of small decentralized industrial units. the citizens. vides a it. which required centralized it is a consequence of the recent stressed centralism as units of production. the people as a whole—in the economic society be meaningful. partly." that an economic plan does not work. if arbitrarily specifications it we imposed from above and hedged in with which allow for see quickly breaks down. From what we can learn about Stalinist "planning. a means of confronting the primitive chaos of the Russian economy but allowed dogma in countries Whatever the where it it to become a had no necessary relevance. every impulse of democratic socialism favors such a tendency. really be if understood in democratic terms— and can there social planning.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM 243 means for modulating combat bureaucracy. they which to the fa- mous economist Colin Clark. is to it must find its life of the most immediate expression in relatively small economic units. was an inheritance from the bour- which needed a centralized state. According tralism. For if mass participation— by the workers. emphases on cen- historical validity of these must now be abandoned. will encourage those who 2) Planning and Decentralization Unavoidably. rigid none of the economic play. especially in the "transitional" state and socialism. partly. as distinct from economic regulation. it reflected the condition of technology in the nineteenth century. without a democratic context?—requires only a loose guiding .

that all basic industries state. The working out of variables. tional" society. seems accumulate in the hands of a managerial oligarchy— namely. a master economic plan. the best "guarantee" that power will not it units. them what you will— these provide possible bulwarks against the monster Leviathan. serving as buffers be- tween government and people. would allow for various. which places any high valuation on nationalization of industry per Almost is all socialists now feel se. impelled to add that what matters the use to which nationalization is put and the degree of democratic control present in the nationalized industries. a general pointer from above. increase of productivity. each owning and managing their tries. but there is hardly a branch of the socialist move- ment. Such autonomous units. indus- a picture of possible struggles within human The presence of liberty simply numerous because "we" took political and economic living together in a tension of cooperation-and-conflict. even . greater still even in a own industries. All of this implies a considerable modification of the familiar socialist emphasis on nationalization of the means of pro- duction. But more important. AND CULTURE interaction. co- operation and conflict of economic units participating in a democratic community. etc. the idea modification: there is of nationalization requires no reason to envisage. it is which the sheerest fatuity to suppose would immediately cease being a threat to over. still sure. socialism presupposes the abolition of private property in the basic industries. cooperatives.POLITICS 244 direction. the actual fulfillment of algebraic must come from below. —a To be modification but not a total rejection. the all-consuming state. except the more petrified forms of Trotskyism. The emphasis of the summons no doubt and between call "transi- need be owned by the Guild Socialists upon separate Guilds of workers. all the better! Guilds. that the process already far advanced in capitalist society will not continue into socialism. from the possibilities. the arithmetic rest.

And even in terms of "efficiency. that even. so long as the individual is able to participate in a variety of groupings without having to commit himself totally to any of them. since living experience always requires compromise and complication. kinds of expression in social life. Lenin clearly understood. But in order. society will be able to absorb a constant series of Nor would the conflicts. Only then would likely to lead to social conflict conflicts over relatively minor issues be elevated into "affairs of state. efficiency is urgently required in order to provide the material possibility for a efficiency is needed life of security Between the abstract norms needs of human and freedom. as some may of efficiency and the always be a clash. so to speak. against their "own" state. in this case trade unions. At the beginning of the construction of socialism. to transcend efficiency." So long as the dogma of "total allegiance"— a proven harmful in both its dogma Social Democratic that has and Leninist versions— is not enforced.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM 245 contradictory. in a workers' state— or. Only if an attempt is made ality of the individual into to encompass the total person- one or another group is breakdown. All one can probably say is that socialists are not concerned with efficiency as such but with that type of efficiency which does not go counter to * In the famous "trade union" dispute between Lenin and Trotsky that took place in the early 1920's. The makes for an normalization means can be "sewn-together" by non-cumulative between component groups.* that might break out among them would be its conflicts a healthy social regulator. living To speak anarchists do. criterion of efficiency be of decisive im- portance in such a society. as Lenin more realistically called it. . That the dispute remained academic is another matter. as Trotsky did not. Democracy is not very valuable. a deformed workers' state— the workers need agencies of protection." this may prove far more satisfactory than the a society that struggles bureaucratic state regulation of Stalinist Russia. beings there in grandiose terms. and particularly. for while the suppression of conflict explosive accumulation of hostility. of Efficiency vs.

intend them to be.POLITICS 246 key AND CULTURE Under socialism there are likely to be which efficiency will be consciously sac- socialist values. to distribute responsibility and so to enlarge freedom of choice. S. for their usefulness has a certain cor- what we have well put by R." These remarks we scrappy and incomplete. the task of socialism is to prevent managerial responsibility de- generating into privilege. After all. government and industry. In a world organized in ever larger and more inhuman units. On the contrary. world as the Political Revolution [the concentration of state powers] and the process is accelerated by the prevalence of war economy. but part of been trying to say has been so that we feel impelled to quote him: The planned economy and the centralization of power are no They are developing all over the longer socialist objectives. H. but . Crossman relation with their incompleteness." the citizen's right to par- ticipate in the control not only of of the party for which he voted. 3) No Work and Leisure Marxist concept has been more fruitful than that of "alienation. This can only be achieved by increasing. of course. ." As used by Marx. This task was not even begun by the Labour Government. it is not the pursuit of happiness but the enlargement of freedom which is socialism's highest aim. . living in a society it suggests the psychic price of where the worker's "deed becomes an alien . socialist society as a "reign of freedom. as are. many situations in and indeed one of the measures of the success of a would be precisely how far it could afford to discard the criterion of efficiency. in the nationalized industries old managements were preserved almost untouched. even at the cost of "efficiency. The main task of socialism today is to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of either industrial management or the state bureaucracy— in brief. This might be one of the more glorious ideas latent in Engels' description of socialism rificed.

it is not always clear whether he has in mind some pre-capitalist society in which men were presumably not alienated or whether he employs able state of society. continues to determine to what degree it is the . as sibilities. . The worker becomes estranged from his work. he writes. But when Marx speaks of alienation and thereby implies the possibility of non-alienation. of course. goes far toward making the worker a dehumanized part of the productive process rather than an autonomous supposed that "lead" this is by which to starting point of human being.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM 24/ power." not to to "engineer" efforts relations in the factory. It is not. . tool and a reference None- to future pos- the concept of alienation remains indispensable. the of pre-capitalist life historians of feudalism common with many and of that society. he may occasion- guilty of romanticizing. for difficult-to-label era of his most which spans the gap between feudalism and capitalism. that some an analytical intellectuals like to suppose." The division of labor. his major energies must be expended upon tasks that have no organic or creative function within his life. in contemporaries. strongly imply that the peasant and even the artisan was not quite the man unalienated theless. to a description of a given factory. . both as process and product.** . forcing him to develop some highly specialized dexterity at the cost of a world of productive impulses. it will be difficult to one form or another. in exist. So long as capitalism. human all the theorizing on "mass mention many of the culture. examine a given much factory. If he be as a useful derived by a process of abstraction from the observ- "fiction" ally it means the former. implicitly acknowledge the relevance and power of Marx's idea. as well as upon the social and psychological significance and almost of the industrial city. This theory speculation on the nature of be it is is a the modern work. . makes the worker "a cripple . together with the sense of incoherence and discontinuity induced by the modern factory. the impersonality of the social relationships enforced by capitalism.

the division between physical and mental labor has been largely eliminated because the level of education has been very much confess here to being uncertain as to Marx's has become "the first necessity of life. of the jobs many people have to perform in the modern factory. to do very little . the tedium. In his Critique of the Gotha Program Marx speaks of the highest stage of the new society as one in which "the enslaving subordination of individuals in the division of labor has dis- appeared. all the desiderata Marx listseven then there remains the uncreativeness. in short." Remembering that life. That a great to of factory deal of this dehumanization is the result of a social structure which deprives many men of an active sense of participation or decision-making and tends to reduce them to the level of controlled objects. We may consequently suppose that in a society where the democratic ethos had been reinforced politically and had made a significant seepage into economic life." and— we meaning— labor raised. let us then suppose that a society resembling this limit has labor are been reached. . But even now the prob- work remains. Or that people would have work because new forms of energy would be creatively in their leisure. what frequently must seem the meaninglessness.POLITICS 248 and social setting makes so much AND CULTURE what degree the industrial process that work dehumanizing. Given every conceivable and healthy society. labor has but the itself Marx first antagonism between mental and become not only a means of living. . The crippling now effects of the division of largely eliminated because people are capable of doing a large variety of social tasks. the problem of alienation would be alleviated. and with it also the physical labor. But not solved. lem of the nature of improvement It may be in the social context of work. given. given a free said that in a socialist society people could live no doubt. can hardly be doubted at so late a moment. toward which to strive and not as a necessity of set this as a limit . condition likely to be present even during the beginning of socialism.

and by Except for certain obviously satisfying occupations. The true problem of socialism might then be to determine the nature. But then the problem would be for . we do not know. that is.. who realizes himself through and by his work. so that if hell is now conceived as a drawing room. Between the two extreme forecasts there is the more likely possibility that under socialism a great many people would inevitably engage in work which could not release "a world of productive impulses" but which would be brief and light enough to allow them a great deal of leisure. Men. quality and variety of leisure. This seems implausibly romantic. quite 249 likely. this we do not mean work The problem is only intellectual occupations. since it is doubtful that the scarcity of Beethovens and Goethes can be related solely to social inequality. But another possible outcome might be a population of which large parts were complacent and self-satisfied. and what is more it does not even seem very desirable to have a society of Beethovens and Goethes. utopia might soften into a suburb. the man. that is.IMAGES OF SOCIALISM developed." Socialists have traditionally assumed that a solution to economic problems would be folinto another lowed by a tremendous flowering of culture. and this may happen. whether in any society It is it not as a speculation about factory society that this problem intrigues us. not in work but in leisure. would now be possible to create— given our irrevocable commitment to industrialism— the kind of "whole man" Marx envisaged. might now become a minor part of human life. we are hardly likely to feel as certain about the cultural consequences when he wrote in Literature under socialism men might reach the of social equality as Trotsky did and Revolution that Beethoven and Goethe. In any case. life in a socialist but rather as an entry problem about which Marx wrote very little: what we now call "mass culture. men to find an outlet for their "productive impulses not in the way Marx envisaged but in another way. would face the full and terrifylevel of .

is a constant it is the kind ." called Utopian thinking. it is forever in the making. Some time ago one could understandably make of socialism a consoling day-dream. But this can be done meaningfully only it is an image of social striving.AND CULTURE POLITICS ^50 ing burden of human pared to shoulder it freedom. in an age of curdled realism. to will the image of socialism struggle for definition. the imaginative capacity for con- ceiving of a society that is qualitatively better than our own yet no mere fantasy of static perfection. "are our means. it is a "nowhere. the Taken with the elasticity that Pascal intended— he surely did not mean to undervalue the immediacy of experience— this is a useful motto for what we have future alone our end. It exists at to accept the "given. if an image of a problem-creating and problem-solving society. It follows from the nature and character of ethical thought that it can never condescend political or social order. but they would be more pre- than ever before. when we live in the shadow of defeat. or of the actual no moment of time and at no point in space. Today. tension." The ethical world is never given. conflict. In his Essay on Man be said: that remains to A Utopia is Ernst Cassirer has written almost all not a portrait of the real world. it is necessary to assert the Utopian image." wrote Pascal." But just such a conception of a nowhere has stood the test and proved its strength in the development of the modern world. almost an act of pain. Now. But of pain that makes creation possible. VI "The past and present. to retain.

it broke down. instead. but surely no one has ever had a more grandiose idea about the destiny of modern intellectuals than the brilliant economist Joseph Schumpeter. capitalism inevitably and subsidizes a vested tuals. said Schumpeter. Though he desired nothing so to be realistic absorbed all potential and much as and hard-boiled. . . become agents of discontent who infect rich and poor. creates. from an inability to claim people through ties of loyalty and value. "Unlike any other worlds. In drawing this picture Schumpeter hardly meant to praise the intellectuals. whether of an heroic or masochistic kind. educates interest in social unrest. capitalism type of society. high and low. yet until a few years ago many of them would have accepted it as both truth and This essay was written in 1954.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY Intellectuals have always been partial to grandiose ideas about themselves. bristling . Schumpeter had somehow those romantic notions about the revolutionary critical independence of the intellectuals which have now and again swept through the radical and bohemian was wrong in supposing that would break down from inherent economic contradictions. ." The intellec- with neurotic aspirations and deranged by fantasies of Utopia made possible by the very society they would destroy. Marx.

capitalism in an honored place its most recent stage has found for the intellectuals. he could hardly find a victim. subsidizing unrest. So that the became Europeanized. of course.252 POLITICS tribute. the handful come We have all. seems spec- it for a reason that Schumpeter. the intellec- to it. is moment without historical validity. though a few of the more ones might have realistic smiled a doubt as to their capacity to do all that. what capitalism was. and the intellectuals. would have who had appreciated: he or method insisted that capitalism of economic change can be stationary" had failed and not only never is is "a form but never new sufficiently to consider those developments in our society which have changed the whole position and Far from creating and status of the intellectuals. and almost was merely a vulgarized model tuals for them could support any well-grounded theory of to a highly simplified idea of saw any hope intellectuals fresh hope: capitalism was not the naive specifications they had assigned Deal. adopting meas- had been common practice on the Continent for . who still even try to retain a glower of criticism. be- responsible and moderate. Were have Archi- bald MacLeish again tempted to play Cato and chastize the Irresponsibles. with his elaborate sense of irony. but at the AND CULTURE And wrong not. Schumpeter's picture of the intellectuals tacularly. New Suddenly. with the appearance of the saw society. even comically wrong. II In 1932 not many American the revival of capitalism. be exhausted by and consequently the "European" policies of the Roosevelt administration might help dissolve their "Europeanized" sense of more American ures that society crisis. far from thinking of themselves as a desperate "opposition. feeling with Few all of were committed this many held to a vision of the crisis of capitalism which of the class struggle in Europe." been enjoying a return bosom to the of the nation.

in times of economy. a society in which bureaucratic controls are imposed upon (but not fundamentally against) an interplay of private interests. of corporate peared in ically. if not economy— had all this apthe intellectuals would have reacted crit- the immediate tastes.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY 253 more the American intellectuals began to believe American uniqueness. they would have recognized the trend toward "state capitalism" as the danger it was. and the whole of economic atically subsidized life being rationalized according to the long-run needs. has need for intellectuals in a way the earlier. isolation. the growth of a mass society and mass culture— all these are aspects of the same historical process. trend would have mellowed had not the New Deal been gradually transformed into a permanent war economy. in Europe they had not always appeared together. social legislation were not unrelated. the major capitalist decades. one may suppose that Still. Somehow. it was the simulstate intervention in economic life. and industries on the verge of collapse being systemby the state. so that one could see the state becoming a major buyer and hence indirect controller of industry. war economy. . war it has thus far "worked" only or preparation for war. power in the world would evade the troubles afflicting capital- ism as a world economy. in America. their enthusiasm for whatever the theoretical attractions of the Keynesian formula for salvaging capitalism. the in . Had the drive toward bureaucratic state regulation of a capitalist economy appeared by itself. The two and central policies of the New Deal. Statification. The kind of society that has been emerging in the West. but they were separable as to time. of the intellectuals. "tradi- . came into their own. taneous introduction of these two policies that aroused the enthusiasm. Here. itself closely that the intellectuals And it was in the war related to the trend toward statification. But their desire for the made them genuine social reforms that came with this blind or indifferent to the danger. as it dulled the criticism. .

Nonetheless. and what remains of it seems willed or fake. Looking upon the prosperous ruins of Greenwich Village. or from the provincial immigrant family into the centers of intellectual experiment. the idea of bohemia. It is AND CULTURE a society in which ideology become more bound to the state slogans and abstractions— and for this chore indispensable.POLITICS 254 tional" capitalism never did. with the tragic yet liberating rhythm of the break from the small town into the literary roominess of the city. at least in America. sedate. The intellectual life tend to coincide with the rise of bohemia. subversive and transcendental all at once.D. the state subsidizes mass education and our un- easy prosperity allows additional millions to gain a "higher" many new become available in the Bohemia gradually disappears as a setting for our intellectual life. if no as expensive. Given the nature of contemporary life. being rather nastily associated with kinds of exhibitionism that have only an incidental relationship to bohemia. bohemia flourishes in the city— but that has not always been so. as acquiring a Ph." extinct. Concord too was a kind of bohemia. which was a strategy for bringing artists and writers together in their struggle with and for the world— this idea has become disreputable. education. academy: some jobs suddenly fall to intellectuals. his breed. was "the fatherland of If so. human object is Because industrialism grants large quantities of leisure springs lectuals up a and vast new how employ it. most exciting periods of American is becoming my breed. said Flaubert. as distinct from and far more important than integration of intellectuals it cause for the . the with ideological intellectuals are well. is the dis- way bohemia that is a major feel. one sometimes feels that a full-time bohemian career has become as arduous. there industry that must be staffed by intel- time without any creative sense of to quasi-intellectuals: the industry of And because mass culture. Today. no one else can do the job as plays an unprecedented part: as social relations and abstract elusive. however. Bohemia.

when intel- premature to stave off oppose head-on. country homes and college towns. 255 Those feelings of loneliness one many American so dispirited isolation feelings intellectuals. no doubt. my it Our world still— transformed. as Arthur Koestler . resist- look forward to a conspiracy young consists not in to evade. Some of risk-taking. older friends often but if so. probably the same examples. tell me.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY what they say or among think. do I sort of material or intellectual asceticism. to Cowley's own career be sure. surrender but in learning and when to wisdom when is must be engaged. are partly due to the break-up of bohemia. they now sink into suburbs. Nor do I wish to indulge in the sort of good-natured condescension with which Malcolm Cowley recently described the younger writers as lugubrious and timid long-hairs hudneed to earn one's bread. It is not my is be measured to purpose to berate anyone. Nor. to and we can all point to examples. Conformity. pay for this rise more than an increase in prices they in social status in rent. of ance easy. any making at least. one's sense of being of a reactionary period together with the loss of those earlier certainties that had the advantage. is against that ideal of independence with which a lectual begins. for the pressures of conformism are at work upon all of us. perhaps All of life. But far more prevalent and far more insidious is that slow attrition which destroys one's ability to stand firm and alone: the temptations of an improved standard of living combined made possible swamped by the rubbish with guilt over the historical tragedy that has our prosperity. which undercut the ideology of finds damp of liberal Where young writers would once face the world together. to say nothing of the and all of us bend under the terrible weight of our time— though some take pleasure in learning to enjoy it. And the optimism. have "sold out" intellectuals. dling in chill academies and poring over the gnostic texts of Henry James— by contrast. in saying these things. neither to be flatly accepted nor rejected: resisted and—who knows.

. must lead me their Mr. or literary achievements. in some degree. is however. may and we learn. thirty years ago. Trilling believes that "there different sharply is is an un- mistakable improvement in the American cultural situation of today over that of. "improvement" has occur- comes a point at which wealth to submit itself. associated itself with power. all too whole idea of the dedicated to values life be realized by a commercial civilization- its And allure. Mr. even while also learn that in this age What promise. and not by anything as exciting as said a secret pact. In a recent number of Perspectives Lionel Trilling addressed himself to some of these problems. . to the rule mind and imagination. most alarming is What them a jog and they will again most alarming that the is is vocation— the idea of a intellectual that cannot possibly has gradually lost abandonment we one cannot survive without com- be let the radical. rather than the this. In America the signs of this subIntellect has mission have for some time been visible. perhaps as never before in history. shows a tendency of . nowadays Lucifer a very patient and reason- is able fellow with a gift for indulging one's most legitimate desires. which constitutes our rout. that betrayal consist of a chain of small compromises. to apologize for its existence by a show of taste and sensitivity. his perspective from mine. if we learn anything at all. and is now conceded to be in itself a kind of power. important. it is of a particular program. "is often a form of betrayal which can be carried out with a clear conscience/' Gradually we make our peace with the world." . say.POLITICS 256 AND CULTURE some years ago. Trilling red: "In is his analysis of many how seems between to the conclusion that this civilizations there it free-spirited cultural More indulging in a pleasant fantasy." while to that any comparison between the buoyant life of 1923 with the dreariness of 1953. is number not that a of intel- have abandoned the posture of iconoclasm: lectuals Zeitgeist give radical.

a whining genteel chauvinism intellectuals. clear I think. It is perfectly true that in and the government bureaucracy institutional staff. they are tamer than bow toward mild "wealth" has become far It is true. Is this to evidence that "wealth" has subordinated Or widespread among own itself to "intellect"? the evidence to be found in the careers of such writers Max Eastman and James Burnham? To be sure. never before. institutional advertising and the scholarly writings of people who. But if "wealth" has made a position has been for pocket) treatment of intellectuals. ities and the bemoaning of a constant theme among is their as is and timidbe taken as fears professors. reasons: it ever. disastrous. tant." has actually been taking place is the absorption of . again. with immaculate destiny. and than it in its own more comfortable and expansive a long time. in the mass-culture industries academy. and twenty years ago apologetic. culture has acquired a more honorific status. ogy of American capitalism. self-confident. that more indulgent and the have been welcomed and absorbed as intellectuals is "intellect" (sometimes while picking was prostrations before "wealth. communication: is official was frightened. its hesi- aggressive. were its major opponents. until a few years ago. that least risky of occupations." Thirty years ago "wealth" on the defensive. Trilling's remarks is enough— and. has become a favorite sport in the academic journals. Marx-baiting. it ideol- claim to a unique and trumpeted through every medium of propaganda. as restrained ostentation has replaced conspicuous consumption: more wealthy people collect more modern sums—but all this ones. yet the drift of Mr. Today the delusions. they pictures or at least foundations with large "intellect" What no longer pretends is endow possible because to challenge "wealth. and for good its needs them more than ever. secure in its then "intellect" has engaged in some undignified its "Intellect" belief or.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY Such 257 stately terms as 'wealth" and "intellect" make hardly for sharp distinctions. if was you wish.

into the constantly growing industries of pseudo-culture. they are indispensable. their inclinations retain a it The because they are intellectuals needs them for their knowledge. the intellectuals will drift back into the government: they must. it intellectuals because of what they are but within its institu- It beckons to them will not allow them. A simplified but useful . that they felt incapable of translating their ideas into action and that their consequent frustration had become a major motif in their behavior. where they surrender their freedom of expression without gaining any significance as political figures. either to remain or entirely cease being what they are. in one administration or another. of course. which it they means to employ for its own ends. at least sphere of articulation. His description was accurate enough. yet we might remember people are those intellectuals— the that the truly powerless new realists— who attach themselves to the seats of power. it insists that measure of these endowments. Wright Mills wrote an article in which he labeled the intellectuals as "powerless people/' He meant.POLITICS 258 AND CULTURE numbers of intellectuals. For it is crucial to the history of the American few decades— as well as to the relationbetween "wealth" and "intellect' —that whenever they be- intellectuals in the past ship come absorbed into the accredited institutions of society they not only lose their traditional rebelliousness but to one extent or another they cease to function as intellectuals. Some years ago C. tional world needs but does not want them as intellectuals. This process of bureaucratic absorption does not proceed without check: the Eisenhower administration has cently dismissed a posts. and without which the intellectuals would be of no use to it whatever. and passions. Yet it seems rary and that one good many likely that way intellectuals re- from government such stupidity will prove tempo- or another. into the adult education business. into the world of government bureaucracy and public committees. which subsists on regulated cul- large ture-anxiety. It their talent. previously independent.

" It is a drift "from the New School to the Rand Corpora- tion. But no one who has a live sense of what the literary life has been and might still be. has caustically described a major tendency among his colleagues as a drift from "science" which "loyalty. off his work or his relatives. and a professor of English. and many professors try hard and honestly to live by it. If the intellectual cannot subsist independently. either in Europe or this country.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY equation suggests itself: 259 the relation of the institutional world middlebrow culture to serious culture. since the world will not take his subject seriously. Even during Deal. subsidizes and encourages it enough to make further raids possible— at times the parasite will support its victim. a sociologist. Philip Rieff. provides the social condition by which the intellectual discovers his new environ- to "policy" in ment. do not mean to suggest that for intellectuals all institu- only because I tions are equally the New dangerous or disadvantageous. can accept the notion that the academy is the natural home of intellect. A total estrangement from the sources of power and prestige. The university is still committed to the ideology of freedom. even a blind unreasoning rejection of every aspect of our culture. What seems so unfortunate is that the whole idea of independence is losing . the academy is usually his best bet." There is. Surely this relationship must to the intellectuals is as the relation of be one reason for the high incidence of neurosis that is supposed to prevail among intellectuals. The one battens on the other. can generally enjoy more intellectual leeway than a professor of sociol- ogy. to be sure. not truth. The independence possible to a professor of sociology to would be a writer of television is usually greater than that possible scripts. the Washington was life far of those intellectuals who journeyed to from happy. if far healthier it would permit a free discharge of aggression. absorbs and raids it with increasing frequency and skill. a qualitative difference between the academy and the government bureau or the editorial staff.

except several. primarily. Compromises are no doubt necessary. Just as was the sense of that allowed Philip Rahv "During the greater part of the bourgeois epoch preferred alienation from the community to [writers] alienation from themselves. Scientists official secrecy. Isaac Rosenfeld's . the European intellectuals grew increasingly community because the very ideals that had animated the bourgeois revolution were now being violated by bourgeois society. . the talk one hears these days about "the need for roots" to compromise the veils a desire tradition of intellectual independence. precisely made pos- this "lack of roots" gave them their speculative power. from moderately serious Perhaps something should be said here about "alienation. their "alienation" was prompted not by bohemian willfulness or socialist dogmatism but by a alienated from the social loyalty to Liberty. is . As it much pretty to resemble Liberty." Precisely this choice sible their strength and boldness.260 its POLITICS traditional power. came triumph of capitalism which largely caused estrangement. sociologists chores. but they had better be recognized for what they are. so the intellectuals has put . Fraternity. Fraternity. by a trick of history. in oneself. Equality. . the possibility of living in decent poverty literary journalism becomes more and more remote." a subject on which intellectuals have written more self-humiliating nonsense than any other. During most of the bourgeois epoch. Involved. Equality. . cannot afford to include remark that "the many deeply rooted not merely a clever mot but an important obser- . to seek in a nation or religion or party a substitute for the tenacity one should find ideal society individuals" vation. foundations become are compete AND CULTURE bound with chains for of government research indifferent to solitary writers and delight in "teams". or to a vision of a preindustrial society that. is a matter of historical fact. Almost always. it: it this was the expansion of capitalism enough freedom to express it.

of the literature. the criticism and the speculative thought of the twentieth century. heavily responsible for the is itself. and mostly the best. This feeling seems to and I do not suffer Stalinist threat." This sen- tence of Lionel Trilling's contains a sharp insight into the political life of correctly. at least should require compromise or con- why partisans of bourgeois society. have been describing here must be due to that the danger of Stalinism intellectuals or no freedom in their relations with bour- little me geois society. we from any inclination sure. that is. urgent as Much a feeling allows of once thought. with the partial submission of "wealth" to "intellect. both as burden and advantage. why it formity in the area of ideas.6 1 no longer relevant. To be action— if." the clash between It that the issue is a business civilization and the values of we no longer art is as we must discard a great deal. it it may distasteful. he is contemporary America. and also. If I saying that our society is understand him at present so free . minimize the to does limit our possibilities for want still politics— and sometimes ments that are only partly engage in any dissident to force us into political align- But here a should be made: the danger of Stalism crucial may distinction require temporary expedients in the area of power such as would have seemed compromising some years ago. but there no good reason. should lead us to it which might remember. to deny our possible future as a community. no reason become is no reason.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY may be 2. that. justified. but what I among them if so. For to deny the historical fact of "alienation" ( as if that would make it any the less real!) is to deny our heritage. I think. we Stalinist victories. Ill "In the United States at this time liberalism dominant but even the is not only the sole intellectual tradition.

In such a of social slackness. If sense conservatism it is taken to mean. without effort to discover their relationship to of interest: Jr. a servative. which does not at the recent effort to affirm a conservative ideology. is upon it that is. calls himself a con- but surely this is nothing more than a mystifying pleasantry." And that. for aside from the usual ment and hard to see talent it is distinctions of tempera- how his conservatism differs from the liberalism of Arthur Schlesinger. this effort who makes with some earnestness. or perhaps the word should be. Mr. friskier sort of writer. perhaps reactionary dynamic. Peter Viereck. Russell Kirk. a principled rejection of industrial economy . by "going into the streets. surely. of sliding into and becoming barely distinguishable from the dominant liberalism. conservatism could seize only by acquiring a mass. The point is enforced by looking own. at most. even to consider that in today neither opportunity nor need for con- since the liberals do the necessary themselves ) and an opportunity were to if For Viereck con- a shuffling together of attractive formulas. the lectual recalcitrance.262 POLITICS from those pressures of make interests which for sharply defined ideologies. bleaches It and conflicting classes AND CULTURE becomes a loose shelter. Mr. Mr. Both conservatism and radicalism can retain. a poncho rather than a program. an intelanything. Viereck doesn't want. as soon as an effort is made to put them into practice. to call oneself a liberal one doesn't really moment have to believe in more extreme intellectual tendencies have a way. servatism any is he America there servatism that ( fails. all political tendencies. that liberalism colors. as in some "classical" should be. deep actual clashes for example. can hardly avoid the eccen- appealing to Providence as a putative force in Amer- tricity of ican politics: an appeal that suggests both the intensity of his conservative desire and the desperation behind the intensity. but neither is in a sustained practical politics of presently able to engage its mean they will never be able to. arise.

the dominance of liberalism contributes heavily to our intellectual conformity. elan it and anxiety. predictably. and for the it for substitutes a blend of complacence an atmosphere of blur in the realm has a stake in seeing momentary concurrences deep harmonies. the liberal tradition. Such a conservatism. and in the hands Cooper. some obvious and substantial benefits. but hardly in the hands of political writers obliged to deal with immediate relations of power. then conservatism in America is best defended by a group of literary men whose seriousness is proportionate to their recognition that such a politics utterly hopeless and. which consists of nothing but Liberal eco- nomics and wounded nostalgia. meaningless.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY 263 and a yearning for an ordered. but without confidence or security. more important. At the same time. It of ideas. It makes us properly skeptical of accompany ideol- the excessive claims and fanaticisms that ogies. it is done. in is now any but a Utopian sense. its home victories at cannot summon. since as makes it it knows that are tied to disasters abroad. through abrasion. and. goes back to who anticipates those implicit criticisms of which we honor in Faulkner. but also its roots in. Fenimore our society of serious imaginative writers. to be sure. in America. In an age that suffers from incredible . Liberalism dominates. it lacks intellectual content when in power it merely continues those had previously attacked.) And it allows for the hope that any revival of American radicalism will acknowledge not only its break from. As for the "conservatism" of the late Senator Taft. however. it can be- come a myth which. by a Hugh Kenner in the Hudson Review. (So that when a charlatan like Wyndham Lewis is revived and praised for his wisdom. It makes implausible those "aristocratic" rantings against democracy which were fashionable in some literary circles a few years ago. hierarchical society that is not centered on the city. "statist" policies it This prevalance of liberalism yields. profoundly challenges modern experience.

. . Liberalism is an ideol- ogy.. likes to speculate: Bertrand Russell didn't suppose Simone de Beauvoir and exist." the dominant school of liberalism. it is for possible for serious McCarthy—whether the public activities of the Wisconsin hooligan constitute a serious menace One to freedom. dramatic contrasts is of vast inequalities and rapidly ceasing to exist. scores points in attacking "the ritualistic liberals. would not many of the political ." Daniel Boorstin —he cannot be charged with the self-deceptions peculiar to idealism— discovers that "the genius of American politics" consists not in the universal possibilities of democracy but in a uniquely fortunate geography which. ders. discovers American war economy no less than paradise: "Class disappear or tend to become porous.POLITICS 264 catastrophes scoffs at theories of social it AND CULTURE apocalypse— as if any more evidence were needed. ." has never been stronger in this country. psychoanalysis? Irving Kristol writes an article minimizing the threat to civil liberties and shortly thereafter is chosen to be public spokesman for the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. And intellectuals to in the Committee debate— none is itself. cannot be exported. zooming in the to earth from never-never land. as "the haunted air. ." it also betrays a subterranean desire to retreat into the caves of bureaucratic caution. in an era convulsed by war. but can as Hook Sidney for much be said of the appetite for freedom? discovers merit in the Smith Act: he passage but doubts the wisdom of its its was not repeal. obviously. David Riesman liousness toward American society that he explains is so disturbed by Veblen's rebel- it as a and what complex is it. revolution and counter-revolution it discovers the virtues of And when "moderation. The America . the school of realpolitik. Mary McCarthy. one wonwhich explains a writer's assumption that Veblen's view of America is so inconceivable as to require a home-brewed projection of father-hatred. the factory barriers worker is an economic aristocrat in comparison to the middle- class clerk.

THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY It is all terror" is Leader have to invent very well. And with some justificamoment when McCarthy central issue in the presidential campaign. to demonstrate that Russell's description of of New Commentary and the writers for them? 265 America as subject to "a reign of malicious and ignorant. like them. with the dangers to freedom stemming from people like Freda Kirchwey and Arthur Miller than the dangers from people like Senator McCarthy. Until as a strategy for adapting to the the last few months. the magazine was more deeply preoccupied." In know no such September 1952. or preoccupied at deeper levels. to when a shift in editorial temper seems have occurred. must in honesty be noted that many of the intellectuals least alive problem of civil liberties are former Stalinists or radicals. and even necessary. but this hardly disposes of the problem of or of the justified alarm civil liberties many sober European with regard to America. by and large. at the very liberalism. constitutes a serious criticism of American radicalism. shown a painful lack of militancy in defending the rights which are a precondition ness of those see only terror of their existence. 1 It to the . For the truth is that the "oldfashioned liberals" like John Dewey and Alexander Meiklejohn. Between the willful- intellectuals feel who and the indifference of those who see only health. there is need for simple truth: that intellectual freedom in the United States is under severe attack and that the intellectuals have. one thing the American people know about Senator McCarthy: he. have displayed a finer sensitivity to the need for defending domestic freedoms than the more "sophisticated" intellectuals who leapt from Marx to Machiavelli. and this. 1 It is in the pages of the influential magazine that liberalism is most skillfully Commentary and systematically advanced American status quo. had become a thing. or that de Beauvoir's picture America is a blend of Stalinist cliches and second-rate literary fantasies. About the spokesmen for American they feel they tion. is unequivocally anti- Communist. at whom it was once so fashionable to sneer. then an editor of could write that "there is Commentary. In March 1952 Irving Kristol. more than the vast anti-Marxist literature of recent years.

IV To what does one conform? To To And institutions. to the small grating necessities of day-to-day survival.266 AND CULTURE POLITICS Cohen. the senior editor of Commentary." he is right if he means that no human being can. Nathan Glazer. this sort of thing meant when people speak about the need for replacing the outworn formulas and cliches of liberalism and radicalism that with is new ideas. the Weimar republic. unavoidably. ) As formances. "I see no said that When we Sidney are all Hook con- writes. almost always." to blot out the if to personal suppose. lived in a world were ideas could be . obviously. entirely accept or reject the moral of his time. to shame and in the Senate. his only support as a great national figure is from the fascinated emphasis— I. Washington memory another editor. wrote an excel- still in the his article. when the non-con- formism of a Stefan George or an Oswald Spengler can have unhappy consequences. there again pleasant and not a Senator cant. In these senses it may be formists to one or another degree. an imminent danger is down people to haul an outrage that Senator McCarthy should remain yet but at the issue. second-string blowhard. the dead images that rot in one's mind. But Professor Hook seems that his It remark applies would apply if we to me quite wrong in supposing significantly to present-day America. almost as Carthy can do on his fears of the intelligentsia. earlier line: "All that Senator own (My of these per- from another hand. It a is United States.H." It I is. could write Elliot McCarthy "remains that in the popular mind an unreliable. And he such as the crisis of is and social modes right in adding that there are occasions. or should. McCarthy lent analysis of end of appeared the magazine's if March 1953 for a grilling cannot see that I liberty in the it Mc- authority that someone equally un- by is his committee. specific virtue in the attitude of conformity or non- conformity.

Today the Zeitgeist presses down upon us with a greater insistence than at any other moment of the century. some resist and some don't. did some- times bring him into conflict with established to risk something.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY weighed in free 267 and delicate balance. I these days prefer to medi- would certainly not wish to suggest any direct correlation between our literary assumptions and the nature of our politics. upon and the favored assumptions of the moment. there are very real virtues in preserving the attitude of critical skepticism and distance. at least before 1936. makes the temptations of conformism all the more acute. Real even for literary men. . recent literary trends and fashions but surely some of the owe something to the more general intellectual drift toward conformism. one drifts along. of course. it isn't. In the 1930's many of those who hovered about the New Masses were mere camp-followers of success. he usually shifts it again. and not a soul in the intellectual world can escape this. the Stalinist is anything but a non-conformist. without social pressures would be made solely or contaminations. so that our choices from a passion for truth. Only. that vast insidious sum of pressures and compliant. by power: he had power and come together in a contrast. Not. Even some of the more extreme antics of the professional "Bohemians" or literary anarchists take certain value What one which on a moments they might not have. 2 in cooler conforms to most of all— despite and against one's intentions— is the Zeitgeist. of course. asked whether a Stalinist's "non-conformism" is valuable. there are tremendous pressures in America that make for intellectual conformism and consequently. As it happens. established the dominant intellectual tendencies have harmony such as this country has not seen since the Gilded Age. he has merely shifted the object of his worship. for once. in this tense and difficult age. are real. Now. anxious of the party-line intellectual. upon symbolic tate who vegetables. as later. however. and this. 2 It may be No. The carrots. when he abandons Stalinism. but the conformism fashions.

. from no very pressing awareness that it is a problem for critics who appear in the Sewanee Review quite as much as for those who appear in Partisan Review. 3 Listening last summer to Cleanth Brooks lecture on Faulkner. the importance of which is hardly diminished by the failure of the men who employ them to be fully aware of their implications. and right.268 POLITICS that liberalism dominates literary of the intellectual world. But the one sure way of not succeeding is to write. it pertains to matters of religious or other belief rather than to literary judgment. Howe's connections with the Partisan Review. and a habitual use of such terms can only result in the kind of "slanted" criticism Mr. properly speaking. by the way. but that does not happen often. To be sure. this is sometimes very difficult. life. Daniel does. In a review of my Faulkner book— rather favorable. both creative and critical. not that they see the judged according to laws of work its of art as an object to be own realm but that. they critical term at all. there run a number of ideological motifs. The This may be true of all critics. literary men have liberalism. and not. . I was struck by the deep hold that the term "orthodox" has acquired on his critical imagination. . so that no ego wounds prompt what follows— Mr. reveal an implicit ideological bias. and perhaps no one entirely succeeds." Mr. a major charge that might be brought against some New will not yield liberalism. often weave ideological assumptions into their writings. Thus. Brooks has been so quick. Together with "orthodox" there goes a cluster of terms which. a unconsciously. Daniel is surprised that a critic whose politics happen to be radical should try to keep his literary views distinct from his nonliterary ones. to condemn. But "orthodox" is not. 3 . Critics is not that they practice formal criticism but that they don't. one might expect his literary judgments to be shaped by political and social preconceptions. Whatever comes to in politics but their as AND CULTURE dominates the rest it practical interest else little most than the usual efforts at constructing literary ideologies —frequently as forced marches to discover values our society them—result in something quite different from Through much of our writing. in their sum. Robert Daniel writes that "Because of Mr. but is most perilous to those who suppose themselves free of ideological coloring. as Mr. on his alone.

but through the refining medium of literary talk. of series of revolts. age against age.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY 269 word "traditional" is especially tricky here. if Emily Bronte had lived a offered a Chair in Moral Philosophy. literary. Emily Bronte teaches herself that this was indeed not at all what her material must mean as art. are experience. and it frequently includes the provincial American need to be more genteel than the gentry. so that it becomes possible assume that a to sense of literary tradition necessarily involves and sanctions a "traditional" here— it view of morality." What would have been is more. more English than the English. in much contemporary criticism is that these two contexts are either taken to be one or to be organically related. however. generation against The emphasis on other contemporary implications: it is "tradition" has used as a not very courageous means of countering the experimental and the modern. all personal longing and reverie to the contrary. which makes for a conspicuously humorless kind of criticism. it can enclose the academic assumption— and this is the curse of the Ph. since it has legitimate uses in both literary and moral-ideological contexts. There a powerful inclination the doing of the impish Zeitgeist— to forget that is literary tradition literary is can be fruitfully seen as a but sometimes more than generation. What happens. Basically. it has served as a means of asserting conservative or reactionary moral-ideological views not. there has been a tendency subsume under literature their own moral among critics to musings. Mark Schorer solemnly declares that "the theme of the moral magnificence of unmoral passion is an impossible theme to sustain. and the needs of her temperament to the contrary. as they should be asserted.D. 4 Moral- ity is assumed to be a sufficient container for the floods of poems or novels that gain their richness from the complexity with which they dramatize the incommensurability between man's existence and his conceptualizing. system— that the whole of the literary past is at every point equally relevant to a modern intelligence. In general. in their own terms. little longer she . and 4 Writing about Wuthering Heights Mr.

at prestige in the literary world. while at the same are most ambiguous. It allows est them to appropriate to the "tradition" the great- modern writers. as if Nietzsche had terrible private deacons." this interrupting his quite worldly political articles with uneasy bows in the direction of Kierkegaard. world go wrong. It is as if never launched his great attack on the Christian impoverish- human psyche. with his subversive wit. precisely those whose values and allegiances and enigmatic. (Liberals too have learned to cast a warm eye on "man's fallen nature.J0 thinned. Randall Jarrell. that Rousseau was wrong. to testify how often life and literature find the whole moral apparatus irrelevant or tedious. complex time generously leaving.) dispensation come." so that one gets the high comedy of Arthur Schlesinger. pruned and allegorized into moral fables. never meant becomes the essence of wisdom. Jr. "a loose belief that hold. that man. that man is 5 Mr. as if Lawrence had never written The Man Who Died. when you knock his chains off. One can only be relieved. to go it right." Which chains were knocked off in Germany to permit the setting-up of death camps? And which chains must be put up again to prevent a repetition of the death camps? . in some off-hand manner. Dreiser and Farrell as the proper idols for that remnant be- nighted enough to maintain a naturalist philosophy. To as Dickens remarks in Bleak House. ideas supposedly held many And with this latest facile references to the by Rousseau 5 and Marx. literary relish a men to enjoy a sense of profundity allows it and depth— to disenchantment which allows no further risk of becom- ing enchanted— as against the superficiality of mere rationalism. as Leslie Fiedler once suggested. sets up the death camps. of course. Like nothing else. who usually avoids fashionable cant: "Most of us know. if the was. Writers who spent— in both senses of the word— their with lives wrestling demons are elevated into literary dons and Stendhal had never come forth. thereknowing a few critics personally: how pleasant the discrepancy between their writings and their lives! But it is Original Sin that today commands the highest ment of the fore.AND CULTURE POLITICS 2. now.

. a he hold have agreed with Ortega certainly : beings who were contempo- see in Capital the chapter on the grisly catalogue of human to a naive theory of progress: tories of progress his bestiality. sure. was a political metaphor employed in a pre-revolutionary situation. nor terms. but these are not the elements . he tical are. any- if his or. he man would has not a nature. become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. he means by 'nature' not the original state of a thing. the 'state of nature' is for [Rousseau] only a term of controversy . Nor did he wrote that the "seem bought by the vic- loss of character. in Rousseau. "a pure idea of reason" reached by abstraction from the observable state of society.. to be understood outside its context. As G. not a phrase intrinsic to the kind of thought one finds in the mature Marx Marx did not base time. thought which well find distasteful. I say. "in political matters at any rate." As for Rousseau. Rous- seau explicitly declared that he did not suppose the "state of nature" to have existed in historical time. to read what the thing at who because no one has troubled Rousseau or Marx could write such things. to may even its reduction to the simplest passing over to the conception of nature' as iden- with the There one is full be development of [human] capacity. but a history. it was. he said. facile references. Nor did he have a very rosy view of the human raries or recent predecessors Working Day. At man seems to the same pace that mankind masters nature. I man" cannot say." . therefore. and not. most of the argument for social- ism on any view that one could isolate a constant called "human that nature". the use of even a finger's-worth of historical imagination should suggest that the notion of "a state of nature" which modern literary people so enjoy attacking.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY 2J i and that progress moves "perfectible" upward in a steady curve. . D. elements in Rousseau's . Exactly "perfectibility of all. Cole remarks. H. but is it is supposed to mean.

to achieve his salvation through social means? Yes. and it cannot reflecting. man and his self The his is for centuries. to suggests that man is a "limited" creature. by people who take it as a is a connection between minds and what happens in the world. at this late moment. choice. by action. the weariness their yearning to re- the bloodied arena of historical action which necessarily means.AND CULTURE POLITICS 2. nor does liberal-radical vision of the upon a it belief in locate salvation in society: had anyone in need of being saved better engage in a private scrutiny. straw limited in possibilities and and hence unable capacities.J2. whole turn as a historical to religion and of intellectuals in an age of defeat move themselves from and now possible— possible. Conservative critics like to say that "man's makes unrealistic the liberal-radical vision of the good society— apparently. that her progeny could work its way up to capitalism. when Eve bit the apple she pre- determined. good society does not depend the "unqualified goodness of man". "failure of nerve" theory. with one fatal crunch. as Cleanth Brooks writes. of secular action and Much sarcasm and anger has been expended on the choice. not inevitable— a solution of those phenomenon religiosity. that man is capable of evil. to literary prestige of Original Sin be understood except like the make of world what he can. usually personal affront to be told that there what happens but if in their one looks at the large-scale shifts among intellectuals . commonly when he referred to is used in literary talk as a man to be beaten with the cudgels of "orthodoxy/' What then is the significance of the turn to Original Sin among so many intellectuals? Surely not to inform us. but the problem of history those limits may fallen nature" is to determine. and not a step But the further. how far go. to be sure. Or is it. cannot be understood without reference to the current cultural situation. claim is made The liberal-radical merely that the development of technology has mankind material problems that have burdened These problems solved. then on his own.

( Not is to acquiesce in much as it likes to suppose. as a means of explaining the power of the conformist impulse in our time. enjoys a considerable degree of de- tachment and autonomy. the literary . but it still why us certain become popular '50's what was us something more im- what was only to believe in the does tell a complex of beliefs and subordinate tell is dominant at one time at another. cultural values— find to avoid it extremely difficult an inner conservatism as a way of balancing their public role of opposition. them down it to a simultaneous. The rise to its own literary world. Then too. strongly encourages the internal patterns of conformism in the literary world and intensifies the yearn- common to all groups but especially to small and insecure draw together in a phalanx of solidarity. Finally. patterns of obligation and prefer- being relatively free from the coarser kinds of social pressure. groups. the "failure of nerve" theory does not people believed in the popular in the why portant: '30's and why others in the '50's '30's. to society— in this case.) tendency as what one no longer intellectual feels able to change or modify. That the general but a considerable degree. anyone familiar with radical politics knows this phenomenon only too well. discovery of Truth. formism. V have rough pattern from social history and finally into literary ideology. those groups that live by hostility to the dominant values of ing. some at least must be seen as a consequence of those historical pressures which make this an age of conduring the past 25 years. Each intellectual I through tried to trace a politics world gives ence.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY 273 becomes impossible to put all of and thereby miraculous. Like other efforts to explain major changes in belief. But it is obvious that in each intellectual "world" there are impulses of this kind that cannot easily be shown to have their sources in social or historical pressures.

the worlds of world. which makes. Here. system— more powerful today than it has been for decades. like the distinguished figures listed. An equally astonishing indifference the ideas that occupy the serious modern mind— Freud. while quite powerless in relation business and politics. Nietzsche. as if one could be a critic without having at the graduate school has for critics least four non-literary opinions. one sees how the Ph. is often appalling: a remarkable desire to be "critics.D." not as an accompaniment to the writing of poetry or the changing of the world or the study of man and God. part of to its Marx. right. for all their intelligence and devotion and eagerness. for they. say. What a gradual bureaucratiza- .274 POLITICS AND CULTURE to. And also arrogant to those fresh knowledge of what what Winters had said about Winters with regard to minds in a curiously humble discipleship— but beyond the circle— so that one meets not growth but apostles of Burke or Trilling or Winters or Leavis or Brooks or neo-Aristotle. or as criticism "in itself" if could adequately engage an adult mind for more than a small waking time. but just critics— as if criticism were a subject. Very little of this is the fault of the graduate students themselves. again. disposes of a measurable power and patronage within its amount of own domain. Frazer. for like it or not become the main recruiting grounds and sometimes even for writers. in conversation with the depressed classes of the academy. And what one finds among these young people. since so few other choices are open to young literary men— grinds and batters personality into a mold of cautious routine. Dewey are not great thinkers in their but reservoirs from which one dredges up "approaches to criticism'— together with a fabulous Ransom said about Eliot. for predictable kinds of influence. are we have the victims of an unhappy today in the literary world is cultural I have just moment. Whoever would examine the should turn first inner life of the literary world not to the magazines or the dignitaries or famous writers but to the graduate students.

chairs. hair. taste. money. Elton alone knows how many edition. understand- upon literature. but the inevitable result of outer success and inner hardening. For Mr. not a coup. a sensation of having enlarged human experience human beings— *You mean. now views can't in kill com- in the characters of novels!"— is to mit Mr. accord- . vulva." a student said cerned with anything so gauche as or ob- solete as to "that you re interested Glossary. pots. which proves that clutter the literary land- scape like the pots and pans a two-year-old strews over the kitchen floor. The bad re- (Cf. Literature itself becomes a raw material which critics work up into schemes of structure and symbol. (Willa Gather. not a conspiracy. Learned young critics who have never troubled off to open a novel by Turgenev can rattle reams of Kenneth Burke. pans and words are really crucifixes ) Tech. moons. niques for reading a novel that have at best a limited rele- vance are frozen into dogmas: one might suppose from glancing at the is more imposing literary manuals that "point of view" the crucial means of judging a novel. Fourth-rate exercises in exegesis are puffed in the magazines while so remarkable and provocative a work as Arnold Hauser's Social History of Art is hardly reviewed.) heresies. to suppose that it is conably. Stallman the fact that Stephen Crane looking at the sun felt moved to compare it to a wafer is not enough. the ence of suns and wafers and their possible conjunction sufficiently existis not marvelous: both objects must be absorbed into Christian symbolism ( an ancient theory of literature developed by the church fathers to prove that suns. which gives them. and what wrong here is parent absence of literary tact— the is a pan and when a pan is is not merely the trans- gift for saying when a pan a symbol— but far more important. its very title indicating the reason. a transparent lack of interest in represented experience.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY tion of opinion and 275 not a dictatorship. not a Machiavellian plot to impose a mandatory "syllabus". me. its fifth Symbols ponies.

Marxist Watch your step." for prism of moral reflection. is that writing about and writers has become an industry. please. usually during the summer." The very mistake Tolstoy as a made. work mind.AND CULTURE POLITICS 276 ing to Miss Caroline Gordon. incomplete and solitary mind upon be regarded and trade as a a far from being the of art and subjective. like the soli- remnants. Another American scholar has published a full book on Mardi. no doubt an aid to reading The Scarlet Letter. which can be picked up. fault that no doubt because he is dealing with a little-read author. comes increasingly problem in mechanics. seems Second floor. together up more and more even scholarship. resemble Macy's on bargain day: First to floor. Cantwell has an itemized as list. Stanley operatives. Jung. In the the indispensable function of reducing fashionable literary notions. Fifth floor. too!) Criticism tary itself. from the mind reflection of a therefore. right). Third word count- floor. was "astonishingly ignorant of her she refrained from "using a single consciousness craft. who serves of Mr. Attic. little Would you the contents of the cargo (including one ele- phant) carried by the vessel of which Hawthorne's father was captain in 1795? Mr. Freud. The preposter- ous academic requirement that professors write books they don't want to write and no one wants the obtuse assumption that piling vant information about an author's his to work— this makes do with care to life with irrele- helps us understand have for a vast flood of books that literature. on your (rituals to the rear ambiguities and paradoxes. however. Miss Harrisons antiquities. . ing. Mr. Johnson does as much for Dickens and adds plot summaries too. Mr. Basement. criticism or know to read. Sub-basement. to methods tools. myths floor. the secrets of more experienced Hyman. What literature is most disturbing. Leyda knows what happened to Melville day by day and it is hardly his most days nothing very much happened. Fourth criticism symbols.

and that criticism could therefore be left to the impressionistic journalist.. Twenty years ago he was to be heard asserting that his business was with hard facts. . son's "ambiguities" and Dr. . . we have ." Mr. And now that willy-nilly so much writing about literature is in academic hands. The pedant is as common as he ever was. the grave. is fast disappearing from the literary scene. an even greater proportion of what is written about literature. Now the pedant is proud to call himself a critic. man of letters is following him into becomes more and more soon be impossible. Donald Davie writes The professional poet has already disappeared from the liter- ary scene. . for a first Twentieth Century: in And man to make difficult.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY which is VJJ astonishing not because he wrote the cause he managed to finish reading Mardi at I book but beall. . the common reader. he prides himself on evaluation and analysis. is "academic". In other words. and only incidentally for that su- premely necessary fiction. It dilettante. but like the distorting mirrors in Coney Island Or they help bring into sharper contour the major features. The pedant is a very adaptable creature. for the most part. abandoned. . for the freelance man of letters. Literary standards are now in academic hands.. and will his living as a literary man of letters the young don writing in the place for other dons. who once supplemented and corrected the don. . his remarks to America is an . . Mr. that questions of value and technique were not his affair. Davie has in mind the literary situation in England. and even of what literature is written. he aims to be penetrating. and the professional . have obviously chosen extreme examples and silly to it would be contend that they adequately describe the American literary scene. but all one needs for applying ability to multiply. Emp. and can be as comfortable with Mr. not informative. as Mr. Leavis's "complexities" . . as in the older suit of critical clothes that he has now. But he has changed his habits. his activities are more dangerous than ever. instead of the professional the professional critic. Eliot's "objective correlative.

278 POLITICS AND CULTURE VI All of the tendencies toward cultural confonnism come to a head in the assumption that the avant garde. because dead. artists official spokesmen of culture. in the early years of a magazine like Partisan Review^ roughly between 1936 and 1941— these two radical impulses came together in an uneasy but fruitful union. signified one of the major turnings in the cultural history of the West. and it was in those years that the magazine seemed most exciting and vital as a link between art and experience. I would maintain. between the critical consciousness and the political conscience. and the terms of survival. Bartok. Proust. The avant garde first appeared on the American scene some 25 or 30 years ago. The achievements of Joyce. as a response to the need for absorbing the meanings of the cultural revolution that had taken place in Europe during the first two decades of the century. for precisely those aroused sensibilities that had responded to the innovations of the modern masters now responded to the crisis of modern society. to insist upon the continuity between their work and the accepted. artists of the past— this became the task of the avant garde. as both concept and intellectual grouping. of precisely the kind of dedicated group that the avant garde has been. American radicalism . and not by accident. Yet the future quality of become American obsolete or irreleculture. has vant. to discover formal terms and modes through which to secure these achievements. That union has since been dissolved. Somewhat later a section of the avant garde also became politically active. to mention only the obvious figures. a turning made all the more crucial by the the hostility which the work of such came not To counter met among all the fact that during the vigor of a society but during it its crisis. Schoenberg. Thus. and there is no likelihood that it will soon be re-established. Matisse. between the avant garde of letters and the independent left of politics. largely depends on the survival. Picasso.

the respectable and the aca- demic who had established a stranglehold over traditional culAt the most serious level. become very shrewd: it does not attack its as it disarms them through reasonable cauand moderate amendments. to the reading of those spokesmen for the genteel.THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY exists 279 only as an idea. Today. that it is now making "raids" possible to win upon the substantial . said and done. our immediate prospect is not nearly so exciting as it must then have seemed: we face no battle on behalf of great and difficult artists who are scorned by the official voices of culture. But clearly this was not the central purpose of the avant garde. without function or together only Had by an make— is and held spirit. the avant garde was trying to face the problem of the quality of our culture. it faced that problem with a courage and hon- esty that no other group in society could match. And at its best it was a defense against currency of certain names. and when all is ture. the literary avant garde become a —it has stock comment for reviewers to rapidly disintegrating. there would be no further need for its continuance. The struggle for Joyce mattered only as it was a struggle for literary standards. If the history of the is avant garde every reason for believing that is its seen in this way. the today as danger it is that the serious artists are not scorned enough. has been urged in some circles that only the pressure of habit keeps serious writers from middlebrow world. inert nostalgia. the purpose of the avant garde been to establish the make The Waste Land and Ulysses respectable in the universities. and that barely. in a sense. it was only an unavoidable fringe of snobbery and fashion. But this hardly makes the Philistinism has enemies as tions much defense of those standards that animated the avant garde during It its best days any the less a critical obligation. there survival is as necessary was 25 years ago. the defense of Joyce was a defense not merely of modern innovation but of that traditional culture which was the source of modern innovation. To be sure.

Perhaps. the garrulous. self-exposure mean to suggest that philistines are so well many fall so educated as Mr. New Yorker one could point to trivial Nor do I and frozen after they advocate. Every current of the Zeitgeist. and no one could oppose raids. the latter has come by off far the better. and perhaps this blinds me to his . the distinguished classicist. that is the serious writers themselves have a sense— not of belonging to an exclusive club— but of representing those cultural values which alone can them while making their raids. His work seems to me to be either shallowly based symbolism. merits . the terms upon which the writer enters into whom such relationships. Writers today have no choice.280 POLITICS outposts in that world we if AND CULTURE are ready to take risks. often enough. in the encounter between high and middle culture. a policy of evading temptations. Highet. low. his readiness not to deceive himself that is unpleasant necessity It But far worse. Pangloss-like. in saying had this. provided that is what they really are. thus far at least. . . But surely no one desires a policy of highbrow isolation. or else cheap cynicism Gide made by inverting commonplaces or by grinning through them. his willingness to understand with he dealing. however. writers may have and comforting patterns And then too the when they tell us a point gloomier Christian that it is easier for a soul to fall than to rise. but to write for magazines like the what matters is New Yorker—and worse. me beyond dispute that." I don't . writing in Harper s finds Andre Gide "an abominably wicked man. had the curse of perpetual immaturity. every assumption of contem- porary American life favors the safe of middlebrow feeling. of Gide. seems to is an a desirable virtue. But then I am always aware of the central fact about Gide— that he was a sexual pervert who kept proclaiming and justifying his perversion. but then not many . 6 6 Thus Professor Gilbert Highet. . I advocate overcoming them. Thus middlebrow world sustain far the incursions of serious writers into the have not been remarkably successful: for every short-story who writer has survived the a dozen whose work became begun to write for it. The pre-condition for successful raids. every imprint of social power. pimple-scratching.

prevent them from exploiting and contaminating. Much has been written about the improvement of cultural standards in America. What else is the meaning of the coarse attack launched by the Saturday Review against the highbrows. for that matter. this drift in aggressive. though a major piece of evidence— the wide circulation of paperbound books— is still an unweighed and unanalyzed quantity. The basic relations of cultural power remain unchanged. is the meaning of the hostility with which the Partisan Review symposium on "Our Country and Our Culture" was received? texts to see this far intellectuals tation. This sible if became So genial a middlebrow as Elmer Davis. highly confident at the moment. for they that none is possible. the a man named Olin Downes. in a long review of the teristic And the symposium. however: the middlebrows continue to dominate." ends up on a revealing around "The highbrows seem to be getting what the middlebrows have known for note: to recognizing the past thirty years.1 THIS AGE OF CONFORMITY 28 Precisely at the time that the highbrows seem inclined to abandon what is sometimes called their "proud isolation. the newspaper is a man named Orville critic literary critic for that most widely read book reviewer in this country . they know symposium. even only as a kind of limited defense. The most retains as its music distinguished newspaper in this country Prescott. entitled with a charac- smirk "The Care and Feeding of Intellectuals. everything that is serious and creative in our culture). the middlebrows. of course. under the guise of discussing the Pound case? What. do not desire compromise. for purposes of mass gossip." It is also the best pos- maintenance of the avant garde." the middlebrows have become more intransigent in their opposition to everything that is serious and creative in our culture (which does not. more how in the direction of cultural adap- argument for the is progress. yet the symposium have drifted It would take no straining of as a disconcerting sign of middlebrows wrote of perhaps because they too sensed it with blunt enmity.

Gide and Picasso. .282 is POLITICS a buffoon named Sterling North. All the forms of authority. the states tions independence? The most which is glorious vision of the intellectual life loosly called humanist: the idea of a is still that mind committed yet dispassionate. remains the Saturday Review. is still the best we have. nothing gives us reason to dissolve that compact in behalf of critical intransigence No known as the avant garde. Nothing here gives us cause for reassurance or relaxation. journal. read with admiration . the AND CULTURE most powerful literary by many librarians and professors. ready to stand alone. that press in upon modern life—what have these shown us to warrant the surrender of uncertainty. eager. with egregious ignorance. and torn . and in the leading American book supplement it is possible for the head of the largest American museum to refer. The banner though it may of critical independence. formal ideology or program is entirely adequate for coping with the problems that intellectuals face in the twentieth century. No easy certainties and no easy acceptance of and instituand monster bureaucracies. skeptical. to "the Spenglerian sterility which has possessed Europe for the past . curious." half century and [has] produced Proust. ragged be.

" Much peared there still seems to that. was at its worst and the response of what less than heroic. As with story about the cigarette ads. also. so with denunciations of conformity. Editors and "opinion-makers" read tial up with the latest serves. Despite a small circulation. Six years ago. since the may well be an intellectual man manque who writing the ad sneers at Partisan Review yet dreams of having it accept his spiritual ordeals of Madison Avenue. Partisan Review is magazine. unintentionally. as an it influento keep thoughts and moods of the intellectuals. was helping but to I for Partisan of what ap- could not then make know the outcry against conformity into a catch-word of our conformist culture.A MIND'S TURNINGS There are grey moments when I charge myself with some small responsibility for the endless chatter about "conformity" when McCarthyism many intellectuals some- that has swept the country. . it one of the sources from which middlebrow culture appropriates serious ideas. No one is surprised these days to find a notion or phrase migrating directly from the quarterlies to a cigarette ad. I wrote a sharp polemic Review called "This Age of Conformity. Intellectuals used to complain that society ignored or re- This essay was written in 1960. I me true.

escaping it it. Adulteration may await whatever say.* Assaults upon mass culture become an indispensable element of culture: the spice for the stew. except in those rare circumstances when it promises to yield a tremor of no matter how much the intellectual may admire and envy the scholarly specialist. the —William Dean Howells difficult thing is to keep them. One idea seems as good as another. not even its truly astonishing dull- it has been an unprecedented capacity for assimilating— and thereby depreciating— everything on its own terms." and recently have begun to make raids upon literary criticism and discussions of "action painting". is a noise-maker. But for the intellectual it will not do. he cannot emulate him. society learned to "adapt" those ideas. Perhaps so. since none seems to matter very much— this amiably nihilistic version of chacun a son gout is the most authentic sentiment of the age. and for many people it must have a genuine value. yet that does not relieve you of the obligation to speak. they could hardly have imagined what might happen when. The intellectual. both lavish praise and severe attacks. which we should not scorn. keeps talking even after the room has been emptied and the shades drawn. for ends of its own. Still.284 POLITICS AND CULTURE jected their ideas. but they leave genuine scholarship untouched. is silence. In novelty. almost never considered by radi- No one has yet found a way of popularizing silence." . The mass media is the scholar's kind of are quick to grasp phrases about "conformity. One mode of resistance. he is the man who cals. and rush to you But that does not mean that one should seek embrace it. * "To make enemies is perfectly easy. And there seems no way of ness. During the past few decades the most remarkable trait of American culture has been neither con- formity nor conservatism. alas. Another possibility for resistance specialization.

since a certain individuality. to be sure. Harold Rosenberg once said to me in an amusing improvisation. everyone No one. At some moments. And whose not the only or that socialism is primarily a commitment is to vestigial and a value and a problem. should continue to regard ourselves not merely as radicals but also as socialists. the intellectual writes about subjects outside his field. change) or absurdly old-fashioned (by the readers of Partisan Review. radicalism seems again to be taking on a sickly sort of popularity. But as to Some people even (by the readers of if you so much be considered whose minds seldom likely to Life.a mind's turnings 285 the nature of things. that we do lishment. whose minds have been nourished on a diet of novel- may be a good reason—surely main reason— why those of us whose Marxism ties). chauvinism is dying out. then you are dangerous have a a voice should say. the intellectual can only maintain his moral guard. ready to admit that is it wants might be good "constructive radical voice" in America. not even as saying it helps suggest members of the Estabmembers who by their frolicsome nay- not wish to be accepted as make it easier for the rest to stay comfortable and cool. though they tend to be chary of providing examples. Recognizing all this. try to avoid needless self-pity. if not definition. If nothing else. is someone who turns answers into . He a is has no man who field. self-righteousness and snobbism— and keep doing In some limited circles. nourish his sense of humor. II An intellectual. but it mention socialism. the intellectual deals with precisely the kinds of topics that the mass media will want to aggrandize. may even help make him more it can lend him him apart from popular. Will a magnified reiteration of radicalism protect him from the raids of mass culture? Probably not. that it sets the bleached liberalism of the American scene. By impulse. now that Cold War his work. suggest they know what such for himself. a flavoring.

and. ism. Yet there is also some historical ground for doing this. if only because over the past two centuries a whole series of norms and ideals have accumulated around the term "intellectual. In such instances the their relationship to the on a priori grounds. a general idea of freedom. as the * When man who in the name of freedom casts a cold the Polish intellectuals in 1956 started their opposition to Stalindemanded a series of definite and particular rights.286 POLITICS AND CULTURE questions. to a series of definite and par- ticular rights. a is But there now it needs man who. Intellectuals have often enough allowed themselves to be- come mere sycophants of ruling power. To many freedom as intellectual is assumptions. but in a remarkably short time they began to see that their struggle derived from. At other times they have performed. They began by struggling for the right to existence. which were valuable not only to them but to other sections of the population. as critic and the intellectual— the side that makes observer. judgment of dominant power cannot be made but depends on a At the same series of specific his- time. other things as well: but to freedom above manifests it itself in is all." The ideal construct. a variety of technical or political tasks. and could not be sustained without. the principled worrying at one's be that ought to own characteristic of intellectual something. even a ruling power that was repressive and inhumane. This vivid sentence suggests all the invited dis- comfort. I many here give to the term "intellectual" has situaitself of our history. so obviously unrealized in which become part tions. else. reasonably and constructively. life.* That I am here talking about intellectuals in a special way —by normative fiat more than historical observation— is clear. but inevitably this led them to a struggle for the right kind of existence. by pledged to freedom. equally important. so utterly commonplace that by to be cried from rooftops: an the very fact of his existence. torical estimates. they . there is always a side to him preeminently and uniquely an intellectual— which stands apart. as it is a commanding and moving idea.

Ill Unexpectedly my mind keeps turning to Dostoevsky— not. But now. publicity why it is so disquieting to hear intellectuals yesterday were professional anti-Stalinists now who but expressing the kind of rationalizations for Communist power that one has become accustomed to hearing from Paul Sweezy. And on other that is roles: scribe.a mind's turnings 287 eye upon considerations of expediency. we shall persuade them tures such as they are . They take man. it becomes possible to foresee. political adjutant. tells Christ: We shall give them the quiet humble happiness of weak creaby nature. anticipating his reign on earth. I mean the movement who foresaw a situation in which the would drive men into a fearful choice between the risks of freedom and the security of a false collective. In the past this has seemed an excessively abstract and apocalyptic view. for the first time. To keep saying such things is not artificially to preserve a grudge. to be intellectuals. as in the past. intellectuals who become involved with History. where memory is notoriously short. since the actual choices were seldom as total as Dostoevsky assumed. Paul Baran and Isaac Deutscher.) an intellectual defend freedom For to is no particular cause for self-congratulation: it ought to be as instinctive with him as for a child to reach for food. experience does matter. the novelist of extreme psychic states but the thinker whom radicals used uneasily to belittle. Oh. or in relation to it. Progress and Plans cease. The Grand Inquisitor. That is why the flabbiness of spirit which characterized a good many American intellectuals during the McCarthy period is a deep and lasting blotch. it is to assume that even in a country like ours. (In the modern totalitarian state. in the sense that I have here used the term. a Dostoevskian choice. in the future just beyond the immediate Dostoevsky of history horizon.

that makes Huxley's prophecy seem more accurate than Orwell's. But if one turns from the immediate political struggle to a kind of socio-cultural speculation by means of which certain trends are projected into an indefinite future. But the anticipation is there. We lift them up and thereby show that they are weak. Thou for taught them to be proud.288 POLITICS at least not to be proud. . the growth of functional rationality— Dostoevsky had not read Max Weber. it seems to me both intellectually facile and morally catastrophic to affirm an identity between the societies of East and West. perhaps. . . . . game weak and their life like a child's them even to sin. . for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a decision for themselves. Yes. the Communist version primarily but surely not alone? A few elements are missing: the role of technology. all the millions How much . is required to see that this vision. . as Orwell's passion and eloquence helped invalidate his own prophecy. And all will be happy. shall shall allow we shall set make them but in to work. . in short. . there may be some reason for anticipating a society ruled by benevolent Grand Inquisitors. anticipates the dominant trend of bureaucratic society. and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever their leisure hours we . Though there is a tendency for the two to move closer to each other. . the differences remain enormous and crucial. they will be glad to believe our answer. helpless And we Oh. except insofar. "translation" though expressed . didst shall AND CULTURE that they are only pitiful children. in the terms of Dostoevsky's anarchist Chris- tianity. When one is engaged in concrete political analysis which involves firm and immediate political choices. They will marvel at us and will be awe-stricken before us. they are . on top of which will flourish an efficient political-technical elite— a society. but that child-like happiness the sweetest of is all . . a society of non-terroristic and bureaucratic authoritarianism.

But I offer it That is I and on the have repeatedly not as a prediction. that the goal of moderate material satisfaction is reached after the next several decades in large areas of the world and by not democratic. but largely because of the sheer cascading growth of tech- The between East and West has brought life. for a variety of reasons having to political pov- a specula- grossly simplified ideas. own But right. seems almost the possibility remains worth considering in its do with our certain. fed regularly and diverted by the mass media. and for controlling the birth rate. by comparison with their previous condition. then. And more: the struggle between East and West accelerates the nology. would be satisfied— as. once thought. because there human the if becomes pos- world in which material wants will be sible to envisage a moderately it is race will create for an immediate likelihood that itself a free and humane order. only as a conceptual this possibility will not be realized in the next several decades. Suppose. societies that are not socialist What would the intellectuals say? and often We may assume that large numbers of ordinary people. they might have good reason to be. may seem irrelevant and even heartless.A mind's turnings If there will ways are found 289 not be a war within the next decade. But the intellectuals? Snug in their posts and aglow with honors. but one ironic consequence has been that the inner tendencies toward social crisis within both capitalist and Communist society are held in check by the need each has to combat the other. This possibility arises not. the majority terrible social arrangements. struggle obvious catastrophic consequences for modern technological growth that makes it possible to foresee a life without severe material want. as radicals satisfied. It of tion which rests upon attacked. partly kind of technological determinism which possibility. would they still remember or care about the vision of human freedom? Would they still feel the . To advance this speculation at a time when human beings on our planet still suffer from erty.

. And he feeds the hungry. kiss is a kiss of despair. But perhaps Dostoevsky also meant something else. Lawrence thought. At the end of Dostoevsky's legend. H. He is now a skilled executive who knows how to manage large-scale enterprises and sustain the morale of his employees. as D. Christ's readiness to embrace even his greatest enemy. No doubt. Christ says not a word but meekly kisses the Grand Inquisitor. undeluded. Perhaps Christ's kiss. is a sign of loving helplessness: He has nothing to say to the Grand Inquisitor. In the West he force of Dostoevsky's legend with happiness? is a corporation official. The Committee. forever. in the East he belongs to the Central He is friendly. His wisdom in rising above mere argument. ascetic. in silence. Berdyaev and other Christian commentators see this as a triumph of love over power. He cannot struggle with him for possession of the world.POLITICS 290 AND CULTURE its either-or of freedom and Or would they comfort themselves by regarding it as a mere dusty remnant of the nineteenth century? For in our time the Grand Inquisitor is no longer a withered Churchman: stern. and He retreats.

If not these two. Witness-is a fascinating grab-bag: autobiography. account of un- . their confrontation was. one a "liberal" recruited from the idealistic wing of public service. if not their shapes and accents. MAN AND STALIN That Whitaker Chambers told the truth and Alger Hiss did seems to me highly probable. quite well-groomed man and that unkempt one. almost abstract quality: made it inevitable that. And that is why most of the journalistic speculation on their personalities proved so ephemeral: for what did it finally matter whether Hiss was a likable man or Chambers an overwrought one? what did it matter when at stake was the commitment of those popular-front liberals who had persisted in treating Stalinism as an accepted part of "the Left"? and why should serious people have puzzled for long over the private motives of Chambers or Hiss when Stalinism itself remained to be studied and analyzed? Chambers has told his story and put down his ideas. then two others. This essay was written in 1952. as Witness testifies. it had another. other shapes and accents.GOD. Personal tragedy though not. the political course of the thirties apart from this there be a clash between two men. swung to the politics of the far right. the other a former Communist who repudiated his past and then.

As autobiography. the narrative itself demands the attention of anyone interested in modern politics. tract. the ethic of mercy. is not. with Communism the rationalist heresy. or persuasive humility. he several times acknowleges a Mover at his elbow and declares the appointment of Thomas . reminiscence. the book is embarrassing: Chambers' memoir of his family seems a needless act of masochism while the portrait of his adult self suggests a man whose total sincerity is uncomplicated by humor. In hardly a sustained passage that as a all its thousand words of. religious As confession. five devoted to a serious development of thought. and the one a return to Christian virtue. Stalinism. is split between those who acknowledge the primacy of God and those who assert the primacy of man. say.POLITICS 292 derground work. These views Chambers announces with an air of abject righteousness. from this fundamental division follows a struggle between morality merely the hope final version of for the world is and murder. I need was that I "I to was not seeking be a practising had been a practising Com- time spent in "seeking ethics" or even a breather from "seeking" anything. might seem to have been in order. Christian in the same sense ethics. self-mortification. Writes munist. irony. P. but there flair for intellectual melodrama is be and sure. as Chambers sees it. the something in that seems particu- our time and to the kind of personality always hungry for absolutes of faith." A little Chambers: My was seeking God. down breaks best training for the lar to everything into sermon. The most remarkable of ideas there is it fact about Witness is should be so ragged and patchy. U. to of the mind. The world. self -justification. AND CULTURE attempt at an explanation of has an almost classical stature: it whatever opinions Chambers may now superimpose on his memory. Service in Chambers' work 800 pages life the G. Indifferent to the caution that the sin of pride takes no more extreme form than a belief in God as one's personal deus ex machina.

By political turn has dizzied his historical Nye noting that Alger Hiss was counsel for the committee during the thirties. "if only in prompting the triumph of Communism in China. doubt his capacity as historian and must I social observer. in that God fact. which embezzlement of party money.). homosexuality.GOD. A few illustrations may suggest the quality of Chambers' thought: Again and again he declares himself interested in present- ing the facts. MAN AND Murphy STALIN 293 government prosecutor in the Hiss case to be evidence that "It pleased God to have in readiness a man. if Gorky's report of it a made him want to stroke necessary to make revolutions. he tries to discredit its ex- posure of the munitions industry. armies in the valley of Yenan.H. not the bars of Washington. the man merely said. entire world" (italics mine—I. conclude spent the past several years as a special aid to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. dirty as was. alas. of the United States. "The penetration of the United States government by the Communist Party. "coincided with a mood in the nation which light- . It is not true that "Lenin gave up listening to music because of the emotional havoc played with him". casual remark be credited. of the Mao. each side "prompted scandalous whispering campaigns. Chambers' extreme sense. and pigeon were the preferred whispers. It is not true that Trotsky "led in person" the Bolshevik troops that suppressed the Kronstadt rebellion." It is an exaggeration to say that in the 1927 faction fight in the United States it Communist Party. Without questioning his personal story. In reading this book one is nonplussed by the way its polemics violate its declared values." adds Chambers. that music heads at a time when he It is felt it not true that "Communists are invariably as prurient as gutter urchins. dangerous as they were. recruited his history of Asia." From as Witness an unsympathetic reader might." And it is a wild exaggeration to assert that the Communist agents in Washington. have decisively changed the in stool and therefore.

that their profits had been unconscionably high. about the Hiss supporters. but this attribution must seem completely shabby when it rests on nothing more than the fact that Rosenwald worked for O. for it means. that some had pressured both sides in the Chaco to buy their products and thus to prolong the war. it would be perfectly would suggest that killing is forbidden under any circumstances. sinister." is is Czar and his two million peasants or slave just as evil to kill the to starve What.POLnTCS AND CULTURE 294 heartedly baited the men who manufactured indispensable to defense as 'Merchants of Death/" But its the armaments more was involved: the Nye committee revealed that some arms manufacturers had not hesitated to sell in bulk to Hitler. It may be that Rosenwald does hold the political views Chambers hints at." So the for him be simply an unjustified evil of killing the Czar cannot was a killing." In the course of breaking away from Stalinism. is both preposterous and. the committee that Chambers complains bitterly.. but must be that it was killing— which leaves him with the moral enorthat it . One he is and with many justice. Unfor- not himself above the use of similar methods. he is willing to "struggle against [Communism] by all statement mean? clear. John Rogge in the Attorney General's office and that Rogge "is now of Hiss's attorneys face the legal representative of the Tito government. about whose Chambers darkly pronounces: "I had seen dozens much like it in my time. Chambers came to feel that "it family . smears he has suffered from tunately. The truth of these disclosures does not depend on whether Hiss was counsel for surely made them. as it laborers to death. including arms." The notion that people can be "placed" politically by the shape of their faces.000 civilians in Hiroshima as it was to kill the Czar and his family. does this highly charged Coming from a pacifist. at least in this century. We might then hope to hear as a sequel that "It is just as evil to kill 60." But Chambers is not a pacifist. was Harold Rosenwald. if anything..

And with good reason. Chambers its it is The French Revolution becomes the vil- progeny every godless society of our time. skuas. both seem to him forms of fascism. the relation of the Asian parties to native nationalism. What is Stalinism? It sition neither disputable is evil. Faith in Man and Faith in God. crude identifica- tion of Stalin's totalitarianism with Lenin's revolutionary state. the common. He seems unconcerned to examine the workings of Russian society. Chambers moves toward the view that the source of our troubles crisis of is the Enlightenment: "The the Western world exists to the degree in which indifferent to God. of course. accepts. Unfortunately. and is best expressed by his former Colonel Bykov: "Who pays is boss. New Deal was a so- which crippled "the power of business". what is the point of close study and fine distinctions? You need only sound the trumpets." lain of history. Almost unwittingly. and who takes cial revolution . Nowhere in his 800 pages does he attempt sustained definition or description." Throughout the book Chambers praises the Christian and meekness.GOD. and boobies. nowhere does he bound the shape of the evil. this credo virtues of humility does not prevent him from declaring "the left-wing intellectuals of almost every feather" to have been Hiss supporters and then from calling them "puffins. at the service of Messrs. a propo- nor enlightening. declares Chambers. MAN AND STALIN 295 mity: "Several unjustified killings are just as evil as two million unjustified killings." These delicate designations prompt one that a good many "left-wing feather— those who to remind Chambers intellectuals" of truly deserved to one or another be called and "left" "intellectual"— fought a minority battle against Stalinism at a time when both he and Hiss were Yagoda and Yezhov. If you believe that the two great camps of the world prepare for battle under the banners. skimmers. the social role of the Western Stalinist parties. the the motto of "the welfare state" associate.

various proposed other courses of action.. lacking in what he calls "formless good will. But. it is a return to Manichean demonology. "the human horror of the purge" was actual treatment evil. Hitler. God/' also give something. proved a crutch for a stumbling capitalism. specific moral criticism of it can only seem A society about of is to by men which they must be held responsible. . attack Stalinism for last sentence Chambers its his austere disdain for is is shocking in its moral who saying that those of us inhumanity are sentimental. Jefferson. more important to attack Stalin for disbelieving in God than the primacy of killing is to for killing millions of men? be regarded as a mere "consequence" of ciples. Communism The human horror was not evil. Chambers' approach to history rests. Stalin could have taken no theory at for other course. the purges were the result of a decision in power. Lenin. while symmetrical in their political devices. the prin- superficial. that the Keynesian measures of the Deal. not merely . among them the removal of Stalin from power. however. Roosevelt." Is it. The callousness. "indifferent to all. a decision for If first if it less by its philosophical premise has any. be judged God and man. and New Or social rationales. it was the evil. apparently." The first two of these sentences are sad consequence of Communists opposed the purge and historically false.POLITICS 20/6 money must lumped Stalin. From a Communist point of view.." Everyone might thus be together: Voltaire. class structures. In effect. In that fact lay the evidence that is absolutely evil. on no social all. Since him everything depends on whether one takes God or man to be primary. Stalin and the Stalinists were absolutely justified in making the Purge. political ideologies. he can write that "as Communists. than by its men. in fact. not equally all A man who but evil. far from constituting a revolution. finally. be thinks in such patterns can hardly much pected to notice— or have and AND CULTURE ex- reason to care— that Stalinism have fascism. different historical origins.

" This an The crisis. in the words of Marx. MAN AND "sad. Stalinism attracts. anti-capitalist but not socialist. an important observa- which make to vulgar theories atavistic drive for power. all the old crap to rise to the top. problem for the historian is And the to determine precisely the blend of seemingly contradictory elements that Stalinism comprises. ignoring the fact that the vision of Stalinism treats it as if it is provides crisis it Feeding on inspires. was a perfect specimen of the new Stalinist . is socialism. Drawing on a unique blend of reactionary and pseudo. offers a challenge. Outside of Russia. Stalinism utilizes the socialist tradition of Europe and the nationalist sentiment of Asia for its domestic class needs and international power maneuvers. The The educated man bers. Colonel Bykov. an academic matter? Not of Stalinism. His boss in the underground. all those who feel the world must be changed but lack the under- standing or energy to change it in a libertarian direction." What STALIN matters 2Q7 is not the devil's metaphysics. slight attention to the counterrevolution that sia Stalinism crisis impels. Stalinism causes. Chambers himself provides an anecdote which dramatically confirms these remarks. moved by and a necessary corrective of Stalinism mainly permanent at that it all. in corrupt. for the essence rests which engaged on a new kind in "primitive ac- cumulation" by destroying the revolutionary generation and appropriating to itself total economic and political power.GOD. Chambers' major insight into the problem of Stalinism his insistence that in this era of a faith. in this age of crisis and decay. Dynamic but not progressive. workingman is chiefly tion is ideal. even an a vision.revolutionary appeals. But Cham- were a legitimate form of during the very years he was Is this its Russian form. "The vision chiefly moved by the the vision. under its domination. is crisis. the best impulses of modern man are directed toward the worst consequences. but his morals. its of bureaucratic ruling class is and pays occurred in Rus- underground agent.

They belonged to another species and he talked about them the way people talk about the beastly or amusing habits of cows or pigs. scornful of liberals. he does not discuss. Yet he yearns spiritual reformation. he drenched with the consciousness of crisis." Why? I would guess that it was the attraction of an extreme bureaucratic personality for a mild bureaucratic To Bykov "the generation that . mains? Only the fact that estranged personality and What re- reaction- ary opinion form an explosive mixture. he would have seen on Bykov's hands the blood of Bukharin and Tomsky and thousands upon thou- sands of others. AND CULTURE unintellectual. had made the Revolution seemed as alien and preposterous . In his final third world for some there is sentence Chambers hints that he believes a war both inevitable and necessary. the Gletkin type: coarse. he agrees that "it is tion that necessary to change the world. the position of those reactionaries manques who edit the National Review. Yet. brutal." he accepts. for unlike them. man who instinctively scorned the masses another who had been trained to think of them personality. Where will Chambers go? His strength lies in a recogniwe live in an extreme situation.. he continues a disturbed and dissatisfied man. one had possessed he would have been as objects for benevolent manipulation. convinced that "in the struggle against nism the conservative is all Commu- but helpless. after a brief conversation.POLITICS 20. given to extreme gestures and ultimate statements.. If Hiss a trace of revolutionary or liberal spirit. be much point in sur- Would reminding him that re- . . before introducing him to Hiss. Hiss found Bykov "impressive. that he would have to apologize for the Russian. in any case. a turn to God. as foreigners." So disgusting was Bykov that Chambers felt. But only formally. is he has none of their complacence. What likelihood that spiritual or any other desired values would vive in a world-wide atomic war.8 man. obedient. there." No longer a radical. of of people for . contemptuous of Bykov. formally.

to remake the world. then the it is hills. For if Chambers is right in believing the major bulwark against Stalin to be faith in God. I fear. time for it men of conviction and courage to take to . Those who abandon a father below Very are all little point. will drive still more people to Stalinism. comparable to that of the Franco is a believer? that the pray for Stalin as in Germany they prayed for Hitler? more than to have told him during the 'thirties that Stalinism was betraying the German workers to Hitler or by its trials and purges murdering thousands of innocent people. of the totalitarian state no strategy. it if left unsolved. gives the opponents no program with which makes our situation appear even more desperate than it already is. many that work of our most precious concepts of worldly Paris? that not liberty are the of skeptics? that Stalinism thrives in pious known a West? that if it priests in Russia is as in wins supporters in an Orient which has loss of religious faith Stalin Rome an atheist.MAN AND STALIN 209 ligious faith has rarely prevented despots from being despotic? GOD. little too ready for a father above. But this shift of faith does not remove the gnawing problems which.

it and critical description. Edmund Wilson is dislikes its cheap-jack ingrained deceit. state. He fears the centralization of the bureaucratic and takes toward implies. crisis. and looks with a cold eye upon our claims to moral superiority in the Cold War. about is What follows. he might have won the approval of nineteenth-century This essay was written in 1963. let me simply join in the praise and proceed to glance at certain problematic assumptions behind Wilson's book. Patriotic Gore. is a masterpiece. . detests its modern world. It displays to full advantage Wil- its son's gifts for historical narrative moves from writer astonishing. its American chauvinism. He not at home in the commercialism. it to writer. he is also and there are ways in which his book about the American Civil War. the book is an extremely gifted Plutarchian in writer. with vibrates with the passions of a But since all this an ease that is supreme national has already been said elsewhere. then. He frantic vulgarity. vividness. topic to topic. not a discussion of Patriotic Gore as such but a its word introduction.EDMUND WILSON AND THE Edmund Wilson is SEA SLUGS not only a superb literary critic. As an evocation of the literary and intellectual figures whose experience was shaped by the Civil War. it an attitude of hostility such as.

Now. men who were their own masters and lived by standards of public service and stoic virtue. . Borrowing perhaps from the Marxism to which he was once drawn and of which there remains a sediment in his writing— though a Marxism that in regard to historical (as distinct from literary) flexibility in his time. And going for the purpose of sustaining the United States as a more and more unpopular world power. while as expenditure all this few funds civilize is as possible are being supplied to educate the Americans themselves . . extensive secret police. also." as rooted in the triumph of the industrial North. this hands—Wilson "Demon mind: the Beard War sufficient sees this monster state of our of Centralization. Whether the attitudes expressed by Wilson can be called radical is less important than that they convey a modern criticism of society with which many radicals sym- pathize. but also with the chain of causation which has trans- formed America from a country where republican virtues were once cherished by an austere minority to a country where We Americans whose public officials kept telling us we were Free World. it from is this perspective of Wilson approaches the Civil War. are required to pay. . He is disenchantment that concerned not merely with the political meaning and cultural reverberations of the war. being spied upon by an living in "the . as we whose salaries we are required to pay. the salaries of another corps of secret agents who are infiltrating foreign countries. like the Russians. and .EDMUND WDLSON AND THE SEA 301 SLUGS American intellectuals like Oliver Wendell Holmes in the North and Alexander Stephens in the South." discovered that we were expected to pay staggering taxes of which it has been estimated that 70 per cent has been going not only for nuclear weapons capable of depopulating whole countries but also for bacteriological and biological ones which made it possible for us to poison the enemy We are. the Civil problems never achieved a Memories of Charles Beard come who educated to a generation into regarding not merely or primarily as a holy crusade to .

however. such as the one against Mexico. He accepts all too readily a good part of the Southern view of the Reconstruction period. that were openly imperialist in character. a primitive ." He compares the Civil War to other American wars." a myth that "supplied the mili- Union North with the rabble-rousing moral issue which modern war to make the conflict appear as a melodrama. was is "the bunk. the view that ideology." He he comes close to accepting Henry Ford once remarked about speaks of "the myth that [the North] fighting to free the slaves.POLITICS 302 AND CULTURE and preserve the union but also as "the Second American Revolution" confirming the power of capitalist economy. But despite this deflation of Northern war aims. the Confederate Vice President who saw the Southern cause as a crusade against federalist centralization and in behalf of that crusade repeatedly embarrassed Jefferson Davis. There forth a is more to Wilson's discounting of ideology. He was trying to describe an historical event in its abolish slavery complexity. his inclination is to dismiss both Northern and Southern statements as mere propaganda and self-delusion. even per- tant is necessary in every mitting himself a reference to "the premature enfranchise- ment of the Negroes. Wilson. so that our awareness of the social transforma- full tion signalled by the Civil War would lead us to qualify but not eliminate both Northern and Southern claims to moral and ideological purposes. Beard never showed any doubts as to the relative merits of North and South. view of history that might be described He puts as a reductive biological determinism: In a recent Walt Disney film showing life at the bottom of the organism called a sea slug is seen gobbling up smaller organisms through a large orifice at one end of its body. in his distaste for he regards as the consequences of Northern what victory. sea." apologetics. as history. he And despite his contempt for Southern finds himself expressing admiration for Alex- ander Stephens. will not consider seriously the professed Northern aims.

Human history can a nightmare. And that leaves little to say. and one reason Patriotic Gore fine a book is that Wilson's critical practice theory. the fitted into the . then been not solved but dissolved.. for as Wilson remarks. be If this true. is is so superior to his he ignores most of what he has said in his introduction. it fails is too grandiose. But my interest here is with more than his critical or historical method: for the kind of disgust that motivates Wilson s reflections upon American history is often shared chanted with the Cold by people who War and who find themselves disen- turn therefore to a kind of absolutist emotional radicalism. a nausea we easily enough. all know. apocalyptic. can hardly be grasped by anyone seriously adhering to such notions. a radicalism without or even against It is politics. it ingurgitates that too. and who can deny that much of the past. can be behave like sea slugs. as a radicalism of nausea. too whole of behavior.EDMUND WILSON AND THE SEA SLUGS 303 confronted with another sea slug of an only slightly larger size. like the sea slugs. cannot help doing what they do." then political ideas trivial role in history. Plunging into his rich materials. releasing as to be regarded. Wilson's analogy with the sea slugs has great emotional force. Now. as also the present creeping into the scheme of ingurgitation? If men power of the comparison rests in the idea that they. But the comparison with the sea slug too monolithic. since the problem of history has future. the wars fought by human beings are stimulated as a rule primarily by the same instincts as the voracity of the sea slug. they do it "by the same instinct. Claiming to encircle the to discriminate among the many . it does a wish be done with the whole bloody mess. even "as a moral sentiments can play only a past and rule. The complexity human of events. and the future is doomed to a nightmare-repetition of the past. either in the American past or elsewhere. the a mere horror of ingurgitating voracity.

doubts this need only read Patriotic Wilson's sea slug theory of history implies an answer to the and violence. that a fundamental clash between two orders of society vocabulary of righteousness. Meanwhile. Though contemptuous of the conventional Southern apologists and by temperament and belief himself a man for of the North. ideas and ideals. either in for if 1865 or 1963. Whoever Gore and follow Wilson's sensitive account of the way thinking men on both sides tried to cope with their experience during the Civil War. Isolating the beast-like element in history. which even attention from those forces distracts it men to One need not as they cause act like beasts are nevertheless peculiar to men. the Holmes's and Stephens' of the twentieth century. cling to theories of inevitable progress in history to find pur- pose and direction. few also. Once into the heart of his book. while back upon a trench of all can we unhappy rectitude. Yet are his discoveries here quite so novel as he seems to suppose? That the North was driven by the pressures of an expanding capitalism and the South by the needs of a besieged slave economy. men a cover for appetite? is no need forces. Wilson quite forgets the sea slugs and becomes embroiled with the ideological disputes of his protagonists. and as ingurgitating organisms. then there among contending be dismissed fall as insatiable beasts whose And in that a justification for impatience with men are indeed to discriminate and choose nuance and analytic shading: like sea slugs. Wilson bears down hardest on the claims Northern idealism.AND CULTURE POLITICS 304 kinds. it is an approach to human affairs which creates problem of evil a special illusion of "realism": for what could seem more tough-minded than treating thinking is little "realism" there political more than lies. an answer that lies forever ready as a biological constant. all contributing to the outcome of events and more than mere all a good deal disguises for the urge to power. that was often masked by the leaders were many Northern . an answer that precedes the problem. morals and sentiments.

The truth here is a double truth. would have to go back in time and reject a good deal more Western history— or. I represents a major turning in the moral development of the United States. The point needs to be added that while the victory of the North helped to speed the growth of the bureaucratic state. Civil War development which is If usefully. that important Southern figures men fastidious about trading in armies were often brutal. Yet it does not follow. it let alone solve. since it is so would say that the clash between the two systems in the Civil War could not have been mediated: one or the other side had to win. The Civil War did mark the victory of modern capitalism and let loose those tendencies toward a centralized state which Wilson deplores. but also. hard to formulate. There is a sense. More can be regarded as a crucial moment in a historical Wilson were to push and others that his reasoning a little stifle further. despite all the necessary discounts. that Civil War as an unambiguous it is much conflict too simple to see the between good and evil was pressed upon the consciousness of anyone who grew up and read books twenty-five years ago.EDMUND WDLSON AND THE SEA SLUGS hostile to the 305 Negroes and some indifferent to the horrors of were humane gentleblack flesh. that the war was an utter disaster without moral value which set loose the sequence of events leading to bureaucratic centralization. with whatever grimace. he would have he of to . Whether the War was a Civil War a problem to be avoided here. in which the Civil disaster: the sense that all was inevitable is wars are. and rarely in history has this kind of clash been resolved peacefully. the extremely complex and ambiguous. as Wilson so strongly implies. the Civil War brought to an end the system by which one man could own another and therefore. that the Northern slavery. con- taining elements that promote freedom it. Nor does it follow that the issue of slavery was a mere propa—all this gandists mirage. of course. it was surely not the source of that growth.

I much Northern am not saying that the false- writing had no consequence: it had a great deal to do with allowing the former slaves to sink back between North and South there were fundamental differences in social system which vitally affected the destinies of enslaved human beings. he has too richly developed a sense of sense of the ridiculous to finds fall into justice that trap. He is not of course pro-Southern. me though to living is I the cause of us all. with the hope that through intelligence and men may will yet succeed in choosing freedom. as Alexander Stephens said. Alexander Stephens was obviously a man of probity and intellectual attainments. in his revulsion from Northern cant and his disgust with the evolution of Nothern society. he most Southern apologetics simply boring." Each to his own wondermust confess that while recent years have led wonder about many things. the . There can be no evading ness of this central fact. the war must be regarded as more than a mere struggle for power veiled by moral phrases. that "the cause of the South ings. but the slaves were freed. leans over backward into semi-serfdom. identifying with the Con- federacy has not been one of them. that "there are wonder today— as one's pered by the exactions it may not be true.POLITICS 306 AND CULTURE accept the two-sidedness of Western history. Yet the fact remains that in writing about the South. the present-day as War— well— one must between a proper skepticism concerning announced aims and an estimate of the probable consequences. and too keen a and besides. Yet he can moments when one may becomes more and more hamof centralized bureaucracies— whether write. When discussing so complex an event as the Civil distinguish political The War Cold for that matter. astonishingly. sincerity or duplicity of Northern claims was not a deci- sive factor in regard to at least War: Northern one major outcome of the Civil may have been politicians hypocritical and Northern publicists self-righteous. Wilson. they would not have been. Had the South won. and as a result.

After all. . in the moral . as he had to shame of the South.. but he also could write that the Confederacy rested "upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man.EDMUND WILSON AND THE SEA SLUGS S°7 idea of states rights which other politicians used as a handy slogan he took seriously. But if we cannot do better than Alexander Stephens." natural and normal condition Most of us share Wilson's desire to find intellectual ancestors in order to confront American lif e in the mid-twentieth century. it is a desire both understandable and necessary in a time of chaos. is his . Wilson's own career? . .. that slavery . He wrote with cogency about "the Demon of Centralization. but he was caught up.. then perhaps we ought to try making it on our own. hasn't that repeatedly been the lesson of Edmund be.

Partisan Review. and Prentice-Hall. Inc. The New Republic Dissent. The Nation. some in an earlier form: The Hudson Review. .ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Acknowledgments are made to the magazines in which the essays in this book have appeared. for the Introduction to The Achievement of Edith Whaiion and to Houghton Mifflin Company for In Quest of Moral Style and for George Gissing: Poet of Fatigue.

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