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January 1967 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1967-10-00
This is a tabloid page

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Mailer's panorama of horrors

Continued from page three
modern thought, but the real ab-
The form of the new metaphor
is a collection of chapters inter
rupted by the introductory beeps
over the ether of Amercia - thus
following the rules of the art of
the absurd:
The absurd is an art which is built
not only on interruption, but annoy-
ance. . . . It assumes that annoyance,
not love or passion or climax, or in-
terest, or mood or mind or even mat-
ter, but annoyance is the foundation
of modern existence, and the progres-
sivley most common condition for
every one alive is interruption and
annoyance. Now art is a heart pill-
nitroglycerine, it binds shattered
nerves together, shattering them all
over again with style, wit, each ex-
plosion a guide to building a new
nervous system.
Why Are We in Vietnam? does
this; some of the shattering and
annoyance is relieved by the hu-
mor, which comes mostly from
a Nabokovian and Joycean play
with language.
What about Vietnam? The
word occurs twice, on the last
in Vietnam? Why are we in
page; but then why, Why Are We
Vietnam? The only explanation
for the war is that we are suc-
combing to a plague, and the

massacre of strange people
seems to relieve this plague. The
book is a picture of the plague;
by a kind of allegory of the ab-
surd, it tried to hint answers to
the question of the title. It sug-
gests questioning the motives of
DJ and Rusty in going hunting;
it suggests that Texas might be
America's America, and thus an-
swers the question of the title in
an indirect way.
The pairings of Mailer's earlier
works - victims and assasins,
conformists and outlaws, magi-
cians and artists - which led to
that of God and Devil, are pres-
ent here also; most important,
the Devil seems to have won.
Thus all that surrounds us is
Evil, not the Evil that used to be
the opposite of Good, for this Evil
has encompassed the Good, and
thus has been maximized beyond
the boundaries of meaning. The
obsession of the book, violence,
sex, scatology, are our own ob-
sessions, and since pornography
is in the mind of the beholder,
that's why we are in Vietnam.
The forces that are bringing
death to the modern world are
ultimately mysterious; yet there
is an assumption that underlies

many of the pieces,- especially
the political ones in Cannibals
and Christians that the war be-
tween Being and Nothingness is
the underlying disease of this cen-
tury. Thus the ultimate fear here
is not that an atomic holocaust
may be set off, say by LBJ or
China, but that God may have
lost to the devil. It is the heart
of Mailer's existential logic that
God's ultimate victory i.er the
forces of the Devil is no more cer-
tain than the Devil's victory over
God. Either may conquer man,
and so give Being a characteris-
tic of Good or Evil; Why Are We
In Vietnam? is a picture of
what has happened as the bal-
ance tips in favor of the Devil.
But each, God and the Devil,
may exhaust the other, until
Being "sinks through the seas of
entropy, into a being less various,
less articulated, less organic,
more plastic than the Nature we
know." This alternative seems to
to dominate most of Cannibals
and Christians, especially in the
section where the Argument is
thrown into the Arena, toward
the end of the book.
There is a lot of oversimplifi-
cation, which tends to melodram-
atize reality. The books also suf-
fer from what they expose, name-

ly cancer and the Age of Inter-
ruption. Cannibals and Christians,
being a collection of different
pieces written for specific occa-
sions, achieves too many climax-
es; the oversimplifications grow
like a cancer and take over one's
Also, there is a note of deep
pessimism. The forces that con-
trol man seem to be all super-
natural, and thus there is not
much he can do. But these books
are still brilliant attempts to
show the meaning of the forces
around us; the meanings are
claimed to be absolute, and so
the vision is terrifying, for it
shows our selfdeceitful con-
sciousness how things really are.
The fact that Mailer is worried
worries this reviewer. Maybe if
enough people understood these
books, something new could be
done to save man from the dan-
ger of his environment; thus,
reading them is really a must.
If nothing else, they are the rec-
ords of one of the most sensitive
consciousnesses of our time, a
record of how we are living, or
as Mailer would say, dying.
Mr. Laszlo is a second-year stu-
dent majoring in Ideas and Meth-
ods at The College of The Univer-
sity of Chicago.

Vol. 5 No. 1


"If we
for hist
we mus
slips an

to be

Suggested Outside
The University of Chicago
General Book Department

Post-War Years, 1945-1954, by llya Ehrenburg; $6.50.
Current Affairs:
Cities in a Race with Time, by Jeanne R. Lowe; $10.
The Hippies, by the editors of Time; $1.95.
Why Are We in Vietnam?, by Norman Mailer; $4.95.
Fiction, etc.:
The Exhibitionist, by Henry Sutton; $5.95.
The King, by Morton Cooper; $5.95.
Confessions of Nat Turner, by William Styron; $6.95.


The Confessions of Nat Turner,
by William Styron. Random
House. $6.95.
by David H. Richter
The function of criticism at the
present time - the function, that
is, of the nickel-a-word criticism
that you pull out of the Sunday
supplements - is to obscure the
text. There are many excellent
reasons for this, no doubt (one of
them is that reviewers have to as-
s u m e a readership intelligent
enough to do without their expli-
cations, but narrow enough to re-
q u i r e illuminating background,
and infirm enough to be grateful
for a solid critical stance). Plague
take the reasons, though: the fact
remains that if you have read
enough reviews, the book on your
lap disappears.
This trick, which the supple-
ments never tire of playing, is
truly magical - as when a con-
jurer suddenly disposes of your
nicest hand-painted cravat - but
it can be just as disconcerting.
Picking up The Confessions of Nat
Turner after reading the other re-
views, I found myself lost among

the conflicting critical vocabular-
ies. Was I reading a "tour de
force," an historical novel, or, as
Styron himself put it (intentional-
ly confounding what had seemed
sufficient confusion), "a medita-
tion on history"?
Of these three - a sufficient
sample on the principle of "suf-
ficient unto the day is the evil
thereof" - "tour de force" is the
most meaningless and conveys a
patronizing tone to boot. Now had
Styron written his novel without
once using the letter "e" - or
had he typed the first draft with
his toes - there were a "tour de
force" indeed. But Styron is no
mountebank, and the special feat
which appears to arouse such
open-mouthed wonder is simply
that the author, a white man born
in Newport News, has narrated
his tale in the first person, as
though from the pen of Nat Tur-
ner, a Negro slave.
But do we throw hats in the
air when James Joyce speaks
from within Molly Bloom, or even
when John Cleland (God save the
mark!) thinks with the mind of

Fanny Hill? I doubt it. And is the
gulf between man and woman
narrower than that between white
and black? Again I doubt it. In
any case we can agreethat if an
author is not to write everlasting-
ly about himself, we at least ex-
pect him to display the sort of
imaginative sympathy that will
get him into the minds of his
characters. Styron, therefore, has
done neither more nor less than
we expected.
Calling The Confessions of Nat
Turner an historical novel is a
more insidious ploy, because it
appears to be an objective state-
ment, not a value judgment. In a
way, it is objective. There is doc-
umentary evidence that on August
22, 1831, a Negro slave named
Nat Turner, chattel of Joseph Tra-
vis of Southampton County, Vir-
ginia, led a miniscule army of a
few score fellow-slaves in an at-
tempt to capture the arselan at
the nearby town of Jerusalem;
that the insurrection was foiled,
but not before Turner's men had
come within half a mile of their
objective and k i I1 e d fifty-five

men, w1
in all
the Go
felt hir
lead his
ber lit]
has inch
er Virg
of an in
My c
with wx
could b
el. Wha
ature. T
cause i
leaf tol
or beca
what h:
iom? S
with m
the sta


Cannibals and Christians, by Norman Mailer; 95c.






" October, 1967







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