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March 20, 1970 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1970-03-20

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Friday, March 20, 1970


Page Five

Friday, March 20, 1 9 7 0 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five






Iumpen-prole tariat

Hubert Selby Jr., LAST EXIT
TO BROOKLYN, Grove Press,
John Rechy, C I T Y O F
NIGHT,, Grove Press, $.95.
Sol Yurick, THE BAG, Pocket
Books, $1.65.
The city is no longer con-
ceived as the arena of culture
but as the arena of decultura-
-Murray Bookchin
The American city has de-
teriorated and decayed so much
since the turn of this century
that it isnow a spawning
ground of crime, disease and so-
cial disorganization. At best the
city may be just a thoroughly
unpleasant place to live and
work in. For the less fortunate,
it becomes a brutally dehuman-
izing place where they are
crushed and smashed into the
gutter. The loss of human po-
tential, when we can stand to
think about it, is staggering.
The cities and their victims
have often captured the ima-
gination of our writers. Charles
Dickens, probably the greatest
urban novelist, chronicled the
plight of the poor and brought
them to. the attention of his
Victorian public. James T. Far-
rell in the thirties and Nelson
Algren in the fourties and fif-
ties examined the American
urban scene with candor and
Hubert Selby, Jr., John Rechy,
and Sol Yurick are three recent-
ly published novelists who deal
with the urban scene. The ter-
ritory that these news writers
are exploring is exciting and
relevant. Their books, impor-
tant additions to our urban lit-
erature, deserve to be read by
anyone interested in and con-
cerned about the urban crisis.
They can tell you more about
what happens in our cities than
a score of sociological treatises.
These three writers all use
the so'cietal outcast as their
archtype for the modern city
dweller - the dislocated and
alienated individuals who haunt
the marginal fringes of our
urban landscape: the freaks,
p e t t y criminals, prostitutes,
pimps, junkies and sex perverts.
All the wounded human mon-

sters that stumble and stagger
through life barely able to ar-
ticulate their terror and pain
except through violence or oth-
er socially destructive and un-
acceptable means appear on the
pages of these books. They
scream out at you from the
lower depths with a power and
immediacy that stuns.
Marx called these people the
lumpenproletariats. He defines
them as the "'dangerous class.'
the social scum, that passively
rotting mass thrown off by the
lowest layers of old society,"
and as "a recruiting ground for
thieves . and criminals of all
kinds, living on the crumbs of
society, people without a de-
.finite trade, vagabonds." In The
Wretched of the Earth Fanon
describes them as "all the hope-
less dregs of humanity, all who
turn in circles between suicide
and madness." Professor Bruce
Franklin, in a perceptive article
on the lumpenproletariat in the
January issue of the Monthly
Review, says:
Its principal means of sup-
port is the labor of the pro-
ductive class, and its relation-
ship to the proletariat is
therefore inherently parastic.
Its members have come from
all classes . . From this it fol-
lows that the lumpenprole-
tariat will contain more varied
forms of consciousness than
any other class in society, for
the previous experience of the
individuals within it will be
most varied and their present
precarious means of existence
will throw them into many
different forms of contact
with all other classes.. .
Franklin also observes that
"in any pre-revolutionary or
early revolutionary condition,
the least stable elements within
society are those to go into mo-
tion first."
Last Exit To Brooklyn, by
Hubert Selby Jr., is a surrealis-
tic journey through the sub-
terranean levels of lumpenprole-
tariat consciousness. Reminis-
cent of one of Bosch's paintings
of Hell, the book is an unrelieved
horror trip, and the reader be-
comes a voyeur in this world
of violence and brutalized sex-
The book is divided into six
seeningly unrelated sections,
which show fragments of lives

empty of all value and meaning.
Life for Selby's anti-heroes is a
sordid business and a squalid
nightmare from which they
cannot escape. They inhabit an
existential universe that they
cannot , transcend e x c e p t
through death.
Most terrifying about Selby's
characters is their utter lack of
conscience. In the first story.
"Another Day Another Dollar,"
some street kids beat adrunken
soldier half to death for no ap-
parent reason. In "The Queen
Is Dead" a transvestite is stab-
bed by his lover, and in "Tra-
lala" a prostitute is gang raped
until she dies. Conscience, for
the lumpenproletariat, appears

the homosexual hustler. The
narrator of the novel, a dropout
from the lower middle class
slums of the southwest, is drawn
to the "fierce anarchy" of the
streets of our large cities by a
"terrible restlessness" and a
complusive narcissism t h a t
drives him into prostition. His
world is completely devoid of
feeling (except ever present
gnawing loneliness); people be-
come objects and just so much
meat to be bought and sold on
the flesh market. Lonely men
move frantically through a
shadowy world of city parks,
bars and movie house balconies
to purchase a brief moment of
joy for ten bucks. The commit-

"leather freak," likes to dress
men up in absurd costumes and
then asks them to beat him up.
Behind these ®haracters, 1 i k e
some fantastic inverted Greek
chorus, lurk the screaming drag
queens with names like M i s s
Destiny, Whorina, and Darling
Dolly Dane. Finally, as the ever-
present brutal representatives
of bourgeois morality, there are
the police and vice squad-the
City of Night provides us with
a moving insight into the world
of the homosexual prostitute.
Rechy sketches his characters
with the compassion and sensi-
tivity necessary to make t h e m
human - not, as they might so
easily become in less skillful
hands, fantastic caricatures.
The narrator's narcissistic self-
consciousness, however, some-
times undercuts the power of
his own tragedy. A dramatic
theatricality to some of the
episodes borders on the sensa-
tional. Such overstatement is
the antithesis of Selby's stance
of moral relativism and is, per-
haps, less emotionally effective.
Sol Yurick attempts to de-
scribe a much broader range of
society and takes the only con-
sciously revolutionary position
of the three writers. The B a g
chronicles the fall of Sam Mil-
ler, a writer and a case worker
for the New York Welfare Bur-
eau, and details the subtle forc-
es working to grind him down.
Miller, whose writing has gone
bad, is ostensibly researching a
paper to expose the inequities of
the welfare system. On a whim
he creates the life of a fictional
client, Mr. Alpha, and slips it
past his supervisor and into his
caseload. After a clandestine
affair with one of his clients is
exposed, he is fired and begins
a slow descent into the hell of
poverty. In order to survive, he
assumes the identity of Mr. Al-
pha and collects unemployment
The novel ends in a riot of
apocalyptic proportions, a kind
of satanic celebration, an ex-
plosion of fury and undirected
violence, in which the outcasts
indiscriminately trash the city.
The final images of the book
flash out at the reader with a
stunning finality - Sam Mil-
ler, reborn as Mr. Alpha, moving
through the streets with the
rioters, his black mistress with

a rifle slung over h r shoulder
going down beneath a hail of
police clubs, SDS radicals at the
barricades, black militants mak-
ing their last stand on the roof
of a housing project, the drone
of army helicopters over t h e
city. The war has come home.
Yurick defines the enemy as
the welfare bureaucrats who
create and support a system in
which people are trapped in the
viciously self-perpetuating cycle
of hand-outs, the liberal politi-
cians, who use the poverty pro-
grams as stepping stones for
their own political careers, and
'the social psychologists and
manipulative social engineers, to
whom people have become mere
statistics on a stimulus-response
curve. Yurick has done his
homework carefully and The
Bag is a beautifully written in-

dictment of mid-t wentieth cen-
tury urban civilization.
In The Civil War In France
Marx states that:
"The civilization and justice
of bourgeois order comes out
in its lurid light whenever the
slaves and drudges of that
order rise against their mast-
ers. Then this civilization and
justice stand forth as undis-
guised savagery and lawless
Selby, Rechy and Yurick know
this,. as must the hundreds of
thousands of people they write
about. The question is one of
whether or not the inverted vio-
lence and self-destructiveness
that consumes them will ever
turn outward against the in-
'stitutionalized greed and ex-
ploitation that put these people
up against the gutter.


a luxury or, perhaps, a pattern
of social behavior that was
never learned.
The last section, "Landsend,"
dispels the bourgeois myth of
the happy-go-lucky w e lf a r e
client. It presents a tour through
the lives of a group of people in
a federal housing project. They
lead a hopelessly defeated ex-
istence trapped in an air con-
ditioned nightmare--a travesty
of community.
Selby's style is what I would
call neosociological-it seems
almost as if he transcribes his
characters' dialogue and stream-
of-consciousness thoughts from
a tape recorder. He does not
impose himself on his material
with an ironic aside here and a
moral judgement there. And it
is precisely because of the au-
thor's suspension of moral
judgment that the book is so
powerfully arresting.
In John Rechy's City of Night
we enter the lonely world of

ment of love has no place in
the world of the hustler and it
is seen as a fatal weakness to be
guarded against.
And for the hustler America
becomes "one vast City of Night
stretching gaudily from Times
Square to Hollywood Boulevard
.... The invitations to dissipate
is everywhere."
During the course of the nar-
rator's spiritual odyssey through
this jungle, we are introduced
to a group of people who, be-
cause of their sexual aberrations,
have been forced to drop out
of their respective social classes.
Rechy presents a gallery of
grotesque outcasts who exist by
prostituting themselves to t h e
"scores." There is Pete, w h o s e
tough street style is merely a
cover for a sad and frightened
kid. Skipper, an aging alcoholic
muscle boy, carries photos of
himself as a young man which
he pathetically displays to pros-
pective scores. Neil, who is a

Unamuno: Piecing together

bits of Self

BOX NO. 34

Paul Ilie: UNAMUNO: AN
versity of Wisconsin P r e s s,
But there is a spirit in man ...
Fair weather cometh out of
the North .. . the
blessing of himthat was ready
to perish
came upon me. And I was
caused the widow's
heart to sing for joy.
-The Book of Job
Paul Ilie's Unamuno is a
scholarly elaboration of Una-
muno's existential view of the
self, society and the many issues
deriving from his continual pre-
occupation with concrete man
in his will for immortality.
Since, according to Mr. Ilie, the
key to Unamuno's philosophy is
to be found in his psychology,
the book deals in great detail
with the psychological aspects
of Unamuno's thought. True,
Unamuno's style, g r a m m a r,
irony, and spirit of contradic-
tion did not facilitate Mr. Ilie's
task, but it is only proper to
recognize his achievement in
this study.
The book is divided into three
parts which are unified by the
underlying theme of man's de-
sire for spiritual immortality
and the nation's striving for
utopian permanence. The first
part, composed of six chapters
on existential psychology, con-
siders minutely Unamuno's psy-
chological contribution in regard
to the self. Condensation can-
not do justice to flie's treatise.
However, perhaps a brief re-
statement of the major ideas
might be undertaken.
Unamuno v i e w s self-knowl-.
edge as an existential problem
and the failure of cognition as
one of man's tragic realizations.
Two ways are offered to gain
self - knowledge: introspection
and externalizati6n. The first is
limited, since a man knows him-
self as he knows others-~
through behavior and actions.
The second, based on commit-
ment through an engagement
with society, also has its limi-
tations. Ilie follows Unamuno
closely and brings into focus his
preference for self-knowledge
through social perspective rather
than introspection. A biography
of the self is made up of daily
social acts-Unamuno's literary
output, for example-yet these

of Unamuno. The succession of
social acts modifies or reveals
the concept of who or what we
are. The limits of externaliza-
tion will throw one back into
the inward journey and an
equilibrium is achieved in spite
of strong doubts about achiev-
ing cognition. I
Secondly, the splitting of the
self has a deep significance, and
Unamuno analyzes it conceptu-
ally. Ilie recalls the episode
where Unamuno looks at him-
self in a mirror while listening
to his own recorded voice,han
experience which terrified him.
Spectator of his own self, know-
ing the feeling of dissociation,
he could not stand the idea that
the stranger in the mirror exist-
ed as one more object in the
world; as he viewed himself,
Unamuno became anguished be-
cause he could feel someone
whom he could not see, and see
a self that he could not feel.
Which self was authentic? Mir-
ror, phonograph, photograph:
the nature of true self escapes
Because of the terror caused
by introspection, Unamuno pre-
ferred the social mirror.;Because
of the decisive influence of the
cognito's doubts in the harmony
of our total self, Unamuno
labeled it the "satanic self," cor-
rupting our faith in traditional
values, yet still providing the
asset to uncover the psycho-
logical dimensions which may
lead to plentitude. Thus, the
splitting of the self is not tragic;
some of the fragments domi-
nates for long and a balance is
kept in the struggle for the
authentic self.
While the climat. of solitude
is necessary for self-scrutiny, it
will not result in self-knowledge;
it will provide a method to help
know the private and social self
better. If man tried to attain
self-cognition only through soli-
tude, he would be left with his
consciousness and the problem
of discerning what self-reflec-
tion is. Ultimately he is prey to
despair, for solitude defeats its
own purpose, since it helps re-
duce the self to nothingness.

The reflective self is saved from
falling into the void of pure
consciousness by its communica-
tion with the fragments of the
divided self, which provides a
social situation in solitude. A
structure of our society in min-
iature appears: a dialogue or
monodialogue is possible between
the self and its fragments. This
inner social intercourse proves
the value of solitude as a method
to know something more about
the self and its neighbor and to
bring insights from facing our
many selves.
For Unamuno, personality is
the result of becoming and act-
ing socially and culturally as a
person. The psycho-social ac-
tivity consists in choosing our
role and playing it not only on
the inner stage of our con-
sciousness but in the outside
world as well. Existential psy-
chology is expounded by Ilie
through Unamuno's interest in
the philological development of
the word Persona, the theatrical
device manipulated by a human
being. An individual can reach
existential plenitude when he
becomes a person-when he cre-
ates his role socially and in-
wardly watches himself per-
forming it. Spiritual fulfillment
comes from wishing to be what
one pretends one is through
one's chosen role.
Not moral or social stand-
ards, but a psychological meas-
urement can determine authen-
ticity. Unamuno said his role
was his truth. Through myth-
making, role - playing, m a s k-
wearing, one lives an auto-
legend and learns to become
what one really is.
Since man is a paradox, al-
ways becoming, his real self
cannot be known. Within the
self is involved the other, and
also our own other. Joaquin
Monegro, in Abel Sanchez is a
good example: his soliloquies or
inner dialogues with Abel re-
veal that -Abel, his neighbor,
became part of himself. The self
continues to develop until death
with all its. temporal fragments
united in time. A willed impulse
to create the self that wants to

be and link it to the divine leads
to spiritual fulfillment.
The second part of Ilie's book
discusses how Unamuno's por-
trait of Nietzsche revealed much
of his own self. Both men con-
sidered morality as having a
psychological genealogy. Both
shared distrust for reason and
traditional values; both had a
similar way of probing and
studying self - knowledge, per-
sonality, and the role of the
social self. The tenth chapter
discusses the superman concept.
'Unamuno's use of trashombre
or "afterman" keeps the idea
of the growing self evolving to-
ward its completeness - a full
man and nothing but a man.
Unamuno resents the prefix
"super" which has a connota-
tion of power and domination
harmful to others; if it means
improvement, he will acceptit.
"Super" should imply more hu-
manity, more civilization. Una-
muno's interpretation leads one
to think that the spiritual man
is superman, the Christ of the
earth, a Don Quixotesque crea-
ture. The self's supreme asser-
tion is common to Unamuno
and Nietzsche, but since Una-
muno longed for an afterlife, he
dreamed of a future man be-
yond materialistic achievements,

a man who reached spiritual
The third section of this work
brings into focus the importance
of Hebrew myths in Unamuno's
analysis of Spain. Ilie points
out that Unamuno approached
Biblical characters on a personal
level. Unamuno's preoccupation
with the individual as Universal
Man, with Man in Society, and
with Spain as a culture reap-
pears in the various studies of
myths. If Adam and Eve lacked
personality,. they did provide a
discussion of the nature of man,
sin, good, evil and language in
particular. Naming objects and
animals, taking them out of
anonymity, was man's way to-
ward intellectual possession of
reality. Ilie writes: "Spiritual
and materialistic spheres are
joined by an act of possession
through words which we call
knowledge." The problem of sin
is the first road to progress: in
spite of pain and exile, through
work man progresses toward
Unamuno found beauty and
drama in the myth of Jacob.
Flesh and bones, aware of his
mortal condition and spiritual
needs. Jacob proves Unamuno 's
idea of "spiritual naturalism."
Spirit is a conquest of the nat-

ural map who, in turn, helps a
whole race, be it Israel or Spain.
The Jacob-Esau struggle is com-
pared to Spain's civil war. Just
as Rebecca, mother of the tragic
enemies, allows them to live,
men must be permitted to live
and struggle in contradictions,
so that none becomes victim or
The use of Hebrew myths
confirms the existential contri-
bution of Unamuno. As Ilie
states: "He showed that the
return to God is polarized on
an intellectual knowledge of
ethical and psychological fail-
ure, and on an emotional need
in spite ofedisbelief."
If at times Ilie's book seems
obscure, if we lose track of Un-
amuno the man in the complex-
ities of the split self and the
ensuing psychological jargon,
the exploration is well worth the
reader's effort, for he emerges
with an experience in depth and
a renewed interest for Unamu-
no's vital struggle to hammer
out an understanding of life.






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