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October 20, 1968 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1968-10-20

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Sunday, October 20, 1968


Page Five

IsHelter playing Helter playingHelter?

We Bombed in New Haven, by Joseph Heller.
'Knopf, $4.50.

When ti
veals that
men, but a
merely play
ly is a num

The relationship between the audience and the who preten
actors has always been one of the major allures Once H
of the theatre. layered cha
But the admixture of rampant technology and his play, h
unprecedented affluence have today made us all fortable in
apathetic observers rather than active partici- onerating tl
pants. In many ways a steady diet of television an airman
and the movies have left us unable to react .to the run.
Interactions on the stage. But her
Playwrights have sensed the growing inertia of dox tof his
theatre audiences and attempts have been made dor, whs
recently to experiment with the traditionally un- tho, wh
stated relationship between players a n d their try to clim
audience. th th cn
Some recent plays like Peter Weiss' "Marat/- characters.
Sade" have been designed almost with contempt chers.
for their audiences. Rather than playing to the The pla
frumpy matrons in the balcony, authors like Weiss dimensiona
appear to ignore= the audience while they are risdn co
really trying to overwhelm them with either bore- gon
dom or shock. grown.
But Joseph Heller's first play, which opened Sensitive
on Broadway this week to mixed reviews, is quite requisite fo
different. Rather than displaying contempt for his ma as well
audience, Heller attempts to demonstrate to them wants his n
the consequences of their own apathy. The aut
It is a peculiar and elusive type of audience in- hindered in
volvement that Heller seeks, and many of the play struct
weaknesses of the play stem from this difficult, of Pirandel
self-imposed task. dience fail
Near the crux of Heller's argument is the con- have difficu
tention that both real and imaginary violence So what
have become for most of us today merely a sub- well-execute
category of entertainment. as characte
Gropingfor a

he curtain rises, the author quickly re-
what we see on the stage are not air-
actors who freely admit that they are
ying airmen. What emerges dramatical-
bing sequence of actors playing actors
ad to be playing airmen.
eller has placed this barrier of multi-
racterization between the audience and
e then attempts to make them com-
their lethargy. This is achieved by ex-
hem from caring when an actor playing
dies off stage on an imaginary bombing
e Heller's drama is thwarted by a para-
own creation. It's strange that the au-
e message is that we have grown so
t we no longer react to violence, should
ax his drama by arousing his audience
nstage deaths of ill-defined or symbolic
y's final scene is marred because one-
l characters fail to surmount a cliche-
frontation between a guilty father and
sprang from the author's head full
e characterization is a necessary pre-
r those plays which attempt to be dra-
as theatre. And it is clear that Heller
maiden play to succeed dramatically.
hor's attempts at characterization are
n part by the awkard play-within-a-
ure borrowed from "Hamlet" by way
lo. As a result, not only does the au-
to believe the actors as airmen, they
ulty accepting them even as actors.
t is presented on stage is a series of
ed cardboard mock-ups masquerading
rs. In a very real way Capt. Starkey,

the central character, has no existence or reality
apart from his military rank. As his commander
tells him, "you're conditioned to agree and you're
trained to do as you're told."
At the play's climax Starkey asks, "Must I
really send my son out now to be killed?" Yet,
despite his obedient acquiescence in his son's
death, Starkey is merely a character with no past
or future.
Even more elusive is Sgt. Henderson, who is
merely the soldier who says, "I'm not going to go
out now and get killed because you all expect me
to." Yet underneath the rhetoric, Henderson is
defined by little more than his existential act of
A rereading of Heller's sprawling, absurd novel
Catch - 22 provides some other clues explaining
the weakness of the play's characterization. While
memory gives a prominent place to Heller's mas-
terful circular dialogues, it was surprising to dis-
cover that conversation occupies only a small por-
tion of the novel.
Instead, it is the narration that plays a key
role in establishing the veracity of the characters
and caricatures ranging from Yossarian to Milo
Minderbinder. Even the description of the happi-
ness that Major Major Major once found on the
basketball court gives life to a portrait that is
only two shades away from a comedien's mono-
Unlike a leisurely novel, a play must create
characterization through dialogue alone within
a relative'circumscribed time period. Unfortunate-
ly Heller, unlike say Albee, does not have the abil-
ity to do t h i s in an unconventional dramatic
This does not mean that Heller has lost any of
his knack for the comic. The play opens with
dialogue like this:
left: A need

"Today, we're going to bomb Constantinople
right off the map."
"But Constantinople isn't on the map."
"We know that . .."
Yet there is a certain wearing redundancy to
all these insane verbal interchanges. For there
are just a certain number of times we need to be
told of the absurdity of the military bureaucracy.
Immediate political targets of Heller's satire
are far more apparent in this play than in his
earlier novel.
It seems evident that Heller has Vietnam on
his mind as he depicts a time in the not-too dis-
tant present when American airmen merely bomb
places because they are there. Or in the case of
Constantinoule, because they are not there.
Heller is clearly aghast at the horror of our
war in Southeast Asia. The only dramatic problem
is that so are most of the members of his audience.
They have heard too many elaborate argu-
ments about the degree of individual complicity
in the war to be anything but aesthetically jarred
when Starkey's son pleads, "Pop, you had nine-
teen years to save me from this. Why didn't you
do something?"
When Catch -- 22 appeared during the Eisen-
hower years, the anti-war satire seemed highly
audacious since its target, World War II, was such
a sarcrosanct military adventure.
But today it is hard to tell whether Heller is
condemning war in general or just the mindless
Vietnam War in particular.
Yet for all its flaws We Bombed in New Haven
still remains a fascinating play if only for the
grandeur of its ambitions. And in light of the mor-
ibund state of the American theatre, it is deeply
gratifying that our major authors today still have
some grand theatrical ambitions.
for theory

A letter from
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
(This is the Foreword to "Welcome to the Monkey House,"
a Seymour Lawrence-Delacorte Press book by Kurt Vonnegut,
Jr. Vonnegut will be in Ann Arbor for two weeks in January,
sponsored by the Writer-in-Residence Committee.-Ed.)
Here it is, a retrospective exhibition of the shorter works of
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.-and Vonnegut is still very much with us, and
I am still very much Vonnegut. Somewhere in Germany in a
stream called the Vonne. That is the source of my curious name.
I have been a writer since 1949. I am self-taught. I have no
theories about writing that might help others. When I write I
simply become what I seemingly must become. I am six feet two
and weigh nearly 200 pounds and am badly coordinated, except
when I swim. All that borrowed meat does the writing.
In the water I am beautiful.
My father and paternal grandfather were architects in Indi-
anapolis, Indiana, where I was born. My maternal grandfather
owned a brewery there. He won a Gold Medal at the Paris Exposi-
tion with his beer, which was Lieber Lager. The secret ingredient
was coffee.
My only brother, eight years older than I, is a successful scient-
ist. His special field is physics as it relates to clouds. His name is
Bernard, and he is funnier than I am. I remember a letter he wrote
after his first child, Peter, was born and brought home. "Here I
am," that letter began, "cleaning shit off of practically every-
My only sister, five years older than I, died when she was 40.
She was over six feet tall, too, by an angstrom unit or so. She was
heavenly to look at, and graceful both in and out of water. She
was a sculptress. She was christened "Alice," but she used to deny
that she was really an "Alice." I agreed. Everybody agreed. Some-
time in a dream maybe I will find out what her real name was.
, Her dying words were, "No pain." Those are good dying words.
It was cancer that killed her.
And I realize now that the two main themes -of my novels were
stated by my siblings: "Here I am cleaning shit off of practically
everything" and "No pain." The contents of this book are samples
of work I sold in order to finance the writing of novels. Here one
finds the fruit of Free Enterprise.
I used to be a public relations man for General Electric, and
then I became a free-lance writer of so-called "slick fiction," a lot of
it 'science-fiction. Whether I improved myself morally by making
that change I am not prepared to say. That is one of the questions
I mean to ask God on Judgment Day-along with the one about
what my sister's name really was.
That could easily be next Wednesday.
My sister smoked too much. My father smoked too much. My
mother smoked too much. My brother used to smoke too much, and
then he gave it up, which was a miracle on the order of the loaves
and fishes.7
And one time a pretty girl came up to me at a cocktail party,
and she asked me, "What are you doing these days"
"I am committing Suicide by cigarette," I replied.
She thought that was reasonably funny. I didn't. I thought it
was hideous that I should scorn life that much, sucking away on
cancer sticks. My brand is Pall Mall. The authentic suicides ask
for Pall Malls. The dilettantes ask for Pell Mells.
I have a relative who is secretly writing a history of parts of
my family. He has showed me some of it, and he told me this
about my grandfather, the architect: "He died in his forties-and I
think he was just as glad to be out of it." By "it," of course, he
meant life in Indianapolis-and there is that yellow streak about
life in me, too.
The public health authorities never mention the main reason
many Americans have for smoking heavily, which' is that smoking
is a fairly sure, fairly honorable form of suicide.
It is disgraceful that I should have ever wanted out of "it," and
I don't want out any more. I have six children, three of my own
and three of my sister's. They've turned out gloriously. My first
marriage worked, and continues to work. My wife is still beautiful.
I never knew a writer's wife who wasn't beautiful.
In honor of the marriage that worked, Iinclude in this col-
lection a sickeningly slick love story from The Ladies' Home
Journal, God help us, entitled by them "The Long Walk to For-
ever." The title I gave it, I think, was "Hell to Get Along With."
It describes an afternoon I spent with my wife-to-be. Shame,
shame, to have lived scenes from a woman's magazine.
The New Yorker once said that a book of mine, God Bless
You, Mr. Rosewater, was ". . . a series of narcissistic giggles." This
may be another. Perhaps it would be helpful to the reader to
imagine me as the White Rock girl, kneeling on a boulder in a
nightgown, either looking for minnows or adoring her own reflec-

Critics of Society: Radical
Thought in North America, by
T. B. Bottomore. Pantheon,
T. B. Bottomore, in- this, his
latest work, reviews in the space
of little more than 100 pages the
history of radical literature in the'
United States and Canada-and
he finds it lacking, neither com-
prehensive in the grand style of
19th century literature, nor ulti-
mately effectively in its ramifi-
Bottomore is a radical of sorts:
he has written extensively on
Marx, and he has edited and in-
troduced a collection of Marx's
early writings. But there is a curi-
ous reserve and, spareness to his
presentation which these days has
to become a rare commodity among
leftist writers. This derives in
part, I should think, from Botto-
more's Canadian upbringing and
from the original form and date
of the book: it was compiled from
a sequence of . lectures delivered
in 1966 for the Canadian Broad-
casting Company, and was in-
tended as a brief resume of the
transformations of the Marxist
system and the formulation of
alternative socio-political systems
on North American soil.
It would be severely under-
stating the case to suggest that
nuch has happened in the past
two or three years since the de-
livery of these. lectures, both in
the way of social protest and in
the literary registration of that
protest. Bottomore's detachment,
however, is perhaps more a func-
tion of his academic-and specula-
tive temper than anything else.
And this it is not well to reject
outright. The coolness of the
book, its summarial and low-
keyed statement of affairs, should
not be confused for lack of aware-
ness nor for lack of sympathy.
Bottomore's challenge is for a
more synoptic, lasting program of
theory and practice which might
give direction to leftist activity,
which might make of social protest
something more than the bloody
irrelevance of the last two or three
months. It seems that we are
smeared (and the collective mem-
ory dissipated, and our leaders
summoned ?for arrest) before we
are healed.
The pattern of the radical move-
ment since the turn of the century
has been one of monotonous cycles
of rise and fall, what Blake some-
where calls the "dull round." The
old speculative maxim, that those
ignorant of the history of philo-
sophy are bound to repeat the his-
tory of philosophy, may be curious-
ly appropriate here. The progres-
sive climate of the first two dec-
ades of the century-crystallizing
i around the writings of Dewey,
Veblen, Holmes, Beard and Rob-
inson-collapsed in the first war
and in the diluted literary and.cul-
tural protest of the Jazz Age. And
tha Marism nf the '30's was at-

ingly difficult to frame the com-
prehensive explanatory scheme
necessary, and the extremely rapid;
shifting of classes within the so-
ciety, which has made the identi-
fication of radical and reactionary
forces hard to focus. Hence the
New Left, Bottomore maintains,
represent a program for which
"the ultimate aim . . . is nothing,
the movement is everything."
Whereas in an earlier day the
Left could define itself sharply and
consistently as a critique of capi-
talist society for purposes of the
emergence of socialist society,
such clarity has evaporated. Its
meaning is tamer now and more
obscure, as Bottomore understands
it: the critique of society and the
production of political 'demands
and programs. What we are left
with is The Movement, or more
accurately, with movement, and
these tend to be diffuse and scat-
tered in direction and sporadic in
duration-a scuffling in the night.
In lieu of these matters of theo-
ry-the existence of a systematic
critique, the articulation of ulti-
mate aims, political and other-
wise, and the identification of the
forces required to implement these
aims-there are the vigorous pro-
test movements: for peace, for
black liberation, and for student
autonomy, with considerable over-
lap. The New Left, in forming
around these nuclear protest
groups, is less dogmatic in out-
look, having accepted no existing
social system to which unqualified
allegiance is given, and is involved
in a greater variety of issues out-
side the economic and the political
(cultural, educational, moral).
What appeal Marx has exerted for
the New Left derives from his
early writings rather more in a
sociological and philosophic vein
than economic, and it relies on an
extension of the concept of a
alienation for purposes of a criti-
cism along several different lines:
"criticism of capitalist society in
which man is separated from
his material products as a result
of the private ownership of in-
dustry; of collectivist society in
which a similar separation pro-
ceeds from the centrailzed polit-
ical and bureaucratic control of
production; of mass society in
which man loses his control over
political decisions; and of tech-
nological society in which he
finds his life regulated by the
very machines whose creator he
But the radical program, despite
its staunch base of protest, de-
spite its flexibility of approach,
despite its emergent theory, re-
mains essentially ungathered.
Bottomore's problematic of the

radical program may be sum-
marized as follows: the absence of
an ideology which provides for
longer-range, more systematic
means to ends; the ephemeral
quality of protest, especially young
protest, when divorced from such
an ideology; the continual shift-
ings in the loyalties and objec-
tives of the classes, and in their
party affiliations; the anti-intel-
lectualist strain of the country,
and the indifference of large mid-
dle and lower-middle class group-
ings to anything beyond the shab-
by and impoverished rhetoric of
anti-communism, law and order,
and the like; and finally, the
danger of absorption into and
dilution by the political parties of
the center.
Of these Bottomore prefers to
emphasize the necessity of an
ideological program in his judg-
ments on the future of the radical
movement. The greater weight, I
should think, belongs to the ten-
dency of the established Demo-
cratic Party to assimilate marginal
--hence, at this time, radical-
groupings. But the fact of the mat-
ter is that the Republicans are
very likely to win in November, and
because of that .fact, because of<
the rigid and intransigent stance
that party will in all probability
take ("I expect to make unpop-
ular decisions," Nixon warns us),
the radical movement will, I ex-
pect, thrive, and its literature
will thrive with it.
How it articulates itself in rela-
tion to the Democratic Party, how
it consolidates its own program
in theory and practice, and how it
behaves itself within the social
proprieties of the middle-classes.
tight-lipped, heaven-bent, and
resolutely naive-this, the bloody
and barbarous innocence of the
American, as Baldwin puts it-
remains to be seen.



Daily-Jay L. Cassidy
'The aim is nothing, The Movement is everything'

which would indicate just that: I
have in mind such things as the
Wallace phenomenon, the reac-
tionary South, Daley's Chicago,
the law and order pitch, and the
defections in the labor movement
from the Democratic camp. We
must admit, however, that this
business will only work to the con-
solidation of the radical movement
-for purposes of survival, as Tom
Hayden has said. Increased con-
servative strength at this time
has as an immediate corollary, in-
creased radical strength.
What is lacking in the radical
movement, Bottomore proposes, is
a "theory about the the nature of
human society, a criticism of con-
temporary society, and a plan for
its reorganization." But that such
a theory .is likely to be conceived,
or is likely to be deeply and ex-
tensively effective once conceived,
seems at present improbable. The
United States has never been re-

time, McCarthy. Until the Ken-
nedy administration, intellectuals
had not figrued prominantly on
presidential advisory councils. The
Joe McCarthy purge and the pres-
ent Wallace campaign constitute,
at one level, rejections of the in-
tellectual, rejections of those (es-
pecially in the latter case) not
among the common folk. And we
have no reason to believe, from an
examination of the history of ideo-
logy in this county, that a reform-
ed Marxism (the original form
Bottomore considers a bore) or a
comprehensive theory of an equi-
valent sort, would have long-range
ramifications in the minds of the
Even in the '30's, at the zenith
of the Marxist popularity, there
were vigorous protest movements
and heated defenses of the Rus-

sian experiment and calls for
third parties, but a very slack
understanding of Marxist theory,
and a very inconsequential vote
for the socialist cause-one fourth,
of one per cent of the electorate.
There was not created any reliable
body of Marxist social doctrine ap-,
plied directly to American thought
and culture: Dewey, Beard, Sid-
ney Hook, Edmund Wilson, and
John Strachey managed to create
a stir of sorts, but their influence
soon flagged and their integra-
tions-of Marx, social theory and
the particular class structures of
the United States-were incon-
Other obstacles to radical
thought in the United States in-
clude the splintering and special-
ization within the sciences them-
selves, which has made it increas-









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