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October 27, 1968 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1968-10-27

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Sunday, October 27, 1968


rage Five

Sunday, October 27, 1968 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five



Four days in the mind of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The First Circle, by Alexander I. Sol-
zhenitsyn. Translated from the Russian by
Thomas P. Whitney. Harper and Row, $10.
"And so it will be that everything lost will
return to you!"
When man has been stripped of all his pos-
sessions, when he is no longer able to do those
things he will, when he is imprisoned for life,
without recourse to justice, then he becomes
free. He is without fear. He has suffered every-
thing. There is nothing left.
This is one of the themes of Alexander Sol-
zhenitsyn's novel, The First Circle, which takes
place in Stalinist Russia, 1949. It focuses on
four days in the life of Mavrino Prison, located
Just outside of Moscow, where prisoners' minds,
as well as their bodies, worked for the state.
Mavrino was a "research institute," the first
circle of hell, guarded by Soviet security police
and staffed by more than 200 political prisoners.
The First Circle is the story of the men and
women whose lives revolved around Mavrino,
the prisoners (zeks) and their wives, the free
state workers, the state prosecutor and his
daughters, the minister of state security, Mos-
cow University students, and Iosif Stalin, whose
will pervaded every aspect of Russian life.
The novel's central figure is Gleb Vikenvich
Nerzhin, 31, war veteran, mathematician and
zek. Gleb is familiar with the prison life. He
has been through the work camps, through
the long line along the floor from the latrine
to the tops of the wooden bunks at Butyrskaya
Prison, to emerge finally at the top-Mavrino.
Here life suits him. He hds a desk of his own
in the acoustics laboratory and a; special spring
back chair. He is fed. He can exercise and
smoke. He sleeps between sheets, can go to the
bathroom at will, has limited access to books
and very occasionally can see his wife. It does
not matter that he is constantly spied upon,
reported against, and regarded as a dangerous

It does not matter that he is expected to de-
nounce his wife, that ,he is not allowed to kiss
her after a year's separation; that his favor-
ite book of poems, a personal present, is con-
fiscated by the authorities as seditious; that
he has to sleep under a blue light, with his
hands outside the covers, to prevent escape at-
tempts; that letters to and from the outside
world are so carefully censored that they leave
no trace of life or love within. These things
do not matter because life at Mavrino is far
superior to what Gleb could expect in "the
record cold of Oymyakon" or the "copper ex-
cavations of Dzhezkazgan," the work camp.
Gleb Nerzhin in many ways is an autobio-
graphical figure. Solzhenitsyn was a mathe-
matician, imprisoned after the war, for his
lack of discretion in letter-writing. He, like
Gleb, worked his way through the horrors of
the transit-work camps, to arrive at Mavrino.
He, like Gleb, "sensed the falsity in the exag-
gerated, stifling exaltation of one man, always
one man!"
And as Gleb cries out inwardly for under-
standing, for the awakening of the Russian
people to what is growing around them, to what
is killing them, we feel the passion of his cre-
ator behind the words. Gleb turns to historical
contemplation in prison as he covertly "grap-
ples with the riddle of the inflated, gloomy
giant who had only to flutter his eyelashes for
Nerzhin's head to fly off." Solzhenitsyn's in-
dictment of Stalin is evident in every word of
The First Circle.
The First Circle is Solzhenitsyn's second
book. His first, A Day in the Life of Ivan Deni-
sovich, also dealt with the penal system of
Stalinist Russia. Familiar to American audi-
ences (the book was published in paperback
here and was dramatized briefly as a televi-
sion special), A Day in the Life was released
in Russia only through the special maneuver-
ings of Nikita Khrushchev, who sought to use
it in his anti-Stalin power campaign. It is a
simpler book than The First Circle; the plot

extends only over a 24-hour time period and
includes fewer characters. Solzhenitsyn's sec-
ond novel compares with the first as an epic
to a parable, each work equally powerful in
its own right.
' Due to the shift in Russian politics, to the
tightening up of state control over literary
works, The First Circle has not yet been pub-
lished in Russia, nor is there any immediate
hope that it will be. However, illegal copies
of the manuscript have been widely circulated
among Russian intellectuals. This also is the
fate of Solzhenitsyn's third book, The Cancer
Ward, soon to be published here by Dial Press.
That Russian authors are forced, for safety's
sake, to disclaim any authorization for works
published outside Russia, is unfortunate. That
their novels cannot be published in Russia,
that they legally cannot be read by the people
to whom and for whom they were written, is
tragic. The First Circle is a monumental Rus-
sian work, ranking with Pasternak's Doctor
Zhivago and Tolstoy's War and Peace. It is a
pictorial criticism of Soviet life and ethics, on
a grand scale. Solzhenitsyn recreates all of the
regimentation, all of the fear, the exploitation,
the senseless waste and the cruelty of Stalinist
Russia. No single detail, not even the cardboard
buttons on the prisoners' shirts, is left out.
What is presented is a panorama, a study of
the people on the inside, behind prison walls.
and those on the outside, surrounded by se-
curity police. It is a study of the world one
man chose to create and did, while millions of
people turned the other cheek.
"I've nothing to say of the sun and world, I
see only the torments of man."
The First Circle is a conscience-ridden de-
nunciation of Stalinism and a conscious at-
tempt at a division between the past "that is
clawing to pieces our present days" and the
present with its implied future, as writer Lydia
Chukovskaya explains. Sozhenitsyn is a leader
in the Russian struggle for literary freedom.
He is regarded by many of his contemporaries

as the greatest living author of the Russian
people and yet he lives under constant threat
of imprisonment; what has changed in 20
The First Circle reads like a long and tragic
epic. The individual characters, or at least
many of them, are heroic in themselves and
in their philosophies.
"There was only one thing left for Nerz-
hin to do-be himself. Having gotten over
one more bout of enthusiasm, Nerzhin-
whether definitely or not--understood the
people in a new way, a way he had not
read about anywhere: the people is not
everyone who speaks our language, nor yet
the elect marked by the fiery stamp of
genius. Not by birth, not by the work of
one's hands, not by the wings of education
is one elected into the people.
"But by one's inner self.
"Everyone forges his inner self year after
"One must try to temper, to cut, to police
one's soul so as to become a human being.
"And thereby become a tiny particle of
one's own people."
But the characters remain essentially tragic in
the historical context which surrounds them.
Ironically, when viewed from the outside, from
Moscow, Mavrino becomes an ivory tower ex-
istence to the prisoner's wives, while, the zeks
imagine the outside as some part of heaven,
never to be achieved. Solzenitsyn combines
the world of Stalinist freedom with the world
of Stalinist imprisonment. No one is free.
The First Circle is a powerful and moving
book, but it is not consistent. I found myself
both delighted and bored. The bitterly satiric
Buddha's smile description of Mrs. R's
(Roosevelt?) visit to Butyrakaya Prison, and
later, the rapid, impersonal demotion of In-
nokenty Artemyevich Volodin from Soviet dip-
lomat to zek, were extremely well done. How-
ever, I was confused and disappointed by a

long debate between two of the more person-
able prisoners at Mavrino. Some of the sen-
tences in the book made no sense at all; others
were awkward. This could be the fault of the
translator, who may have had difficulty with
Solzhenitsyn's particular style of Russian. Like
one of his characters in The First Circle, the
author refuses to use words of foreign origin
and goes to great length to circumvent any
such impure, barbaric form of speech. Finally
I had difficulty with the complexity of Russian
names, and with the fact that some characters
appeared suddenly on the scene, completely
without introduction. (I supposed I should have
perused the initial list of characters with
greater care.)
Solzhenitsyn is unusually adept at creating
scenes. He isolates two people in a particularly
effective situation-gives them lines to speak.
We are conscious, when this technique is suc-
cessful, not only of the words being said, but
also of the visual picture created. Thus action
in the novel moves from scene to scene much
as a camera moves from picture to picture.
The First Circle is a Russian novel. We must
remember that. It was not written for us.
Solzhenitsyn is not interested in an expos6 of
the Stalinist regime. He is bitter but not vin-
dictive. His chief concern seems to be the state
of the Russian people. Why did they allow
Stalin to become what he did? Why are they
letting his image dominate their lives even
after he is gone? Solzhenitsyn refers once to
Alexander Nevski, once to Prince Igor, both
emblems of Russian will and independence.
Each of these references is satiric, but beneath
the satire we sense a very real concern over
the loss of such legendary heroes. Russian his-
torical pride, he seems to be saying, has been
buried beneath the terror of rulers like Stalin.
Russian pride in Russia has disappeared. Se-
curity police and censors have done their work
well. The First Circle is an appeal to Russians
-that they may find that pride again, before it
is irrevocably lost.

America, America

-- movies with Ford and Hawks

Howard Hawks, by Robin
Wood. Doubleday, $2.95.
John Ford, by Peter Bog-
danovich. University of Cali-
fornia, $4.95 or $1.95.
Many countries have two art-
ists who are total opposites yet
together represent their culture.
Russia has Tolstoy and Dos-
toevsky, Germany Goethe and
Schiller, France Voltaire and
America's contribution to the
world of tag team greats comes
perhaps appropriately out of
Hollywood: Howard Hawks and
John Ford.
If Hawks' and Ford's reputa-
tions were to depend on critics,
they would have been buried by
now, probably never again to
rise until doctoral theses had no-
where else to turn except for the
underlying humanism of Lyn-
don Johnson or the poetic meta-
phors of Spiro Agnew. John
Ford and Howard Hawks belong
to another culture. Most film-
goers have probably seen and
enjoyed a dozen of their films
without bothering to think who
the director was.
Peter Bogdanovich's book on
John Ford is surprising in its

Fifteen easy ways
to hound a bratin
Selected Stories of Roald Dahl. Modern Library, $2.45
A lecturer in the Residential College relates to her classes how
she at one time found it necessary to retreat home from a computer
programming job with the Democratic Party and kill her mind (kill
her mind, that's her term) by watching the Huckleberry Hound
television show.
The anti-antics of Roald Dahl's characters recall the dumbass
deadpan bungles of Huckleberry Hound. Dahl, like Hound's crea-
tors, has to some extent discovered the secret of mind-killing. But
he nearly succumbs to the Hound's level of profundity, and becomes
more of a cartoonist than a writer.
Dahl consistently writes about three types of characters:
-Evil ladies: Mary Maloney, wife of a policeman, smashes her
husband's skull with a frozen leg of lamb, pops the murderous
mutton into the oven and serves it to policemen who show up
sympathetically to investigate the death of their colleague Maloney.
-Dumb young men: Billy Weaver takes a room from a kindly
4 landlady (actually an evil lady as above) who dumps embalming
fluid into his tea.
-Bungling schemers: Mr. Cyrill Boggs tries to buy for a song,
a priceless Chippendale commode from some naive farmers. He tells
them he'll use it as firewood, so while he pulls up his car for load-
ing, the farmers chop the commode into pieces tiny enough to fit
in his trunk.
Most of Dahl's stories turn on the magic practiced by the evil
ladies or the fatal flaw in the strategies of the bungling schemers.
The evil ladies are omnipotent; the bungling schemers are frus-
trated or destroyed.
In every story some fool stands under the falling 13th floor safe
of Life. Just like Huckleberry Hound.
Dahl's stories are'mind-killing exactly because they deal with
little more than sneering fates for bungling schemers and easy vic-
tories for evil women.
Dahl perhaps is like a cartoonist, and if so, he should fall
somewhere between Ronald Searle and Gahan Wilson. His better,
lines are like captains for morbid inane scenes: After one husband
has mixed a powerful sexual elixir into the baby's formula, his wife

restraint. No theses, no theories,
no abstractions into greater rel-
evance. Only a detailed filmo-
graphy, lots of pictures, and lots
m o r e stories. Bogdanovich's
treatment of Ford is at first dis-
appointing if you are looking for
signs of Ford's greatness. Only
after a little while do you en-
joy the book's novelty and close-
ness to the spirit of Ford. Bog-
danovich is spinning a legend,
collecting stories a n d pictures
not in proof of an argument, but
in tribute to the tradition that
is Ford himself.
Bogdanovich provides some
rudimentary personal history,
and fills the rest of the book
with interviews with Ford. These
interviews give the impression
of a man who only catches his
own movies on the late-1 a t e
show and does not hanker much
for the ideas that critics see
in him.
Although Bogdanovich uses
the term "glory in defeat" to
characterize Ford's theme, and
Ford thinks it's an' interesting
notion, there is no other analy-
sis of Ford's movies in the book.
The stories and anecdotes speak
for the legend, the pictures for
the movies. The intellectual pre-
tensions are removed with the
title of chapter one: "My name's
John Ford, I make Westerns."
Robin Wood explains m o r e
about Ford in his book on How-
ard Hawks, yet only by way of
comparison. Ford is t h e man
w h o 'represents tradition, no-
bility e v e n, in the American
wilderness. The audience can go
home from a Ford western feel-
ing secure and confident that
the calvary is still out there on
the horizon whistling, "She wore
a Yellow Ribbon." Ford's peo-
ple may be and usually are drift-
ers, the unwanted, the failures,
but they always find or renew
the tradition that makes life
In Three Bad Men and Three
Godfathers Ford's heroes a r e
outlaws who prove to a woman
their chivalry. Jackson Hole,
Wyoming, the frontier dance
hall, the pastor's broken down
church, the cattle stampede,
Monument Valley: these are but
a few of the elements which
Ford's people confront, accept,
and weave into the patterns of
human dignity.
Wood writes of Ford's loving
attention to the theme of civil-
ized order arising out of empty
wilderness in order to m a k e
clear Howard Hawk's more fun-
ctional use of decor. If a barn
in a Hawks movie "contains ag-
ricultural implements, they are
there to provide cover in a gun-
fight." Where sense of commun-
ity is inherent in Ford, in Hawks
"if the barn is littered with dust
and straw, this is not to create
atmosphere or a sense of place,
but simply to use to blind a
character momentarily."
Ford the defender of tradition
does indeed belong to the Tol-
stoys, the Goethes, a n d Vol-
taires w h o represent nobility,
submission to discipline, and
pursuit of ideals. If mythopoeic
Don Quixote belongs in t h i s
m,'in 4 hn Hoad.a ws be- -

says, "Hawks is unanalyzable."
Wood's introductory chapter
ought to be required reading
for anyone who thinks g o o d
films must present some famous
style or message that corres-
ponds to their preconceptions.
What Wood likes about a Hawks
film is that, "We are not nudged
into exclaiming, 'Ah, a symbol!
How significant! How deep!'"
Hawks' own definition of a good
director is "somebody w h o
doesn't annoy you."
Wood takes objection to the
self-consciousness in modern art.
Modern artists are too concern-
ed with establishing their own
personal trademarks, style, or
genre. Antonioni considers ac-
tors cows that must defer to his
own will. Shernberg considers
them puppets. Hitchcock claims
making the film is only a for-
mality secondary to his script.
Welles considers film-making as
a mere prelude to his own work
in the cutting room.
If the modern artist becomes
too preoccupied with inventing
his own genre, Hawks "is a sur-
vivor from the past, whose work
has never been afflicted with
this disease of self-conscious-
ness." His films are never about
any abstract idea or social
theme, but about flying, motor-
racing, cattle driving, animal
His reluctance to ever impose
himself on his movies results
in a freedom noticeably absent
in lessons like Sound of Music,
where, as Pauline Kael com-
plains, the audience is spoon-
fed, or a Fred Zinneman pic-
ture like High Noon or Man for
all Seasons, where the audience
is forced to applaud contrivance.
Wood says "Hawks is an ar-
t i s t, never a philosopher; he
may lead us to certain conclu-
sions through his presentation
of an action; but the action is
never conceived as illustration
of the conclusions, as in Sartre's
Freed from any attempts to
realize prior designs, Hawks
succeeds in letting a broader
variety of things function of
their own accord in the making
and action of his movies.
Some of Hollywood's greatest
stars (Cary Grant, Humphrey
Bogart, John Wayne) have
achieved in Hawks' films their
completest self-expression. Wood
says that "he is able convinc-
ingly to portray creative rela-
tionships in which the charac-
ters help each other, a n d
through which they develop to-
wards a greater maturity, self-
reliance, and balance."
Not only does he let the actors
express themselves, but he knows
how to "find an action that ex-
presses the emotional innner
quaity of a scene." In Rio Bravo
it is a flower pot dropped on the
bad guys; in To Have and To
Have Not it is ripping of a bul-
let through the desk that re-
leases built up tension.
Hawks is a physical director
in the tradition of Esenstein,
Dovzhenko, and Arthur Penn.
His films are not contrived to
mnb,.. M"+ +V + n - n ,lo

"Hawks lets his characters be what they really are . .. Ford's characters belong to tradition."

sonality. People get sore at Bo-
gart because he does not hide
what he really is, and the fa-
cades of others, their masks,
must break down and let the
real human being emerge. Sgt.
York (Gary Cooper) may get
drunk but his mother smiles at'
him because she knows him for
what he really is. John Wayne
is a real man and no one better
play any games. Hawks' people
are :live; they are individuals
thrust together in common tasks
which encourage them to feel
"spontaneously from a vital
Society, the roles they play,
civilized norms, these are mere-
ly pretexts for the Hawks' char-
acter to show others what they
are and to show us what he is,
John Ford and Howard Hawks
represent two of the best sides
of American culture: Ford the
chronicler of the meaningful
role, Hawks the finder of the
human root. Neither men have
pretensions which they impose
on their work, either stylistic or
ideological. (Except Ford says
he likes to keep an eye for com-
position.) No matter how cynic-
al, oppressive, or sad the orig-
inal story, the Ford version al-
ways emerges a hymn to tradi-
+ion and ia w : lo 1a eta t-


Today's writers
PHIL BALLA, a literary col-
lege senior, is an ex-member of
the Cinema Guild Board and
one of the organizers of the
New Ark Film Society.
sophomore English major.
NEAL BRUSS is Daily Maga-
zine Editor.

I .11]

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