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November 17, 1968 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1968-11-17

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Sunday, November 17, 1968


┬░Pooe Five


I U jc; I 1 1--


Ship Island and other stories by Elizabeth Spencer. McGraw-Hill,
$5.95. -
The delicacy of Elizabeth Spencer's craftsmanship and the
subtlety of her perception seem to increase within each of the
short Stories in this latest collection. Much of Miss Spencer's
earlier work, like The Light in the Piazza and No Place for an
Angel, although based on firm technical strength, was harder,
shallower, more contrived, the stuff of which little better than
mediocre movies were made. Ship Island approaches magic.
For Miss Spencer is not interested here in any definitive moral
theme or statement; she writes only about people, and how they
somehow or other manage to live and even make a good thing
out of it. No one succumbs to despair in any of these stories; the
characters, especially the women, have passed or are passing
through the critical stage of realization that everything changes,
that everything is imperfect, that there are no burning passions and ,
no bright heroes to feed them. Everywoman is more Natasha
Bezuhov than Eustacia Vye or Emma Bovary. And perhaps Miss t
Spencer is right in her choice of orientation: How many people do
give in to despair without eventually learning to overcome it, or
at least live with it peacefully when it attacks? More of us are
closer to health than to sickness. Freud and Dostoevsky can dissect
the maddened, alternately soaring and drowning souls of those
who are beyond Miss Spencer's sphere-and our own. Even some of






today's psychologists are realizing that understanding health is
often of more value than the pathology of emotional disruption.
People live, and dream, but their dreams cannot be the sub-
stance of their lives, and this is the knowledge which provides the
foundation for Miss Spencer's characters. The defeat of illusion
comes to us at some time or other, except in the most unusual or
out-of-control situations. This defeat allows us to turn to the real
world of real people, and create a viable existence based on under-
standing and acceptance of life as it is.
Miss Spencer's characters owe their success-that they become
people - to her real understanding of human relationships within
a changing universe made up of other equally intricate personal-
ities. Situations change, but certain human interactions are built
on a more stable foundation of personality. So a woman realizes
she must go ,home, leaving behind a tempting, illicit, glamorous
European romance; she is saddened, but not shattered. She thinks
of her father, the isolated male in a house of sisters; she sees
him coming home from church, alone, saying, "Let all things pro-
ceed in orderly progression to their final confusion. How long be-
fore dinner?" And Frances, on the verge of oldmaidhood, whatever
that is, thinks: "No, she had had to come home. Some humor had
always existed between them-her father and her-and humor, of
all things, cannot be betrayed."
Another woman, somewhat older, confronts her wandering al-
coholic husband with his misbehavior at a family reunion, only to
end up laughing at their totally ridiculous situation. He drinks be-
cause. he drinks, and he disappears with Eunice Lisles because

Eunice is standing there and he has been drinking. And though
she attempts to chastise her husband, the woman has brought
along provisions from the family liquor supply. Before she hands
over the disguised medicine bottle, she asks what they are coming
to. And he tells her what they both know. "It hasn't got to where
anything. I'm exactly the same as I was yesterday, or a year ago.
I'm a day or a year older. I've got a hangover worse than usual.
And I would appreciate never having to hear anything more about
Eunice Lisles." When she extends the peace-offering, he admits
quietly that he loves her more for every trick she pulls off for him,
like watering down her father's whiskey. "I downright admire you,"
he says, and they sit back; she knows full well that everything he
says is true. "She kept on laughing, for its was funny and awful
and absolutely true, and there was nothing to do about it."
All Miss Spencer's characters are finely drawn, but the women
are often the most perceptive 'and compassionate. Perhaps Miss
Spencer stays with the theory that you write best about what you
known best--a theory that often holds. She also places a great many
of the stories in her own South, and presents in a much more gentle
way a reaction to the problems of the South felt by other more
violent writers. Whatever larger social context enters Miss Spencer's
work is simply a function of the way the characters are; the stories
always seem effortless. You are never conscious of an "author;"
you simply watch as very real people play out their lives, and
you draw conclusions as you do from watching and knowing the
people around you. Miss Spencer treats the racial question as it is,
as tragedy; she condemns no one for having been born into a


Living education:

Learning from ecstasy

Education, and Ecstasy, by
George B. Leonard. Dela-
corte Press, $5.95.
The principal is happy and I
rejoice with him about the
delicious, perfectly balanced
flow of outdoor light into a
room !filled with beautiful,
children. But something dis-
turbs me, a vinegary tingle at
the back of my neck. There is
a, witch in this room. I see her
near the back of the fourth
row - milk-white skin, black
hair falling onto a faded blue
blouse, a band of freckles
across the bridge of a small,
sharp nose. Dark eyes with di-
* lated pupils are fixed on me
now, bold and direct, telling
me that she knows, without
words, everything that needs
to be known about me. I re-
turn her stare, feeling that
this girl, with an education
she is not likely to get, might
foretell the future, read signs,
converse "with spirits. In Sa-
lem she eventually would suf-
fer the ordeal of fire and wat-
er. In our society she will be
An observer visited a typical
school somewhere, but it wasn't
the perfect lighting, language

labs or, multi-degreed teachers
that impressed him. In an in-
stant he was struck with the
realization of what education
now is and what ecstasy it could
be: a fifth-grade witch had
stared him down.
The visitor was George B.
Leonard, Senior Editor of Look
magazine, where he has re-
ported on education, and vice
president of California's Esalen
Institute, where he has explored
paths to ecstasy. Thus, his
Education and Ecstasy is a pro-
duct of thorough study and im-
aginative experience. The author
cites shortcomings in the pre-
sent educational system, argu-
ing for a positive and creative
preparation for the "unity of
life" that John Dewey foresaw
decades ago.
What Leonard believes neces-
sary is an education for the to-
tality of living; more important,
he seeks a process which would
allow people to realize some
large measure of the human po-
tential and exist in harmony
with the enormity of their time.
Today, all processes and insti-
tutions tend to fragment us, and
schools simply initiate children
to the compartmentalization of
living that spirals with age and
experience. A graduate of the

current educational- ssytem has
become adept at a kind of post-
office sorting job - putting
emotion, creativity, frivolity,
curiosity and a hundred other
human qualities into their as-
signed cubbyholes, all with his
eyes closed.
Leonard envisions an over-
haul of this initiation process,
by applying theories, methods
and technological devices t h a t
already exist. First, education
would be redefined: "The whole
superstructure of rational-sym-
bolic knowledge can be rear-
ranged so that these aspects of
life's possibilities can be per-
ceived and learned as unity and
diversity within change rather
than fragmentation within an
illusory permanence." This con-
cept of education would encom-
pass all facets of human func-
tioning, and education would
become "a lifelong pursuit for
Teachers would share in the
learning process with students
by expanding consciousness and
exploring everyone and every-
thing around them. They would
pursue the magic moments of
learning that sometimes occur
in classrooms today and would
become accomplished at tech-
niques of discovering or creating

the delight that makes learning
worth it.
In fact, society has always had
such teachers, Leonard calls
them rogues-persons who know
what being alive is and who
have captured our imagination
for just that reason. The old
rogues are adventurers li k e
Robin Hood, mystics like Christ,
mad scientists like Franken-
stein, and artists like Dali. The
rogues teach us "the first ele-
mentary lesson about a life ...
in which new technology-whe-
ther outside or inside the human
organism-is not feared and re-
sisted, but deflected toward hu-
mane uses." Today's rogues are
today's children, the author
states, and education should let
them discover and express the
ecstasy of being alive.
Several methods of reshaping
the concept and processes of
education are discussed in Ed-
ucation and Ecstasy. One chap-
ter describes an ultramodern
school where sophisticated elec-
tronic devices impart k n o w-
ledge and.hold discussions with
pupils. In another chapter,
Leonard proposes that compul-
sory school attendance be abol-
ished. To counter objections
from horrified parents, the au-
thor suggests that the parents

attend school for a day, put-
ting themselves in their child's
place - no breaks for cigar-
ettes or coffee, no deviations
from the classroom regimen.
Parents might then see, Leon-
ard reasons, just how much is
learned in a day and how much
of the child's valuable time and
potential are wasted. '
This is not to say that schools
would cease to exist. Rather, in-
stitutions such as New York's
Fifteenth Street School would
operate, and presumably their
"f r e e-l-e a r n i ng atmosphere
would offer the delights of
learning to eager children."
The Fifteenth Street S c h o o 1,
founded by actor Orson Bean,
offers no formal classroom in-
struction, though five "teach-
ers" read aloud from texts, dis-
cuss ideas with students and of-
fer guidance. The school pro-
vides books, lounges, art mater-
ials, games and playing space,
and the children are free to
work and play at will.
This free-learning s c h o o 1
creates a total environment for
learning, the situation Leonard
considers vital to education as
"an apprenticeship for life." He
discusses two total environment
institutions that have developed
techniques of expanded con-

sciousness and continuous edu-
cation. Synanon, established in
1958 as a rehabilitation center
for drug addicts, now operates
in four California cities, as well
as New York and Detroit. In
addition to housing 1,000 ad-
dicts, chapters conduct Synanon
Game sessions, where 2,500 non-
addicts participate in weekly
Esalpn Institute offers exper-
imental programs such as "Sen-
sory Awakening for Couples"
and "Meditation." The Institu-
te's week-end and evening ses-
sions have provided an oppor-
tunity for all who can afford it
to work with such experimenters
as B. F. Skinner, Alan Watts,
Buckminster Fuller and others.
A group of graduate students
holds residencies there, as well,
developing all manner of free-
learning environments.
George Leonard asserts that
there can be ecstasy in learning
and thus in living. He advocates
the total environment and free-
learning concepts as a means to
ecstasy, citing three institutions
that have overcome the barriers
of tradition and brought joy to
their members. All of this is the
"new education," the author
states; now it is left to us to
assault the system and our-

system which confines all. There is underlying tragedy in the
way the blacks enter into the lives of these Southerners. For one
boy, they are a party joke: "We used to have this crazy colored
girl who went around saying. I'se really white, 'cause all my
chillun is.'" Even Frances Harvey, for whom Miss Spencer shows
a special sympathy, displays the same attitude to the other race.
"Sammie was our cook," she says. "Jerry was her son, or husband,
or something. Anyway, they certainly didn't have cars." The only
answer Miss Spencer possibly can suggest is time, for she is aware
of the changes in the South, the erosion of the old way. More and
more, the younger people go away.
"First Dark," one of the best stories in Ship Island, gently
buries the old South, not without grandeur. Frances Harvey's mo-
ther is an imperious old woman caught up in a paradox: She is too
much a woman to let any daughter of hers remain an old maid,
and too much an aristocrat to allow her to marry a fine but socially
unacceptable man. The mother is cold, formidable; she has never
been able to express any love for her daughters; she is too proud to
be maternal. Mrs. Harvey's power comes back to us through Fran-
ces, who, though she loves Tom, cannot help but think, "What had
happened to his parents? There was some story, but it was not
terribly interesting, and, his people being of no importance, she had
forgotten." Only time can undo Mrs. Harvey's stranglThold of the
past. And-we must remember she is suffering physically in her
age-Mrs. Harvey chooses to recede into the past with an overdose
of barbituates, and let them marry. This is change for Miss
Spencer. One time gradually recedes; another grows. There are no
real human revolutions.
Mrs. Harvey may be the outstanding character of the book.
She has warned her daughters well not to let the old Southern
mansion deceive them: They are not Scarlett O'Hara, and men
are very ordinary creatures, inferior to the female. But then again,
every woman has to have one. No matter what her age, Mrs. Harvey
is female: her old, dry, crooked hand is "eradicably female." She
thinks proudly that her ankles are still worth looking at. Knowing
her, her final action becomes credible. For Miss Spencer also shows
how age has undone her and her world. Tom can marry her daugh-
ter, and even worse, her prized mouth is now like a fish's-there
is a "tension around its rim, as though it were outlined in bone,
and the underlip even stuck out a little. The mouth ate, it took
medicine, it asked for things, it gasped when breath was short...
The best stories in Ship Island are based on women equally
strong as Mrs. Harvey. More than half the stories are about women
of the South, although many of them have left. Together they pre-
sent a collage of woman, beautifully sketched, each woman still
an individual, as every woman by her nature must be. These women
range from the Harveys to very little girls to woman in the chry-
salis stage, after high school, in college, before marriage. Even the
most shallow of these girl-women, Nancy, free and easy and reluc-
tant to think, comes to realize and accept although she never
thinks very much about it. When she walks down the beach with
big man Rob Acklen she thinks she has found happiness. But his
fraternity friends bother her, since they know she is poor and so-
cially inferior. She deserts Rop at a bar and picks up two men.
When Rob informs her he must now drop her, sho simply tells him
she can't help being what she is. Rob is miserable; she is not.
Nancy emphatically detests virgins; she can't see beyond a reflec-
tion of herself. But she sees herself and her relation to others so
well that she almost redeems her shallowness.
The other girl-women are much deeper, perhaps older. in one
story, a woman analyzes her own growing up. Once she was sus-
ceptible to the charms of dreams; she thought she loved a boy
because "his father had died when he was a babe in arms (tragedy)
and he had perfect manners." When she is with him, she envisions
perfect happiness; but, she realizes with relief, his shallow insta-
bility ended that frame of mind after two days-"enough time to
make a nuisance of itself." Now that she has gone away and grown
even more, the woman understands that all life is susceptible to
change, and yet, some people, some relationships, are strong enough
to anchor human existence.
I live far away, and everything changes, almost every
day. You can't even be sure the moon and the stars
are going to be the same the day after tomorrow
night . . . I earnestly feel, too, that Foster Hmilton
should go right on drinking. There have got to be some
things you can count on, would be an ordinary way
to put it. I'd rather say I felt the need of a land, of a
sure terrain, of a sort of permanent landscape of -the
Miss Spencer also realizes one of the crisis points of being a
woman-the realization that you can't go home again because you
yourself are the center of a home. Once Frances has committed
herself to Tom, nothing can be the same for her. The woman with
the drinking husband cannot go back to world left' over from her
childhood; she has another existence, symbolized with the dis-
guised medicine bottle. One woman, thinking of it all, wonders why
she should feel guilty: "Was it because I hadn't wanted them
enough, held on tightly enough, had not, in other words, love
them?" Mrs. Harvey knows what is happening, and refuses to stand
in the way.
No matter how the women stand out, the men are not unim-
portant in Miss Spencer's work. They are the centers around which
the stories revolve. But many of them are not as well developed as
their women. In "Wisteria," Charley, the narrator, is a perceptive
man, though he is never developed and simply tells us about the
two women in the story. Miss Spencer gives us a glimpse of the
husband of the narrator 'of "The Visit," but he is incomplete; he
is only superficially explained in terms of the academic ambition
which has replaced his idealism and alienated his wife. Even Tom
is not quite a complete individual; he is totally dominated by Mrs.

Harvey. Perhaps Miss Spencer will be able to overcome this defect
in later works; she shows the potential here. This shallowness is
the major flaw in an otherwise tight and beautiful book of stories,
perceptive and poetic.
Even so, the stories are not "women's" stories. They are human
stories, and they stick in your mind. This is more than enough to
ask; perhaps Miss Spencer will someday deliver more. But for now,
you can't get anything better.

Support our boys in Panama and


Preserve and Protect, by Allen
Drury Doubleday, $6.95.
"Trivia" and "camp" have
Just about gone the way of all
such instantaneous cultural fet-
ishes, but late at night when Pe-
ter Lawford is talking to John-
ny Carson about his pet poodle,
you can still find students brag-
ging about how they were in the
studio audience for the Rootie
Kazootie Show when they were
five years old.,
A slightly less perishable breed
are the diehard devotees of the
bad novel. After years of fight-
ing suburban 'matrons for the
inside track on public library
best-seller reserve lists, I have
accumulated a store of trivia re-
garding the literary career of
Allen Drury, one-time Wash-
ington correspondent for the
New York Times.
Nearly ten years ago Drury
surged to the top of the highly
lucrative best-seller list and then
won a Pulitzer Prize for his first
political novel, Advise and Con-
Detailing the Senate fight ov-
er the confirmation of a contro-
versial liberal, Robert Leffing-
well, for Secretary of State, the
Drury novel was the first of a
spate of books alleging to give
readers a titillating glimpse of
backstage life in Washington.
One of the virtues of Advise
and Consent was that its author
kept his o w n political biases
fairly well hidden. For instance,
Leffingwell, who was eventually
denied confirmation because he
lied about some youthful Com-
munist connections, was treated
so sympathetically that Henry
Fonda was chosen to play him
in the movie based on the book.
Fans of conspiracy theories
may conjecture that Drury
wrote Advise and Consent in
such a cautious manner so he

mise the novel begins when the
plane carrying the President
home to Washington following
his narrow convention victory
crashes on landing in circum-
stances smacking of Soviet sub-
In the absence of a vice pre-
sident, the old, loveable, speaker
of the house becomes President
and valiantly vows to carry on
his predecessor's policies.
But the real focus of the, book
is the fight in the party's na-
tional comittee over the selec-
tion of the next nominee. On
one side is the President's de-
voted secretary of state and in
opposition are the riffraff peace
forces backing a Kennedyesque
and ruthless governor of Cali-
fornia, named Ted Jason.
However, even more fascinat-
ing than the repetitive plot are
those examples of Drury's poli-
tical prejudices in action.
Only in his fiction are anti-
war protestors so conveniently
lyrical that they chant at the
President's funeral, "Air Force
One/What have you done?/ Set
us free/Tee hee hee." Later they
shorten this chant to simply,
"Into the ditch/You Son of a
As if this weren't enough to
damn all protestors for eternity
in Drury's fantasyland, the au-
thor arranges to confirm all lin-
gering conservative suspicions
by having the leaders of the
protest brigade hold secret meet-
ings with Soviet agents to co-
ordinate plans.
Taking a leaf from libertarian
conservatism the President res-
ponds by presenting to Congress
a bill defining as illegal any ga-j
Today's writers...
night editor and Honors Eng-
lish junior, is this week's re-

thering of three or more "if 1
there is obvious intent to cre-
ate civil disturbance and/or
But in politics as in religion
there is no joy equal to convert-
ing the heathen. And so Allen
Drury's biggest thrill in writing
this novel must have been un-
veiling that archtype liberal, Bob
Leffingwell, as a convinced
apostle to, that glorious Cold
War strategy of "responsible
While that may have been
Drury's bigest thrill, for me the
one thing that made wading
through almost 400 pages of tor-
tured prose and cardboard char-
acters even remotely worthwhile
was a tiny and insignificant --
albeit deeply revealing - bit of
When chanting demonstrators
block the car of Orrin Knox,
the loyal secretary of state, Dru-
ry's greatest hero courageously
orders his driver to "run them
down if they don't give way."
But alas, only in fiction do
men with guts like that get to
go to Washington and run the

battle for renomination of a fic-
tional President opposed by ir-
rationally fanatical peace forces
who were protesting twin wars
against Communist expansion-
ism in Panama and the mythi-
cal African Country of Goroto-
As Drury puts it in the pre-
face to his latest literary effort,
Preserve and Protect, the theme
running through his seemingly
endless series "is the continuing
argument between those who

tect doesn't read like just a bad
novel, it reads like a parody of
a bad novel.
While there are many obvious
financial benefits to writing bad
novels, greed does not totally ex-
plain Drury's dogged penchant
for writing political novels.
For the book's abiding inter-
est lies in Drury's creation of a
fantasy world to succor his re-
actionary world view. He wants
to create a mythical political
universe in which conservative

so mimic the conservative ap-
proach to the UN and domestic
In his fetish for symbolic tri-
umphs Drury in his earlier no-
vel, Capable of Honor, gloating-
ly delineates the casting of the
first American vetoes in the UN.
The other reason that Drury
must create a fantasy world is
that while LBJ has adopted part
of his foreign policy, the John-
son Administration unfortun-
ately lacks vindication.

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