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November 24, 1968 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1968-11-24

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Page Six

THE MICHIGAN DAILY
~ ., ... . ...._.__ ,,,

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Sunday, N'ovembrter 2-4, 1 968

3

The. haunted edges of consciousness

_x

By MARVIN FELHEIM
Steps, by Jerzy Kosinski.
Random House, $4.95.
Steps, a new work by Jerzy
Kosinski, who will be the Uni-
versity writer-in-residence in
January, is the author's second
novel. Like the sensational The
Painted Bird (1965), Steps is a
truly horrifying revelation, an.
excursion deep into seemingly,
imaginary but, in another
sense, most real - experiences.
What Arthur Miller wrote Ko-
sinski about The Painted Bird
is still relevant: "The surreal-
istic quality of your book is a
powerful blow "on the mind be-
cause it is so carefully kept
within the margins of probabil-.
ity and fact." Those margins
are also the haunted edges of
consciousness.
Kosinski belongs to several in-
teresting and important literary
traditions. Like Conrad and
Nabakov, he is an Eastern Euro-
pean who nevertheless writes in
English. As a consequence his
language seems often to have a
special and luminous quality.
The power comes not from sen-
tence complexities; since both
his novels are first-person nar-
ratives, told in a direct, oral
style, sentences are generally'
straight-forward. What inform
the language is, rather, f the'
writer's imagination, and the
resultant comparisons which
enrich the prose. One such ex-

ample from The Painted Bird
juxtaposes the broken, mangled
face of a prisoner With that of
a tall SS officer (his face had
"a sheer and compelling beau-
ty") and then the boy narrator
is reminded of a face painted
on the wall of a church.
Another quality of the prose
strikes the reader with peculiar
force: its coolness; Despite the
awful revelations, tle narrative
moves simply without, as it
were, a raised eyebrow or an
agonized sound.(except from the
victims themselves). The con-
clusions of the most outrageous
events are contrived with the
utmost care and surface non-
chalance. For instance, after
the university student has dis-
covered the demented woman,
kept captive in a cage, and has
reported that -. and other -
atrocities to the authorities, he
returns to talk with the village
priest, who rejects his inquiries.
The accusations against the vil-
lagers and their religious coun-
selor have been horrible. But
after all the evils have been
revealed, the student finds the
church cool and scented with
mold. The final sentence of the
episode - "Soon I reached the
main road" - is a model of
understatement. A key, I think,
to Kosinski's method: his is an
imagination of shock and horror
communicating w I t h other,
imaginations (ours) through
the most factual of prose ac-
counts.

Once, at least, the narrator's
(Kosinski's?) basic assumptions
and methods are clarified. He is,
temporarily, a member of a
jury, hearing a murder trial.
(The narrator undergoes a
montage of identities.) The de-
fendant, we are told, "just de-
scribed his encounter with the
victim without exaggeration,
and in the most ordinary terms."
Is Kosinski (or merely the nar-
rator?) here revealing his meth-
od? But there is more. The de-
fendant has told his story. Then
the juror, our narrator, con-
fesses.
Almost all of us on the jury
were able to discuss and ima-
gine how he had committed
the crime and what had im-
pelled him to it. To clarify
certain aspects of his case,
some of the jurors acted out
the role of the accused in an
attempt to make the rest of
us understand his motives.
After ,the trial, however, I
realized that there was very
little speculation in the jury
room about the victim of the
murder. Many of us could
easily visualize ourselves in
the act of killing, but few
of us could project ourselves
into the act of being killed in
any manner. We did our best
to understand the murder:
the murderer was a part of
our lives; not so the victim.
Here is one secret of Kosin-
ski's power: we can all imagine
horror. In The Painted Bird,

we shared the terrors of the
victims, victims of war, cruelty,
ignorance, religious persecution;
in Steps, in this sense a com-
panion piece, we share the hor-
ror of sadistic and masochistic
humans who act to make others,
or even themselves in a per-
verted way, the victims.
And thus we ar ve at the
other major literary tradition to
which Kosinski's works belong:
stories of.the grotesque, the hor-
rible, a long and honored tradi-
tion of world writing, one which
has domiciled itself in America
despite competition from Dick-
ens and Kafka and Isak Dines-
en. Here we have the native
tradition of Poe and Haw-
thorne. In this genre, now com-
bined with our modern knowl-
edge of perversion and abnorm-
al psychology and alongside
such harsh and explosive works
as Hubert Selby's Last Exit to
Brooklyn (also 1965), these
novels take their place.
What works of horor share is
their exploration into what Con-
rad so brilliantly labelled the
Heart of Darkness. There, at
the core of being, both of the
individual and of the society,
"this great power of blackness"
resides, a blackness that (the
phrases are Melville's; he wrote
them to describe the effect of
Hawthorne's stories) 'fixes and
fascinates." This "shock of rec-
ognition" unites us all.
And despite the lamentations
of critics and readers who dp

not like this kind of writing,
most of the writers who practice
it and shock us have a strong
ethical bias. They seek our
sympathy with the oppressed,
the victimized, the sick and the
outcast; they would have a bet-
ter and especially a wiser and
kinder society. They would have
us love and, if possible, under-
stand. These are, I think, the
Steps of Kosinski's second
novel: steps to acts of sexuality.
of beastiality, of murder even,
and a final, sad step to suicide
(the novel is most interestingly
organized). The import of all
these revelations is a genuine
sense of horror at the mon-
strosities of human behavior as
well as an implied plea for con-
sideration and sympathy.
Ultimately this journey does
require as a reaction another
step, more positive than shock,
implied in the lyrical conclu-
sions to both novels. We are
forced to turn our eyes away
from the Bosch-like details.
We are left with our thoughts
and our memories and we must
reassert our faith; like the boy
in The Painted Bird, struggling
alone in the April sunshine, we
must regain the power of speech.
And like the woman swimmer
in Steps, in whom the narrator
has told us we mut recognize
ourselves, we must look up from
the ocean floor to where the
tiny leaf, rotten and brown
though it may be, floats on the
surface.

WELL, HERE WE GO AGAIN-
( ANOTHER FANTASTIC
fSUNDAY MYSTERY.-SALE
at
d Oiscouant records, inc.
300 S. State
1MAJOR LABELS ON SALE,
WE CAN'T TELL YOU WHAT'S ON SALE BUT IT'S WELL
WORTH YOUR WHILE TO STOP IN AND FIND OUT.
TODAY-SUNDAY NOV. 24-11 A.M.-5 P.M.
"Francis Albert Sinatra

*

Does Hlis Thing"

"Akh, those marvelous candidate years..."

No kidding. That's what
Frank has titled his newest
Bpdweiser TV special.
(Would an Old Scout tell

.. .
,
4r' ,

DIAHANN CARROLL
and THE FIFTH DI-
MENSION will also be
on hand to do "their'

By WALTER SHAPIRO
The Remnants of Power,
by Richard J. Walton. Cow-
ard McCann, $5.95
I was in the midst of orien-
taton here at the University;
when Adlai Stevenson died on 1
a London street in the summer
of 1965. In a very real way his
death served as a symbolic wat-
ershed in my owns political de-
velopment.
To the extent that I ever
had a political hero, it was Ad-

lai Stevenson. But the events
that left him tied to a dying
Administration served to carry'
me well beyond the comforting
confines of my boyhood liber-
alism.
Richard Walton gently paints
a portrait of the almost ,path-
etic last years of Adlai Steven-
son. Unhappy with his post,
Stevenson remained at the UN
because he really had nothing
else to do. Caught in the grip
of a strange inertia Stevenson
spent four years using his fam-
ed \eloquence to defend policies

in which he often only barely
believed.
Yet the underlying weakness
of this book is its peculiar
superficiality. Walton is far too
honest a journalist and too
deeply affected by the policies
of the Johnson Administration
to permit himself to write a
vindication or exoneration of
Stevenson's last years at the
UN. But Walton is too devoted
to have the heart to probe be-
neath the surface of the failures
of the last years of the UN Am-
bassador.
While entitled The Remnants
of Power, the subject of power
and Stevenson's relation to it
.are only briefly treated in the
book.
During his two Presidential
campaigns and the abortive
half-hearted try for a third,
critics continually claimed that
Stevenson would be unable to
firmly exercise power as Pres-
ident. Yet one should not in-
dict the imagined memory of,
a Stevensonian Presidency on
the basis of Ambassador Ste-
venson's performance at the
United Nations.
For a Stevenson's career
makes clear, it is exceedingly
easy for a good nran to acquiesce
in policies far different from
those which he would make
were he in the White House or
even Secretary of State.
For a man familiar with the
emptiness of leading an oppo-
sition party, the appeals are
apt to be small of taking
charge of a dissident faction of
that party when power is fi-
nally achieved. Add to this the
belief that he is doing more
good in the government, than
he could elsewhere and you
have an explanation for the
inertia that kept Stevenson at
the UN.
The doctrine of working
within the government was first
ennunciated' by Sir Thomas
More in Utopia written about
450 years ago. While he was
beheaded twenty years later for
asserting his independence from
Henry VIII, More wrote at that

time, "You must strive to guide
policy indirectly, so that you
make the best of things, and
what you cannot turn to good,
you can at least make less bad."
While this doctrine has been
in disfavor of late, the total
failure of extra-systemic oppo-
sition to the current Admin-
istration, indicates that per-
haps it would be wise to ex-
amine this concept anew.
A strong case could be made
for silencing one's dissent pub-
licly and loyally performing
one's job, if one were to take
effective advantage of the op-
portunities that such intimate
connections to power provided.
This does not mean merely
arguing in the George Ball
fashion for a bombing halt.
This means constantly forcing
top Administration officials to
constantly re-examine their un-
derlying premises.
Not only did Stevenson fail
to challenge the complacency-
of both the Kennedy and John-
son Administrations, but ac-
cording to Walton he was also
"ineffective in influencing for-
eign policy" in any direction.
Yet there is another side to
the question of power that Wal-
ton leaves unexamined as well.
And that is the effect of public
performance on our evaluation
of a man.
Too often we tend to equate
the public acts of a man with
theman himself. And here in a
situation where my evaluation
of a man is one thing and
where my opposition to the poli-
cies he ennunciated is equally
clear, the dissonance causes me
to be convinced that we as the
Today's writers,.
MARVIN FELHEIM, a pro-
fessor of English, is a regular
contributor to The Daily book
page.
WALTER SHAPIRO, is The
Daily's associate editorial direc-
tor.

public must realize that there
are' differences between men
and the policies they represent.
When a delegation of war
critics Asked Stevenson to re-
sign in the middle of 1965 only
weeks before he died, the UN
Ambassador turnededown their
plea for him to make a break
with the Administration by say-
ing, "That's just not how you
play the game."
The moral consciousness
which the war in Vietnam has
brought to the surface among
many of us, is a far more im-
portant concept than the out-
moded "part of the team" con-
cept that was the unfortunate
undoing of Adlai Stevenson.
In light of this problem I
can /only conclude with Walton
"All that remains of those mar-
velous caididate years are mem-
ories." But ah, what memories.

you a falsehood?)
And Sinatra's thing, as always,
is excitement. See him. Hear
him. Tune in...
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25
CBS-TV 9-10 p.m. EST
(but check your local listing just to be sure.)

things, which happen to
be some very nice forms of
communication.
Meanwhile, back at the
brewery, we'll be doing our
thing ... with the King of
Beersi. (But you know that.)

of

ROCK, FOLK, JAZZ GROUPS! Enter the '69 Intercollegiate
Music Festival, co-sponsored by the brewers of Budweiser,
Write: I.M F., BOX 1275, Leesburg, Florida 32748.

Budweiser

ANH EU SER- RUSCH,

INC. * ST. LOUIS " NEWARK * LOS ANGELES * -AMPA H OUSTO'

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