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December 07, 1968 - Image 5

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Saturday, December 7, 1968

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

Saturday, December 7, 1968 THE MiCHIGAN DAILY

"Communication out, John Barth in

Scanning Beatlebooks

By ELIZABETH WISSMAN

Lost in the Funhouse, by John Barth. Doubleday,
$4.95.
It is perhaps unfortunate to bring the arcane and
Eighteenth Century canon of "Taste" to John Barth's
agonized extremity of Twentieth Century form. Can
we possibly evaluate a method which is so totally con-
sumed in self-evaluation? Can we condemn a fiction
which is its own Inquisition? Barth's serial collection,
Lost in the Funhouse, is mixed media in more than
the usual sense, combining as it does the elements of
form (tape, print, or whatever) with its own ironic
commentary. So skillful and so transcendent is the
critic in Barth, that this latest volume defies a con-
ventional attempt at criticism. We are left with an
aesthetic of numb recognition.
For instance, there is that old critical standby,
Interpretation: grab that archetype and pin it down!
An image, by all modern definition, should be Revela-
tion in miniature. But in the middle of his title-piece,
narrator Barth tells us all about this process:
A fine metaphor, 'simile, or other figure of
speech, in addition to its obvious "first-order" re-
levance to the , thing it describes, will be seen
4 upon reflection to have a second order signifi-
cance; it may be drawn from the milieu of the
action, for example, or be particularly appropriate
to the sensibility of the narrator, even hinting
to the reader things of which the narrator is un-
aware; or it may cast further and subtler lights
upon the thing it describes, sometimes ironically
qualifying .
The club-footed monotone of this defining voice
is, of course, brilliant parody. And, the increasing
regularity of such insertions in the second half of the-
volume does constitute a kind of pattern. But the
"intusive or artificial voice" (again to quote Barth)
has another effect as well. The author deliberately
violates the off-stage technique of Joyce to create an
opposite effect: a disengagement of the reader. Barth
plays upon our nerves and not our imaginative ability
for "statsis." He robs, the critic at least, of the
experience of private abstraction. The terms and cate-
gories are imposed before we have a chance to form
our own.
Barth is minutely aware of the raw word, its sub-
leties of color and context. Thus, the language in
Funhouse never escapes his control. This too, may be
an intentional irritant. The proportion of word to
CO luM ba

meaning is so exclusively "one to one," that there is
rarely that fluid moment in which language melts into
picture or, for that matter,. song. The pun in parti-
cular is Barth's province, shattering even the neces-
sity of representation in the virtuosity of sound over
sense. Whole constructions return again and again,
while with each echo Barth attempts a more precise
delineation. The repetition of "water" and "bee"
terminology is so rigidly consistent, that it mimics the
grandest synthetic of a doctoral thesis.
As a final shift, Barth constructs a sentence even
out of silence, "The smell of Uncle Karl's cigar re-
minded one of." Of what does not particularly matter,
since it is the blank, or the "lacuna" which Barth is
recommending to our attention. All of his virtuousity
has been to effect our arrival at this strangely non-
existent point. The glory that was Greece (in his
Homeric imitations) and the grandeur that is tape
technology= must alike submit to the ineffable act of
creation. To Barth, the history of his art and the
possibilities of technique only increase the agony of
the writer's ultimate responsibility.
To fill in the blank, figurative of course for "the
blank of our lives." The pattern of a journey in Fun-
house may be read in several ways: as the history of a
Civilization or a single personality or as the primal
myth of man. But at any level, the progress is cer-
tain and inexorable. Each movement brings the fic-
tion closer to a complete paralysis of consciousness.
One can possess so much knowledge that the cognative
act becomes impossible, by its very naivete.
Thus, Barth invites us to reflect upon his maze
of mirrors and encourages, by direct address, our re-
cognition of our equal dilemma as readers.
The reader! You, dogged, uninsultable, print-
oriented bastard it's you I'm addressing, who
else, from inside this monstrous fiction. You've
read me this far, then? Even this far? For what
discreditable motive? Ifow is it you don't go to a
movie, watch TV, stare at a wall, play tennis with
a friend, make amorous advances to the person
who comes to your mind when I speak of amor-
ous advances? Can nothing surfeit, saturate you,
turn you off? Where's your shame?
Barth knows the answers, of course. We are fas-
cinated by his discord, in part because we need to
arrive at a new harmony. Moreover, if he does not
give us significant form, we at least recognize signi-
cant rhetoric. In the midst of his "ultimate isolation,"
Barth still -retains a remarkable control of the Uni-
versal of human curiosity.

Although Barth prevents our triumph over him
in media res, we might still attempt to objectify, and
thus to own him, with some kind of artistic classifica-
tion. But Barth has been here before us; postulating
his own School, indeed his own creative epoch, in
"The Literature of Exhaustion" (cf. Atlantic Month-
ly, August '67). This is a literature in which all pro-
gress is a circular illusion, and all illusion only a mo-
mentary coalescense among the shards. Among the
exhausted, Barth counts authors like Borges, whose
labyrinthine design is reemployed as an emblem in
Barth's own funhouse. But Barth finds symptoms of
enervation in Vision as well as Vehicle. As an
author, he explores (or firmly believes himself to be
exploring) a further shore, where the death of the
novel is as remote and unaffecting as the death of
Homer. The problem is not the loss of form, but p.
panic in that whole species of manipulative energy
which we call art.
Despite his contemporary, Barth adheres rather
fiercely to the Victorian image of Progressive Evolu-
tion. He is controlled by the concept of period, and by
the notion that there must be some avantgarde to
create that period or else we "fall off the edge" of our
communicative world, To exceed, to surpass all that
has gone before is the only means of Survival.
And by such survival is the author judged fit.
Like most contemporary authors, Barth is obsessed by
the phenomenon of James Joyce. The dimensions of
mind and invention, from Dubliners to Finnegans
Wake, become an awful burden. Any artist, bred in
such a shadow, must of necessity feel himself stunted
and dry.
But there must come a time when we (John Barth
included) disdover the limits of theory; when we
question the efficacy of our terms as either descrip-
tion or recommendation. Does the genius of Joyce, or
any other artist, function as a comparative? Is novelty
the one imperative of meaning? Finally, is the no-
tion that communication can be "used up" a valid hy-'
pothesis for either life or literature? These questions
will not get a critical answer. For this, only the
painful induction of, art itself will do.-Perhaps this is
Barth's project after all; to tease beyond the endur-
ance of our standards:E
The final possibility is to turn ultimacy, ex-
haustion, paralyzing self-consciousness and the
adjective weight of accumulated history
against itself to make something new and valid,
the essence whereof would be the impossibility of
making something new. What a neuseating notion.

The Beatles Book, ed. by Ed-
ward E. Davis. Cowles, $5.95.
By JOHN GRAY
Everybody's got something to
say about the' Beatles. In fact,
everyone seems to have some
sort of compulsion to say things
about the Beatles. Julius Fast
made a fast buck with his lousy
The Beatles: The Real Story,
Hunter Davies made a sophisti-
cated buck with his pretty good
The Beatles: The Authorized
Biography, and now Edward
Davis stands to make a scholar-
ly buck with a collection called
The Beatles Book. '
It seems momentarily strange
that these three books should all
bring in the bucks for their re-
spective authors and editor,
since they are of widely differ-
ent quality and should, on the
basis of content and style, ap-
peal to widely different groups.
Fast should pick the pockets of
that huge group of people
whose mental age ranges from
nine to nine-and-ahaf. Davies
should gather up the dollars of
the regular best-seller-buyer and
t h e semi - serious aficionado.
Davis should bring in the bread
of the well-off, left-of-center
intellectual who thinks that The
New York Review of Books is
the culminatior of Western
Civilization.
But when you come right
down to it, everyone has not
only a compulsion to talk about
but also a compulsion to listen
to stuff about the Beatles.
And, although they'd probably
like to, most people aren't go-
ing to spend the $17.80 for all
three books, but will pick up
the one that catches their eye
and calls it quits.
Well, if you find yourself in
that kind of situation, buy The
Beatles Book. It's easily better
than Fast's fisaco, and although
it's hard to compare it with
Davies' authoritative, and au-
thorized biography, you'll prob-
ably get more insight into the
Beatles from this collection..
The Beatles Book Contains 15
essays by everyone from Timo-
thy Leary to William F. Buck-
ley. The collection strikes home,
I think, not so much because
of the especial talent or author-
ity of the individual authors
(although all of them, with the
possible exception of Leary, are
either talented or authoritative
or both) but rather because they
all, in one way or another, deal
with the music rather than the
phenomenon of the Beatles.
A biography almost necessar-
ily has to deal with the pheno-
menon of a person or a group,
and can get at their work only
peripherally. But it is, after all,
the work of the Beatles that we-
are really interested in. Sure, it
would be nice to know all about
their personal lives and their
background, but that urge is
vicarious, an expression of a de-
sire to get to know the people
whose work we love or find in-
teresting. To try to bend this
urge and use it to come to a
greater appreciation of the Bea-
ties in the only way we can
really know them, through their
albums, is sort of like going
across the street by way of the
Bronx.
The book offers a variety of
ways to get across the street for
you. Probably the most interest-
ing, if only because it's the most
infuriating, is Buckley's piece,
which is riddled with such in-

cisive Buckleyese as: "They are
so unbelievably horrible, so ap-
pallingly unmusical, so dogmat-x
ically insensitive to the magic of
the art that they qualify as
crowned heads of anti-music,
even as the imposter popes went
down in history as 'anti-popes."'
(And this after he confesses
that one of his favorite pieces
during his Yale days was "Fry
Me Cookie With a Can of
Lard"!)
There's also Richard Gold-
stein's well-reasoned critique of
Sergeant Pepper, which should
be gone over by everyone who
ever said or thought that it was
the best or' most important 'al-
bum they'd ever heard. He'll
probably make you think you
were wrong.
And for all you music freaks,
Joshua Rifkin has written a
long piece commenting on the
musicological structure of the
Beatles' songs. (Example: "As
an interesting detail, we might
notice..-how the brief introduc-
tion telescopes the harmonic
course of the B sections" or,
even better, "'Michelle,' for ex-

ample, is just as much 'about'
the superimposition of differing
vocal lines above the same in-
strumental figure (Ex. 11) and
the way in which a small guitar
solo, built upon the harmonic
progression that opens the song,
reappears as a coda . . ." etc )
My favorite, and perhaps the
best (it depends where you are),
piece in the book is Al Lee's
"The Poetics of the Revolution"
in which he makes a striking
case. for the unity of the whole
Beatles' corpus in terms of re-
curring symbols (as in "Rain,"
"Penny Lane," and "Fixing a
Hole," among others.)
The Beatles are a phenomen-
on. true. But it's the music that
says it, and it says it best And
it's The Beatles Book that says
it about the music the best. If
you're buying a Christmas pres-
ent for yourI'1-year-old niece,
give her Fast's book. If you're
getting one for your middle-
class aunt, try Davies'. But if
you're buying one for yourself,
give your $5.95 to the man for
The Beatles Book, and have a
good old time.

7 ._ '- '-- __

I

Times-- less journalism

Up Against the Ivy Walt, by
Jerry L. Avorn and members
of the staff of the Columbia
Daily $pectator. Antheneum,
$3.25 (paper).
By STEPHEN H. WILDSTROM
Early in the morning of
April 30, according to the New
York Times, 1000 carefully se-
lected members of the New Yorke
Police Department entered the
Columbia University campus
and arrested some 600 students
' who had been sitting-in at five
university buildings.
According to an official police
report, 109 people (92 students
and 17 cops) were injured in the
operation. The Times story
made no mention of the in-
juries and gave no indication
that there had been any vio-
lence during the arrests.
It wasn't that the Times
didn't know about the clubbings
inflicted by the police, most of
whom were members of the
notorious Tactical Patrol Force
and many of whom wore neither.
unforms nor badges. They must
have, known because Times re-
porter Steven Roberts was
bloodied by the cops inside Low
Library when he didn't move
along quickly enough to suit
them. They must have known
e because there were enough
Times reporters-who had re-
ceived advance word of the up-
coming bust-present to witness
the violence.
This wasn't the only example
of atrocious coverage of the
Columbia crisis by the Times,
Just the most flagrant. Just why
the Times coverage was so baa
still is not clear. Certainly, the
role of Times publisher Arthur}
Ochs Sulzberger as a, trustee of
Columbia 'might have contri-
buted to a desire on the part of
the paper's brass to portray the
actions of the university's ad-
ministration and trustees in the
best possible light.
There have been sinister
claims that Sulzberger ordered
the Times staff to do what it
did,, that is, to fabricate and
manage the news. But that is
not very likely. More likely, the
staff didn't want to do anything
they thought would anger the
boss. As a result, they came up
with coverage which, once torn
to shreds by the Columbia
Journalism Review, prob'ably
proved more embarrassing. to
Sulzberger than anything they
could have done had they cov-
ered the story straight.
The Times was merely the
worst offender among the com-

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The United States and the
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Existentialism
Patricia F. Sanborn, University of New Mexico
A concise guide to Existentialism as represented by the writings of Kierke-
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Contemporary Russian Drama
Selected and Translated by F. D. Reeve
Preface by Victor Rozov
First English publication of five of the most successful plays written and
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Poems of Our Moment
Contemporary Poets of the English Language
Edited by John Hollander, Hunter College
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Crisis of the American Dream
A History of American Social Thought 1920-1940
John Tipple, California State College at Los Angeles
Both an interpretative social history and a vital fund of important writitgs
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The Politics of Poverty
John C. Donovan,.Bowdoin College
A biting analysis thi traces the War on Poverty from its genesis as a
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Donald S. Zagoria, Research Institute on Modern Asia, Hunter College
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288 Pages. Cloth (P1009) $6.95; Paper (P1010) $1,75
The War Myth
Donald A. Wells, Washington State University

student newspaper, the Colum-
bia Daily Spectator, rose to the
occasion during the crisis. Dur-
ing the period of the occupa-
tion of the buildings and the
continuing crisis that followed,
the Spectator was the only me-
dium of communication which,
while fundamentally sympathe-
tic to the demonstrators, re-
ceived at /least a modicum of
trust from all parties involved.
Now, the staff of the Specta-
tor, led by supplements editor
Jerry L. Avorn, has put together
a chronology of the events that
rocked Columbia and sent trem-
ors through the nation's entife
higher education establishment.
They call it a history, but it
is history in the high school
Today's writers...
ELIZABETH WISSMAN, a
graduate student in the English
department, was Dily arts

textbook sense of the, word-
lots of facts but generally de-
void of analysis.
Like the Spectator itself, the
book is obviously in basic sym-
pathy with the demonstrators.
When the Columbia trustees
and administration, particular-
ly then-President Grayson Kirk,
are presented in the full light
of their stpuidity and incredible
insensitivitiy, it is almost impos-
sible to not be in sympathy
with those who opposed them.
The book does not refrain
from revealing the intransigence
of the demonstrators and their
abject refusal to enter into
meaningful negotiations with
anyone, much less make con-

cessions. But it places that re-
fusal in the context of the New
Left belief that it is more im-
portant to build a movement
than to win a partial success.
The reader may or may not
agree with the rationale, but at
least he is made aware of it,
something which the commer-
cial press usually fails to do
when covering student or New <-
Left activity.
Normally, the writing of his-
tory as chronology is a virtually
useless enterprise. The fact that
this book is instant history
nkes the venture even more
dubious. Yet Up Against the
Ivy Wall fulfills an important
function:

For most news events, one
can go to the library and read
the microflims of one or several
newspapers and gain a reason-
able perspective of the event.
But the standard coverage /of
Columbia was so bad that this'
cannot be done. At least the
staff of the Spectator tells it
right.

gKREAT TRAcKRcoLD!
-UNDERSTANDING COMES
FASTER WITH
CUFF'S NOTF AI

I"

J._ _ ._
9

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t
c
s
c
k
f

LITTLE GROUPS OF NEIGHBORS:
THE SELECTIVE SERVICE SYSTEM
James W. Davis, Jr.
Kenneth M. Dolbeare
"This book is unquestionably the best
piece of work that has been done on
the Selective Service System. It is an
objective scholarly, factual, and to me
at least, therefore devastating analysis
of how a very large and very complex
bureaurcracy works. It separates fact

- At
MEM= in ia

I

F

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