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March 22, 1959 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 1959-03-22
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r -71

A -.r 11 . t. . - 1- ti- -- 1, -- .&

.. 'T~ A. K


A Humble Letter
To. the Pharaoh

A Study of Thomas Mann
Erich Heller's Book Very Successful

(Continued from Page 8)
Splinter Totalitarianism
WE HAVE seen now how total
power was achieved *by cer-
tain forces in America. Now we
shall probe for the flaw in this
power which led to the country's
As a preliminary, it must be ac-
cepted that Man is essentially sel-
'fish and generally falls into clos-
est contact with those groups
which share his feelings, ideas,
and particularly, his needs.
This is precisely what occurred
in America. In a land vast geo-
graphically and culturally, inter-
est groups were certain to clus-
ter. Instead of a single, unified
power, a series of groups devel-
oped, each trying to thwart any-
thing inimical to its interests and
to a lesser degree, trying to ef-
fect anything complimentary to
those same interests.

Man: lost in a vast crowd


Usually the interests were of an
economic nature. Principle econ-
omic veto groups included or-
ganizations under many guises
and forms - the Amercan Feder-
ation of Labor, the Daughters of
the American Revolution, granges,
the National Association of Man-
ufacturers . . the veto group
flourished in America.
AS IMPLIED by the name, the
veto group was not a leader
group; rather it was essentially an
instrument used to abort unde-
sirable law.
Viewing the image of power in
America, one saw a vast number
of powerful blocs fighting among
themselves to control the public's
mind. The total power, so well
nurtured by these groups, had
been sharply divided. A splinter
totalitarianism was evolving.
Splinter totalitarianism spelled
disaster for the Americans. It
certainly would have been a suc-
cessful form of government - but
only for an isolated nation where
instant strength in the face of
outside aggression was not neces-
However, as we have men-
tioned, the Americans were far
from isolated; they were engulfed
in the whole world picture. Since
the 1950's the United States had
been on the brink of war with
the Russians.
BUT WAR would not come. A
decade passed. Two decades.
The Americans slowly became
complacent, although the same
tense situation existed between
the two nations. Their awareness
to danger dulled with time.
Surely, war would never come;
it had lain. dormant for thirty
years. Indeed, it was almost like
peacetime. And in peacetime, the
Americans reasoned, it is not
necessary for a people to remain
bound as a solid, unified force.
They instead remained in their
veto groups, pursuing their own
interests, bickering with one an-
other, stubbornly refusing to
agree to proposals for their own
THERE IS little need of relat-
ing how the Americans were
completely destroyed in the Ab-
solute War. When the time came
to fight for survival, they simply
could not unify.
Selfishness had created their
desire for power, and selfishness
had destroyed them ..
The American tragedy has its
significance even today. Traces
of those patterns which proved
fatal to the United States - a
large, persuadable mass and self-
ish interest groups splintering
unified power - are evident in
our own society.
I submit this thesis with all
humbleness, hoping that your
magnificence will not consider it
the offspring of Brashness, but
rather as a grave matter calling
for immediate consideration.
Citizen 676-1208
(Subject to approval by Coi-
mittee on Public Readings

Images replaced issues in politics

By Erich Heller. Little, Brown
and Company. Boston. 298
pages. $6.
wl!ITING in the University of
""Toronto Quarterly in 1938
A. F.,B. Clark asked of Thomas
Mann's work:
Were there ever novels so na-
turalistic in their methods of
description, characterization,
and dialogue, yet lit with such
an underglow of symbolism
and poetic suggestion? Was
an author ever so emotionally
absorbed in his characters, yet
- so ironically detached from
them? Was subject - matter
ever so morbid and repulsive,
yet treatment and atmosphere
so instinctively refined and
humane? Was intellectual
weightiness ever relieved by
such all - pervading humour
and wit? Did novels ever so
combine timeliness and time-
Erich Heller in his study of
Mann answers emphatically: No,
never. And his book is an attempt,
a highly successful one, to dis-
cover and to reveal why this is so.
Why this complexity in the man?
Why this ironical treatment in his
IN ORDER to do this Heller has
written the sort of book which
few American critics, I'm afraid,
would be capable of.
For it is not the routine explica-
tion de texte nor mere literary bio-
graphy, but a work which uses
these methods with the important
addition of an examination of
Mann's German cultural , ante-
cedents - literary, philosophical,
and historical.
Heller's credentials for such a
task have already been amply
proven in his two earlier works,
"The Disinherited Mind" and "The
Hazard of Modern Poetry." But
what is, for a study of this kind,
quite as important as his knowl-
edge and what sets him apart from
the great majority of American
critics is that he is a committed
writer, committed to the problem
of Western civilization in the
twentieth century, a problem so
much Mann's own. As he says:
"The background to my writing is
the political and cultural catas-
trophes of this century, and my
attachment to the things over-
taken by them."
H ELLER sees in Mann two pri-
mary reasons for the irony
which he feels is the essence of the
novelist's work and which is the
basis of this study. One is per-
sonal. One is artistic.
First of all there is Thomas
Mann the German from Lubeck,
heir of merchant-patricians, who,
as a'young man could say: "Liberty
-that is the Dionysian dance of
Reason," and who could during
the First World War in his "Medi-
tations of a Non-Political Man"
attack almost every aspect of the
democratic ideal.
It is this part of Mann, this
deep burgher strain, conservative
and traditional, which led him
early in his career to identify the
artist with the social iconoclast.
And it resulted in one of the pri-
mary themes in his work: the con-
flict within a character between
the active man, healthy, finding
satisfactory completion in ordinary
life, and the artist type, touched
with sickness, needing, because he
is unable successfully to participate
in the active life, to complete him-
self in artificial creation.

AGAINST a background of solid
burgher values Mann thus "
tended to look upon the artist as1
politically and socially irrespon-
sible and suspect: to produce such
an offspring was a sign of death1
for a family like the Buddenbrooks,
to produce a~ generation of such
men would be death for the olda
German values. Tonio Kroger, the,
writer in the early Mann story by
the same name, makes this point
very clear: ". . . a properly con-

IT MAY SEEM to the contem-
porary artist as though every-
thing has been done, all themes
exploited, all methods employed;
the mystery of art has departed
&n4 with it not a little power. Be-
cause . of his almost complete
knowledge the artist is on the
verge of artistic impossibility.
But there is still one possibility,
that of irony, parody, in which the
artist criticizes his own work in
the creation, itself. Heller finds the
first statement of this idea in the
writings of Friedrich Schlegel:
... Schlegel's romantic artist
does know. He is supremely
conscious -- so much so that,
while he does what he does, he
can at the same time do some-
thing else: for instance, 'from,
the height of the mind smile
down upon his masterpiece,'
as Schlegel believed Goethe
did in "Wilhelm Meister."
CERTAINLY this is the century
of the ironic, the paradistic
work of art: Picasso's Classical
Period, Joyce's "Ulysses," Weill's
"The Threepenny Opera." And it
is the method of the "Research"
chapter in "The Magic Mountain,"
of all of Doctor Faustus, and of
the Joseph books.
Living in an age without mystery
and with scarcely any valid
mythology, Heller likens the crea-
tive artist to Moses who if "having

read Thomas Mann's 'The Tables
of the Law,' were still to climb
Mount Sinai and wait for the voice
of God to speak."'
If one were to look for a single
important failing in this excellent
study it would be that Heller seems
to imply that an increasing com-
plexity of content and method can
be equated with an increasing
artistic success,
This is undoubtedly the result of
writing with a thesis, yet one
would be on very dangerous ground
in saying that Mann ever sur-
passed artistically those early
achievements, "B u d d e nb r o o k s"
and "Death in Venice."
were to select a single merit
above all others for which to
praise this book it would be the
service Heller has done the Eng-
lish-speaking world in attempting
to make it again aware of the
greatness of German culture by
means of this examination of one
of its greatest writers.
The concentration camps have
made that culture more alien,
more unknown, to us than we are
perhaps aware. A generation of
intellectuals has grown up suspi-
cious of the very names Hegel,
Nietzche, Wagner.
Writing on Thomas Mann's
seventieth birthday in 1945 Gab-
riela Mistral said:


This is Joan


stituted, healthy, decent man
never writes, acts, or composes . . ."
But of course Mann himself
wrote, and by the time of the
publication of "The Magic Moun-
tain" in 1924, though the problem
of health and disease in men and
society continued to be one of his
central concerns, the old basis for
an absolute judgment as to what
was health and what was disease
was for him.no longer valid.
He had looked again at his an-
cestral world and found its stand-
ards meaningless, for in the Eu-
rope left by the war they were no
longer possible. What was a neatly
banked river had become a shore-
less sea.
HELLER FEELS that this prob-
lem-the sudden confrontation
with the modern world-was par-
ticularly traumatic in Germany,
and his discussion of it in rela-
tion to Mann's own difficulty is
certainly one of the most valuable
chapters of his book.
The adjustment of the German
people to the new Europe, he says,
was never a satisfactory one:
... since the Reformation and
the Thirty Years War the his-
tory of the German people has
been felt, inside and outside
Germany, to be disquietingly
out of step with the rest of
Europe. Intellectually, this
may be due to the peculiar
absence of any clearly articu-
late transition from the Mid-
dle Ages to 'modern' Germany.
The result has often been a
tendency toward extremes; a coun-
try with a multitude of problems
"waiting for their transcendent
solution." In Mann's own political
thought, beginning in a conserva-
tive nationalism almost reaction-
ary and ending in a vague Marx-
ian socialism, we may see a type
of the pattern.
LIKEWISE his image of himself
as an artist was never an easy
one, as it would have been for a
French or an Italian man of let-
Even after the dream of the Lu-
beck world had ended there was
always that about him which,
makes one recall what he said in
"Meditations," that he was a
burgher, "a face from medieval
Nuremberg." How else, Heller im-
plies, could a man who loved the
old ways but knew that they were
impossible, who wished to be a
merchant and was a novelist, see
the world except ironically?
The artistic reason for the irony
of Mann's work, to Heller, is the
result of the modern artist know-
ink too miuch, being too aware of~
his tradition, its techniques,rand
the ultimate effect of his creation
upon his audience.

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