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June 10, 1967 - Image 12

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Michigan Daily, 1967-06-10
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Education as Cure-All, or:

TEXTS AND CONTEXTS

What This Country Needs Is a Cood Five-Cent Synthesis

Celine: Night Visions and Beautiful Drd

Beyond Alienation, by Ernest Beck-
er. Braziller. $5.95.
The road to frustration is paved
with theories in which education
magically leads to all sorts of social
reforms. While those around them
were molding students to the pat-
tern society demanded, a long, thin
thread of visionaries have for centu-
ries thought about ways of reshap-
ing the social mold by the pressure
of millions of minds.
This is the path down which Er-
nest Becker has bravely and blithe-
ly charged. Does he reach his goal
of a curriculum for all educated
men which would change society?
That is doubtful. But his
observations of the terrain through
which he travels are enough to
make the trip worthwhile.
Becker, you may remember, is
the instructor in just about every-
thing at Berkeley, much beloved by
undergraduates, who was not reap-
pointed to his teaching job in the
anthropology d e p a r t m e n t, and
could not "fit in" with any other
normal academic department. (It
would be pleasant to report that,
through some miracle, he won reap-
pointment, but, alas, the guardians
of the neat little departmental pi-
geonholes have denied him a place
to roost. Even the Associated Stu-
dents voted against the idea of pay-
ing his salary themselves.)
The kind of general, all-purpose
breadth of knowledge which seems
to have made Becker an alien in
Berkeley's tight little departments
is in abundant evidence in this his
fourth book. His system reaches out
to draw the most salient lessons
from sociology, psychology, social
psychology, psychiatry, history, an-
thropology, t h e o 1 o g y, ontology,
even a few fields that don't really
exist, like "historical psychology."
It is evident that Becker is not
the usual kind of academic who
bites off one teenie-weenie problem
and chews it till it's dry. 1His prob-
lem is big, and so are his suggested
answers.
His problem is no less than devel-
oping a synthesis of knowledge
which will serve as the basis for the
reconstruction of society. As he
points out, there have been plenty
of attempts at such a synthesis (like
Hegel's), and there have been a
good many social reconstructions,
like those twentieth-century efforts
known as Communism and Nazism.
But so far, there have been no suc-
cessful combinations of these two
enterprises. It is with self-conscious
chutzpah, then, that Becker ven-
tures to suggest the foundations on
which such a marvelous construct
can be built.
His search for an organizing prin-
ciple with which to "unify" knowl-
edge leads Becker back to the En-
lightenment, when the French sa-
vants attempted to "make morality
the subject of science." As with
Rousseau and Diderot, so with
Becker: man is the center of our

knowledge, and the science of man Perha
is an "active, ideal-type science." Becker
While Rousseau's model of man in a consciou
mythical innocent "state of nature" to provi
made it clear that social restrictions lemma.
have corrupted man's goodness, it knowled
remained for later sociologists and gration,
psychologists to specify how society that on
causes alienation. bring ha
The idea of alienation (Becker's ontology
central concept), is necessary to re- integrat
mind us of Rousseau's picture of ure. Anr
the innately good man. As Becker cannprox
develops the idea, alienation con- meaning
sists of a separation of men from perspect
meaning, of social constraint on hu- whether
man freedom. It is not sufficient, "good
however, for we must still provide Ture.
an adequate picture of nature, and Takin
a proper idea of the role of a si- Theolog:
ence of man. This will set us on the cludes e
path to understanding society's role ideal enl
in alienation; such understanding, cial reco
presumably, will lead to the cure. Pragm
. ' "real"
What is really needed, Becker the wo
argues, is a "New Moral View of the spectiv
World." This, modestly enough, he But w
sets out to provide, one "r
Sociology, he says, tells us that was pr
society is no more than a big "po- aono
tlatch," in which everybody plays source
roles as in a game, pretending that dom an
people's titles, ranks, and positions An ex
really mean something. It's useless ienated,
to speculate about a "pure" society the Wor
in the state of nature; our values of his d
and norms shape society, Becker construe
says, or at least our ideals should one wan
shape society. But psychiatry teach- into pra
es us, alas, that social blocks res- Educa
strict individual freedom, and can answert
lead to mental illness. eurriculL
- R

aps a bit to his own surprise,
finds himself self-
asly turning toward theology
de the answer to man's di-
We need maximum self-
ge, maximum social inte-
but without the possibility
e group's integration will
arm to others. We need an
which will enable us to
e our "life force" with na-
abstract God, we are told,
vide the highest ground for
g, which will be the critical
tive by which we can judge
we have really found a
integration of life with na.
g Paul Tillich's Systematic
y as his model, Becker con-
that such a vision of the
Tightens our path toward so-
nstruction:
atism .. . told us what the
was-that the "real" was
rld as integrated in the per-
ve of the striving organism.
e had to know what makes
eal" more real than another
his other half of the answer
rovided by the perspective of
my ... Theonomy crowns
iatism by pointing to the
of life as the ideal of free-
nd the measure of value.
planation of why man is al=
and a New Moral View of
ld to show him the way out
dilemma through social re-
tion--what more could any-
t? All that is left is to put it
ctice, through education.
tion-there it is agin, the
to what ails you. Becker's
um would consist of an "an-

thropodicy"-an explanation of the
evil in the world that is caused by
man-made arrangements, and how
these can be changed. It would cov-
er the individual aspects of aliena-
tion, through psychology, social psy-
chology, and the rest of the list. It
would move on to the social and his-
torical dimension, including some-
thing called "historical psycholo-
gy," or how men search for mean-
ings, and how "social stupidity"
arises. Finally, advanced students
would move on, to the theological
aspects.
Does Becker's scheme constitute
an "education," sufficient for all
college students' needs? Probably
not. It is, and always will be, diffi-
cult to fit everybody into any sort of
preshaped curriculum, no matter
how "free."
What Becker does provide is a
challenging suggestion for a signifi-
cant portion of the college student's
curriculum, which could be pro-
foundly meaningful to many stu-
dents. It leaves out, however, vast
territories of learning which must
also contribute to any "educated"
man's outlook-the great tracts of
literature and the arts, and the nat-
ural sciences. Becker does not even
consider these, though he does
briefly mention that they are "be-
yond his field of competence."
Does Becker's scheme provide an
adequate vehicle for "social recon-
struction" as he started out to do?
Surely, it is ambitious; we must not
knock him for failing in a big way.
We must be permitted some doubts,
however. Becker sees the solution
as the formation of a new "myth"
which will integrate men in a new
moral society in"which all men are
free and have found meaning. But
how is this "myth" to be translated
into concrete changes in social insti-
tutions? How are the new sets of
values and norms which will pre-
sumably arise from the Becker cur-
riculum to be expressed in means of
production or patterns of interac-
tion between people or methods of
governing people? These questions
Becker does not seem to raise,
much less answer. The end of Beck-
er's quest is still off in the distance;
but the territory through which he
has traveled is exciting. Can the fi-
nal goal ever be attained? Who
knows? But why not try?
David L. Aiken
Mr. Aiken is a first-year graduate stu-
dent in the department of edcat'i )
at the University of Chiu .

Death on the Installment Plan, by
Louis Ferdinand Celine. New Di-
rections. $7.50 and $2.35. Celine's
Vision, by Erika Ostrowski. New
York University Press. $7.95 and
$2.25.
Death on the Installment Plan is
simply magnificent. Despite the
necessarily approximate translation
of Celine's dense, esoteric slang, the
novel can still be appreciated by
English-speaking readers. It is pos-
sible to understand the rapid world
of Ferdinand (the narrating protag-
onist) as it defines itself: evil, ines-
capable and violently human. Ferdi-
nand believes it because he must;
he hates in self-protection, refract-
ing pain, conscious that he too must
injure, which makes him suffer.
Suffering is perhaps the most im-
portant "romantic" element in the
novel.
A revival of criticism on Celine
followed his death in 1961. Miss Os-
trowski's study, one of the latest, as.
pires to be an interpretation of Ce-
line's "vision of man's position in
the universe"-a lofty intention.
She takes Death on the Installment
Plan, which appeared in 1936, as
only one moment in his literary sys-
tem, a "black" moment: a "night"
vision, frightening and ugly.
But panoramic approaches have
their shortcomings. Since "the glim-
mer of even the most furtive beauty
or warmth, the small 'recess of ten-
derness' which could still be uncov-
ered here and there in Voyage au
bout de la nuit and Mort a Credit,
are totally eliminated in the last
main works," she systematically ig-
nores them. According to her,
Death on the Installment Plan ends
with the end of childhood which, in
her eyes, is utter d e f e a t-
Ferdinand wants to leave, tired
and crushed.
But we cannot understand this
defeat without also taking into ac-
count the avowed guilt and the
need for confession that qualifies
his agony. Ferdinand cannot bear
his vision. His despair is not merely
a renunciation of the world but a
continuous struggle to remain inno-
cent. The "vision" of reality is dis-
covered, not just passively accept-
ed. And it terrifies. An analysis of
Ferdinand's world must include the
romanticism of his character, his
disillusion and his agonized human-
ism.
The book starts off with
death-the death of a concierge, a
character otherwise inconsequential
but conspicuously lovable. The brief
account of her end is delicate, if bit-
ter: the old woman dies in Ferdi-
nand's arms, no frie n d s left
(ever) . . .The little passage is per-
haps a "prelude". It will be forgot-
ten. But the grief of surviving and
that terrific loneliness will recur.

non-a
world
streng
suffer
guilt o
death:
or be
conce:
ing. B
act r
himse
erwh
gend,
Thi
peopl(
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are a
they <
ious
jects,
menc(
image
many
Edow
dinan
come
So
he is
Celin
quial
edies
Nvith
tional
perce
deligl
such
natio
Cust
and a
of ma
realis
Ce
strete
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desr
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iodic
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is pai
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lie"
laten
Miss
major
sity C

... Back at the Ranch

(Continued from page five)
"I have known poverty," Johnson
said and once showed reporters a
ruined shanty on his ranch which
he claimed was his boyhood home.
His astonished mother, along for
the ride, said, "Why, Lyndon, you
know we had a nice house over on
the other side of the farm." In 1965,
he confided to a top commentator
for a national network, "Every-
thing, Joe, that isn't peace is chick-
en-shit." ("He's so gross.. ," a mem-
ber of the Democratic National
Committee once sighed to me.)
,Nor does Johnson emerge as at-
tractive in more substantive con-
texts: his McCarthyite pillorying of
the liberal Leland Olds, a Roosevelt
appointee to the Federal Power
Commission whom Truman wanted
reappointed; his appalling political

dealings in Texas; his record on
Vietnam.
Thus while Sherrill's book suffers
from acute glaucoma it nonetheless
offers some powerful insights into
perhaps the most disliked president
in our history. Other accounts of
Johnson, such as Evans and Novak's
The Exercise of Power, have much
more detail and political sophistica-
tion. But they do not have the quali-
ty of moral outrage which is Sher-
rill's alone.
"I am the only President you
have," LBJ told visitors after the
assassination. In some ways, Sher-
rill's book is the only book of its
kind that we have. Its subject
should consider himself fortunate.
Mark R. Killingsworth
Mr. Kilingsworth is a fourth-year stu-
dent majoring in economics at the Uni-
versity uf Mvuichtgan.

In the beginning, Ferdinand-the-
d o c t o r-and-poet defines himself
humbly. He sketches cursorily the
apparently despicable yet so pitiful
world. But no wrath, no revolt. Fer-
dinand is resigned to examining hy-
pochondriacs and writing stories
and legends. One of them he tells to
a consistently slumbering colleague:
the legend of Gwendor the Magnifi-
cent. Gwendor's swan song, at his
death, is the book's summary: "Be-
hold these poor corpses! . . . An
eternity of silence will not soften
my lot." This is the horror at the
world that cannot, will not be
saved. There is too much death.
Gwendor is told that "all kingdoms
end in a dream . . ." Ironically,
Gwendor has a beautiful dream of
his elegant childhood before he
dies.
A few pages later, Ferdinand,
now ill, has his own "dream," a gro-
tesque nightmare about the begin-
ning of his own life. This is a differ-
ent dream indeed from that of
Gwendor, but is still a dream, re-
membered by the decaying protag-
onist who is psychologically and
physically ready to die. Ferdinand
travrses his infernal "cantos" with-
out rhyme but with plenty of hell!

The cave of his birthplace is putrid.
It will become increasingly so as
Ferdinand acts out his life. But
there is no "evolution"-the vision
is consistent throughout the novel.
It will simply be less and less possi-
ble to tolerate it; but there are no
radical changes in mood, or in point
of view.
How is the vision kept "consis-
tent" throughout the novel? In tech-
nique, to begin with. Reality is re-
ceived in lightning-flash segments.
It cumulates, in clusters, like rapid
images in early movies, at times so
exaggerated as to be comic. Celine
keeps ideas pretty much the same
too: women are variously but decid-
edly sensual, even when grotesque;
the men are incapable of commiser-
ation, even when well-meaning.
And all are marked with the stamp
of physical and/or spiritual pover-
ty.
However, it is where Ferdinand
departs from the "consistency" of
his narrative, where he acts or per-
ceives in an unusual manner, that
he is (paradoxically) most himself.
For instance, he is in love once-
only once. Yet he avoids her, afraid
to approach beauty! Here, as else-
where, Ferdinand is stubbornly

ST L I T ERAR Y

RE VIE W June, 1967

June, 197 * M 1 0 W E S I

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