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May 13, 1967 - Image 9

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Michigan Daily, 1967-05-13
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* as-

+ *

lik

SUPPLE

ot"E 4r 1114

Mark Twain
(Continued from page six)
tedious. The mask didn't always fit;
Clemens outgrew parts of his creat-
ed character, married, started a
family, entered a wide variety of
business enterprises, and developed
refined and expensive tastes under
the influence of his new surround-
ings.
The conflicts between Mr. Cle-
mens and Mark Twain, so runs Mr.
Kaplan's thesis, enable us to under-
stand the last forty-four years of the
author's life. The dialectic works in
4wo ways: first we look to see what
Mr. Clemens did with Mark Twain,
how he "explored the literary and
psychological options of a new.
created identity. .. ," and then we
watch how the drives and ambitions
of Mr. Clemens conflicted' with and
eventually destroyed the quite dif-
ferent drives and ambitions of his
created persona.
The Twain-Clemens approach to
this author's life was made familiar
in the 20's by the literary debates of
Van Wyck Brooks and Bernard .De
Voto. Now that so much new mate-
rial is available it is right and good
that the case be re-examined. (Al-
~though perhaps it is not so right
and good that this approach be pre-
sented as an original idea; Mr. Kap-
lan cites almost no secondary
sources.) Perhaps such a division
applies to Sam Clemens more readi-
ly than it might to some other au-
thors; nevertheless, dialectic is at
best a clumsy tool for a biographer,
and here it forces Mr. Kaplan alter-
nately to submerge his thesis in fa-
vor of accuracy and exaggerate his
subject to fit his hypothesis.
Thus when it is advantageous for
Mr. Kaplan to see Twain as a row-
dy, even the flimsiest evidence is
acceptable, providing it supports his
thesis; we are told that once a "lo-
cal editor" in San Francisco called
Clemens a "jailbird, bailjumper,
deadbeat, and alcoholic" and "insin-
uated" that Clemens had been
W'rolled in a whorehouse and proba-
bly had venereal disease." This is
fun to read but from such an unreli-
able source that the report is almost
meaningless as evidence for Cle-
mens' character.
Mr. Kaplan's views of his sub-
ject's psychological mechanisms are
inconsistent, usually far-fetched,
and often ludicrous. Shortly after
Clemens' marriage, for example, we
learn that his wife
has become an idealized superego
which frees him from the taint of
adolescent experiments and fron-
tier lawlessness and allows him to
experience a productive tension be.
tween-the social order he has be-
come part of and the boyhood reali-
A ty he can never leave behind him
. . . In order to recapture his past
he must follow a familiar pattern
of rebirth and become less rather
than more like his old self.
Keen analysis indeed. But consider-
ing that Mr. Kaplan manages to see
* all this almost a hundred years af-
ter the fact, I don't believe it. If
in such cases one can't rely on
conventional evidence, one can
fall back on old standards like
wordbassociation:

.. twinship, along with the cognate
sAOJh cC of -claimants of aln sorts,
a:o offered Clemens an enormous-
ly suggestive if misleadingly sim-
pie way of objectifying the steadily
deepening sense of internal conflict
and doubleness which is suggested
by the two sets of near homonyms:
Twain twins and Clemens claim-
ants -
I leave to the reader to find out
what happens when Mr. Kaplan ap-
plies his associational logic to Mark
Twain's works. For a start, you can
imagine what he goes through to
connect Heidelberg, Hartford, Had-
leyburg and Huckleberry Finn. The
answer won't tell you much about
either Twain or his novel, but it's
a lot of fun if you like crossword
puzzles.
In writing the biography of a
great humorist, Mr. Kaplan has la-
bored under the special handicap of
a somber mind. You don't have to
read very much of, say, Roughing
It to realize that you have encoun-
tered one of the world's biggest
liars, and that all of Twain's auda-

cious exaggerations have to be tak-
en with a boulder of salt. Of course
Mr. Kaplan sees through the most
transparent lies, but the more sub-
tle exaggerations, the little distor-
tions of personal experience which
make a better story, the difference
between a slightly fictionalized ver-
sion and the real thing-these often
slip by Mr. Kaplan and are present-
ed as fact. When Twain wrote that
Bret Harte was "a liar, a thief, a
swindler, a snob, a sot, sponge, a
coward, a Jeremy Diddler, he is
brim full of treachery, and conceals
his Jewish birth as if he considered
it a disgrace". Mr. Kaplan does not
note that Twain often let himself
loose with the friend (Howells) to
whom he was writing, and that the
exuberence of such exaggeration of-
ten carried Twain far beyond his
true feelings.
Moreover, we learn next to
nothing about Twain's intellectual
development as influenced by his
reading and thinking. Twain had

ideas which grew, flourished and
died as regularly as did his publish-
ing house; he built imaginative and
intellectual constructs just as he
built his Hartford mansion. But de-
spite the fact that Twain was almost
constantly reading in his spare time
from the time he started out as a
printer's apprentice, Mr. Kaplan's
biography gives no hint that books
played a significant part in Twain's
life. And the omission does not
Here Mr. Kaplan has simply not
done his job.
I can't say it's unfortunate that
Mr. Kaplan wrote his book, but I
wish he hadn't swept the field with
such a poor biography. But then, a
really fine biography wouldn't have
all of Mr. Kaplan's nice racy apocry-
phal incidents. Maybe that's what
the National Book Award is all
about.
Edward Hearne
Mr. Hearne is a second-year graduate
student in the department of English
at T/e University of Chicago.

THE MIDWEST

SATURDAY, !

I J

1

lAB 1

(BREVI

Voi 4 No. 5

A Voice from the Projection Boo

Die Gedanken Sind Frei

(Continued from page six)"
horrors. The prosecution of Bok has
a certain life within the pre-
Revolutionary politics, and we are
made to take sides in the battle
over the little Jew.
Moreover, we are deeply con-
cerned about Bok's physical fate. In
common with other "trial" novels,
The Fixer builds up considerable
suspense during Bok's interrogation
and imprisonment. As a Jew ac-
cused of a truly heinous crime, Bok
is subjected to the kind of priva-
tions and indignities we associate
with Nazi death-camps. The glaring
light focuses sharply on these ex-
tended passages, so that we, too,
suffer almost intolerable agonies of
fear, pain and ignominy.
But surprisingly enough, we
come to care less about Russia as a
whole and Bok's physical torments
than about what is happening to
Bok internally. His spiritual revolu-
tion dominates the novel so com-
pletely in the end that we are satis-
fied even though we never find out
"what happens."
In the beginning, Bok is a small
man, almost Chaplinesque. Poor,
cgckolded, abandoned, his is a pa-
thetic voice whimpering against the
inconveniences of Tsarist Russia.
He is alone and content to be left
so. He wants nothing but a job to
free his hands from idleness - he
desires no human companionship,
no warmth, no love. Ironically, the
first step in the train of concidence
which brings Bok to his doom is
brought on by disinterested love: al-
most by accident, for the most part
unwillingly, he rescues a leader of
the "Black Hundreds" (that's Rus-
sian for Ku Klux Klan) from freez-
ing to death.
But as he is caught in the circum-
stance which trap him and physical.
ly isolated from all human life, Bok
begins to change. Slowly the little
fixer begins to value others' lives,
to understand his old friends and
relatives. His concern builds to-
wards a superbly understated cli-

max where Bok finds it in himself
to legitimize his estranged wife's
bastard son.
The psychological paradox of
Bok's external alienation and inter-
nal i n v o l v e m e n t rests, oddly
enough, upon a philosophical para-
dox. Early in the novel - during his
interrogation - Bok recounts Spino-
za's antinomy on the problem of
freedom:
...(Spinoza) was out to make a
free man of himself - as much as
one can according to his philoso-
phy, if you understand my meaning
- by thinking things through and
connecting everything up.
"If you understand that a man's
mind is part of God, then you un-
dersta'nd it as we'll as I. In that
way you're free, if you're in the
mind of God. If you're there you
know it. At the same time the trou-
ble is that you are bound down by
Nature ... There's also something
called Necessity, which is always
there though nobody wants it, that
one has to push against."
" IL a -man is bound to Necessdty
where does freedom come from?"
"That's in your thought, your
honor, if your thought is in God.
That's if you believe in this kind of
God, that's if you reason it out. It's
as though a man flies over his own
head on the wings of reason, or
some such thing. You join the uni-
verse and forget your worries."
"Do you believe that one can be
free that way?"
"Up to a point," Yakov sighed.
"It soundsafine but my experience
is limited."
Freedom to love, freedom to
know the truth, and, at last, free-
dom to hate. Bok's is not the hatred
of a brute, but that of personified
Justice. In a dreamlike sequence
right at the novel's strangely mov-
ing denouncement, Bok confronts
Tsar Nicholas himself, this time
Bok is the accuser, Bok is no longer
small and pathetic, but majestic in
the power of his mind. The halting
words are the little handyman's, but
behind the ironic turn of phrase, the
voice has resonant mastery:
"Excuse me, your Majesty, but
what suffering has taught me is the
useiessness of suffering. Anyway
there's enough of that to lve with
naturally without piling a mountain
of injustice on top. Rachmones, we
say in Hebrew, mercy, one oughtn't
to forget it, but one must also itin

how o p p r e s s e d, ignorant and
miserable most of us are in this
country... You had your chances
and you pissed them away
. Your poor boy is a haemophi.
hac, something missing in the
blood. In you, in spite of certain
sentimental feelings, it is missing
somewhere else-the sort of in-
sight, you might call it, that cre-
ates in a man charity, respect for
the most miserable. You say you
are kind and prove it with pogroms
As for history, Yakov thought,
there are ways to reverse it. What
the Tsar deserves is a bullet in the
gut. Better him than us.
I began by comparing The Fixer
to The Brothers Karamazov, and,
inevitably, I must end by repudiat-
ing the comparison. The Fixer is a
big book, but not that big a book,
not by a long shot. The Fixer is not
petty, but it fades when placed next
to the real'ly great psychological
and philosophical novels of our era
because, ultimately, it is. narrow.
First, it is too closely tied to the
religion and nationality of its hero.
Secondly, The Fixer's confined
scene and single line of action al-
lows little scope for opposing view-
points, so the novel rests upon
a single developing argument,
not a debate. But most impor-
tant, Bok is narrow himself. Though
he grows enormously in stature
throughout the novel, he began as
an insect and ends as a man;
Dostoyevsky's world is populated by
angelic and demonic creatures in
human dress, drawn far larger than
life.
Shall we c o m p l a i n bitterly,
though, if we have not been pre-
sented with another Brothers Kara-
mazov? Malamud cops out, but only
at 'the very highest level. I had
thought Malamud was blithely set-
tled in his groove, but there is no
doubt about it, he has begun to
form artistic conceptions which
reach towards the very heights. He
is not yet old; he has time to attain
them.
Richard L. Snowden
Mr.-Snowden is a second-year gradu-
ate student in the department of Eng-
lish at The University of Chicago.

The Fetch, by Peter Everett. Simon
and SchusterInc. $3.95.
The Fetch is an absorbing and
readable psychological novel, re-
markable as a twentieth-century
corollary, with respect to style and
insight, of Dostoevsky's Notes from
Underground, or possibly Crime
and Punishment (minus the Epi-
logue).
Psychological fiction's power to
convince seems to depend on the
writer's ability to provoke a special
participation in the r e a d e r-
perhaps because thoughts and ac-
tions must be stated separately and
can only be related through those
dimensions which, though intuitive-
ly apprehensible, lie outside the
boundaries of the articulate. Mr.
Everett has such ability. When he is
at his best, we find ourselves ab-
sorbed intellectually as well as emo-
tionally; and he is very much in
control of our participation at both
levels. This control is the triumph
of his style, and deserves close in-
spection.
First, we might look at the style
for itself. The Fetch is written in
the second person-in Everett's
hands, a straightforward and pow-
erful medium of expression. The ex-
periences of "you" are always spe-
cific, the unique property of one
point in the time and space of
"your" psychological process. The
sort of generalization by which
"you" so often degenerates into an
awkward detour around the imper-
sonal "one" is entirely absent. But
further description seems useless;
we would do better to look at the
book.
You are a cinema projectionist.
You wonder if they ever think of
you in your box, except when
there's a break or a hitch. It
doesn't matter. You're alone...
(Only the filrmmatters... Images
begin to sound, and the sounds be-
come images; there are a thousand
possible ends and beginnings. You
become diffuse, unorganized and
self-conscious-an amoeba; you
hoard without having to give any-
thing.. .Youare thirty-two years,
old; there's grey in your hair.. .
The collar of your shirt is
frayed-looking at you now your fa-
ther would certainly have a few
things to say: the old things that
used to-make you feel so inferior
and unworthy to be his son, which
made you hate him, the smell of
him, his size, the scent of his
clothes, the hairs on his hands, his
voice, the colour of his dyed eye-
brows and beard.
You have a letter from a lawyer "to
inform you that your father died
five months ago... You've inherited
the country house., . N ow you tell
y u r ise 1 f that it is going to

sists upo
room.
tell him."
my boy.I
We've bot
"You fa
and this i
paradox b
act. Your
outcome
been." Yo
left this h
whole life
retreat.', l
to take a
possible fo
much fart
does one
when nor
real?' She
frightenin
that she 1
and you h
filled only
inadequac
etc. Back
"thickly,'c
transforms
of the ima
becomes a
You de
"Some peg
day, you t
(Con

change... You have somewhere to
go; the childhood place."
At the station you are met by
Childers, the gardener, who was al-
ways devoted to your fine, upright
father. When you are in the house,
you discover that your Uncle Elia,
whom you have never met, arrived
two days ago and has 'appropriated
your room. You protest. You, are
then in bed, in your father's room,
for two days, having passed out-
the strain of the journey, you sup-
pose. The only person to come in
the room has been Jane, Childers's
granddaughter, to bring you food
and books.
You hear them moving in Uncle
Elia's furniture, but find you are
too weak to get up, which makes
you furious. His door is always
locked, and he won't answer. One
morning when you know he's gone,
- you climb out on the roof and in his.
window, to snoop around the room.
You hear his key in the lock, and
are unable to move; Uncle Elia en-
ters. "Older, yes; more dissipated,
but certainly your father's brother.
Even the way he holds his head;
questioning, forceful, with the same
tactless directness of the eyes." He
comes home drunk, and you help
him to his room. "'You're a dog,' he
tells you, I can teach you more
than you know.. . you'll go down on
your knees and thank me some
day . . . I'm your university' " He
takes to slipping notes under your
door: bits of useless information,
semi-philosophical paragraphs, tips
a1bomL e,4i, stimuli, poetic phrases.

Like every good university, Uncle
Elia possesses the combined virtues
of a scholarly scrap heap, worldly
wisdom, and general dissipation.
Jane tells you your Uncle Elia is
a fetch. "'My mother used to use it.
Some people mean a ghost when
they say it. But it means a 'double' "
You prefer to call her "Elf." A sex-
ual relationship develops between
you and her-your first real one.
Childers suspects it, and violently
disapproves. " 'I'm your kin... I
want nothing happening here,' he
tells her. 'No trouble... You've al-
ready had one little lot. You under-
stand?"'
You force the matter of the
notes to Uncle Elia, who then stops
them, but you have discussions with
him. "You never have time to pre-
pare for his pounced questions-
which are either in the form of a
catechism or, worse, an interroga-
tion." You visit your father's grave;
Elf keeps fresh flowers on it. "'You
could at least have prayed!' your
Uncle Elia tells you. ..'Your behav-
ior shows a deep-rooted tasteless-
ness. It makes many things clear to
me. I would never have believed it
of you.' " You and he and Childers
go into town for a drink; you drink
too much. As you return from the
lavatory, Uncle Elia says to the oth-
ers, "Now, I'd imagine Bruno here
would know something about it'...
laughing loudly... He's probably
sexually excited by funerals.' He
touches your shoulder. 'Eh, Bruno?
A bit obsessed by death?"' He in-

TAB
Biograpi
Mr. C
Twa
Current I
The A
by.
Criticism
The S
by I
Fiction:
The F
by I
The F
History:
The E
by ]
Modern I
Hell's
by I
Music:
Music
by P
Paperbac
Poetry-
Nights
by J
Social Sc
The S
by C
La Vic
Texts and

12 MIDWEST LITERARY REVIEW * May, 1967

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