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May 13, 1967 - Image 11

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Michigan Daily, 1967-05-13
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4 111-I* + 0 o v wA L

Outside the In'

;oniinued from page four)
ing itself. And when that happens,
"we are yielding to an irrational-
ism; we are committing an error
against which the intellectual histo-
ry of our century should certainly
have warned us. Itsideological ex-
pression is fascism; its practical
consequence the Final Solution."
Alternatively, the novel must not
move so far away from form that it
cannot communicate: "As soon as it
speaks, begins to be a novel, it im-
poses causality and concordance,
development, character, a past
which matters and a future within
certain broad limits determined by
the project of the author." A book
which did not contain these ele-
ments, for example "a set of dis-
continuous epiphanies" such as Sar-
tre has seemed to propose, could
not be a novel. Even if it could com-
municate something, such a book
would not provide the consolations
for existence which Kermode offers
as the ultimate criteria for fiction.

This is an oversimplification of a
complex argument, but it is accu-
rate in its main outlines: Kermode
begins by describing the relation-
ship between fiction and its envi-
ronment (both producer and audi-
ence), and then uses this description
to provide a prescriptive base for
his discussion of the novel. In the
hands of a critic of Kermode's intel-
ligence and imagination, this meth-
od produces a richly suggestive
book. But to begin a discussion of
art withan examination of its audi-
ence, and to make everything hinge
on the audience's response is a dan-
gerous practice. For one thing, it
becomes possible to talk at length
about nothing at all without ever
being aware ofait. Kermode does
not fall into that error, but his mu-
sical counterpart does.
Ned Rorem is of course ham-
pered by the fact that he is poorly
informed. He thinks, for example,
that Stan Kenton and The Beatles
both play jazz-which is like saying

that Wagner and Rudolph Friml
both wrote opera-or that lyric poe-
try is not popular among contempo-
rary American poets. His book, so
far from being "music from inside
out," is not about music at all, but
is a sustained lament over the in-
difference of the public and the
lack of recognition and money giv-
en to composers. But the book is
valuable to the extent that it illus-
trates the weaknesses in a critical
approach like Kermode's.
The fundamental difficulty with
this approach in both books is that
it tends to lose sight of the art form
itself while it is busy talking about
artists and audiences. In Rorem,
this produces a vague psychologism.
combined with pseudo-profundity,
as in his apparently gratuitous ad-
aptation of Wordsworth: "Compos-
ers and painters, in retaining initial
fancies, stay children." This might
be charming at a cocktail party, but
it doesn't tell me much about mu-
sic. Kermode eventually does get
around to discussing the treatment
of time, character, plot and so forth.
But these discussions are not sys-
tematic, and they are carried to an
almost impossible degree of abstrac-
tion. Kermode's referents somehow
get lost. And Rorem, except for a
few vague comments on fitting
words to tunes, has almost nothing
to say about music at all. The book
does not reach the level of the col-
lection of demonstration-lectures
Bernstein has put together from his
TV scripts. And it comes nowhere
near Andre Modeir's book on jazz.
Music, for Rorem, is so abstract a
term that it doesn't seem to apply
to anything in particular.
But since the art is expected to
produce a particular kind of re-
spouse, these critics are forced to
take a conservative position with re-
gard to the forms appropriate to it.
For Rorem, this means giving an-
other beating to what I had thought
was the quite pulverized corpse of

t~ 4
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66snark 0 Il 74 393
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program music. There is a lot of sil
ly talk about the importance )f
art-song, and the incomprehensi-
bility of John Cage. None of this is
important, but it is interesting that
Kermode should think in terms of
the same opposition between a false
literalness (program music or myth)
and what he takes to be pure form-
lessness (Cage or Robbe-Grillet). Ev-
eryone canagree to the case against
program music or myth, even
though it is overstated. But it is not
true that Robbe-Grillet rejects form
(I cannot speak for Cage). What he
does reject is the "false" distinction
between form and content. The nov-
el, then, becomes nothing but its
form; it is a complex "imitation,"
having certain relations to its pro-
ducer, the world and its audience,
but never entirely defined by any
single one of these elements. But
Kermode is interested in form only
subordinately. And it turns out, fi-
nally, that Kermode is not so much
a formalist as he is a critic who is
capable of recognizing the validity
of only certain kinds of form.
This limitation is the direct re-
sult of his primary decision to de-
scribe fiction in terms of an audi
ence's response. Clearly fiction re-
quires an audience, but Kermode's
extension of this point has resulted
in a subtle argument for the gratifi-
cation of that old symbol of deca-
dence, the aesthetic emotion. Both
he and Rorem expect this gratifica-
tion. It is the consolation of art. Ro.
rem is sorry that so few experience
it: "art... is an aristocratic affair."
Kermode is afraid that the means
for its arousal will die away in a
mad scramble for new experimen-
tal techniques.
There is no answering Rorem,
but it is surprising that Kermode
could follow Collingwood as far as
he does and still talk about a re-
sponse so generalized and abstract
that it becomes peculiarly "aesthet
ic." Emotions are held to be much
more particular and specific in most
neo-idealistic systems (and Kermode
is a neo-idealist). And even outside
such systems it seems clear that our
responses to fiction are more varied
than Kermode suggests. How, for
example, does Lear "console"? If I
were a sinner, to what extent would
Revelations control my "eschatologi-
cal anxiety"? And in any case, how
much would the answers to either
of these questions explain these
works as works of art? It is likely
that contemporary French criti
cism, perhaps even the criticism of
Robbe-Grillet, by placing its empha-
sis on the thing itself as opposed to
the response of a hypothetical audi-
ence, will produce the more coher-
ent aesthetic for the novel of today.
Michael I. Miller
Mr. Miller is a first-year graduate
student in the department of English
at The University of Chicago.

When one first encounters Wil-
liam Burroughs, he is amazed, per-
haps baffled if he's trying to be a
critic, by the violent concoction of
poetic effects. Much has been writ-
ten about Burroughs's "themes"
and rightly so, for one can derive a
hard-fisted abstract revolutionary
outlook from his work. Burrough's
essential social outlook is modeled
after narcotics addiction: total need
and dependence on the part of the
junkie and total control by the drug
and the pusher. But the real proof
is in the reading, and Burroughs'
many literary effects demand atten-
tion. He is an extremely talented
writer, and to read him is an incred-
ible experience.
Allen Ginsberg in his boyish way
called Naked Lunch "an endless
novel that will drive everyone
mad." But Norman Mailer comes
closest to explaining what Bur-
roughs is really about, describing
his writing as:
attaching a stringent, mordant vo-
cabulary to a series of precise and
horrific events, a species of gallows
humor which is a defeated man's
last pride, the pride that he has, at
least, not lost his bitterness.
Burroughs's principal effect is hu-
mor, surreal, black, satiricl, or a
mixture of these, always scornful.
le is a great imitator and parodist
of A m e r i c a n argots-regional,
scientific, bureaucratic, journalistic,
and even foreign slang from Grade
B cinema. In his huge vision of de-
cadence, of addiction and control,
the types he parodies frequently
merge with relics of street life, the
living symbols of the degradation
man permits and often unknowing-
ly perpetuates. Burroughs's enor-
mous cast of characters is full of
freaks and perverts. Among others:
Dr. Benway, mad medico who
massages a patient's heart with a
suction cup, an amoral pure scien-
tist who tries to keep a woman alive
on a diet of sugar.
The County Clerk, example of
Southern brutality and ignorance,
who "often spent weeks in the privy
living on scorpions and Montgom-
ery Ward catalogues."
The academic pedant who inad-
vertently shows that "nothing can
be accomplished on the verbal lev-
el'"
The capitalist exploiter of foreign
markets who comments: "Nice folk,
these Arabs.. .nice ignorant folk."
Unscrupulous t y c oo n s, liars,
bores, junkies, "orgasm addicts,"
and more-the refuse of civilization
piled so high that one is in danger
of suffocating. Burroughs is con-
temptuous of them all. He would
like to see the mess eliminated and
chides society for standing still in
the face of it.

Burroughs' prose is limited to the
barest kind of description:
Slunk traffickers ("slunks" are
infant calves trailing the after-
birth) tail a pregnant cow to her
labor. The farmer declares a cou-
vade, rolls screaming in bullshit.
The veterinarian wrestles with a
cow skeleton. The traffickers ma-
chinegun each other, dodging
through the machinery and silos,
storage bins, haylofts, and man-
gers of a vast red barn. The calf
is born. The forces of death melt
in morning. Farm boy kneels rev-
erently-his throat pulses in the
rising sun.
In the space of a paragraph the en-
tire mood of a preposterous scene
changes dramatically. The language
is not melodic, yet its brutal mode
of expression achieves such rhythm
that contempt, humor and pathos
stand out in bold outline. Bur-
roughs always writes to the point;
his nonfiction is excellent journal-

in surreal and fantastic comic strip
episodes by the "nova criminals"
("nova," of course, is the astrophysi-
cal term for an exploding star).
These cover a wide range of charac-
ters, from absurd and hideous bad-
men to fantastic crab-like insectival
and reptilian monsters. Their weap-
ons against freedom, besides mere
verbal untruths, arise from unre-
stricted manipulations of science-
like the "writing in" of another per-
son's existence, using real or imagi-
nary biochemical and biophysical
methods. They distort reality al-
most beyond repair. (Burroughs
claims a technical justification for
certain of these who have collabo-
rated with him in writing.) Howev-
er, apocalypse, or "nova," and "the
colorless no-smell of death" can be
averted by recognizing the enemy
and using appropriate counter-
measures. Hence symbolic war occa-

._.

abandone
fined by]r
Burrou
power of
of consci
"the wor
pers, poi
opinion,
actually
sciousnes
use langi
same obj
fact seem
pertinent
the Vietn
cant in a
means to
ant and w
American
many poi
one real
tary oper
place. Bu
immediat
being in I
Then he
ality to e
time may
one allow
the prisor
One must
any other
any dime
Unforti
structure
brilliant i
noying. A
to arhythi
ing to st
Ginsberg
etry rea
Press will
new Bu
straight n
addition,
is now wc
brainwasl
published,
unique in
literature:
with a pro
[ie P
expose a
In Nakec
Nova Ex
and wha
they will
ed. D/lin
from nth
shudderi
prisone'rs
with yo
The Real
nopoly- -
(Sg
NOVA (
Mr. Hack i
joring in E
Chicago.
ST LITEE

TEXTS AND CONTEXTS
Burroughs's Slunk Traffickers in the Cut-C

ism. And to compound the mixture,
he often expresses sober social, po-
litical and scientific ideas through
the mouths of his villains in their
stereotyped-speech patterns.
Since his first book, Naked
Lunch, Burroughs has written three
novels: The Ticket That Exploded,
The Soft Machine, and Nova Ex
press. Each was done in what he
calls the "cut-up or fold-in method"
which consists of actually splicing
strips of manuscript together. The
ensuing associations are
constructed-consciously or by
chance. Consequently, much more
depends on the reader's dynamics
than on the author's careful crafts-
manship. Invariably the result is
more rapidfire cardstacking of sen-
sory, humorous, and intellectual ef-
fects. Man's enemies are symbolized

sionally breaks out between the
Nova Mob and the good guys, the
Nova Police:
The Reality Film giving and
buckling like a bulkhead under
pressure and the pressure gau
edging to NOVA. Minutes to go
Burnt metal snmell oDf ;iter-
planetary war in the raw noon
strcets swept by screaming glass
uli-zards of enemn flak.
Burroughs justifies the cut-u p
technique (of which the above, mc.-
dentally, is not an example) by his
need to give language immnediate
meaning, to chop his verbal medi-
um into its most expressive units.
As he says in Naked Lunch: "The
word cannot be expressed direct...
It can perhaps be indicated by mo-
saic of juxtaposition like articles
May, 1967 * M I D W E

10 0 MIDWEST LITERARY REVIEW May, 1967

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