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February 13, 1967 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1967-02-13
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The Once and Future City

Putting the Arts in Good Form

Division Street: America, by Studs
Terkel. Pantheon Books. $5.95.
A book of short interviews is
rarely dull. Letting oneself go in
front of strangers can be very at-
tractive since it may be easier than
coming to terms with those one
knows. Sporadic verbal soul-baring
has become something of a national
pastime (replacing block parties),
and Division Street: America may
appeal most strongly to fans of this
new sport. This is unfortunate, be-
cause Studs Terkel's book is more
than a giant Ann Landers column
for white liberals.
Terkel's cross-section of Chica-
goans are at their best when talking
about something other than them-
selves-which the interviewer al-
lows them to do about half the time.
The reactions of different individu-
als to the same phenomena are so
disparate that they set off the "divi-
sion" of T e r k e 1's metaphorical
street far better than do the auto-
biographical sketches of each of its
seventy-two inhabitants.
Social justice, for example, is
prominent in the minds of most of
them, but for each it is an expres-
sion of his own personality. One
wealthy matron would be heartily
in favor of the Chicago Freedom
Movement if picketting were not so
indecorous. A three hundred-pound
marcher relates her experiences
with abusive police matrons alto-
gether without pretension, while a
Glenmary nun goes on for pages
telling of the reasons for her com-
mitment to Christ in the world, and
leaves the reader little wiser about
just what it is she does. A Negro
schoolteacher and a YAF organizer
both fear the coming of American
fascism. One Negro lady refuses to
be caught up in the wealth-
responsibility syndrome, and pre-
fers to scare the pants off Whitey
by letting him watch her reading
Baldwin and Faulkner on the eleva-
tor. A colored executive, on the oth-
er hand, is about as detached as a
brush salesman. The saddest is a
teen-age girl who only wishes the
Negro would disappear. "They"
throw rocks at her when she walks
down the street. She doesn't care
why.
A summary cannot create the
impression one receives as Terk-
el's characters parade one after an-
other. unfolding perfectly coherent
and wildly conflicting value sys-
tems. The only subject of common
agreement is "Communism," which
seems to have replaced "fire" as a
word to be yelled in a crowded
theater.

Scala, the articulate housewife who
led the people of the Harrison-
Halsted area in their fight to keep
their neighborhood from being
turned into a shiny white B.S. distil-
lery, is the author of Terkel's pre-
face. Her friends and associates are
frequently among the interviewees
and their theme is always the same.
The city no longer offers a frame of
reference to the ordinary individu-
al. The few existing communities
are being "renewed" out, and the
urge to conform to abstract values
(cleanliness, whiteness, quietness)
has taken the place of group feel-
ings.
Mr. Scala expresses a distrust of
"nice people" which tallies well
with what most of us have felt or
heard. ("There's one thing which I
learned at school," a Loyola worker
- told me this morning in describing
his union's latest contract negotia-
tions, "which is this: never trust a
man who's got more education than
you. He feels he's better than you,
and he thinks he's obliged to trick
you.") Terkel's "nice people," with
their absolute values of success and
neatness, build the barriers even
higher. At first the Division Street
people appear too wildly different
from one another to carry on a con-
versation. On second thought, they
may simply not bother.
It would probably be wise for
most undergraduates to read Divi-
sion Street: America. This is so de-
spite Scala's propaganda, the un-
grammatical statements with which
the reader must contend, the nostal-
gia and Terkel's involvement in
contemporary problems; for one can
discern the raw materials of some
future city. One cannot tell what it
will be like, except that Terkel will
probably not approve .of it. He
seems conscious only of the city
which he has known, the city which
is disappearing. The changes he so
heartily disapproves of-w h i c h
make talking a complete way of
life-are the very thing that has
made his book possible.
But the book, for all its excel-
lence, is incomplete. The reader
must do his own interviewing for
the sequel.
Paul Barrett
Mr. Barrett is a second-year graduate
student in the department of history at
Loyola University-

Forms and Substances in the Arts,
by Etienne Gilson, translated by
Salvator Attanasio. Charles Scrib-
ner's Sons. $4.95.
What is "pure" art? Speculation
on this question can assume a multi-
tude of perspectives; one could view
the finished art product esthetical-
ly, with an eye to the feeling ex-
pressed, its quality of representa-
tion or its ability to evoke certain
esthetic responses in the beholder.
One could first consider the crea-
tive imagination of the artist, his in-
tentions. Or, one could contemplate
the manner in which plastic mate-
rials have been molded into con-
crete form.
It is this latter, more ontological,
thrust that Etienne Gilson. noted
primarily for his historical works
on medieval philosophy, adopts in
his third book (and, he asserts. his
last. as he will henceforth have
nothing useful to add) devoted to
the nhilosophy of art. Gilson firmly
believes that philosophy of art-
carefully distinguished from art
criticism. which bears on the annre-
hension of a work rather than on its
structure-can be of service to
those arts whi-h have formal heau-
ty. not expression as their foremost
end. By recognizin the arts of the
beautiful for what they "really
are," philosophy can protect them
from the imminent danger of
annihilation as the result of beins
confused with those arts which bvy
usurping the title of the arts of tho.
beautiful, occupy their place in
thought as if it were not enough to
have taken their mace in reality.
Yet Gilson's argument is no no-
lemie against the "usurpers"; he
does not nrononnee on the contro-
versiA philosonhical issues which
often occur in the fine arts. Forms
and Substances in the Arts is rather
a ouiet nresentation of a certain
-h i osonh ical interpretation of the
fine arts which seeks not to chal-
lenge nor to be challenged, only to
be understood.
Gilson primarily concerns him-
self with explicating concrete reali-
ties of the arts of the beautiful on
the basis of specific fundamental
concepts which he clearly sets forth
at the outset. Whether or not the
reader agrees with Gilson's in-
terpretation depends upon his ac-
ceptance of these basic concepts.
Gilson, that is, asserts that the func-
tion of fine art is the creation of
beauty, as opposed to representa-
tion or expression. Art then is con-

sidered as a poietic ("making") ac-
tivity in which an artist works with
the materials of his particular art to
produce a beautiful form. The
meaning of a work of art is intrin-
sic-its plastic structure is its own
justification. Although the artist's
technique, defined as "the particu-
lar manner of imparting to a par-
ticular material the particular type
of form that is proper to it," is an
essential element for the realization
of a beautiful art form, it is not the
distinguishing element: to discuss
and judge artistic techniques is out-
side the competence of the philoso-
pher.
The philosopher seeks to extract
the essence of the arts of the beauti-
ful from their conventional utiliza-
tions. With this aim in mind Gilson
proceeds to examine seven major
genres of fine art: architecture,
statuary, painting, music, the dance,
noetrv and the theater. He meticu-
lously nrobes into the "essence" of
each by determining the materials
with which the artist fashions artis-
tic forms. The artist is free to reject
traditional forms and create new
ones, but the form that he imparts
must possess an intelligible relation
to the matter comprising it, so that
the sight or sound of the work of
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art will be desirable for its own
sake.
In his concern for clarifying the
status of fine art, Gilson suggests
that the arts may be using materials
for which beautiful forms have not
yet been discovered. He asks: can
"atonal" material (that composed of
noises rather than sounds) be fash-
ioned into a musical form that is
beautiful in itself? Is it possible to
construct an edifice of concrete that
will be identified with architecture,
an art of the beautiful, and not with
the art of building, which does not
have beauty as a primary end? Such
queries remain to be answered by
musicians and architects, not by.
philosophers.
The central problem occupying
Gilson revolves around the avowed
confusion between plasticity and ex-
nression: what role does each per-
form- in the arts of the beautiful?
Gilson's answer is clear: art, -as an
art of the beautiful, does not have
to express anything; it has only to
exist as itself-as a beautiful form
molded out of receptive matter.
Hence pure art forms are those of
abstraction and non-representation.
.Gilson recognizes the rarity of such
forms in the history of art to be a
result of man's natural and sponta-
neous inclination "to prefer those
(arts) which favor imitation and ex-
nression to the detriment of the for-
mal elements which are (their) very
substance." Of course, a poem or
painting usually ."speaks" to its
audience. But it is an art of the
beautiful only when the object of
the work is beauty. Confusion easily
arises in determining the "art of
the beautiful" since representation
obscures the true essence of the art.
The reader is left to conclude that it
is difficult to discern between an
"impure" work of fine art and a
work that has expression as its ini-
tial end, because the two are often
similar in appearance and function.
One holding to this relatively nar-
row definition of fine art could easi-

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The influence of Studs Terkel
himself is not absent from Division
Street: America. It begins some-
where around the front cover and
persists well beyond the last page.
Without delineating Mr. Terkel's
prejudices, a few curiosities may be
noted. People of a liberal inclina-
tion tend to be of a likeable disposi-
tion, and civil rights activists turn
out to be downright lovable. They
just happen to choose the right turn
of phrase. Reactionary types, on the
other hand, have remarkably bad
luck. One John Bircher is apparent-
ly seeking his lost manhood. Other
underactive social consciences hard-
ly fare better. They end their little
soliloquies with unintentionally re-
vealing expressions which point up
their basic inconsistency, and they
often turn out to be dreadfully un-
happy.
Despite Terkel's claim that he is
not producing a sociological survey
of occupations or classes, some of
his encounters are highly predict-
able. Of two advertising executives,
one is miserably unhappy in his job,
and the other is convincingly hypo-
critical. A fortune-seeking executive
secretary is so superficial that once

she has confessed her vast selfish-
ness she has nothing else to say.
Terkel p r e s e n t s a property-
conscious P o l i s h window-washer
who is almost a satire, and a land-
lady out of Charles Dickens.
The curator of the Wax Museum
radio program is less obtrusive
when transcribing the thoughts of
people he likes. A few of his little
portraits are unforgettable. No mat-
ter what he may think of such out-
pourings, the reader cannot be in-
sensitive to some of them. There is
the steelworker, once a perfection-
ist in everything, who has become
self-pitying and directionless in his
middle age. An old Virginia aristo-
crat in Evanston does her picketting
in white gloves and Sunday dress. A
retired street-fighter, just begin-
ning to take pleasure in the world
around him, is drafted into the
army to take up his former profes-
sion again.
If Division Street: America has a
theme, it is the fragmentation of
the city's old neighborhoods, and
the rise of the "nice people"-civic
and business leaders-as the shap-
ers of urban destiny. Mrs. Florence

'p

/

Miss Neln
in Christ
sity.
February, 1967 * MIDWEST LITERA

6 MIDWEST LITERARY REVIEW February, 1967

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