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January 08, 1967 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 1967-01-08
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Mr. Mehta s Trivia Theologica



Paperback Playback

The New Theologian, by Ved Meh-
ta. Harper & Row. $5.95.
The New Theologian, which origi-
nally appeared serially in the New
Yorker, purports to be a study of
theology today, particularly the "re-
ligionless Christianity" or "Chris-
tian atheism" movements in Ameri-
ca, England and Germany. Its con-
cern is not only theology, but also
the theologians-the men and their
ideas-presented as only Ved
Mehta, scholar and wit, can.
In fact, an apparently random se-
lection of theologians is presented
through reports of personal inter-
views and quotations from their
writings. Both oral and written
statements from the theologians are
recorded virtually without commen-
tary except of an ad hominem na-
ture. The connective comments be-
tween extensive quotations from
Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers
from Prison typify Mr. Mehta's cav-
alier treatment of theological argu-
ments: "It is somewhat confusing,
but one has to remember the cir-
cumstances in which Bonhoeffer
was writing," or "Two days later,

multiplying the paradoxes, (Bon-
hoeffer) writes. . . ." Mehta's in-
dictment of the so-called Christian
radicals for muddle-headedness is
s c a r c e ly original. Moreover, it
seems to me that his examples of
their confusion often reflect his
own unfamiliarity with the current
philosophical and theological situa-
tion. Thus, Mr. Mehta sounds like a
man who does not understand nor
care to understand the argument;
and what he does not know, he does
not like-a sort of Gage Park men-
tality in intellectual matters.
Fundamentally, there are two
sources of dissatisfaction with The
New Theologian: the one has to do
with the study of the men; the oth-
er, with the study of their ideas.
The first is a problem of distraction,
the second, a problem of distinc-
In Mr. Mehta's reports of his in-
terviews with the theologians, his
"portraits" are more distracting
than humanizing. It is one thing to
characterize a theologian through
relevant details of his everyday life;
it is quite another to describe every
triviality of a visit with one.

This Side of Moscow

(Continued from Page One)
wards, to quote us"), t w i s t s
Yevtushenko's social condemnation
into a personal whine.
W h 1 e Marshall's translations
recreate most of the words and im-
ages of the originals, they are re-
markably sloppy when it comes to
form. Key repetitions oftwords and
phrases, often building to a power-
ful crescendo in the Russian, are
likely to be translated differently at
each appearance, as if Marshall
were trudging along line by line,
with no conception of the whole
poem. Parallel structures are con-
sistently ignored. At one point, for
example, we have the words "beret,
ushanka (a type of Russian hat),
sombrero" followed a few lines lat-
er by "absinthe, vodka, chianti."
Marshall, indifferent to their con-
nection, translates them "shapka
(another Russian word for hat). som-
brero, beret" and "absinthe, vodka,
rum." (As a result, the relation be
tween the series is totally lost.)
Of course, no matter how ap-
propriate the bias or how wide the
range, there is yet another factor
governing the success of a transla-
t i o n -i t s readability. Marshall's
translations are simply poor Eng-
lish. First, he has a pedantic pen-
chant for fancy phrases, most of
which obstruct the motion of the
poem. Marshall cannot say "we kill
o u r s e l v e s" where Yevtushenko
does; he insists on proclaiming, "we
decree our own deaths." The open-
ing of one poem, "Grave, you have
been robbed by the fence" becomes,
in an ill-fated attempt to recreate
the sonic splendor of the Russian,
"Grave, you are by graven stones
More important, however, is his
consistently awkward p h r a s i n g.

Marshall often reads like a
parody-and the chuckle inspired
by a line like ". . . and over (the
earth) so much filth is scattered--
that of its own very self it's
ashamed . . ." prevents the reader
from treating the poem with any
serious respect whatever. Occasion-
ally the syntax is warped so far be-
yond idiomatic English that it is im-
possible to understand. (Without re-
course to the straightforward origi-
nal, one would be hard pressed to
interpret Marshall's cryptic "To
hi m/slan ted the world's
everything" or "Andmaybe ideas
(sic) nonobsolescence/bears witness
to ideas (sic) debility.") It is clear
why the decision was made to print
this volume with the originals on al-
ternate pages.
Critics are parasites who suck the
blood of artists for their own self-
nourishment, or so we are often
told. True as this cliche may be, it
applies far better to translators like
Marshall. Since there are more crit-
ics than translators, a single critic
seldom has the power to drain a
creative artist completely-if you
don't like the critic, you can always
patronize his competitors. But a
translator has his victim more se-
curely in his teeth. Unless another
translator and another publisher
feel that this particular market is
rich enough to justify a competition
volume, a number of Yevtushenko
poems have been rendered com-
pletely inaccessible to a whole gen-
eration of English readers. It's
more effective even than censor-
Peter Rabinowitz
Mr. Rabinowitz is a second-year grad-
uate student in the department of
Slavic language and literature at the
University of Chicago.

Though some of Mr. Mehta's ob-
servations are witty, many are trite
and still others are misleading. Is it
portraiture or caricature to epito-
mize Bonhoeffer with this line from
one of his letters, "'Could I please
have some tooth paste and a few
coffee beans. ..?"O
Distinctions are crucial to the in-
telligibility and communication of
ideas; they establish the possibli-
ties and limits of dialogue as op-
posed to "indistinct cries." Mr.
Mehta recognizes that the problems
of theology today are problems of
clarity and conversation; yet his
own book demonstrates the same
It is difficult to fathom the
grounds for Mr. Mehta's selection
of these particular theologians-
unless it be. their appearance in
Time magazine. Certainly, The New
Theologian is not a comprehensive
report on the contemporary theo-
logical scene. Significant persons
and movements are wholly neglect-
ed, most notably the young and vi-
tal group of Whiteheadian or "pro-
cess" theologians-this d e s p i t e
their appearance in Time last year.
Yet it is not really a report on a
particular theological movement or
mood either. If Mr. Mehta's subject
matter is the "Christian radicals,"
these theologians are presented un-
der false pretenses. They are not
the only "radicals." Mr. Mehta nei-
ther quotes nor interviews Thomas
J.J. Altizer, who forms, with Wil-
liam Hamilton and Paul Van Buren,
the triumvirate of American Chris-
tian radicalism. Nor are they all
"radicals," whatever that term
means. In a sense, the only radical
thing about Robinson's Honest to
God, the book which initiates Mr.
Mehta's inquiry, is its claim to be
radical. Its eclectic borrowing from
Tillich, Bultmann, and Bonhoeffer
(long-established theological greats),
together with its typical neo-
orthodox dread of naturalistic theo-
logies, does not constitute radical
theology. It may be radical
piety-which is, after all, Bishop
Robinson's bailiwick.
In any case, the "new theolo-
gians" represent a diversity of con-
cerns and methodologies. They use
the same language ("death of God"
and "religionless Christianity")rto
mean different things. If they are
guilty of muddled thinking, Mr.
Mehta's failure to point out the dis-
tinctions in their ideas only com-
pounds the confusion.
If Mr. Mehta's concern is not
merely the "Christian radicals" but
all theologians concerned with the
relationship of the religious and the
secular, The New Theologian is a
fragmentary account. Paul Tillich
emphasizes that theology should
serve the needs of both the Chris-
tian message and the contemporary
situation: "(theology is) the state-
ment of the truth of the Christian
message and the interpretation of
this truth for every new genera-
tion." Because Mr. Mehta minimizes
this dialectic, his analysis is condu-

cive to a false sense of separation
between old and new. Yet the conti-
nuity of old and new is precisely
the ironic assumption of Mehta's ar-
gument. He overtly deals with nov-
elty (the "new theologian"), but on
the equally overt assumption that
there is no real novelty; there is
only the perennial quest. He does
not, however, recognize that the the-
ological task is always related to
concrete situations and is realized
in particular ways which involve
elements of both continuity and
Furthermore, because the con-
cept of novelty in theology is mean-
ingless for him, Mr. Mehta has no
basis of his own for selecting the
theologians he does. Rather, he de-
pends on the "Christian radicals"
for his definition of the "new theol-
ogy" and his selection of the "new
theologians." Thus, ultimately, the
grounds for Mehta's selection of
these particular theologians seems
to be Robinson's epithet, "they
speak- to the modern man." One is
tempted to ask, "Why not Norman
Vincent Peale?"
Mehta's use of this criterion only
begs the question-there is no such
animal as the modern man or the
"new theologian." There are many
different modern men for whom a
variety of new theological formula-
tions are illuminating. In this plur-
alistic situation distinctions are cru-
cial and the failure to make distinc-
tions between modern theological
positions is unfortunate. Unfortu-
nate, yes, but somehow appropriate,
for Mr. Mehta's snide characteriza-
tion of the modern intellectual fits
none of the "new theologians" so
well as himself. The author of The
New Theologian epitomizes, "a po-
lemical bent, a fast and easy pen,
and an eye for the hemline in ideas
on war and politics, sex and
religion . ..
Lois Von Gehr
Miss Von Gehr is a third-year graduate
student in Theology at the Divinity
School of the University of Chicago.
The Midwest Literary Review
Editors:........ Edward W. Hearne
Bryan R. Dunlap
Midwest Editor:....... Liz Wissman
DePaul Editor:.... Sandra Lipnitzky
Greenville' Editor: .. David Fairbanks
Lake Forest Editor: .. Jame Kidney
Loyola Editor:
..E :Detlev Von Pritschyns
Roosevelt Editor: ... .. Mike Miller
Valparaiso Editor: ...Janet Karsten
Editorial Staff: ..... Gretchen Wood
Mary Sue Leighton
Scapegoat:....... Richard L. Snowden
The Midwest Literary Review, circulation
45000, is published six times per year. It
is distributed by the Chicago Maroon, the
DePaulia, the Carenvue Papyrus, the
Lake Forest Stentor and the Valparaiso
rorch. (Reprint rights have been granted
to the Roosevelt Torch and the Loyola
News.) Editorial offices: 1212 E. 59th
Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637. Subsrip-
dom:$2.50 per year. Copyright ® 196 by
The Midwest Literary Review.

This winter, publishers have
come through with a selection of
new paperbacks ideal for curling up-
with on windy nights. The discern-
ing student will also find many use-
ful for avoiding or recuperating
from exam studying.
Recent fiction releases encom-
pass the poetic, the classically real-
istic, and the macabre. A sparse,
surreal tale of World War Two, The
Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski
(Pocket Books) is a harrowing ex-
perience, at once hideous and com-
pelling. Perez Galdos' Miau (Pen-
guin Classics) depicts in a Spanish
setting the struggle of the individu-
al against bureaucracy--a theme
also explored by Dickens, Balzac
and Gogol. Demian, H e r m a n n
Hesse's lyrical, introspective novel
of youth's groping, has been newly
translated, with an introduction by
Thomas Mann, in a Bantam edition.
Sadists will appreciate John Co-
hen's Africa Addio (Balantine),
based on the movie-soon to be re-
leased in the U.S.-of war and re-
bellion in Africa by the makers of
"Mondo Cane," and complete with
thirty-two pages of photographs of
assorted murders, massacres and
executions. Fans of camp can feast
upon Tom Wolfe's essays in black
journalism, T h e Kandy-Kolored
Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
(Pocket Books). The startling mem-
oirs of a top Soviet espionage agent,
The Penkovskiy Papers (Avon), will

appeal to those with a relish for
scandal and suspense.
LSD On Campus by Young and
Hisson (Dell), a book which reveals
"the shocking truth" about the
"psychedelic scene," is an overcute
but sometimes informative study.
Pelican's Venereal Diseases, by R.
S. Morton, surveys with authority,
and as much humor as the subject
permits, the history ("Syphilis" was
originally the name of the shepherd
hero of a sixteenth-century Latin
medical poem), symptoms and treat-
ment ("at first only prayer seemed
to have been available") of these ail-
In drama, Three Plays by Hugo
von Hofmannsthal, Strauss' libret-
tist, has been published by Wayne
State. The playwright's reworking
of Electra is powerful. Elder Ol-
son's book Tragedy and the Theory
of Drama (Wayne State) features a
rare combination of literary insight
and wit. John Taylor's The Penguin
Dictionary of the Theatre is a guide
to plays, playwrights and performers
past and present. In Literature and
the Irrational (Washington Square),
anthropologist Wayne Shumaker ex-
amines the relationship between
primative and creative sensibilities,
imagery and ritual. Pamphlets on
Gente, Hesse, Hopkins and Kafka
have been added to Columbia's
Essays on Modern Writers, a usually
perceptive series of critiques. Noted
critic Frederick Hoffman's large

(Continued from Page Four)
of the ridiculous, and so delights
and relieves us. He says, "Tragedy
presupposes guilt, despair, modera-
tion, lucidity, vision, a sense of re-
sponsibility,"-and o r d e r. In our
world today we do not have any of
these things in a personal, effective
way, and hence, tragedy is almost
impossible. But it can be achieved
out of comedy-"a frightening mo-
ment, an abyss that opens sudden-
ly." And so "it is still possible to
show man as a courageous being."
This philosophy is written boldly in
the three plays, each of which has
men of courage within whom the

lost world-or
If Duerre
matist, he is
thoughts an
freshing. H
moralist tha
those mired
ness of ava
ductions, hi:
minder tha
problems, e
more than '
Miss Yaeger
graduate, is
uaedia Britar

volume The Mortal No: Death and
the Modern Imagination (Princeton)
studies, often arcanely and without
illuminating anything, "violence and
the reconstitution of self . . . against
death and time in modern
Life Without Living (Westminis-
ter) is a pseudo-sociological study,
in "fictionalized fact" and poetry, of
the usual slum problems. Joseph
Fletchers expounds the controver-
sial "new morality" in Situation
Ethics (Westminster), which upon
examination turns out to be a vague
sort of relativistic pragmatism. The
Gospel of Christian Atheism .by
Thomas J. J. Altzier (Westminster)
poses the by now familiar proposi-
tion that God killed himself to be-
come more fully assimilated into

the world.
For those
theology in i
The Devil I
Ann S. Boy
where we I
readily adm
sion of hell ]
and depth o:
Dante and A5
Much more t
of the Ghetto
of church i
nity organiz
son, Stuhr
ered impres
their analysi
hoods in Cl
(published k
The Univers

IVitere Trousers Co

All Books Reviewed In This Issue Of The Chicago Literar
Johann Sebastian Bach by Karl Geiringer 754
Poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko 45
La Maison de Rendez-vous by Alain
Robbe-Grillet $1e
Ecce Homo by George Grosz ~15.O(
An Angel Comes to Babylon and Romulus
the Great by Friedrich Durrenmatt $194,
The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi and Problems
of the Theatre by Friedrich Durrenmatt ;109!
The Plebians Rehearse the Uprising
by Gunter Grass 45
Vietnam! Vietnam! by Felix Greene $29!
On Aggression by Konrad Lorenz s5.7'
The New Theologian by Ved Mehta$509

General Book Department
University of Chicago Bookstore
Chicago, Illinois


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