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January 08, 1967 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1967-01-08
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Where Trousers Commence

Little Light on the Dark Contine:

An Angel Comes to Babylon and
Romulus The Great, by Friedrich
Duerrenmatt. Grove Press. $1.95.
The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi and
Problems of the Theatre, by Fried-
rich Duerrenmatt. Grove Press.
$1.95.
Friedrich Duerrenmatt and Max
Frisch are considered Switzerland's
two greatest living playwrights, and
they share a similar didactic style.
But their villains are very different.
Frisch's strident voice excoriates
complacency and complicity with
evil, and harps on the theme of
guilt in an undisguised effort to
keep alive in German hearts the
memory of their national disaster.
A secondary preoccupation is with
identity, which he explores armed
with all of the sophisticated instru-
ments of psychoanalysis, suggesting
that identity can be more illusion
than reality, that man creates the
beings with whom he interacts and
may force the one perceived to be-
come that which he is perceived to
be. By virtue of his subject matter
Frisch is thoroughly modern, and
thoroughly fashionable.
Duerrenmatt's targets are much
older and more durable, not partic-
ularly modish. In these three plays
he is debunking a rigid idealism
which fails to understand man as he
is. Although he states in the essay
that he does not see the stage as
properly a podium for declaiming
ideas, the substance of the three
plays is equal to the substance of
this idea, around which all is
shaped.
Because Duerrenmatt has a fine
wit, many of his portraits are de-
lightful. The Emperor Romulus, de-
liberately letting the Empire go to
pot around him while he raises
chickens, has a very definite reason
for letting chaos have its way; but
before this is revealed to us we may
be convulsed to hear him say calmly
to an emissary bearing "world-
shaking news" of the war, "News
never shakes the world. Events do
that. . ." He argues politely with his
chamberlain about what to call his
morning meal, insisting on "'My
morning repast.' In my house I de-
cide what is classical Latin." To the
trouser manufacturer who offers
his millions to buy Rome's salva-
tion, Romulus replies, "Where trou-
sers commence, culture ends."
The humor and the biting edge of
Duerrenmatt's dramas derive from
the fact that all of his characters
are singularly precocious, possessed
of the cynicism and historical per-
spective of twentieth century man
while living in the ancient past.
Even in the more modern setting of
The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi,
the characters are all perfectly
aware of the roles they play and in
case we should miss the point, they
are ready to inform us exactly what
they are all about. This endows
them all with a great deal of charm;
unfortunately, it is possible to ob-
ject to thisprocedure, and possible
also to believe that this very preco-
city and volubility of his characters

marks a weakness in Durrenmatt's
plays.
My main objection to his work
arises exactly here: the plays are
too light-weight, their brilliance and
their meaning lie too close to the
surface; they are all in danger of
evaporating upon a second look. In-
variably, both the men of darkness
and the men of light blurt out their
philosophies in a few well chosen
platitudes and then proceed about
their business. This is insulting. De-
spite the charming wit of their crea-
tor I would really prefer either the
approach of the "absurd" drama-
tists or the approach of, say, Shaw
or Aristophanes (both of whom
wrote plays very similar in intent).
That is, I would prefer, for in-
stance, that the characters embody
and act out, instead of preaching,
their meaning. For all the draw-
backs of "absurd" drama, its allego-
ry and suggestion provoke and stim-
ulate our thought far more than
characters who come onstage at in-
termission to explain themselves.
Then there is the alternative of peo-
ple like Shaw and Aristophanes,
who fill out their works with such a
variety of discussion, humor, and
engaging minor characters that one
is left with a feeling of having seen
a real world, and the message with-
in it. One departs from Duerren-
matt's plays having seen a message,
sketchily if pleasingly decked out in
feathers and spangles.
Duerrenmatt's major obsession is
with the strict idealist who fails to
take into account the nature of the
world he is striving to maintain or
improve. In Romulus this is embod-
ied in those who would fight to the
last man to preserve decadent
Rome. They are confronted by Ro-

mulus, who calmly asserts that "re-
sistance at any price is the greatest
nonsense there is," and that one
should never love a country as
much as one loves other human
beings. "Above all, always keep an
open mind about any country. A
country turns killer more easily
than any man . . Every state calls
itself 'country' or 'nation' when it is
about to commit murder."
In The Marriage of Mr. Mississip-
pi we see the eternal conflict be-
tween the complete moralist, believ-
ing in absolute justice as pro-
claimed in the Law of Moses; the
eternal 'realist' (in this case, a Com-
munist), who believes that a good
life for all men in this world is the
supreme goal; and the man of pas-
sion, who asserts that both bread
and rectitude are irrelevant com-
pared to the beauty of human rela-
tionships consummated in love. An
Angel Comes to Babylon depicts the
.conflict between Heaven and earth,
between demands of absolute devo-
tion to the ideal and attempts to
realize the merely possible.
To say that there is nothing more
in these plays than these themes is
to do them some injustice; but they
form the core, and that we should
remember them was Duerrenmatt's
chief goal. In all the works, too,
there is expressed the awareness
that these are eternal problems (and
here the plays bear a great resem-
blance to works like Shaw's St. Joan
and Frisch's The Chinese Wall);
there is a definite emphasis on the
cyclical nature of history.
In his essay, Problems of The
Theatre, Duerrenmatt is disappoint-
ing. The majority of the essay is de-
voted to the ways in which a play-
wright deals with the problems of

dramatic place, time, and speech,
and he has nothing new to say on
these subjects. The valuable in-
sights into his ideas and approach
often come off-handedly. He feels
that the cinema is the modern form
of the old court theatre, and that
theatre today is mostly a museum
of accepted (too readily venerated)
masterpieces, with a small contin-
gent of experimentalists (too readily
criticized) trying to deal with the
fact that there is no longer one
dramaturgy, one style in which they
are expected to work. He feels the
painful necessity of writing to an
anonymous audience, instead of to
one which is understood, predict-
able, cozy.
We also learn how disconcerting
it can be to the modern dramatist to
have to deal with subjects that have
already taken form: the artist is in-
hibited in writing about Caesar be-
cause scholarship has defined Cae-
sar in a particular way. (Here again
Duerrenmatt emphasizes his appar-
ent conviction that contemporary
life is not an appropriate subject.)
His solution to this problem is
seen in his own works: it is for the
artist to parody his materials, to de-
liberately reject the accepted image
of an, historical figure and contrast
this accepted image with the char-
acter the dramatist creates. (Again,
see Shaw's St. Joan.) Duerrenmatt
feels that our twentieth-century
world is mad and grotesque, like
that of Hieronymus Bosch; and that.
therefore, comedy, because it pre-
supposes a chaotic, unformed world
like ours, can be effective today.
Comedy creates distance, it trans-
poses our daily chaos onto the plane
(Continued on Page Eleven)

Afrcan Glory. by J. C. de Graft-
Johnson. Walker and Company.
$4.95.
When a people first begins to feel
its way in the world, it often creates
a set of myths for itself. The Ameri-
can people provides an excellent ex-
ample of this self-defining story-
telling instinct: for nearly a century
after 1776, our historians were de-
voted almost exclusively to produc-
ing nationalistic propaganda. Amer-
icans, then, should not be surprised
by this little book on "vanished Ne-
gro civilizations." Its author is a cit-
izen of Ghana whose aim is "to fire
the imagination of . . . African
Scholars" who will write "the real
history of Africa" for "an African
reading public." As an African na-
tionalist, J. C. de Graft-Johnson so
selects and distorts his material that
his work is ultimately of little value
to the historian. But as a represent-
ative of his people and his time he
is well worth reading.
The first two-fifths of African
Glory treats that continent's history
before the rise of the West African
empires. These seventy-six pages,
based on the premise that "a study
of any part of the African continent
is also a study of Negro history,"
detract most seriously from the
value of the book.
In the first place, the study of the
era before A.D. 1000 must be large-
ly archeological, and in this field an
unrevised work of 1954 is inevitably
out-of-date. Furthermore, de Graft-
Johnson's sources are almost exclu-
sively secondary, often antiquated,
and sometimes of questionable
value to begin with. The result can
only be to lower the reader's opin-
ion of African scholarship-a con-
clusion which is not at all justified,
even in terms of this work alone.
De Graft-Johnson's first chapter
is undoubtedly his worst. In it, he
attempts to treat Egypt as a Negro
civilization, proposing that Egyptian
culture came into the Nile valley
from the south. Although this view
has been rendered nearly untenable
by the excavations of Walter B.
Emery, the author does not see fit
to reconsider it. It was, in fact, a
rather antiquated view when he
first copied it from E. A. Wallis-
Budge, whose work ended in the
1920's. The entire discussion is con-
ducted in startling ignorance (the
Saite dynasty, for example, is listed
among foreign conquerors), and
should certainly have been left out.
What is really disappointing is
that de Graft-Johnson takes no note
whatever of the Nubian, Axumite
and Abyssinian civilizations which,
if not purely Negro, were at least
PICTURE CREDITS
Beita Lewis. ........... .page three
seven
ten
twelve
**be" Orel .,. ...-..........ne
five
dx

indigenous to Africa. He is, of
course, attempting to bolster Afri-
cans' self-respect with descriptions
of the doings of their ancient "coun-
trymen." Unfortunately, they make
a poor-as well as a false--
example.
What should have been the focus
of African Glory comprises just for-
ty-two pages; and with the West Af-
rican empires, de Graft-Johnson is
more at home. He utilizes Arab
travelers' accounts, and quotes from
a few modern historians, to add a
bit of color to the chronicle of wars
and assassinations. The point which
de Graft-J o h n s o n emphasizes is
the height of c u 1 t u r e and-un-
fortunately-of military power at-
tained by these black nations. The
author is inclined to take Arab ex-
plorers like Ibn Batutta much too
literally when they describe the
magnificence they have seen, and
his uncomfortably compressed ac-
count of the Ghana, Mali and Son-
ghai empires would be vastly im-
proved by an historical map, but
these chapters are nonetheless his
most effective. Here above all one
regrets that the author has not
made use of archeological data or
illustrations.
Some forty-four pages are now
spent on Europe's discovery and col-
onization of Africa. The author is
much preoccupied with the use
made of the Christian religion in re-
ducing the native population to sub-
jugation. The point, if shallowly
proven, is made with much convic-
tion.
Less well taken is de Graft-
Johnson's understandable desire to
attribute the decline of African civi-
lization to population losses result-
ing from the slave trade. The popu-
lation loss was, no doubt, massive
and disruptive, but de Graft-
Johnson's assertion that-except
for Christian Negroes-the African
population did what it could to op-
pose slavery is simply in-defiance of
fact.
Even if one does not expect him
to cite works like that of Daniel
Mannix (which went to press after
1954), de Graft-Johnson's story of
"the Kormantee Negro at home"
tries one's patience. Historiograph-
ically, it is his best chapter by far,
but he describes the Ashanti war as
though it were simply a predatory
activity on the part of the English,
who goaded the Africans into com-
bat. The British claim that their
purpose was the suppression of the
slave trade is not even dealt with.
The kings of Ashanti and Dahomey
had quite frankly told the British
that they had no intention of giving
up the sale of slaves, but the author
ignores this aspect of the quarrel.
Although the awful responsibility
for the enslavement of countless Af-
ricans falls chiefly on the Euro-
pean, such native political leaders
as existed near the African coasts
generally cooperated- in and profit-

ed from it, and the Ashanti of Gha-
na were among the most prominent
of these.
Yet in all this we should find
nothing scandalous. The author is a
man competent in his field who
shows up poorly when he overex-
tends himself or lets bias distort his
materials. One of his people's songs
might tell us more about the Afri-

can past t
Johnson's
speaks elo
aspirations
ing of infe
on black A
Mr. Barret
in the depa
University.

Or Not toZ

(Continued from Page Eight)
in Vietnam. In this helpful hand-
book, Col. Robert B. Riggs offers
his tricks of the trade on, as the
author would have it, how not to get
zapped." Rigg has in mind the
practical benefit of "the Man from
Uncle," the friendly American G.I.
who is selflessly "carrying the bur-
den" in this "mean little war."
The book's overall effect provides
a strikingly stereotyped example of
Greene's fears-the abstraction of
war into something that ignores the
suffering, growing brutality, and in-
humanity so dramatically portrayed
in Greene's wordless photographs.
How To Stay Alive is written in a
style somewhere between "Humor
in Uniform" and Superman Comics'
"Star-Spangled War Stories." Col.
Rigg outdoes himself even in the
"Table of Contents," which alone
can apprise the reader of the Colo-
nel's r h e t o r i c a 1 skills. Chapter
three, for example, entitled "The
Man from Uncle," includes these
sub-titles: "No Bullets in the
Pants," "Uncle's Machines and
Medicos," "Mash not Smersh!" and
"Why Kill Yourself or Buddy?"
Flourishing his talent for making
the most hideous aspects of war ap-
pear frivolous, even cute, Col. Rigg
matter-of-factly describes the prob-
lem of who to kill in a village (or
how to distinguish between people
and Viet Cong.)
Col. Rigg has written a frighten-
ing book. It bounces easily along,
with a dash of V.C. brutality here
and a pinch of American heroism
there, in just the right places. He
almost touches some real problems,
as in his discussion of the National
Liberation Front and tactics of
guerrilla warfare; but in the end he
doggedly argues that Viet Cong are

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was from Grass

The Plebeians Rehearse the
ing: A German Tragedy, by
ter Grass. Translated by
Manheim. Harcourt, B r a
World. $4.50.

Upris-
Guen-
Ralph
ce &

At his Theater am Schiffenbauer-
damm in East Berlin, Bertolt
Brecht created the workman's thea-
ter where white shirts were super-
fluous. Plays produced there were
written or rewritten by Brecht to
grapple with the proletariat side of
things. One of them was Shake-
speare's Coriolanus.Brecht reduced
the Roman general to a war special-
ist who became so uncomfortably
reactionary between wars that he
was banned as the people's enemy.
Brecht's didactic purpose was to
teach East Berliners how to create
their own revolution.
But prior to the play's first public
performance, the workers jumped
the gun in June 1953, with their
own revolt. They a p p r o a c h e d
Brecht, -expecting him to be their
spokesman. Brecht hesitated, per-
haps tragically, unable to reconcile
the actual mob incited by the price

of potatoes with his theories on the
art of revolution.
Grass, who also managed to blun-
der his way into politics recently,
wrote his play under a compulsion
to tear Brecht's dilemma apart, one
way or another. But not being him-
self a dramatist, Grass cannot put
the pieces back together in a dra-
matic experience. Instead, he mere-
ly pits the artist, the worker and the
representative of the State against
one another; each prevents the others
from taking any independent action.
Grass uses this suspended crisis to
make a swift and sarcastic rally of
satire. He uses his characters to
direct a vocal bombardment at
everyone in general, and the Ger-
man mentality in particular.
The most unfortunate result of
this puppet-like use of character is
the total lack of insight it offers
into the self-contradicting artist, the
very origin of theplay. The Boss, a
theater director who remains un-
named throughout, has been strip-
ped of all complexity. His revolu-
tionary dreams are toned down, his

impatience at the "Grumblers. Am-
ateur Revolutionists" underlined.
The only nuance which is described
in full is his seeming indifference to
everything except the rehearsal.
Perhaps this impassivity is sup-
posed to conceal a painfully person-
al struggle; still, the indifference is
so great that it extinguishes any
real suggestion of internal conflict.
A play in which caricature thus
parades so colorfully, in which
depth competes with slapstick,-
where the height of bitterness
sounds like a chant in the student
mensa:
Potatoes, Germany: that's two dif-
ferent words.
I eat the one word everyday; the
other
Devours me every day of'my life.
It should more appropriately be
called the "German comedy."
But if Peter Brook gets his hands
on it, watch out!
Beverly Moon
Miss Moon is a first-year graduate
student in the department of German
language and literature at The Uni-
versity of Chicago. -

J ohann and the

(Continued from Page Five)
have yet seen. The author is often
shrewd, if occasionally verbose,
when discussing Bach's use of musi-
cal forms. This latter part of the
book could be valuable to perform-
ers both for the sake of Geiringer's
own insights and for his careful
notes. The index, from this point of
view, is especially helpful and com-
plete.
The book handily brings together
a great deal of the Bach scholarship
of recent years. But Geiringer is not
as sensitive as he could be to the
significance of improvisation in the

performa
more car
cal con
works an
would als
But thes
Geiringer
he knows
even bett
Bach con
stand as
reference
Mr.. Mille
the depart
University

4 " MVVW E-S'T. i T- ERi tY "REY'IEW

.. ,

0 MIDWEST LIT.EtA

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