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May 18, 1968 - Image 8

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Page Eight


Saturday, May 18, 1963

Page Eight THE MICHIGAN DAILY Saturday, May 18, 1968

A fair-minded look
at the Victorians
Victorian Minds, by Gertrude Himmelfarb. Alfred A. Knopf, $8.95
The publication of Gertrude Himmelfarb's Victorian Minds
would appear to mark the waning of a recent vogue in Victorian
commentary. At least, the kind of drooling reports which have fat-
tened the editors -down at Grove Press seem to have met their
match in this more balanced account of an age. Of course there
was an "Other Victorianism." But the importance of Victorian
sexual aberration can only be understood in relationship to an
exceedingly strong code of repression.
Of course, the excitement over hidden diaries and the like
has at least served the purpose of shattering a popular cliche, if
only by introducing another facile generalization. To those fresh-
man students of philosophy it is a revolation to find that John
Stuart Mill had a sex life at all. But Mill's aberration, as well as
the "free love" indulged in by George Eliot, differ from our mod-
ern system of indulgence. Novelist Eliot was as steadfast in her
adultery as Updike's Couples are chaotically promiscuous.
The peculiar- "justness" of Victorian Minds is the result, at
least in part, of Miss Himmelfarb's theory of historical investiga-
tion. She is a classicist of the already institutionalized school of
Intellectual Historians. She is, moreover, unconcerned about the
forced creation of history "de novo." In her own words, the past
is "more recalcitrant than either politicians or historians like to
think;" it resists the modern effort to erase or alter it. Miss
Himmelfarb achieves a balance between traditional concepts of
Victorianism (e.g. sexual repression and the domination of Middle
Class values) and her own "creative history." There is novelty in
Victorian Minds, but it is the product of collected insight and the
gathered light of material refracted through multiple points of
Another contribution to the broad balance of this study is its
eclecticism. The book is a collection of separate essays, rather than
a sustained assault on the Victorian Age. Much has been said in
other reviews of this book, about the necessary "unevenness" which
results from such a method. But Miss Himmelfarb's interest is not
in the perfection of a particular genre or historical ideology. Her
work is fragmented in order to present a more fertile and varied
account of the living flux of an age.
Morebver, she avoids the grand dilemma of intellectual his-
tory: whether to reckon by individual or ideology, by a general
intellectual environment or an elite. Miss Himmelfarb uses the
essay form to ridealternately on each horn of the dilemma, giving
equal weight to both approaches.
One might assume that such a "liberal" and collective ap-
proach to history would be matched by a political bias. The Vic-
torian Age has, after all, long been touted as the birthplace of
English Liberalism. But the founding genius of Utilitarianism,
Jeremy Bentham, is soundly strafed by Miss Himmelfarb's criti-
cal vocabulary. Bentham is revealed as the father of Liberal hypo-
crisy. The Hedonistic calculus turns into a calculated hedonism,
with Bentham seeking prison reform only as a means of self-
Victorian Minds also destroys the popular myth of the liberal
reform of 1867. In what is probably her most "revolutionary" es-
say, Miss Himmelfarb reveals that the extension of the franchise
was actually enacted by the Parliamentary Conservatives. This
decisive moment in English history was no more enlightened than
most other political movements. Taking place in an atmosphere
of economic depression, struggles for control at the death of
Palmerston, and a general "fact of apathy," the reform was push-
ed by Conservatives who trusted the servility of the masses to the
traditional order.
It is the dual problem of hypocrisy and expediency which
makes the Victorian Mind relevant to our own state of mind or
emotion. We share with that age the problem of the platitude,
and the crusade undertaken more for the glory than the good. If
we become more aware of our motives, we also become more ruth-
less. There is much we can learn about the shape of our ideologies
and the origins of our institutionally Great Society from Gertrude
Himmelfarb's insight.

The angry mind of an anguished black existence

Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver. McGraw-Hill
Eldridge Cleaver is back in jail.
Cleaver, Minister of Information of the Black
Panther Party for Self-Defense, was busted last
month after a gunfight between Panthers and
Oakland, Calif., police and was hustled back to
prison for parole violation (he was paroled after
serving part of a sentence for rape), and now
faces a new charge-of assault with intent to
commit murder.
Cleaver was lucky. Unarmed 17-year-old Pan-
ther Bobby James Hutton was killedf when po-
lice opened fire after someone shouted, "He has
a gun." He was lucky not only because he es-
caped with his skin; Cleaver, in the ancient
tradition of revolutionaries, political and intel-
lectual, from Socrates to Jomo Kenyatta, seems
to do his best work behind bars.
Soul on Ice is the product of California's San
Quentin, Folsom and Soledad Prisons. Although
his prison terms have all been for criminal of-
fenses, he has in fact served most of his life as
a political prisoner. In 1954, at the age of 18,
he became the victim of a clash between the
norms of a subculture and the laws of a larger
society when he was arrested with a shopping
bag full of marijuana. While serving that first
prison term, he was indoctrinated into political
consciousness by a group of rebellious, politically
aware blacks at Soledad.

In jail, he had a great deal of time to read
and think and seems to have spent a great part
of that time thinking about his ambiguous re-
lationship with the white man and, more im-
portantly, with the white woman.
The mentally destructive ambivalence of the
views many black men hold toward black and
white women has been well documented in
American Literature, but never more compel-
lingly than by Cleaver. "I fought frantically to
be free," he writes, "but The Ogre only mocked
me and sank its claws deeper into my soul. I
knew then and there, that I had found an im-
portant key, that if I conquered The Ogre and
broke its power over me, I would be free. But I
also knew that it was a race against time and
that if I did not win I would certainly be broken
and destroyed. I, a black man, confronted by
The Ogre-the white woman."
Cleaver tells how in prison, where normal sex-
ual outlets are denied in what may be the most
punishing part of the American penal system,
his lust for and hatred of The Ogre devoured his
Both hate and lust eventually won out and
on his release from prison, Cleaver became
probably the first American man to make rape
a political crime, satisfying his lust for the white
woman and expressing his hatred for white so-
ciety and its values, which he blamed for his
So, he writes, "I became a rapist. To refine
my technique and modus operandi, I started

out by practicing on black girls in the ghetto-
in the black ghetto where dark and vicious deeds
appear not as aberrations or deviations from the
norm, but as part of the sufficiency of the Evil
of a day-and when I considered myself smooth
enough, I crossed the tracks and fought out
white prey.
"Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delight-
ed me that I was defying and trampling upon
the white man's law, upon his system of values,
and that I was defiling his women-and this
point, I believe was most satisfying to me be-
cause I was very resentful over the historical
fact of how the white man has used the black
However, after his exploits as a rapist landed
him in San Quentin, Cleaver decided he had
gone astray; "astray not, so much from the
white man's law as from being human, civiliz-
ed." He turned to writing.
Soul on Ice is a massively uneven book. Clea-
ver is at his best when attempting to probe
the labyrinthine channels of relationship be-
tween black and white in the United States.
Although he had no formal training as a writer
save that which he received in prison, his writ-
ing is inspired, his analysis piercing and at times
he rivals Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and
Franz Fanon at their best.
His attempts to attack. American foreign
policy, however, are of a much lower caliber.
Much of this writing seems to have been lifted
straight from New Left handouts and he often

succumbs to the brand of vulgar Marxism that
sees all American foreign policy as strictly eco-
nomically oriented without realizing the much
more frightening truth that anticommunism has
become an end in itself as the fundamental ba-
sis of U.S. foreign policy. The book would have
profited more judicious editing by the staff of
Ramparts, which produced it in cooperation
with McGraw-Hill.
As a political animal, Cleaver is very complex.
Once a Black Muslim, he rejected the Muslim
doctrine of black superiority when the late Mal-
colm X, the hero of the book, split with Elijah
Muhammed on that issue. Although convicted
of one crime of violence and charged with a
second, he disavows violence except in self-
defense, a formal platform of the Panthers.
While exploring the depths of his mind, Clea-
ver has provided the white book-buying public
with the best available window to the anguish-
ed soul of the imprisoned black man, imprisoned
both physically and spiritually, black man.
While not a plan for uprising, the book clearly
contains the seeds of revolution. It is, in its
own way, as important a work as Mein Kampf.
If America hopes to avoid race war and ensuing
chaos, this must be read and heeded, and dras-
tic steps must be taken to end the vicious
degradation of black men in the United States.
Unfortunately, though judging the mood -of
American society, it probably awaits the same
fate as Mein Kampf. And American morality,
again, will be the poorer for it.



Che, man and writer, a man of accomplishments

Reminiscences of the Cuban
Revolutionary War, by Che
Guevara. Monthly Review-
Press, $6.95.
On board a Cubana Airlines
plane in late January, flying
from Havana to Prague, I was
invited by the pilot to spend a
while with him in the cabin in
the ship's nose, where he was
charting and steering. He told
me, among other things, that
he had flown Che Guevara on
many occasions, to Algeria, for
example, and to the United
"Of course," he said, "Che,
too, was a pilot." I said that al-
though I had known Che had
a number of skills I had never
before heard that he could pi-
lot a plane. "Oh yes," said the
captain, poirting to the helms-
man's chair, "Che would sit
right there and take over. He

was very good. An excellent pi-
lot. And he enjoyed it hugely.
I can see him now in my mind,
so calm and happy, as close to
me as you are." He shook his
head, smiling at his memory of
Che. "A wonderful man of
countless accomplishments."
Among these accomplish-
ments, I had discovered while
in Cuba when I read some of
the material contained in Re-
miniscences of the Cuban Re-
volutionary War, was writing.
Discussing Che's ability in this
line with a Cuban poet and
editor,-I said that Che's sketch-
es of the life of war reminded
me very much of the work of
Isaac Babel, who, until I read
Che, had seemed to me incom-
parable in his genius for illum-
inating, by thorough hard hon-
esty in recording facts about
particular human beings and
episodes, a tremendous event of
history in which many thous-

ands participated. An event,
also, changing fundamentally
the present and the future for
millions upon millions, perhaps.
Now that I think over my
first impression of the similar-
ity between Che and Babel as
writers, on the basis of re-read-
ing Che in this book published
in February by Monthly Re-
view Press, I find myself res-
ponding more sympathetically
to Che for this reason: his writ-
ing was simply an expression of
himself as a man in the process
of realization. I mean that he
was first of all a man, not a
writer, whereas Babel, for all
his remarkable capacity to
make things absolutely clear,
seems to me to have to be clas-
sified as a writer.
I was in Cuba at a time when
there were many reporters and
visitors from all over the world
on the scene. It was expected,
I gathered, by the graceful Cu-
ban host,, that surely those of

us who came from the United
States would want to have a
look at the Ernest Hemingway
home not far from Havana,
which the government of Fidel
Castro, who had been a friend
of Hemingway, has preserved
as a shrine. Somehow or other
I did not want to go and, at one
point, trying to figure why, I
began to think about Che and
Hemingway. It occurred to me
that what I had entertained
about the relationship as writ-
ers and men between Babel and
Che could be even' better dis-
tinguished by considering Che
and Hemingway. Everything,
maybe, depends upon time and
place. It could be that Che had
a more favorable opportunity
to become, as Fidel puts it, "a
man of total integrity," with all
that implies, than did poor
Hemingway, like Che a wan-
derer who though he found a
home in Cuba did not, like Che,
ever find himself.

It was necessary to destroy the village to save it

The Village of Ben Suc,
by Jonathan Schell.
Alfred A. Knopf, $3.95.
Jonathan Schell gives us
more than just a lucid ac-
count of a major American
military operation in South
Vietnam. What he tells is the
tragic story of a warm and
innocent people bewildered by
the crassly flamboyant, clumsy
technique of their American
American military officials in

Saigon had a problem. It seems
the National Liberation Front
had long-controlled the villages
in a large provincial area just
northwest of Saigon, called the
"Iron Triangle." The NLF had
taken over each village and
endowed it with a socialistic
system-complete with Youth
Clubs, Farmers' Associations,
and Women's Clubs. Everyone,
in a sense, cooperated, even, if
only by paying taxes to the
So, American or South Viet-
namese forces would storm in

and "capture" a village every
once in a while, as the Viet
Cong slipped off into the jun-
gle, and declare the village
"free." The VC would then
come out of their hiding places
after the Allied soldiers had
left. and" resume control.
This game of hide-and-seek
went on for several years in
the Iron Triangle, and by early
last year the Americans were
getting fed up, even though the
villagers themselves didn't seem
to really care who controlled
things, as long as they could
work their rice paddies in
The Operation "Cedar Falls"
liberation plan was a master-
ful military scheme to literally
wipe the bothersome Iron Tri-
angle area off the face of the
map. And it worked, sort of.
The operation was successful
only in the limited sense that
any American military opera-
tion in Vietnamcanybe suc-
cessful. While carrying out the
immediate strategic objective,

the project made life hell for
the very people whose "hearts
and minds" American forces are
supposed to be trying to win.
To the generals sitting in
Saigon, the plan looked splen-
did on paper: helicopters -
"choppers"-would swoop down
on several villages simultane-
ously completely by surprise,
so that no Viet Cong could slip
away. American soldiers would
jump out of the choppers and
surround the villages, then
truck the people off to a camp
while their villages were flat-
tened by bulldozers, which
would then blaze wide avenues
through the surrounding jungle.
The idea was to completely
evacuate and destroy the area
as an NLF stronghold, while
the civilians carted off could
presumably start life anew in
other parts of the country.
For security reasons, how-
ever, no plans were made for
this latter phase of Operation
Cedar Falls. The South Viet-
namese, in fact, were not told

of any part of the operation at
all before it took place.
Thus, The Village of Ben Sue.
Schell's story is an in-depth
account from a personal view-
point to the ghastly, bungling
job the Allies performed in
dealing with the peasant evacu-
ees. For instance, Schell de-
scribes thousands of rural ci-
vilians being herded into a
barbed-wire enclosure remini-
scent of the Nazi concentration
camps, then being greeted by
signs hung on the wire pro-
claiming, "Welcome to Free-
dom and Democracy."
But The Village of Ben Suc
is more than a devastating po-
litical indictment of American
misunderstanding and absurd
policy. The work lets us under-
stand things about the war
that the officials apparently
could not, by treating the op-
eration from the peasants' view-
While a perspiring American
colonel sips a soft drink in the
scorching sun and gleefully

praises the ARVN forces for
unloading the trucks "just like
coolies-it's really gratifying,"
Schell is busy interviewing
scores of old men, little girls,
women, and farmers about their
lives, their impressions of the
Americans, and about the vil-
lages neither they nor anyone
else will ever see again. He is
thus able to communicate what
no news report of a military
press conference ever could. He
sees the war as it affects the
What the author possesses is
a sense of compassion for the
peasants and respect for their
quiet dignity that is unique
among Americans. Writing in
his simple, unpretentious-yet
convincing - style,' Schell, in
this, his first book, shows
promise as a major new writer-
reporter of this generation.
Reading events through the
eyeglasses of individual lives,
his success as a major "human
being" is equally evident.

I began to reflect that Che
was indeed the kind of man
Hemingway might have desired
to be. And the kind of man up-
on whose natural, pure, and
simple writing style the writing
of the future might be modeled,
which would mean, that those
doing the writing would have to
be, to quote Fidel again: "Like
Among these writers, I hope,
will be many of Che's comrades
of the Cuban Revolution, to
whom he makes reference in
the prologue, to this personal
history: "I am starting," he
writes, "a series of personal re-
miniscences of attacks, battles
and skirmishes in which we all
participated. It is not my in-
tention that this fragmentary
history, based on remembran-
ces and a few hasty notes,
should be taken as a full ac-
count. On the contrary, I hope
that each theme will be devel-
oped by those who lived it ...
I ask only that the narrator be
strictly truthful. He should not
pretend, for his own aggrand-
izement to have been where he
was not, and he should beware
of inaccuracies. I ask that hav-
ing written a few pages to the
best of his ability, depending on
his education and his disposi-
tion, he then criticize them as
possible in order to remove ev-
ery word which does not refer
to a strict fact, or those where
the fact is uncertain."
What more valuable appeal
could be made, not just to his
comrades of the Revolution,
but to all men and women who
dare to dream of writing their
experience? It is an appeal, it
seems to me for an end to fic-
tion and for the beginning of a
revolutionary exercise of the
imagination in the telling of
the truth about life. Not that
there hasn't been such writing
in the past; there have been
many pioneers in the field.By
the way, I mentioned the liber-
ation struggle of Henry Miller,
as recounted in his books, when
I talked about Che with the
Cuban poet-editor. He frowned.
He did not immediately accept
my effort to connect the deter-
mination of each man, as I saw
it, to write Life rather than Lit-
erature. But after a while he
said, yes, I see what you mean,
except .
There is an "except," to be
sure. It is best defined by Che
himself, in a letter to 'his par-
ents, written in mid-1965, at
the time he was leaving Cuba,
for what turned out to be his
eternal destiny in Bolivia. The
letter is one of twenty-six in-
cluded in the Monthly Review
edition of his "Reminiscences."
I quote it in full:
"Dear Folks-
"Once" again I feel be-
tween my heels the ribs of-
Rosinante; once more I hit
the road with my shield up-
on my arm.
"Almost ten years ago to-
day, I wrote you another let-
ter of farewell. As I remem-
ber, I lamented at not being
a better soldier and a better
doctor. The latter no longer

adventurer-and that I am,
only, one of a different sort
-one of those who risks his
skin to prove his platitudes,
"It is possible that this
may be the finish. I don't
seek it, but it's within the lo-
gical realm of probabilities. If
it should be so, I send you a
last embrace.
"I have loved you very/
much, only I haven't known
how to express my fondness.
I am extremely rigid in my
actions, and I think that
sometimes you didn't under-
stand me. It hasn't been easy
to understand me. Neverthe-
less, please just take me at
my word today.
"Now, a will which I have
polished with delight is going
to sustain some shaky legs
and some weary lungs. I will
do it.
"Give a thought once in a
while to this little soldier-of-
fortune of the twentieth cen-
tury. A kiss to Celia, to Ro-
berto, Juan Martin and Poto-
tin, to Beatriz, to everybody.
"An embrace for you from
your obstinate and prodigal
"Ernesto" was, of course
what his parents called hir
when heswas born on June 14
1928, in Rosario, Argentina. He
was named after his father, an
architect. He studied and trav-
eled in Latin America. He spent
a short while in Miami. At the
age of 27 he was in Mexico. He
met Fidel there in July or Aug-
ust of 1955. A little over a year
later he was one of the expidi-
tionaries on the "Granma," the
small yacht which carried to
Cuba the guerillas among whom
were those few, like Fidel and
Che, who were to survive to
proceed with the success of the
Revolution, achieved in early
January, 1959. Che was wound-
ed, captured and shot to death,
at the age of 39, in a two-room
schoolhouse in a remote region
of Bolivia, where he had gone
to "risk his skin" as a revolu-
Reminiscences is both his
story and the story of the Cu-
ban Revolution, as complete an
account as exists to date. It is,
at any rate, the heart of the
Revolution, besides being some-
thing altogether new, to my
knowledge: a history of the fu-
ture by a man of the future,
who nevertheless lived among
us. It is testament, textbook,
the absolute truth, putting to
shame the pretenders and priv-
ileged of the contemporary
world. I think it is bound to
have powerful meaning to the
youth of America who have not
yet discovered the spirit of Re-
volution typified by Guevara.
James , iggins, assistant
editor of the York, Pa., Ga-
zette and Daily, recently re-
turned from a trip to Cuba.
Today's Book Page marks the



A G n
A Mass for the Dead, by William Gibson. Atheneum, $7.95
Ten years ago, William Gibson, author of The Miracle Work-
er and Two for the Seesaw, sta'ted that "only in fiction can one
tell the truth." A Mass for the Dead makes Gibson a liar, or at
least wrong: seldom has an honest man's contradicting himself
been such a welcome occasion, or the truth so eloquently simple.
The writer talks of his parents, whom he was not able to see,
really, until he was a parent, and then it was too late for him to
be their child; and he talks of his sons, "a couple of two-legged
miracles . . . growing up like grass," who have prompted his re-
alizations and ultimate celebration. In the name of his mother and
father, Gibson celebrates a mass not of worship and faith, but of
reverence and love; in the person of his sons, Gibson learns his
past and passes down his future. That is all.f
Curiously, A Mass for' the Dead is quite similar in situation
and sentiment to James Agee's truth-in-fiction, A Death in the
Family. But Gibson has gone a step further into himself and thus
come a step closer to us than Agee's novel was able to do; by
labeling his book a "family chronicle," Gibson has suspended the
functional requirements of fiction but maintained the objectivity
necessary to convey human personality and event.
The book is a succession of sights and sounds so ingeniously
invoked that an instrument or photograph could not reproduce
them. In a certain magical way, Gibson makes the unseen face
behind those thick, rimless glasses he fondles more real in words
than in flesh, and the tinkling of the upright in a Harlem tene-
ment more clear in the mind than in the air. But more important
than the sensations here are the lessons and reminders Gibson
offers to children not yet parents, and to parents too far from
children. The reminders, for instance, tell us that we all can sing
and the lessons teach not how to sing but who has earned our

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