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June 29, 1968 - Image 6

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Michigan Daily, 1968-06-29

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Page Six

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Saturday, June 29, 1968

Page Six THE MICHIGAN DAILY

The pleasures
of pop-psychology
By JOHN RODENBECK
English Department
King, Queen, Knave, by Vladimir Nabokov. McGraw-Hill, $5.95.
Written originally in Russian and published forty years ago,
King, Queen, Knave was Vladimir Nabokov's second novel and
strikes me as being one of his very best. And in spite of what
Andrew Field, who is amusingly described on the dustjacket as
"the discerning critic," may say, it has nothing in common with
the chosisme of the nouveau roman, being as fresh and impressive
in its assumptions about those figments of the imagination we call
"characters" and their use in literature as the nouveau roman
is reactionary and backward. Part of the freshness may be due to
the fact that we have here not merely a translation but a consid-
ered revision, not merely a rendering of the original's text in Eng-
lish but a teasing out of its texture.
A considerable part. of this texture is owing in turn to the
jeux d'esprit implied by Nabokov's title, which may be taken as
referring not only to three fifths of a Royal Flush or to three
chessmen but also to the so-called Eternal Triangle of husband,
wife, and wife's lover. One very nabokovian textural twist to this
fundamental pattern, however, is that Dreyer, the deceived hus-
band, is by no means an impotent chessking. And it is poor Franz,
her lover, without whose merely ithyphallic existence, of course,
her clumsy deceptions would lack any point whatever, who can
move only one miserable dedensive square at a time. One is rightly
reminded of the savagery of Flaubert or, better, the olympian com-
passion of Tolstoy.
To a Russian, one supposes, as to a Persian, Arab, Chinese,
Romnanian or Hindu, love in the Western World must always seem
more than faintly ludicrous, like a Boy Scout trying to make fire
by rubbing together two dry sticks. And even more ludicrous per-
haps is the fact that when such friction becomes the purported
object of purported literary study in a "realistic" Western novel,
both Western author and Western reader pretend to be more in-
terested in the two dry sticks than in the auctorial Boy Scout.
"Does this stick or that stick really make us care?" we earnestly
ask ourselves. "Does it get us involved? Does this friction of which
we are reading a description in printed words show us something
we didn't know before about sticks?" The poke is, of course, that
in the novel we are not even seeing two sticks but reading verbal
creations perhaps evoking sticks. Nor should we make the error
of thinking that this self-inflicted joke is any less funny even
when what is evoked is something slightly more human than sticks,
like Boy Scouts.'
Depraved by a thirst for vicarious experience, in other words,
and all too often incapable of accepting the experience of an au-
thor's mind that is offered itself by the printed page, the typical
Western reader sits down to his Nat Turner with no very different
aesthetic expectations from those aroused when he sits down to
his Fanny Hill. And if "the impassioned and boring ethnopsychics
which depress one so often in modern novels"-as Nabokov puts it
in his Foreword to King, Queen, Knave-lead not even to any
genilnely personal emotional satisfaction but rather to a kind of
abstract communal intellectual onanism among the totality of
the people who read them, that is the measure of how far we
are removed from the possibility of literature. And the possibility
of life.
Like Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentinian whom he so
much admires, Nabokov rejects these distances, rejecting as well
the illusions of ego by which they are created. The figments of his
imagination that make up the triangular pattern of King, Queen,
Knave, for example, are not "characterized" but given to us with
poetical directness as they fulfill their functions within the pattern.
Examples? Martha: "She went to the window and drew aside
the blue curtain. The night was clear. The day before it had
started to thaw, then the freeze had set in again. That morning
a cripple walking in front of her had slipped on the bare ice. It
was frightfully funny to see his wooden stump erect while he
sprawled on his stupid back. Without opening her mouth, Martha
broke into convulsive laughter." Franz: "Franz, his worshipful
glasses glinting at Martha, sucked on a leg of cold chicken."
Dreyer: "What fun it was to be alive.. . . Nothing was known and
anything was possible."
Like all the great writers in the mainstream of American lit-
erature (or ,of any other) Nabokov leaves nothing to the feeble
Imagination of the reader. In such circumstances the solitary
pleasures of literary Pop-Psych become particularly pointless,
Nabokov warning in his Foreword that as usual "The Viennese
delegation has not been invited" and that "a number of cruel
traps" have been set in the text for any scavenging freuderast
who is so ill-advised as to gate-crash.
All Nabokov asks is simply to be read, assuning the burdens
of fancy upon himself. Critics, of course, find this position diffi-
cult to reckon with, as they do the unspoken maxim that runs
through all Nabokov's work, "I think, therefore, I am not." Hence
a certain uneasiness when a new Nabokov work appears and re.
quires somehow to be intelligently discussed, the usual resort being
to consign the work to the genre of satire, that Cloaca Maxima of

the literary mind. Concerned thematically, like virtually all Nabo-
kov's works, with the ideas of freedom and death, King, Queen,
Knave is no more a satire, however, than Pale Fire or Lolita are.
One final comment: McGraw-Hill, the Old Man's new pub-
lishers, have given the book a first-rate job of production. I hope,
their virtue finds an appropriate reward and that the Old Man
himself gets very very rich.

;sbooksbooksbooksbooksb

.4

Reviewing the reviewers,

and

what came after

By FRITZ LYON
Theatre Journal: Winter, 1967
by Michael Smith. University of
Missouri Press, $1.50.
Strasberg at The Actors Stu-
dio, ed. by Robert H. Hethmon.
Viking P., $1.95.
Futz and What Came After,
by Rochelle Owens. Random
House, $2.45.
Theatre books are already
once-removed, because they are
books and not experience; and
plays are experience, not books.
Not that books on theatre have
no value, but that they lose or
miss something in the transla-
tion.
Which takes the steam out
of criticism of criticism, that is,
a newspaper review of a book of
drama reviews-in this case,
Theatre Journal by Michael
Snlith. My opinions make less
difference than his, (how many
of you would pay a buck and a
half for a 47-page book on my
say-so?), and his opinions don't
count for that much either,
(how many of you read dramat-
ic criticism anyway?) So now
that I've forced your mind (by

the power and persuasion of
reason) to my influence, I say
you should buy the book and
read it, (provided you want to
read a book of dramatic criti-
cism, that is).
Brief exposition. Michael
Smith is the chief drama critic
of The Village Voice in New
York, and this book contains
excerpts from his reviews of se-
rious plays (that is, mostly
Off-Broadway or Off-Off one-
acts, rather than Broadway
musicals) during the winter
season of 1967. The journal be-
gins with a short'essay on crit-
ical principles, and is followed
by nine reviews of 20 plays, an
epitaph for Joseph Cino, owner
of the Caffe Cino, prototype of
the Off-Off-Broadway theatre,
and an Afterward to tie.up the
ends.
None of which is unusual.
Except that what he says is un-
usual, and unusually original
sometimes, and particularly ex-
citing to me because I think
he's right. Mr. Smith bucks the
stuffy tradition of criticism by
refusing to play the role of
literary interpreter or "repre-
sentative of the audience"

judge or "consumer guide."
The personal experience be-
tween himself and the play is
what matters, and that is all
he considers a critic qualified
to judge.
If that doesn't seem unusual,
remember the authoritative
pronouncements of every the-
atre review you have probably
ever read and then sample
some reviews from this book.
What makes the difference is
that Mr. Smith's brand is re-
markably free of buncombe. He
talks sense. He doesn't hedge.
And even though his opinions
and experiences are personal,
he doesn't apologize for them.
He says what he thinks, direct-
ly, informally, without trying
to pass himself off as The Or-
acle.
The philosophy is fascinat-
ing in its honesty and simplici-
ty. The reviews are much the
same, and -unlike most collec-
tions of criticism, they can be
read for themselves without ne-
cessary reference to the plays
they describe. For instance, I
am familiar with a few of the
playwrights, and only one of
the plays-MacBirdl - yet I
still gleaned much from the
book, partly because it can't
help but to convey the flavor
of the kinds of things going on
in the theatre. And since Broad-
way is no longer the center of
serious drama (ahem!), this is
one of the few books available
that reflects where it's at now.
So Theatre Journal is in-
formative without being pedan-
tic and pretentious, and reason-
able without seeming huffy and
irrelevant. It's changed my
mind about the critic's job. In
short, this little book is the
most effective condemnation
of New - York - Timesism I've
read.

The paperback Strasberg at
The Actors Studio, tape ses-
sions edited by Robert H. Heth-
man, is more about the stage
than about the theatre. The
first 60 pages are wasted glori-
fying and defending the Ac-
tors Studio and its artistic di-
rector, Lee Strasberg, which is
misleading, because the, main
body of the book; is about act-
ing. As such, I imagine the
general reader would find bare-
ly enough to sustain his inter-
est.
Unfortunately, the same is
probably true for the actor. A
book on acting is about like a
book on sculpting, that is, it's
difficult to describe the process
of a feeling art; when you do,
the result is bound to be de-
scription, not explanation or
recreation. Who knows if read-
ing books helps? There are
dumb good actors and intelli-
gent, well-read, articulate bad
ones.
If you are an actor (or imag-
ine yourself an actor), and you
read books on acting, most of
the material is expanded, up-
dated, rearranged Stanislavski,
which you've read before. It's
good theory, I suppose, but I
lost interest halfway through. I
got tired of reading dull de-
scription and endless advice,
mixed in with the editor's in-
cessant praise and defense of
Strasberg.
Mostly, I can't predict exact-
ly who would like it and who
wouldn't. The book is either
overwritten or under-edited, but
if you can separate the relevant
from the verbose irrelevant,
some of the specific sugges-
tions are useful and practical.
Personally, I didn't like it.

Futz, the leadoff play in this
collection by Rochelle Owens,
is about a man named Cyrus
Futz who enjoys carnal knowl-
edge of his faithful (we hope)
pig, Amanda. And more, Cyrus
Futz is the hero, the sympathet-
ic hero - my god, the tragic
hero-of the play. If this of-
fends you, go back three
square sto Thornton Wilder
The subject perplexes theI
critics, who label Futz's activi-
ties "bestiality." Even The
Daily requires euphemisms -
after all, you can't call Futz a
pig f*** *r, can you? That's'
partly what the play is about,
too. For example, Clive Barnes,
current ogre of The New York.
Times, quotes his favorite line
from the play, Futz describing
the prison warden: "Warden,
you look like a bad drawing of
God." Very pretty. And not
that it's a bad line, but it's the
only Clive Barnes line in the
play. As opposed to my favor-
ite, a new classic, Bill Marjo-
ram's realization of the nature
of Cyrus Futz's relation to his
beloved sow: "Gods, he bangs
pigs!"
Amidst this explosive farce,
Futz has a poetry and lyricism
to equal any of the short plays
I've heard, and even the high-
collar critics can't help but
agree. Since its original one-
performance production at the
Tyrone Guthrie -Workshop in
1965, the play has leapt to new
stages - the, LaMama Theatre
Off-Broadway last year, an
Obie Award for distinguished
writing this year, and a revival
now playing on (no kidding)
old Broadway.

If you can't get there, I
wouldn't advise waiting for
Futz to come to the Fisher.
Reading can't replace seeing,
but as for now, reading may
be your only choice, and for
once, reading has an advan-
tage. You can read the play
more than once to prove to
yourself that it's not .just
stage trick or a gimmick or a
neat joke. It's a play. The writ-
ing is strong and clear and the
characters are alive, especially
poor, persecuted, misunderstood
Cy Futz.
If you're going to read the
play, a review, summary is un-
necassary; if you aren't a sum-
mary won't convince you. And
since I have no reason to in-
terpret the play for you, I'll let
that go too. What's left is tp
recommend it because it's an
important play, and a fascinat-
ing representative of the emerg-
ing-from-the-underground the-
atre.
And What Came After, the
other four plays that complete
the collection, deteriorate pro-
gressively from Futz. Each be-
\comes mord abstract and ob-
scure, and after the second
play, The String Game, which
is interesting and good, I wan-
dered away from the page. The
others may be just as interest-
ing and good, each of them, but
I didn't connect with them.
Then again, I don't like (or
comprehend) most of Jean
Genet either, so you should be
your own judge here.

#i

I

Vladimir Nabokov

4

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WORSHIP

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FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
On the Campus-
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Sermon topic: "Speculating in Futures"
Church School through Sixth Grade.
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Presently meeting at the YM-YWCA
Affiliated with the Baptist General Conf.
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761-6749
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1 511 Washtenow

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Phone 662-4466
1432 Woshtenaw Ave.
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SUNDAY
Worship at 9:00, 10:30 a.m., and 12:00 noon.
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Church.
PACKARD ROAD BAPTIST CHURCiH
Southern Baptist Convention
1 131 Church St.
761-0441
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6:30 p.m.--Training Union.
7:30 p.m.-Evening Worship.
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9:00 o.m.-Morning Prayer and Holy Com-
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VINS de FRANCE
Last Chance Jet Flight to London
JULY 28 -AUGUST 31

very Bali has a bow
an ren
8 Nickels Arcade

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Phone 662-3153
Ministers: Calvin S. Malefyt, Paul Swets
General Synod Reformed Church in America
9:30 a.m.-Church School
10:30 a.m.-"The Celebration of ,the New"
Rev. Paul Swets.
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CHURCH and WESLEY
FOUNDATION
At State andlHIuron Streets
Phone 662-4536
Hoover Rupert, Minister
Eugene Ransom, Campus Minister
Bartlett Bedvin, Associate Campus Minister
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Donald Postema,'Minister
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Telephone 665-6149

7ke

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11 :00 a.m.-Bible Class
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summer Mem-

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Dr. Erwin A. Goede, Minister
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306 N. Division
8:00 a.m.-Holy Communion.
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11:00 a.m.-Morning Prayer and Sermon.
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