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May 21, 1961 - Image 14

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1961-05-21
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'V ,

merican

Taste...
A Daily Special Section

Durrell Rand -The New Her

Stylization Replaces Realism
In the Popular Novels of Today

brain-trusters like Galbraith and
Schlessinger attract m o r e a n d'
more attention from casual read-
ers.
Part of their appeal must be
attributed to the image of the
educated (if not downright intel-
lectual) theorist built .up by the
publishers, which contrasts with
the primarily partisan image based
on personality which has certain-
ly predominated in the .past.
BUT THE interest of readers
must be based on some famil-
iarity with-or curiosity about-
the American governmental struc-
ture and its problems. Faddism of
this kind is healthy, since it comes
from and results in wider popu-
lar discussion of politics from is-
sues to personalities. Nonetheless,
the unevenness of the readers'
levels of sophistication is indi-
cated by the amount of leeway
which exists in the kind of issues
and persona!ities which face the
reader.
He can find a liberal or a con-
servative viewpoint; he can find
a sophisticated or shallow view-
point on either side of any given
question; he can even find a biog-
raphy of his candidate which sup-
ports any one of several distinct
images of that man.
TH1E ONLY political literature
is bound to be read and
talked about is the day-to-day
rationale of the current adminis-
tration's conduct of the state and
the critique presented by Con-
gressmen, covered in newspapers
and magazines.
It is encouraging to note that
readers are seeking more scope
and continuity in political writing
to supplement that offered by
journalism. Books by political fig-
ures and commentators provide a
theoretical context for the politi-
cal thinking of the college student-
voter which cannot be gained
otherwise.
THE POPULAR political litera-
ture of today manifests anoth-
er outgrowth of self-interested
fascination with the American
character-a sort of objective in-
trospection-which began a few
years ago with extensive sociologi-
cal speculation.

The changing style in American taste seems to indicate a trend towards a sophisticated interest in the arts.

Nonconformity Off-the -Job
Leisure Time for Varied Interests-Yet People Don't Enjoy It
By PETER STEINBERGER

The Current Fad of Latin Pooh

CONFORMITY is bad, and that
is old news. But that non-
conformity could be bad is some-
thing people haven't been too
much concerned about, except in
terms of beatniks and radicals.
The approved kind of non-con-
formity is the home workshop and
foreign movie kind-the amuse-
ments of the anonymous Healthy
American who is crushed faceless
on the job, but seems to be "as-
serting his individuality" at home,
in his spare time.
Because we are a little confused
by the prospects of a completely
uniform culture, whatever is dif-
ferent and esoteric-so long as it
isn't harmful-catches our fancy.
And because turning cranks, or
turning out reports doesn't leave
much scope for originality, we hope
to find whatever there is of this
in leisure, in the worker's spare
time.
AND BECAUSE of automation,
all of us can expect to have
more spare time in the future-so
much, in fact, that it may get
to be a problem. (As a sidelight,
think about the huge sales of
tranquilizers and the serious prob-
lems of retired people-both be-
ing in part due to boredom from
too much spare tine.)
For two hundred years Ameri-
cans have felt vaguely that work
was morally good, though unplea-
sant. Also, facing a frontier and
some unrest among the indigenous
peoples inhabiting it, the pioneers
decided that work was very nec-
essary.
This decided, it followed that
"fun" was immoral, (even if plea-
sant), and necessary only in small
amounts. For some reason, these
misconceptions carried over into
our century. Ahd while belief in
the morality of hard work was,
quite suitable for the -Thirties
(when there wasn't enough to go
around anyway), it is rather
harmful today,
OUR ECONOMY now is based
on having people buy refriger-
ators, electric toasters, and tele-
vision sets. If we feel guilty about

indulging ourselves (and decide to
work harder and save more) we
are helping nobody but ourselves;
on the other hand, we are shirkers
from duty. The duty we shirk is
Consumption, the duty to go out
and buy.
But spare time used to have an-
other purpose--it used to be lei-
sure time, time to play, instead
of working. "All work and no play"
is usually frowned on. But the
difference between work and play
isn't often made clear. They both
involve rules, and obeying rules.
But work has arbitrary rules set
by High Authority, which one
isn't given the chance to disagree
with. Instead, the worker is told
to go out and obey rules the world
has set for him.
In playing, we set the rules
(agreeing to them if not invent-
ing them) and we very often im-
agine that the world is obeying
our rules to do what we want it to
do.
Thus, to use a famous exam-
ple, when a baby is forced to eat
his applesauce he is working; but
when he eats it one-for-daddy,
one-for-mommy, he is playing.
WHEN large numbers of people
are using their spare time to
worry (which is working), then
something is wrong. Clearly, peo-
ple ought to be taught how to
play. Now water skiing, and skin
diving, and going to the movies
should be fun; and, of course, to
some extent they are.
The problem is thateAmerica
isn't divided into two herds, one
of which sulks while the other
swims. Instead, there is only one
herd, which both sulks and
swims. Why can't we be better
entertained?
ONE REASON is that while
games used to be something
with no use to them whatever, now
we are told we have a duty to go
PETER STEINBERGER is
a night editor on The Daily.

out and develop new interests-
as long as those interests are ex-
pensive. After all, productivity
keeps rising, and since we have
too much food, and way too many
hospitals and schools, the only
thing this excess productivity can
be turned to is luxuries.
The government plays at war
and corruption, thereby taking
from us a very considerable part
of our unpleasant duty. But this,
prodigal and expensive though it
is, isn't enough. We must do our
bit, and television and the mass
magazines are doing their best to
teach us how.
Skin diving is expensive and it
is a hobby-but it is a hobby be-
cause it is expensive, and not
vice versa. That is, an insignifi-
cant or maybe even unknown past-
time is seized on and made ex-
pensive; then it is marketed.
HOME LATHES, power garden-
ing tools and power boats are
not just accidentally expensive --
they are marketed because there
is a real need to get people to
spend their money, so more can
be paid other people, who will
have to spend more money, and
so on.
BUT merely dreaming up new
hobbies isn't good enough -
they have to be sold. And this is
the difficult part of it, from the
point of view of the producers. The
mass media, especially television,
owe much of their importance to
people being somewhat more sug-
gestible today than they were, say,
50 years ago.
That is, people in 1900 were
certainly gullible enough, but
they were less willing to have
their peer groups supply them with
guidance. They were a little less
suited to change than we are, a
little less inclined towards being
changed.
This ability to be changed is ob-
viously a good thing in a society,
where things are. changing very
rapidly, as in, for instance, the
political sphere. But, while ad-
men hope we are suggestible, they

Americans interested in the the-
ories and principles applicable to
their socio-psychological environ-
ment were ranged on as wide a
spectrum of sophistication as those
now concerned by the United
-States political structure and be-
havior.
Then as now, they could choose
a writer to suit their level among
the best-selling set - Riesman,
White and Packard were all avail-
able.
INTERESTINGLY, the tastes of
Americans in best-selling fic-
tion reflect a different idea of
themselves. The flaring popularity
of novels about suburban life and
love has declined with the decline
of quality writing on that subject.

It is highly unprobable that any
body of readers could maintain a
high level of interest in this aspect
of Americana. The idea of escape
in fictional form is returning to
overt statement on a comparative-
ly sophisticated level.
ONE OF THE most far-reaching
problems of serious modern fic-
tion writing is beginning to be re-
flected in the best-seller class.
Changes toward specialization,
fragmentation and diversification
in American society have wrought
a corresponding change in Ameri-
can literature.
Writers as late as the 1940's
were successfully attempting to
capture, clean, limited, realistic
pictures of a representative help-
ing of American life. Dreiser, Sin-
clair Lewis, Don Passos were then
able to deal in types which were
not yet stereotypes--the society
female, the small-town bourgeoisie,
the labor unionist, the frustrated
creative giant,
ONE American realistic school is,
losing steam. Pluralism has
created a real problem of verifica-
tion for the writer who wishes to
present a believable situation
which has the. symbolic value ne-
cessary to make readers say, "yes,
this is true of me and my society."
Americans are no longer fascin-
ated by their stereotypes; indeed,
they are barely interested in them.
Serious writers have resolved the
problem of verification in several
ways. They tell their stories in
the first person, making them be-
lievable at least as one man's
statement.
They present events from sever-
al points of view, in several char-
acters, breaking up time sequences
and creating relationships be-
tween characters and their percep-
tions until an artistically complete
statement emerges. They use the
documentary approach, as Dos
Passos is still doing in his latest
work, Mideentury.
HIS INCLUSION of headlines
and capsule biographies of
archetypal figures like Eleanor
JEAN SPENCER, editorial
director of The 'Daily, is a
senior in the English Honors,
program. She also reads books.

Roosevelt, Jimmy Hoffa and James
Dean create a context which is
taken from life but definitely from
Dos passos' point of view.
Heis not a sophisticated writer,
but his books demand a certain
level of education and apprecia-
tion from his readers which adds
up to sophistication. His books are
popular, as Dreiser's and Lewis's
were, because they are of, by and
for the American public.
But he is a serious writer on
Americana, and not so fascinated
by the stereotyped problems of
today that he ends up saying glib
things in an involved way. He
may be over-concerned with the
problems of ten to twenty years
ago, but his reflection of American
life is creative and applicable as
well as entertaining.
NOVELIST and playwright Jean
Kerr directly shows the change
in emphasis of the image of Amer-
ican life from sociological to fic-
tion. Her writings about the Amer-
ican family have been touted
through her appeal as an Ameri-
can homemaker.
She is witty, knowledgeable, ma-
ternal, and fundamentally sophis-
ticated, because she has escaped
the drabness of the popular con-
ception of housewifery. She is not
"just plainfolks," but her enlight-
enment can be a cue for any young
modern who doesn't like the limi-
tations of domesticity.
Her writing is enjoyable in itself
because it removes the heavy-
handedness from the humor im-
plicit in American life. Her educa-
tion creates for her readers an
artificial community among the
college-bred white-collar elite.
ON THE best-seller list, where
the prime value of the reading
offered is casual enjoyment, the
problem of verification in the ab-
sence of representative "truth"
where stereotype has failed is
solved quite radically by writers
like Durrell and Rand.
These two, and others, create
quasi-utopian worlds where their
word is truth, thereby begging the
creative question but sustaining
reader interest most successfully.
Their books are really escape lit-
erature, and their sophistication is
not philosophical or technical but
basically stylistic.
WHILE conservatives of the "in-
dividualist" school keep trying to
apply Miss Rand's social and eco-
nomic theories to real life, her
larger-than-life characters and
situations keep impressing one as
improbable. Kira Argounova, Dom-
inique Francon and her architect
lover, the irrepressible John Galt
and Dagny Taggart live a tense
drama which goes under the name
of life in our competitive society.
But while the nominal tensions
Miss Rand dramatizes are real
enough, the people and events
which characterize her books are
so highly charged with symbolism
of the most rudimentary kind that
they are far removed from any
reader-of-best-sellers' world.
The sophisticated image of so-
cial interaction Ayn Rand pre-
sents is stimulating to her readers
in its artificial aspect rather than
in the ties the author tries to
construct with everyday life.
SOME READERS may be able to
envision themselves moving
through just such a tangle of re-
lationships and social and person-
al motives as she creates; most,
probably, are not.
Her theories are not a veneer
designed to appeal to the snobs
and fascists in her reading audi-
ence; her, works do grow out of
them, and probably her personal
life.
They are taken seriously by
most of her readers, but as the-
ories which do not necessarily re-
flect true conditions. It doesn't
matter whether they do or not, be-,
cause the vitality of her appeal

doesn't depend on them but on
her style.
LAWRENCE DURRELL'S Alek-
andria, furbished with baroque
personalities, is an aesthetic es-
cape. He does not tell a story, he
creates a context heavy with stor-

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Patterns in chrome-art in advertising

don't get us to buy things by ap-
pealing to any such modern trait.
INSTEAD, they make use of the
old-fashioned "Be A Virile
King" pioneer pitch. The Marl-
boro man and the women in auto-
mobile -ads are easy illustrations.
Because people are fairly power-

less in their jobs, they are suckers
for almost any Virile line.
But this isn't a good thing,
because when a person is con-
stantly told to Seek Power via
XYZ Sublimators, he is hardly
given a chance to forget that he's
frustrated by his job. If anything.
his dissatisfaction is aggravated.

Poet and Novelist Lawrence Durrell

THE MICHIGAN DAILY MAGAZINE ESUNDAY, MAY 21, 1961

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