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March 18, 1972 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1972-03-18

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Saturday, March 18, ,197?-

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

Saturday, March 18, 1972 THE MICHIGAN DA)LY Page Five

I

RUSSIAN POETICS

American
Marco Vassi, THE STONED
APOCALYPSE, Trident Press,
$6.95.'
By TIM DONAHUE
Some of , my friends scorn e
Allen G i n s b e r g. His name
prompts snickers, yet I don't s
know why. When I read that first t
line of Ilowl-"I saw the best h
minds of my generation destroy- r
ed by madness, starving hysteri-
cal naked . . ."-I shiver with J
identification and perhaps with s
a little horror. Marco Vassi's h
nonfiction novel, so un-aptly b
named The Stoned Apocalypse,
often affected me the same way. p
Apocalypse, w h e n outlined, f
seems to be another vacant ex- r
ample of the new American
Odyssey that is finding frequent a
expression in contemporary fic-
tion. It goes something like this:
"Odysseus" is a young man, of-
ten living in the east. He gets o
dissatisfied with his job and/or n
marriage, if he is married. So
ht drops out of one or b
both of them. He may not leave g
town immediately, but eventual- b
ly he heads west.o
Once in California, he gets c
into drugs, or, if he was already
into drugs in the east, he gets t
into more drugs-and always o
lots of sex, and maybe some g
crime and a commune or two.
The story usually ends with
our hero returning east, disillu-b
sioned, often self-consciously in-a
sane or having just recovered u
from insanity.
This is basically the outline b
of Stoned Apocalypse but there
are some important differences.
One thing is that this story is
not fiction. The other thing is
that Vassi has not written a
work of snickering, voyeuristic
humor for stay-at-homes that 3
can only live such allegedly ex- t
citing lives vicariously. What he
has written is a telling self-por-
trait, whether he meant it to f
be or not.
I say "meant it to be or not," t
b e c a u s e the portrait that t
emerges is not a very comple-
mentary one. Vassi at one point
calls himself an emotional cha-
meleon; he is that and more too.
In fact, one is forced to con-
clude that the only reason Vassi ,
had a bout with what he called

Odyssey
insanity was this 'method act-
ing" of his. tHe was an attend-
ant in a mental hospital when
he went very briefly mad.)
He seems to be a total hypo-
crite, who plugs himself into
every scene that comes along.
Yet he believes in none of them,
so they don't last long. He be-
trays the realities he creates for
himself and the people he has
misled into trusting him.
Brecht said of a man he knew,
Joseph K., the following: "He
sank ever deeper through his
heedless way of living, especially
because without ever taking the
initiative, he shamelessly ex-
ploited every possibility that of-
fered." That is a little melodra-
matic, but applies well to Vassi.
The conclusion Vassi comes to
at the end of the book is, "There
is only what is, and that is
mute. I have stopped searching."
Vassi has found no answers; he
quits from fatigue and a sense of
nihilism .
Still Vassi as author in his
best chameleon style, spouts
great sweeping truths of life,
but with little conviction and
occasionally with little internal
consistency.
Finally, this reader at least is
tempted to extend this portrait
of one man to the portrait of a
generation, a generation that
was only very rarely Woodstock
-that exact metaphor for the
best of all possible dreams -
and far too often Altamont -
where beauty and love were all
hype and the reality was death,
both real and psychic.
Today's Writers *. .
Tim Donahue is an ardent
reader of fiction and a frequent
reviewer for the Daily.
Nickolas K a m i e n n y is a
teaching fellow at the Univer-
sity of Sussex, New Brunswick.
Milena Sperry is a Czech
emigra poetress living in Lon-
don. A former husband, associ-
ate vice president of a firm
that manufactures gyroscopes
on the outskirts of Blackpool,
accounts for her name.
John Allen teaches in the
Residential College and is a
former m o v i e critic for the
Christian Science Monitor.

A

review

... and a

timely response

READINGS IN RUSSIAN
POETICS, ed. by Ladislav
Matejka and Krystyna Pomor-
ska, MIT Press, $12.50.
By NIKOLAS KAMIENNY
The appearance of Readings
by Russian Poetics is a note-
worthy event. It is not common
knowledge that the period of in-
tellectual ferment just before
and after the Revolution pro-
duced not only some of Russia's
most intoxicating literature abut
also some of her most sobering
criticism.1
The English speaking public
has had limited access to this
criticism. Other than Boris Ei-
chenbaum's O. Henry and the
Theory of the Short Story and
an essay apiece by Eichenbaum,
Tomashevsky and Shklovsky,
the English speaking public has
been guided only by the second
hand of Mssrs. Wellek. Warren
and Erlich. It is no wonder that
the monolingual audience of
England and America, like a
plane with only one wing, has
found itself somewhat handi-
capped.
The importance of the Rus-
sian Formalists and their pro-
geny cannot be disputed. They
were among the first to concen-
trate on the very stuff of liter-
ary creation, the language -
' how it is employed and how it
differs from that of ordinary
discourse. They came to view
literature itself as the object of
study rather than as a fist and
index pointing to the braver
worlds of history, biography,
psychology, or sociology.
Boris Eichenbaum's "Theory
of the Formal Method," the key-
note essay of this collection,
provides a thorough survey and
documentation of the Formalist
Movement. He successfully de-
fends Formalism against the
charge that it is simply a scho-
lastic extension of the "art for
art's sake" doctrine. He also at-
temps to repudiate the notion
that Formalism is primarily
concerned with the mechanical
classification of literary devices.
and thus tended to restrict the
scope of literary scholarship.
One of the first to resist the
4 Film

TWO
OPINIONS
temptation to classify and con-
quer was Roman Jakobson,
among the true Leviathans of
literary and linguistic studies
He is represented here by four
articles. In the first, "On Rea-
lism in Art," Mr. Jakobson
stresses the absolute necessity
of considering both extrinsic
and intrinsic factors in dealing
with a work of verbal art. A
true understanding of Realism
or of any other school of liter-
ary thought and practice is con-
tingent upon one's understand-
ing of the relative positions of
sender and receiver, of linguis-
tic and artistic codes, and of the
synchronic and diachronic en-
vironment. This article is, per-
haps, the earliest manifestation
(it was published in 1921) of a
productive trend in current lit-
erary scholarship: the tendency
to view literature as function
rather than artifact, as a dy-
namic system rather than a clo-
sed set.
As we read, the balance of
the book shifts delicately from
late Formalist theory into the
more rarified air of Structural-
ism. This transition is clearly
felt in three essays: "Literary
Biography" by Boris Tomashev-
sky. "Literary Environment" by
Eichenbaum, and "On Literary
Evolution" by Jurni Tynjanov.
In all three essays one senses
an ideological shift from the
catalogue approach of the early
Formalists, a growing interest in
those extrinsic factors which
play a vital role in "Problems
in the Study of Literature and
Language" (by Jakobson and
Tynjanov), a short manifesto
which proclaims that the inves-
tigation of structural laws is the
prime objective of literary stu-
dies.
The succeeding essays all
seem to have been written under
the impact of the manifesto.
The contributions of Voloshi-
nov and Bachtin on the prob-
lems of dialogue, reported
speech and the typology of dis-
course reflect a growing inter-
est in the semiotics of verbal
art.
Osip Brik's "Rhythm and
Syntax" (in an unfortunately
abbreviated form) is probably
the most astute essay in the en-
tire collection. He examines the
complex interrelationships of
rhythm, syntax and semantics
in poetic language with a clar-
ity that could come only from
an amateuruscholar.
In her postscript, Krystyna
Pomorska explains that the ar-
ticles were selected to "show
the methodological heritage of
Formalism" and to provide ma-
terial which would be 'valu-
able for modern theoretical
thought."
The obvious prejudice in favor
of theoretical materials is, I
think, a healthy sign. It is cer-
tainly time that literary criti-
cism assumed the full rights of
an autonomous discipline: the
right to transcend the limita-
tions of any one literature or
work of literature; the right to
write its own history; the right,
in Northrop Frye's words, to be
"a structure of thought and
knowledge existing in its own
right."

I also have some pause with
Vladimir Propp's efforts to dis-
cover the principles of trans-
formation in the fairy tale. (You
chose to ignore this essay in
your review, I notice.) This par-
ticular genre has been pretty
much relegated to pre-scholas-
tics. It is no longer true oral
literature. Though it continues
to exist in written/ form, it is
set upon a glass shelf like a
stuffed partridge - a lifeless
corpus.
Wishing to demonstrate that
all such phenomena can be re-
duced to one tale, Propp has
painstakingly catalogued mo-
tifs and varients. Linnaeus, his
mentor, might similarly h a v e
proved through extensive taxo-
nomy that all plants were var-
iants of an ur-plant - the con-
stant being stem and stamina.
Or he might have postulated
some amorphous green energy of
the collective botanical uncon-
scious. The other night, as I
was reflecting upon the interre-
lationship of photosynthesis and
folk culture, it occurred to me
that all dragons are colored
green by the child whose mother
cultivates potted, but no less sin-
ister, plants in the parlor.
My point is that the fairy tale
is no longer a viable literary
genre and an examination of the
morphology belongs to the realm
of folklore rather than literary

criticism. Further, I forsee the
application of Propp's methods
leading only to a theoretical
cul-de-sac (c. f. Dolezel on
Hemingway).
Given that the majority of the
articles are of theoretical im-
port, you must admit they are
rather dull. I readily confess
that I am not emotionally equip-
ped to sit through more than
ten consecutive pages. By the
time I finished Pomorska's post-
script, I was ready to criticise
criticism as tenure, a gesture
of the magnanimous scholar to
enlighten the hoi polloi, an ef-
fort to add to the body of know-
ledge a sixth toe which may or
may not complement it. (I once
knew a cat who had six toes
- on his left faux pas, as I re-
call.)
But I certainly am not one
to say what criticism should be.
To attempt a description here
would not only violate y o u r
genre (Literaturkritik) but add
insult to incest. Allow me mere-
ly to suspect that those pieces
of criticism most likely to sur-
vive are the ones which seek in
some way to emulate the works
to which they are addressed
(Walter Pater's The Renais-
sance, for example, or Charles
Olson's Call Me Ishmael.)
I hope you will 'note that,
except for the title, the names
of the authors (Krystyna Pom-

b
0
0
k
S

Milena Sperr)
My dear Kamienny,
To criticize a book of critic-
ism is a form of incest, I sup-
pose, though somehow less ex-
citing. I prefer to play the role
of an observer, silent as L a
Gionconda, cunning as Lucrezia
Borgia, innocent as Alice. Once
innocence has vanished down
the rabbit hole, once cunning
has been shattered in the look-
ing glass, one might as well
break silence too.
The publication of this book
does fill a gap of sorts, as you
so rightfully observe.
I am in wholehearted agree-
ment with the concept of crit-
icism en et pour-soi. Indeed, I
should like nothing better than
to see criticism enter the realm
of the noumenal and become,
like Philosophy, an autonomous
discipline, free to construct ela-
borate systems: airborne Bavar-
ian c a s t I e s, Daedalian laby-
rinths, Moravian fishponds, en-
fin.
For the reader who is not
familiar with Formalistic and
Structuralist theory, for those
unfamiliar with the terminal
logic of these essays - y o u
might suggest in your review
that Matejka's postscript be
read before anything else. It
provides a remarkably concise,
unified historical perspective.
And I daresay the essay is
far more informative than the
real preface, which seems a bit
unbalanced. For example, t h e
description of Jakobson's essay
"On Realism in Art" injects a
trifle too much silicon into an
otherwise well formed (for its
time) piece. While Jakobson
does introduce the concept of
the roles of two participants in a
speech art (sender and receiv-
er), of synchrony and dischrony,
etc., etc., these binarities are not
all so clearly articulated as the
preface would suggest. In the
essay itself, "navyk" is translat-
ed as "code," which gives t h e
illusion that Jakobson was far
abreast of his own later achieve-
ments.
I take even greater exception
to Eichenbaum's article "O.
Henry and the Theory of the
Short Story." You say nothing
of the factual errors and ques-
tionable judgments ("Americans
cannot help wanting to prove a
resemblance in outlook between
0. Henry and Shakespeare - it
is their way of expressing 'na-
tional pride.' ") which charac-
terizes the entire article. I take
it that the editors tacitly ack-
nowledge these flaws in the pre-
face: an entire half page is
devoted to the description of
Jakobson's 9 page article, as op-
posed to one sentence for Eich-
enbaum's 40 page opus. Do you
sense some embarrassment here?

orska and Ladislav . Matejka,
Readings in Russian Poetics, a
series of passable amphibrachs)
everything written in Paragraph
One of this letter conforms to
traditional iambs, depending on
how you pronounce the Italian.
Milena Sperry,
Blackpool.

.Surrealism

a~in

Create a jailcell.
We've done it.
Not because we like prisons, but because people live in
them and we design for people.
We're a college called Parsons School of Design, part
of a University called The New School for Social Research.
Our students and faculty worked with the city to design
the cell blocks in the new Women's House of Detention,
here in New York.
In fact, we have an entire program devoted to Urban
Design, part of our Department of Environmental Design.
It's taught by professionals who are truly concerned with
social, cultural, and ecological design problems.
Our students have designed drug treatment centers,
mental hospitals, zoos, parole offices, slum renovation
projects and an awful lot of private homes.
We teach communication design, environmental design,
illustration, fashion design and the fine arts. If using your
vision to make ideas work interests you, Parsons is some-
thing for you to think about.

J. H. Matthews, SURREAL-
ISM AND FILM, University of
Michigan Press, $8.50.
By JOHN ALLEN
One of the difficulties in
studying film might also be a
blessing is disguise: the lack of
good secondary sources on cine-
ma. This lack of intelligent his-
tory, criticism, and theory
makes the business of docu-
mentation, discussion, and gen-
eralization difficult - but it
also sends the would-be scholar
back to primary sources: to the
films themselves.
Unfortunately, this is only a
"might-be" blessing, since the
difficulty of access to films is
at least as problematical as the
absence of decent writings on
the cinema. Rarity of prints of
non-commercial films and of
unsuccessful commercial films,
the expense of renting films,
and the virtual non-existence of
"free" film prints for study com-
bine to make the would - be
scholar even more chagrined
that there is so little in print
that might make the necessary
business of selection easier. Ah
me... !
But enough of self-pity. Now
and then a book appears which
helps the cause sufficiently to
warrant some enthusiasm. One
such book, in its modest way, is
J. H. Matthew's Surrealism and
Film - a title which is emi-
nently to the point.
The book is divided into four
chapters, the middle two of
which are rather specialized
and perhaps of interest only to
hard-core followers of surreal-
ism: "Surrealist Film Scripts"
and "Surrealist Film-Makers."
Which is to say, they are chap-
ters which presuppose an inter-
est in and acquaintance with
surrealism at least equal to an
interest in and acquaintance
with film. The first and last
chapters, however-"Surrealism
and the Commercial Cinema"
and "Luis Bunuel" - are of
value to any genuine film en-
thusiast though perhaps less so
to a mere moviegoer.
A case might even be made
that the mere moviegoer would
find the first chapter enlight-
ening. Many moviegoers might
find themselves in the camp of
the surrealists insofar as they
share an enthusiasm for mov-
ies as a form of "escape." Mat-
thews, in his Introduction,
quotes Andre Breton: "I think
what we valued most in (the
cinema), to the point of taking
no interest in anything else, was
its power to disorient."' Mat-

-Silvia Pinal and Fernando Rey in Bunuel's Viridiana

This coupon will get you a catalog and an application.
Transfer students with one year of liberal arts and one year of studio
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Parsons School of Design
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the cinema what love and life
deny us, that is mystery, mira-
cles."
Whether the "mere movie-
goer" would like the same films
as the surrealists for the same
reasons is open to question; but
Matthews at least explores the
fascination for the surrealists
of such filmmakers as Chaplin,
Mack Sennett, and even that
most respectable of skin flick
makers, Russ Meyer. Speaking
of his Mud Honey (1964), Mat-
thews observes, "The most pre-
cious quality a surrealist can
find in (the film) is its excess,
the manner in which inner tur-
moil spills over corrosively into
the everyday world . . . Because
the characters are pasteboard
imitations of real people, the
surrealist viewer's attention is
drawn obsessively to the ,ex-
pression of feelings which no
longer need the support of
character or rationally explic-
able situation to justify his giv-
ing them sympathy."
It is this exploration of the
film's ability to depart from
reality which makes the surrea-
list approach to cinema inter-
esting and Matthew's book val-
uable. The problem of realism
in film - the problem explored
by Siegfried Kracauer in his
monumental (and misguided)
Theory of Film - is not of con-
cern to the surrealist. He is
able to state, with as much
honesty as those who insist upon
the film as the most realistic of
arts, the cinema is "the least
realistic art." The declaration is
that of Jacques Brunius, whom
Matthews also quotes at length.
describing some of his film
scripts and unrealized projects
for the cinema.
What should be forthcoming
one day is a treatise on the
cinema which will reconcile
these polarities. this caneitv of

Of the chapter on Bunuel, I
would only add in closing that
Bunuel is a filmmaker I am too
little acquainted with to pass
judgment on Matthew's critique.
I can add, however, that read-
ing Matthews has increased my
desire to tackle Bunuel, and
that perhaps counts for some-
thing.

------,

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