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October 28, 1973 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily, 1973-10-28

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Page Four

I HE MICHIGAN DAILY ijndav Onctober. 13

;wrnrn"n-nmmmm..PRESENT THIS COUPON..w-amm-- ----.
I1
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ONLY X1.5OPLUSTAX
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ANN ARBOR YPSILANTIMD
WASHTENAW AVE. WASHTENAW AVE.
112 mile west of Arborland Across from K-Mart near Golfside u
----- ------OFFER EXPIRES NOVEMBER 30, 1973-.""...u-....
The Rackham Student
Government is now
soliciting applications
for the graduate student
positions on graduatet
school & SGC committees
THESE COMMITTEES INCLUDE:
Program Evaluation
(1 GRAD STUDENT)
Dissertation & Independent
Research
(1 GRAD CANDIDATE STATUS)
Distinguished Service Awards
(1 GRAD STUDENT)
Training in Teaching
(1 GRAD, TA OR FORMER TA)
SGC Election Rules
(1 GRAD STUDENT)
SGC Permanent Interviewer
Board
(1 GRAD STUDENT)

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BOOKS

VIDAL'S BURR

Power-lust destroys principal:
Were politicians ever moral?

I Pea Coats

. $25.00

BURR: A NOVEL by Gore Vi-
dal. Random House, New York;
430 pages, $8.95.
By ADAM SIMMS
AARON BURR is a fascinating
subject for a political novel
about the early American repub-
lic. His reputation is second only
to that of Benedict Arnold as an
archetypal traitor in American
history, and yet most of us know
little about him. He looms in the
background of our history texts
like a Miltonic Lucifer-assassin
of Hamilton, would-be usurper of
Jefferson's presidency, pretender
to a throne over the western Unit-
ed States and Mexico - a man
driven by a dark lust for power
who, if he could not be first in his
own country, would reign over an
empire of his own creation.
And Gore Vidal is one of our
most consistently interesting and
imaginative contemporary writ-
ers, whose plays and novels are a
chronicle of America's changing
social (The Pillar and the City,
Myra Breckenridge) and political
(The Best Man, Reflections on a
Sinking Ship) climate since the
Second World War.
Given this conjuction of writer
and subject one might reasonably
expect that Vidal's Burr would
be a noteworthy commentary on
contemporary American mores.
It, is - frighteningly so.
BURR portrays the last three
years of that man's life,
1833-1836, when he had achieved
the status of an embarrassing
political relic: a man without

personal power, yet with a name
and reputation that were both
feared and used by men schem-
ing to defeat Martin Van Buren's
bid for'the presidency. Charles
Schuyler, a neophyte literary
journalist trying to establish his
own reputation by writing occa-
sional pieces for the politically
powerful Democratic New York
Evening Post, is sent out to gain
Burr's confidence and to help the
old man write his memoirs. His
real mission, however, is to ferret
out damaging proof for the ru-
mor that Burr is Van Buren's
true father. Should the link be
made, the editors could tie the
"Sly Fox" to the traitor Burr,
and thus ruin Van Buren's ca-
reer. The plot, therefore, is ad-
mirably constructed to enable Vi-
dal to recreate the inner political
------ - - -----

history of the American Repub-
lic's first fifty years - from the
Revolution to the Age of Jackson
-using the devices of Burr's
(fictional) memoirs and Schuy-
ler's involvement in the nether-
world of presidential politics.
The result is revisionist history
in ektreme. Burr is but an ambi-
tious, though reasonable, man
wronged; the Founding Fathers
become canting schemers jockey-
ing for power. Washington is a
broad-hipped, impotent dullard
inept on the battlefield but a
master of flattery with his su-
periors, the men of the Continen-
tal Congress. Jefferson, more a
sophist than philosopher, is a.
hypocrite who defends civil liber-
ties when out of power and disre-
gards them when, as President,
he attempts to destroy his rival,

VIDAL

Burr. Alexander Hamilton, oddly,
is a friendly though powerful op-
ponent whose fatal error is not
the frustration of Burr's ambi-
tions, but rather his libel upon
Burr's daughter.
Burr will probably be a little
slow for those who enjoy his-
torical novels, particularly those

of the Hornblowers type. Vidal
is less interested in historical
"color" than he is in the moral
landscape of American history
and politics, past and present.
Judging from this work, that
landscape is bleak, indeed. Shin-
ing rhetoric all too quickly gives
way to tarnished motives, and it
is lust for power, not principle,
that motivates and sustains po-
litical man.
GIVEN Gore Vidal's career as
a political novelist to date,
this is a particularly damning
judgement. What gave meaning
to the politically defeated hero of
The Best Man, Vidal's major po-
litical statement of the Fifties-
decency in public life and per-
sonal conduct - is totally absent
in Burr, the author's first novel
of the Seventies.tOne cannot help
feeling that the shade of Richard
Nixon has finally, begun to cast
its pall over American letters.
Adam Sims is a graduate student
in history who wonders at times if
he is distantly related to Martin
Van Buren and thus, perhaps, to
Aaron Burr.

aI

4

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NEW & NOVEL
Grass: History as a grand snail pace

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FROM THE DIARY OF A
SNAIL By Gunter Grass, trans-
lated by Ralph Manheim. Har-
court, Brace and Jovanovich,
Inc. New York. 310 pages, $7.95.
By JOCK HENDERSON
From the Diary of a Snail is
another fine one from Gunter
Grass which demonstrates the
profound conception, bold execu-
tion, and original sensibility
Grass readers have learned to
expect. A Grass book always
manages to escape, transcend,

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with Grass, I recommend his
first and best-known: The Tin
Drum.)
Gunter Grass is a connoisseur
of nightmare, an aesthetic mas-
ter of the grotesque crunches
and cuts of violence. Born in
Germany in 1927, his hair shirt
scratches and sweats with mur-
dered Jews, too many for the
imagination. Grass curses, Grass
shrieks and laments the dead. He
also acts. Which brings us to
the Snailbook: Grass's philoso-
phy of action and political in-
volvement is a philosophy of his-
tory. History is a grand snail
pace, the human scene is a snail-
scape.
B UT LET'S switch from the
broad sweep of rapid fire
and snipe at a few large targets
with single shots: the major
components of thebook.
THEME: Individual experience,
political involvement, and histori-
cal change rolled up into a phi-
losopy of the snail. STORYTEL-
LER, or SITUATED VOICE:
Grass speaks throughout, at-
tempting to explain to his wife
and children why he was away
from home so much in 1969, when
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FOR $1.
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he was campaigning for the S.
P. D. (Social Democratic Party)
and Willy Brandt. Be careful
now, it is not a book for children.
In fact, a good deal of melan-
choly develops around Grass's
efforts to hold his children's at-
tention ("Later, Daddy. It's
time for Bonanza .. .'' etc.), and
also around the stillborn future
which history promises. Heh,
heh. STYLE and GENRE: Free
variation: novel, memoir, auto-
biography, poetry, history, re-
portage, and more; fact and fan-
tasy, reality and imagination, are
blended, not confused, with each
other. Note well: this variety
does not destroy the overall inte-
gration of the book. THE TWO
MAIN TEMPORAL THREADS
OF THE STORY:eThe first con-
cerns an invented character,
Iers an Ott (Doubt per-
sonified), of Danzig during the
'30's. Though not a Jew, others
believe that he is because he lives
and works in the Jewish com-
munity. While treating Doubt's
life, Grass intersperses real
events and data about the Dan-
zig Jews. The secondthread tells
of Grass on the campaign trail in
1969, and of a real character
named Augst, who committed sui-
cide at a public rally where
Grass was waiting to speak.
The earlier thread shows how
terror -and violence rent non-
Jew and Jew asunder prior to
incarceration, while the contem-
porary thread limns shadows and
ghosts which leave no doubt: to-
day's Germany is indeed the
country of yesterday's pogrom.
THE PARTICULARS of the
story blend and mesh with
a framework of general images
and aphorisms. A quick look at
4c COPIES ?
YES!
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Denise, Peter and Bob

GRASS

the doubled characters, fictional
Doubt (Ott) and real Augst, will
allow us to touch upon the gener-
al imagery. Just before the Nazi
strong arm is about to grab him,
Doubt escapes Danzig and takes
cover in a farmhouse basement
for the duration of the war.
After the war, he becomes a men-
tal patient.
Augst was an SS officer. After
the war, he became a peace de-
monstrator, an activist in the
ban-the-bomb movement. Augst
is (was) a compulsive group par-
ticipant, his personality craved
the spirit of group unity more
than any other. In the long run,
however, the harebrained logic
and petty motives of groups prov-
ed too superficial and meaning-
less to fulfill him during peace-
time. His last words were, "Now
I've got a provocation for you;
I salute my comrades of the SS."
He then sat down and poisoned
himself.
The contrast between these
characters illustrates the possi-
ble extremes of individual/group
relations. Doubt withdraws in
apathy, Augst plunges in with en-
thusiasm. Analogous to, and in
conjunction with these two ex-
tremes, Grass creates an inten-
sive if not exhaustive vision of
Melancholv and Utopia in poli-
tics and history.
MELANCHOLY might be a con-
tenuporary woman on the way
to the abortionist. Nausea squeez-
es vile flavors up from the gas-
tric pit: dread breathes raggedly
through the chest: vertigo flash-
es white and yellow before the
eyes. At this melancholy junc-
ture, the heart may be too numb
to feel any rupture in the will to
live. Though it may be the least
dismal of alternatives, from what
nastiness, from what abyss do
such ghastly limits arise?
Utopia might be a Jesus-freak
"doing" leaflets against abortion
on the street. Utopia gushes good
Continued on Page 5)

You are cordially invited to attend the open-
ing of an EXHIBIT OF ISRAELI ART to be
held at the B'nai Brith Hillel Foundation,
1429 Hill on Tues., Oct. 30 at 7:00 p.m.
.Collections of Lithographs and Silk Screens by
fifteen Israeli artists will be on display from-
7-9 p.m. Oct. 30, 31, Nov. 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.j
Special programming, including Israeli food and
movies will accompany the exhibit..
All profit from the sale of these works will be
donated to the Israel Emergency Fund.

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