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October 14, 1972 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1972-10-14

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Saturday, October 14, 1972
G., by J o h n Berger. Viking
Press, $7.95.
If John Berger now seems Eng-
land's most stimulating art cri-
tic, it is above all because he has
never stopped short at the "mere-
ly" aesthetic and the art object
per se, because he has never
played that game of specialist,
fragmented analysis which - in
literature as in the visual arts -
has kept the universities huh-
ming but has too often relegated
the vital manifestations of a cul-
ture and a whole way of life to
the museum catalogue or the
proseminar reading list.
By bringing to the work of Pi-
casso (The Success and Failure
of Picasso) a Marxist framework
attendant to art as 'the sum to-
tal of man's spiritual and phy-
sical nature, not as separate, iso-
lated activity, he was thus able
to produce the most discriminat-
ing and coherent critique to date
of a genius who has invariably
led his admirers down the path
of idolatry and barely concealed
hero-worship. In his brilliant es-
say The Moment of Cubism, he
was thus able to define, and pro-
ceed from, a critical methodol-
ogy we need to hold on to now
more than ever: an apprehension
of the arts in a situational con-
text which, restoring that totality
of human nature and experience,
goes on to recognize a richness
of possibilities-those alternatives
which, at their intersection, pro-
duced this instant of creativity,
this moment expressive of past
tradition, present mores and fu-
ture aspiration.
In short, to adopt a ready-
made phrase, it is the search for
a "structure of feeling" beyond
the artistic foreground that in-
forms his essays with their char-
acteristic vitality, just as it does
his novels-Corker's Freedom,
for example, where the book
turns on the related dialectic be-
tween a person's imaginative ex-
perience and the received cul-
ture of the time.
Such concerns are taken up
again in Berger's new book G.
(Viking Press, $7.95). Described
as "a novel on the theme of Don
Juan," it explores the tension
between a latterday incarnation
of the Giovanni "free spirit" and
the conflicting ideology of late
nineteenth-century capitalism.
Born four years after Gari-
baldi's death, the protagonist
"G." is defined against a back-
drop of social and political up-
heaval which embraces the Ital-
ian revolutionary fighting of 18-
98, British colonialism in Africa,
the first flight over the Alps and
the beginning of World War I.
G.'s illegitimacy will perely an-
ticipate a life-long alienation:
like the hero of the earlier Ber-
ger novel A Painter of Our Time,
he is in a condition of exile more
ideological than geographical.
From the age of fifteen, when he
is seduced by his aunt, it will be-
come clear that for G. the sex-
ual act is more than a metaphor
of personal and social freedom in
a constrictive environment; it is
a reach for the totality of life
which the prevailing bourgeois
spirit is seeking to destroy. By
its very nature it will place him
at odds with the milieu in which
he moves-in immedate terms, a
shooting incident and other social
skirmishes: in the long run, a

rejection of his role as Tolstoyan
superfluous man and (however.
unintentional) an association with
direct political activism. This
final alliance will allow his con-
temporaries to rid themselves of
a figure who, always an embar-
rassment to the social definitions
he eludes, can now clearly be
seen as a threat. G., caught up
at the announcement of war in
the agitation of a. Trieste work-
ing class, is classified an Aus-
trian agent helping to mobilize
the Slays: "Everything which
had been mysterious about him
became instantly clear. With this
certitude of interpretation came
an equally satisfying certitude of
decision . . . . To put an end to
If the labeling is too glib, the
novel as a whole is concerned
with the fallacy of false classi-
fication. The protagonist militat-
ing against the prevalent norms
is also the writer fighting the
strictures of his form. Describ-
ing one of G.'s many sexual en-
counters, B e r g e r continues:
"Sexual desire, however it is
provoked or produced circum-
stantially, and whatever its ob-
jective terms and duration may
be, is subjectively fixed to two
points in time, our beginning and
our end . . .. At the moment of
orgasm these two points in time,
our beginning and our end, may
seem to fuse into one. When this
happens everything that lies be-
tween them, that is to say our
whole life, becomes instantane-
ous." And elsewhere G. solilo-
quizes in the presence of an Ital-
ian capitalist, "Why should I
fear you? It is you who speak
of the future and believe in it.
You use the future to console


Pace F;ve

Pn4+ Fi vc





Grounds for satisfaction

culous and monstrous continu-
The stridently personal-and
particularly sexual - emphasis
which transcends the capitalist's
continuity is also for this writer
the richness of the unique mo-
ment which cannot be linearized
to novelistic ends without some
considerable loss. How, Berger
asks, can an intensity of the mo-
ment - a vertical apprehension,
if you like - be expressed in a
mode of seeing we might term
horizontal? "I have little sense
of unfolding time. The relations
which I perceive between things
-and these often include cas-
ual and historical relations-tend
to form in my mind a complex
synchronic pattern. I see fields
where others see chapters. And
so I am forced to use another
method to try to place and de-
fine events. A method which
searches for co-ordinates exten-
sively in space, rather than con-
sequentially in time . . . . One of
the ways in which I establish co-
ordinates extensively is by liken-
ing aspect with aspect, by way
of metaphor. I do not wish to
become a prisoner of the nomi-
nal, believing that things are
what I name them."
This false consciousness -_
which, of course, in the book's
content reduces G to that revolu-
tionary his enemies can feel
justified in exterminating-must
also be excised from the book's
form if, like Berger's character
Beatrice, we are to feel any-
thing "between the interstices
of formal social convention."
For Berger, as it should for us,
the social inevitably implicates
the literary; elsewhere he as-
serts, "I cannot continue this ac-
count of the eleven-year-old boy
in Milan on 6 May 1898. From
this point on everything I write
will either converge upon a fin-
al full stop or else disperse so
widely that it will become in-
coherent . . . The writer's de-
sire to finish is fatal to the
truth. The End unifies. Unity
must be established in another
If, in all this, we hear an echo,
the immediate correlation is of
course with John Fowles's The
French Lieutenant's Woman, but
the problem of articulating what
runs counter to a language of
social sharing has confronted
English novelists at least as far
back as Emily Bronte. The more
efficient a novelist's exercise
of his form, so much the more,
arguably, is he concealing what
has always been an arbitrary
code. As Berger writes: "The
third person and the narrative
form are clauses in a contract
agreed between writer and read-
er, on the basis that the two of
them can understand the third
person more fully than he can
understand himself. "The diffi-
culty begs an approach beyond
that of Fowles's novel, which, to
this reader at least, recognized
the issue without finally con-
fronting what such recognition
must predicate: a truly radical
reassessment of the bases from
which a conscious twentieth-cen-
tury prose writer must proceed.
The French Lieutenant's Woman,
with its juxtaposition of Victor-
ian romance and self-conscious
rumination on the inherent de-
ceptions of the novelist's art, its
alternative endings and its twen-
tieth - century commentary on
nineteenth - century manners,
must always seem more ampli-
fied critique than organic crea-
tion, more signpost than destina-
tion. There is, to be sure, a
sense in which this criticism can
be leveled at G. also. Where, I
think, it escapes such criticism
is where we return to Berger's
essential grasp of totality.
"One minute in the life of the
world is going by. Paint it as it
is." This minute, which can em-

brace all conceivable directions,
may be explored by the "central
intelligence" of writer and/or
protagonist, but it must finally
be relinquished to the temporal
span from which it has been
snatched. In Berger's novel, the
Today's Writers...
Nigel Gearing, the first half
of our all-Anglo team today
in what might become the
Midwest's leading transatlan-
tic review, studies mathema-
David Kozubei is one of
those rarest of all known crea-
tures, a literate bookseller,
and can be found these days
at Border's New Improved

apprehension of this waters a
way of seeing which combines
both historical sense and, finally,
a modesty in the face of the
mysterious; proceeds to the out-
er limits of analysis and turns
back in deference to that whole
'complex still remains to be ex-
plored. What, for instance, is the
precise significance for the child
G. - clearly primary -- in the
killing of the dray horses? What
is the essence of that moment
by the fountain which clearly
determines so much of the pro-
tagonist's later life? ("The reve-
lation is as wordless as the wa-
ter she threw was colourless.")
What is it that for Beatrice
makes the earth seem to tip?
("She is aware there. is another
way of seeing her and all that
surrounds her, which can only
be defined as the way she can
n e v e r see.") Why should a
Marxist art critic writing a per-
iod novel see as seminal to what
he is creating a friend's death, a
recent dream, the prank played
on him by the son of an old ac-
quaintance? We must rest hap-
py in the confidence that the his-
torical sense at least registers
such resonances, even if it can-
not explain them. We must rest
happy in our notion of a dialectic

to which we ourselves are a
contributing factor: "A 'mo-
ment's introspection," argues
Berger, "shows that a large part
of our own experience cannot be
. adequately formulated: it awaits
further understanding of the to-
tal human situation. In certain
respects we are likely to be bet-
ter understood by those who fol-
low us than by ourselves . . . .
They will change our unformu-
lated experience beyond our
recognition. As we have chang-
ed Beatrice's." The novel thus
emerges as a genuine expression
of that cultural flux which, un-
derlying us, also underlies our
art-forms -- among these latter
the very novel we are consider-
G. is as difficult as it is re-
warding. There have for sure
been recent novels more pol-
ished than this, also claiming to
tackle problems of personal as-
similation and cultural under-
standing, but one wonders if
tnir polish does not betray a
certain lack of seriousness in the
task on which they are supposed-
ly intent. If, as we are being
told, the novel is on its death
bed, it will not be for any lack
of conviction or sincerity in the
efforts of <John Berger.


by Samuel Beckett. Grove Press,
By David Kozubei
The title of this review is not
about directions on how to make
coffee, but about Samuel Beck-
ett's More Pricks than Kicks, a
book of linked stories of various
sizes first published in 1934, much
earlier than the famous Waiting
for Godot or anything yet used
in rare Beckett courses, and at
last (1972) in paperback from
Grove Press at $1.95 or the price
of two hamburgers.
Like the hamburgers, Beckett
has been accused of tasteless-
ness, dressing his with the thou-
sand islands of blasphemy, over-
long cries of agony, and humor
that does not spare the crippled;
and to top it all, some critics see
an emptiness at the core of his
work, a sort of ball with hot air
in it, or no balls at all, so that
the resemblance is after all more
to a football game than to ham-
burgers, thus providing fuel for
the instinctive prejudice that to
be bothered with literature is to
be in some way against the
American way of life.
So on coming to this book, to
which an added memory at-
ta:hcd itself b e f o r e I even


opened it-a memory of empty-
ishness and flat-osity, both of the
bit of. Beckett I had last read,
some time ago, and of its affect
on me-I was pleasantly sur-
prised to very soon feel that slow,
drawn, welling-up of feeling
which meant I'd struck it rich-
but that wasn't till I had nego-
tiated the first page.
In the first sentence of the first
story, "Dante and the Lobster,"
Belacque, a neurotic student and
the common or uncommon fac-
tor in all these stories, is "stuck
in the first of the cantii" of the
moon. And so was I. What had
this piece of science fiction to do
with what came after? Nothing
that I could see. And what were
cantii? And believing that Beck-
ett had been James Joyce's sec-
retary and having read a story
of Joyce's that contained a mai-
den aunt named Dante which for
some reason I decided was going
to be the name of a woman in
Beckett's story, I was deprived
of the handle that would have en-
abled me to understand what was
going on. But staggering on, and
on, to the bottom of that page,
it became obvious (to me) that
the Dante in question was the
mediaeval Italian poet and that
"cantii" had to be a plural form
of "canto" and referred to that
section of his "Divine Comedy"
in which the moonand its ap-
purtenances get dealt with. So:
Belacque, too, was reading.
There are a lot more refer-
ences to Dante, and others; un-
usual words such as "reseda"
(the pale green of a mignonette)
or "motte" ("mistress," I don't,
know if it's Irish slang or Gae-
lic); long sentences (but no
trouble to anyone who can read
this); an exactness of descrip-
tion that, paradoxically, makes it
hard to recognize the experi-
ence described (because we give-
the details a differing import-
ance in our own experience); a
locale, Dublin and environs,
which enables Beckett to use a
shorthand whose implications are
not immediately obvious to an
American, just as the name Kro-
gers would not denote a chain of
supermarkets in the Midwest to
a Dubliner, and yet the intellec-
tual and antiintellectual writers
l i k e Faulkner, Hemingway,
James T. Farrell and Mickey
Spillane and Steinbeck, the ones
with few references, only differ
in the suppression of their book-
learning, where they had some;
in the generalization of their ex-
periences and a locale and vo-
cabulary that is different, but as
esoteric to a stranger to them as
comments about tv shows are to
someone who has no tv.
An astrological note: if you
were born under Libra, Sagitar-
ius, Aquarius; Leo, Virgo, Scor-
pio; Capricorn, Cancer, Aries;
Taurus, Gemini, or Pisces; you

Old new
fromt the hills
D9RIS ULMANN, with a Rememberance
by John Jacob Niles and a Preface by
Jonathan Williams. The Jargon Society,
The carnera is a wonderful instrument, and
its fortunate development in the middle of the
last century has given us an image of the last
century and a quarter for which we have
nothing comparable for any other period of
man. I know of no other way in which the
amazing qualities of the men and women pic-
tured in this book could have ever been cap-
tured by any other medium.
Doris Ulmann was born in New York in 1884
and died there at the age of fifty in 1934. She
was, above all, a portrait photographer, in the
,sense that she used people as the subject of
most of her work. She was not widely publish-
td during her lifetime, or after it either, and
:he photographs that appear in this book re-
mained unprinted until their publication here.
The photographs were taken in the early
1930s, many of them reflecting Ms. Ulmann's
interest in rural handicraft: The accompanying
text is an interesting introduction to a little-
known artist, but unfortunately there is little
information concerning the pictures them-
selves. The quality of the reproductions is ex-
cellent; and at $10 The Appalachian Photo-
graphs of Doris Ulmann is one of the most
reasonable collections, and excellent ones, you
could hope to find. - E.S.

will find that lack of energy (to
find and turn the pages of a good
dictionary) and lack of facilities
(unavailability of the word or ref-
erence in the available sources)
may make you want to cut your
pleasure down, so that you will
weariedly, or angrily, or almost
indifferently, give up, and resign
the book to the extensive pile of
the meaningless which we leave
in our tracks, marked "another
disappointment," with "like ev-
erything else" tacked on. Fight
But why, after reading a few
paragraphs, is one left with an
impression of inhumanity? The
perfectionism of the writing, se-
lection of detail, and the humor,
direct attention to themselves as
well as what the people in the
stories go through, giving the
impression that Beckett is not
concerned with people to the ex-
clusion of everything else. But
also, they are not directed to the
reader, who can feel unfairly ne-
glected. The reader wants expla-
nations, directions, easy-to-climb
steps; the reader is not athletic;
the reader has been lying prone,
looking only at what's in front-
and stiff-necked, won't do a neck-
twist; and stiff-limbed, won't
moveon-so it's all got tobe
brought to him (and her) and
that means in pieces for conven-
ience, and that shatters any pos-
sibility of seeing anything but
ruins. Such ruins are collections
of nonart, often called current
best sellers.
Good art often seems inhuman,
bad art human, and neither
is what they seem. Bad art al-
ways claims to deal with basic
human things, and always does-
n't. But its power comes from its
singlemindedness, its fanaticism,
its exclusiveness, which doesn't
allow coexistence with any hu-
mor, inividuating selection, ac-
curacy. But Beckett's beings are
created by and inseparable from
The end of each story is sat-
isfying, like a golf ball finding
its hole, but not trite; which only
a major talent achieves, imply-
ing right relationships between
all the parts. And Belacque aug-
ments his being with each story,
gains a lamination, till he is as
strong as a several-layered piece
of plywood in one's memory of
the book.
The humor which greased the
reading (explanation: made it
more readable) does not remain
with me, but the remarkable
post-reading existence of Belac-
que is like the grid of a subway
with the various, varied, and in-
teresting women he comes upon
like the stops en route. He exists
for me now, like people one no
longer sees but often thinks of.
Now I want to read Beckett.
But one has to pick the right
time, as with food.
enjoyed, yet providing no way
out for their resulting heighten-
ed anxiety; the seldom encoun-
tered but much appreciated hu-
manity at all levels: in other
words, a usually well-meaning
rigid, obstinate, unaware-even-of-
its-root-problems, inhumane ty-
ranny is shown lording it over
those least equipped to deal with
it and needing most from it.
The pamphlet touches on sev-
eral fundamentals: the meaning
of living, the use of pleasure and
freedom, the inability of the me-
thods in widespread use to deep-
heal the illnesses they are sup-
posed to cure, but instead re-
pressing the results of repres-
sion (read Wilhelm Reich) at the
cost of what is still alive in the

long-suffering patient.
De Quincey, the opium-eater,
once said there are only two
types of writing-one of no fur-
ther value once you had taken in
the facts (or lies) in it, and one
of further value (literature): the
dramatic conversations between
Sojostrom and her shrinks are
superior distillations of facts that
may also be literature. They are
meatier (or more vegetarian)
than the rest.
-D. K.

No gr
for sans~

Sojostrom, privately printed, $1.
The Shrinks and I is a 45-page,
well-printed, badly proof-read,
self-published pamphlet written
by Leda Sojostrom (a pseudo-
nym?), with a charming and
meaningful cover drawing (by
whom?), presently available at
Centicore. The names in it are
probably all pseudonyms. Con-
stantinus, the scene of most of
the story, stands for a not-too-
unfamiliar Ann Arbor area town
guarded at one end by an Amer-
ican giant's phallus, and Morgue
University Hospital has a well-
deserved national reputation un-
der another name.
These memoirs, special pleas,
of a young girl's and some fel-
low inmates' experiences in local
institutions, and the attitudes of
those Ann Arbor area shrinks she
came upon and overcame, are
written up simply and frankly:
an institution doctor telling her
to get her anger out, but not
showing her how to become
aware of it and grasp it and let
it go (anyway, if you did, you
were dosed-dozed?-with tran-
quilizers); the stopping of peo-
ple doing harmless things they

1 I


Forestfres burn,
more than trees.
o mCo
G, ra

Have some lime on


Your hands?




_' ndIIr~

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