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July 02, 1971 - Image 5

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Michigan Daily, 1971-07-02

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Friday, July 2, 1971 THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

Fridy, Jly 2 197 THEMICHGAN AILYPageFiv

booksbooks books
Rarer than Genius

Malcolm de Chazal, PLAS-
TIC SENSE, edited and trans-
lated by Irving J. Weiss with
foreword by W. H. Auden,
Herder and Herder, $5.95.
By R. C. GREGORY
* Plastic Sense is a book of
aphorisms by Malcolm de Cha-
zal, a French writer about whom
blessedly little is known. A cer-
tain reticence in a writer is re-
freshing when it calls attention
to literature's central concern-
-words and their ways. To find
, a book which opens, "The feel
of the neck of branches, of the
mouth of the flower, of the belly
of water, of the haunches of
fruit. O leaves, y o ur wet
tongues," is remarkable when
"Much is published, but little
printed."
Aphorists are rare in any age,
rather than genius, for an
aphorist must reveal himself as
deeply observant and carefully
intelligent among men, living
and dead, while genius has only
to be itself. M. de Chazal's
aphorisms, reminding now of
SBasho, then of Thoreau, are not
the abstract little ironies of a
mannered courtier, but the aus-
tere discrenments of sensuous
experience:
Light is never dirty except in
the human glance.
The mountain ridges are the
wind's dorsal spine.
Wind overcomes water; wa-
ter, granite. The grindstone

has its way with steel. In the
end feeling shapes thought.
M. de Chazal writes as if he
were we, if only we could write
so well. He has made these
aphorisms; they are his facts.
Since, as W. H. Auden says, the
aphorist asserts and does not
argue or explain, the reader has
merely to test an aphorism
against his own experience, es-
pecially experience acquired un-
awares and carried about un-
named, and accept or reject it.
For the aphorism is a hard, a
classic form. Dependent upon
the common consent of his read-
ers, the aphorist must submerge
his superiority in his accuracy:
"Good taste is a matter of
choice; style, a reflex action."
To be accepted, which means to
succeed, the aphorism must
work as great haiku work, -
while the words may end, the
sound goes on.
M. de Chazal's aphorisms
have that kind of penetration
and that kind of resonance,
evocative and cognitive, with
never too much said:
Animals are n e v e r profes-
sionally pedantic or boring,
because they are b o r n into
their vocations. You can tell
the true professional by his
willingness to talk about any-
thing under the sun.
Meditation is simply a mat-
ter of the ear's refusing to
listen and the skin's absorbing
silence.

Night softens the mind's ir-
ritations and - inflames the
body's.
Tears' are an aphrodisiac
only at twenty.
And never too little said. The
life of an aphorism also depends
on its words working everytime
they are encountered. If the
sound goes on after the words
have stopped, it means the
reader can return to the start-
ing point, the words, and find
them as fresh and evocative a
month, a year, or half-a-life-
time later. There is nothing
that can be said about an
aphorism which works; you can
only say the aphorism itself.
M. de Chazal's book provides
a good many good things to
say over and over to oneself.
Because it is a finished book, in
its parts and altogether, it is
unlikely to attract _ encrusting
criticism. After all, one fine
test of a book's merit is its
ability to obviate the doubtful
benison of academic barnacles.
Plastic Sense is a worthwhile
book, for a reason M. de Cha-
zal lays down:
Forms are means, ideas are
ends. But most books are maze
dances of gorgeous words with
no place to go, twisting and
turning human thought as if
human thought were not diz-
zied enough already. The only
worthwhile books are those
that simplify life.

-"The Great war," 1964
Illustrations ..
Art for today's Books Page was selected from MAGRITTE by
Suzi Gablik (New York Graphic Society, $13.50).
Magritte, the Belgian Surrealist, conveyed with a marvellous-
ly stark simplicity a sense of the incongruties of our usually or-
dinary lives. In one familiar painting, a champagne glass sits
coldly isolated on a verdant landscape while, in another, entitled
simply "The Lovers," two lovers pose with their faces draped
like chairs in an abandoned room.
"If the spectator finds that my paintings are a kind of defiance
of common sense," Magritte once remarked, "he realizes some-
thing obvious. I want nevertheless to add that for me the world
is a defiance of common sense." Miss Gablik warns us that
Magritte's mysteries are deliberately insolvable. To equate his
painting with symbolism seems somehow false. Yet, there can
be no mistaking, Magritte's illusions serve as skillful underpin-
nings for our daily realities.
Miss Gablik, who studied with Magritte in Paris while gather-
ing information for this volume, sees the artist's life as an im-
mense effort to "sabotage our habits, to put the real world on
trial." And, because Miss Gablik so assiduously avoids tamper-
ing with the Magritte's vision, the artist's private paradoxes be-
come indelibly our own.

Stories for Tuesdays

Bill S. Ballinger, TRIPTYCII,
Sherbourne Press, $7.50.
By LAURENCE COVEN
The search for a hauntingly
beautiful girl from an old and
faded photography, a man with
amnesia who slowly discovers
the horrible truth about him-
self, and a magician whose last
and greatest illusion is murder!
It all sounds like an advertise-
ment for next week's triple fea-
ture at the Bijoux, but actually,
these are the plots of Triptych,
a collection of "three classic
novels of mystery and suspense"
(according to the dust wrapper)
by Bill S. Ballinger.
Despite some rather embar-
rassingly trite, sensationalistic
devices, Ballinger's stories can
provide a few hours of enter-
tainment on rainy Tuesday
evenings when "Mod Squad" is
showing reruns or "Ironsides"
is pre-empted by a Presidential
news conference. Ballinger has
a glib, brisk style that is per-
fectly suited for maintaining
'L continuous action, creating sus-
pense, and camouflaging his too
frequent examples of careless
writing.
All three novels, Portrait in
Smoke, The Longest Second, and
The Tooth and the Nail employ
the device of two parallel stories
told in alternating chapters with
a denounement that ties them
together. The intention is to
heighten suspense and provide
the structural mechanism for a
surprise or "shock" ending.
In Portrait, the earliest of the
novels, this technique is justi-
fled. One set of chapters follows
the efforts of Danny April, a
tough, resourceful Chicago boy,
to find the girl he has seen only
in a seven-year-old newspaper
photograph. As D a n n y slowly
and painstakingly uncovers the
trail of Krassy Almauniski's

life, he interprets the facts to
conform to his idealized image
of her. The parallel plot reveals
Krassy as a selfish and ruthless-
ly determined opportunist who
views men only as sex maniacs
who will do anything, or more
particularly pay anything, for
her charms. Born in a Chicago
ghetto, Krassy's dominant mo-
tivation is to escape forever the
terrors of poverty. Their in-
evitable meeting ends in a
strangely ironic twist which is
convincing only because of Bal-
linger's careful control of char-
acterization. Chicago, with its
glossy front and squalid back
yard provides a vivid back-
ground which Ballinger uses to
its full potential. Indeed, the
city seems more alive at times
than many of the secondary
characters.
Vic Pacific, the hero of The
Longest Second, finds himself,
in the first chapter, in the un-
comfortable position of lying in
a hospital bed with his throat
cut. His near murder has cost
him the loss of his voice,
memory, and somehow, almost
all of his emotions. Through rig-
orous research and flashes of
memory, he spends the rest of
the novel piecing together his
past life which happens to have
included three identities, four
million dollars, a modern slave
trade, several murders, and
Rommel, the Nazi general. Not
only that, but an Arab named
Today's writers ..
R.C. Gregory, who is an avid
reader of virtually everything,
works at Centicore Bookshop
where he is an invaluable as-
sistant to perplexed browsers.
Laurence Coven, a doctoral
student in English literature, is
an actor with the University
Players and a fleet-footed taxi-
cab driver.

Amar is trying to finish the job
of silencing him, and even his
sleep is disturbed by a recurring
dream that awakens him in ter-
ror. Ballinger also repeats the
alternating narrative technique
with short, bland chapters about
a police investigation of what
is apparently Pacific's own mur-
der. The result tends to be more
confusing than interesting.
Seedy h o t e l rooms, dirty
street scenes of New York, and
a general atmosphere of cal-
lousness pervade the entire
novel to an extent that bores
rather than shocks the reader.
Unlike Portrait, believability is
not attained as bloodless char-
acters stumble through an in-
credibly bizarre, overly con-
trived plot.
Easily, The Tooth and the
Nail is the finest of the three
novels. The slow unfolding of a
magician's ingenous revenge for
the murder of his wife alter-
nate with the more mundane
but equally fascinating events
of a murder trial in which the
identies of both the defendant
and the victim are hidden from
the reader. Forsaking his earlier,
half-hearted attempts at social
comment, Ballinger concentrates
on suspenseful plotting and
vivid characterization. He suc-
ceeds in creating the proverbial
"couldn't put it down until the
end" thriller with a shocking,
but cogent finale. Tooth is pure
escapist literature for which no
apologies need be made. If imag-
ination be the sauce of life,
read on.
The passing of time has af-
fected all the novels to some
extent. Written in the fifties,
Ballinger's prose reflects the
trend of hard-core realism that
prevailed in the "less serious"
literary genres during the post-
war years. Almost every scene,
especially in the two earlier
works, is described in great de-

tail while secondary characters
are created with more attention
given to their physical appear-
ance than anything else. Dia-
logue tends to be clipped and
used only to carry along the
plot. Outmoded ideas that now
seem ludicrous occasionally ap-
pear, sometimes rather embar-
rassingly as when Pacific, the
amnesia victim of The Longest
Second relates,
There had been developing
within me a pressure, a build-
ing of desire, a nameless crav-
ing for something which I
must have known at one time
and was anxious to acquire
again. It was not liquor... I
had no desire for women
either . . . But, in searching
my mind, and discarding the
needs of liquor and women, I
remembered hashish, I real-
ized that I wanted to smoke
it, and that a forgotten
memory of my past had been

urging me nearly beyond en-
durance.
Today's market of mystery-
suspense and detective literature
is very broad. With authors
such as Dashiell Hammett, Aga-
tha Christie, and Ross Macdon-
ald easily available in paper
editions, there is little reason to
shoot almost eight dollars on
Triptych. Tooth would be a
worthwhile investment at a re-
duced cost, but Ballinger's fic-
tion is not generally of the first
order. The current trend of
publishing reprints is a valuable
practice and should be con-
tinued, but it is unfortunate that
publishers feel it necessary to
put out fat, expensive, mediocre
volumes when more discriminat-
ing choices and cheaper, shorter
editions would be much more
suitable. Why should one be
forced to take the fodder along
with the caviar as is the case
with Triptych?

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