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October 29, 1938 - Image 7

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1938-10-29

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PERSPECTIVES

aPI Seen

V AL-4 L.. f, c I

r

THp FATHERS, by Allan Tate,
G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York
FROM THE TIME OF LESSING
to the present the dominant ideas
which have shaped the course of
modern literature have been
closely related to the ideas of specu-
lative philosophy. Philosophy has at-
tempted to create systems of ideas
which rationalize man's physical and
mental being in relation to the whole
of his environment, and literature has
drawn its greatest themes in the imagin-
ative protrayal of these efforts of men to
adjust themselves to a changing world.
American writers generally have been
less concerned with the philosophical
bases of their art ^than have the Euro-
peans, largely because of the disdain
pragmatic America has always felt for
speculative creation. It is in this respect,
however, that the Southern agrarian
movement in American literature gains
its importance. Southern agrarianism is
a definite, articulate philosophy. It per-
vades every line being written in that
section of the country and its influence
ha sspread to the regionalists of the
Middle-west and the South-west.
Every writer in the South today is
either denying or affirming the belief
that the only vital literature of that
section is that which draws its inspira-
tion from the culture that reached its
apotheosis in the plantations of the pre-
Civil War period. It is in the light of this
tradition that the entire contemporary,
movement in Southern literature must be
examineid, and since Mr. Tate is himself
.the most prolific and penetrating voice
of the agrarians, his first novel must
also be approached in respect to the
same tradition and its philosophical
rationalization.
Under the leadership of John Crowe
Ransom, the teacher and main source
of inspiration and ideas of the group,
twelve Southern writers, including
Stark Young, Donald Davidson, Andrew
Nelson Lytle and Robert Penn Warren,
published in 1932 a spirited book named
I'll Take My Stand in which the hitherto
nebulous agrarian philosophy became
systematized. Briefly, the ideas which

.NEW BOOKS

they proclaimed then stem from these
premises: the cultivation of the soil is
the best of all occupations; the return
to the soil will mean an end to conflicts
inevitably arising out of the struggle
engendered by industrialism; life in
Medieval Europe was good and offers,
an example to follow; life inthe Old
South, growing from the older European
chlture was also good, and it is necessary
to maintain the old Southern ideals in
the face of the advance of Northern in-
dustrialism and its degrading concor,
mitants into the section; education is
to be-for those who deserve advanced
training, is not to be the factory-like
training given to all in the North; this
education in the. classics, in the tradi-
tional Southern manner, is to produce
those critical, capable leaders necessary
for leadership in a South which must
remai as a distant entity in the national
whole;' finally, the individual, freed from
the dehumanizing forces of industrial-
ism, will be more conscious of his position
before-God and the natural forces, ands
will engage in a sincere religion similar'
to that prevalent before the Civil War,
and not that fanatical religion which
has evolved since the conflict between
the sections.
Mr. Tate's novel, of course, is more
than a mere fictionalized version of
that philosophy. He is too expert a
craftsman to rely on the traditional
stylized types of characters that fill
the pages of Thomas Nelson Page,
Margaret Mitchell and Stark Young -
the generous, proudt hot-tempered mas-
ter, the reckless, horse-racing and
equally proud and hot-tempered son,
the understanding, sacrificing wife, the
young, beautiful daughter, the super-
stitious slaves. GeorgePosey, the central
figure of the story, is a certain and
powerful young man who is capable of
great things when charged with definite
and unequivocal responsibilities; he
had strong,relationships and he was
capable of passionate feeling, but it was

all personal. George Posey had to act at
once if he was certain of acting at all
outside his own feelings; therecould be
no delay or he would losg hold of his
purpose and become disordered and
diverted, as he actually.becomes by the
appearance of his old enemy as the cap-
tain of his army company, and the dis-
covery that the mulatto who kills his
mother and rapes his sister is his own
half-brother.
The tragedy in Posey's life, Mr. Tate
asks us to believe, was that his strength
could not be curbed by something out-
side of himself. If he had given himself
to the Confederate. cuse, if he had lost
himself in an idea in which his own per-
sonality would succeed in becoming a
part of something greater, he would not
have forfeited his hefltage and would
not have suffered the shock of loss of
communion with a world in which men
were fighting for the, perpetuation of
their . traditional mode of life. The
theme is a familiar one: it is a further
manifestation of the futile 'search on
the part of men who receive the shocks
of the-world at the ends of their nerves
for an explanation of the maladjust-
ments between themselves and their
environment in t h e uncontrollable
workings of a malignant fate.
There can be no argument with Mr.
Tate's contention that George Posey
lacked a center. What is debatable, and
it is this fact alone that gives the book
more than ordinary .importance, is Mr.
Tate's insistence that the values and
the civilization of the Old South
furnished exactly the social counter-
parts necessary to have made Posey a
normal, rounded man. For the charm-
ing old dreams of the South that Mr.
Tate indulges in are only dreams, lack-
ing the hard stuff of reality. In sharp
contrast to the effectiveness with which
he employs modern psychology in order
to understand the personality of Posey,
Mr. Tate is still afflicted with the per-
vasive propensity of his school to view
the Southern past through and evasive
idealism that is, at best, a valuable ex-
ample of the myth-making tendency of
the human mind, and in its larger
sense, the rationale of a philosophy that
is oriented completely away from this
world, and is skeptical of the possibil-
ities of a better one.
ELLIOTT MARANISS.
WHAT ARE WE TO Do ?by John
Strachey. Randol House, New
York..
In his newest book, just published here
although written in the fall of 1937, Mr..
Strachey does two things principally.
First he outlines the situation facing the
British Labor Party today, and by infer-
ence all labor movements in democratic
countries which have fallen into the
errors of the British party; second he
describes the means by which these labor
movements can arrest the deterioration
of the present social system and bring
about the socialist ideal of the planned
society.
Mr. Stachey opens his book with the
observation, as obvious on second inspec-
tion as it is novel on first, that capita-
lism in America has only become a
"closed" system, in which the worker can
no longer hope for escape from his class,
ip the present decade. Long after the,
passing of the frontier, he points out,
new and expanding industries tempor-
arily opened up fields for small-scale
independent enterprise. These fields have
all been quickly invaded by large scale
competition, of course, and the period of
time during which small enterprise flou-
rishes has become shorter and shorter.
This process, which he says was the
immediate cause of the sudden develop-
:ment of the C.lO., has its ramification
in the following way:
The same pressure that drives

workers to organize themselves in
trade unions drives them to do much
more as well. It drives them to create
political organizations to protect

their interests in those respects in
which the trade unions by themn-
selves prove inadequate or actually
impotent. Next it drives the workers
to consider what the final purpose
of these political organizations shall
be; and at last it forces them to en-
quire what should be the character
of their political organizations if
they are to achieve this final pur-
pose.
Strachey's thorough analysis of the
history of the British trade unions and
Labor Party is of interest chiefly insofar
as it can be accepted as typical of the
labor movement in a democratic country.
Strachey accuses Sir Walter Citrine and
his colleagues of carrying their policy of
"accommodation", that is, adjustment
of the labor movement to the needs. of
capitalism in decline, .to a logical con-
clusion of complete debility. It is quickly
apparent from a comparison of the at-
titude of these leaders as it has deve-
loped through the last 25 years (due to
the influence of Fabian socialism, Stra-
chey holds) with that of the leaders of
the American Federation ,of Labor at
present that they have much in common,
although the A. F. of L. has never ad-
vanced along the path of political action
on which the British Labor movement
has been lately retreating.
Strachey urges a policy of .resistance
in place of that of accommodation, and
appears on the whole to be quite hopeful
that such a policy can be instituted in
British before it is too late. For the pur-
pose he urges a "New Model" party of
scientific socialism as the core of a
People's Front made up of all labor and
progressive elements. A question of
peculiar interest which Mr. Strachey
takes up is that of the insidious lip-ser-
vice paid to democracy by conservative
trade union leaders in the form of a
hypocritical denunciation of "both
communism and fascism, of the dictat-
orship of the Left or of the Right". The
author declares simply that:
this is a root issue which every
reader of this book must decide for
himself. Does he or she really con-
sider that the rule, or dictatorship
of 'the Left' is as pernicious a thing
as the rule, or dictatorship of 'the
Right'? ... we find that the main
assertion of these documents (Labor
Party manifestos) is that the British
labor movement must be equally op-
posed to a dictatorship of the work-
ing class as to a dictatorship of the
capitalist class.
Those who maintain that it is only
the form of rule and not the class of
society which exercises the rule that
matters, Strachey accuses, not without
reason, of failing to see the economic
aspect of these manifestations of regard-
ing communism and fascism as "moods
into which, for some unknown reason,
the workers and capitalists have recently
shown a tendency to fall."
The book is written with the clipped
eloquence which so distinguishes Stra-
chey from other political and economic
writers. The organization is particularly
effective; no loose ends are left, every-
thing is explained and everything is sm-
marized. The book is short (34 pages)
and devoid of inconsequent material. It
is one of those easily read books which
can hardly fail to influence the view-
point of its most casual peruser.
- JOSEPH GIES

AN EVENING
IN PROVINCETOWN

By PENELOPE PEARL
The piano stool has become her per-
manent pedicle. At work it supports
the vigorof the Beethoven concerti. She
is learning them for a performance next
year, with the W.P.A., orchestra. Now
she pivots on the stool. The lad sitting
on =the floor watches the way her toes
curl over the edge .of her stool and how
she clasps her knees with one :arm and
holds a cigarette with. the other hand.
The man sitting in =the chair is married-
to 4 New York dancer. Now he watches
the light from the kerosene ,lamp, how
it distorts her features making her gro-
tesque, like a pygmy perched upon some,
mushroom. Her curls jiggle, imitating
her nervous facial movements as she
tells how she couldn't bring her harpsi-;
chord to the Cape because the damp
air makes it impossible to keep her in-
strument in tune. She places the cig-
arette between her lips, and frowning
at the smoke, she spins around on the.
stool, collapsing on the keys in a swirl
of Beethoven cadensas. The lad leans
back against the wall clutching his can
of leer. He regards the skill with which
her hands perfect the rapid passages.
The man settles into his obesity suck-
ing comfortably at the pipe.
She calls this room her Pastorale
Flat. She has rented the room fur-
nished just as the landlady left it: a
plaster bust of Washington. on the
mantle piece; a wash-basin and pitcher
on the stand: a desk with sliding top,
The room rents for 10 dollars a week
plus board.

She stops playing and moves around
again on the stool. She draws up her
legs and assumes Buddhistic posture.
The lad leans forward and holds out
a freshly opened beer. She tells them
about the big-figured, night-club offer
she had to play swing on the harpsi-
chord. But, she tells them, her work
means her life and "swing" would be
a.sacrilegious way of mocking the mas-
ters. Even if her debts continue and
she lives a harrassed life teaching a few
Brooklyn pupils, she feels the need to
express the Bach and Haydn that t4ve
become a part of herself: even if the
day of Town Hall and Carnegie never
comes
The lad says he knows someone in the
theatre business who"ought to be able
to set her startling the public with her-
sensitive musicianship. She listens and
lights another cigarette. The man
asks them how they like having fish
chowder four nights a week. Then he
rocks back absorbing them in intimacy
with jokes of obnoxious jargon.
She laughs. Then the lad tells her
that he and the man have joined the'
Party. And under cover of more clever
bantering they sense a closer union.
The lamp smokes and flecks of soot
make the splotch on the ceiling blacker.
Tobacco smoke now fills the room com-
pletely. She looks like some statue
placed behind aveil.;Finally the man
rocks forward, stretches out a hand to
pull- up the lad and they go to their
room at the back of the house. She
steps down from the stool and, hum-
ming a popular tune, starts undressing
for bed.

-
-By CurI Gulcdberg

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