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May 03, 1941 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1941-05-03

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Page Twelve

'PERSPECTI VES

BOOKS IN SEASON

h

Jee,66 cunt
Men of the Mountains, by Jesse Stuart.
E. P. Dutton and Company, Pub-
slisher. $2.50.
This is a collection of the stories Jesse
Stuart has sold to such magazines as
"Esquire," "The American Mercury," and
"Story." When placed side by side in
a book they show very plainly that they
were written to be sold. Their calibre
is generally much lower than that of
his novel, "Trees of Heaven."
What the outsider knows about Ken-
tucky is its feuds and moonshine stills.
He is interested in these elements and
expects a Kentucky writer to write about
them. Jesse knew that if he would cen-
ter his stories on the blood and "likker"
of the hills, he would be giving maga-
zine publishers what they wanted, so
that a goodly portion of this book
capitalizes on the quaint prejudices
people have of Kentucky.
Jesse does not mind repeating. What
was good for one magazine is good for
another. His heroines are all markedly
similar. Their hair invariably reminds
Jesse of love-vines; he always notes the
whiteness of their teeth, which are two
rows of agate-white marbles," or are
"whiter than the chalk we used at the
blackboards at school"; and their skin
is usually "lily-white."
Some of these stories helped Jesse
make his name in American literature.
Others obviously were turned out "off
the cuff" after he had become big-
time and had his novel reviewed on the
front page of the New York Times Book
Review section. The latter were stories
that made you say, "Well, Jesse is just
making money out of this one. Can
you blame him?"
There are many ridiculous things in
Jesse's work-many stylistic tricks and
eccentric mannerisms that half make
him, half break him. He is quaint and
original, and oftentimes laughable. For
instance, after a paragraph of good,
homey description he says, "Birds fly
about and chirrup with a disconsolate
wail." You feel as if you have seen a
schoolboy regurgitate a half-digested
word like "transsubstantiation." Or, a
mountain girl who says "deestrict" for
district and who uses such sentences as
"They ain't my Pappie and my Mam-
mie there" will suddenly come forth
with "I'm denied what other strong nor-
mal healthy girls are privileged to have."
Again, his descriptions are usually ex-
cellent-vivid, exactly detailed, giving
you the twang of the hills. He say
"The horse's sides were working in and
out like a bee smoker," which strikes
me as being very good. Then later
he compares smoke rising from a chim-
ney to a row of soup-beans, which seems
to me extremely far-fetched. Still
worse, he gags you with adjectives in a
sentence like this: "The dry wind stirs
the soap-slick poplar leaves about them
and dryly shakes the oak leaves on the
boughs of the tough-butted white oaks
that grow alongside the yellow streak of
rutty road in the poor clay gravelly
earth."
His dialogue shows the same up-and-
down quality. He has a deaf man say
"Ain't heard the wind blow for years"
and the note of pathos is true and good.
He brings rich touches of humor into
his stories by expressing the queer lit-
erary phrases that the hill people sone-
times mingle with their homely speech
-a man says of whiskey "I never let it
defile the temple of clay." But again
the characters will launch into poetic
rhapsodies that are obviously from Jesse
Stuart's lips and not their own. Or they
will begin to talk to the audience in-
stead of to each other, will give explana-
tions that the other person must know
without saying.

The impression left by all this is
that Jesse, talented as he is, utterly
lacks an understanding of the aver-
age reader's standards. One phrase
will please you; the next will be so
trite that you will laugh at it. One
speech will impress you with its sin-
cerity; the next will cloy you with its
gush. One line will be poetic; the
next will be ridiculous. Jesse ap-
parently does not know when he is
writing well and when he is not.
I have tried to hit this book hard, not
because it is really such a bad book-
God knows I wish I could write about
my home-state as Jesse does, but be-
cause it is exasperating to see a young
artist come so near and yet be so far
away. Until he can discipline himself
into some sort of a realization of which
elements of his writing are impressive
and which are irritating, I think he will
remain a figure who is admittedly fresh
and earthy, quaint and rustically
charming - but who is also slightly
ridiculous. -Bervie Haufler
Man Stands Alone, by Julian S. Hux-
ley; Harper & Brothers, Publishers,
New York and London, 1941.
The violent death throes of a long
era of barbarism have focused the at-
tention of modern scientists in many
fields to cultural problems. The years
of wide-spread depression followed by
world war, with the prospect of an
even more severe depression to come,
indicate that man must obtain a more
extensive control over his future. Julian
,Huxley suggests that the student of
human biology can contribute toward
the formulation of "a social basis for
civilization."
"Man Stands Alone" is a collection of
15 essays, 14 of which are here re-
printed from journals where they ap-
peared at various intervals between 1927
and 1939. One essay, "The Uniqueness
of Man," was written especially for this
book. Ironically enough, it is the very
uniqueness of man which invalidates
Huxley's argument, as to the place of
the biologist in understanding the hu-
man course of events. It is man's social
tradition, or culture, which removes
human affairs to a "super-organic" level
where no amount of biological lucubra-
tion can touch it. If man's biological
equipment has remained constant while
his culture has evolved from a stage
of gathering and hunting to a fuel econ-
omy, it easily follows that cultural prob-
lems will not be solved in the province
of biology.
This elementary thesis is not offered
as one which immediately obliterates
all the value of Huxley's discussion of
cultural matters. For throughout the
essays, Huxley's biological analogies fre-
quently illuminate cultural processes,
This reviewer wishes his criticism to
apply only to those places where Hux-
ley's biological "analogies" become sus-
piciously like biological explanations of
non-biological phenomena.
A more important contribution is Hux-
ley's treatment of biological problems
which are of great interest to humans.
In the essay, "Eugenics and Society,"
Huxley discusses the possibility of
selecting and breeding those humans
who are genetically best adapted to some
specific cultural environment. He care-
fully points out the difficulty of ascer-
taining genetic types and suggests that
we must wait until our nutritional and
cultural environment is sufficiently uni-
form to reveal genetically determined
differences in behavior and achievement,
before we begin our selective breeding.
Huxley is confident that eugenics will
play an important part in remodeling
man's future.
In "Climate and Human History,"

Still as a night-moth's gliding
Life drifts off in the moonlight -
Softly out into the shadows.
Sighing, fades with it the echo
Of all that he was and accomplished.
Out in the fathomless darkness
Bounded by no earthly measure,
Ended by only forever,
Now he is free and is nothing,
Where nothing is more.
-Carol Buid)y

Huxley credits climatic changes with
dispersing and allocating various cen-
tres of cultural development. Despite
the plausibility of his theory, this re-
viewer feels that it should not be con-
sidered to the exclusion of other theories.
His purely climatic explanation, for ex-
ample, of the decline of the Old Mayan
Empire and rise of the New Mayan
Empire in southern and northern Yuca-
tan respectively, is a bold theory which
ignores many anthropological facts.
In terms of sheer fascination, one of
the high spots in the book is his dis-
cussion of "The Size of Living Things."
Just as Eddington placed man almost
precisely half way in size between an
atom and a star, so Huxley places man
in a quantitative relation to the rest of
the biological kingdom.
In three other essays, Huxley writes
in the capacity of a humanist and phil-
osopher, rather than as a biologist.
Neither his ideas nor his synthesis is
novel. Here Huxley becomes more art-
ist than scientist. A reader's approval
or disapproval of these essays will de-,
pend, to a great extent, upon his per-
sonal preferences. De gustibus . . .
There is little unity of subject mat-
ter in these essays. This reviewer has
selected for comment two aspects of
Huxley's work, the cultural and the
biological. Speaking as an anthropolo-
gist, Huxley's conception of culture
suffers correspondingly. On the other
hand, his biology deals with questions
which are of great interest whether or
not one is trained in this field.
-Stephen Cappannari
Inside the Whale, by George Orwell,
an article, appearing in NewDirec-
tions, 1940.
George Orwell's essay on Henry Miller
is undoubtedly the most understanding
and sensible critique on this expatriate's
works, principally the Tropic of Cancer,
that I have yet seen. As Miller becomes
better known to the reading public, ei-
ther through the stealthy influx of his
novels past the customs authorities or
by the expurgated excerpts and com-
paratively pure essays that New Direc-
tions is publishing, there is bound to be
a heated controversy over not only his
brutal style but the passiveness and
aloofness he professes. Knowing that
there will be busybody 'Christian' socie-
ties and Malcolm Bingays waiting to
jump on him, as indeed, they have done,
in some measure already, it is rather
comforting to know that he will have
such able defenders as Mr. Orwell,

John Dos Passos; and Aldous Huxley.
By defenders I do not mean syco-
phants. In his essay Orwell says the
worst that* can truthfully be said about
Mr. Miller. He does not whole-heartedly
approve of the obscenities in his writ-
ings. Instead, he boils the whole issue
down to its meanest ingredients and
finds exactly wherein the worth'of the
author lies. That it is a fair and un-
compromising criticism is all the more
credit to Orwell, whose country is being
blown to bits and to whose fate Miller is
entirely apathetic.
During the distillation process, Orwell
reviews the literature of the years dur-
ing and since the other World War with
remarkable clarity, giving emphasis to
the accompanying philosophies, politi-
cal and individual, of each period. He
relegates with vengeance, each to their
respective cubbyholes, the Communists,
the Socialists, the Catholics, the Fas-
cists, ultra-moderns, tough moderns,
the British,-in fact, a surprising num-
ber of groups and cliques. Yet he does
it without malice or snobbishness. A
certain brusque good humor pervades
the whole piece which makes the read-
ing amusing, without stultifying the
deeper imports.
It will also save considerable re-
reading to have Orwell's opinion before
tackling Miller. He points out nuances
oaf feeling and description which other-
wise might be overlooked. One may not
agree with Miller and Orwell, but I
have not yet met anyone who has read
either of these authors and come away
unscathed or unimpressed. It is tin-
fortunate that Miller's views on unre'
served pacificism are-.coming into ligb
at a time when his pacificism which is
a complete disassociation, a downright
refusal or inability to interest one's self
in the settlement of social, political, or
moral problems is anything but we%
come. After witnessing some recent
blundering attempts at the age-old sport
of witch hunting, I think it is quite pos-
sible that Miller may be branded as a
dirty Fascist or a Sixth Columnist.
However, that ' will mean nothing to
people in the future, just as it does not
matter two pins to Miller now. For my
part, I do not care what he is, I was
profoundly moved by his book, the
power of his lines, the rhythynic beauty
which flows through his poetic passages.
He may be a scoundrel, but his writing
is frank and sincere; he crlates a type
of beauty which is strare and not alto-
gether clear. Above all, I admire the
fearlessness and vigorous courage with
which he flaunts his convictions in the
face of convention and pettiness.
-Frank Tinker

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