Local colors of the stars and stripes

BRITISH 
AND 
AMERICAN 
STUDIES 


LOCAL COLORS 
OF THE STARS 
AND STRIPES 


3 


TORUN 2001
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.2- i
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LOCAL COLORS 
OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 


Edited by Marta Wiszniowska 


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TORuN 200 I
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Contents 


Acknowledgments ... ....... ..... ..... ..................... ................... .... 7 
Editor's Preface ................ ............ ................. ...................... 9 
SECTION I. MAPPING THE ROUTES 
Barton Levi St. Armand: The House of Dickinson and the 
House of Hawthorne: Poetic Furnishings for the Interior 
Life ................................................................................ 13 
Jerzy Kutnik: "0 say can you see... ": The Changing Colors 
and Contours of Old Glory ............................................ 37 
David Pichaske: So What's Midwest about Midwestern 
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Literature? .......... ............ .,.................... ......................... 57 
Agnieszka Salska: Stevens and Williams: American Colors 
of the Modernist Poetic Renaissance ............................. 83 
Zbigniew Bialas: "Cut in Plain Marble": Sites of Memory, 
Monuments & America .................................................. 101 
SECTION II. INTELLECTUAL, IMAGINARY 
AND GEOGRAPHICAL TRAVELS 
Paulina AmbroZy': Description Without Place? - New 
England in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens ...................... 113 
Dominika Ferens: Two Faces of the Oriental(ist): Mission- 
ary and Travel Writings on China and Japan .................. 127 
Zygmunt Mazur: The Dialectics of History in Mont-Saint- 
Michel and Chartres and Education of Henry Adams ..... 141 
Malgorzata Poks: Getsemani, KY - Postcards from the 
Monastery (Who Is the Rhinoceros?) ............................. 155 
Malgorzata Siwek: From "Amalgam" to "Storyville" - 
Small Towns in Contemporary American Travel Writing 167
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4 


Contents 


SECTION III. REGIONAL AMERICA 
Grazyna Branny: Faulkner's Obverse Reflection as a Mode 
of Expression in Toni Morrison's Paradise .................... 179 
Anna L
towska-Mickiewicz: Lost Cause Again? The South 
as the Mainstay of Moral Sensitivity in Walker Percy's 
Novels ............................. .............................................. 189 
Jerzy Sobieraj: Regionalism and the South ......................... 199 
Beata Williamson: Susan Warner - Regionalist of the 
1850s ............................................................................. 209 
SECTION IV. FILM AND MUSIC 
Marek Jezinski: The Utopian Dream about Freedom and 
Paradise: Neo-anarchism and the American Psychedelic 
Music of the Sixties ....................................................... 219 
Dariusz Pestka: John Zorn and his Concept of the Jewish 
Downtown Jazz............. ........................................... ....... 235 
Marek Paryz: Some Remarks on the Black Presence in Clint 
Eastwood's Film Unforgiven .......................................... 247 
Marta Wiszniowska: Transcoding America: America's 
Shakespeare and Poland's America ................................ 259 
SECTION V. MINORITIES WRITE BACK: 
Cheryl Alexander Malcolm: Regions of the Soul or Bad, 
Bad Boys? Bruce Jay Friedman's When You're Excused, 
You're Excused and Lady............................................... 271 
Patrycja Baran: Toni Morrison's Version of Black America 
and Redefinition of Some Popular Myths ...................... 283 
Roy Goldblatt: "Puttin' on the Goy": Re-writing the Jewish 
American "Success Story", Mary Antin to What Makes 
Sammy Run? .............................. ... .......................... ....... 295 
Agnieszka Lakatos: Two Contemporary African-American 
Urban Love Stories: Toni Morrison's Jazz and John Ed- 
gar Wideman's Two Cities ............................................... 307 
Izabella Penier: Magical Realism in Literary Quest for 
Modern Afro-American Identity; Toni Morrison's Tar 
Baby and Gloria Naylor's Mama Day .............................. 319
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Contents 


5 


Danuta Pytlak: The Untold Story: The Image of the Polish 
Immigrant Family in the USA (1880-1939) in Polish 
American Fiction ..... ...................................................... 329 
Agnieszka Wroblewska: (In)visible Minority? Chinese 
Americans in California ................................................. 343 
Miroslawa Ziaja-BuchhoItz: Local Color in Black and 
White: The Bouquet by Charles W. Chesnutt ................. 353 
SECTION VI. EXPERIENCES OF OTHERNESS 
Tomasz Basiuk: The Place of Fiction and the Place of 
Autobiography in Edmund White's "Skinned Alive" ..... 367 
Justyna Maria Kociatkiewicz: Saul Bellow's Early Novels 
as Antibildungsroman ... .......... .......... ...... ....................... 381 
Zofia Kolbuszewska: Edward Gorey's Beastly Babies, 
Gashlyctumb Tinies, and Hapless Children .................... 395 
Joseph Kuhn: The Upturned Face: Stephen Crane's The 
Monster and the Phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas 409
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 


We would like to thank The United States Information Serv- 
ice, US Embassy, Warsaw for the financial support towards pub- 
lishing these papers and the grant which helped towards organiz- 
ing the Conference. 
Our special thanks go to Ms. Malgorzata Koszelew for her 
unfailing good humor and valuable advice. 
The Organizing Committee
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EDITOR'S PREFACE 


The papers in this volume were presented at the annual con- 
ference of The Polish Association for American Studies entitled 
"The Local Colors of the Stars and Stripes," held in Torun in 
November 2000. The areas of research we initially enumerated 
were many - from history and literature, to anthropology, soci- 
ology, and political science. 
The conference was intended to target various aspects of re- 
gionalism and local consciousness in the British colonies in 
North America and the United States from the 17'h century up to 
the present. The list of suggested topics included the manifesta- 
tions of regional identities in American culture(s) and art(s); re- 
gional literature of New England, the South, the Midwest and 
other localities; history and the present state of local govern- 
ment; theory and practice of regional separatism; local commu- 
nities, ethnic minQrities, immigrant groups and religious denomi- 
nations, etc: 
A co'ntinent, not unlike Europe, America can be encapsulated 
within geographical borders. "Still there is no contradiction be- 
tween the existence of borders that separate distinct, even op- 
posed, identities [...] and the possibility of a trans-or suprana- 
tional culture."l There is no denying the fact that the image of 
a melting pot is accurate as an interpretation of American cul- 
tural development, which underscores its identity and variety. 


I Witkowski, Lech: The Paradox of Borders: Ambivalence at Home, in: 
Commom Knowledge, Winter 1994 V3 N3, 100-109.
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10 


Editor's Preface 


Appropriating Witkowski's assertion concerning the former Pol- 
ish border zones, borders should not be identified "with cultur- 
ally underdeveloped peripheries or insignificant margins" (Wit- 
kowski, 101). Thus, we can set out to explore them armed with 
a Bahtinian conviction of the fertility of border zones. 
Yet a word of warning should balance the obvious positives. 
The presence of the other also means several hazards. Among 
others, the risk of criticism uttered by the newcomers towards 
a given culture, ambivalent attitudes towards the target culture, 
abortive attempts to adhere to source culture - an array of im- 
migrant attitudes. According to Paz,2 contemporary civilization 
craves for unity and continuity. The experience of the age of co- 
lossal migrations, as the 19 th and 20th centuries were, evidences 
how painful the loss of one's natural center may be. The study of 
the American scene has taught us how fruitful cultural disloca- 
tions can also be. 
The present volume has been arranged thematically. In Part 
One, plenary speeches have been gathered, to map the routes for 
further investigations. There, the geographical mixes with the 
literary and the cultural with the imaginary. These papers set the 
tone of the debate. The subsequent papers thematically probe 
into various experiences of America. Besides geographical trav- 
els and examining the regions, they evidence the minorities' in- 
put into the making of contemporary culture, for the purpose ap- 
propriating Salman Rushdie's commonly known "Empire writes 
back." This section encompasses the immigrant, the white and 
the black contribution to the making of America's identity. The 
authors have poignantly argued that being an outsider, or the fa- 
mous other, may be an individual experience, a conviction, some- 
times a reality (within the fictitious reality of works of art) and 
sometimes the individual's fate. The last section, entitled "Experi- 
ences of Otherness," encompasses such profound experiences 


2 Octavio Paz, Labiryntysamotnosci 1947, Wyd. Literackie, Krakow 1991, 
224-225.
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Editor's Preface 


II 


implanted within the fictitious world, in which the universal na- 
ture of the experience has, in turn, been embedded in some Ameri- 
can context. 
Hopefully, insiders' and outsiders' views on the Local Colors 
of the Stars and Stripes have been brought together in this vol- 
ume. 


Marta Wiszniowska 


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LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


Section I. Mapping the Routes 


BARTON LEVI ST. ARMAND 
Brown University 


The House of Dickinson and the House of 
Hawthorne: Poetic Furnishings for the Interior Life. 


"- 


"The House of the Seven Gables: A Romance. By 
Nathaniel Hawthorne. One vol. 16 mo, pp. 344." The 
contents of this book do not belie its rich, clustering, 
romantic title. With great enjoyment we spent almost 
an hour in each separate gable. This book is like a fme 
old chamber, abundantly, but still judiciously, fur- 
nished with precisely that sort of furniture best fitted 
to furnish it. There are rich hangings, whereon are 
broidered scenes from tragedies. There is old china, 
with rare devices, set about on the carved buffet; 
there are long and indolent lounges to throw yourself 
upon; there is an admirable sideboard, plentifully 
stored with good viands; there is a smell of old wine 
in the pantry; and finally, in one comer, there is a dark 
little black-letter volume in golden clasps, entitled, 
"Hawthorne: A Problem." 
- Herman Melville, in a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne 
written from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, April 16, 1851 1 


. This essay is dedicated to Professor Samuel Chase Coale of Wheaton 
College: Friend, Colleague, and Hawthorne Scholar in the Great Tradition. 
1 The Portable Melville, ed. Jay Leyda (N.Y.: Viking, 1952), p. 426.
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Barton Levi St. Armand 


That Emily Dickinson knew and respected both the works and 
the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne is an established biographical 
fact. 2 In a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson dated in early 
June of 1864, she associated her anxious questioning about the 
wounding of her "Dear friend" a month before, in his capacity as 
an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, 
with the recent passing of this other major and certainly more 
covert literary preceptor. "Are you in danger -," she asked, 
characteristically substituting a wavering dash for a more em- 
phatic question mark. "I did not know that you were hurt. Will 
you tell me more?" And then she abruptly added to this odd 
mixture of declarations, queries, and commands what seems to be 
a crowning non-sequitor: "Mr. Hawthorne died."3 Dickinson was 
at this point writing to Higginson from Cambridge, Massachusetts, 
close to Boston where she was undergoing painful treatment for 
her eyes, and so in a subliminal sense that probably escaped her 
often puzzled recipient, her letter associates her own illness with 
Higginson's wounding, confinement and exile as well as with 
Hawthorne's lonely death in a hotel room while on a trip to New 
Hampshire to recover his health Immured herself in the solitary 
cell of temporary blindness, and in a state of physical as well as 
mental deprivation, Dickinson tells Higginson that she writes with 
a pencil, because "The Physician has taken away my pen." She is 
also as "surprised" as she is "anxious," because, as the fragmen- 
tary poem she skillfully interpolated into the letter puts it: 
The only News I know 
Is Bulletins all Day 
From Immortality.4 


2 See Jack L Capps, Emily Dickinson's Reading, 1836-1886 (Cambridge, 
Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1966). 
3 The Letters of Emily Dickinson, three volumes, eds. Thomas H. Johnson 
and Theodora Ward (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958), Vol. 2, 
p. 431. Hereafter citations from this work will appear in the text in parentheses 
in this form: L2: 431. 
4 The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, three volumes, ed.
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The House of 
ickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 15 


In spite of this onslaught of disturbing and startling dis- 
patches from the frontlines of private psychic battle, Dickinson 
does not remain completely alone in what she calls her "Jail." 
She may pose as a reluctant prisoner of war who has been 
blinded and so has somehow also "failed" as a victorious soldier 5 
in the ongoing course of her own inner Civil War, but she is at 
least allowed some visitors as well as intelligence of how her 
side is going. Of her chief warder, that authoritarian Physician, 
she confesses "He does not let me go, yet I work in my Prison, 
and make Guests for myself -." Certainly one of those imagina- 
tive guests, along with the Shakespeare whose works contented 
and consoled her when all other books were forbidden, was 
Hawthorne himself, paradoxically more graspable because he 
was now hil1!.self a ghostly presence, and therefore much more 
amenable to mental summoning. The general grief of the Civil 
War and its many untoward deaths reanimated the American Spi- 
ritualist movement and fostered communication with the newly 
dead. In this glimmering ectoplasmic light, the wounded Higgin- 
son, the ill Dickinson, and the dead Hawthorne form part of 
a private Spiritualist Circle, a continuing literary seance in which 
Dickinson acts as medium, writing down bulletins from immor- 
tality by means of her pencil, which functions as a planchette, the 
chief vehicle of automatic writing used by famous trance medi- 
ums of. the time. 6 Even fourteen years later, she still associated 
Hawthorne with lingering illness, ghostliness, and the threat of 
death. Writing to Mrs. J. G. Holland early in 1878, Dickinson is 
"sorry your Doctor," the well-known editor, author and family 


R. W. Franklin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1998), poem number. 
820, vol 2, p. 776. Hereafter poems from this edition will be cited by number 
in parentheses in the text in this form: P 820. Dickinson used only the first 
stanza of this poem in her letter to Higginson. 
5 See such poems as "Victory comes late," (P 195). 
6 See Howard Kerr, Mediums, and Spirit-Rappers. and Roaring Radicals: 
Spiritualism in American Literature, 1850-1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois 
Press, 1972), pp. 109-110.
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Barton Levi St. Armand 


friend who was Mrs. Holland's husband, "is not well," presuma- 
bly from overwork. Dickinson then turns to the question of her 
own mother's health, and reports that "It is tranquil, though tri- 
fling. She reads a little - sleeps much - chats - perhaps - 
most of all - about nothing momentous, but things vital to her 
- and reminds one of Hawthorne's blameless Ship - that forgot 
the Port -" (L2: 604). In his note to the 1958 edition of Dickin- 
son's Letters, Thomas Johnson suggests that this mysterious ship 
"refers not to a story by Hawthorne, but to a Salem legend of 
a ship that haunted the port but never came to land" (L2: 605). 
More recently, Catherine Carr Lee has clarified this puzzling 
maritime reference in her entry on Hawthorne in An Emily Dick- 
inson Encyclopedia, published forty years after Johnson. As she 
confirms, "Hawthorne himself never wrote of such a ship, rather, 
Cotton Mather had included this legend in Magnalia Christi 
Americana (1704). Dickinson may have seen Longfellow's men- 
tion of this 'Phantom Ship' in his 1837 review of Hawthorne's 
Twice-Told Tales in the North American Review."? Although 
Dickinson would have been only seven years old when this re- 
view first appeared, the connection among three of New Eng- 
land's most representative authors at least establishes some kind 
of likely literary genealogy for the origins of the image in Dick- 
inson's mind, and its final connection to Hawthorne. At the same 
time, there is also an echo of the sense of aimless drift, enerva- 
tion, incarceration and suspension of the coordinates of ordinary 
reality that characterizes the mood of Hawthorne's "Custom 
House" sketch prefacing The Scarlet Letter of 1850. As Carr ob- 
serves, scholars who have commented on the Dickinson-Haw- 
thorne relationship uniformly "suggest that she associated Haw- 
thorne's fiction with absence and loss." 
That Dickinson herself was fully capable of doing scholarly 
research on lost or forgotten literary citations is proven, however, 


7 An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia, ed. Jane Donahue Eberwein (Westport, 
Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998), p. 136.
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The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 17 


by another one of her late references to Hawthorne. In February 
of 1879, she apologized to Higginson for not having had the time 
to read his estimate of that author in one of two articles he had 
published years earlier, and once again she associates the Salem 
author with the facts of bereavement and confinement. "I am 
sorry not to have seen your 'Hawthorne,'" she writes, "but have 
known little of Literature since my Father died - that and the 
passing of Mr. Bowles, and mother's hopeless illness, over- 
whelmed my moments" (L2: 635). Yet she concludes this letter 
with the very Hawthornian observation that "The subterranean 
stays," the leitmotif of Hawthorne's work in general and of a late 
romance like The Marble Faun in particular. This is another in- 
dication that while she did not then find the time to read Higgin- 
son on Hawth
rne, the latter master was still deeply embedded in 
her consciousness and that he probably remained as immortal as 
her father, whom "the Clergyman" had promised she would see 
again. Dickinson's penultimate mention of Hawthorne occurred 
on the occasion of Higginson's Christmas gift to her of his re- 
cently published Short Studies of American Authors in December 
of the same year. While admitting that "Of Poe, I know too little 
to think, she perfectly anticipated the "ambiguity device" central 
to twentieth-century Hawthorne literary criticism by declaring 
that "Hawthorne appalls, entices -" (L2: 649). As Dickinson's 
own wo
ld was increasingly overshadowed by illness and the se- 
rial death of close friends and relatives, it would appear that his 
dark or appalling side became uppermost in her mind, and that he 
hovered as a silent, ghostly watcher at the thresholds of both 
sickbed and deathbed. In April of 1882, only four years before 
her own death, Dickinson wrote to Thomas Niles, the editor of 
the firm of Roberts Brothers, to inquire when James Russell 
Lowell's Life of Hawthorne would be published, but he disap- 
pointingly replied that "We gather from Mr. Lowell's publishers 
that they have not yet rec[eive]d the M.S.S. of Lowell's Haw- 
thorne and do not know when the work will be ready" (L3: 726). 
This is only to demonstrate that Nathaniel Hawthorne remained
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Barton Levi St. Armand 


a haunting and a daunting presence in the house of Dickinson's 
imagination as well as a spiritualized member of her vicarious 
circle of literary acquaintances. "The Soul selects its own Soci- 
ety -" (P 409) she wrote in a famous poem of the 1860's, and 
Hawthorne's ghostly figure continued to emerge from subterra- 
nean depths when called up or back, either by sudden personal 
trauma or by some perceived danger to the health and safety of 
others. 
This is precisely the same role that Hawthorne played in 
Dickinson's first recorded reference to him on November 11, 
1851. Writing to her brother Austin after his return to his job 
teaching school in Boston, she invoked characters from the re- 
cently published House of the Seven Gables to mythologize her 
fresh isolation from (and sense of abandonment by) a beloved, 
slightly older sibling. "How lonely it was last night," she ob- 
serves with a calculated Gothic shudder, "when the chilly wind 
went down, and the clear, cold moon was shining - it seemed to 
me I could pack this little earthly bundle, and bidding the world 
Goodbye, flyaway and away, and never come back. to be so 
lonely here, and then I thought of 'Hepzibah' how sorrowful she 
was, and how she longed to sleep, because the grave was peace- 
ful, yet for affection's sake, and the for the sake of 'Clifford' she 
wearied on, and bye and bye, kind angels took them home, and it 
seemed almost a lesson, given us to learn." Lest Austin be too 
offended by his sister's comparison of him with the effeminate, 
childish aesthete Clifford Pyncheon, Dickinson hastily added to 
her frankly morbid, sentimental, and self- pitying portrait the 
disclaimer that "I dont mean you are him, or that Hepzibah's me 
except in a relative sense, only I was reminded." (Ll: 155). 
Dickinson's use of the ambiguously qualifying phrase "rela- 
tive sense" (in a subterranean way that is as much Freudian as it 
is Hawthornian) might well mean not only a general and contin- 
gent condition of referential linkage, but it also could be a signal 
of Dickinson's underlying feeling that somehow she actually was 
related, in a familial way, to Hawthorne's cast of characters and
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The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 19 


perhaps even to Hawthorne himself as a fellow artist and poet. 
Thus begins the ghostly intimacy that is a consistent aspect of 
her later references to him and to his work, for in a poem of 
about 1865, Dickinson employed the same imagery of leaving 
home in the chapter of The House of the Seven Gables that 
Hawthorne titled "The Flight of Two Owls" to underscore her 
renewed yearning for escape: 
Up Life's Hill with my little Bundle 
If I prove it steep - 
If a Discouragement withold me - 
if my newest step 
Older feel than the Hope that prompted - 
Spotless be from blame 
"- 
Heart that proposed as Heart that accepted 
homelessness, for Home - 
(P 1018) 
There is a typical conflation of Hawthornian symbolism here, 
not only in the pathetic tremulousness and sense of adventure 
that animates his two human owls, Clifford and Hepzibah, who 
think they are leaving the desolate House of the Seven Gables far 
behind them for good, but Hawthorne's own feeling in "The 
Custom House" that his attachment for Salem, his ancestral home, 
"is the mere sensuous sympathy of dust for dust," and that it is 
better to "strike... roots into unaccustomed earth" than to be 
"planted and replanted in the same worn-out soil."s Hawthorne 
in fact did eventually become a soul-wanderer between the 
worlds of America and Europe, never really comfortable in either 
sphere, and although he wrote a book about England called Our 
Old Home, he ended up condemned to a state not merely of 
"Homelessness," but - as Dickinson put it in another poem 
written about her mental state after the death of her mother - of 


8 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, eds. S. Bradley, R. C. Beatty, 
and E. H. Long (N.Y.: W. W. Norton, 1961), p. 10, 13.
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20 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


being permanently "Homeless at home" (P 1603) after his return 
to Concord from abroad. In contrast to Hawthorne, Dickinson 
became the most famous stay-at-home in American literary his- 
tory, though what remains central to both New Englanders is the 
primacy of the heart - in Dickinson's case, the innocent, "Spot- 
less" and blameless heart (reminding us of her propensity for 
robing herself in virginal white dresses), in Hawthorne's darker 
example the "old structure" of the House of the Seven Gables 
itself, where "so much had been suffered, and something, too, 
enjoyed - that the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture 
of a heart. It was itself like a great human heart, with a life of its 
own, and full of rich and sombre reminiscences".9 There is, then, 
a definite connection, a kind of literary cousinship, between the 
House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne, especially if 
we consider Dickinson's "House" to be not only her own family 
circle or her imaginative salon of literary friends and acquain- 
tances but the ongoing architecture of her own art, perhaps best. 
expressed in the domestic imagery of a poem she wrote about 
1862: 


I dwell in Possibility - 
A fairer House than prose - 
More numerous of Windows - 
Superior - for Doors - 
Of Chambers as the Cedars - 
Impregnable of eye - 
And for an everlasting Roof 
The Gambrels of the Sky - 
Of Visitors - the fairest- 
For Occupation - This 
The spreading wide my narrow Hands 
To gather Paradise - 
(P 466) 


9 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables, ed. Seymour 
L. Gross (N.Y.: W. W. Norton, 1967), p. 27.
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The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 21 


It is interesting to note that Dickinson's alternative word 
choice for "Gambrels" in this poem was in fact the term "Gables." 
While this term is an architectural commonplace, it still remains 
suggestive of Hawthorne's archetypal "old structure," comple- 
menting the lofty Biblical resonances of "Cedars." A gambrel 
roof made up of "Sky", however, conjures up a more open, hum- 
ble and uniform type of New England dwelling, one that is less 
high style, Gothic, labyrinthian and "clustering," to use the ad- 
jective that Melville applied to Hawthorne's doleful mansion, 
filled as it is with dark nooks, mysterious crannies and secret 
passageways. But that there is a secret passage between these 
two houses of art and life, prose and poetry, representative as 
they are of congruent imaginative worlds, is a truth I will now 
attempt briefly. to explore. The first guide to open the. rusty lock 
between them was my own late mentor and great Hawthorne 
scholar, Hyatt Waggoner, who in his monumental American Poets 
of 1968 demonstrated convincingly and in detail that "Both 
imagistic and verbal echoes, and particularly the order of them in 
the poem, make it clear that the 'Governor Pyncheon' chapter in 
Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables is behind Dickin- 
son's "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -" (P 591 ).10 I will not 
reiterate Waggoner's intensive explication of one of the most fa- 
mous of Dickinson's deathbed poems here, but only note his sug- 
gestive conClusion that "I think we may anticipate that future 
students of Dickinson's work will discover other poems in which 
Hawthorne's influence is discernible" (674). There is no question 
that the prose descriptions that Waggoner cites are at least one 
source for the poem, but for the most part I would contend that 
Hawthorne's influence on her work is, like Dickinson's own sense 
of Hawthorne's "presence," more ghostly, atmospheric and brood- 
ing. Her's is a transposition and an appropriation that usually 
remain oblique and opaque rather than direct or transparent, even 


10 Hyatt H. Waggoner, American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present 
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968), p. 673.
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22 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


though it is still deeply resonant and pervasive. It is significant, 
for example, that in her letter to her brother quoted above, Dick- 
inson associates herself with the pathetic, timorously genteel, 
and even grotesque "Old Maid" Hepzibah rather than with the 
fresh, cheerful and take-charge new comer to the House, Phoebe. 
Phoebe Pyncheon, a no-nonsense and plebeian country cousin, is 
possessed of "faculty," a native New England spirit of can-do, 
what Hawthorne calls the "gift of practical arrangement... a kind 
of natural magic, that enables these favored ones to bring out the 
hidden capabilities of things around them; and particularly to 
give a look of comfort and habitableness to any place which, for 
however brief a period may happen to be their home" (pp. 71-72). 
In her 1859 Local Color historical novel, The Minister:S- Wooing, 
Harriet Beecher Stowe went on to define this gift as one which 
among New Englanders "commands more esteem than beauty, 
riches, learning or any other worldly endowment." She goes on to 
explain with some irony that: 
Faculty is Yankee for savoir faire, and the opposite virtue to shift- 
lessness. Faculty is the greatest virtue, and shiftlessness the greatest 
vice, of Yankee man and woman. To her who has faculty nothing shalI 
be impossible. She shall scrub floors, wash, wring, bake, brew, and yet 
her hands shall be small and white, she shall have no perceptible in- 
come, yet always be handsomely dressed; she shall have not a servant in 
her house, - with a dairy to manage, hired men to feed, a boarder or 
two to care for, unheard- of pickling and preserving to do, - and yet 
you commonly see her every afternoon at her shady parlor-window be- 
hind the lilacs, cool and easy, hemming muslin cap-strings, or reading 
the last new book. 11 
Surely, part of this definition of "faculty" applies to Emily 
Dickinson, who was famous for her culinary delicacies, espe- 
cially for her bread-making and baked goods. In October of 
1856, for example, she actually won a prize of seventy-five cents 
for her Rye and Indian Bread at the annual Amherst Cattle Show. 


II Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Minister's Wooing (N.Y.: A. L. Burt, 1902), p. 2.
>>>
The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 23 


During his visit to her in August of 1870, Thomas Wentworth 
Higginson observed that "she makes all the bread for her father 
only likes hers & says, '& people must have puddings,' this very 
dreamily, as if they were comets - so she makes them" (L2: 
158). And in an unsigned obituary written at her death, Dickin- 
son's sister-in-law Susan remarked that "There are many houses 
among all classes into which her treasures of fruit and flowers 
and ambrosial dishes for the sick and well were constantly sent, 
that will forever miss those evidences of her unselfish considera- 
tion, and mourn afresh that she screened herself from close ac- 
quaintance.,,12 That Dickinson knew how to sew we know from 
the stitching of the fascicles, those little booklets into which she 
inserted fair copies of her poems, but the burden of actual 
housework in the House of Dickinson seems to have fallen 
"- 
mostly on the shoulders of the hired help and of her sister Lav- 
inia, who early became commander-in-chief of the household 
brigade. "'House' is being 'cleaned,''' Dickinson reported to Mrs. 
Holland in early May of 1866, adding "I prefer pestilence" 
(L2: 453). To her, the busy-bee aspect of Yankee faculty was all 
too often a black plague of triviality and a constant threat to the 
creative vitality she cherished. Yet another thing that Emily 
Dickinson does share with Hawthorne's omnicompetent Phoebe 
is a gift for song, in the the form of her own special outpouring 
of lyric poetry. Of Phoebe Pyncheon, Hawthorne writes: 
Whatever she did, too, was without conscious effort, and with fre- 
quent outbreaks of song which were exceedingly pleasant to the ear. 
This natural tunefulness made Phoebe like a bird in a shadowy tree, or 
conveyed the idea that the stream of life warbled through her heart, as 
a brook sometimes warbles though a pleasant little dell. It betokens the 
cheerfulness of an active temperament, finding joy in its activity, and 
therefore rendering it beautiful; it was a New England trait - the stern 
old stuff of Puritanism, with a gold thread in the web (p. 76). 


12 The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson, two volumes, ed. Jay Leyda 
(N.Y.: Archon Books, 1970), vol. 2, pp. 472-473.
>>>
24 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


One of the sayings of Emily Dickinson that Higginson re- 
corded on his 1870 visit that also brings her close to Hawthorne's 
irrepressible Phoebe is her statement that "I find ecstasy in living 
- the mere sense of living is joy enough" (L2: 151). The very 
name "Phoebe" in its unadulterated sunniness gathers together 
not only a great many symbolic references to sun gods and light 
bearers like the classical Phoebus Apollo, but is as well synony- 
mous with the name of a bird common in New England, a fly- 
catcher known for its distinctive, pert and cheerful cry of "fee-be," 
which is said to be a sure prediction of rain. 13 Speaking of har- 
bingers of the New England summer, Neltje Blanchan writes that 
"the homely, confiding phoebe, who comes close about our houses 
and barns, brings the good news home to us every hour,,,14 and it 
this combination of humility and persistent good cheer with 
which the bird-like Emily Dickinson identified. In a poem writ- 
ten about 1865, she celebrated her connection with the bird and 
- by implication - with the dutiful and self-effacing character 
of Hawthorne's "Phoebe" Pyncheon: 
I was a Phebe - nothing more - 
A Phebe - nothing less - 
The little note that others dropt 
I fitted into place - 
I dwelt too low that any seek - 
Too shy, that any blame- 
A Phebe makes a little print 
Upon the Floors of Fame - 
(P 1009) 
Like Hawthorne's Phoebe Pyncheon, Dickinson here asserts 
that she does indeed have "faculty" - she fits into place, almost 


13 "Phoebes do not whistle, but say fee-be and fee-blee, 20-40 times a mi- 
nute." Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Braun, and Herbert S. Zim, Birds of North 
America (Racine, Wisconsin: Western Publishing Co., 1966). p. 196. 
14 Neltje Blanchan, Birds That Every Child Should Know (N.Y.: Doubleday, 
Page, 1907), p. 166.
>>>
The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 25 


as if she were making a "pieced" quilt out of random scraps of 
cloth, the "notes" that others have dropped or discarded, thus 
exercising what Hawthorne calls "hidden capabilities." And in 
creatively using such remnants, she fulfills the thrifty New Eng- 
lander's first commandment to "Make it last, stretch it out, use it 
up." She knows her place as a poet, and while it is a lowly one, 
similar to the plebeian status of Hawthorne's heroine, it is also 
a necessary role as a kind of "lady in waiting" or Cinderella to 
future recognition and reward. This natural tunefulness may 
emerge from something shadowy and hidden, but she is no more 
to blame for the rain that may follow her song than the mythic 
Hawthornian ship is for missing its port Dickinson more than 
once declared that her business was to sing, even if she had to do 
so "off charnel steps." But there is also the suggestion that by 
standing fast and exercising her, own special kind of poetic fac- 
ulty, even in obscurity, that Emily will match Phoebe in making 
some kind of mark on posterity's page - a "little print" _ 
whether it be the footprint of a steadfast singer or the printed 
words of a small volume of verse that will eventually win her 
standing room on the floors of the larger palace of art. With the 
printing of her Poems: First Series in 1890, four years after her 
death, the promise of this poetic faculty was fulfilled, as well as 
her own prophecy that "If Fame belonged to me, I could not es- 
cape her. -,if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the 
chase... " (L2: 408). 
What Emily Dickinson extracted from the fictional characters 
of both the faithful Phoebe and the newly fortified Hepzibah who 
shielded her brother and attempted to camouflage his supposed 
murder of his cousin Jaffrey by joining him on the futile railroad 
journey described in "The Flight of Two Owls" was character 
itself - a firm New England sense of duty. Her own poem about 
the phoebe combines both the dark and the light, blending them 
in a single natural image that contains its own kind of subtle 
chiaroscuro, just as Hawthorne's emblems of the old Pyncheon 
elm and the old Pyncheon House form a single organic and ho-
>>>
26 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


listic circumference of subdued meaning, balancing nature with 
culture, at the end of his romance. In her intense reading of fa- 
vorite works like The House of the Seven Gables, a reading and 
probable re-reading that involved the soul as well as the heart 
and the mind, I believe that Dickinson possessed the Shakespear- 
ean genius of multiple sympathy, and that the various situations, 
incidents, and scenes delineated by Hawthorne intersected with 
many of her own private concerns and ongoing philosophical and 
aesthetic preoccupations, prompting further poetic responses and 
extensions. For example, in two places Hawthorne utilizes an im- 
age that Dickinson would appropriate in order convey the pinna- 
cle of poetic achievement, transfiguration, and resonance. Hepzi- 
bah tells Phoebe about their common ancestor, the aristocratic 
Alice Pyncheon, and Hawthorne comments that "The fragrance 
of her rich and delightful character still lingered about the place 
where she had lived, as a dried rosebud scents the drawer where 
it has withered and perished" (p. 83). Later, describing Phoebe 
herself, Hawthorne writes that: 
There was no morbidness in Phoebe; if there had been, the old 
Pyncheon house was the very locality to ripen it into incurable disease. 
But, now, her spirit resembled, in its potency, a minute quantity of attar 
of rose in one of Hepzibah's huge, iron-bound trunks, diffusing its fra- 
grance through the various articles of linen and wrought-lace, kerchiefs, 
caps, stockings, folded dresses, gloves, and whatever else was treasured 
there. As every article in the great trunk was sweeter for the rose-scent, 
so did all the thoughts and emotions of Hepzibah and Clifford, som- 
bre as they might seem, acquire a subtle attribute of happiness from 
Phoebe's intermixture with them. Her activity of body, intellect, and 
heart, impelled her continually to perform the ordinary little toils that 
offered themselves around her, and to think the thought, proper for the 
moment, and to sympathize - now with the twittering gaiety of the 
robins in the pear-tree - and now, to such depth as she could, with 
Hepzibah's dark anxiety, or the vague moan of her brother. This facile 
adaptation was at once the symptom of perfect health, and its best pre- 
servative (p. 137).
>>>
The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 27 


It is true that a close family friend, Joseph Lyman, called Emily 
Dickinson "rather morbid and unnatural,,,15 and - always the 
aristocrat - her Shakespearian catholicity of response caused 
her to identify with the sensitive, high-strung, and naturally re- 
ceptive Spiritualist medium Alice as well as with the sometimes 
witch-like Hepzibah. 16 There were three models of woman for 
Dickinson to choose from in The House of the Seven Gables - 
crone, virgin, and sylph - and typically she mixed and matched 
as her emotional circumstances dictated. Spiritualizing Phoebe's 
transformative gift of faculty by passing it through Alice's mes- 
meric clairvoy.ance and tempering it by Hepzibah's "dark anxi- 
ety," in a poem written about 1863 Dickinson looked to poetry 
itself as a quintessence produced not merely by a "facile adap- 
tation" but by the experiential depths of genuine pain and suf- 
fering: "- 
Essential Oils are wrung - 
The Attar from the Rose 
Is not expressed by Suns - alone - 
It is the gift of Screws - 
The General Rose - decay - 
But this - in Lady's Drawer 
Make Summer - When the Lady lie 
In Ceaseless Rosemary - 
(P 772) 


The "general Rose," like the physical structure of the House 
of the Seven Gables itself, might decay over time, but the attar 
extracted from its rich blossoming of joy and pain would find its 
perfect preservative in a poetry that remained ever fresh and fra- 
grant, like the art which is Hawthorne's own distillation of the 


IS Richard Sewall, The Life of Emily Dickinson, two volumes (N.Y.: Farrar, 
Straus and Giroux, 1974), vol. 2, p. 426. 
16 Samuel Chase Coale, Hawthorne and Mesmerism: Mediums of American 
Romance (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1998), pp. 91-105.
>>>
28 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


house's story and legend. And as Shakespeare's Ophelia reminds 
us, Rosemary is "for remembrance." No doubt the feminine cast 
of this imagery appealed to Dickinson in her melding of the three 
female archetypes in order to form her own quintessence of po- 
etic power. But femininity did not exclude intellectuality; through- 
out Hawthorne's romance, the innocent Phoebe struggles "to 
such depth as she could" with profound questions of sin and guilt 
prompted by her residence in the family mansion, and as a poet 
who often pondered capitalized metaphysical imponderables, 
Dickinson also would have appreciated the declaration of Uncle 
Venner, Hawthorne's emblem of duration, that "I'm one of those 
people who think that Infinity is big enough for us all - and 
Eternity long enough!" (p. 156). Venner makes this remark while 
conversing with Clifford and the other inhabitants of the House 
of the Seven Gables on a Sabbath summer afternoon in the 
Pyncheon garden, but the words of this "patched philosopher" 
strike the increasingly thoughtful Phoebe most forcibly of all. 
"Why, so they are, Uncle Venner," she remarks after a pause, be- 
cause as Hawthorne tells us, "she had been trying to fathom the 
profundity and appositeness of this concluding apothegm." Im- 
mortality, Infinity and Eternity were just the kind of profundities 
that Emily Dickinson was constantly trying to fathom, carrying 
on her own Sabbath afternoon conversation about their meaning, 
originally derived from her rigorous and orthodox religious edu- 
cation. This she poetically accomplished, in many different voices 
and in many varying keys, major as well as minor. Phoebe's at- 
tempt to understand Uncle Venner's homely viewpoint on these 
mysteries finds its ultimate parallel in a poem that Dickinson, in 
turn influenced by the many traumatic losses of the Civil War, 
wrote early in 1864: 
Time feels so vast that were it not 
For an Eternity 
I fear me this Circumference 
Engross my Finity
>>>
The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 29 


To His exclusion, who prepare 
By Processes of Size 
For the Stupendous Vision 
Of His Diameters - 
(P 858) 


Dickinson, as we have seen, is not Phoebe any more than she 
is Hepzibah or Uncle Venner or any of the other characters in 
The House of the Seven Gables, for all individually mirror but 
a splinter of her probing consciousness. Phoebe reacts to Uncle 
Venner's somewhat jocular glimpse of the abyss by clinging to 
her true domain, the real and the practical, and after her short 
pause of meditation on the metaphysical, finds a momentary stay 
against the confusion of the cosmic by affirming that "But, for 
this short life of ours, one would like a house and a moderate 
garden-spot 01 one's own" (p. 1.56). Dickinson is of course much 
more "deep" and abstract, although she too fears that her finite- 
ness might well be swallowed up by the ever widening circles of 
time. Yet unlike Phoebe, she welcomes the greater circumference 
of Eternity, for which time itself is only a preparation, and she 
awaits a final revelation of some visionary masculine entity, who 
in his lonely grandeur seems rather like William Blake's illustra- 
tion of the Ancient of Days from the Book of Daniel, measuring 
off various spheres with a pair of "Stupendous" calipers. 17 It is 
this painful measurement, another version of "the Gift of Screws," 
that insures Dickinson's own poetic immortality, dependent as it 
is on a continual contraction and expansion of the self, for her 
true home is not "finity" but "Infinity." Dickinson resists being 
overwhelmed by the temporal and cosmicizes her situation, while 
it is precisely the finite, in the material form of a house and 
"moderate garden," that Hawthorne's Phoebe desires. As a con- 
summate housekeeper and prospective housewife, possessed of 
a gift of domestic rather than poetic faculty, she is more than 


17 See Geoffrey Keynes, A Study of the I//uminated Books of William Blake 
(N.Y.: Orion Press, 1964), plate 59 (from Europe: A Prophecy, 1794), p. 57.
>>>
30 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


willing to settle for the here and now, while Dickinson seeks for 
that something far greater which is always partially withheld, 
while also (in the Puritan tradition) preparing for a visionary state 
that transcends the time-bound limits of the material world and 
its feeble measurements. 
The pain of this long wait for, and simultaneous deferment of, 
bliss and fulfillment informs many of Dickinson's so-called 
"marriage poems." This returns us to another aspect of The House 
of the Seven Gables, its themes of witchcraft and psychic en- 
slavement, as practiced by the Maules on the Pyncheons, and 
most particularly detailed in the legend of Alice Pyncheon. In 
this interpolated tale, we see how Gervayse Pyncheon, a greedy, 
foreign-born, eighteenth-century representative of the family, is 
deceived by Matthew Maule, grandson of the original wizard 
whose land was confiscated after his trumped-up conviction and 
execution during the Salem witchcraft mania. In order to secure 
the claim to vast tracts of land in Waldo county in the state of 
Maine, Matthew Maule III uses Gervayse's daughter, the proud 
Alice, as a Spiritualist channel to divine the deed's hiding place, 
because, as Hawthorne writes, "the only chance of acquiring the 
requisite knowledge was through the clear, crystal medium of 
a pure and virgin intelligence like Alice Pyncheon" (p. 200). 
Maule succeeds in putting Alice into a mesmeric trance and gains 
possession of her will, making her subject to his whims and ever 
after exercising a manipulative control over her actions that robs 
her both of her dignity and of her aristocratic haughtiness. If 
there is any real substance to the romantic myth that is so much 
a part of Dickinson's own life and poetry; that is, the myth of her 
hopeless spiritual marriage to a mysterious "Master" figure who 
clasps a "Belt" around her life (P 330) and controls her every 
thought and action by an unwritten and yet unbreakable "Title 
Deed," surely Hawthorne's dark scenario of Alice Pyncheon's 
psychic possession, joy, despair, exaltation and humiliation would 
conjure up many striking biographical resonances upon her 
re-reading and re-pondering of this chapter. Significantly, when
>>>
The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 31 


Maule proves his mastery by defying Gervayse Pyncheon to 
waken his daughter from her deep sleep, he uses a phrase that is 
echoed in one of Emily Dickinson's most famous marriage po- 
ems: "'She is mine!' said Matthew Maule. 'Mine, by the right of 
the strongest spirit!!'" (p. 206). In Autumn of 1862, Dickinson 
wrote: 


Mine - by the right of the White Election! 
Mine - by the Royal Seal! 
Mine - by the sign in the Scarlet prison- 
Bars - cannot conceal! 


Mine - here in Vision - and in Veto! 
Mine - by the Grave's repeal- 
Titled - Confirmed - 
Delirious Charter! 
"- 
Mine long as Ages steal! 
(P 411) 


Alice Pyncheon's vision while deep within her trance state 
consists of a hypnagogic procession of her ancestors that con- 
firms their collective guilt and justifies the curse on the house 
itself. In contrast to this very material and rather mundane dumb 
show, Dickinson's vision is once again cosmic. It confirms 
a God-like "White Election" and concomitant power of eternal 
possessiveness and possession that transcend Matthew Maule's 
merely earth-bound "right of the strongest spirit." Significantly, 
the much longed for and sought after manuscript deed to Waldo 
county in The House of the Seven Gables is metamorphosed into 
Dickinson's "Delirious Charter," that confirms her title to Immor- 
tality with her lover, once again subsuming time in eternity. What 
she calls "the Grave's repeal" implies a double resurrection and 
and an entrance into a private heaven of two that no one, not 
even the "Ages," can steal from her. Dickinson stakes her claim 
by means of a mystical marriage bond or land grant that neither 
moth nor rust can corrupt. By contrast, when the secret spring 
behind the portrait of the founder of the family, the first Judge
>>>
32 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


Pyncheon, is triggered, only a folded, faded and yellowed sheet 
of parchment is discovered, "the Indian deed, on which depended 
the immense land-claim of the Pyncheons." As Holgrave, Mat- 
thew Maul's descendant, remarks, "it is what the Pyncheons 
sought in vain, while it was valuable, and now that they find the 
treasure, it has long been worthless" (p. 316). Ironically this su- 
perannuated deed conveys "to Colonel Pyncheon" and his heirs, 
forever, a vast extent of territory at the eastward. But this is an 
east that for most of the family promises neither a garden-like 
return to Eden nor their resurrection as a company of guilt-free 
Puritan saints. In paring down Calvinism to an Elect of two, 
however, Dickinson turns the tables on orthodoxy and also as- 
sures herself of the ecstatic promise that also informs the heavily 
symbolic name of Holgrave, the last and latest representative of 
the Maules: "wholeness" literally coming out of the "grave" of 
past and present agonies. 
Again, Dickinson cosmicizes regionalist Gothic romance, for 
her own "territory" remained eternity itself. That territory had to 
be entered through the dark portals of death, and it is finally 
Hawthorne's emphasis On gloom, dissolution and decay in The 
House of the Seven Gables that caused her to associate him with 
her own illness and the decline of her friends and family. Here 
the "Governor Pyncheon" chapter, which Hyatt Waggoner iden- 
tified as the source for "I heard a fly buzz - when I died -," 
emerges again as Dickinson's central inspiration from the work. 
In this set piece, Hawthorne's voyeuristic manipulation of the 
lights and shadows that play on Judge Pyncheon's corpse, and his 
mordant and frankly morbid contrast between the stiffness of death 
and the liveliness of surrounding nature, so impressed Dickinson 
that she incorporated some of his words in at least two other po- 
ems. The chapter ironically begins "Judge Pyncheon, while his 
two relatives have fled away with such ill- considered haste, still 
sits in the parlor, keeping house, as the familiar phrase is, in the 
absence of its ordinary occupants" (p. 268). Dickinson appropri- 
ated this familiar phrase in a poem that also describes a post-
>>>
The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 33 


humous tea party, as grimly and grotesquely frozen as the rigor 
mortis that steadily takes possession of the dead judge, who has 
hoped that his political schemings would soon elevate him to the 
rank of "Governor Pyncheon." At some unknown date, in a manu- 
script that is now lost, Dickinson wrote: 
The grave my little cottage is, 
Where "keeping house" for thee 
I make my parlor orderly 
And lay the marble tea. 
For two, divided, briefly, 
A cycle, it may be, 
Till everlasting life unite 
In strong society. 


"- 


(P 1784) 


Hawthorne's parlor and Judge Pyncheon's mortuary house- 
keeping are personalized and privatized as well as cosmicized, 
woven into Dickinson's mythology of life beyond the grave, as 
she finally fulfills Phoebe's role of exercising the New England 
gift of domestic faculty in Eternity rather than in time. Yet it is 
time that rules Hawthorne's grisly chapter, marked by the pas- 
sage of sun and moon, and especially by the dead judge's pocket 
watch, which itself almost becomes a character in the narration. 
We first see, this watch in Hawthorne's ominous description of 
the judge's leaden stasis, for its patent mechanism is paradoxi- 
cally much more alive than he is. Hawthorne writes: 
The Judge has not shifted his position for a long while, now. Her 
has not stirred hand or foot - nor withdrawn his eyes, so much as 
a hair's breadth from their fixed gaze towards the corner of the room _ 
since the footsteps of Hepzibah and Clifford creaked along the passage, 
and the outer door was closed cautiously behind their exit. He holds his 
watch in his left hand, but clutched in such a manner that you cannot see 
the dial-plate. (p. 269) 
Later, the slow ticking of this watch provides a terrifying ac- 
companiment to the stillness of the judge, whose body (and, by
>>>
34 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


implication, whose soul as well) is entirely effaced by the grow- 
ing darkness, as the moonbeams "gleam upon his watch," while 
"His grasp continues to conceal the dial-plate..." (p. 278). Fi- 
nally the watch runs down and stops entirely, for the first time in 
five years. "But the great world-clock of Time still keeps its beat" 
(pp. 281-282), Hawthorne continues. Providing what amounts al- 
most to a critical commentary on Hawthorne's puppet-like ma- 
nipulation of the judge's body in this grimly judgmental chapter, 
Dickinson wrote late in 1861: 
A Clock stopped - 
Not the Mantel's - 
Geneva's farthest skill 
Cant put the puppet bowing - 
That just now dangled stilI - 
An awe came on the Trinket! 
The figures hunched - with pain - 
Then quivered out of Decimals - 
Into Degreeless noon - 
It will not stir for Doctor's - 
This Pendulum of snow - 
The Shopman importunes it - 
While cool - concern less No - 
Nods from the Gilded pointers- 
Nods from the Seconds slim - 
Decades of Arrogance between 
The Dial life - 
And Him- 


(P 259) 
In Hawthorne's chapter, the awe which comes on the judge, 
transforming him from a Very Important Person to an insignifi- 
cant trinket, is the awe of the arch-avenger and King of Terrors, 
Death. Like his own ancestor, the severe Judge Hathorne of the 
Salem Witchcraft Trials, the modern Hawthorne cross-examines 
a witness who cannot answer back save in spectral terms. In
>>>
The House of Dickinson and the House of Hawthorne... 35 


Dickinson's poem, the dead body itself is a stopped clock or bro- 
ken automaton that refuses to "tell time" and denies all possible 
repair or questioning with the hauteur of a cosmic and eternal 
arrogance. Hawthorne's chapter ends with the ringing of Hepzi- 
bah's shop-bell, signifying a return from death to life, but Emily 
Dickinson is still fascinated by the condition of "Degreeless 
noon," a cosmic state beyond death itself and exterior to the 
shadows and gilded pointers that mark off ordinary time. If, as 
Herman Melville claimed in the same letter in which he included 
a mini-review of The House of the Seven Gables, the "grand 
truth" about Hawthorne was that "He says NO! in thunder; but 
the Devil himself cannot make him say yes" (p. 428), the grand 
truth about Emily Dickinson is that her poems say "No!" in an 
absolute, uncanny and "cool" cosmic silence, whether the impor- 
tuning "Shop
an" be Death, God, or the Demon of Unbelief. 
As we have seen, even what Hawthorne calls the "wide cir- 
cumference" (p. 5) of the Pyncheon elm was too narrow for 
Dickinson's ever-expanding poetic "Diameters." Yet she would 
continue to return to Hawthorne in moments of personal stress, 
regarding him as a friendly New England ghost who had already 
threaded his way through the shadowy questionings that con- 
stantly preoccupied her. Without exactly reproducing the rich fur- 
nishings of The House of the Seven Gables that Melville luxuriated 
in, she r.econstituted many of the romance's themes, methodolo- 
gies, characters, situations and words in her own idiosyncratic 
way. Hawthorne continued to both appall and entice her, and in 
imaginatively revisiting this romance, she internalized his pres- 
ence as well as cosmicizing its "Local Color" elements through 
her own gift of metrical "faculty." Speaking of one of the man- 
sion's furnishings that Melville failed to catalog, Hawthorne 
wrote early in his book that "As regards its interior life, a large, 
dim looking-glass used to hang in one of the rooms, and was 
fancied to contain within its depths all the shapes that had ever 
been reflected there" (p. 20). It was these old shapes, and the 
poetic possibility of new and fresh ones, that so held and fasci-
>>>
36 


Barton Levi St. Armand 


nated Emily Dickinson. For while the House of Hawthorne might 
have been for her a structure filled with many dim and sometimes 
threatening mirrors, the House of Dickinson remained an edifice 
full of cosmic reflections, by turn lively, joyous, passionate, and 
sombre, on the depths of her own interior life.
>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Toruil 2001 


JERZY KUTNIK 
Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin 


"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors 
and Contours of Old Glory 


Although 'it was officially, established by the Continental 
Congress in 1777, the American flag for a long time was a sec- 
ondary national symbol, used primarily to identify naval and 
governmental possessions. The Confederate attack on Fort Sum- 
ter and the removal by the rebels of the Union's banner from the 
fort's flagpole changed the place of the Stars and Stripes in pub- 
lic consciousness. For the Northerners, it became a prime symbol 
of perseverance, loyalty, sacrifice, and pride. Extreme emotions 
occasioned by the war sometimes led to flag-related excesses 
such as the execution in Union-controlled New Orleans of a man 
accused'of soiling and tearing to shreds an American flag and the 
court-martialling on similar charges of a schoolgirl, who re- 
ceived a heavy fine and was sentenced to ninety days in a mili- 
tary prison. I 
After the war, flag waving became common among Republi- 
can politicians, whose newly heightened patriotism often found 


I See Robert Justin Goldstein, The History of the American Flag Desecra- 
tion Controversy (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995), p. 7. Subsequent references 
follow in parentheses.
>>>
38 


Jerzy Kutnik 


expression in fiery denuncia- 
tions of their political oppo- 
nents as disloyal and "un- 
American." During election 
campaigns, candidates wal- 
lowed in the national colors, 
attaching to flags their names, 
portraits, and slogans and 
draping their podiums with 
tricolored bunting. Following 
suit, businessmen and ad- 
vertisers also began to make 
use of the commercial poten- 
tial of the Stars and Stripes. 
Decorative designs began to 
appear which blended the 
flag's colors with depictions 
of wares and trademarks. A 
whole new commercial heral- 
dry was born which appealed 


1. A patriotic, Unionist sheet 
music i1Iustration, 1862 


_' I I ' \ ' 1 '1 / ,.,]-1 r l'+l n 'fl"J '1 . \ 'V'
 I ',i,{ " 
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to feelings of patriotism in order to win the purses and pocket- 
books of buyers and clients. Images of "Old Glory" and flag col- 
ors could be found on hundreds of objects sold in stores, from 
cheese, ham, chewing gum and soap, through to toys, dresses, 
belts, handkerchiefs, napkins, patent medicines, liquors, cigars, 
fireworks, coal sacks, door mats, urinals, and toilet papers. 
The unabashed, and often tasteless, exploitation of the flag 
for political and commercial gain led in turn to the emergence of 
patriotic groups which campaigned against the degradation of the 
venerated national symbol. Unscrupulous practices which turned
>>>
"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors... 39 


the flag into an emblem of deception and greed were publicly 
denounced, particularly if they associated the flag with conduct 
generally viewed as vice-ridden (such as drinking or smoking) or 
with bodily functions, especially those related to sexuality and 
excretion. The authors of one flag protection pamphlet lamented 
that flag-decorated tissue paper used to wrap lemons was prized 
by janitors, who kept it "for unmentionable purposes.,,2 


\. 


,\ (,\ 1\, I. ( r:, 
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\)
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i1 


2. An advertising card or box label for New York 
tobacco distributor C. H. Lilienthal, 1860 


2 Misuse of the National Flag of the United States of America (Chicago, 
1895), p. 27 (quoted in Goldstein, p. 12).
>>>
40 


Jerzy Kutnik 



 


. 


3. A tattoo parlor signboard 


The first attempt to ban the use of the flag for commercial 
advertising was made in 1878, but the politicians in Congress 
rejected the bill because its passage would also prohibit using the 
flag colors in election campaigns. When another such law was 
proposed in 1890, this time aimed specifically at commercial ad- 
vertising, the word "desecration" was used to signal that the flag 
needed legal protection because it was "a thing sacred." Though 
unsuccessful at the federal level, the leaders and backers of the 
flag protection movement managed to convince many state legis- 
lators that criminalizing irreverent treatment of the flag served 
important national interests. By 1932 laws had been passed across 
the country which made it a crime to intentionally damage or de- 
stroy the flag.
>>>
"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors... 41 


In their fetishistic frenzy, however, "superpatriots" all too often 
confused symbol and substance. For example, some of them cas- 
tigated postal officials for punching, and thus defacing, stamps 
bearing pictures of great Americans, while others protested against 
the flag being sold - "openly for money" - on the streets of 
American cities. 3 More dangerously, their unbridled idolatry of 
the flag often engendered intolerance of difference and dissent. 
During World War I, the postwar "Red Scare" of 1919-1920 and 
World War II, the crusade against insufficiently reverential main- 
stream uses of the Stars and Stripes was abandoned while the at- 
tention of the flag protection movement was shifted to left-wing 
political radicals, such as anarchists, socialists, pacifists and 
communists. 
Linking flag desecration with "un-Americanism," patriotic 
"- 
groups denied to "subversive elements" the right to rally behind 
the flag not because of what they did to it but because of who 
they were. This double standard meant that, on the one hand, 
Commercial use of the national colors was tolerated when the 
purpose of the advertisement was a patriotic one - for exam- 
ple, as Representative J. M. C. Smith argued in 1918, when "very 
beautiful" depictions of the flag were used. 4 On the other hand, 
workers carrying flags during protest marches and rallies were 
attacked and shot at by the police, as happened, for instance, 
during tJ'te coal strikes in Colorado in 1914 and 1927. (One is 
immediately reminded of the civil rights demonstrations in the 
1950s during which policemen took away American flags carried 
by peacefully demonstrating blacks.) 
The bigotry of flag-worshipping mobs sometimes took extre- 
me forms, the most notorious example of which was compelling 
individuals suspected of "un-American" sentiments to publicly 


3 "The Flag as a Fetish," The Independent, January 15, 1903, pp. 162-163 
(quoted in Goldstein, 69). 
4 "To Preserve the Purity of the Flag," House Judiciary Committee, 65th 
Congress, 2nd Session, January 23, 1918 (quoted in Goldstein, p. 89).
>>>
42 


Jerzy Kutnik 


...- 


4. March 21, 1965, the third attempt 
for the Alabama Freedom March 


kiss the flag. A number of such incidents were recorded during 
World War I. Enforcing veneration for the flag was also an issue 
during World War II, when rituals of flag saluting and reciting 
The Pledge of Allegiance became common in American schools. 
In 1940, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring students to pay 
homage to the flag despite their religious objections did not vio- 
late their constitutional rights. As a result, hundreds of children 
of Jehovah's Witnesses were expelled or suspended from school 
for refusing to salute the flag. The Supreme Court's ruling was 
reversed three years later but irreparable harm had already been 
done. 
After World War II laws banning commercial flag use practi- 
cally ceased to be enforced and interest in the issue of flag dese- 
cration virtually disappeared. It was suddenly rekindled when, on 
April 15, 1967, a massive antiwar demonstration was held in 
New York during which an American flag was burned. The inci- 
dent, recorded by numerous photojournalists present, touched off
>>>
"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors... 43 


an avalanche of flag protection bills in the US Congress, which 
a year later passed a national flag desecration law. Ironically, and 
perhaps predictably, the 1968 act proved to be completely coun- 
terproductive and inflammatory. Instead of preventing protesters 
from using the flag to express their opposition to the war in Viet- 
nam, it provoked more protests, so much so that by the mid 1970s 
over a thousand flag desecration incidents had been prosecuted. 


5. "Are You Doing All You Can?" poster, 1942 


Many of those prosecutions followed the earlier double-stan- 
dard pattern, betraying the authorities' interest in suppressing 
dissent rather than protecting the flag and the ideals it represents. 
Abbie Hoffman, one of the counterculture's leading activists, was 
a favorite target of governmental attacks. In 1968 he was arrested
>>>
44 


Jerzy Kutnik 


for wearing a store-bought flag shirt to a hearing before the 
House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Two years later his face 
and body were electronically blanked out from the TV screen 
when he appeared on the popular Merv Griffin Show wearing his 
flag shirt again. Four thousand calls were made to CBS in sup- 
port of Hoffman. Some callers pointed out that only a few days 
earlier similar shirts had been worn by Western stars Roy Rogers 
and Dale Evans on another network without anybody objecting. 
Hoffman's antics, which included, among others, blowing his 
nose in a flagkerchief during public presentations, quite obvi- 
ously were intended to expose the hypocrisy of the establish- 
ment, which enforced flag desecration laws discriminatorily and 
arbitrarily. Such practices, however, received a heavy blow from 
the Supreme Court when the Justices ruled that using the flag for 
political protest fell under the category of symbolic expression 
and as such was protected by the First Amendment's "freedom of 
speech" clause. Indirectly, the Court acknowledged that the flag's 
communicative power was not limited only to the symbolism at- 
tributed to it by self-appointed defenders of orthodox patriotic 
values but was largely determined by the sociohistorical context. 
Artists, who often approach ideas in visual terms, were among 
the first to take advantage of the simple truth that the flag is also an 
abstract visual/decorative pattern with appeal that is contextual 
rather than inherent and predetermined. Some modernists, like 
Charles Demuth, Arthur G. Dove and Gerald Murphy, had used 
the flag's colors and design as pictorial elements in the I 920s, 
but it was not until thirty years later that the Stars and Stripes 
became one of the key images in a new representational art that 
replaced abstract expressionism. Its chief exponent, Jasper Johns, 
divorced the flag from its conventional context, turning it into 
a flat object which was neither a flag nor a painting of it but just 
a series of bold decorative patterns. Pop artists then took full ad- 
vantage of the expressive potential of the image, turning the 
Stars and Stripes into a polysemous cultural icon transcending its 
traditional perception as a universally accepted patriotic symbol.
>>>
"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors... 45 


6. Gerald Murphy, Villa America, 1924 
"- 


7. Johns, Jasper, Three Flags, 1958 


During the 1960s many artists responded in very direct ways 
to the politicizatiorf of the flag, for some still the primary symbol 
of American ideals and values, for others increasingly a symbol 
of their betrayal. Works were created that challenged the grand 
metaphor of "Old Glory" and its monopolization by conservative
>>>
46 


Jerzy Kutnik 


veteran and patriotic groups and their supporters in the govern- 
ment. It is quite ironic, too, that the artist who was responsible 
for the first famous trial involving unorthodox use of the flag for 
the purpose of artistic expression was himself a veteran, though 
not of World War I or World War II but an ex-Marine from Viet- 
nam. His name was Marc Morrell and he was the author of a se- 
ries of flag objects exhibited in a New York gallery in 1966. The 
most controversial of them was a sculpture in the form of a flag- 
wrapped body hanging from a noose. Curiously, it was not the 
artist but the gallery's owner, Stephen Radich, who was arrested 
and charged with flag desecration when a police officer walking 
past the gallery noticed the displayed works. 


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8. Yvonne Rainer, Barbara Lloyd, David Gordon, Nancy Green, 
Steve Paxton and Lincoln Scott perform a flag dance during 
the opening of the People's Flag Show, 1970 


Radich's conviction and the ensuing lengthy litigation not 
only attracted much media attention but also galvanized New 
York's art community, which rallied behind the prosecuted art
>>>
"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors... 47 


dealer. In November 1970, a group known as the Art Workers 
Coalition organized "The People's Flag Show" at New York's 
Judson Memorial Church to protest "the repressive laws govern- 
ing so-called flag desecration.,,5 
The show was opened by Reverend Howard Moody, the sen- 
ior minister, who gave a sermon entitled "Symbols and Fetishes: 
A Left-handed Salute to the Flag." Then, after a symbolic flag 
burning ceremony, six naked artists wearing only flags tied around 
their necks performed a flag
ance. Among the two hundred works 
exhibited were some highly provocative objects and installations, 
such as a flag stuffed in a toilet and a soft sculpture shaped like 
a scrotum and a penis. On the fifth day of the show the church 
was raided by a group of concerned citizens and the police, who 
seized the flag phallus and arrested three organizers (who were 
"" 
later convicted and fined). 
Flag desecration prosecutions and convictions, chiefly of peace 
demonstrators, climaxed in the early 1970s, but soon the hysteria 
began to subside and the cultural and legal battles over the flag 
came to an end when American troops were withdrawn from 
Vietnam. In a symptomatic decision, a Pittsburgh jury acquitted 
another artist, William Mogush, who had exhibited a piece of 
canvas to which an American flag was glued upside down with 
a swastika painted across the stripes and a photo of aborted fe- 
tuses attached to the field of stars. The jurors accepted his expla- 
nation that he had acted out of love for his country and that the 
work was a protest against the Supreme Court's 1973 decision 
legalizing abortion. The jury's verdict signaled a change in the 
attitude of the courts, which increasingly made it clear that sym- 
bolic acts, however offensive and provocative, constituted the 
legal equivalents of speech and writing and, like speech and 
writing, were protected by the Constitution. 


S Jon Hendricks and Jean Toche, The Guerilla Art Action Group, 1969- 
1976: A Selection (New York: Printed Matter, 1978), unpaginated.
>>>
48 


Jerzy Kutnik 


At the same time, it should be remembered that the Supreme 
Court itself was deeply divided on the issue of physical flag 
desecration, and its (non)decisions sent very mixed messages to 
state legislators and judges, thus compounding the ensuing legal 
confusion. In an effort to overcome constitutional problems, state 
congresses often revised their flag statutes in ways that made the 
situation even worse. Usually they only removed restrictions on 
the use of the flag for commercial purposes, thus making it more 
obvious that the true aim of the authorities was primarily to sup- 
press political dissent. For the time being that did not seem to 
matter much because political protests utilizing the flag signifi- 
cantly diminished after 1974. It was not until ten years later that 
an incident occurred which caused the controversy to erupt with 
new force. 
On August 22, 1984, during the Republican Convention in 
Dallas, Gregory Lee Johnson, a member of a miniscule Maoist 
organization, burned a flag in front of the City Hall. Convicted 
for violating the Texas Venerated Objects law, Johnson contested 
the decision and after five years of litigation his appeal reached 
the Supreme Court. Although the case did not initially attract 
much media attention, the flag was once again the subject of 
heated debates thanks to the 1988 presidential race. In his elec- 
tion campaign George Bush questioned the patriotism of his 
Democratic opponent by reminding voters that Michael Dukakis, 
while acting as governor of Massachusetts, had vetoed a law re- 
quiring daily school recitations of The Pledge of Allegiance. 
Bush's success in making the flag a campaign issue would later 
have profound repercussions after his election to the presidency. 
In the meantime, however, another incident took place which 
revived the flag desecration dispute. A few weeks before the 
Johnson case was scheduled for oral argument at the Supreme 
Court, an exhibition was organized at the Art Institute of Chicago 
featuring works by minority students. One of them was an instal- 
lation called "What is the Proper Way to Display the American 
Flag?" by a young black known as Dread Scott. It consisted of
>>>
"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors... 49 


a photographic collage of flag burnings and flag-draped coffins 
under which was placed a ledger for visitors to write down their 
responses to the work. In order to get to the ledger, one had to 
step on a flag placed on the floor in front of it. The installation 
provoked local and national protests. President Bush called the 
exhibit "disgraceful" and the Senate voted to amend the flag 
desecration act of 1968 outlawing unfurling the flag on the floor. 


9. Dread Scott, What Is the proper Way, 
to Display the American Flag?, 1988 


But the real bombshell was the announcement of the Supreme 
Court's verdict in the Johnson case on June 21, 1989. After years 
of vacillation, the Justices finally directly confronted the ques- 
tion of the constitutionality of flag desecration laws. In a five to 
four ruling, they struck down the Texas statute, in this way auto- 
matically voiding similar laws in other states. The Court con- 
cluded that the government did not have the right to "foster its 
Own view of the flag" by punishing its desecration, for in doing
>>>
50 


Jerzy Kutnik 


so it would "dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem repre- 
sents.,,6 The political establishment responded with bewilderment 
and outrage, unjustly accusing the Court of endorsing disrespect 
for the flag. Within a few days of the decision President Bush 
delivered a speech at the Iwo Jima Monument that called for 
a constitutional amendment protecting the flag. Thus a new phase 
of the battle began. 
After four months of heated debate, Congress rejected the 
president's idea and instead passed a new Flag Protection Act. As 
anticipated by the act's critics, however, the Congressional rem- 
edy proved unable to withstand Supreme Court scrutiny under 
the Johnson principles when the new law was put to the test by 
flag-burners. Only a few hours after the passage of the statute, 
a demonstration of Vietnam war veterans was held in Seattle 
during which American flags were burned. Two days later, a New 
York artist, Shawn Eichman, organized a similarly defiant protest 
on the steps of the Capitol. Her arrest and subsequent conviction 
led to another historic decision of the Supreme Court, which, in 
June 1990, struck down the Flag Protection Act as unconstitu- 
tional. Within hours of the decision, Senator Bob Dole intro- 
duced a proposal to amend the Constitution, but both houses de- 
feated the measure later in the month. Moreover, to the disap- 
pointment of the backers of the amendment solution, public in- 
terest in the whole issue declined so quickly that it was not even 
included in the agendas of the 1992 presidential candidates. 
Interestingly, opinion polls conducted throughout the 1990s 
consistently showed that most Americans favored the idea of 
constitutional flag protection, which inspired the flag's defenders 
in Congress to renew their attempts to pass an appropriate amend- 
ment. In June 1995, the House passed a resolution to adopt such 
an amendment by the wide margin of 312-120, twenty-four more 
than the number needed to reach the two-thirds majority. But in 


6 The Supreme Court opinion in Texas v. Johnson, decided on June 21, 
1989, http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/supreme.html.
>>>
"0 say can you see... ": The Changing Colors... 51 


December the Senate narrowly (63-36) defeated it, thus killing 
the issue for the 104th Congress. The House again adopted the 
amendment in June 1997, but this time the Senate failed to even 
get unanimous agreement to bring it to the floor (in October 
1998). In April 1999, the Senate Judiciary Committee finally ap- 
proved it and in June the House passed the amendment again, 
raising the hopes of the supporters of constitutional flag protec- 
tion. But on March 29, 2000, the measure was definitively killed 
for this century's last Congress when a minority of thirty-seven 
senators voted against changing the Constitution. 


A. 
"Ke 


10. William H. Johnson, Commodore Peary 
and Henson at the North Pole, c. 1945 


The conflict between the flag's defenders and its would-be or 
potential attackers not only remains unresolved but it may never 
be resolved given the utterly paradoxical nature of the issue,
>>>
52 


Jerzy Kutnik 


which is this: do the freedoms that the flag represents include the 
freedom to abuse it? For one thing, even such controversial and 
extreme behavior as flag burning is undeniably a form of politi- 
cal expression and, as such, it falls under the category of funda- 
mental protected rights. At the same time, most acts of desecra- 
tion are not motivated by hatred and fanaticism but are rather 
desperate, if radical, attempts to reclaim the flag and show that it 
is the property of all Americans. This is especially true about 
those groups which have been ignored and marginalized in the 
past. It is not a historical coincidence that today it is minority 
artists who use the flag most often. And though their treatment of 
the flag sometimes may suggest disrespect for the national sym- 
bol - especially when they identify as an oppressor's emblem - 


II. Robert Colescott, George Washington Carver Crossing 
the Delaware - Page from an American History Textbook, 1975
>>>
"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors... 53 


12. Faith Ringgold, The Flag Is Bleeding, 1967 


13. David Behrens, Iron Horse Apocalypse
>>>
54 


Jerzy Kutnik 


in fact their deep allegiance to the values for which the flag stands 
is often revealed. In the works of many African American and Na- 
tive American artists the flag features prominently as a bittersweet 
reminder that it is part of their people's heritage too and that that 
heritage is as American as the dominant culture of the white man. 
In conclusion, it seems fairly clear that the flag's integrity is 
better served by defending the right of the people to express their 
political grievances rather than by suppressing dissent and criti- 
cism. Creating and protecting a free marketplace of ideas does 
not diminish the value of national symbols but, on the contrary, 
reinforces people's confidence that such symbols are not merely 
fetishes of a phony civic religion but that they truly deserve an 
emotional and moral commitment transcending political allegian- 
ces and agendas. 
However, lest the reader think that this essay is just another 
piece of uninspired flag propaganda, let me end on a lighter note 
by describing an example of using the flag in a way which com- 
bines, and reconciles, ideas and ideals that might otherwise seem 
rather incompatible. In 1992, Jay Critchley, an artist and AIDS 
activist from Provincetown, Massachusetts, created the Old Glory 
Condom Corporation, for which he developed a line of prophy- 
lactics with a logo consisting of a representation of a condom 
decorated with stars and stripes in a manner suggestive of the 
American flag. He explained that in this way he tried "to give 
a new meaning to what it means to be patriotic.'" The U.S. Patent 
Office refused to grant Critchley a trademark license, saying that 
the logo was scandalous because it associated "a sacrosanct sym- 
bol" with condoms and as such was likely to offend "a substan- 
tial composite of the general public."s Critchley then appealed to 


7 "The New Condom: Larger Than Life," Newsweek, October 30, 1989, p. 10. 
8 The words of the examining attorney quoted the opinion of the Trade- 
mark Trial and Appeal Board, "In Re Old Glory Condom Corporation," de- 
cided on March 3, 1993, 
http://ginsburg.1aw.uconn.edu/homes/swilf/ip/cases/oldglory.html, p. I.
>>>
"0 say can you see...": The Changing Colors... 55 


the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which ruled that the red, 
white, and blue logo was not scandalous and that the designer 
should be commended for his attempt to redefine patriotism. In 
its decision, the Board cited "Trouble in Paradise," an exhibition 
organized by Critchley a few years earlier at the List Visual Arts 
Center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The show 
focused on artists' responses to contemporary social and political 
issues and made use of symbols of American patriotism "to focus 
attention on the AIDS epidemic and, in particular, to emphasize 
that Americans have a patriotic duty to fight the AIDS epidemic 
and other sexually transmitted diseases."9 Explaining his mo- 
tives, Critchley said: "People often say my work is humorous, 
but I'm trying to make a point. It has to do with interaction and 
ideas. I want people to laugh, but then hopefully they'll get to the 
thinking leveLand say, "Hmmm, maybe it's not so siIly."1O The 
history of flag-related debates and controversies shows that, like 
thinking, patriotism and morality cannot be legislated, while the 
changing sociohistorical conditions are likely to produce new 
uses and meanings of popular icons such as flags. 


.

 
i. 

 


... 
""01' 
 
 


14. "Old Glory 
Condom" logo 


(1l.j f}J()IY (;"'UiHIJ (
'J").(}t".'1.t.ft.Il'! 


9 "In Re Old Glory Condom Corporation," 
http://ginsburg.law . uconn.edu/homes/swilf/ip/cases/oldglory.html, p. 2. 
10 "LFP Artists Explore Masculinity, Musical Theatre," Arts Spectrum, No- 
vember 1999, http://www.fas.harvard.edu/-ofa/spectrum/nov99/lfp.html, p. 1. 
More information about the Old Glory Condom Corporation can be found on 
Critchley's company web page: http://www.tiac.ne/users/reroot/tee.html.
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


DAVID PICHASKE 
Southwest State University 


So What's Midwestern 
about Midwestern Literature? 


"Would you say that the search for identity is pri- 
marily an American theme?" novelist Ralph Ellison 
'- was once asked by an interviewer. "It is the American 
theme," he replied. 
- Thomas Cooley (ix) 
Iowa, for example, is not only a state in the union but 
also a state of mind in the American consciousness - 
a metaphor accentuating an amorphous traditionalism 
deployed in the "family"; a largely unreflective patrio- 
tism; an ethic of hard work and democratic-socialist 
egalitarianism; community spirit of the action-riented, 
"barn-raising" sort; a commitment to "basic values"; 
moral, spiritual, and educational fair-dealing and loy- 
alty to one's employer; a parsimony on principle; a ver- 
bal commitment to the myth of the family farm even 
in a period of agribusiness takeover; an international 
export-ethic and aspiration to multinational prowess; 
a healthy local skepticism about all such claims; and the 
social practices surrounding American rural and small- 
town life, particularly those of the community potluck 
supper, the church social, and the county fair. 
- Cheryl Temple Herr, Critical Regionalism and 
Cultural Studies (106)
>>>
58 


David Pichaske 


... when I try to explain my problems I shall speak, 
not of self, but of geography. 
- Pablo Neruda, "We Are Many" (trans. Alastair Reid) 


There are really only three questions in literature: Who am I? 
What made me what I am? What might I become? 
There are, of course, many answers. Who am I? "Oedipus, 
who bear the famous name..." "Call me IshmaeL" "I'm 'wife'- 
I've finished that / That other state." Call me An Invisible Man. 
Call me A Son of the Middle Border. 
What made me what I am? "Divine am I, inside and out." "If 
you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably 
want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood 
was like..." "Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry." "I was born on 
the prairie and the milk of its wheat, the red of its clover, the 
eyes of its women, gave me a song and a slogan." "I see now that 
this has been a story of the West, after all - Tom and Gatsby, 
Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners..." 
What might I become? "Think thou on hell, Faustus, for thou 
art damned." "All right, then, I'll go to hell." "I left the woods 
for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that 
I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more 
time for that one." "The town of Winesburg had disappeared and 
his life there had become but a background on which to paint the 
dreams of his manhood." "Tak, ja nie mam nic, ty nie masz nic, 
on nie ma nic." "To razem wlasnie mamy tyle, w sam raz tyle, 
zeby zalozyc wielk
 fabryk
." 


Nosce teipsum 


We measure ourselves in terms of those around us, in whom 
we identify similarities and differences. The dissimilar becomes 
an Other, or Others, against which we define the Self. It is good 
to know the Other, but it is not good to be absorbed into the
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 59 


Other, to become decentered. Various programs of multicultural 
studies were intended, by the ethnic minorities who first de- 
manded them, to construct a self in terms distinct from those of 
the dominant Other. In the 1980s and '90s they became so popu- 
lar - and their content so commodified and disseminated among 
non-ethnics - that many of academics these days find them- 
selves completely decentered. 
The self is conceptualized primarily not from Others, but 
from what most resembles the face in the mirror. I And that self is 
explained in terms of inheritance, conditioning, fate, and choice. 
In bars and on the softball field we speak of fate and destiny: 
"When your time's up, it up," and "I'd rather be lucky than good." 
In academia, however, the concept of destiny - Anglo-Saxon 
wyrd - is about as fashionable as the notion of free will. Aca- 
demics who Still insist on cause and effect relationships (and 
many do not) are more likely to explain personality in terms of 
conditioning and genetics. For most of the twentieth century 
conditioning has received most of the credit, but in the last 
twenty years genetics, the current version of "family" and "blood 
line," has gained much currency, except in departments of psy- 
chology, sociology and English. And for good reason: if my more 
radical geneticist friends are correct in saying that every decision 
we make is genetically predetermined, literature can tell us little 
about the life we lead, and offer few blueprints for improvement. 
In English departments, where even such apparently genetic 
concepts as race and gender are described as culturally encoded, 
debate is most likely to be about which elements of environment 
most shape the self. These days race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual 
preference receive more attention as shaping forces than religion, 
age, geography, birth order, or, here's one for you to think about, 
personal appearance. But in academia nothing ever stays the 


I "In general, human beings construct individual identities through identi- 
fication with other people with whom they believe they share similar values" 
(Clayton and Onuf, 43).
>>>
60 


David Pichaske 


same, and lately I have seen some indication of national interest 
in region as a determinant of behavior... and thus a subcategory 
of Iiterature. 2 The reasons for that renewed interest - if it exists 
- are not clear to me: doctoral candidates looking for new ap- 
proaches to familiar authors and new authors on which to prac- 
tice familiar approaches, more sharply defined textbook and con- 
ference markets,3 a return to realism and thus place after binging 
out on postmodernist literature of language and imagination, 
a reconceptualization of world as place rather than process, a lit- 
erary spinoff from environmental bioregionalism?4 Let me pass 
on causes. I'll eschew justifications as well, except to note that 
writers living and working outside of New York have repeatedly 
complained about the way that city's particularities become 
"American," while those of other geographies become "local 
color." And I will touch on the history of regionalism only long 
enough to observe that, paradoxically, America has always been 


2 "If we want to understand ourselves, we would do well to take a search- 
ing look at our landscapes" - D. W. Meinig (2). 
3 One bit of evidence for renewed interest in regionalism is Cheryl Temple 
Herr's Critical Regionalism and Cultural Studies: From Ireland to the Ameri- 
can Midwest (University Press of Florida, 1996). Herr points out an "evolving 
concept of the region in the global economy" and suggests "one way to inspect 
the often tenuous equilibrium of old and new is to follow the interpretive paths 
blazed by business administrators. This is because at the level of global market- 
ing, regions rather than nations have increasingly formed the target base" (2,3), 
4 "At bioregionalism's foundation is the argument that humans are after all 
animals, whose evolutionary trajectory for 99 percent of our time on earth has 
been spent as gatherer-hunters living in bands of 125-150 that were deeply 
conversant with small pieces of the world. Even after the agricultural revolu- 
tion, generations of related people continued to live in and learn intimately 
even more limited slices of the planet, and they built up a cultural legacy 
(primarily transmitted in stories associated with local landscapes) that pro- 
duced adaptive packages of 'captured knowledge' about the settings they in- 
habited. If our social lives for the bulk of our time as primate species teach 
anything, it is that staying in place and interacting in small communities is 
what evolution has prepared us for." Dan Flores, Horizontal Yel/ow (University 
of New Mexico Press, 1999), 181.
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 61 


a nation of regions, but "local color" has almost always been 
a pejorative. Let us just say that place deserves attention. Texas- 
born William Goyen - who is in many respects a postmodern 
language poet, not a writer of place - has said, "I don't think 
anyone ever recovers from the place he was born" (Gibbons 325).5 
Says Nebraska's Bill Kloefkorn, "When you spend a lot of time / 
in one place, one place / spends a lot of time in you" (79). Writes 
Minnesota novelist-essayist Kent Meyers, "You never lose the 
clay from off your heels" (Light 213). 
All of those controversial generalizations are intended to 
provide a context for my real business, which also involves 
a high level of controversial generalization: to say, briefly, what 
is Midwestern about the literature of the Midwest, a place where 
I have spent my entire post-secondary life, moving in the process 
from Ohio to"-Illinois to Minnesota... picking up in the process 
a lot of local clay on my East Coast heels. 
There are obvious answers. Place provides recognizable mark- 
ers of geography: names of towns and rivers, species of plants 
and animals, descriptions of streets and buildings and restau- 
rants, even details of river water that let us know precisely where 
we are: "When it was daylight, here was the clear Ohio water in 
shore, sure enough, and outside was the old regular Muddy! So it 
was all up with Cairo" (Twain, 77). Place provides recognizable 
marker
 of language - vocabulary, idiom, and rhythm - so that 
in Twain's words "the talk shall sound like human talk" and not 
like the voice from anywhere: the many dialects of Huck Finn, 
Etter's "You was talkin' on rusty cars what leak" (233) or "You 
know, I kinda sorts like it" (55); Anderson's "I guess I showed 
him. I ain't so queer. I guess I showed him I ain't so queer" (201). 


S "For me, environment is all. Place - as I was saying about my students - 
is absolutely essential. I know the vogue for the nonplace, the placeless place, 
a la Beckett, is very much an influence on writing these days... What is 
a writer to do? Free of the 'reality' of his environment? To lament loss of 
place, to search for it in memory? Because within place is culture, style... So in 
this extent, then, I am a regional writer" (Phillips 136).
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62 


David Pichaske 


And place provides a characteristic manner of acting and re- 
acting - a body language, if you will - which locates a charac- 
ter in time and space: 
It is supposed that Nelse Jensen, one of the six men at the dinner- 
table, is courting Signa, though he has been so careful not to commit 
himself that no one in the house, least of all Signa, can tell just how far 
the matter has progressed. Nelse watches her glumly as she waits upon 
the table, and in the evening he sits on a bench behind the stove with his 
dragharmonika, playing mournful airs and watching her as she goes 
about her work. When Alexandra asked Signa whether she thought 
Nelse was in earnest, the poor child hid her hands under her apron and 
murmured, "I don't know, ma'm. But he scolds me about everything, 
like as if he wanted to have me!" (Cather 86) 
I'm interested, however, in more subtle habits of thought and 
attitude: how do Midwestern writers think, and why do they think 
it? Do Midwestern writers have a recognizable style, a favorite 
material, a characteristic slant on that material? Do Willa Cather 
and Sinclair Lewis, for example, bring a certain Midwestern 
frame of reference to material which is specifically not Midwestern? 
Let me confront immediately the obvious questions What ex- 
actly constitutes the Midwest? The Midwest is that region west 
of the Appalachians and east of the high plains,6 north of the 
Ohio and the Missouri Rivers - in bioregionalist terms, the wa- 
tershed of the Upper Mississippi - in which the combination of 
soil, climate, elevation and rainfall make land most suitable to 
planted crops (usually corn, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat). 
The Midwest has fewer "authored landscapes" than either the 
East or the South, but is not as untransformed as the West. Its 


6 Annie Dillard argues that "Pittsburgh is the Midwest's eastern edge" 
(214), but I'm not buying the argument. And while "high plains" would seem 
to offer a great deal of latitude in defining a western border, it does not: that 
point at which seed caps yield to Stetsons, work shoes to cowboy boots, and 
planted crops to cattle range is a narrow, fifty-mile band of America from Can- 
ada down to Texas.
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 63 


dominant features of big sky and large, open fields give a feeling 
of emptiness. "We're living in the middle of nowhere," runs 
a line in a Dave Etter poem (Alliance 134); the response is, "Well, 
at least we're in the center of things." Neither tall mountains nor 
dense woods are found in most of the Midwest these days, al- 
though in the early settlement period, forests reached through 
Ohio and Indiana into eastern Illinois, and north through Michi- 
gan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. 
The Midwest is the region of big wind, and Big Windy. 
And of big lakes and big rivers, predominantly the Great 
Lakes, the Mississippi, and its tributaries the Ohio and the Mis- 
souri. "I think that the river / Is a strong brown god," wrote T. S. 
Eliot in "The Dry Salvages," "sullen, untamed and intractable, / 
Patient to some degree, at first recognized as a frontier."? 
The Midwest was never ethnically homogeneous, before or 
after settlement. 8 Always it has' contained pockets of mining for 
coal, copper, lead, iron ore from Ohio to Illinois to Michigan to 
Minnesota. Urban centers of industry and commerce have been 
a fact of life for over a century and have been ascendant for at 
least half a century; in fact, by 1890 only 39 percent of Midwest- 
erners were farmers (Clayton and Onuf 104). Still, even in the 
year 2000, the Midwest pictures itself as a harmony of agricul- 
ture-based towns and villages. "A dissonance of parts and peo- 


7 "Toe same for T. S. Eliot. He seemed then so much more American than 
Pound... Oh, Eliot got hold of me at that early age and helped me speak for my 
own place." - William Goyen (Phillips 131). 
8 Minnesota is a patchwork quilt. Within a fifty-mile radius of Marshall, 
where I teach, lie a dozen different towns settled by a dozen different ethnic 
groups: Danes in Tyler, Icelanders in Minneota, Germans in St. Leo, Poles in 
Wilno, Czechs in Bechyn, Norwegians in Dawson and Madison, Irish in 
Avoca, Swedes in Balaton, Belgians in Ghent. The cemeteries are full of old 
gravestones displaying foreign languages in various stages of decay, and each 
SUmmer brings a smorgasbord of small-town ethnic festivals: Syttende Mai, 
Fiesta Days, Sauerkraut Days, Ableskyver Days, Pow-wow, Belgian-American 
Days, Norsk Reise Fest, Polska Kielbasa Days, Czech heritage Fest, Oktober- 
fest, Ole and Lena Days, Norskefest.
>>>
64 


David Pichaske 


pie, we are a consonance of Towns," wrote William Gass in 1958 
(186). Perhaps this view of the Midwest is a myth, a will to find 
that place in which "so many millions found some real substance 
to the American Dream" (Meinig 168). Perhaps this view of the 
Midwest is an opposition to some urban Other: "It is widely 
claimed and I think deeply true that Americans in general have 
been and still are strongly antiurban in their emotions" (Meinig 
181). 9 Perhaps the Midwest's view of itself is an indictment of 
the city: John Knoepfle points out, "the cities of America are, 
like taxes, designed for the movement of goods, and not for the 
comfort of people in their social and festive nature, so that they 
long for a courtesy in space that they do not find in the street and 
the boulevard" (148).10 
Open skies, open fields, straight roads one lost Swede town 
to the next, reducing the prairie to a checkerboard. That's my 
Midwest. 
The Midwest did set - or find itself at the forefront of - 
several cultural trends early in the twentieth century, and its 
landscape best accommodates the quintessential late twentieth- 
century American landscape symbol the highway. Nevertheless, 
the Midwest has lost much of its social, political, and literary 
clout in the past three decades... including pages in the Norton 
Anthology of Literature. Certainly the Midwest is no longer the 
literary capital of the Republic, as it was when H. L. Mencken 
wrote, in 1920, 
Where, then, is the good writing that goes on in the Republic done? 
In New York? Not much of it. New York is the home of literary arti- 
sans, not of literary artists... considering its population, the big town 


9 Also, "Americans have no urban history. They live in one of the world's 
most urbanized countries as if it were a wilderness" - Sam Bass Warner, Jr., 
The Urban Wilderness, A History of the American City (New York, 1972), 4. 
10 However, perhaps Midwestern cities - by virtue of being Midwestern - 
are somehow different from other American cities: Reginald Gibbons claims, 
"Chicago is notably distinct from a lot of other American cities - in not hav- 
ing destroyed its past" (342).
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 65 


produces very little literature of genuine significance... Draw a circle of 
two hundred miles radius around Chicago, and you will enclose four- 
fifths of the real literature of America - particularly four-fifths of the 
literature of tomorrow. (Nolte, 13) 
The Midwestern cultural traditions reflect geography because 
ultimately geography proves inexorable. Writes Marwyn S. Sam- 
uels, "ideas and images are often themselves nascent in the envi- 
ronment as contexts for decision making, and for the making of 
social landscapes" (Meinig 73). In public lectures, essayist Paul 
Gruchow is fond of warning that social systems which have not 
been in harmony with the natural system, which have demanded 
more of it than it could deliver without undue stress, or that have 
taken from it more than they returned, have not, historically, 
survived for any great length of time. We might press Gruchow's 
thought further: philosophical systems which are not in harmony 
with the social, economic, and natural landscapes will not sur- 
vive for any great length of time in that geography. Unless we 
can reshape geography much more than I believe we can, II The 


II And I may be wrong. Historians Joseph and Anthony Amato argue that 
Minnesota, "never a natural or cultural unit, was born and nurtured by con- 
tinuous artifice" (55), that" 'imagined' Minnesota has its roots in electronic 
media" (59), and that "contemporary Minnesota is a child of television and 
radio" (6]). Finally, they conclude, "As the railroad eliminated space in the 
nineteenth century, access to forms of telecommunication is eliminating land- 
scape and place in the twenty-first century" (66). Or I may be right. In 
"Axioms for Reading the Landscape," Pierce F. Lewis argues, "We often boast 
that we have 'conquered geography', meaning that contemporary technology is 
so powerful that we can build anything, wherever we like, and effectively 
ignore climate, landforms, soils, and the like... But 'conquering geography' is 
often very expensive business... Thus the South differed culturally from the 
North largely because it differed physically. Southern cities stopped looking 
Southern about the time that cheap air conditioning made it possible to ignore 
the debilitating heat of a super-tropical summer, which lasted sometimes for 
five months, a season in which nobody who could help it did any work between 
noon and 7 P. M. The 'Southern way of life' was renamed 'the Atlanta spirit' 
and began to take on Yankee ways, largely because of air conditioning. Then
>>>
66 


David Pichaske 


Loft in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Fiction ColIective in Nor- 
mal, Illinois, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop in Iowa City, 
Iowa 12 will remain Midwestern aberrations. That writing from the 
Midwest which has survived, and will survive, is harmonious 
with Midwestern society, which is itself a result of an almost 
Darwinian process of natural selection as the environment tests 
and sorts new-comers, and as newcomers adjust to their envi- 
ronment. 
Here is Meridel Le Sueur, in an essay titled "The Ancient 
People and the Newly Come:" "Most of all one was born into 
space, into the great resonance of space, a magnetic midwestern 
valley through which the winds clashed in lassos of thunder and 
lightning at the apex of the sky, the very wrath of God." She 
continues: "The body repeats the landscape. They are the source 
of each other and create each other... We flowed through and 
into the land, often evicted, droughted out, pushed west... A Da- 
kota priest said to me, 'It will be from here that the prophets 
come' ." 
The body repeats the landscape, says Le Sueur in a line Jane 
Smiley used as an epigraph to her novel A Thousand Acres. Says 


the Arabs tripled the price of oil, and suddenly air conditioning became 
'uneconomical'. Sitting on the verandahs came back into style" (Meinig, 25-26). 
12 Herr, who teaches in Iowa City, has a more charitable view of the nature 
and function of the Writers Workshop, although her view exhibits the general 
Midwestern antipathy toward New York: "Much of the mutual invention of the 
Midwest and Ireland takes place today at the International Writers Program at 
the University of Iowa. The Writers' Workshop actually composes a metatext 
of 'writing' that has implications for many publications and styles worldwide; 
it is a sort of clearinghouse for world writerliness in the academic tradition and 
in this sense a significant factor in the ideological work done by poetry and 
fiction around the globe. As workshop historian Steven Wilbers suggests, the 
workshop experiment is based in regionalism and in the middleness of the 
Midwest as an alternative to or space-between the hegemonic writing factories 
on both American coasts" (39). Herr's affection for Iowa City and the Work- 
shop is, of course, one reason she is so critical of W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless 
Joe, with its subtle digs at both.
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 67 


Kent Meyers, "He formed the place. The place formed him. They 
were a part of each other" (Witness, 17). 
Almost all of our writers comment upon the landscape. N. Scott 
Momaday writes, "There is something about the heart of the 
continent that resides always in the end of vision, some essence 
of the sun and wind. That man knew the possible quest. There 
was nothing to prevent his going out; he could enter upon the 
land and be alive, could bear at once the great hot weight of its 
silence. In a sense the question of survival had never been more 
imminent, for no land is more the measure of human strength" 
(House 101). The Hemingway code of man tested against Nature 
is quintessentially Midwestern. Rolvaag, like Le Sueur in "The 
Ancient People" and Cather in 0 Pioneers!, begins Giants in the 
Earth with sky: "Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the 
rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon... 
Bright, clear sky, to-day, to-morrow, and for all time to come. 
And sun! And still more sun!" Garland speaks of wind: "But the 
third [wind upon Chicago] is the West of Southwest wind, dry, 
magnetic, full of smell of unmeasured miles of growing grain in 
summer, or ripening corn and wheat in autumn. When it comes in 
winter the air glitters with incredible brilliancy" (207). 
This great space effects character, and it becomes a character. 
In Cather and Rolvaag, the prairie is personified into an opponent 
against .which settlers must struggle for their sanity. "It is hard 
for the eye to wander from sky line to sky line, year in and year 
out, without finding a resting place!" Rolvaag notes (413); "asy- 
lum after asylum was filled with disordered beings who had once 
been human." "It is like an iron country," writes Cather of the 
Divide in winter, "and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and 
melancholy" (187). "In the Midwest, around the Lower Lakes, 
the sky in the winter is heavy and close, and it is a rare day, a day 
to remark on, when the sky lifts and allows the heart up," writes 
William Gass in mid-century (173). 
Conversely, open space may function as restoration, a release 
from dark complexities, as safety. This is the function of the river
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68 


David Pichaske 


in Huck Finn, of the prairie in Bill Holm's "Horizontal Gran- 
deur," in Paul Gruchow's The Necessity of Empty Places, in 
Hemingway's "The Big Two-Hearted River": 
Nick did not want to go in there now. He felt a reaction against deep 
wading with the water deepening up under his armpits, to hook big trout 
in places impossible to land them. In the swamp the banks were bare, 
the big cedars came together overhead, the sun did not come through, 
except in patches; in the fast deep water, in the half light, the fishing 
would be tragic. In the swamp fishing was a tragic adventure. Nick did 
not want it. (180) 
Hosting a ten-year sequence of visitors from Europe I have 
observed repeatedly the effects of this big sky on individuals un- 
accustomed to amplitudes. Some grew large as cottonwoods; oth- 
ers felt quite as annihilated as Per Hansa's wife Beret. German 
friend Gabriele desires nothing so much as to spend a summer 
alone in a cabin near Interior, South Dakota. Polish Ewa went the 
other way: she arrived in September, and her mood darkened as 
the Minnesota days shortened. By February she was edgy, para- 
noid, nervous. "I'm from Lodz," she concluded, "and I cannot 
handle all t
is sky." Once she moved to a city, where the sky is 
a little less all-encompassing, her life improved immediately. 
Those who stick with big sky - or big water - seem to de- 
velop a certain vision. In "Horizontal Grandeur," Bill Holm writes, 
"There are two eyes in the human head - the eye of mystery and 
the eye of harsh truth - the hidden and the open - the woods 
eye and the prairie eye. The prairie eye looks for distance, clar- 
ity, and light; the woods eye for closeness, complexity, and dark- 
ness. The prairie eye looks for usefulness and plainness in art 
and architecture; the woods eye for the baroque and ornamental. 
Dark old brownstones on Summit Avenue were created by the 
woods eye; the square white farmhouse and red barn are prairie 
eye's work. Sherwood Anderson wrote his stories with a prairie 
eye, plain and awkward, told in the voice of a man almost embar- 
rassed to be telling them, but bullheadedly persistent to get at the
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 69 


meaning of the events; 13 Faulkner, whose endless complications 
of motive and language take the reader miles behind the simple 
facts of an event, sees the world with a woods eye. One eye is 
not superior to the other, but they are different. To some degree, 
like male and female, darkness and light, they exist in all human 
heads, but one or the other seems dominant." Holm's idea is cor- 
roborated by Kent Meyers: "Students of Native American art 
have noted that when Indian tribes - the Lakota/Dakota for in- 
stance - moved out of a woodland habitat onto the plains, their 
artwork changed. Woodland art tends to be composed of curving 
lines and animal figures, whereas plains art consists of straight 
lines and geometric figures. Surely this is the influence of the 
land on the imagination, the straight line of the prairie extending 
itself' (Witness, 88). The prairie attracted settlers with a prairie 
eye, and further trained their children, and their childrenis chil- 
dren, in a prairie sensibility: distance, clarity, and light. 
In the matter of space, the Midwest is probably an extension 
of the East Coast, especially Pennsylvania, America on its way to 


13 Holm might have added Dreiser, the reporter unable or unwilling to draw 
moralistic lessons, or Mark Twain's narrator/persona in Huck Finn. He might 
have been quoting John T. Flanagan: "The literature of the Middle West... has 
been an honest, a forthright literature, a literature notable for vigor and indi- 
viduality and originality. Naturally, it is not without faults. To the sensitive 
reader, its major defect is surely a definite lack of artistry, of polish. This 
limitation'is especially apparent to the Anglophiles among us, who consistently 
praise the superior finesse of the British. Perhaps the bluntest rejoinder would 
be: The English write better, but the Americans have something to say. But in 
all honesty, middle western writing has not been notable for its literary style" 
(232). He might have cited Garrison Keillor: "When Lucy of composition 
class, who let me have half her sandwich one day, asked me if I had a job and 
I told her I was a dishwasher, she made a face as if I said I worked in the 
sewer. She said it must be awful, and of course when I told her it was terrific, 
she thought I was being ironic. Composition class was local headquarters of 
irony, we supplied the five-county area. The more plainly I tried to say I liked 
dishwashing, the more ironic she thought I was, until I flipped a gob of mayo 
at her as a rhetorical device to show unsubt/ety and sincerity, and then she 
thought I was a jerk" (21-22).
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70 


David Pichaske 


becoming The West, something commensurate with man's ca- 
pacity for wonder. Momaday picks up this theme in the line 
which follows the passage quoted earlier: "neither had wonder 
been more accessible to the mind nor destiny to the will." Yet the 
Midwest had, and retains, a combination of amplitude and 
population, which brings social and cultural institutions directly 
under the sway of natural forces. Its fertile soil, and easily trav- 
ersed landscape were ideally suited to homesteading: 160-acres 
- one quarter of a square mile of land - free to any native or 
immigrant willing to invest five years living upon and "improv- 
ing" (i.e. cultivating) the claim. Homesteading produced that 
square grid of mile roads - so recognizable from the air - four 
farm sites to the square mile, each house and barn surrounded by 
a square grove and rectilinear fields. The railroad companies 
who, subsidized by generous government grants, brought the set- 
tlers gave us the familiar pattern of a village every seven miles 
- three or four miles being a reasonable day's ride for a farmer 
in a horse-drawn buckboard - villages far in excess of what the 
landscape really needed, chartered more as points to collect grain 
and sell lumber than as social or cultural centers. While most of 
these villages are smaller today than they were fifty or a hundred 
years ago,14 the Midwest remains "a consonance of Towns." 
This harmony of space and population produced what Wal- 
lace Stegner calls "an American faith: that a new society striking 
boldly off from the old would first give up everything but axe 
and gun and then, as the pioneering hardships were survived, 
would begin to shape itself in new forms. Prosperity would fol- 
low in due course. A native character would begin to emerge, 
a character more self-reliant and more naturally noble than any 
that could be formed in tired and corrupt Europe, and new insti- 
tutions would spring from the new social compact among free 


14 On the decline of the American village, see Richard Davies' Main Street 
Blues: The Decline of Small-Town America. Columbus: Ohio State University 
Press, 1998.
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So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 71 


and classless men. After an appropriate interval this society 
ought to find its voice in unmistakably native arts" (288). 
In an essay "Midwestern Poetry: Goodbye to All That," Lisel 
Mueller suggests that this is precisely what happened, drawing 
a line from landscape through society to esthetics. She writes, 
What I am left with by the way of definition is a body of poetry that 
owes its life to the heart of the heartland: the vast stretches of farmland, 
the rolling hills with their many shades of green, the great rivers and 
thousands of small lakes, the forests of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wis- 
consin, the towns with their rectangular layouts, their elm-shaded porches, 
their Elks' Clubs, and their dreary Main Streets. Ultimately it owes its 
life to a population of 19th century settlers, predominantly Protestant, 
predominantly British, German, and Scandinavian, whose society was 
founded on such principles as egalitarianism, individualism, and self- 
sufficiency. The. farmers, craftsmen, and merchants who settled the land 
carried out an experiment in grass-roots democracy that would have 
caused considerable misgivings among our skeptical and aristocratic 
Founding Fathers. Without any authority other than their practical rea- 
son and a belief in individual human dignity, they set up self-governing 
communities which functioned well in the decades before industrialism 
changed the premises on which the society was based. There was no 
colonial charter, no theocracy to govern public and private conduct; there 
was no elite of rank and culture nor, in the beginning, of money. Hard- 
ship and isolation were accepted as the price for stability and, in many 
cases, eventual prosperity. For these people, experience was the touch- 
stone of"knowledge. As a result, the society was characterized by con- 
siderable anti-intellectualism and a distrust of "impractical," abstract 
thinking. (It is unimaginable that, for example, transcendentalism or the 
art-for-art's sake movement could have arisen in the Midwest.) (2, 3) 
The distrust of abstract, "impractical" thinking identified by 
Mueller transcends urban/rural and racial distinctions. Cyrus 
Colter-A fro-American, urban, late twentieth century-confirms 
the fact that Midwest thought is practical rather than theoretical: 
"Chicago is robust, 'he writes'. It's less academic, precious, and 
mandarin - less Byzantine [than New York]. That's how I see it, 
but also how (more important) Ifeel it, as a writer" (Gibbons 331).
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72 


David Pichaske 


The characteristic Midwest aesthetic is realism. In 1834 - 
sixty years before Hamlin Garland - Dr. Daniel Drake told the 
Union Literary Society of Miami University that the future litera- 
ture of the West would be "rough rather than elegant," and "prag- 
matic" (Flanagan 208). In the years between 1834 and Garland's 
Crumbling Idols (1895), "perhaps the most important quality 
shared by the western writers... was their slow but perceptible 
trend toward realism... From the very beginning, the more seri- 
ous middle western writers were conscious of the need for veri- 
similitude" (Flanagan, 210-211). In A Son of the Middle Border, 
Garland formulated the principle in seven words: "truth [is] 
a higher quality than beauty" (374). Writers of the Chicago Ren- 
aissance - Masters, Sandburg, Dreiser, Dell, Anderson, even 
Vachel Lindsay - are remarkable not for complex theories, but 
for their insights into human nature and social and economic 
conditions. They are not philosophers, but observers. A century 
after Garland, Midwesterners are still mostly mud-on-the-shoes 
realists, prone to draw a dichotomy between style and content 
and to favor content over style. In a talk at Southwest State given 
on September 12, 2000, visiting fellow Paul Nielson (raised on 
a farm, Ph.D. from the University of Chicago) observed, "esthetics 
versus practicality has always been an issue on the farm, where 
the ugliest buildings are often among the most useful. Sentimen- 
talists want family farms to be lovely in a Terry Redlin way, with 
no mess and no fences to keep the cows in. We had visitors to our 
farm from the cities who asked why we didn't mow the hay fields 
more, to keep the grass down." Ewa, the Pole who went urban 
remarked to me a few years ago, "People where you live always 
have their hands on something real - an ear of corn, a chainsaw, 
a cow's teat. Many people in this city have never in their lives 
had their hands on anything more substantial than the stems of 
their cocktail glasses." She intended the remark to explain liter- 
ary preferences, and she was correct. 15 


IS Another colleague at Southwest State, one not from the Midwest, was
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So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 73 


Citing Andrew Clayton and Peter Onuf's The Midwest and 
the Nation: Rethinking the History of an American Region, Cheryl 
Temple Herr argues that Mueller's experiment in grass-roots 
democracy - Stegner's "article of America faith" - is a mid- 
dle-class myth projected retroactively on the nineteenth-century 
Midwest: 


"By the end of the [nineteenth] century... midwestern culture ex- 
pressed itself in the making of myth, imaging a frontier era in which 
people - middle-class, midwestern people - had once been the pow- 
erful progenitors of a new civilization." This imaginary complex ren- 
dered the small-farm lifestyle and its chosen values increasingly irrele- 
vant to the consolidation empowered by international capital. It is this 
regional myth - constructed after the fact - that we now reanimate 
every time we speak of the heartland; its nostalgic ideology flourished 
only because the Midwest's much-advertised utopia of abundant land 
and endless opportunity for family farmers had already been under- 
mined by market pressures to recover and consolidate capital, land, and 
identity. (85-86) 
Sociologically, Herr may be correct, but Mueller's ideas are 
useful in explaining writing in the Midwest, where the natural 
bias was, and remains, toward psychological realism coupled 
with a strong work ethic and an impulse toward practical reform. 
The reformist component of Midwest literature bears special 
comment. Leftist politics are a tradition in the region: the 
Knights' of Labor, the Farmers' Alliance, the Granger Movement, 
The People's Party, the NonPartisan League, the International 


recounting the story of John Kennedy's famous remark, "Ich bin ein Berliner." 
This statement is believed in academic circles to be a faux pas of the highest 
order. Kennedy should have said "Ich bin Berliner;" his statement translates to 
something like "Jestem pl\.czek." So say the academics. My Berlin friends, 
however, tell me Kennedy was absolutely correct. He said exactly what a Ber- 
liner would have said. The story is a linguist's self-congratulatory fantasy. 
I reported as much to my colleague, who comes from the West Coast and is 
heavy into postmodernism. Her response was, "Maybe that's true. But the story 
is more interesting and makes for better... art."
>>>
74 


David Pichaske 


Workers of the World, Milo Reno's Farm Holiday Movement, 
Minnesota's Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, Michigan's Stu- 
dents for a Democratic Society, the National Farm Organization, 
even Iowa Governor Terry Branstad's 1985 activation of the state 
foreclosure moratorium law during the farm crises of the 1980s. 
Writers have always been active in the social critique. After pub- 
lishing Main-Traveled Roads Hamlin Garland traveled through- 
out the Midwest, reading stories and speaking at gatherings of 
the Grange and the People's Party. In Main Street, Sinclair Lewis 
incorporated a farm conversation overheard beneath her hus- 
band's law office by Carol Kennicott: 
There you got it, Gus, that's the way these towns work all the time. 
They pay what they want to for our wheat, but we pay what they want us 
to for their clothes. Stowbody and Dawson foreclose every mortgage 
they can, and put in tenant farmers. The Dauntless lies to us about the 
Nonpartisan League, the lawyers sting us, the machinery-dealers hate to 
carry us over bad years, and then their daughters put on swell dresses 
and look at us as if we were a bunch of hoboes. Man, I'd like to burn 
this town! (223) 
The socialist perspective can be seen in the work of Carl 
Sandburg, who rode the "Red Special" in 1908 with Eugene 
V. Debs and in 1910 became personal secretary to Emil Seidel, 
Socialist mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It can be found in the 
work of Edgar Lee Masters and Vachel Lindsay ("Why I Voted 
the Socialist Ticket," "Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan"), in the work 
of Meridel Le Sueur (whose father was the Socialist mayor of 
Minot, North Dakota), Tillie Olsen, Tom McGrath and Sioux 
City's Josephine Herbst who, John Knoepfle recalls, "was short- 
tempered with cocktail ideologies" and remembered the scene in 
New York "as a tempest in a pisspot... that meant nothing to 
farmers and laborers in the Midwest" (137). Distant echoes of 
the tradition can be heard, at century's end, in the work of Dave 
Etter, John Knoepfle, and Bill Holm:
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 75 


It's not that I'm unhappy being a Democrat, it's that I would be 
a whole lot happier being a Populist - a real bumping, jumping, 
thumping Populist... 
(Etter, "Populism," SP 149) 
some damn odin 
eats us up dont you think 
one by one by one 
he holds us upside down 
by our ankles and what 
can we do with him 
nothing I can tell you 
(Knoepfle, "man in overalls," Poems/rom the Sangamon 83) 
My dad told me how 
the sheriff would ride out to the farm 
to auction off the farmer's goods for the bank. 
Neighbors came with pitchforks 
to gather in the yard; 
"What am I bid for this cow?" 
Three cents. Four cents. No more bids. 
If a stranger came in and bid a nickel, 
a circle of pitchforks gathered around him, 
and the bidding stopped. 
(Holm, "A Circle of Pitchforks," The Dead Get By With Every- 
thing, 28) . 
This' social realism is found even in writers whom we might 
not consider realists, or who profess themselves to be something 
more than realists - say Robert Bly and James Wright - and in 
those who write far from the villages and towns - say, Richard 
Wright, Studs Terkel, Kurt Vonnegut, Kenneth Patchen, James 
T. Farrell (whose South Side Irish neighborhood is between 55th 
and 59th Streets, Calumet to Prairie Avenues).16 


16 "[Cyrus] COLTER: Are most Chicago writers historically and presently 
realists in their writing? Is that the benchmark? I've wondered about that, be- 
cause generally people say that Chicago writers are realistic" (Gibbons, 346).
>>>
76 


David Pichaske 


We must emphasize once more the relationship between land- 
scape, community, and literature. In the Midwest, Mueller argues, 
social justice and humanism were social traditions before they 
were literary traditions, just as "free verse, Midwest style, was 
not a European import, but an introduction of everyday common 
speech patterns into the province of poetry" (7). Garland, whom 
even Herr credits as "voicing the moment when the Heartland was 
being constructed in its current formulation" (94), wrote suc- 
cinctly, "The merely beautiful in art seemed petty, and success at 
the cost of the happiness of others a monstrous egotism." (Son 374). 
Social realism was, of course, the literary cutting edge a century 
ago, which probably explains H. L. Mencken's circle around Chi- 
cago. Since then, "the merely beautiful in art" has made some- 
thing of a comeback... as have the merely ugly and the merely 
merely - two other ideas which would not be born in the Mid- 
west. Midwesterners remain skeptical of theory, look to experience 
as the touchstone of knowledge, react with simple pragmatism: 
"Don't know how you coulda got lost in the first place," the man 
was saying. "But I sure would've built me a big fire, first thing." 
"We did that." 
"A big fire..." 
The man shook his head. "Stupid," he finally said. 
Perry nodded again. "Pretty dumb." 
"Stupid, that's what." 
- Tim O'Brien, Northern Lights (289) 
"Why did that barge dive, Kid? Why did that goddam old number 
36 decide to sink on us?" 
"Well, I'll tell you," says the Kid, taking out a stick of Beeman's 
Pepsin Gum, "I've got a theory about that." 
"I'll bet it's a killer," I said. "So go ahead, pride of Alton, Illinois, 
and tell us the theory..." 
"Well to make a long story short my theory is like this: I figure the 
river was to blame. I think some water got in that barge somehow and 
she sunk." 
- Richard Bissell, High Water (103-104)
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 77 


There are corollaries. The Midwestern narrator, for example, 
is rarely a self-celebrating performer in the mode of Norman 
Mailer or Camille Paglia. Usually he is reticent and often unpol- 
ished and apologetic. "You don't know about me, without you 
have read a book by the name of 'The Adventures of Tom Saw- 
yer', but that ain't no matter," says Huck Finn. Narrator, author, 
and central characters are often dubious, lost, uncertain. "I have 
missed something," Sherwood Anderson's George Willard thinks 
to himself; "I have missed something Kate Swift was trying to 
tell me" (166). John Knoepfle notes, "Carol Kennicott's own 
difficulty in defining herself and the difficulty Lewis had in de- 
ciding whether she was to be a heroine or another object of satire 
are as much a part of the image of Gopher Prairie as the goings 
On at the Tha(!,atopsis Club and the Jolly Seventeen" (109). 
Also, Midwestern writers contain their stylistic and structural 
experiments within a relatively narrow range. Imagism, surreal- 
ism, mysticism, and Field of Dreams magical realism - all of 
which can indeed be found in Midwest literature - are usually 
so alloyed with realism as to slip by almost unnoticed. Even 
a Robert Bly deep-image poem begins with "Those great sweeps 
of snow that stop suddenly six feet from the house," or ends with 
the bridge at Milan and "A few... people talking, low, in a boat." 
So the Midwestern style: realism bordering on naturalism, with 
elements of humanism and social critique. Plain, colloquial speech, 
with elements of self-conscious doubt. Guarded experimentation. 
Limited theory. 
Now, at the risk of sounding like a deconstructionist giving 
one of those flip little "of course I could not possible believe 
What I've just said" disclaimers, I do want to append a coda to 
this essay. 
Someone recently observed, vis-a-vis cultural diversity, that 
every library is culturally diverse; every writer is culturally di- 
verse; every book is culturally diverse. As Whitman says, "I am 
large, I contain multitudes." Having spent an hour constructing 
"Midwest Writing," I could now critique the construct, using in
>>>
78 


David Pichaske 


many cases the very authors I have quoted, adding a handful of 
celebrated postmodernists. One point I have been trying for the 
past two years to make regarding Dave Etter is that the work of 
this small-town Illinois poet exhibits most modernist and post- 
modernist qualities, including formalist experimentalism, struc- 
turalism, mixed genres, surrealism, language as language, and 
magical realism. There are many compelling reasons to argue the 
"Midwest Tradition" is as arbitrary a construct as race, class, or 
gender - or, if it not arbitrary, a tradition nearly lost in the ex- 
posure of Midwestern writers to books foreign to their landscape, 
and "to a great diversity of theoretical and practical influences" 
(Mueller, 7); by the homogenization of America's social, cul- 
tural, and economic landscape; 17 by the professionalization and 
thus the academization of the arts, if I may coin such a term, 
which tends to make us look East. These forces discourage the 
Midwesterner from writing in the nativist tradition. In Lake 
Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor remembers a humanities class at 
the University of Minnesota, taught by an instructor "who 
sounded to be from someplace east of the East," and a composi- 
tion instructor who, while urging students to write from personal 
experience, "said it with a smirk, suggesting that we didn't have 
much, so instead I wrote the sort of dreary, clever essay I imag- 
ined I'd appreciate if I were him" (22). And writers who spend 
more time in front of a video screen than on the gravel roads of 
Lincoln County, read the New Yorker and APR more carefully 
than the Independent or Great River Review, escape periodically 


17 "The young people I've been involved with in my classes seem to have 
no sense of place," says William Goyen. It bewildered me at first and then it 
caused me no little alarm. We've talked about it and what they tell me is often 
what I've presumed... that there isn't much of a place where they come from. 
I mean, every place looks like every other place. Even suburban places - 
around here or in Ohio or wherever - all look alike... a shopping center, 
a McDonald's, the bank with the frosted globes on the facade, you know, that's 
a given building" (128-29). But Goyen, at the time of the interview, had just 
finished a year at Brown and moved to Los Angeles.
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 79 


to enclaves like the Iowa Writers Workshop, the Fiction Collec- 
tive and "The Loft," can spend many years in the Midwest with- 
out ever being in the Midwest. And of course the influence of 
place is modified by race, class, gender, religion, age, and class. 
If enough Midwest writers do just that, Midwest writing is by 
definition no longer what I described earlier. 18 
"E pur si muove," Galileo is reputed to have remarked after 
recanting under extreme duress his heretical position that the 
earth revolves around the sun. "Nevertheless, it moves." Never- 
theless, there is a Midwest voice, style, vision. We're talking, as 
always, percentages, the preponderance of evidence. As I know 
it, the preponderance of evidence in Midwest literature is as I've 
presented it here, for reasons I've presented here. Read for your- 
self and let your experience in reading be the touchstone of 
knowledge. '- 


References 


Amato, Joseph and Anthony Amato. "Minnesota, Real and Imagined: 
A View [rom the Countryside." Daedalus. Summer 2000,55-80. 
Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Viking, 1958. 
Bissell, Richard. High Water. Boston: Little, Brown, 1954. 
Cather, Willa. 0 Pioneers! Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913. 
Clayton, Andrew and Peter Onuf. The Midwest and the Nation. Bloom- 
ington: Indiana University Press, 1990. 


18 Amato and Amato conclude, "As localities lose their boundaries, indi- 
viduals are ever more removed from necessity and concrete community. They 
live more by mind than body. They become increasingly distant from actual 
places while television, the Internet, careers, education, vacations, and second 
homes connect them to multiple distant points in society at large. Their auton- 
omy, as a grove of experience, memory and meaning, is breached. Various 
forms of media homogenize ideas, feelings, and language, and place no longer 
defines mind or morals" (75, 76).
>>>
80 


David Pichaske 


Cooley, Thomas. "Preface" to Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry 
Finn. New York: Norton, 1977. 
Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. New York: Harper & Row, 
1987. 
Davies, Richard. Main Street Blues: The Decline of Small-Town Amer- 
ica. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998. 
Eliot, T. S. The Complete Poems and Plays. New York: Harcourt, Brace. 
1962. 
Etter, Dave. Alliance, Illinois. Granite Falls: Spoon River Poetry Press, 
1983. 
-. Selected Poems. Peoria: Spoon River Poetry Press, 1987. 
Flanagan, John T. "A Soil for the seeds of Literature" in John J. Murray, 
editor. The Heritage of the Middle West. Norman: University of 
Oklahoma Press, 1958, 198-233. 
Garland, Hamlin. Main-Travelled Roads. New York: Signet, 1962. 
-. A Son of the Middle Border. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 
1979. 
Gass, William. In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. New York: 
Harper & Row, 1968. 
Gibbons, Reginald, ed. Chicago. Special Issue of Triquarterly maga- 
zine, spring/summer 1984. 
Gruchow, Paul. The Necessity of Empty Places. New York: St. Martin's, 
1988. 
Hemingway, Ernest. Complete Short Stories. New York: Scribner's, 
1987. 
Herbst, Josephine. Rope of Gold. New York: Harcourt, 1939. 
Herr, Cheryl Temple. Critical Regionalism and Cultural Studies: From 
Ireland to the American Midwest. Gainesville: University Press of 
Florida, 1996. 
Holm, Bill. The Music of Failure. Granite Falls: Plains Press, 1985. 
-. The Dead Get By With Everything. Minneapolis: Milkweed Edi- 
tions, 1990. 
Keillor, Garrison. lake Wobegon days. New York: Viking, 1985. 
Kloetkorn, William., Welcome to Carlos. Spoon River Poetry Press, 2000. 
Knoepfle, John. "Crossing the Midwest," in Regional Perspectives, ed. 
John Gordon Burke. Chicago: American Library Association, 1973. 
-. poems from the sangamon. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 
1985.
>>>
So What's Midwest about Midwestern Literature? 81 


Le Sueur, Meride!. "The Ancient People and the Newly Come," in 
Growing Up in Minnesota, ed. Chester Anderson. Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 1976. 
Lewis, Sinclair. Main Street. New York: Signet, 1961. 
Mencken, H. L. Smart Set Criticism, ed. William Nolte. Ithaca, New 
York: Cornell University Press, 1968. 
Meinig, D. W., editor. The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes. New 
York: Oxford, 1979. 
Meyers, Kent. Light in the Crossing. New York: St. Martin's Press, 
1998. 
-. The Witness of Combines. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 
Press, 1998. 
Momaday, N. Scott. House Made of Dawn. New York: New American 
Library, 1969. 
Mueller, Lise!. "Midwestern Poetry: Goodbye to All That," in Three 
Essays on 'Midwestern Poetry in Midcentury. La Crosse, Wisconsin: 
Center for Contemporary Poetry, 1971. 
Naruda, Pablo. We Are Many. Trans. Alastair Reid. London: Grossman 
Publishers, 1967/1 970. 
O'Brien, Tim. Northern Lights. New York: Delacorte, 1965. 
Phillips, Robert. William Goyen. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. 
Reymont, Wladyslaw. Ziemia Obiecana. Warsaw: Pr6szynski i S-Ka, 
2000. 
Rolva ag , Ole. Giants in the Earth. New York: New York: Harper, 1927. 
Stegner, Wallace. Wolf Willow. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 
198p.
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


AGNIESZKA SALSKA 
University of Lodi 


Stevens and Williams: American Colors 
of the Modernist Poetic Renaissance 


In opposition to romantic conceptions of national art, the sa- 
lient characte'ristic of Modernism was art's residence in Bohe- 
mia, the postulated but perhaps not entirely utopian territory of 
international artists. I From the American perspective the obser- 
vation seems especially pertinent, for it is precisely around World 
War One and in its wake that American writers began to be inter- 
nationally recognized as important contributors to both the aes- 
thetic debates of the times and the substance of the Western 
Canon. Preceded by the high visibility on the fin de siecle artistic 
scene in Europe of such figures as the painter James McNeill 
Whistle.r and the novelist Henry James, the phenomenon of vig- 
orous American participation in the ferment of international lit- 
erary modernism in London and Paris had its next generation 
spokesmen chiefly in Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, though we must 
not forget Robert Frost's London interlude, the experiment ori- 
ented Paris salon of Gertrude Stein and the life-time European 
residence of Hilda Doolitlle. Then came the famous expatriates 


I Compare e.g. Malcolm Bradbury, "The Cities of Modernism" in: Mod- 
ernism, eds. Malcolm Bradbury and James Mc Farlane (Harmondsworth and 
New York, Penguin Books, 1976), p. 101.
>>>
84 


Agnieszka Salska 


of the still younger generation of Hemingway and company, so 
that the tradition of American literary expatriation peaked around 
the Great War. 
From the perspective of the end of the twentieth century, the 
opposition on the American poetic scene of Pound and Eliot set- 
tled in Europe to Stevens and Williams ensconced at home ap- 
pears to constitute the final confrontation in the debate, which 
American artists had been carrying since the times of Irving and 
Cooper. The argument centered on the relative merits or demerits 
of historically layered European complexity versus American 
newness and simplicity as resources for the work of creative 
imagination. Eventually, distinctions between the two pairs of 
great modernist poets can be seen as deriving from the loyalty of 
the nativist authors to contemporary reality, of which their Ameri- 
can residence was a manifestation rather than the cause. 
As poets both Pound and Eliot start with gestures of rejection 
and criticism, with lamentations on the exhausted condition of 
contemporary culture and art. Williams and Stevens, on the other 
hand, keep searching for angles of vision and for poetic methods 
capable of befriending the harsh reality. For all the difference 
between the two home-based poets, the work of both seems 
grounded in the vision of reality not idealized but transformed 
into a redemptive realm of which the poet is the true maker. 
Thus, it is perhaps significant that both had trouble writing po- 
etry during the years of the Great Depression as if the amount of 
human suffering at the time overwhelmed them. In the almost 
paradigmatic configuration the four poets continue across the 
Atlantic the century old argument about, on the one hand, the 
need for the American artist to be sustained in his creative effort 
by the sense of cultural tradition and density of social structures 
and, on the other, the sufficiency for his purposes of domestic 
resources, however reduced or simplified they may seem. Still, 
against the international achievement of the writers of the Pound 
Era what the American artists produced in the United States 
seemed, especially in the first half of the century, but a "home-
>>>
Stevens and Williams: American Colors... 


85 


made world", to use Hugh Kenner's well known terms. It is only 
in the light of our awareness of later developments which dra- 
matically reversed the direction of artistic emigration, 2 that the 
achievement of T. S. Eliot appears a closing triumph while both 
Stevens and Williams seem to provide new openings in American 
poetry with Pound uncertainly falling somewhere in between. 
One is reminded here of the mid-nineteenth century juxtaposi- 
tion of Longfellow - a Harvard academic like Eliot, and a tradi- 
tion oriented, eclectic scholar - with the homegrown talents of 
Dickinson and Whitman, whose work confidently relied on first 
hand experience. 
This essay proposes to take a closer look at Stevens and Wil- 
liams as committed makers of the new poetic home world coun- 
terbalancing the cosmopolitan strain in American poetry of the 
"- 
time. The trouble with such ordering is that it immediately looks 
programmatically overdetermined. Although there are many ele- 
ments linking Pound and Eliot through their biographies and 
through mutual poetic and critical stimulations, we have to rec- 
ognize an important difference between their temperaments and 
aesthetics. Eventually Pound appears as anti symbolic in his 
technique, even if one is inclined to see the antisymbolic slant of 
his poetry as resulting chiefly from the artist's failure to define 
his transcendent ideal. Blind to the disastrous consequences of 
his choice, Pound ended transferring his transcendent ambitions 
onto contemporary economy and insisted on the mission of the 
artist and the power of art to alter and shape reality. On the other 
hand, the work of Eliot's Four Quartets seems to bring the tradi- 
tion of European poetic symbolism to a spectacular close 3 sever- 
ing the connection between poetry and contemporary reality so 


2 W. H. Auden, for example, emigrated to the United States in 1939 and in 
1946 became American citizen. 
3 Compare also David Perkins A History of Modern Poetry. Modernism 
and After (Cambridge, Mass. and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard Uni- 
versity Press, 1987), pp. 24-31.
>>>
86 


Agnieszka Salska 


effectively that the formal beauty of the poem constitutes its pri- 
mary meanmg. 
Indeed, from today's perspective Eliot appears a somewhat 
alien phenomenon in the American poetic tradition in contrast to 
Pound who, after the embarrassmenet of his involvement with 
fascism receded into history, has been, like Williams and Ste- 
vens, claimed back by the younger generation of poets at home. 
The difference outlined above in the vicissitudes of Eliot's and 
Pound's literary fame and influence seems to corroborate my be- 
lief that insisting on the vitality of the link between art and the 
surrounding reality is of paramount importance for the American 
poetic tradition, whatever the aesthetic risks of such an attitude 
may be. 
There are, of course strong connecting lines running through 
the biographies of Pound and Williams; there is the fact of 
Pound's and Imagism's direct impact on Williams's poetry and it 
is relatively easy, despite the mythic dimension of Paterson, to 
think, as Albert Gelpi does,4 of Williams as predominantly anti- 
symbolic in his aesthetics and to link him with Pound against 
Eliot, the more so that Eliot functioned as something of a whip- 
ping boy for Williams's critical temper. Stevens' interest in the 
Imagist poetic program and practice was also strong, but his 
method remains closer to symbolism. His early image poems, for 
instance, are often metaphors of the processes of the mind and 
not representations of fragments of reality, however transformed 
by emotional and intellectual perception (we only need to think 
of e.g. "Anecdote of the Jar" here). And yet, despite their shared 
interest in the French symbolist poetry and the symbolic orienta- 
tion of their poetics, it is almost as difficult to place Stevens 
close to Eliot as it is to put Williams in this position. Although 
Stevens was not in the habit of attacking Eliot's work, he em- 


4 Albert Gelpi, "Stevens and Williams. The Epistemology of Modernism" 
in Stevens. The Poetics of Modernism, ed. Albert Gelpi (Cambridge: Cam- 
bridge University Press, 1990), pp. 3-40.
>>>
Stevens and Williams: American Colors... 


87 


phasized his sense of difference between what each of them was 
doing; nor did he ever try to meet or correspond with Eliot. 
"After all, Eliot and I are dead opposites and I have been doing 
about everything that he would not be likely to do"5 wrote Ste- 
vens in 1950 to William Van O'Connor summing up his sense of 
divergence in Eliot's and his own poetic goals. One feels thus 
encouraged to investigate the shared foundations of the home- 
made worlds of Stevens and Williams. Challenged by the topic of 
the Conference, that is precisely what I want to do. Forgive me if 
my understanding of our title "The Local Colors of the Stars and 
Stripes" takes me dangerously close to the perenially perplexing 
and perennially derideded question of "the Americanness of 
American literature." 
As Gelpi writes, it is difficult to ascertain when Williams and 
Stevens actually met. They were, however, part of the same 
circle of artists associated with Arthur Kreymborg's magazine 
Others in New York around the time of the Armory Show (1913). 
Unlike Pound and Eliot, both shared Keats as major influence 
when they were just beginning as poets. 6 This seems important 
not only because they inherited Keats' lifelong concern with the 
role and functioning of imagination but also, which has been 
somewhat overlooked by critics, a version of Keats' negative ca- 
pability: a willingness that is, even a need of "continually... 
filling some other Body," a capability "of being in uncertainties, 
Mysteries, doubts, without any reaching after fact and reason." 
And although the anti-romantic program of "objectivity of ex- 
pression" is intimately bound with the whole poetics of modern- 
ism and almost welded to Pound's concept of the image and 
Eliot's notion of objective correlative, scholars have since con- 
vincingly shown how essentially technical these terms are in the 
Work of both poets. Eventually, concepts of "an emotional and 


5 Letters of Wallace Stevens. Selected and edited by Holly Stevens (Berke- 
ley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 677 
6 I am grateful to Stephen Tapscott for emphasizing the fact to me.
>>>
_
;;;J 


88 


Agnieszka Salska 


intellectual complex in an instance of time" and of "the objective 
correlative" seem to describe methods of masking strong egotis- 
tic impulses akin to those Keats recognized in Coleridge, who 
"would let go by a fine isolated versimilitude caught from the 
penetralium of Mystery, from being incapable of remaining con- 
tent with half knowledge." But, Keats concludes, "with a great 
poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or 
rather obliterates all consideration"? as, in the end, it could not 
do either for Eliot or Pound. Williams seems to have sensed the 
surface quality of Eliot's mimetically fragmentary method in The 
Waste Land. Beneath it, he recognized the totalizing yearning of 
an academic, if not altogether romantically egotistic mind. 8 His 
own attitude, he recognized, was far better grounded in epistemo- 
logical humility through his keen consciousness of the new: new 
ideas, new epoch, new world, new esthetics. 
Both Stevens and Williams signalled their serious commit- 
ment to the poetics of the new epistemology in noted collections 
of 1923, which were hugely overshadowed by Pound's Hugh 
Selvyn Mauberley of 1920 and, of course, Eliot's The Wasteland 
of 1922. Compared to Hugh Selvyn Mauberley or The Wasteland, 
Harmonium and Spring and All center not on disappointment and 
rejection of the ugly modern condition or on the contemporary 
artist's despair of the possibility of ever transcending the paralyz- 
ing bind of his decaying culture, but are meditations on the ways 
in which imagination engages the surrounding world and makes 
out of it - a livable home. They reflect on the work of poetic 
imagination "continually filling some other Body" while "re- 
maining content with half-knowledge." It is on such, much more 
democratic and accepting, meetings between imagination and 
reality that, in their different ways, both Stevens' and Williams' 


7 Robert Gittings ed., Letters of John Keats (Oxford: Oxford Univrsity 
Press, 1977), p. 43 
8 See also Hugh Kenner, A Homemade World (New York: William Mor- 
row, 1975), pp. 66-67 


J
>>>
Stevens and Williams: American Colors... 


89 


creativity depends. In opposition to Pound's and Eliot's postures 
of imperial power and hunger for the ideal, their home-based ri- 
vals foreground imagination's conciliatory attitudes, accept limi- 
tations and compromises while negotiating some mode of filling 
the world with imgination's colors and structures. 
A good way of illuminating the issue seems to me to lead 
through both poet's interest in contemporary painting. Unlike 
Pound and Eliot who throughout their careers keep first of all 
investigating lines of poetic and cultural tradition in search of 
energies to revitalize the powerless condition of contemporary 
poetry, Stevens and Williams, having outgrown their frankly 
immitative, juvenile efforts, pay little attention to tradition, liter- 
ary or otherwise. Instead, as if continuing the emphatically visual 
orientation of American romantic imagination, so memorably ar- 
ticulated in Emerson's "transparent eyeball" passage of Nature 
and so memorably practiced in Whitman's catalogue poems, both 
focus on visual perception. Of course, in their reaction to roman- 
ticism, both see landscapes not as "natural" but as reconstituted 
through art, and for both analyses by contemporary painters of 
the processes and principles of perception provide analogy. Their 
early intense preocupation with the basically representational art 
of painting, as opposed to Pound's and Eliot's involvement with 
mythmaking literary tradition is a way of acknowledging that 
their primary loyalty is to the work of imagination in so far as 
imagination engages immediate reality. 
The two poets' rootedness in contemporary reality is of course 
evident in their biographies: before he embarked on a business 
career, Stevens tried to become a journalist, was living in the 
slums of New York and even reported Stephen Crane's funeral 
for a New York newspaper. Already his Journal entry for June 28 
1900 reflecting on the ceremony shows a keen awareness of the 
disparity between the harshness of plain facts and the heroism of 
life of the creative mind. He records the appalling distance be- 
tween the two but there is also a basic acceptance in his conclu- 
sion of the way things are:
>>>
90 


Agnieszka Salska 


As the hearse rattled up the street over the cobbles, in the stifling 
heat of the sun, with not a single person paying the least attention to it 
and with only four or five carriages behind it at a distance I realized 
much that I had doubtingly suspected before - There are few hero- 
worshipers." (Letters, p. 41) 
Williams, we hardly need reminding ourselves, studied 
medicine and became a practicing physician for the rest of his 
life. Neither Stevens nor Williams considered full time, purely 
"literary" career a satisfactory option, no matter how jealous at 
times Williams might have been of Pound's professional dedica- 
tion to art alone. 
From his Harvard days Stevens knew Walter Arensberg, and 
it is presumably Arensberg who introduced Stevens to Stieglitz, 
Kreymborg and the circle of Others. Thus Stevens's interests and 
tastes in painting would be to a degree shaped by Arensberg's 
interests in contemporary international art scene. 9 Stevens re- 
sponds to color - bright, clear and, at least in the early period, 
delightedly and playfully opposed to the blankness of mundane 
routine and "plain facts" view (as in e.g. "Disillusionment of Ten 
O'Clock" or "Sea Surface Full of Clouds"). His early poems 
analyze perception foregrounding the fact that it does not provide 
mimetic representations of reality. There are at least thirteen ways 
of looking at a blackbird while the "mind of winter" only suc- 
ceeds in seeing its own blankness reflected in nature; the mean- 
ing of reality remains a mystery presenting to the imagination an 
unfriendly, vaguely threatening surface of the snow bound land- 
scape. Thus, in a continual process of meditation, imagination 
has to make its own world, its "flowing mundo," which it inhab- 
its pleasurably though momentarily. It is not a sentimental escap- 
ist world but a necessary product of the constant engagement 
between reality and the mind that prevents us from all becoming 
snowmen: 


9 Walter and Louise Arensberg Collection of twentieth century art is now 
exhibited by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
>>>
Stevens and Williams: American Colors... 


91 


The world about us would be desolate except for the world within 
us. There is the same interchange between these two worlds that there is 
between one art and another, migratory passings to and fro, quicken- 
ings, Promethean liberations and discoveries. [...] 
Poet and painter alike live and work in the midst of a generation 
that is experiencing essential poverty in spite of fortune. The extension 
of the mind beyond the range of the mind, the projection of reality be- 
yond reality, the determination to cover the ground, whatever it may be, 
the determination not to be confined, the recapture of excitement and 
intensity of interest, the enlargement of spirit at every time, in every 
way, these are the unities, the relations, to be summarized as paramount 
now. 10 


As Stevens grows older the necessary effort of imagination 
becomes more and more awesome with the blank landscape of 
reality more and more recalcitrant. I cannot go into the matter at 
this point but it would be possible to argue, I think, that the de- 
velopment is connected not only with the natural process of the 
poet's aging but also with the psychological effects on him of the 
Great Depression. The thirties were a hard time for Stevens-the 
poet, and in Owl's Clover (1936) he did make a conscious effort 
to reflect directly on the relation between art and social reality. 
The effects were disappointing and he never returned to the issue 
but he never doubted, either, that imagination's heroic engage- 
ment with reality must not be abandoned. The unself-centered, 
meditative effort is constitutive of our humanity and it makes 
individual life worth living: 
Men feel that the imagination is the next greatest power to faith: the 
reigning prince. Consequently their interest in the imagination and its 
Work is to be regarded not as a phase of humanism but as a vital self- 
assertion in a world in which nothing but the self remains, if that re- 
mains." (The Necessary Angel, 171) 


10 Wallace Stevens, "The Relations between Poetry and Painting" in The 
Necessary Angel. Essaus on Reality and Imagination (New York: Vintage 
Books, 1951), pp. 169, 171.
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92 


Agnieszka Salska 


Significantly, however, through the imagination's rage for 
order the artist becomes a "connoisseur of chaos" rather than the 
"universal cock" claiming undisputed power over the appropriated 
territory. 
Already in Harmonium we find poems which, like "The Plot 
against the Giant," schematize Stevens' primary existential situa- 
tion positing activities of imagination against the "yokel" of re- 
ality which never adequately responds to our aesthetic yearnings 
and civilized needs. Still, the uncouth "yokel" must be constantly 
confronted to test imagination's heroic capabilities; a contest 
with him remains the unalterable starting point on the way to the 
supreme fiction - the one order, however tentative and tenuous, 
that we can still have when we no longer have God. In this atti- 
tude Stevens has always seemed to me close to Emily Dickinson 
whose primary situation presupposes as well a confrontation in 
different moods between the vicissitudes of the daily experience 
and the power of consciousness. Stevens' stress is of course not 
on sensibility, not on the intensity of personal response, but on 
the work of imagination as an impersonal force capable of devis- 
ing strategies to "undo" the threatening giant of reality. 
Early Stevens thinks of the south with its lushenss and fecund 
energies as peculiarly American because of its robustness; he as- 
sociates America with energies of the wilderness and the power 
of the mind with the potential to shape and order the wilderness. 
Thus the encounter in Stevens' poems between imagination "rag- 
ing for order" and the bewilderingly alien reality can be read as 
a metaphor of the European conquest of the continent even 
though in the poet's later years southern landscapes tend to dis- 
appear and the mind confronts instead bleak northern scenes of 
sensuous deprivation. I I Minimal manifestations of life and vari- 


II Here one thinks again of the analogy between the effects of the Civil War 
on the tone and imagery of Dickinson's poems after 1861 and Stevens' poetry 
during the Depression though neither dealt directly with the historical realities 
of her/his time.
>>>
Stevens and Williams: American Colors... 


93 


ety have to suffice as nourishment for imagination, which indeed 
has to become "the only artificer of the world" in which it can 
survive. 
Williams' reaction to modern art focuses on the paintings' 
response to the civilizational change in contemporary landscape 
and life. As we remember, his friends, were Charles Demuth, 
whom he knew at the University of Pensylvania and Charles 
Sheeler, b'oth associated with "Precision ism." In the words of 
Robert Hughes Precisionists "were painting a functional Ameri- 
can landscape refracted through a deadpan 'modernist' lingo.,,12 
In 1927 Demuth wrote to Alfred Stieglitz: "America doesn't really 
care - still, if one is really an artist and at the same time an 
American, just this not caring, even though it drives one mad, 
can be artistic material" (American Visions, pp. 381-82) - an 
observation tflat could be easily ascribed to his friend William 
Carlos Williams. 13 Like Stevens, Williams celebrates, especially 
in his early poems, the mysterious power of imagination to ar- 
range, compose, and see objects in relations. For Williams, how- 
eVer, imagination cannot be abstracted from the daily reality in 
order to confront the material it works with. Stevens noticed this 
quality of Williams's talent when he needled him in a letter of 
1925 about how "your imagination has always exploited your 
fellow-townsmen" (Letters, 245). Williams's imagination not only 
engages. but truly "fills" reality and thus needs to be celebrated in 
situ, not in its abstract processes but within its external contexts. 
His early picture poems frame objects like the red wheelbarrow, 
the pot of flowers or a cat. Later, in the Depression years, they 
tend to take snapshots of people like the old woman eating 
plums, a big young bareheaded woman with a shoe in her hand 
trying "to find the nail! that has been hurting her'" or the young 
housewife standing at the curb in her negligee; they invite the 


12 Robert Hughes, American Visions (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997), p. 382. 
13 Williams' poem "The Great Figure' (1921) inspired Demuth's most fa- 
mous picture "The Figure 5 in Gold" (1928).
>>>
94 


Agnieszka SaIska 


reader to accept, respect, and relish what surrounds us. His at- 
tempts to redeem reality do not propose to reform it by changing 
it into something else or recreating it as a world apart but want to 
focus, re-form and re-compose it by paying precise attention, by 
treating aspects of it as art objects worthy of concentrated con- 
cern in points traditionally disregarded or tabooed. For instance, 
in a poem called "Apology" from an early collection Al Que 
Quiere! (To Him Who Wants It, 1917) we are asked to look at: 
colored women 
day workers - 
old and experienced - 
returning home at dusk 
in cast off clothing 
faces like 
old Florentine oak. 14 
Williams' poems infuse what is perceived with aesthetic value 
by imitating the techniques of photography, by the very act of 
framing the scene and demonstrating that what is being viewed is 
not chaos but aesthetic composition, with a rich halo of associa- 
tions, brought into relief by the arrangement of words: the distri- 
bution of line breaks and echoing sound patterns. It is difficult to 
judge just how much Williams has learned from Pound and the 
Imagists and how much came to him from moving among con- 
temporary artists gathered at the time in New York. His delighted 
reaction to Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" at the 
Armory ShOW 15 foregrounds the joke the picture plays at the ex- 
pense of the conventional viewers' expectations. But he was also 
seriously concerned with how new technology altered our un- 
derstanding of perception and consequently our sense of form. 
Duchamp's picture, as we remember, was inspired by a series of 


14 William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems, Charles Tomlinson, ed. (New 
York: New Directions, 1985), p. 17. 
IS William Carlos Williams, The Autobiography (New York: New Direc- 
tions, 1967), p. 134.
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Stevens and Williams: American Colors... 


95 


sequential photographs of a female model descending a staircase 
and Williams was certainly aware of the fact. Basically Duch- 
amp's picture made visible the succession of the planes of 
a woman's body as she moved down the stairs. Disregarding the 
representational surface, the artist exposes the geometry of her 
movement. Later, in Al Quie Querie! Williams presents the rose, 
a topic overloaded with imposed symbolic meanings and as 
obligatory in poetry as the nude in painting: 
The rose is obsolete 
but each petal ends in 
an edge, the double facet 
cementing the grooved 
columns of air - The edge 
cuts without cutting 
meets - nQ,thing - renews 
itself in metal or porcelain - (Selected Poems, p. 44) 
Such new way of seeing l6 maybe more equivocal but is vastly 
more accurate since it leads to unprecedented objectivity through 
a radical withdrawal of the speaker's presence from the poem. 
Later, William transfers the technique onto human subjects. 
Seeing an old woman eating plums (An Early Martyr, 1935) or 
a bareheaded young woman trying to locate the annoying nail in 
her shoe (An Early Martyr, 1935), Williams concentrates on the 
dynami
m of the moment. By framing the models' actions out of 
all context the poem succeeds in conveying the emotional aban- 
don of what is being shown. The concentrated action translates 
into the intensity of reaction of the object, not the subject, of 
perception so that the emotional and intellectual direction of the 


16 The close up view, the flatness of the picture and its emphasis on the line 
suggest perhaps Georgia O'Keeffe's famous flower pictures painted just a few 
years later, in the nineteen twenties. It may be worth remembering, then, that 
O'Keeffe drew her inspirations from the landscape of the American Southwest, 
emphasized the nativist quality of her work, and never even wanted to go to 
Europe.
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96 


Agnieszka Salska 


poem beyond its visual surface altogether leaves out the per- 
ceiver. What Williams is doing in such poems in fact reverses the 
philosophy underlying Pound's concept of image and Eliot's ob- 
jective correlative. Truly imagination here enters the body of the 
other. Many of Williams' earlier poems work on the principle of 
Duchamp's "ready mades" - objects of everyday use taken out 
of their utilitarian context and exhibited as works of art. Accepting 
their pragmatic aesthetics also becomes a way of acknowledging 
otherness and its right not to reflect the observer's preconcep- 
tions but, instead, to claim acceptance on terms that surrender 
what the artist may desire to what he constantly encounters living 
his life where he is. Reality cannot be rejected, ignored or totally 
transformed but it can be made interesting, entertaining or mov- 
ing in the act of imaginative perception: 
... the thing that stands eternally in the way of really good writing is 
always one: the virtual impossibility of lifting to the imagination those 
things that lie under the direct scrutiny of the senses, close to the nose. 
It is this difficulty that sets value upon all works of art and makes them 
a necessity. 17 
Rich as are the gifts of the imagination bitterness of world's loss is 
not replaced thereby. On the contrary it is intensified, resembling thus 
possession itself. But he who has no power of the imagination cannot 
even know the full of his injury. (Prologue to Kora in Hell, p. 15) 
The latter paragraph sounds indeed very close to Stevens but 
Williams is adamant against the generalizing tendency of imagi- 
nation 
... the coining of similies is a pastime of very low order, depending 
as it does upon a nearly vegetable coincidence. Much more keen is that 
power which discovers in things those inimitable particles of dissimi- 
larity to all other things which are peculiar perfections of the thing in 
question. ("Prologue to Kora in Hell," p. 16) 


17 William Carlos Williams, "Prologue to Kora in Hell" in William Carlos 
Williams, Selected Essays (New York: New Directions, 1954), p. II
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Stevens and Williams: American Colors... 


97 


Neither of the two poets was a diligent reviser, and though it 
is Williams who programmaticaly insisted on the unfinished, 
immediate character of his works, Stevens too, despite his ele- 
gant iambic pentameters, endorses the provisional status of his 
poems by making them attempts at capturing a process rather that 
efforts to produce a finished art object. The process is that of the 
mind constantly brooding on its relation to reality, on its need 
and its limited capability to make order and yet, on the necessity 
of continually confronting the challenge of chaos. Both poets 
recognize that "Modern reality is the reality of decreation, in 
which our revelations are not revelations of belief but of the 
precious portents of our own powers", as Stevens puts it (The 
Necessary Angel, p. 175). Both celebrate, though at times quite 
insecurely, the power of the imagination to analyze and compose 
the fragments... anew. But Stevens focuses on the work of the 
mind, on "world as meditation" while Williams foregrounds the 
stimulus of the senses (chiefly of vision) as the senses take in 
reality, which recomposed by the organizing faculty of imagina- 
tion becomes a humanized extension of the world around us. 
Thus the homemade world that Stevens and Williams create be- 
tween them seems to me built along the lines of the traditional 
American poetic split which in the nineteenth century polarized 
the work of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Both have been 
regarded as kinds of realists; their realities, however, are differ- 
ently structured. For Dickinson like for Stevens, the center is oc- 
cupied by the processes of the mind. The voice meditating in 
Stevens's poems ultimately belongs to a heroic figure (however 
capable of verbal fun, witty or even clownish he may appear) 
akin to the archetypal Puritan emerging from Perry Miller's stud- 
ies of the New England mind published in the 1930s (Orthodoxy 
in Massachussets, 1933; The New England Mind, 1939). Like 
him, Stevens' artist - hero, on his errand into the modern epis- 
temological wilderness, is trying to create a livable space with 
the sheer power of his lonely mind. Williams, of course, objected 
to the Puritan habit of living predominantly in and of the mind:
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Agnieszka Salska 


Having in themselves nothing of curiosity, no wonder for the New 
World - that is, nothing official - they know only to keep their eyes 
blinded, their tongues in orderly manner between their teeth, their ears 
stopped by the monotony of their hymns and their flesh covered in 
straight habits. 18 
For Williams as for Whitman the sensual opennes to the world 
stimulates the life of the mind, yet the mind can only express it- 
self through and within its physical contexts. Hence his poems 
make us see what we prefer not to see or have been conditioned 
to disregard. As with Stevens, poems are compositions, made 
objects, yet they direct our attention not inward but outward. 
They promise to make form and beauty part of our immediate 
experience not through the labor of meditation but through and in 
the act of empathic perception. "No ideas but in things!" 
When, towards the end of his life (1954), Stevens took up 
Williams' motto, he produced a poem ("Not Ideas about the 
Thing but the Thing Itself') that is a generalizing metaphor of 
the process in which "At the earliest ending of winter," In March 
(Williams's season) the mind wakes up from its introverted (ro- 
mantic?) sleep (in which "a scrawny cry from outside / Seemed 
like a sound in his mind") to "A new knowledge of reality". If 
anything Stevens moves in this late poem 19 even closer to Wil- 
liams and certainly away from Eliot. The affinity and the differ- 
ence between the two poets' involvement with American reality 
can be seen again when we interpret their "significant" land- 
scapes as metaphors of their respective attitudes. Both share the 
fundamental loyalty to American landscapes of their immediate 
experience. Stevens divides his between New England of his 
residence and Florida of his intense attraction. The polarity of 
northern and southern landscapes and climates, of summer and 
winter, structures the imagery of his poetry analogically to the 


18 William Carlos Williams, In the American Grain (New York: New Di- 
rections, 19), p. 112 
19 See Gelpi's article for more examples of parallel poems by both authors.
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Stevens and Williams: American Colors... 


99 


way opposition between imagination and reality structures its 
intellectual and emotional content. Williams's significant land- 
scape is industrial New Jersey and his season is early spring. His 
is a borderland and a transitional season where, as "by the road 
to the contagious hospital" there is no opposition, only a neces- 
sary sequence in the relation between the natural and man made 
world as the vivid clarity of forms is about to emerge from the 
condition of rootedness in the muddy soil. 


"-
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


ZBIGNIEW BIALAS 
University of Silesia, Katowice 


"Cut in Plain Marble": Sites of Memory, 
Monuments & America 


1 


'- 


In a sense America gained its independence under the dictate 
of death. This is partly true because of the literary fashion im- 
ported from England, the Graveyard School of Poetry, and partly 
because of the development of America's own taste for death. In 
the monumental study of the United States' formative years, the 
first half century of independence, Page Smith makes the follow- 
ing remark concerning the early 1800's: 
...Americans repressed sex [but] they gave close, and to the modern 
imagination, morbid attention to death. Every detail of the loved one's 
death throes was observed and often recorded in letters or diaries. Death 
was a common subject of conversation, with much attention to the 
fashion in which friends and relatives died, what their last words had 
been, their gestures and expressions, their expectations of a happier life 
to come. The rites of death were usually extensive. 1 
Historical paintings of John Trumbull, depicting the great 
events of the American revolution, show this late eighteenth and 


I Page Smith, The Shaping of America: A People's History of the Young 
Republic, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980, vol. 3, pp. 368-369.
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102 


Zbigniew Bialas 


early nineteenth century consciousness perhaps at its most spec- 
tacular. Trumbull introduced not so much the historical scene 
but, melodramatically, the death of the hero in a loosely under- 
stood historical setting (The Battle of Bunker Hill). On a more 
personal note Trumbull painted his wife at the very moment 
when she was expiring (Mrs. Sara Trumbull on Her Deathbed) 
and - somewhat outdoing even Edgar Allan Poe's imagination 
("the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most po- 
etical topic in the world", 1846) - and still in Poe's manner, 
Trumbull built his grave beneath the gallery of his paintings. 
Then he charged admission of twenty-five cents and subse- 
quently created his own epitaph, which was inscribed on the 
tombstone when he died in 1843. 2 
Today, the taboo on sex is lifted for better or for worse, as 
Michel Foucault demonstrates in History of Sexuality, while the 
taboo on death is reintroduced. 3 Finding the subject of theoretical 
conversation in death (or life for that matter), one skates on thin 
ice of signification and one risks, as the ice cracks, drowning in 
the ocean of melodramatic cliches, somewhat in the manner of 
Martin Eden who must have been unworthy of a more solid 
gravestone. One way out is by introducing negative, metaphorical 
definitions on what life and death are not rather than what they 
might be. This seems to be a universal given, true as much of 
American culture (cf. e.e. cummings' "life's not a paragraph/ 
And death, i think is no parenthesis,,4) as of Russian popular wis- 
dom (cf. ")KH3Hb He caxap a CMepTb HaM ne ':laM"). Another 
way out of the quandary of banality is to place oneself in the 
position of an .expert (cf. Sylvia Plath's "Dying is an art, I do it 


2 Ibid. p. 415-418. 
3 Cf. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction, 
trans. Robert Hurley, New York: Vintage Books, 1980; also, especially in the 
American context: Leslie A. Fiedler's magisterial study, Love and Death in the 
American Novel, New York: Criterion Books, 1960. 
4 E.e. cummings, 'since feeling is first', in: 100 Selected Poems, New 
York: Grove Press, 1954, p. 35.
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"Cut in Plain Marble": Sites of Memory... 


103 


exceptionally well',5). The third way out, and the one, which I 
will risk, is to talk about certain more tangible objects necessi- 
tated by death, i.e., Trumbull/Poe-fashion: galleries, gravestones, 
epitaphs and monuments, objects which literary critics can play 
with, even if they cannot yet play with death itself. 
Spoon River Anthology (1915), reveals, for instance, to what 
extent in literary culture, a version of life can be reconstructed 
from graveyard epitaphs, while the "elementary town" (Dylan 
Thomas's words 6 ) is a self-contained microcosm.? Further, the 
existent Spoon River criticism reveals to what extent in critical 
culture, other versions can somewhat vampirically (spook rather 
than spoon like) spring to life on the basis of interpretations of 
the epitaphs. Spoon River comparative criticism will reveal to 
what extent Serbian modernists, say: Isidora Sekulic, or Polish 
masters, say Jaros}aw Iwaszkiewicz, follow Edgar Lee Masters. s 
Spoon River historical criticism will find English graveyard 
school of poetry, and above all the most enduring, Thomas Gray's 
"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751) the locus clas- 
sicus of the genre. 
This essay should perhaps be written in an elegiac stanza, in 
quatrains of iambic pentameter rhyming abab. But leaving aside 
melancholy evoked here both by inclination and cultivation and 
leaving aside the taste for contemplation and meditation rather 


5 Sylvia Plath, 'Lady Lazarus' in: The Collected Poems, ed. Ted Hughes, 
New York: Harper & Row, 1981, pp. 244-247. 
6 Dylan Thomas, 'Twenty Four Years', in The Poems of Dylan Thomas, 
ed. Daniel Jones, New York: New Directions Book, 1971, p. 143. 
7 Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology, New York: The Macmillan 
Company, 1925. 
8 Cf. Isidora Sekulic, Kronika Palanackog Grob/ja [The Chronicle of the 
Small-Town Churchyard) [1940]. I was using the Polish translation Kronika 
maiomiasteczkowego cmentarza, trans. Muriel Kordowicz, Warszawa: PIW, 1983; 
Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, Pasje blt:.domierskie, Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1956. For 
the analysis of Iwaszkiewicz's use of Edgar Lee Masters see: Alexandra Pod- 
gorniak, Poetic Vision of Human Life in 'Spoon River Anthology', unpublished 
M. A. thesis, Katowice: University of Silesia, 1997.
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104 


Zbigniew Bialas 


than action, there are - let me remind myself - critical ques- 
tions to be asked. What new meanings can be attached to the 
concept of "the writing on the wall" in view of the local color? 
On what planes can we discuss conceptual links between texts 
and graves? 
A memorial, a cairn of stones is ostensibly built with a wish 
to guarantee the stability of presence to those who are absent. 
But a cairn of stones is above all, and less ostensibly, a signature 
of possession erected by those who are present. I shall refer 
briefly to the canonical English context, although a context not 
devoid of ethnic potential (if only Poland was an English col- 
ony). Joseph Conrad's name, as it is engraved on a tombstone in 
the Catholic churchyard of Canterbury, is misspelled. Instead of 
"Teodor," the English stonemasons wrote "Teador." The ideal- 
ized image of the English stonemasons' work ethics that the 
reader may have formed after reading Thomas Hardy's novels 
(Far From the Madding Crowd or Jude the Obscure) receives 
a serious blow here. Although Conrad was buried in 1924, no- 
body changes the misspelled name, instead - a theory is built 
around it. In a biographical film on Conrad, Keith Carabine, one 
of the leading Conradian critics, leans playfully against the solid 
stone, pats it in a friendly manner and explains that this mis- 
spelled name is symbolically appropriate because it tellingly 
shows that Conrad never quite managed to become a true Eng- 
lishman. 


2 


In a passage closing James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers, 
a gravestone is erected to Major Effingham's lasting memory. 
The illiterate frontiersman, Natty Bumppo, is also immortalized 
on the same stone, despite the fact that he is still alive and cannot 
read the inscription.
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"Cut in Plain Marble": Sites of Memory... 


105 


Sacred to the memory of Oliver Effingham, Esquire, formerly a Ma- 
jor in his B. Majesty's 60 th Foot; a soldier of tried valour; a subject of 
chivalrous loyalty; and a man of honesty. To these virtues, he added the 
graces of a christian. The morning of his life was spent in honour, 
wealth and power; but its evening was obscured by poverty, neglect, and 
disease, which were alleviated only by the tender care of his old, faith- 
ful, and upright friend and attendant, Nathaniel Bumppo. His descen- 
dants rear this stone to the virtues of the master, and to the enduring 
gratitude of the servant. 9 
"All paths of glory lead but to the grave," maintains Thomas 
Gray, thinking of the egalitarian nature of mortality but Major 
Effingham's elaborate gravestone somewhat belies the egalitarian 
theory. "The gratitude of the servant," despite all the Hegelian 
dialectic that we have at our critical disposal, does not equal 
"Virtues of the master." Nevertheless, the Leather-stocking starts 
at the sound Or his name and a $mile of joy illuminates his wrin- 
kled features. He asks to be shown his name and the young 
Effingham guides his finger to the appropriate spot: 
Natty followed the windings of the letters to the end, with deep in- 
terest, when he raised himself from the tomb, and said - 
"I suppose it's all right, and it's kindly thought, and kindly done!,,10 
But it is not quite all right, because Natty, though alive, when 
"cut in plain marble" becomes petrified. He belongs to the past 
and his role. is finished. Natty Bumppo, accordingly, decides to 
leave the settlement and escapes from the society he helped 
build. Moreover, the very symbolical act of cutting the name of 
the living man into somebody else's gravestone may be equiva- 
lent to an act of social ostracism and/or black-magic-palimp- 
sestism. 
Another grave is erected in memory of Chingachgook, buried 
next to Effingham. The first historical dilemma arises: could 


9 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 
p. 451. 
10 Ibid., p. 452.
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106 


Zbigniew Bialas 


Amer-Indians be buried in the cemeteries of the Whites? Of 
course, excluding noble princesses like Pocahontas, who having 
been converted to Christianity died in Gravesend [the pun unin- 
tended, probably] in England in 1617 and must have been buried 
in the European fashion, if only for the lack of Amer-Indian 
burying grounds in seventeenth century England. Historical evi- 
dence suggests that Cooper was not wrong. In the nineteenth 
century for example, Swift Foot, the daughter of Spotted Tail, the 
most important warrior among Sioux Brule, had a proper military 
funeral in Fort Laramie, was buried in a Christian cemetery, the 
American soldiers fired salutes and kept vigil for the whole night 
after the ceremony. 11 Coming back to Chingachgook - the epi- 
taph, although properly placed above the body buried under it - 
contains a name, which is misspelled. 
"... what have ye put over the Red-skin?" [asks Natty] [...] 
"This stone is raised to the memory of an Indian Chief, of the Delaware 
tribe, who was known by the several names of John Mohegan; Mohican" - 
"Mo-hee-can, lad; they call theirselves! 'hee-can'." 
"Mohican; and Chingagook" - 
"'Gach, boy; 'gach-gook; Chingachgook; which, intarpreted, means 
Big-sarpent. The name should be set down right, for an Indian's name 
has always some meaning in it." 12 


"I will see it altered" replies young Effingham, which is more 
than the English were ever willing to do to Joseph Conrad's 
gravestone, although it is not only an Amer-Indian's name that 
always has some meaning in it. People all over the world know 
the power of nomination because nomination is equivalent to 
taking possession,13 therefore Leather-stocking's obsessive pre- 


II Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee [1970], Throughout this 
text I am using page references to the Polish edition, PochowaJ me serce 
w Wounded Knee, trans. by James D. Brenner, Malgorzata Brenner, Ewa Jarz
b- 
ska, Warszawa: Iskry, 1981, p. 120. 
12 J. F. Cooper, op.cit., p. 452. 
13 Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other
>>>
"Cut in Plain Marble": Sites of Memory... 


107 


occupation with proper written nomenclature, although rather 
instinctive, testifies to his western upbringing. The Derridean 
concept of archi-ecriture becomes fundamental to architecture, 
the archae - and the texture of the graves. For any solid nomi- 
nalist, graveyard nominalist too, the written name is the safe- 
guard of presence. Thus, the young Effingham, misspelling the 
name of the Mohegan, admits indirectly his inarticulateness and 
unreadabilty. 
The rest of the inscription on Chingachgook's grave runs as 
follows: 


"He was the last of his people who continued to inhabit this coun- 
try; and it may be said of him, that his faults were those of an Indian, 
and his virtues those of a man." 14 


Thinking ef both Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook, are there 
any possible contradictions in representing names of the living, 
the illiterate and/or the "native" on the gravestones by those who 
come in their wake? If a written text is a mnemonic device and 
memory is traditionally presented as archives, who are the in- 
scriptions and monuments for? Is there a limit to palimpsestism? 
Relating Francis Baily's 1796 expedition down the Ohio, Page 
Smith writes: 
During the enforced stop Baily took the opportunity to visit nearby 
Indian burial inounds, the awesome remains of some long-vanished In- 
dian race. There were three such mounds, each a hundred feet or more 
in height and fifty or sixty feet in diameter at the top. On one of them, 
Baily found a tree with the initials of earlier visitors carved into its 
trunk. 15 


For possible interpretative implications it is instructive to con- 
textualise such complex symbolical acts where we learn e.g. that 


[La Conquete de I 'Amerique: la Question de I 'autre, 1982], trans. Richard 
Howard; New York: Harper, 1992, p. 27. 
14 J. F. Cooper, op.cit., p. 452. 
IS Page Smith, vol. 3, p. 456 [emphasis mine, Z. B.].
>>>
108 


Zbigniew Bialas 


Chingachgook was "the last of his people who continued to in- 
habit this country" or that visitors carve their initials in Amer- 
Indian burial grounds. 
In 1886 William Charles Scully, a White South African poet 
writes the poem "The Bushman's Cave" where he fills the colo- 
nial space with long-dead natives: 
Through fancy's glass I see, around, 
The shades of long-dead forms arisen [...] 
"Tis gone!" Twas but a glimpse, a flash, 
That for an instant lit the past [...] 
And on the rocks in deathless hue, 
The records of a perished race, 
That from this land of ours withdrew 
To silence, leaving scarce a trace. 16 
When the Aboriginal "Amazon," named Walyer, dies in Mu- 
drooroo's Doctor Wooreddy's Prescription for Enduring the End- 
ing of the World (1983), a text by an Aboriginal writer set in 
nineteenth century colonial Australia, Mr. Robinson who repre- 
sents the White government of the penal colony - like Maj. 
Effingham represents the colonial government in America - in- 
tends to lay the body down in a makeshift grave and inscribe 
a suitable epitaph on the trunk of a tree: 
They came, remnant of a bygone race, 
Surviving Mourners of a Nation's dead; 
Proscribed inheritors of rights which trace 
Their claim coeval with the world! 
They tread upon their nation's tomb! 
They came like straggling leaves together blown, 
The last memorial of the foliage past; 
The living bough upon the tree o'erthrown, 
When branch and trunk lie dead. 17 


16 W. C. Scully, in Johan van Wyk, Pieter Conradie and Nik Costandaras, 
S.A. in Poesie/S.A. in Poetry, Cape Town: Owen Burgess, 1988, pp. 81-82 
[emphasis mine, Z. B.]. 


J.
>>>
"Cut in Plain Marble": Sites of Memory... 


109 


"He was the last of his people who continued to inhabit this 
country" (America; Delawares; Chingachgook), the awesome re- 
mains of some long-vanished Indian race (America, Page Smith) 
"long dead forms," "a perished race" (Africa; Khoi-Khoi), "rem- 
nant of a bygone race" (Australia; Aboriginals, Walyer). Epitaphs 
may function as traces of a lost history.18 
Because in all these literary cases the Aboriginal inhabitants 
are seen as dangerous to the colonists, the Whites apply museu- 
mising imagination. Museumising imagination can be combined 
with a form of nostalgic archaeological fetishism, which consists 
in the revival of the living cultures as dead or vestigial. In gen- 
eral, the trace-based idea behind the museum and to a greater 
extent the idea behind archaeology consists in the belief that 
there exists a convenient form of immortality which indicates 
long-deadnes-&.. Concentration on traces, which is a major preoc- 
cupation in all Cooper's texts, may constitute a technique of de- 
populating or re-populating, since the very concept of the trace, 
even a recent one, does not entail a co-presence - be it in spa- 
tial or temporal understanding - but unavoidably a preceding 
presence that is visibly distinct from the present presence or the 
implied future presence. The present presence always belongs to 
the reader of the traces; it does not need to belong to their maker. 
To be absent is, in effect, to be negatively present and this nega- 
tive presence requires palliative corrections, either dismissive re- 
jection or a dismissive incorporation into colonial history, ethno- 
logy or archaeology. 
Archaeology, the museum and the fetish can be usefully ap- 
plied when dealing with a dead body, as Freud knew very well 
even if others did not. I would like to point to several spectacular 
instances where combative Amer-Indian chiefs were not only left 


11 Mudrooroo, Doctor Wooreddy's Prescription for Enduring the Ending of 
the World, Melbourne: Hyland House, 1983, p. 130 [emphasis mine, Z. B.]. 
18 Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Oxford: Oxford 
University Press, 1995, p. 89.
>>>
110 


Zbigniew Bialas 


unburied and un-epitaphed, but their bodies or fragments of their 
bodies were treated as exhibits and fetishes. I am not attempting 
here any chronology of Amer-Indian wars, as such chronologies 
exist in numerous sources, although I do try to limit my examples 
to the nineteenth century. When the rebellious Chief Black Hawk, 
captured in 1832, died in 1838, the governor of the newly estab- 
lished Iowa Territory placed his skeleton in a visible place in his 
office. 19 Cheyenne Chief, White Antelope, killed in Sand Creek 
massacre (1864) had his genitals cut off after his death and 
a white soldier is reported to have used those for a tobacco pouch. 20 
Female genitals of Amer-Indian women were stretched over 
saddle-bows or used ornamentally as feathers in the hats. 21 Man- 
gas Colorado (Red Sleeves) the great Apache war chief was 
scalped by the whites after his death in 1862. One of the soldiers 
severed his head, which he then cooked in order to prepare it for 
sale to a phrenologist in the East. 22 General Crook offered a high 
price for the head of Apache Tonto chief, Delshay. In 1874 two 
renegade Apaches brought separately two heads claiming in each 
case this was the genuine Delshay head. Both Apaches received 
the promised money from General Crook,23 and both heads were 
placed on parade grounds in Rio Verde and San Carlos. 24 In 1873 
Kintpuash (Captain Jack) Modok Chief was executed and his 
body, though buried, was mysteriously dug out, embalmed and 
then displayed at market places in the East, admission 10 cents. 25 


19 Dee Brown, Bury My Heart..., p. 19. 
20 Ibid., p. 92; also U.S. Congress, 39th. 2nd Session. Senate Report 156, 
pp. 73 and 96. 
21 Dee Brown, op.cit., p. 93; also U.S. Congress, 39th. 2nd Session. Senate 
Report 156, p. 53 and Donald J. Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes, Norman: 
University of Oklahoma Press, 1963, p. 220. 
22 Dee Brown, op.cit., p. 184. 
23 Ibid., p. 198; also: Martin F. Schmitt, ed., General George Crook, Nor- 
man: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946, p. 182. 
24 Dee Brown, op.cit., p. 198. 
2S Ibid., p. 220.
>>>
"Cut in Plain Marble": Sites of Memory... 


111 


3 


Filling the architectural space with the dead, can we some- 
how mobilize the epitaph? Dynamise the coffin? Regenerate the 
gravestone? And further, can a text function as a coffin? Can 
a coffin offer/generate/regenerate a text? Queequeg's tattoo which 
has been subject of numerous interpretations comes to mind, one 
interpretation which is of relevance to our topic is where the 
twisted tattooing of secret provenance is the epitaph of another 
long-gone race, the Kokovokans - inhabitants of Queequeg's 
island. It is the work of the "departed prophet and seer" who by 
the hieroglyphic marks, had written out on Queequeg's body 
a complete theory of the heavens and the earth and a mystical 
treatise on the art of attaining truth. 26 Queequeg then, in his own 
person is not only "a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one 
volume,,27 his body is an org
nic gravestone inscription. The 
mysteries of the script are not open to Queequeg but there is no 
reason why they should be. Why should the grave/stone, the 
grave/body, the grave/flesh, the grave/skin be able to read the 
script inscribed on it? 
The immovable gravestone inscriptions frequently necessitate 
framing. Melville suggested this early enough in his work. In 
Moby Dick skeletelised imprints and structured frames cause de- 
spair, cf. e.g. the black-bordered sacrificial marbles in the Chapel 
where the blanks and voids with beings placelessly perished dis- 
credit the non-referentiality of any framed representation but 
discredit also the very immovability of the sacrificial tablets 
, ?8 
screwed to the wall, of any gravestone for that matter. - Quee- 
queg, in contrast is a mobile epitaph. True, initially, when getting 
up, Queequeg stands in the frame of the window for a while but 
he soon leaves it and never again do we see him in a frame. 


26 Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, p. 524. 
27 Ibid., p. 524. 
28 Ibid., p. 41.
>>>
112 


Zbigniew Bialas 


Queequeg's very organicity requires however a strategy of 
ensuring, if not stability, then at least a copy. Therefore, in chapter 
110 the hieroglyphic marks, indecipherable patterns, figures, draw- 
ings, tattoos and lines of the body are grotesquely repeated by 
Queequeg who tattoos the coffin: 
Many spare hours he spent, in carving the lid with all manner of 
grotesque figures and drawings; and it seemed that hereby he was striv- 
ing, in his rude way, to copy parts of the twisted tatooing on his body.29 
Queequeg, the scribe, the wood-mason, armed with the knife 
for a chisel re-carves out [but not recovers] parts of the twisted 
tattooing, in other words the truncated epitaph of the long-gone 
race, with fragments of its cosmogony and ethics ("the theory of 
the heavens and the earth and a mystical treatise on the art of at- 
taining truth"). The empty coffin with the epitaph survives the 
wreck and lets Ishmael survive. It is a life-giving epitaph and 
a life-giving coffin. Moby Dick and Mobile Epitaph are victori- 
ous in the apocalyptic confrontation of palimpsests. The drown- 
ing of Martin Eden and the drowning of Kate Chopin's protago- 
nist did not ricochet bobbing epitaphs while the drowning of 
Quequeeg did. Not that it made anyone any wiser. 


29 Ibid., p. 524.
>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torufl 2001 


Section II. Intellectual, imaginary 
and geographical travels 


PAULINA AMBROZY 
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan 


Description without Place? 
- New England in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens 


"- 


There are men whose words 
Are as natural sounds 
Of their places 
Wallace Stevens 


Referring to the period just before the publication of The 
Waste Land, William Carlos Williams wrote in his autobiography: 
There was heat in us, a core and a drive that was gathering headway 
upon the theme of a rediscovery of a primary impetus, the elementary 
principle of all art, in the local conditions... I felt that we were on the 
POint of an escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art 
form itself - rooted in the locality which should give it fruit. I 
The crisis of representation, the strong influence of the Euro- 
pean avangarde in America, and the urge to "make it new" led 


-- 


I The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams, New York: Vintage 
Books, 1951, pp. 146-147.
>>>
114 


Paulina AmbroZy 


the American poets to the cultivation of the "local" and resulted 
in the absorption of the familiar, of the immediate surroundings 
into the individual imagination of the poet. Williams, Frost, Ran- 
som, Cummings and Stevens, among other poets, rediscovered 
the charms of Americana for the readers of poetry. 
Wallace Stevens, although born in Reading, Pennsylvania, spent 
most of his life in Hartford, Connecticut and it is New England 
that became the chief object of his poetic creations. Stevens' full 
realization of the literary and cultural heritage left by his great 
New England predecessors, his genuine fascination with Nature 
and, finally, the search for his own poetic home made New Eng- 
land the most appropriate place for imaginative habitation. The 
region became the world in which Stevens found the physical and 
spiritual order that he took for his own, the landscape that re- 
mained in accordance with his poetic needs and desires, the 
rhythm of the seasons and the weather that he turned into the 
strong pulse of his poetry. The relation between the poet and the 
literal, physical reality became his favorite preoccupation. "We 
live in a world of the imagination, in which reality and contact 
with it are the great blessings,"2 wrote Stevens in one of his let- 
ters, and the poems whose origins can be traced in the Connecti- 
cut real ity indicate the importance of the above statement for the 
understanding of Stevens' works. 
After one of his trips from Hartford to Boston, Stevens re- 
flected on the meaning of the New England Connecticut for the 
American culture and his own life: 


There are no foreigners in Connecticut. Once you are here, you are 
- or you are on your way to become - a Yankee. I was not myself 
born in the state. It is not that I am a native, but that I feel like one. 
There is nothing that gives the feel of Connecticut like coming home to 
it. [...] What I have in mind was something deeper that nothing can ever 


2 Letters of Wallace Stevens (1996), ed. Holly Stevens, Berkeley: Univer- 
sity of California Press, 1996. All the subsequent quotations from this edition 
will be marked as (L).
>>>
Description Without Place? - New England in the Poetry... 115 


change or remove. It is a question of coming home to the American self 
in the sort of place in which it was formed. Going back to Connecticut 
is a return to an origin. And, as it happens, it is an origin which many 
men all over the world, both those who have been part of us and those 
who have not, share in common: an origin of hardihood, good faith and 
good will. 3 
There seems to be no better declaration of his sense of be- 
longing in New England. The Puritan work ethic with its empha- 
sis on "hardihood, good faith and good will," the drive towards 
self-dependence, material success and financial stability and the 
sense of return to an origin constituted that part of the American 
self of which Stevens consciously wanted to partake. The Protestant 
work ethic urged him to choose his future career of a lawyer and 
businessman rather than concentrate exclusively on writing poetry. 
The consequence of that decision is visible in the poet's anxiety 
to keep a bal
ce between imagination and reality, between the 
practical and the ideal. The tension between the two, a constant 
oscillation between extremes and contrasts is considered to be 
One of the most distinguishing features of Stevens' poetry. 
Yet, the most fruitful part of the New England heritage was 
inevitably Stevens' fascination with Nature and more precisely 
with its peculiar quality discovered by the first Puritan settlers - 
that wild, primordial, pre-Adamic freshness and purity, the "early 
and undefiled American thing," to use Stevens' own words (L, 229). 
In one of his diary entries, the poet observed: "I thought, on the 
train, how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of ex- 
cluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its 
physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate mon- 
strosity, full of solitudes + barrens + wilds. It still dwarfs + ter- 
rifies + crashes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, 
the winds still shatter (L, 73)." What especially captures the poet's 
imagination is the wilderness, the savage, non-anthropocentric 


3 Wallace Stevens "Connecticut" in: Opus Posthumous, New York: Vin- 
tage Books, 1982, pp. 292-293.
>>>
116 


Paulina AmbroZy 


aspect of Nature,4 Nature as the Other, inaccessible violent force. 
A century earlier, Thoreau recognized it in the Mount Kaadn in 
Maine: "Nature was here something savage and awful, though beau- 
tiful... There was clearly felt the presence of a force not bound 
to be kind to man.,,5 They were both literary heirs to the Puritan 
tradition and their experience of Nature echoes the discovery of 
wild, heathen America by William Bradford: "what could they 
see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and 
wild men... the whole country, full of woods and thickets, repre- 
sented a wild and savage hue.,,6 It was this part of America that 
constituted Stevens' metaphoric geography and became a vital a 
part of his personal experience. It provided him with an enor- 
mous supply of poetic images and helped to shape his sensitivity. 
A closer look at the particular elements of Nature that fur- 
nished Stevens' poetic home makes it impossible to neglect the 
New England climate. Helen Vendler aptly noticed that "the only 
phenomenon to which he is passionately attached is the weather.'" 
The poet himself often emphasized its importance arguing that 
"We are physical beings in a physical world; the weather is one 
of the things that we enjoy, one of the unphilosophical realities. 
The state of the weather soon becomes a state of mind." (L, 349) 
The kaleidoscopic change of seasons with their short and misty 
springs, apple-scented summers, golden autumns and long, frosty 
winters composed the quintessential atmosphere of his poems. 
His description of the Connecticut spring best illustrates Stevens' 
love of the regional climate: . 


4 Gyorgyi Voros, Notations of the Wild: Ecology in the Poetry of Wallace 
Stevens, Iowa City: University ofIowa Press, 1997, p. 6. 
S Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods, ed. J. J. Moldenhauer, Prince- 
ton: Princeton University Press, 1972, p. 45. 
6 William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation in: The American Tradition in 
Literature, eds. Bradley, Richmond, Beatty, New York: W. W. Norton. Com- 
pany. Inc., 1962, Vol. I, p. 19. 
7 Helen Vendler, On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems, 
Cambridge Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 1969, p. 47.
>>>
Description Without Place? - New England in the Poetry... 117 


A spring was coming on... The man who loves New England, and 
particularly the spare region of Connecticut, loves it precisely because 
of the spare colors, the thin light, the delicacy and slightness and beauty 
of the place. The dry grass on the thin surfaces would soon change to 
a lime-like green and later to an emerald brilliance in a sunlight never 
too full. When the spring was at its height we should have a water- 
color, not an oil, and we should all feel that we had had a hand in the 
painting of it, if only in choosing to live there where it existed. 8 
The painterly quality of the New England climate found its 
reflection in many of Stevens' poems. In "The Snow Man," we 
can admire the solemn beauty of the winter landscape, with the 
"pine-trees crusted with snow," "junipers shagged with ice," "the 
spruces rough in the distant glitter."g The sibilants with their 
hissing quality make almost tangible the freezing coldness, the 
snow covering the bare ground and the sound of the chilly wind 
blowing in th
t "bare place." (CP, 10) The consonants are like the 
crude dabs of a painter's brush whose effect is so powerful and 
overwhelming that it touches us in our very bones. Another poem 
about winter renders an effect of a still life: 


Clear water in a brilliant bowl, 
Pink and white carnations. The light 
In the room more like a snowy air, 
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow 
At the end of winter when afternoons return. 
Pink and white carnations - one desires 
So much more than that. The day itself 
Is simplified: a bowl of white, 
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round, 
With nothing more than the carnations there. 
(CP, 193) 


8 Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, New York: Vintage Books, 1982, 
p. 292. Hereafter quoted as (OP). 
9 Idem, Collected Poems, New York: Vintage Press, 1982, pp. 9-10. 
Hereafter quoted as (CP).
>>>
118 


Paulina Ambrozy 


The careful composition of the particular elements of this 
poetic painting is astounding and reveals the pure pleasure of ob- 
servation. The mood of the poem is quite different from that of 
"The Snow Man." In the latter, the setting was the middle of 
winter, with heavy snow and bitter cold and no hope for any 
change in the scenery. It is necessary to "have the mind of win- 
ter" to get to its frosty heart. In "The Poems of Our Climate" just 
quoted, the sense of coldness is conveyed in a more delicate way. 
The snowy landscape almost imperceptibly creeps inside to pose 
a contrast with the roseate carnations placed in the round bowl. 
The flowers are like a restrained desire as they are not a dazzling 
sensuous red, which would indicate passion and life in full bloom, 
but a delicate, lighter shade of it, embodying the oncoming spring, 
the "so much more than that" desired "at the end of winter" by 
the painter of that picture. 
The stark reality of the New England winter lies at the heart 
of Stevens' poems' cool clarity and emotional restraint. It is 
a world without any beautifying elements, "a return to a plain 
sense of things," (CP, 502) to the rock, which for the poet was 
"a base of all design," (CP, 151) a scheme on which an artistic 
construct could be founded. The winter imagery helps the poet to 
visualize the connection between Nature and the state of his mind. 
"The soul, is composed/Of the external world," (CP, 51) argues 
Stevens and his soul quite often seems to be that of winter: 
At the beginning of winter,... I walked and talked 
Again, and lived and was again, and breathed again 
And moved again and flashed again, time flashed again. 
(CP,238) 
"At the beginning of winter," which is the onset of the long pe- 
riod of dormancy, the poet surprisingly overflows with energy and 
life. The winter weather becomes a positive experience compa- 
rable to the joy usually associated with spring. Here it stands for 
the promise of change, a dormant possibility of life. For Stevens, 
winter has yet another value, it is the symbol of the tangible real,
>>>
Description Without Place? - New England in the Poetry... 119 


the unmediated barren Nature which the best embodiment of the 
world reduced to "its first idea," to the primordial pre-Adamic qual- 
ity of Nature free of any human element. It is this quality of the 
season to which Stevens refers as "the chief motive, first delight:" 
Perhaps the Arctic moonlight really gave 
The liaison, the blissful liaison 
Between himself and his environment, 
Which was, and is, chief motive, first delight, 
For him. 


(CP, 34) 
The capricious climate of New England is known for its abrupt 
change of seasons, and in some of his poems, Stevens unites the 
lingering winter and the short-lived summer: 
Of half-dissolving frost, the summer came, 
If ever, whisked and wet, not ripening, 
Before the winter's vacancy returned 
(CP, 56) 
Such weather makes the poet more aware of the fluid reality 
which surrounds him. The summer and winter are two extremes, 
two opposites and their encounter brings a sudden metamorpho- 
sis rather than gradual change. It is a clash of two forces: growth 
and decay, the process and stasis, of an affirmation and negation 
of life. Between those two there are, however, the seasons which 
for Stevens epitomize the velocities of change. Spring brings 
signs of the birth of life, "a feeling of new life of old activity, of 
life returned immense and fecund" whereas autumn dazzles us 
with the most sophisticated spectacle in which the lavishness of 
its changing colors, lights, weathers plays the main part. Autumn 
satisfies thus the poet's longing to have imagination and reality at 
once. This is how he presents this idea in "Auroras of Autumn": 
It is a theatre floating through the clouds, 
Itself a cloud, although of misted rock 
And mountains running like water, wave on wave,
>>>
120 


Paulina Ambrozy 


Through waves of light. It is of cloud transformed 
To cloud transformed again, idly, the way 
A season changes color to no end, 
Except the lavishing of itself in change, 
As light changes yellow into gold and gold 
To its opal elements and fire's delight... 
(CP,416) 
The landscape here is woven out of those elements which 
remind of the processes and changes of nature's cycles. The 
swiftness and mutability are suggested by the piling up of verbs 
describing change and motion. The delicate autumnal character 
of the poem is reinforced by the nouns and adjectives which also 
indicate lightness, ephemerality and a constant shift of nature's 
decorations. Even the mountains, usually connoting solidity, firm- 
ness and constancy, here are fluidized into the image of the sea. 
Such frequent use of the New England climate with its dis- 
play of various weathers illustrates the poets' perception of Na- 
ture as a process, as an incessant flow of energy, an experience 
which has no limits. "The subject matter of poetry," says Ste- 
vens, "is not that collection of solid, static objects extended in 
space, but the life that is lived in the scene that it composes." 
(NA, 25) 
Stevens juxtaposes the New England geography with the 
South that he often visited during his business trips or holidays. 
With its never-dying vegetation, lavish sunshine, tropical fauna 
and flora, ripeness of fruit, flowers always in full bloom, and 
predictable hot weather, its abundance of scents and colors, the 
South is turned into a symbol of human Paradise. It is a Paradise, 
however, which the poet found unbearable because it excluded 
the possibility of change with death and rebirth, ripeness and de- 
cay, with happiness and pain. "Is there no change of death in 
paradise?" asks the poet in "The Sunday Morning," "Does ripe 
fruit never fall? Or do the boughs / Hang always heavy in that 
perfect sky?" (CP, 69) The South is too unreal, too elaborate and 
baroque, too radically opposed to reality to compete with the
>>>
Description Without Place? - New England in the Poetry... 121 


noble purity and simplicity of New England. Therefore, in "The 
Farewell to Florida" the poet announces his decision of "home- 
coming," which for him means sailing North: "How content I 
shall be in the North to which I sail / And to feel sure and to for- 
get the bleaching sand..." (CP, 117) Thus it is the familiar com- 
ponents of the Northern landscape rather than the "bleaching 
sand" of the South which he adopts for his poetic dwelling. 
Home was what Stevens always needed and dreamed of. 
"I must find a home in the country - place to live in, not only to 
be in," (L, 58) wrote the poet to his future wife, Elsie Moll. In 
yet another letter, he was even more expressive about his desire 
to find "a place to live in": "the very animal in me cries out for 
a lair." (L, 69) As it has been aptly pointed out by one of his 
critics, the idea and image of "house" and "home" become a re- 
CUrrent motif in his poetry as that which has a very wide range of 
connotations 'and connections. 1O A happy, domestic life, with 
a sense of stability was what Elsie and his house in Hartford em- 
bodied for him. Soon after he was promoted to the position of the 
Vice-President of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Com- 
pany, Stevens bought there a large colonial house with a garden 
situated within walking distance from the Elizabeth Park. The 
house was the realization of his dream, a fulfillment of his pow- 
erful need to belong in some actual place which he could later 
turn into the symbolic geography of his poetry. 
Many of the elements which formed his Hartford surround- 
ings found their place in his poems. A view of the public dump 
gave the title to one of his poems "The Man on the Dump," his 
room overlooking a garden with roses became the subject of the 
Poem "A Room on a Garden," the Hartford sunsets inspired "Of 
Hartford in a Purple Light." The Elizabeth Park, often frequented 
by the poet, provided him with whole inventories of plant and 
animal life. Responding to the question of a friend concerning 
the meaning of a "pheasant" in "Sombre Figuration," Stevens ad- 


- 


10 Voros, Notations of the Wild, p. 89.
>>>
122 


Paulina AmbroZy 


mitted: "Occasionally I put something from my neighborhood in 
a poem. We have wild pheasants in the outskirts of Hartford. 
They keep close to cover, particularly in winter, when one rarely 
sees them. In the spring they seem to reappear, although they 
have never really disappeared, and their strident cry becomes 
common." (L, 362) In this poem, the Hartford pheasant is trans- 
formed by the imagination into an eagle: "The pheasant in a field 
was pheasant, field, I Until they changed to eagle in white air." 
(OP, 68) 
Similarly, other elements of his Hartford home were turned 
into metaphors of life and change and became, as one of Stevens' 
critics noted: "a construct of ideas, beliefs, emotions," "a Iife- 
support system"ll embracing an architecture built of the mind, 
language and Nature. The image of the house which emerges 
form his poetry is an edifice founded on Nature whose roots lie 
in contact with the physical real, but which is furnished by the 
poet's imagination to become "the palace of thought." (OP, 37) 
Stevens' homebuilding and homecoming is thus a return to the 
Earth through language, a poetic search for one's place of origin, 
which would provide the necessary context for human life. 12 
In "The Ordinary Evening in New Haven," Stevens expands 
the idea of the relation between poetry and man's immediate en- 
vironment. The poem describes a simple walk in New Haven on 
a rainy night. The poet asks "Of what is this house composed if 
not of the sun?" (CP, 465) The house is equated with the poem, 
a structure to create and to live in, a "new resemblance of the 
sun." (CP, 465) For Stevens, this house is only an imperfect re- 
flection of reality as it is always saturated with our conscious- 
ness of it: 


II Ibidem. 
12 Lawrence, Kramer, 'A Completely New Set of Objects '; The Spirit of 
Place in Wallace Stevens and Charles Ives in: Critical Essays on Wallace Ste- 
ven, ed. Steven Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese, Boston: Massachusetts G. K. 
Hall & Co., 1988, p. 204.
>>>
Description Without Place? - New England in the Poetry... 123 


Suppose these houses are composed of ourselves, 
So that they become an impalpable town, full of 
Impalpable bells, transparencies of sound, 
Sounding in transparent dwellings of the self, 
Impalpable habitations that seem to move 
In the movement of the colors of the mind. 
(CP,466) 
As the "transparent dwellings of the self," the houses are col- 
ored by the imagination and filled with the sounds of human 
speech. They become extensions of the poet's self, a projection 
of the desire to domesticate Nature and appropriate a space that 
would house the poet's private edifice. By way of such appro- 
priation the ordinary evening turns into "an illusive romance." 
(CP, 468) A real place, a town easily identifiable on the map of 
New England-becomes an internalized, poeticized space, a thing 
living in the poet's mind. 
In "Description without Place," which lent the title to this 
paper, Stevens argues that we live not in the place itself, but 
rather in a description of the place, and that there is no escape 
from the subjectivization of reality, for only this can protect us 
from the violence of the outside world, from its incessant changes, 
its formlessness, its indifference and from man's alienation in it: 
The mind has added nothing to human nature. It is a violence from 
within that protects us from a violence from without. It is the imagina- 
tion pressing back against the pressures of reality. It seems, in the last 
analysis, to have something to do with our self-preservation; and that, 
no doubt, is why the expression of it, the sounds of its words, helps us 
to live our lives. (NA, 36) 
A description of a place is not the place itself but a fictitious 
and abstract construct, an imposed vision. Stevens' poetic world 
is place-bound, but access to the places he deals with is given to 
the reader through language, through the poet's own descriptions 
and interpretations. Words seem to arrest and freeze fragments of 
the fleeting reality and help Stevens create a fiction which would
>>>
124 


Paulina AmbroZy 


make our existence more intentional, integral and stable. Lan- 
guage fulfills the poet's desire to contain the whole world within 
the limits of his perception. The real world in its solid self is too 
vast and incomprehensible, but when framed in a poem, it be- 
comes a house and home for the mind, a resting and familiar 
place, safe for imaginative habitation. 
Although Stevens lived in "the great era of American expa- 
triate artists," he chose to live in America because nowhere else 
could he feel more at home. New England was the landscape 
which Stevens turned from a physical, external reality into the 
state of his mind. The natural austerity of the climate and topog- 
raphy, a sense of belonging, the idea of home and, finally, the 
awareness of the rich cultural tradition of America which origi- 
nated here made this region especially dear to him. In his poem 
"Local Objects" Stevens wrote: 
Little existed for him but the few things 
For which a fresh name always occurred, as if 
He wanted to make them, keep them from perishing. 
(OP, 112) 
And indeed, those few local things were the objects which 
shaped the genuinely American character of his poetry, that spe- 
cial quality of his mind, his native sense of the world. In an essay 
discussing the regional roots of Ransom's poetry, Stevens con- 
cluded: 


One turns with something like ferocity toward a land that one loves, 
to which one is really and essentially native, to demand that it surren- 
der, reveal, that in itself which one loves. [...] so that one's cry 0 Jeru- 
salem becomes little by little a cry to something a little nearer and 
nearer until at last one cries out a living name, a living place, a living 
thing, and in crying out confesses openly all the bitter secretions of ex- 
perience. (OP, 256) 
The name of that essentially native land, that living place, the 
constantly fresh name which Stevens cries out in his poetry is 
New England.
>>>
Description Without Place? - New England in the Poetry... 125 


References 


William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation in; The American Tradition 
in Literature, eds. Bradley, Richmond, Beatty, New York: W. W. 
Norton. Company. Inc., 1962, Vol. 1., pp. 24-32. 
Thomas Francis Cambadi, Wallace Stevens and Pennsylvania Keystone, 
Selingrove: Susquehanna University Press and London: Associated 
University Press, 1996. 
Lawrence Kramer, 'A Completely New Set of Objects ': The Spirit of 
Place in Wallace Stevens and Charles Ives in; Critical Essays on 
Wallace Steven, eds. Steven Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese, Bos- 
ton: Massachusetts G. K. Hall & Co., 1988, pp. 234-242. 
Guy Rotella Reading & Writing Nature: The Poetry of Robert Frost, 
Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, Boston: 
Northwestern University Press, 1991. 
Bolly Stevens, Souvenirs and Prophesies: The Young Wallace Stevens, 
New YorhKnopf, 1977. 
Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Ima- 
gination, New York: Vintage Books, 1952. 
-, Collected Poems, New York: Vintage Press, 1982. 
-, Opus Posthumous, New York: Vintage Books, 1982. 
-, The Letters of Wallace Stevens, Berkeley: University of California 
Press, 1996. 
Benry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods, ed. J. J. Moldenhauer Prince- 
ton: Princeton University Press, 1972. 
Belen Vendler, On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems, 
Ca
bridge Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 
1969. 
Gyorgyi Voros, Notations of the Wild: Ecology in the Poetry of Wallace 
Stevens, Iowa City: University oflowa Press, 1997. 
William Carlos Williams, The Autobiography of William Carlos Wil- 
liams, New York: Vintage Books, 1951.
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


DOMINIKA FERENS 
Wroclaw University 


Two Faces of the Oriental(ist): 
Missionary and Travel Writings on China and Japan 


In 1899, the California literary magazine Overland Monthly 
published a poem by Margaret Brooks Titled "Japan, the Young- 
est Born," which plainly illustrates a split in the prevailing atti- 
tudes of whi
 middle-class Americans towards two Asian na- 
tions: 


She sits afar on flowery isles, 
To Europe's frowns gives beams and smiles, 
Softly uncovering China's wiles: 
Gentle little Japan. I 
Both China and Japan are troped as women-a strategy com- 
mon in orientalist writings-but while one is open in a disarming 
and childish way, the other hides a cunning and perhaps mali- 
cious nature. Critical interpretations of Orientalism have, thus 
far, focused heavily on the Near and Middle East, and Southeast 
Asia. Although interesting work has been done on Japan and on 
representations of the Chinese in American popular culture, Ori- 
entalism's Japanese and Chinese facets have not been treated 


- 


I Margaret Brooks, "Japan, The Youngest Born." Overland Monthly, Vol. 
33, No. 196 (I 899), p. 313.
>>>
128 


Dominika Ferens 


comparatively in any depth. 2 This paper is an attempt to account 
for the split in nineteenth-century orientalist discourse that per- 
sonified China as wily, closed, and aggressive, while ascribing to 
Japan such qualities as gentleness, openness, and artistic sensi- 
bility. 
The question I attempt to answer here is: how exactly did 
China become "wily" in the American popular imagination and 
how "gentle" was Japan at the end of the nineteenth century? 
There are of course many reasons for the discursive split in 
Brooks's poem: China's economic and political decline in the 
second half of the nineteenth century paralleled by Japan's tech- 
nological and military advances, the differences in how the two 
governments regulated foreign traffic within their territories, as 
well as the emigration restrictions they placed on their own citi- 
zens. Even the relative size of Japan and China contributed to the 
disparate images: one was smaller and easily accessible by sea, 
the other loomed large and impenetrable; one, though densely 
populated, restricted emigration and focused on colonizing its 
Asian neighbors, the other seemed ready to spill its untold 
"hungry millions" across the world. My intention is not to dis- 
place these. well-documented geopolitical explanations, but to 
show that nineteenth-century ethnographic knowledge of China 
and Japan provided Americans with ways of understanding geo- 
political change. 


2 The studies of Orientalism I refer to are: Edward Said, Orienta/ism (New 
York: Vintage, 1978); Lisa Lowe, Critical Terrains: British and French Orien- 
ta/isms (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Ali Behdad, Belated 
Travelers: Orienta/ism in the Age of Colonial Dissolution (Duke: Durham, 
1994); Akira Iriye, "Japan as Competitor, 1895-17," in: Mutual Images: Essays 
in American-Japanese Relations, ed. Akira Iriye (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard 
University Press, 1975), pp. 73-99; Dorinne Kondo, About Face: Performing 
Race in Fashion and Theater (New York: Routledge, 1997); Frank Chin et al 
eds, Aiii
eeee!: An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American 
Literature (New York: Meridian, 1974); James Moy, Marginal Sights: Staging 
the Chinese in America (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1993).
>>>
Two Faces of the Oriental(ist): Missionary... 129 


I propose a brief survey of amateur ethnographic writings on 
these two countries from the 1830s through the end of the cen- 
tury. Professional ethnographers in this period were primarily 
interested in cultures that had had little or no contact with the 
West, and neither China nor Japan qualified as "primitive." Con- 
sequently, what ethnographic writings we have on China and J a- 
pan are by Protestant missionaries and tourists. These groups 
Wrote a great deal, each generating something of a tradition. 
Around those traditions I construct my argument that the split of 
Oriental ism into polarized discourses of China and Japan derives, 
in part, from the fact that ethnography in China was first and 
most influentially done by Protestant missionaries starting in 
1807, whereas the most widely read ethnographers of the Japa- 
nese were lay travelers of the last quarter of the nineteenth cen- 
tury. The former constructed the image of a deserving though 
wily heathen, the latter of a desirable heathen: tamed, romanti- 
cized, aesthetfcized, and commQdified. 


Bible and Baedeker 


Missionaries and lay travelers went to both China and Japan, 
but there was an asymmetry in their numbers and in the timing of 
the two enterprises: proselytizing and tourism. British and Ameri- 
Can Protestants designated China as a "mission field" very early: 
traditionally 1807 is taken to be the date of "first entrance." By 
1900, Protestant missionary societies were supporting over 2,700 
white religious workers in China and as many "native helpers. ,,3 


-- 


3 For a sociohistorical background on China missions see: H. O. Dwight et 
al. eds., The Encyclopedia of Missions (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1904); 
Jane Hunter, The Gospel ofGenti/ity: American Women Missionaries in Turn- 
O!-the-Century China (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1894); Rosemary 
Cagan, A Sensitive Independence: Canadian Methodist Women Missionaries 
in Canada and the Orient 1881-1925 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University
>>>
130 


Dominika F erens 


The writings of British Protestants were widely circulated in the 
United States and vice versa, both countries being largely Protes- 
tant. In the discussion below, I shall therefore refer to several 
British works whose American editions came out shortly after 
their publication in England. 
Unlike China, Japan remained more or less closed to foreign 
traffic until 1856, when American Commodore Matthew Perry 
"opened" the port of Yokohama to foreign trade. However, Japa- 
nese government banned proselytizing and even as late as 1878 
missionaries were confined to the treaty ports. By the 1880s, tour- 
ism began to flourish. Japan rapidly modernized its hotels and 
transportation to cater to Western capitalism's new leisure class; 
steamer lines to Yokohama multiplied in the last quarter of the 
century; people flocked to see the famed "ancient Japan" before 
modernity engulfed it altogether. 
Missionaries and tourists were certainly not the only West- 
erners to write about the Orient for Western audiences. Yet no 
other groups made the printed word so central to their enterprise, 
and none enjoyed the publishing infrastructures that missionaries 
and travel writers relied on. To cope with the enormous flow of 
polyglot writing, mission societies operated presses throughout 
Asia as well as in the West. Tourists, on the other hand, came to 
Asia later in the century, when the commercial press was already 
large enough to absorb their texts. Writing transformed their ex- 
perience into a valued commodity that could be sent in install- 
ments to a popular magazine or consolidated into a book. 
For both missionaries and travelers, writing was a way to as- 
sure the continuity of their respective enterprises. Few ventured 
into a foreign land without reading around in the vast tradition of 
relevant geographical and ethnographic texts; in fact, reading 
often served as a catalyst for travel and a call to Christian duty. 


Press, 1992); and Archie Crouch et al. eds. Christianity in China: A Scholar's 
Guide to Resources in the Libraries and Archives of the United States 
(Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 1989).
>>>
Two Faces of the Oriental(ist): Missionary... 13 I 


Missionaries wrote books and articles on China in order to main- 
tain the financial support of mission boards and draw new re- 
cruits. Travelers likewise envisioned their readers as following in 
their footsteps. They left trails of landmarks and practical advice 
in their narratives. Some even brought the reader directly into the 
text, which functioned as an intimate guided tour. Travel was 
textualized, circulated among readers, and reenacted. 
Throughout the nineteenth century, missionaries went "into 
the field" from a deep conviction that the other needed to be 
saved from a fate worse than death. When studying an ethnic 
group they tended to perceive a "lack" to be filled or a cultural 
difference to be modified. As the very verb "convert" suggests, 
their purpose was to initiate change. Some were exceedingly at- 
tentive to local sensibilities and Iifeways; others worked to era- 
dicate "paganism" at any cost. Consequently, missionary ethnog- 
raphies conceived as both a call to Christian duty and a handbook 
for others "in the field" emphasized those aspects of the other's 
culture that were incompatible with Christian morality, and con- 
Versely, those which might make the other receptive to change. 
As Susan Stewart proposes in discussing anthropology's "mis- 
sionary connections," the writings of missionaries rely on "the 
rhetoric of transformation projected as a rhetoric of writing-the 
conversion of 'experience' or 'spectacle' into detail, the conver- 
sion of 'the scene' into form, and the conversion, ultimately, of 
'other' into self, 'self' into other.,,4 
Lay travelers may have observed those same foreign cultural 
practices, and even imagined change as imminent, but usually 
wished only for the kind of change that would improve their own 
comfort on the road. While a handful of them were concerned 
about the introduction of Western moral, hygienic, and educational 


- 


4 Susan Stewart, "Antipodal Expectations: Notes on the Formosan 'Ethno- 
graphy' of George Psalmanazar," in Romantic Motives: Essays on Anthropo- 
logical Sensibility, ed. George W. Stocking, Jr. (Madison: University Wisconsin 
Press, 1989), p. 67.
>>>
132 


Dominika Ferens 


standards, the majority savored exotic difference and moved on. 
For instance, of the French novelist Pierre Loti one critic writes, 
"although he was always receptive to new sensations and experi- 
ence [he] wanted to maintain conditions in all the countries he 
visited as they were or, preferably, to turn the clock back to 
a more traditional state.,,5 In the nineteenth century as much as 
today, lay travelers actively pursued the exotic other, expecting 
themselves to be changed in some way by the encounter. Loti ar- 
ticulates this attitude succinctly. In the preface to his memoir 
Madame Chrysantheme (1893) he explains, "Although the most 
important role may appear to devolve on Madame Chrysantheme, 
it is very certain that the three principal personages are myself, 
Japan, and the effect produced on me by that country.,,6 If, like 
missionaries, travelers exaggerated or exoticized racial and cul- 
tural difference, they did so using a vocabulary of "fullness," not 
"lack." Consequently, Japan emerges as a country from which one 
draws aesthetic or spiritual inspiration and takes home a trunkful 
of collectibles. Travelers might come across as more tolerant of 
difference and more receptive to the other's thought. Yet the fact 
that they were "just passing through" precluded all but the most 
superficial exchange of ideas. 
Whereas travelers to Japan often sought instant gratification 
of the senses, missionaries accepted China as a locus of respon- 
sibility, long-term commitment, and delayed gratification. For 
morally responsible Christians, then, China functioned as a vast 
receptacle into which the Word of the Gospel and the fruits of 
Western progress must be poured. They were charged with con- 
veying a complex philosophical message to the other, which 
forced them to acquire a linguistic and cultural proficiency, sel- 
dom matched by lay travelers in Asia. While they inevitably as- 
sumed Western cultural superiority, the precariousness of their 


5 Irene L. Szyliowicz, Pierre Lot; and Oriental Women (London: Macmil- 
lan, 1988), p. 119. 
6 Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysanthcme [1893], (London: KPI, 1985), p. 5.
>>>
---.--- 


Two Faces of the Oriental(ist): Missionary... 133 


position pushed some missionaries to study Chinese ways seri- 
ously and grant intellectual sophistication to those they would 
Convert. 


The Deserving Heathen: 
Missionary Ethnography of China 


Prior to the rise of Far Eastern tourism and Japonisme, West- 
erners tended to write about the Chinese and Japanese in much 
the same terms, without casting them as polar opposites. The 
two-volume anthropological study titled The Uncivilized Races 
of Men by Rev. J. G. Wood, which came out in England in 1868, 
and in the U.S. in 1871 is a good example. 7 Wood's Chinese and 
Japanese are 
ll of a kind, neither "wily" nor "gentle," differing 
only in customs and dress. Similar things about the two cultures 
interest Wood, including social ranks, military tactics, war ma- 
chinery, and manner of treating prisoners. 
Among the first book-length missionary texts on China was 
China: Its State and Prospects by an English missionary, W. H. 
Medhurst. Reprinted in Boston in 1838, the book was a direct 
result of the need to communicate to English congregations the 
enormous extent of work to be done in China and its potential 
benefits. What Medhurst wants to establish in the minds of his 
readers is the concept of a great and deserving nation, one that 
"rises superior to every unevangelized country."s Rude or polite, 
suspicious or trusting, indifferent of eager: these are the terms, 
which limit Medhurst's study of the Chinese as he encounters 
them on his evangelical mission. His Chinese are invariably imag- 
ined as needy, capable of change, and deserving. 


-- 


7 J. G. Wood, Uncivilized Races of Men (Hartford: American Publishing 
Company, ]870). 
8 W. H. Medhurst, China: Its State and Prospects (Boston: Crocker and 
Brewster, 1838), p. 14.
>>>
134 


Dominika Ferens 


An 1864 missionary text taps into the same discourse, though 
it paints a much less flattering portrait of the Chinese. Reverend 
Justus Doolittle's two-volume Social Life of the Chinese consists 
of eight hundred or so pages divided into chapters on such topics 
as "Superstitious Treatment of Disease," "Death, Mourning, and 
Burial," and "Meritorious and Charitable Practices."9 Emphasiz- 
ing rituals and traditions for which even his Chinese informants 
seem to have no rational explanation, Doolittle delineates a whole 
sphere of activities and beliefs that, interesting as they are, beg 
to be eradicated. The effect of absurdity is magnified by the pil- 
ing on of endless detail, the more peculiar or sensational the 
better. Clearly Doolittle's goal is to compile a catalog of sinful 
practices on an unprecedented scale, both as a manual for future 
missionaries, and as a way of convincing readers back home of 
the importance of mission work. 
By the late nineteenth century, missionary discourse inevita- 
bly absorbed anthropological theories of race. Arthur H. Smith's 
Chinese Characteristics (1894) a text that essentializes the "wily" 
Chinese, is a case in point. 1O The accelerating industrial devel- 
opment gave Smith and his contemporaries a sense of cultural 
and technological superiority that his predecessors were still able 
to keep in check. Smith quotes freely from British and American 
secular thinkers, makes references to Spencer's "survival of the 
fittest" and George M. Beard's American Neurasthenia, and em- 
ploys the fashionable notion of "race decay." His psychological 
portrait of Chinese society is organized in terms of racial traits. 
Each trait is amply illustrated with anecdotal evidence and linked 
to a set of others, showing how, as a result, Chinese institutions 
function, or rather fail to function. Twenty of Smith's twenty-six 
chapter headings carry negative judgments ("Intellectual Turbid- 
ity," "Contempt for Foreigners," "Absence of Sincerity," etc.) and 


9 Justus Doolittle, Social Life of the Chinese (New York: Harper, 1865). 
10 Arthur H. Smith, Chinese Characteristics (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 
1894).
>>>
Two Faces of the OrientaI(ist): Missionary... 135 


eVen the chapters in "Economy" or "Benevolence" tend to stress 
the absurd lengths to which the Chinese take these virtues. De- 
spite his initial claim to a morally neutral standpoint, Smith ends 
the study with the following conclusions: "What the Chinese lack 
is not intellectual ability. It is not patience, practicality, nor 
cheerfulness, for in all these qualities they greatly excel. What 
they lack is character and conscience."l1 The lack that Smith's 
text constructs for us-that glaring absence of character-can only 
be filled by the "Christian civilisation."12 (330). 
Missionary representations of the Chinese, I want to suggest, 
Were shaped by the writers' goals, assumptions, and the prevail- 
ing orientalist discourse more than by any characteristics inher- 
ent in their subjects. Not surprisingly, Reverend R. B. Peery's 
The Gist of Japan (1897) seems not in the least affected by the 
fashion for Japonica that drew Westerners by the thousands to 
the Oriental fairyland. Instead,. it provides an insight into what 
Was probably a common missionary experience of displacement 
and alienation - feelings occasionally projected onto the "nati- 
Ves." Peery speaks openly of the missionary as a man "who must 
go on year after year among people from whom an impassable 
gulf separates him." Because he cannot make meaningful contact 
with the "natives," his life "is full of disappointments.,,13 Little 
wonder, then, that the Japanese he represented had more in com- 
mon with Doolittle's and Smith's Chinese than with the Japanese 
as lay travelers saw them. 


The Desirable Heathen: Travel Ethnography of Japan 


As industrial capitalism proceeded apace, more Westerners 
acquired the income and leisure to travel and Japan became 


- 


II Smith, Chinese Characteristics, p. 317. 
I' lb ' 
- Idem, p. 330. 
13 Peery, The Gist of Japan, pp. 225-226
>>>
r 


136 


Dominika Ferens 


a fashionable tourist destination. Unlike the missionary who had 
the prospect of working for a decade or more abroad, the lay 
traveler usually had a limited time to spend and savor to the full- 
est. It is hard to imagine Reverend Peery exclaiming after a day's 
preaching, "As the day began, so it closed. I should like to have 
detained each hour as it passed. It was thorough enjoyment"- 
words used by the traveler Isabella Bird. 14 Clearly, then, a for- 
eigner's perceptions of a country and its people may be colored 
by the prospective length and purpose of stay. 
The American lecturer William Elliot Griffis spent four years 
in Japan (1870-1874) traveling and teaching. The result of his 
stay was The Mikado's Empire (1876), a hybrid book that com- 
bines travel narrative, history, mythology, ethnology and diary 
entries. Japan for Griffis is primarily an aesthetic experience, 
often filtered through images seen in books of Japanese prints 
that began to appear in large numbers in the West. It is also an 
experience best expressed in heightened, dreamy prose. 
To the Western observer, Japan offered ample opportunities 
for voyeurism. Because much of what Griffis assumed to be pri- 
vate life was conducted in public, the country appeared to him 
open, transparent, and innocent. "Here is the human form divine 
bare to the waist, while its possessor laves her long black hair in 
warm water," he comments on his first journey through the 
countryside. 15 Almost everywhere except in the college lecture 
halls, Griffis foregrounds women. 
Griffis, writing in the 1870s, was among the first writers to 
feminize Japan. Sir Edwin Arnold's Japonica and Seas and Lands 
(1891) fused Japan and Japanese women in language so that for 
several decades it would be difficult to think of Japan in any 
other way.16 The first Japanese subject represented in Seas and 


14 Isabella Bird, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. Vol. II (New York: Putnam's, 
1881), p. 129. 
IS William Elliot. Griffis, The Mikado's Empire (New York: Harper, 1877), 
p.364. 
16 Edwin Arnold, Seas and Lands [1891], (London: Longman's, 1894).
>>>
,. 


Two Faces of the Oriental(ist): Missionary... 137 


Lands is a woman. "Little" and "small" appear fourteen times in 
that first descriptive passage; "pretty," "demure," "soft," and 
"white" fill out the picture. The photograph of a girl that accom- 
panies this passage is one of thirty-three studio photographs of 
girls and women, singly, in pairs, threesomes, and foursomes, 
doing things Japanese. Three of the pictures show women naked 
to the waist, bathing or breastfeeding. By contrast, there are only 
seven pictures of men, all of them laborers. 
Because of the booming trade in orientalia, western visitors 
to Japan tended to describe the scenes around them as if they 
Were representations of the more real figures painted on lacquer 
or porcelain. Arnold's first glimpse of the Japanese is also fil- 
tered through a painted image: 
Plunge into the cheery, chattering, polite, and friendly crowd going 
and coming alQ[1g the Benten Dori, and it is as if you were living on 
a large painted and lacquered tea-tray, the figures of which, the little 
gilded houses, the dwarf trees, and the odd landscape, suddenly jumped 
up from the dead plane into the living perpendicular, and started into 
busy being. Here, too, are all the pleasant little people you have known 
so long upon fans and screens. 17 
Everything in Japan is in its proper place. Nothing is lacking. 
"We will not take the kuruma today, but will walk instead, down 
the Kuboi-cho," Arnold beckons, as he leads the reader through 
the city in a single paragraph that stretches over six illustrated 
pages teeming with street-life and exotic commodities for sale. 18 
Perhaps in reaction to Arnold's Japonica and other "surface" 
studies of Japan - and yet lured there by the very same texts _ 
Lafcadio Hearn, an influential Greek-American latecomer to Ori- 
ental ism, set himself an ambitious task: he would seek out the 
"invisible life" of the nation, its spiritual and intellectual pulse. 
!n 1894 he published the first of many books on Japanese sub- 
Jects, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894), part travel narrative 


- 


17 Arnold, Seas and Lands, p. 175. 
18 Edwin Arnold, Japonica (New York: Scribner's, 1892), pp. 63-68.
>>>
138 


Dominika F erens 


and part philosophical meditation. Hearn experiences Japan on 
both a spiritual and aesthetic level. He extols the artistic skills of 
the people and finds them to be innately aesthetic subjects. He, 
too, never tires of describing their diminutive charm and beauty. 
They are "the silvery-laughing folk who now toddle along beside 
me in their noisy little clogs,,,19 the maid who runs across the 
street half dressed, "with a bosom like a Naiad,,,2o people straight 
out of an old print: "Hokusai's own figures walking about in 
straw rain-coats.,,21 
The feminization of Japan in travel writing, coupled with 
a bias towards the sensuous and the picturesque, led westerners 
to brush aside contemporary political developments, most nota- 
bly Japan's militarization. Dominant discourse made it difficult 
for writers to imagine the island nation as a potential aggressor. 
In Arnold's Seas and Lands, for instance, the chapter titled 
"Militant Japan" is randomly illustrated by the photo of a woman 
"In Winter Dress." Her image reinforces the general air of peace 
and good will that pervades Arnold's report on the Imperial 
Army maneuvers at Nagoya. Similarly, Hearn's impulse to aes- 
theticize Japan is so strong that when he watches soldiers march 
through an idyllic country town, their passing does not ruffle the 
flow of his meditation on tradition and modernity: 
round the corner of the last temple come marching a troop of hand- 
some young riflemen, uniformed somewhat like French light infantry, 
marching by fours so perfectly that all the gaiters move as if belonging 
to a single body, and every sword-bayonet catches the sun at exactly the 
same angle... These are the students of the Shihan-Gakko, the College 
of Teachers, performing their daily military exercises... And they are 
none the less modest and knightly in manner for all their modern knowl- 
?') 
edge.- 


19 Lafcadio Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (Boston: Houghton Mif- 
flin, 1894), p. 137. 
20 Hearn, Glimpses, p. 225. 
21 Ibidem, p. 10. 
22 Ibidem, p. 157.
>>>
Two Faces of the Oriental(ist): Missionary... 139 


Just as Arnold failed to see in the military maneuvers at Na- 
goya anything but a brilliant spectacle, Hearn does not see the 
soldiers as part of the imperial war machine. Neither does he ask 
why future schoolteachers are being trained for war. 


Conclusion 


Because missionaries observed their subjects through the lens of 
evangelism, the Orientalist discourse they constructed was ambiva- 
lent. On the one hand, to move fellow-Christians to charity they 
called up images of absence and lack, of vast spaces and unnum- 
bered souls deserving of attention. On the other, they filled those 
spaces with manifestations of vice, folly, and superstition, all of 
which could fortunately be eradicated through prayer and mission 
"- 
work. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they constructed a ra- 
cial other capable of change, not a creature arrested in an inferior 
stage of development, or regressing on the evolutionary scale. This 
attitude towards potential converts allowed missionaries to differen- 
tiate between race and culture in times when science tended to col- 
lapse the two. When their personal experience of evangelizing was 
a disappointment, they did tend to project that sentiment onto 
their subjects, constructing them as wily, obtuse or unfeeling. But 
for the most part, the function of the missionary narrative as an 
advertisement kept ethnographic sensationalism to a minimum and 
required that the Oriental have a recognizably human face. 
Unlike Protestant missionaries who had a horror of becoming 
"orientalized," many travelers took pleasure in "going native." 
Wearing kimonos and sleeping on futons does not guarantee the 
best vantagepoint for observing the "natives." It does, however, 
make for texts that valorize other lifeways, whereas a missionary 
account might hold such practices up to an assumedly superior 
Western standard. The "natives" themselves become a source of 
fascination, their difference reified but no longer sinful or threat- 
ening - gentle rather than wily.
>>>

>>>
- 


LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


ZYGMUNT MAZUR 
Jagiellonian University, Krakow 


The Dialectics of History 
in Mont Saint Michel and Chartres 
and The Education 0/ Henry Adams 


Much of pos
ar American fiction revolves around issues 
concerning universal rules governing the course of human his- 
tory, and exploring the concepts of energy, entropy, and apoca- 
lYPse. These themes are central to what is usually called "post- 
1110dern" fiction. Direct references to entropy can be found in the 
fiction of Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, John Barth, William 
Borroughs, and John Hawkes. The preoccupation with energy and 
entropy, as well as apocalyptic thinking, can be traced back to the 
sel11inal writings of Henry Adams. Adams's conceptual approach 
Was, in turn, strongly connected with the specific setting and 
til11e in which he lived. The "local color of the stars and stripes," 
which is the theme of this conference is, in the case of Henry 
A.dams's writing the "intellectual color" of New England at the 
tUrn of the 19 th century. 
Henry (Brooks) Adams (1838-1916) was born into a family 
which belonged to the cultured elite of Boston and which culti- 
Vated a tradition of leadership and intellectual pursuit as well as 
of personal and intellectual involvement in history that can be 
traced back to the first Puritans in Massachusetts Bay. His great- 
grandfather, John Adams, and his grandfather, John Quincy Adams,
>>>
142 


Zygmunt Mazur 


were presidents of the United States. His father, Charles Francis 
Adams (1807-1886), was a congressman, historian and states- 
man. His brothers were historians, authors and executives. The 
tradition he was born into was imposing and overwhelming, and 
it demanded a scrutiny of one's life and history.! 
Adams graduated from Harvard in 1858, studied in Germany, 
accompanied his father (appointed by Lincoln minister to Eng- 
land) to London, and worked as secretary, newspaper correspon- 
dent, and editor of The North American Review. After a seven- 
year Professorship of history at Harvard College he edited the 
papers of Albert Gallatin and completed two biographies. Pursu- 
ing his interest in early American history, he wrote a monumental 
nine-volume history of the USA. He also wrote two novels deal- 
ing with the relationship between religion and science and tech- 
nology. After his wife's suicide in 1885, he began to travel widely 
all over the world. Eventually he settled for spending winters in 
Washington and summers in Paris. 2 
Adams' work as a historian, a philosopher of history, and 
a cultural critic was moulded by the specific relationship be- 
tween American culture and history and the heritage of the West- 
ern world, which he studied diligently all his life. It formed his 
mind, informed his intellect, and exerted enormous pressure on 
his personality. Throughout his life he was immersed in the main- 
stream of western civilization comprised of Europe (especially 
France) and America (Massachusetts), perceived from the point 
of view of Boston and a deeply ingrained sense of morality - 
the legacy of his Puritan tradition. 
According to Adams, the Boston mind is inconsequent and 
uncertain; there is a discrepancy between theory and practice. He 


I Emory Elliot, ed., Columbia Literary History of the United States (New 
York: Columbia University Press, 1988), pp. 647-9. 
2 Robert E. Spiller, Willard Thorp, Thomas H. Johnson, Henry Seidel 
Canby, Richard M. Ludwig, eds., Literary History of the United States: History 
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972), pp. 1089-1091.
>>>
The Dialectics of History in Mont-Saint-Michel... 143 


professes to believe that Greek and Italian and French standards 
are more respectable than English ones but in practice he knows 
that English disorder is closer to the truth than French thought or 
German logic; he loves English art and society and literature for 
their humor. 3 
One of the most important contributions which Adams made 
to the philosophy of history is found in Mont-Saint-Michel and 
Chartres, a sensitive and incisive discussion of medieval culture. 
Although it was to become regarded as one of the most important 
Works of the 20th century, Adams himself did not think of it as 
satisfactory and had the book printed privately in 1904 in a small 
number of copies only. 
Mont Saint Michel and Chartres is a study in the unity which 
Adams sought to discover in his experience of the world. At 
some point he endeavored to find it in Oriental art and religion, 
especially in Buddhism. However, as his poem "Buddha and 
Brahma" testifies, he was dissatisfied with both Buddhism and 
Brahmanism: Buddhism he found not dynamic enough and Brahma- 


- 


3 This is how Adams himself renders it: "Adams too was Bostonian, and 
the Bostonian's uncertainty of attitude was as natural to him as to Lodge. Only 

Ostonians can understand Bostonians and thoroughly sympathise with the 
Inconsequences of the Boston mind. His theory and practice were also at vari- 
ance. He professed in theory equal distrust of English thought, and called it 
a huge rag-bag of bric-a-brac, sometimes precious but never sure. For him, 
Only the Greek, the Italian or the French standards had claims to respect, and 
the barbarism of Shakespeare was as flagrant as to Voltaire; but his theory 
never affected his practice. He knew that his artistic standard was the illusion 
?f his own mind; that English disorder approached nearer to truth, if truth ex- 
Isted, than French measure or Italian line, or German logic; he read his Shake- 
S?eare as the Evangel of conservative christian anarchy, neither very conserva- 
tive nor very christian, but stupendously anarchistic. He loved the atrocities of 
English art and society, as he loved Charles Dickens and Miss Austen, not be- 
cause of their example, but because of their humor." (1103). Henry Adams, 
Democracy, Esther, Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, The Education of Henry 
Adams (New York: The Library of America, 1983). All subsequent page refer- 
ences are to this edition.
>>>
144 


Zygmunt Mazur 


nism did not allow for unity beyond action. While travelling in 
France, he discovered the art which to him became the symbol of 
unity - the Gothic art of Mont Saint Michel, Chartres, Amiens 
and Paris, chivalric poetry, and the writings of the mystics and of 
Christian philosophers. This influence was to become of crucial 
importance to his thinking. 
Mont Saint Michel and Chartres is subtitled "A Study in 
Thirteenth-Century Unity." Adams selected the century 1150- 
-1250 as a unique period of time in which the dominant attitude 
of people's mind sprang from a sense of spiritual unity. Architec- 
ture was perceived as an expression of energy, so were literature 
and other arts. Adams saw the philosophy, theology, and the arts 
of the 13 th century as the outcome of a unified attitude of mind in 
men's reaction to the universe. This spiritual unity was not logi- 
cal, it was based on faith. 
Adams juxtaposed this description of the 13 th century to a study 
of his own times, which he entitled The Education of Henry Adams. 
It is his most widely read book, for which he was posthumously 
awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The Education is an autobiography 
written in the third person with detached skepticism and subtle 
irony. 
These two books elucidate part of Adams's plan to study 
historical forces by relating two points in time to each other. This 
is how Adams himself explained the idea at the end of Chapter 
XXIX of The Education (note that he is writing about himself in 
the third person): 
Any schoolboy could see that man as a force must be measured by 
motion from a fixed point. Psychology helped here by suggesting 
a unit-the point of history when man held the highest idea of himself as 
a unit in a unified universe. Eight or ten years of study had led Adams 
to think he might use the century I 150-1250, expressed in the Amiens 
Cathedral and the Works of Thomas Aquinas, as the unit from which he 
might measure motion down to his own time, without assuming anything 
as true or untrue except relation. The movement might be studied at 
once in philosophy and mechanics. Setting himself to the task, he began
>>>
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The Dialectics of History in Mont-Saint-Michel... 


145 


a volume which he mentally knew as "Mont Saint Michel and Chartres: 
a study of thirteenth-century unity." From that point he proposed to fix 
a Position for himself which he could label: "The Education of Henry 
Adams: a study of twentieth-century multiplicity." With the help of these 
two points of relation, he hoped to project his lines forward and back- 
Ward indefinitely, subject to correction from anyone who should know 
better. (1 I 17) 
Adams himself admitted that the dates he chose for Mont 
Saint Michel and Chartres (1150 to 1250) were arbitrary, since in 
fact the eleventh century had already displayed an unprecedented 

nergy and unity. During the first crusade, Europe was united in 
Its intellectual pursuits, spiritual goals and political will - it had 
a common objective. ("Europe was a unity..., in thought, will 
and object." (371)) The first crusade was not only a splendid 
?1ilitary effort but an achievement in architecture, poetry, relig- 
IOn and philosophy. Mont Saint Mi'chel is the best spot in which 
the record of the times is kept. 
The whole Mount still kept the grand style; it expressed the unity of 
church and state, God and Man, Peace and War, Life and Death, Good 
and bad; it solved the whole problem of the universe. The priest and the 
soldier were both at home here, in 1215 as in 1115 or in 1058; the poli- 
tician was not outside of it; the sinner was welcome; the poet was made 
happy in his own spirit, with a sympathy, almost an affection, that sug- 
gests a habit of verse in the Abbot as well as in the architect. God 
reconciles arl. The world is in evident, obvious, sacred harmony. Even 
the discord of war is in a detail on which the abbey refuses to insist. 
(3 8 2-383) 
In Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, the Virgin, the Lady of 
Chartres, is shown as the highest symbol of the mysticism of the 
period, and as a symbol of unity: 
. The Virgin filled so enormous a space in the life and thought of the 
h
e that one stands now helpless before the mass of testimony to her 
?lrect action and constant presence in every moment and form of the 
Illusion which men thought they thought their existence. (573)
>>>
146 


Zygmunt Mazur 


The lady of Chartres is gracious and gentle and she regards 
everyone with mercy. Art, sculpture in this case, impresses on 
one a feeling of unity with her Son and His Church. She is not an 
emblem or icon; she is a real, living presence, the greatest of all 
queens, but also "the most womanly of women." (408) This du- 
ality of her character is emphasised throughout the whole palace. 
Her intellectual superiority is underlined by the seven liberal arts, 
with Aristotle, Pythagoras, Cicero and Euclid as their represen- 
tatives, offering worship to the imperial mother and her infant. 
The church dogma, the notion of Trinity, does not allow for 
human frailty or flaws, it is ruthless in its administration of di- 
vine law and justice - that is why men are driven to Mary. 
Men were, after all, not wholly inconsequent; their attachment to 
Mary rested on an instinct of self-preservation. They knew their own 
peril. If there was to be a future life, Mary was their only hope. She 
alone represented Love. (574) 
She offers hope and protection, she understands the langu- 
age they speak, and she is worshipped passionately. She is real 
to her people, she is present in their daily lives, and she eleva- 
tes literature and other arts. Her assistance is invaluable so the 
society invests in her its spiritual, emotional, artistic and eco- 
nomic capital. Her existence and power are not challenged by 
skeptics; there are doubts about the Holy Trinity, but not about 
the Virgin. 
Chartres is the epitome of the ideas imported by the crusaders 
and it embodies the understanding of Christ as the herald of sal- 
vation without a hint of punishment or fear; he is hope and sal- 
vation and he is "identified with his Mother, the spirit of love 
and grace, and his Church is the Church Triumphant." (407) The 
signs of fear, pain and martyrdom are absent; all events are rep- 
resented without any depiction of misery. 
For another reason it [Chartres] has value. The architect meant it to 
reassert, with all the art and grace he could command, the mastery of 
love, of thought and poetry, in religion, over the masculine, military 


j..
>>>
-- 


The Dialectics of History in Mont-Saint-Michel... 


147 


S 
1 
1 
I 


energy of the great Hall below. The thirteenth century rarely let slip 
a chance to insist on this moral that love is law. (381-382) 
To give a reader, especially an American reader, an idea of 
the monetary cost, Adams calculated that between 1170 and 
1270, "the French built eighty cathedrals and nearly five hundred 

hurches of the cathedral class, which would have cost, accord- 
Ing to an estimate made in 1840, more than five milliards to re- 
place." (428) Between 1000 and 1300 an unparalleled amount of 
capital was invested in the Virgin, based on the belief in the 
POWer of Mary in the life to come. Almost all great churches be- 
longed to her, and "in the spiritual and artistic sense, it was al- 
1110st the whole, and expressed an intensity of conviction never 
again reached by any passion, whether of religion, of loyalty, of 
patriotism or of wealth." (428) 
. Throughout I11s life, Adams travelled widely. In 1900, he vis- 
Ited the Great Exposition in Paris, where he studied the new 
application of forces: the new Daimler motor, the automobile, the 
airplane, the electric tram and the dynamo. He saw the dynamo 
?ot as a channel for conveying energy but as "a symbol of infin- 
Ity" which he felt as a "moral force, much as the early Christians 
felt the Cross." (1067) The huge revolving wheel was an expres- 
sive and silent symbol of ultimate energy which encouraged wor- 
ship. In The Education, the dynamo became a new godhead _ 
the embodiment of mechanistic power and energy in the multi- 
Plicity of the 20 th century. It is the symbolic force of the dynamo 
which is contrasted with the force of the Virgin, "the ideal of 
hUl11an perfection." (424) 
A historian could embrace new ideas and new discoveries 
eVen if he did not understand them. The dynamo and newly dis- 
cOVered radiation could be accepted whole-heartedly but their 
eXpression in terms of the equation between them and the econo- 
l11ies of force was not possible. Horse-power and temperature 
l11easurements became inadequate; X-rays and atoms existed only 
as a figment of man's imagination. In a short time (seven years 


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>>>
148 


Zygmunt Mazur 


was Adams's measure) man moved from one world to another 
and the new world had no common features with the old. In the 
new world no measurements could be taken, chance movements 
could not be perceived by man's senses and the amount of energy 
at the end of the scale could not be determined. 
Adams attempted to verify a basic assumption made by his- 
torians - that stories or histories are arranged by a cause-and- 
effect relationship. His aim was to find out whether that assump- 
tion was true through a consistent statement of the facts and 
events in American history. He put together a dozen volumes of 
American history and the outcome was disappointing: "Where he 
saw sequence, other men saw something quite different, and no 
one saw the same unit of measure." (1069) When it comes to 
a sequence of events, chronology is artificial, a sequence of in- 
dividuals or societies does not lead anywhere, thought is chaotic; 
an attempt to determine the causes of human movement failed. 
Adams persisted nevertheless in his search for an organizing 
principle. When he arrived at the "sequence of force," in the 
Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, he was 
overwhelmed "with his historical neck broken by the sudden ir- 
ruption of force totally new." (1069) The discovery of the se- 
quence of force was a devastating revelation to the man who had 
spent his life time seeking, with all available means, a cause- 
and-effect relationship in human history. 
Adams compares the new discovery of force in science in 
1900 to the setting up of the Cross by Constantine in 310; both 
were "occult, supersensual, irrational; they were a revelation of 
mysterious energy like that of the Cross; they were what, in terms 
of medieval science, were called immediate modes of the divine 
substance." (1069) He made up his mind to accept the fact that 
he felt both the force of the rays and the force of faith and de- 
cided to translate rays into faith. He admitted that it was a risky 
venture as the Virgin was still a force at Lourdes and seemed to 
be powerful, but in America the Virgin wielded no power and 
had little value. 


....
>>>
-- 


The Dialectics of History in Mont-Saint-Michel... 


149 


r 


Adams discussed the role of women in Puritan culture, which 
to him meant American culture. He concluded that sex was sinful 
to the Puritans, whereas at any other time in history sex meant 
strength and power. Oriental goddesses were not worshipped for 
their beauty but for their force: "she was the animated dynamo, 
she was reproduction - the greatest and most mysterious of all 
energies." (1070) The Virgin was "the highest energy ever known 
to man, the creator of four-fifths of his noblest art, exercising 
Vastly more attraction over the human mind than all the steam- 
engines and dynamos ever dreamed of; and yet this energy was 
Unknown to the American mind." (1071) American artists, perhaps 
With the exception of Walt Whitman and Bret Harte, never at- 
tached much significance to the power of sex. Sex was not 
a force and American art was also devoid of sex. The sex of the 
dynamo did not !!latter. 
. Adams had taken a long time 
 about forty years - to real- 
IZe what Michaelangelo and Rubens were driving at in their art. 
At some places, like Lourdes or Chartres, he began to feel the 
Virgin as force, as female energy - an idea which had been for- 
gotten both in Germany and England. This is why Matthew 
Arnold was unable to respond to the Goddess as power. Artists 
like Arnold, Adams thought, perceived the railway train as the 

rnbodiment of power, the power which could not be transmuted 
Into art: "All the steam in the world could not, like the Virgin, 
build Chartres." (1074) Force must be measured by the action it 
eXerts on man, "Symbol or energy, the Virgin had acted as the 
greatest force the western world ever felt, and had drawn man's 
activities to herself more strongly than any other power, natural 
Or supernatural, had ever done..." (1075). It was his business to 
find the source of it and the goal it had and the influence it had 
On human progress and on his mind. Adams admits to having 
spent forty five years in pursuit of that goal and concludes that 
he is as ignorant as ever: "one controlled no more force in 1900 
than in 1850, although the amount of force controlled by society 
had enormously increased." (1075) He is unable to find a direc- 



 

 


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Y 


i 
f 


1 
1 
f
>>>
150 


Zygmunt Mazur 


tion, his education has made him more ignorant, his pen is di- 
vorced from his mind and the material he is working on is be- 
coming more and more shapeless. 
The complexity and multiplicity of the world are confounding 
to a man who at the age of sixty is still seeking to educate his 
mind. The books do not help him find direction and he feels that 
complexity, multiplicity and contradiction are growing in his life: 
"He found it in politics; he ran against it in science; he struck it 
in everyday life, as though he were still Adam in the garden of 
Eden between God who was unity, and Satan, who was complex- 
ity, with no means of deciding which was truth" (I 083). Adams 
struggled for unity all his life but he noticed that "the multiplic- 
ity of unity had steadily increased, was increasing, and threat- 
ened to increase beyond reason." (1083) This he found true not 
only about politics, the national government and national unity, 
but also about geology and evolution. 
In 190 I Adams took a trip round Europe and Russia and con- 
cluded that individual nation states were no longer regarded as 
powers; even Russia had disappeared - all industrialized west- 
ern countries were producing vast quantities of coal, which in 
turn produced the same power and the same mind. The western 
world was a unity - "one great empire was ruled by one great 
emperor - Coal" (1099). Europe gained unity, but the unity 
consisted in producing the same kind of power and that power 
was different from the spiritual energy which had moved western 
Europe in the thirteenth century. 
Adams's perception of modern politics relies on the distinc- 
tion of force. Politicians are not personalities but representatives 
of social and economic forces, and the political conflict consists 
not in the conflict of men, but in the conflict of forces: "men tend 
to succumb to their own motive forces." (II 05) Politics is devoid 
of all principle, politicians are demagogues and a society consists 
of men who are subservient to the powerhouse. The would-be 
participants of a political process do not have time to reflect; 
they look but' they cannot see. Because of the hollow men im-
>>>
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The Dialectics of History in Mont-Saint-Michel... 


151 


Plementing the political agenda of the development or economy 
of power, Adams lost faith in the democratic process. 
The final chapters of the Education expound the dynamic 
theory of history. Adams adopted the second law of thermody- 
namics, the law of dissipation of energy, to develop a science of 
history which became the theory of entropy. According to this 
theory, force is the ultimate fact which must be recognized in 
human experience. There exists an inner force traditionally called 
" 
religion," which drives man towards unity, and an outer force, 
called "nature" or "science" which drives man towards multi- 
plicity; these forces are in (dialectical) opposition to each other. 
Nature and man react on each other ceaselessly, in a historical 
Context in which value and meaning are generated. 
In terms of history, man reached the highest stage of his 
emotional and sRiritual development in the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries, during the period of medieval Christianity, because he 
managed to attain, through the symbol of the Virgin, the highest 
degree of unity and inner and outer balance and harmony, ex- 
pressed in art, literature and philosophy. The medieval mind 
achieved emotional unity as represented in the cathedral of Char- 
tres; it achieved rational unity through medieval philosophy, and 
aesthetic unity through a combination of poetry and architecture. 
Adams recognizes the possibility of achieving unity through 
emotion. His Virgin is a very complex being: 
The Queen Mother was as majestic as you like; she was absolute; 
she could be stern; she was not above being angry; but she was still 

 woman, who loved grace, beauty, ornament, - her toilette, robes, 
J
Wels; - who considered the arrangements of her palace with atten- 
hon, and liked both light and color; who kept a keen eye on her Court, 
and exacted prompt and willing obedience from King and Archbishops 
as We1\ as from beggars and drunken priests. She protected her friends 
and punished her enemies. (424) 
The dynamic theory of history "defines Progress as the de- 
Velopment and economy of Forces" (1153). Man is a force too,
>>>
152 


Zygmunt Mazur 


and so is anything that does work. In modern times the inductive 
method of reasoning applied to physical science introduced 
a new stage, and nature replaced man as the dynamic center of 
the universe. New forces, chemical and mechanical, took over the 
place of religion and man became dependent on other forces and 
instruments. Nature developed destructive energies whose accel- 
eration between 1800 and 1900 bewildered man. Unity was chal- 
lenged and the universe began to move toward disintegration by 
the law of entropy. Human history and the history of Western 
civilization are purposeless - the world is headed for universal 
dissolution. In a "scientific" way, Adams even calculated the 
year the cataclysm would occur - 1921. 
Adams wanted to find not only the sources of the "modern" 
in medieval history, but also the origin of the rational principles 
of government, which he believed were missing from contempo- 
rary American politics. The Education records his failure to find 
continuity from the 13 th to the 20 th century - all he could prove 
beyond doubt was change - and the failure of modern education 
which does not prepare man for the chaos and disorder of life. 
Confronted with the uncertainties of the new existential world, 
man is unable to face reality directly and has to escape into the 
world of illusions in order to survive. 
For Adams, "unity" and "multiplicity" are dialectical con- 
cepts in the context of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres and The 
Education. His Virgin is unified as a symbol in the same way 
medieval cathedrals are - by the structural tensions which sup- 
port the main arches. She is the embodiment of differences in 
a state of balance. The Virgin Mary represents the ideological 
unity and coherence of a system which catered for the spiritual 
and intellectual needs of medieval men. The dynamo, the symbol 
of the world of science and technology, represents the centrifugal 
forces, the anarchic tendencies in contemporary life, as well as 
entropy, chaos and disorder, leading inevitably towards Apo- 
calypse - one of the most pervasive traits of American litera- 
ture.
>>>
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The Dialectics of History in Mont-Saint-Michel... 


153 


The "Bostonian mind" of Henry Adams has turned out to be 
of great importance to many 20 th century thinkers and writers and 
its presence continues to be felt in many areas and issues of this 
century's culture. No other American intellectual has discussed 
the historical relationship between science and religion and the 
impact of religion on culture in as sensitive and piercing a way as 
the shy little man from Boston who spent sixty years of his life 
seeking"... a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard 
Without a shudder" (1181). 


"-
>>>
-..II.
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- 


LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


MALGORZATA POKS 
Teacher Training College, Sosnowiec 


Gethsemani, Ky - Postcards from the Monastery 
(Who is the Rhinoceros?) 


In the life of Thomas Merton surroundings were of immense 
IlIlportance, most prominent among them being Gethsemani, Ken- 
tucky, where he'spent 27 years of his life. To the world-weary 
Young intellectual who had first arrived there in 1941 the Trap- 
pist monastery of Our Lady, situated on the quiet knobs of rural 
Kentucky and surrounded by woodland and farms seemed an oasis 
of peace in "a disintegrating world." Throughout the rest of his 
life it was to remain "the spiritual center of America," "the capi- 
tal of the world," even though with time he would grow more 
critical of it. 
Gethsemani is the oldest Trappist establishment in the US. It 
Was founded in 1848 by 40-odd monks exiled from France who 
decided to build a community of charity in a country "divided 
against itself," a country tottering on the brink of a traumatic 
Civil War. Back then their contemplative silence must have been 
frequently punctuated by cannonades and battlecries, as it would 
be a century later by the news of mounting racial tension at the 
height of the civil rights campaign, the roar of SAC bombers and 
the volleys of guns at the nearby Ford Knox. The world the 
lIlonks were supposed to have renounced kept banging on their 
doors claiming them back.
>>>
156 


Malgorzata Poks 


Who are the Trappists 


The Trappists are one of the strictest cenobitic orders of 
Christian monasticism devoted to a life of penitence and prayer. 
The monks take the vows of obedience, silence, celibacy, conver- 
sation of manners and stability of place. In 1940s, when Thomas 
Merton entered the order under the monastic name of Father 
Louis, they were still living under the 6 th century Rule of St. 
Benedict, modified by the Cistercian Usage of the 11 th century 
and strictly applied in the 17'h by Abbe de Rance of La Trappe 
(hence the popular designation: the Trappists). In practice this 
meant following a number of severe ascetic practices including 
half a year of fasting, even if for the rest of the year the staple 
Trappist diet was strictly vegetarian and the meals rather scanty. 
The monks still wore the fifteenth-century underwear prescribed 
by the Rule and standardized robes prohibitively hot in the op- 
pressive Kentucky summers while mostly inadequate in the cold 
of winters. All the twenty pounds of winter clothes had to be tied 
rather than buttoned because, as Merton's biographer jokingly 
notes, "like the Amish, Cistercians believed buttons sinfully mod- 
ern.,,1 Mail was sent and received four times a year; a typical day, 
beginning at 2 a.m., was - and still is - filled with prayer and 
hard physical labor. Little wonder that, to quote Michael Mott 
again, "the regime at Gethsemani proved too severe for returning 
soldiers.,,2 
It was the post-WW II trauma and the profound disillusion- 
ment with the fake values of the modern world that directed the 
steps of many ex-soldiers and other seekers of spiritual nourish- 
ment to the demanding monastery, whose very existence, in the 
words of Evelyn Waugh, "seemed a denial of the American way 


I Michael Mott, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (Boston: Hough- 
ton Miffin Company, 1986), p. 218. 
2 Mott, The Seven Mountains..., p. 217. 


J..
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Getsemani, KY - Postcards from the Monastery 


157 


of life.',3 Many came enchanted by Thomas Merton's blockbuster 
conversion narrative The Seven Storey Mountain (renamed Elected 
Silence for the British edition). Parenthetically speaking, some 
Postulants actually felt disappointed when the physical hardships 
of Trappist life had proved less trying than those described in the 
autobiography. In 1944 Our Lady of Gethsemani, built for a com- 
munity of ca. 50-70 monks, was bursting at the seams having to 
house, feed and provide training for nearly 200. New foundations 
mushroomed. Though this unprecedented influx of novices could 
hardly be considered a nationwide trend and the boom itself did 
not last long, it seemed at first that America was finally "dis- 
cOvering the contemplative life.,,4 The puzzled Merton must have 
been wondering if his adopted country was not at last attempting 
to read The Eternities in preparation for reading The Times, to 
slightly misquote... Thoreau. From his monastic enclosure he saw 
clearly that much as the American way of life seemed to embody 
the American ideal, the monastic life with its stress on "living 
deliberately" only seemingly contradicted it. "I live in the woods 
as a reminder that I am free not to be a number,',5 declared Mer- 
ton striking a responsive chord in the American literary tradition. 


Day Unto Day 


"The Cistercian life is energetic," writes Merton in The Sign 
of Jonah (1952). "We go out to work like a football team taking 
the field.,,6 In the rural Nelson county life is paced by the change 


-- 


3 Evelyn Waugh, "Foreward," in; Elected Silence. The Autobiography of 
Thomas Merton (London: Hollis & Carter, 1949), p. V. 
4 Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (New York: Garden City, 
19 48), p, 114. 
s 
Thomas P. McDonnell, ed., A Thomas Merton Reader (New York: Dou- 
bleday, 1989), p. 431. 
6 
McDonnel, A Thomas Merton Reader, p. 185.
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158 


Malgorzata Poks 


of the farming seasons. Gethsemani grounds - consisting of 
farmland with its barns and sheds for animals and granaries for 
harvested crops, as well as orchards, vineyards, woods and ponds 
_ require plenty of work throughout the year. No wonder that 
Merton finds the designation "active contemplation" particularly 
suitable as a description of the Cistercian travails. "The word 
'active' is well chosen," he says. "About the second part of the 
compound I am not so sure. It is not without a touch of poetic 
license.,,7 Much later he was to see himself as "a contemplative 
ready to collapse from overwork" - almost a contradiction in 
terms. Such a paradoxical situation can only arise in a monastic 
community which integrates everything, including work, into in- 
cessant worship, an act of ongoing adoration. And so, even the 
hard physical labor of felling trees in the woods is transformed 
into prayer, an occasion for "active contemplation." "In, these 
airy churches," says Merton in a poem, "all our saws sing holly 
sonnets" ("Trappists Working," 1946). 
The contemplative attunement (be it active or passive) to the 
speech of creation and sensitivity to the evocative beauty of na- 
ture allows the monks to participate in the cosmic liturgy, to hear 
"the mild vespers of the hay and barley" ("The Evening of the 
Visitation," 1944), the matins of birds, the June psalmody of 
frogs. There is a sense of exceptional harmony between the 
monks' inner and outer weather, a living ecology. "This whole 
landscape of woods and hills," writes Merton in 1952, "is getting 
to be saturated with my prayers and with the Psalms and with the 
books I read out here under the trees."s But the Edenic milieu can 
be violently intruded upon by noisy machines that shatter the 
contemplative silence. Indispensable as it is, technology repulses 
the Trappist contemplative in much the same fashion as it did 
Thoreau. "We have a new mechanical monster on the place called 
a D-4 Traxcavator which [...] rushes at the earth with a wide- 


7 Merton, Seven Storey..., p. 386. 
8 McDonnell, A Thomas Merton Reader, p. 187.
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Getsemani, KY - Postcards from the Monastery 


159 


Open maw and devours everything in sight," notes Merton, add- 
ing with covered indignation, "you can't hear yourself think 
while the brute is at table," and continues in the same irreverent 
manner: 
Also we have bought fans. They are exhaust fans. You make a hole 
in the building and put the fans there and they draw all the hot air out of 
the dormitory. Nobody knows what happens afterward. My guess is that 
the hot air that went out through the fan is then replaced by the hot air 
that comes in through the window. 9 
An important landmark in the Gethsemani geography is the 
plot of land assigned to the cemetery. A crucial aid to contempla- 
tion, it is a visible reminder of ultimate things, of death as a daily 
presence, of the same death which is invisibly structured into 
Society at large. 10 Already in his postulant days the young Merton 
eXpressed his sufprise at the mon
s' familiarity with death, the 
news of which was greeted with joyful "alleluias" rather than 
mOurning, and recorded his puzzled fascination with "that grim 
smile of satisfaction that Trappist corpses have."]) The Trappist 
cemetery where Merton's own simple cross was to be placed in 
due time is a quiet unobtrusive place whose silence engulfs the 
quiet unobtrusive lives of those who had been dead to the world 
long before they actually died: these are the Cistercian Fathers 
whose work Merton perceives as "not yet done" ("The Trappist 
Cemetery -:- Gethsemani," 1946). In his poetry he cherishes in 
a particular way the memory of one of them, the monastery gar- 
dener, a "confessor of exotic roses / Martyr of unbelievable gar- 
dens" recollected in the act of "vainly trying to smuggle / Some 
enormous and perfect bouquet / To a side altar / In the sleeves of 
Your cowl" ("Elegy for a Trappist," 1968). 


- 


9 Ibidem, p. 195. 
10 Merton develops this theme in his long poem The Geography of Lo- 
graire, 1969. 
II 
Merton, Seven Storey..., p. 387.
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Malgorzata Poks 


"The Gethsemani Racetrack" 


Although Gethsemani forever remained the center of Mer- 
ton's spiritual geography, with time he was to pick a "lover's 
quarrel" with. some aspects of Trappist discipline. Careful not to 
harm the monastery he loved, Merton gave outlet to his frustra- 
tions in humorous poems, which by definition cannot be taken 
too literally, though they do manage to communicate some seri- 
ous concerns. Poems collected in Humorous Verse, which wi1\ 
now be subject to analysis, are Merton's alternative take on 
Gethsemani: they constitute a counterpoint to the overexposed 
picture-postcard image of the spiritual center of America he kept 
depicting with nuanced mastery in his spiritual works. 
The first to submit to the scourge of his wit was the rigid 
discipline of monastic life. If seen as an end in itself rather than 
a means to an end, discipline may easily become inimical to the 
full transformation of the human person it should foster. Merton 
repeatedly emphasized that the true end of monastic rules and 
ascetic practices was the freedom of the mature Christian soul 
restored to the fullness of the divine image and therefore no 
longer bound by a legalistic interpretation of the law. Holiness 
should be seen as a matter not of observing rules, precepts, 
techniques and rituals, but of charity which fulfills the whole 
law. The danger of confusing means and ends had always been 
real, though, even for him. His verse "A Practical Program for 
Monks" can easily be interpreted as reflecting the Trappist poet's 
own uneasy relation with the meticulously programmed run of 
a cenobite's life. In the monastic tradition the abbot is to repre- 
sent Christ, and his decisions, being the voice of God, are to be 
accepted with all humility, though at times submission to what 
looks like arbitrary orders is hard to swallow. For a natural-born 
rebel 12 keeping the vow of obedience required much effort and 


12 Merton confessed that if not for the monastic life, he would have become
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Getsemani, KY - Postcards from the Monastery 


161 


inner struggle, and Father Louis's problematic relation with his 
second abbot is common knowledge. "A Practical Program..." 
admonishes Merton's fellow-contemplatives to "always mind 
both the clock and the Abbot until eternity." The minutest details 
of communal life being regulated by the Rule, whose details "are 
all liquid and solid," it should come as no surprise that there is 
a Special concession granted to each monk to "have some rain 
after Vespers on a hot afternoon, but ne quid nimis, or the pur- 
Pose of the Order will be forgotten." 
The abbot casts a long shadow even over a monk's solitary 
hours. In 1950s, understanding Father Louis's longing for greater 
Solitude, Dom James allowed him to use an old tool shed for sev- 
eral hours a day as a makeshift hermitage. This gave Merton 
more privacy to write, read and keep up with the latest events in 

he world. He rel;ld voraciously but his reading was not necessar- 
Ily officially considered as conducive to spiritual growth, so that 
l11any books had to be furtively smuggled to Gethsemani. James 
Laughlin, his friend, New Directions publisher and chief co- 
conspirator, reminiscences that they had a "secret system": the 
books Merton wanted were delivered through the monastery psy- 
chiatrist in Louisville. 13 He mentions sending Merton Sartre, 
Camus, Rexroth, Pound, Henry Miller, authors on "the New Di- 
rections list" that back in the forties had made the young Trap- 
pist, author of a collection titled Thirty Poems freshly brought 
Out by this 'avant-garde publishing house, apprehensive of "guilt 
by association." Anyway, as the hermit on probation soon dis- 
covers, even solitary life can have its worries - e.g. of being 
Caught red-handed with a load of contraband literature stashed 
aWay in the shack: 


- 


an anarchist. Cf. George Woodcock, Thomas Merton: Monk and Poet (Van- 
couver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1978), p. 4. 
13 James Laughlin, "The Art of Publishing" (Part 2), The Partisan Review, 
No. 90 (Winter 1983), p. 122.
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162 


Malgorzata Poks 


And I worry about the abbot 
Coming up here to 
Inspect 
And finding 
A copy of Newsweek 
Under the bed ("Solitary Life", 1963). 
St. Benedict, author of the Rule, laid heavy emphasis on the 
importance of communal life for the monk's spiritual develop- 
ment. With a potent dose of humor Merton would frequently de- 
scribe how Trappists constantly bump into and shove one another 
at work and prayer, which does little to help turn both into con- 
templative practices; but on the whole he perceived Gethsemani 
as a happy, loving community, a genuine school of charity. In the 
forties when Merton first came to the monastery of Our Lady, all 
monks were still sleeping in communal dormitories, behind ply- 
wood partitions, which, particularly in the Kentucky summer, 
could have been one of the heaviest penitential practices, consid- 
ering that clothes were not changed for the night. Too heavy in 
fact for Merton. Laughlin remembers: "Tom was a shrewd opera- 
tor. He got out of sleeping in the communal dormitory by learn- 
ing how to snore so loudly that the other monks got together at 
chapter and said, 'Father Louis has got to leave the dormi- 
tory' .,,14 He was the first monk in his community granted a "real" 
cell, the first step towards the undisturbed solitude of a hermit- 
age. At no time, however, did the future hermit have any doubts 
that the cenobitic life offered thrilling opportunities "to dwell 
together / and kick each other into heaven," which is the conclu- 
sion of the macaronic "Modern Monastic Revision" of Psalm 132 
ascribed to one David ben Jungfreud. 
In accordance with the Benedictine maxim ora et labora, 
even contemplatives have to busy themselves with some pressing 
remunerative concerns: while some, to all intents and purposes, 
waste their time scribbling poetry - and it should be born in 


14 Ibidem, p. 122.
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Getsemani, KY - Postcards from the Monastery 


163 


mind that originally the penitential Trappist order used to disap- 
prove of intellectual work not related to the immediate needs of 
the community - others shoulder the burden of maintaining the 
monastery and providing for its future. 
Poems are nought but warmed-up breeze, 
Dollars are made by Trappist Cheese, 
bitterly notices one whose "professional" monastic occupation 
happened to be writing. Thomas Merton's somewhat exaggerated 
uneasiness with the "commercialization" of the monastery is 
Well-documented. His sensitive conscience told him that instead 
of renouncing the world the Trappists had been forced to seek 
cOmpromise with it by introducing their products on the "food 
market." The adoption of the business ethic endangered their 
Position as the y(orld's "marginal men." In the words of Merton's 
biographer, his instinct told him that "what was good for General 
Motors was likely to be very bad indeed for Our Lady of Geth- 
semani.,,15 His "Chee$e" poem opens with this memorable decla- 
ration: 
I think that we should never freeze 
Such lovely assets as our cheese. 
What he fears is the contemplative monk turned businessman. 
The Trappist writer was apprehensive of "monastic capitalism," 
Which he saw as imitation of corporate America. However, Mer- 
ton was far from rejecting it wholesale; he knew that the monas- 
tery had to earn a living, especially in view of its mounting debt. 
R.oYalties for The Seven Storey Mountain helped its struggling 
economy (they brought an estimated $20 000 to $30 000 a year 
eVer since the book's publication in 1949), but they had to be 
helped out by other sources of income, e.g. sales of home-made 
cheese, bacon or cakes. To the sensitive conscience of Father Louis, 
however, the luckless dairy product, symbol of Gethsemani pros- 


- 


IS Mott, The Seven Mountains..., p. 259.
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164 


Malgorzata Poks 


perity in a world dogged by destitution and need, comes to 
epitomize the monks' failure to live in evangelical poverty, in full 
solidarity with the destitute and the needy. Such a betrayal of the 
monastic ideal calls for expiation, so evoking the idea of com- 
munio sanctorum, Merton composes a "Litany" to "all holy souls," 
saintly religious orders, sodalities, "action" and "nonaction" 
groups to 
Pray for the rich Trappist cheese groups 
Vice versa 
Mutual help. 
His antipathy for the cheese becomes even more pronounced 
when he is asked to participate in an "advertising campaign." In 
1958 Merton confesses, "I worked on it [cheese ad], God forgive 
me."J6 However, the Trappist cheese did make the monastery 
famous both locally and internationally; as a gift from James 
Laughlin it even reached and consoled Ezra Pound in his St. Eli- 
zabeth confinement. 
"You think we receive no messages in Kentucky?" asks Mer- 
ton defiantly in another humorous poem ("Message to Be In- 
scribed on Mark Van Doren's Hamilton Medal," 1959). Playing 
with a stock of received images, the Trappist poet looks at Geth- 
semani through the lens of mid-century America. He knows fairly 
well that a casual observer is likely to see merely the "surface 
structure," but on its basis he is bound to form definitive opin- 
ions about the apparent absurdity of life-long self-denial and of 
the equally enigmatic contemplative practices so much out of 
keeping with the accelerated pace of modern life. Contrary to ex- 
pectations the Trappist community is not cozily self-enclosed; it 
does keep in touch with the world. Yet, to allow the somewhat 
puzzled reader a makeshift of gratification, Merton (chuckling 
silently up his sleeve) hastens to add that post in Gethsemani is 
predictably low-tech: messages are brought by hounds through 


16 Ibidem, p. 616.
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Getsemani, KY - Postcards from the Monastery 165 


the thick and thin of Kentucky weather, a rather fitting method 
for such an obscurantist place, a genuine fossil of the Dark Ages. 
It is worth noting that on another occasion he protests some- 
What more seriously against being perceived "as if I were living 
in a sixth century virgin forest with wolves."I? But by that time 
(I960s) the Rule was already more relaxed and Gethsemani was 
hardly an intellectual backwater cut off from the world. In the 
community there were poets and artists; one of the monks had 
a medical degree, another was a scholar and a musician, still an- 
other a polyglot with a diploma in patent law, degrees in engi- 
neering, chemistry and philosophy.18 And there was an endless 
stream of guests, mostly Merton's friends by correspondence 
from all over the world: writers, poets, folk singers, civil rights 
and peace activists, Christian and non-Christian masters and re- 
ligious seekers. With all the contemporary American and world 
concerns converging on the place; Gethsemani was by then "the 
capital of the world," though its identification with "farmer 
COuntry" remained strong as ever. 


"Follow the Ecstasy" or Living Deliberately 


In 1965 Merton becomes a full-time hermit in a cabin lost in 
the woods , a precedent that would soon give rise to a small col- 
Ony of hermits on the monastery grounds. On his fiftieth birthday 
he reports in his diary a bitter cold morning, 15 below zero, al- 
Olost everything frozen inside the hermitage, and adds in a spirit 
of jubilation, "What more could I want beside this 'living with 
wisdom'. ,,19 And on another occasion, in an essay "Rain and the 


-- 


17 Letter to Rosemary Ruether, Mar. 19, 1967, quoted in: Mott, The Seven 
Mountains..., p. 467. 
18 Mott, The Seven Mountains..., p. 261. 
19 Thomas Merton, Slub konwersacji, trans. Aleksander Gomola (Poznaft: 
Zysk i Ska, 1997), p. 177.
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Malgorzata Poks 


Rhinoceros": "Thoreau sat in his cabin and criticized the rail- 
ways. I sit in mine and wonder about the world that has, well, 
progressed."zo And from the vantage point of his hermitage, he 
sees the modern organization man, the "man in the rush," who 
has no appreciation for what is useless and gratuitous, in terms of 
Ionesco's rhinoceros. Contemplating the absolutely useless 
beauty of the falling rain the Trappist feels one of a few remain- 
ing human beings in a world dominated by rhinoceroses. Al- 
though Merton is quick to realize that when rhinoceritis ceases to 
be a condition and becomes the human condition, it is the useless 
monk, the impractical contemplative, the rebel against collectiv- 
ity that must look like a monstrosity to the mass man. That late 
essay once more sanctions the vital role of monasteries like 
Gethsemani and hermitages like Saint Ann's - or Walden for 
that matter - in preventing the spread of rhinoceritis and defin- 
ing what "living deliberately" means. 


All poems quoted from: 
The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New York: New Directions, 
1977). 


20 Idem, Rain and the Rhinoceros, in: Raids on the Unspeakable (New 
York: New Directions, 1966), p. 26.
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LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


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M:ALGORZATA SIWEK 
Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin 


From "Amalgam" to "Storyville" - Small Towns 
in Contemporary American Travel Writing 


The small town seems to occupy a unique place in the Ameri- 
Can imagination. For many Americans it is the epitome of "home" 
and the most evOCative symbol of lost childhood, an idyllic place 
of small houses and elm-shaded streets, where good-natured 
people live unhurried lives as "one big family," where the feel- 
Ings of belonging and connectedness with the land are strong and 
where traditional values are still respected. 1 The myth of the 
small town dates back to the late 19th and early 20th c., when 
regional writers started to explore the theme, and as most cultural 
myths, it has survived, with some modifications, to our times. As 

hristopher Lasch writes: "From the early novels of Booth Tark- 
Ington and Zona Gale right down to the latest television com- 
mercials, village life retained its timeless appeal, and even its 
debunkers found it impossible to maintain a consistently satirical 
tone. ,,2 


-- 


I A sociological study of the small town can be found in Richard Linge- 
man's Small Town America. A Narrative History: 1620 - The Present (New 
York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1980), pp. 258-320. 
2 Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven. Progress and Its Critics 
(New York: Norton., 1991), p. 101
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168 


Malgorzata Siwek 


It has to be remembered, of course, that apart from the idyllic 
and nostalgic image, we can find another, much darker and per- 
haps more true-to-life picture of small towns in American litera- 
ture. The 1920's saw the publication of Sherwood Anderson's 
and Sinclair Lewis' works that exposed the emotional, cultural 
and aesthetic desolation of small town existence. By demanding 
publicly-molded responses instead of individual and authentic 
human expression, small town life, according to its critics, thwarted 
the individuality of its inhabitants, curbing their aspirations and 
leaving them frustrated and unhappy. Any rebellion against the 
repressive social or religious mores usually ended in failure. The 
only possibility of change was an escape from the town. The 
presentation of small towns as outwardly respectable and friendly 
but in fact bigoted, joyless and even criminal can still be found 
in contemporary literature and film. Both the concept of a perfect 
small town and its counter-image have retained their appeal, as 
may be judged, for instance, from the enormous popularity of 
such TV series as Northern Exposure and Twin Peaks.. 
The desire to answer the question whether the small town is 
a good or a bad place to live in has motivated not only urban 
emigres, regional writers or sociologists, but also contemporary 
travelers. Most American non-fiction travel writing in the last 
two decades has focused on blue highways, back roads, small 
towns, lost hamlets, and otherwise under-represented places. By 
excluding from their itinerary the urbanized or industrial areas as 
well as popular tourist destinations, and by centering their inter- 
est on the diversity and uniqueness of local cultures and tradi- 
tions, contemporary American travel authors focus on the world 
that for them feels real and authentic. Consequently, they tend to 
concentrate on the positive aspects of small-town existence. 
The aim of this paper is to compare how the small towns are 
represented in the three popular travelogues of the 1980's and 
1990's - Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent - Travels in a Smal/- 
Town America (1989), Frank Mosher's North Country - A Per- 
sonal Journey Through the Borderland (1997) and Dale Peter-
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From" Amalgam" to "Storyville"... 


169 


son's Storyville, USA (1999). How do these authors approach the 
theme of small-town life? What are the aspects that each of them 
finds interesting and worth recording? How deep is the socio- 
cultural knowledge of the place that they eventually arrive at? 
These are some of the questions that the paper addresses. 
Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent is an account of a home- 
Coming journey undertaken after many years of residence in 
Britain. Guided by nostalgic memories of childhood holiday trips 
With his father, Bryson visits the magic places of his youth, and 
at the same time, searches for "the perfect town." He names it 
"Amalgam" as it is supposed to be an amalgam of all the towns 
depicted in his favorite books and films. The imaginary Amalgam 
is a town out of old Hollywood movies from the thirties and for- 
ties and TV sitcoms from the fifties, a town immortalized by 
Norman Rockw
I's Saturday Evening Post covers, "the middle 
class Elysium" where everybody, would like to live. Bryson's 
ideal place is "a trim and sunny little city with a tree-lined Main 
Street full of friendly merchants... and a courthouse square, and 
wooded neighborhoods where fine houses slumber [...] beneath 
graceful arms." He also adds that the town he dreams of must be 
"a place inexpressibly picturesque," and a "place of constant ad- 
Ventures and summers without end.,,3 Bryson completes his de- 
scription with a long list of things that must not be there. Thus, 
he excludes shopping malls, huge parking lots, factories, drive-in 
churches and other elements that, in his view, spoil the rural se- 
renity (39). 
It is not surprising that during his journey Bryson's expecta- 
tions clash with a disappointing reality. For example, Winfield, 
Iowa, his grandparent's town, which used to be a thriving com- 
tnunity full of stores and local businesses, is now a semi-aban- 
doned township (22). Other small towns Bryson drives through 


- 


3 Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent, Travels in Small-Town America (New 
'! Ork: Harper Perennial, 1989), p. 38. All subsequent references will be noted 
In the text parenthetically.
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170 


Malgorzata Siwek 


are dying a different death - covered up by sprawling shopping 
centers, fast-food places, gas stations, motor inns and huge 
parking lots, they lose their character and identity. And so Car- 
bondale, Illinois is a town with no center; its heart has been de- 
voured by shopping malls (46). No wonder such places leave the 
author perplexed and disillusioned. 
However, several times the author comes very close to find- 
ing his Amalgam. For instance, he enjoys his visit to Columbus, 
Mississippi because of its 1950's architecture, prosperous-look- 
ing people, and, above all, its peaceful atmosphere (67). Yet each 
time there is some slight fault that makes the town merely "almost 
Amalgam." Finally, his quest evolves into a kind of game, in 
which individual elements taken from the places visited become 
building blocks for the construction of his ideal town. Such 
a solution is probably the only way to preserve the fantasy intact 
and to avoid further disappointments, because the bits and pieces 
that Bryson can use to create his Amalgam compensate for the 
deficiencies of real towns encountered on his way. 
The concept of Amalgam is one of Bryson's perceptual filters 
- it affects his view of reality so much that he tends to judge the 
towns by constantly comparing them to his own vision. The 
author never attempts to verify his impressions by learning more 
about the history of a place or talking with local people. Such an 
attitude is more characteristic of a tourist than of a traveler. Just 
as tourists formulate their cultural opinions on the basis of exter- 
nal appearances, Bryson does the same from the position of 
a patronizing outsider. As a result we get a very personal but, at 
the same time, a very superficial vision of American society. 
Moreover, the narrative persona the author adopts - that of 
a curmudgeonly traveler - also adds to the critical tone of his 
travelogue. Bryson has an inclination to make snide or sneering 
dismissals of most things he sees or encounters. His long resi- 
dence abroad has robbed him of the capacity to witness the 
changes in the American lifestyle and landscape and so he is, in 
a sense, unprepared to accept all the transformations as inevita-
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From "Amalgam" to "Storyville"... 


171 


ble. The transition from the America of his childhood to the 
America of the late 1980's is too abrupt and as a result he often 
feels disappointed or even disgusted. 
Dale Peterson's Storyvi/le. USA shares with The Lost Conti- 
nent the concept of travel as a game. Just as Bryson searches for 
Amalgam, Dale Paterson and his Research Assistants - teenage 
SOn and daughter - are looking for Storyvilles. Like Amalgam, 
Storyville is a concept - the term refers to small towns with un- 
usual, funny or bizarre names such as Uncertain, Noodle, Hot 
Coffee, Left Hand or Monkey's Eyebrow, names that suggest 

tories behind them. However, unlike Bryson, Peterson is truly 
Interested in meeting local people; often he gets invited to their 
homes and church meetings, and spends long hours listening to 
their stories. He is motivated by the conviction that these bits and 
pieces of local h.istory are well worth preserving. As the author 
explains: "[Storyvilles] are typically very small towns, and they 
Were often conceived on the run by stubborn pioneers and brave 
eccentrics. To some degree, they are conceptual folk art. They 
are also ciphers or secret messages. They are minihistories, in 
?ther words, and so exploring a Storyville means digging a well 
In time. Some are surviving into our contemporary catastrophe 
quite well, thank you, but far too many are being buried and for- 
gotten. ,,4 
What makes Storyvi/le. USA unique among contemporary 
travelogues is the emphasis placed on the oral tradition; the 
author's sincere interest in folk history and in the way it has been 
passed from one generation to another. In consequence, Peterson 

alues most first-hand information and personal contact with his 
Interlocutors. Every story and every version of the story is ac- 
cepted as authentic and true; as the author admits in the acknow- 
ledgements, he tried to avoid second-hand information from the 
history books, libraries or museums. Furthermore, he has also 


- 


4 Dale Peterson, Storyvi//e. USA (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 
1999), p. 3. All subsequent references will be noted in the text parenthetically.
>>>
172 


Malgorzata Siwek 


tried to transcribe, quote or paraphrase the stories as accurately 
as possible, preserving regional accents, speech patterns and per- 
sonal idiosyncrasies. 
It is noteworthy, that Peterson has adopted a very old or even 
ancient approach to the travel of discovery in his book. A traveler 
ventures into the unknown land and encounters natives who in- 
troduce and explain it to him. Subsequently, he returns home 
with new experiences and wonderful stories to tell. 5 Unsurpris- 
ingly, Peterson's informants are usually old people who have 
never left their hometown. Sometimes their family history is in- 
terlinked with the history of the settlement itself. In Recluse, 
Wyoming, for instance, Peterson and his children listen fasci- 
nated to the story of the big Oedekovens family whose ancestors 
founded the village in the 1920's. The family still lives on the 
original homestead, cattle ranching and farming. In such cases 
history becomes almost palpable. Notably, Peterson's approach to 
traveling has a lot in common with a recent trend in historio- 
graphy that aims to rewrite history from the personal viewpoint 
of individuals involved in it. 
What are then the results of Peterson's search "for the old- 
fashioned America in the garage sale of the open highway" (3)? 
Usually, a Storyville does not look very impressive - a cluster 
of modest houses, sometimes an old building or two, a mine or an 
abandoned mill. The heart of a small town is usually a post office 
or a church or a general store, though it may even be an old re- 
frigerator at the crossroads, as in Noodle, where people pick up 
their newspapers and leave messages for each other. The pace of 
life is slow; local inhabitants are hospitable, helpful and make 
the traveling team feel welcome. In fact, the book is dedicated to 
the people of Storyville - "good Samaritans all." 
City-dwellers tend to perceive small-town existence as ex- 
ceedingly boring, monotonous and unchallenging. Yet, surpris- 


S See Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Princeton: Prin- 
ceton UP, 1949), p. 193.
>>>
- .,...-- 


- 


From "Amalgam" to "StoryvilIe"... 


173 


ingly, Peterson and his team meet only one person dissatisfied 
With his conservative town, namely a young aspiring socialist. 
Most of the small-town citizens emphasize the advantages of 
living in their communities - it's quiet and peaceful, people 
know each other, there are no criminals, so you can sleep with 
Your windows open and leave the door unlocked. The sense of 
community is strong and you can count on your neighbors' help 
In case of trouble. All in all, Storyvilles are good places to live 
and raise your children. 
Needless to say, there are also threats to the existence of 
small towns. Some of them lose a vital business and empty out, 
Or attract investors and are being "developed to death" (159). 
Still others get devoured by sprawling suburbs of big cities and 
lose their identity. Yet, on the whole the picture of the small town 
that emerges from Storyville. USA is quite optimistic, the book 
being a tribute to idiosyncrasy, to all things counter, original and 
strange. 
The third book to be analyzed in this paper - North Country 
by Howard Frank Mosher - is definitely the most personal ac- 
count. The author treats his journey as an occasion to ponder on 
his experiences as a chronicler of the American-Canadian bor- 

er, where he spent most of his adult life. The focus of his book 
IS on the colorful past as well as on the uncertain future of the 
North Country's "last best places." Setting out, Mosher asks him- 
self: "Is there any future for small towns in America's North 
Country, or are they, too, doomed to go the sad way of the last 
endangered small farms and big woods? I'll look into that, too, 
OVer the following weeks and yes, if necessary, celebrate the di- 
munition of our northern frontier. For above all I'm determined 
to make this intensely personal journey one of exuberance and 
affirmation rather than lament and nostalgia.,,6 


- 


6 Howard Frank Mosher, North Country. A Personal Journey Through the 
Borderland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1997), p. 10. All subsequent refer- 
ences will be noted in the text parenthetically.
>>>
174 


Malgorzata Siwek 


For the most part he succeeds in achieving his goal, although 
it is no easy task. The majority of the out-of-the way mill or 
mining towns he is driving through are dying out. It is difficult to 
discern the traces of the past prosperity on their semi-abandoned 
main streets with bordered-up stores, overgrown lots and rusting 
cars everywhere. The starting point of Mosher's trip is Lubec, 
which fifty years ago was a prosperous seafaring port sending 
lumber and fish to all ports of the globe, and now is merely 
a dying fishing village. Yet, the people of Lubec are unwilling to 
give up on the town. They still have their own high school and 
their own waste management system, and, generally, they try to 
do their best to survive as a community (13). The difficult eco- 
nomic situation - characteristic of the whole area - by no means 
discourages Lubec and other local settlements from bravely 
fighting against the odds to preserve their integrity. 
Like Peterson, Mosher is interested in local history and the 
lives of individuals who have contributed to the emergence of 
a distinct North Country subculture. The author focuses on their 
individualism, self-sufficiency and freedom in pursuing their 
own way, in spite of difficulties. Most of Mosher's interlocutors 
seem satisfied with their small town existence. They feel rooted 
in a local history - most of these families still live on the land 
where their ancestors settled. The sense of community is strong 
- you can always count on a helping hand. An old rancher tells 
him: "We still watch out for each other. Nobody steps on any- 
body else's toes. But we watch out for each other." (157) A Ca- 
nadian bush pilot echoes these words: "It's a hard place to make 
a living but a good place to live." (30) Mosher is surprised to 
find out that the small-town solidarity embraces even a town 
drunk, who is taken care of because "this is his home. Same as it 
is ours." (110) 
North Country people love the land they inhabit and know 
how to appreciate its rugged beauty. In spite of the harsh climate 
and hostile nature, in spite of cumbersome outside regulations 
and stupid bureaucratic decisions most people Mosher meets
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From" Amalgam" to "StoryvilIe"... 


175 


Would not live anywhere else because "the North Country gets in 
Your blood," as they say (97). Summing up his travel observa- 
tions Mosher concludes: "One of the deepest satisfactions of 
a rural northern existence is the continuity of life from season to 
season, year to year, youth to old age, generation to generation. 
So many of the people I'd met were still living where their par- 
ents and grandparents had lived and doing the same kinds of 
work - farming, ranching, railroading, fishing, logging, what- 
ever." (254) This continuity of life and personal relationship with 
the land are to Mosher the most important values that the North 
Country people have managed to preserve. 
The authors of The Lost Continent, Storyville. USA and North 
Country have chosen the same destination - small-town Amer- 
ica - but they go there by different routes. Bill Bryson's method 
of traveling is, as it has already been pointed out, tourist-like. 
The visual is mOst essential in his. perception of reality; Bryson 
likes the towns that appeal to his aesthetic feelings and comply 
with his idealized Amalgam. Dale Peterson's study takes a dif- 
ferent direction. It is "a whimsical overlook at the American land- 
scape from a linguistic and toponymic cloud." (3) To be worthy 
of the traveler's attention a small town does not have to be pic- 
tUresque or well built; an odd name or a person who can tell 
a story suffice. This approach gives the privileged position to the 
"natives;" the readers learn about the place from them, and the 
author acts as a reporter who records their stories and only occa- 
sionally adds his own commentary. Finally, in Frank Mosher's 
North Country we can find both personal impressions and authen- 
tic stories combined with a thorough historical and cultural 
knowledge of the territory he travels through. 
The authors' methods may vary, but still they share some per- 

eptual filters. One of them is a nostalgic approach to the sub- 
Ject. According to Christopher Lasch, there are three main fac- 
tors that constitute the nostalgic attitude: the disillusionment 
with the present, idealization of the past and the belief that the 
simplicity and innocence of earlier days is impossible to recap-
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176 


Malgorzata Siwek 


ture. 7 For each author the small town is inseparably connected, 
with childhood. Bryson writes about his longing for the "perfect 
town," a dream that originated when he was a boy. Similarly, 
Peterson and Mosher recollect the villages in which they grew 
up. Those memories of the happy past, preserved in the personal 
recollections - but also in the stories the travelers collect on 
the way - inevitably affect the presentation of small towns here 
and now. 
All the authors share the conviction that the provincial Ameri- 
ca they set out to explore is threatened either by urbanization or 
by lack of prospects. "I can't shake the feeling that... I'm wit- 
nessing... the end of something," writes Mosher at the beginning 
of his trip (7). Also, Peterson bemoans the fate of many Story- 
villes that are being "overwhelmed by twenty-five thousand tract 
houses serving as many dazed commuters, or entropically shrunk 
into one collapsing shack and one weekender bar along a lonely 
road a hundred miles from not much." (3) The travelers treat this 
vanishing world as a part of the American cultural heritage worth 
preserving - at least in print if there is no other way - for the 
future generations. 
As Lasch points out: "Progress impli[es] nostalgia as its mir- 
ror image... The more emphatically the modern age insist[s] on 
its own wisdom, experience, and maturity, the more appealing 
allegedly simple, unsophisticated times appear in retrospect. ,,8 
By choosing to explore small-town America all three authors go, 
in a way, back in time to show their readers an alternative to ur- 
ban existence - a simple, deliberate life in a community where 
everybody has his place and role. Even if such a view of country 
life seems naive the authors believe that it is confirmed by real- 
ity. According to a critic, travel narratives, written with the urban 
audience in mind, "remain to some extent a refuge for compla- 
cent, even nostalgically retrograde, middle-class values," and 


7 Lasch, The True and Only Heaven, pp. 82-85. 
8 Ibidem, p. 92. 


L 


J..
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1 


- 


From "Amalgam" to "Storyville"... 


177 


best travel writers know how to satisfy the longings of their 
aUdience. 9 
It is also possible to interpret travel writers' interests in spe- 
cific places, local communities, folk history and tradition as 
a manifestation of some general tendencies to be observed in 
American culture and literature. The 20 th century technological 
revolution in transport and communication, together with the 
rapid development of the homogenizing global consumer culture 
dominated by multinational corporations have generated, on the 
One hand, an "international sensibility," associated with post- 
modernism, but, on the other hand, "have also created a certain 
cultural and political dislocation and anxiety, which have thrown 
attention back on local cultures, on the notion of community."JO 
Apart from being a counter-voice to cultural homogenization, 
regional and travel writers share a central theme - both groups 
seek knowledge '-of local cultures and occasionally use it as 
a form of critique of the dominant mass culture. Another country 
Or region can provide alternatives to how things are being done at 
home. That is the reason why both groups envisage their writings 
as an antidote to the feelings of alienation and rootlessness that 
haunt modern society. 


-- 


9 Patrick Holland and Graham Huggan, Tourists with Typewriters. Critical 
Reflections on Contemporary Travel Writing (Ann Arbor: The University of 
Michigan Press, 1998), p. VIII. 
to A Sense Of Place. Re-Evaluating Regionalism in Canadian and Ameri- 
can Writing, ed. Ch. Riegel and H. Wyile (Alberta: The University of Alberta 
Press, 1997), p. XIII.
>>>

>>>
,. 


LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


- 


Section III. Regional America 


GRAZYNABRANNY 
Jagiellonian University, Krakow 


Faulkner's Obverse Reflection 
as a Mode of Expression in Toni Morrison's Paradise 


"- 


"Not since her fellow Nobel Laureate William Faulkner has 
a writer populated a few acres with so much richness and desola- 
tion,,1 - reads the Observer review of Toni Morrison's first 
novel after her Nobel Prize (1993), published in 1997. Faulkner's 
name is evoked in connection with Paradise on two other occa- 
sions: in a cover blurb of the Kirkus edition of the novel as well 
as the Polish translation of Paradise in the series Biblioteka 
NOblistow (1999). In the former case the novel is described as 
beginning .with "a scene of Faulknerian intensity,,,2 which is 
a reference to a horrifying incident of black mob violence di- 

ected against five defenceless women (one of them white) living 
In the seclusion of the former Catholic school for Indian girls, 
nicknamed "the Convent," seventeen miles away from an all- 


-- 


I Toni Morrison, Paradise (London: Random House, 1999). (1997) This 
text refers to the paperback Vintage edition. All subsequent quotations from 
the book come from this edition. 
2 Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 1997). Copyright c 1997, Kirkus Asso- 
Ciates, LP. This text refers to the hardcover edition.
>>>
180 


Grazyna Branny 


black town, called Ruby. The blurb on the hardcover Polish edi- 
tion of the book refers to Paradise as a Faulknerian story about 
a clash between tradition and modernity, which ends in a tragedy 
paradoxically leading to redemption. 3 All three reviews bring out 
the essence of the affinity between the two Nobel laureates: pre- 
occupation with history and tradition, a microcosmic as well as 
a macrocosmic scope of vision, intensity of passion and pain, an 
oxymoronic promise of redemption. 
Although Toni Morrison refutes allegations of affinity to 
writers, like Joyce, Hardy or Faulkner,4 it is hard to imagine that 
the Afro-American novelist of such stature, who wrote her M. A. 
thesis on Faulkner could have avoided his pervasive influence. 
This is not to say that she imitates him in any way; it is his gen- 
ius that seems to have moulded hers into distinctly and movingly 
her own. In her latest novel it is intensely female and feminine, 
maternal and matriarchal, and only then black and Afro-Ameri- 
can. Thus, in Paradise gender transcends race, and the self is the 
righteous rather than the black male while the other the victim- 
ised rather than the black, white or mulatto female, which does 
not, however, place the novel in the feminist tradition, because, 
as Morrison insists, feminism is largely alien to the Afro-Ameri- 
can experience. 5 
The plot of Paradise is a collection of fragmented, episodic 
and elliptical stories of the lives of five women, set against the 
background of equally episodic and elliptical history of a respec- 
table and tradition-conscious black community. As the action of 
the novel progresses, we witness a gradual deterioration of the 


r 
I 
( 

 
t 
c 
d 
t] 
tI 
tl 
a 


3 Toni Morrison, Raj, trans. Zbigniew Batko, Biblioteka Nob/istow (War- 
szawa: Pr6szynski i S-ka, 1999). This text refers to the hardcover edition of 
the book. 
4 Nellie McKay, "An Interview with Toni Morrison," Contemporary Lit- 
erature, Vol. 24, No.4 (Winter 1983), p. 426. 
S Rosemarie K. Lester, "An Interview with Toni Morrison," Hassian Radio 
Network, Frankfurt, Germany, 1983, in: Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, ed. 
Nellie Y. McKay (Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co., 1988), pp. 48-9. 


e
 
PI 
B. 
P.
>>>
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Faulkner's Obverse Reflection as a Mode of Expression... 


181 


moral principles on which the community was founded, which 
becomes symbolically manifest in the defacing of "the Oven" _ 
the communal hearth - whose original inscription: "Beware of 
the Furrow of His Brow" is altered into "Be the Furrow of His 
Brow," with a ring of righteousness to it. Thus, the law-abiding 
and God-fearing town becomes a scene of black witchhunting and 
violence, very much in the worst Salem and Southern tradition. 
The plot of the novel is both captivating and bewildering: 
from the first to the last page the reader is given contradictory 
clues as to the right and the wrong of the whole affair. Thus, the 
book requires very careful reading, not so much between the 
lines, as in Faulkner fiction, as of the lines themselves, and it is 
Only on the second reading that we become fully aware of the 
amOunt of "miscuing,,6 and its functional role in the novel. 
One of the things the white reader is invariably bound to be 
Puzzled by is the. conundrum of the racial identity of the five in- 
mates of "the Convent." After finding out from the very first 
Sentence of the book that "They shot the white girl first" (1) the 
reader is on the lookout for a racially mixed community, only to 
learn well into the novel, from one of the new arrivals at "the 
Convent," that the only white man she saw in Ruby was at the 
gas station. Prom that point on, until the very last pages of the 
book, the reader is hardly allowed to catch more than a glimpse 
of "brown fingers" (48), a "dark velvet face" (163), "smoky, sun- 
down skin", "tea-co loured hair" (223), a "cinnamon... [hose] 
thought agreeable to black women's legs" (163) to single out 
from the company of five, the white woman shot on the day of 
the raid. Ironically, the final and decisive clue of "wrists small as 
a child's" (289) has nothing to do with the colour of skin and 


--- 
6 Miscuing is defined by Deborah E. McDowell as: disappointing the very 
eXpectations the narrative arouses, forcing the reader to shift gears, to change 

erspective. '''The Self and the Other': Reading Toni Morrison's Sula and the 
lack Female Text," in: Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie Y. McKay, 
P.85.
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182 


GraZyna Branny 


serves to frustrate a careless reader, who has failed to notice that 
the "cinnamon" hose and the "dark velvet face" belong to an- 
other woman, whose brief description intercepts that of Divine 
(Pallas) as a distractor in the chapter devoted entirely to the latter 
and, what's more, bearing her name as its title. 
Not only is this a typically Morrisonian device intended "to 
have the reader work with the author in the construction of the 
book," (87)7 - much like Faulkner has his multiple narrators re- 
construct the events in Absalom, Absalom! but it also serves, as it 
seems, to obliterate the significance of race where moral choices 
are at stake. In that all-black community of Ruby, which is en- 
joying its dearly paid for stability and autonomy from white 
domination, blackness is taken for granted and thus becomes in- 
visible, especially in view of the immediate absence of the white 
other. Paradoxically, the only white other left is the white reader, 
who has, however, been won over to the side of the self by hav- 
ing been made to identify with the characters long before he has 
a chance to discover that the only white man in the place was 
seen at the gas station, and the only white woman murdered in 
"the Convent." 
What facilitates the identification of the white reader with 
Morrison's characters even further is virtual absence in the novel 
of such signifiers of race as distinctly native customs, beliefs and 
ways of conduct. Even such typical Afro-American elements as 
ghost stories and magical powers are deliberately obscured and 
given a plausible appearance of the powers of black magic, to 
which the only actual inmate of the former Catholic school, Con- 
solata (Connie), is seen as succumbing in order to physically 
sustain the slowly expiring life of her beloved foster mother, 
Mary Magna, mother superior of the former convent. Similarly, 
the dream therapy in which "the Convent" women engage at 


7 "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation," in: Black Women Writers: 
A Critical Evaluation, ed. Mari Evans (New York: AnchorlDoubleday, 1984), 
p. 341. 


i) 
p
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Faulkner's Obverse Reflection as a Mode of Expression... 


183 


Consolata's instigation after Mary Magna's death, and through 
which they free themselves from their monstrous obsessions, 
seems to work on both the level of black beliefs and that of mod- 
ern psychology. Likewise, the concept of sisterhood, which is 
central to Paradise, is both relevant for the idea of a convent and 
the Afro-American tradition. As Toni Morrison explains, it "has 
a deep old meaning... Black women had to be real and genuine to 
each other, there was no one else... they took care of the sick, the 
elderly, the children."s Appropriately enough, it is in "the Con- 
Vent" that the suffering and needy girls, would-be mothers and 
abused wives and women seek refuge, and it is there that they 
dress one another's wounds and heal their physical and emotional 
scars. Whether they are black or white is not an issue so long as 
they are "sisters." So, race does not matter if they are all of one 
and the same' gender. And finally, nicknaming and name calling, 
another black t
dition meant to signify belonging and caring,9 
loses its distinctly Afro-American'tinge when paired off with the 
Catholic practice of renaming upon entering a convent. Thus, on 
their arrival at "the Convent" the women are nicknamed al- 

hough, ambiguously enough, the names the nine attackers find 
Inscribed on the doors of their rooms are their Christian sounding 
formal ones, a measure of the women's estrangement from the 
community of Ruby as well as any other communities they have 
escaped from. Significantly enough, in view of the fact that all of 
them but one are black, and they all fall victim to black mob 
violence, we can safely state that what alienates them from the 
OUtside world is not race but gender. 
Although native Afro-American consciousness surfaces in 
the novel in numerous flashbacks, elliptical family and tribal 
stories preserved in human memory and transmitted by word of 
--- 
I 8 Sandi Russell, "It'S OK to Say OK," Women's Review, Vol. 5 (March 
986), p. 23. 
. 9 Trudier Harris, "Reconnecting Fragments: Afro-American Folk Tradition 
In The Bluest Eye," in: Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie Y. McKay, 
PP.71-72. 


L 
!: 
!'.! 
( 
I' 
I
 
f" 

, 
j
>>>
184 


GraZyna Branny 


mouth or through genealogical records kept in privately owned 
bibles, the plot of the novel focuses on the individual stories of 
the five "Convent" women - the collective other - whose pre- 
dicament is universally female and has nothing to do with the 
colour of skin. Even their names, which give titles to individual 
chapters, sound as universal as they are Christian, and have hardly 
any race-related ring to them: Grace, Seneca, Divine, Consolata. 
Moreover, the number of raiders on "the Convent" ironically cor- 
responds to the number of the nine original "8-rock" (a nick- 
name for the deepest hue of blackness) founding families as well 
as, metaphorically, the nine orders of fallen angels, which would 
reinforce the book's Jinks with the universal Christian context 
rather than merely that of race. 
With no white other in view, the black patriarchal community 
of Ruby allow themselves to lose their grip on communal history, 
tradition and the impeccable moral standards of its Founding 
Fathers, and single out gender rather than race for their new other. 
However, quite ironically, it happens to be their own kith and 
kin. Thus, the one-time oppressed become oppressors themsel- 
ves, directing their aggression and violence against anything other 
than their own selves. What provokes their hostility is any form 
of otherness - be it gender or unconventional conduct, unortho- 
dox political views or shades of blackness other than "8-rock." 
By making gender rather than race the central issue of her 
latest novel, Toni Morrison seems to strike a new conciliatory 
note in her fiction. By raising the issue of miscegenation in the 
black rather than the white context as well as the issues of emo- 
tional victimization of women, violence, cruelty and prejudice of 
all denominations, Morrison seems to have demonstrated the 
truth of Quentin's observation in The Sound and the Fury that 
"a nigger is not a person so much as a form of behaviour; a sort 
of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among" (84).10 


11 
C 
d 


10 The page number refers to the Vintage edition of the novel: William 
Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (London: Random House, 1995). 


Ii
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Faulkner's Obverse Reflection as a Mode of Expression... 


185 


This is to say that in human terms the difference of race is only 
a matter of the colour of skin and tradition and not standards of 
moral conduct or respectability. What really makes the whites 
lynching Joe Christmas in Light in August different from the 
blacks murdering "the Convent" women in Paradise is merely the 
color of skin; otherwise they are exactly the same, down to the 
vilest instincts and most ruthless intolerance. And finally, to carry 

he concept of "obverse reflection" even further, just as Quentin 
IS obsessed with the black shadow of the fear that he may "also 
have sprung from the loins of African kings" (Absalom, Ab- 
salomI 378),11 and Joe Christmas with his double heritage of 
white and black blood, so do Toni Morrison's "8-rockers" labour 
Under the burden of white righteousness. 


* 


"- 
The term "obverse reflection" .does not only function on the 
thematic level of Toni Morrison's seventh novel but can also be 
applied to its form, especially in connection with the technique 
of "miscuing" akin to Faulkner's bracketing. Thus, in his attempt 
to comprehend the characters and events the reader is constantly 
sidetracked or led in an exactly opposite direction to the one 
previously suggested as correct. Consequently, in Paradise virtue 
Parades as vice and vice as virtue until, all clues dispersed 
throughout the novel put together, the exhausted but rewarded 
reader forms his own judgement of the situation. To give an ex- 
ample, the five "Convent" inmates described as "Bodacious 
black Eves unredeemed by Mary" (18) at the beginning of the 
book assume the status of Mary's mothers by page 263 of the 
nOvel, which reads: "Eve is Mary's mother. Mary is the daughter 
of Eve". Similarly, intent on finding the traces of "revolting sex, 
deceit and sly torture of children" (8) to justify their raid, all the 


--- 
I" II This pager number refers to the Vintage Books edition of the novel: Wi!- 
lam Faulkner, Absalom. Absalom! (New York: Random House, 1972).
>>>
186 


Grazyna Branny 


nine attackers come upon are unwashed utensils and remnants of 
last year's canning. On the other hand, upon her visit in "the 
Convent" some time before, Sweetie, the distraught mother of 
incurably ill children, hears babies crying - either a projection 
of her own distress or the voice of an actual baby, Divine's little 
son, born in the only place where no questions are asked but all 
answers are gIven. 
Juxtaposing Toni Morrison's novel and Faulkner's Light in 
August one becomes aware of the former being "an obverse re- 
flection" of the latter and vice versa. From the narratorial point 
of view, the plots of both consist of apparently unconnected life 
stories of individual characters, who are eventually brought to 
fall back upon one another in healing acts of disinterested com- 
mitment. Light in August ends in a lynch of an allegedly black 
man - Joe Christmas - by a white mob but in fact of a white 
man by his own kith and kin. Paradise begins with a lynch-like 
murder of a white girl (DivinelPallas) by black men but also of at 
least one black woman (Consolata/Connie) by her kith and kin. 
Joe Christmas is assigned the ambiguous role of both the obverse 
and the actual Christ figure in Faulkner's novel, just as "the 
Convent" women with their double names, which sound alter- 
nately Christian and pagan (Divine/Pallas, Grace/Gigi, Conso- 
lata/Connie) and ambivalent conduct suggest the idea of the re- 
verse and the obverse. 
In Faulkner's novels blacks as much as mulattoes fall victim 
to the white man; in Toni Morrison's book the same is true but in 
the reverse way - in the all-black town of Ruby a white girl is 
killed by a black gang and a white family found ominously dead 
in a blizzard, but also the more golden the hue of skin in a Ruby 
inhabitant the more of a suspect he/she becomes. 
Moreover, the circular narratorial framework of both novels 
also sustains the idea of the reverse and the obverse. Light in 
August opens and closes with the scene of Lena travelling on 
a wagon. However, at the end of the novel she is no longer an 
abandoned mother; with her newly-born baby and Byron Bunch
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Faulkner's Obverse Reflection as a Mode of Expression... 


187 


they cast a happy image of a Holy Family. Although the action of 
Paradise is circumscribed by the raid and murder in "the Con- 
Vent," the novel ends with a redemption-promising funeral of 
a black baby, significantly called Save-Marie. This is followed 
by a scene straight from Paradise, which parallels the motto of 
the novel: 
And they will find me there, 
and they will live, 
and they will not die gain. 
Despite the apparent grimness of the novel, its actual out- 
come is made deliberately obscure and misleading. Following the 
murder, no bodies are ever found, no police notified, no respon- 
sibility borne. Parallel to the Holy Family image of Light in 
August, Morrison's novel also ends on a biblical note: the closing 
scene is an all-female Pi eta, in which a younger woman receives 
" '- 
solace" from an older one "coming back to love" (318). Central 
to both scenes, just as to both novels, is the concept of mother- 
hood - unquestioned and thus fulfilled in Faulkner's novel, and 
apparently rejected (Arnette), abused (Mavis) and frustrated 

SWeetie) in Toni Morrison's book although eventually fulfilled 
In Divine's acceptance of her little son, but also in Arnette's sec- 
ond pregnancy, Mavis's dream supervision over her dead but 

onstantly growing twins, Sweetie's loving care for her remain- 
Ing incurably ill children. 
The pattern of "obverse reflection" discussed above is reaf- 
firmed in the pattern of redemption each of the two novels has to 
offer. In Light in August a white baby - Lena's child - is born 
simultaneously with the death of Joe Christmas, an allegedly 
black man, who is in fact neither white nor black because both. 

hus, a white baby becomes an agent of redemption both in rela- 
tion to a black man and those whites who put him to death. In 
Paradise the black baby girl, Save-Marie, dies as if in response 
to the murderous attack on "the Convent," in which a young white 
mother loses her life. Thus, in Morrison's novel it is a black baby
>>>
If 


188 


GraZyna Branny 


that assumes a redemptive role in relation to a white mother, as 
well as the whole black community which, in an act of blind 
righteousness directed against gender rather than race, has gone 
back on its traditional values and moral principles. 
To conclude, Faulkner's "obverse reflection" seems relevant 
for both the content and the form of Toni Morrison's Paradise, 
and both within and outside of the Faulkner context. Applied to 
the content, the phrase voices sometimes too overtly expressed 
an accusation of the author directed against her own race, of be- 
ing no better than their white oppressors in singling out gender as 
the other for a scapegoat. On the level of form, it is Morrison's 
favourite device of "miscuing" that reinforces the image of an 
"obverse reflection," again suggesting race non-distinguishability 
to enhance the significance of gender. And, last but not least, 
a comparison of Faulkner's Light in August and Morrison's Para- 
dise reveals the pattern of an "obverse reflection" as underlying 
the basic structure of both novels and precluding the final mes- 
sage of oxymoronically rendered redemption. Hence, Quentin's 
belief that "a Southerner had to be always conscious of niggers" 
(The Sound and the Fury, 84) seems to work backwards and ap- 
ply equally well to blacks, whose lives are bound to be overshad- 
owed by their consciousness of the white presence.
>>>
- 1 


-- 


LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Toruo 2001 


ANNA LF;TOWSKA-MICKIEWICZ 
Warsaw University 


Lost Cause Again? The South as the Mainstay 
of Moral Sensitivity in Walker Percy's Novels 


Walker Percy once said: 
The odd thing I've noticed is that while of course the South is more 
and more indistinguishable from the rest of the country [...] the fact is 
that as Faulkner said fifty years ago, 'as soon as you cross the Mason- 
Dixon Line, you still know it. [...] I don't know whether it's the heat or 
a certain lingering civility but people will slow down on interstates to 
let you get in traffic. Strangers speak in post offices, hold doors for 

ach other without being thought queer or running a con game or mak- 
Ing a sexual advance. I 


Even though it is often hardly tangible what makes this re- 
gion so distinct, it is indisputable, however, that the South does 
transmit a certain unmistakable air of gentility, of chivalry, of 
l110ral values still alive, even if slightly dusted. These are the 
Very qualities that The Moviegoer's author depicts in his fiction, 
knowing them both from the cherished childhood memories and 
aCute observation of the world around him through the eighties. 


- 


I Zoltan Abadi-Nagy, The Art of Fiction XCVII: Walker Percy, in: More 
Conversations with Walker Percy, ed. Lewis A. Lawson and Victor A. Kramer 
(Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993), p. 138.
>>>
190 


Anna Lcttowska-Mickiewicz 


The major role in this Southern heritage may be attributed to 
the Civil War. What the Southerners wanted to defend and pre- 
serve was not even the institution of slavery, which many of them 
came to recognize as the Southern sin, but the independence from 
the federal pressure. They espoused the fight as the Second 
Revolution and thus the just cause. Like their ancestors several 
decades earlier they hoped to rescue democratic freedoms of 
their states guaranteed by the American Constitution and re- 
peated more strongly in the Bill of Rights. For them the North- 
erners were primarily intruders encroaching on their land and the 
only response could be fight "in defense alone of their country 
and their rights.,,2 
The fact that their just cause was at the same time the lost 
cause practically from the very beginning did not actually matter. 
What did matter, however, was the resistance itself, the heroic 
effort to preserve their distinct style of life, threatened by the 
Yankees. "We may be annihilated, but we cannot be conquered,,,3 
as Robert E. Lee put it in a letter home. 
And all the features that differentiate the Southerners, "a cer- 
tain quality of spirit, a gaiety, a sense of duty, a nobility won 
lightly, a sweetness, a gentleness with women - the only good 
things the South ever had and the only things that really matter in 
this life,,4 were even more accentuated after the war. The defeat 
did not bring about the disenchantment with these values but 
rather made them the more dear to all the Southerners. Even 
though the war itself was lost, the Southern qualities CQuid still 
be cherished. 
Such attitude is reflected in the way the Southerners treat the 
Civil War heroes, which is a mixture of admiration, awe, and al- 
most piety. Will Barrett in The Last Gentleman in the moments of 


2 Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative (New York: Vintage Books, 
1986), Vol. I, p. 782. 
3 Foote, The Civil War, p. 782 
4 Walker Percy, The Moviegoer (New York: Ivy Books, 1988), p. 196.
>>>
- 


Lost Cause Again? The South as the Mainstay... 


191 


depression seeks refuge in contemplating the glorious Southern 
history, and one day "he [is] discovered totally amnesic and wan- 
dering about the Shenandoah Valley between Cross Keys and 
Port Republic, sites of notable victories of General Stonewall 
Jackson. ,,5 
In Lancelot, it is Robert E. Lee who is the protagonist's fa- 
ther's saint: "[H]e loved him the way Catholics loved St. Francis. 
If the South were Catholic, we'd have long since had an order of 
St. Robert E. Lee.,,6 
It seems that this peculiar mode of hero worship expresses 
more than merely admiration for their bravery and exceptional 
military skills. People like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee 
can be seen as symbols of the revered Southern qualities, of the 
Christian values actually fulfilled. 
In his novels, Walker Percy seems to agree with his friend 
Shelby Foote's opinion that "[e]verything we are or will be goes 
. "- 
fIght back to that period [the Civi.1 War]. It decided for once and 
for all which way we were going and we've gone."? As an acute 
and rather outspoken observer of the changing world, not particu- 
larly gentle in passing judgements, he notices the sectional dif- 
ferences, which still exist. According to one of his protagonists, 
Lancelot Lamar, the North is "defunct befouled and collapsing."g 
The West is the site of "drugs, pornography, and every abstract 
discarnate idea ever hit upon by man roaming the wilderness in 
Search of habitation. [...] Washington, the country, is down the 
d
ain. Everyone knows it. The people have lost it to the politi- 
CIans, bureaucrats, drunk Congressmen, lying Presidents, White 
Bouse preachers, [...] pornographers, [...] bribers [...].,,9 
- 
s 
Idem, The Last Gentleman (New York: Ivy Books, 1993), p. 12. 
6 
Idem, Lancelot (New York: Ivy Books, 1993), p. 104. 
7 Shelby Foote, Letter to Walker Percy dated 29 Nov 56, in: The Corre- 
sPondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy, ed. Jay Tolson (New York: W. W. 
Norton & Company, Inc., 1998), p. II I. 
8 
Percy, Lancelot, p. 203. 
9 Ibidem, p. 204. 


(, 
i 
li
>>>
,. 


192 


Anna Lcttowska-Mickiewicz 


To some extent the South does not seem to be much different 
either. Lancelot says that "[t]he Southerner started out a skeptical 
Jeffersonian and became a crooked Christian. [...] Do you want 
a portrait of the new Southerner? [...] He calls on Jesus and steals, 
he's in business, he's in politics.,,10 
Also Aunt Emily in The Moviegoer is quite direct in express- 
ing her opinions about what she sees around her. She is really 
appalled when she imparts on Binx Bolling, the novel's protago- 
nist and her wisdom; 


What is new is that in our time liars and thieves and whores and 
adulterers wish also to be congratulated and are congratulated by the 
great public, if their confession is sufficiently psychological or strikes 
a sufficiently heartfelt and authentic note of sincerity,lI 
Generally "the great public" appears to be exceptionally per- 
missive, or maybe blind to human vices, or - what seems to be 
most probable - immersed in that relative morality which ac- 
tually leaves the ethics out. Instead of trying to restore the val- 
ues, people engage in morbid introspection and draw heavily on 
psychological science. 
As it turns out, psychological counseling, or psychoanalysis, 
that in The Last Gentleman, another Percy's novel, is very clearly 
associated with New York - the symbol and token of the North 
- fails man in his search for his identity, does not help him to 
overcome the everydayness. That is why Will Barrett, the title 
last gentleman, quits his psychiatrist after five long, and expen- 
sive, years of lying on a couch and eventually heads South. 
For though this part of the country is not immune to corrup- 
tion either, the Southern soil still appears to be fertile enough to 
grow the seeds of creative curiosity and goodness. 
As Percy muses: 


10 Ibidem. 
II Idem, Moviegoer, p. 195. 


j...
>>>
- 


Lost Cause Again? The South as the Mainstay... 


193 


I was thinking the other night that what makes Southerners different 
is that they are more complex, more indirect, capable of much more cor- 
rUption and evil and maybe much more moral goodness. All it means is 
the two, evil and good, can be very close. Morality implies a sense of 
sin and corruption. 12 


That is where the whole mystery of the South may be hidden. 
Despite the fact that nowadays the Southerners fail to live up to 
their long cherished ideals, they seem to be the only ones who 
notice that the world is gradually dissipating, that people often 
lead senseless lives, devoid of any deeper meaning or direction. 
Moreover, they do not want to conform to such a situation and 
are determined to find a way out. 
Binx Bolling on the opening pages of The Moviegoer says: 
" Th 
. e search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk 
In the everydayness of his own life.,,13 It is this everydayness and 
the fact that peqple succumb to it rather than try and interpose 
that leaves them in a state of malai-se. "The malaise is the pain of 
loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and 

here remains only you and the world and you no more able to be 
In the world than Banquo's ghost.,,14 
The predicament of the contemporary man seems to be Jack 
of any direction in life, the helplessness and senselessness of 
human existence. It is the world in which people, having shed the 
old lifestyle, seem unable to establish new rules by which to live. 
That is why it is not necessarily the wealthy and seemingly 
healthy ones that truly enjoy their days. Binx Bolling, a young 
and successful lawyer who - literally and figuratively - es- 
capes his meaningless existence through moviegoing, is in for 

 shock. While visiting his half-brother Lonnie who is seriously 
III and wheelchair-ridden, Binx is positively surprised seeing 
---- 
12 Patrick Samway, S.l., Walker Percy. A Life (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1999), 
P. 339 
13 . 
Percy, Moviegoer, p. 9. 
14 Ibidem, p. 106.
>>>
'", 
, 


194 


Anna Lcttowska-Mickiewicz 


how Lonnie is calm and happy. He is able to accept his suffering 
almost cheerfully, finding hope and reassurance in his faith and 
the sacrament of Eucharist. There is deep honesty in Bolling's 
statement that he would wish to trade places with his brother - 
to restore hope and make his life full of meaning. Eventually he 
is to find God himself. 
Lancelot Lamar, his whole life shaken by the discovery that 
his eight-year-old daughter is not his child and that his wife's 
infidelity has continued for years, in an asylum relives the trau- 
ma, which he himself brought about. The film crew that lived in 
his house while making an uninhibited movie had come to signify 
- for Lancelot at least - the moral decline and sexual dissipa- 
tion of the modern America. Out of despair and in hope to restore 
the right order of the world he murders his wife's lover and 
a couple that seduced his teenage daughter in an erotic triangle, 
and contributes to the death of his wife. For him it is not so much 
finding God as rooting out the evil that appears to offer some 
hope. 
In The Second Coming, a sequel to The Last Gentleman, 
Percy seems to be most explicit while offering a way out from 
the numbness and everydayness. It takes mature Will Barrett only 
two seconds to see "that his little Yankee life had not worked af- 
ter all, the nearly twenty years of making a life with a decent up- 
state woman and with decent Northern folk and working with an 
honorable Wall Street firm and making a success of it toO.,,15 
He is in the South again, realizing that whatever search he is 
to undertake it will be easier to do it here. The question he poses 
concerns the existence - or non-existence - of God and he 
decides to answer it by conducting what he calls "a scientific ex- 
periment." The answer he gets is not straightforward but it seems 
to bring him closer to understanding his numerous doubts and 
strange states of mind. Firstly, he is able to discern the enemy 


IS Idem, The Second Coming (New York: Ivy Books, 1990), p. 66.
>>>
" 
, 


-- 


Lost Cause Again? The South as the Mainstay... 


195 


Which he identifies as death, "[n]ot the death of dying but the 
living death.,,16 
That treacherous foe permeates everything but having named 
the enemy Will appears strong enough to resist it. "Death in the 
guise of God and America and the happy life of home and family 
and friends is not going to prevail over me. America is in fact 
almost as dead as Europe.,,17 
What he actually says is not that these things are wrong in 
themselves but that people misunderstand or misuse these con- 
cepts, contend themselves with living in death, refuse to seek 
life. Even Christians have been misled and that is why Barrett 
observes that "the churches smell of death.,,18 
So "who were the believers now?" he asks. "Everyone. Eve- 
ryone believed everything.,,19 What is the way to restore the true 
belief? The ultimate goal is to find God, to combat the death of 
life. One can do...it successfully only by reaching beyond oneself, 
to another person. In case of Will Barrett it is neither Kitty, his 
Youthful love, who eventually succumbs to this world too much 
and falls short of his expectations; nor is it Marion, his already 
dead wife, a decent Northern Christian woman who seems to 
have misplaced the deeper meaning of Christianity. It turns out to 
be a young girl Allison, neurotic, maybe even psychotic by the 
l11edical standards, unable to adjust to this world. Her inability to 
conform to the reality and Will's refusal to do so give them 
grounds for a fresh start. 
"It is possible that though marriage in these times seems for 
some reason to be a troubled, often fatal, arrangement, we might 
not only survive it but revive it,,,20 Will encourages Allie, whom 
he perceives as a gift of the Lord. "We are living in a post- 


- 


16 Ibidem, p. 246. 
17 Ibidem, p. 247. 
18 Ibidem. 
19 Ibidem, p. 260. 
20 Ibidem, p. 312.
>>>
'1 


196 


Anna Lcttowska-Mickiewicz 


Christian world," says Percy, "people are alone, alienated, but 
out of that loneliness they can create better, deeper relationships. 
Solitude it deux. And between them they create a new world.,,21 
It is not only Will Barrett, but also Binx Bolling, who even- 
tually follows that path. After hiring in a succession a few at- 
tractive secretaries in a futile attempt to find himself a satisfying 
companion, he finally marries his cousin Kate, a person troubled 
more than he himself. They both find in their marriage mutual 
support and fulfillment. 
Lancelot Lamar, after a year of grappling with the gloomy 
and even slightly sinister past, chooses for his new companion 
Anna, a woman who, being gang raped, suffered great humilia- 
tion which, as he sees it, in a sense has purified and redeemed 
her. And though Anna does not really agree with his interpreta- 
tion of reality, she is willing to start anew. 
But for Lancelot communion with another human being - 
a means to reach goodness and thus God - is not sufficient. He 
wants to gather a handful of the good and moral people that he 
still hopes to find and retire with them into seclusion. His idea is 
that of a new beginning, in isolation, with the corrupt world shut 
away. In case the inhabitants of that spoiled civilization become 
a threat to the new community, Lancelot and his fellowmen should 
be armed and ready to fight. Lancelot hopes that as a result of 
this Third Revolution "[t]here will be men who are strong and 
pure of heart," and "[t]here will be virtuous women who are proud 
of their virtue.,,22 
However, Percy clearly indicates that there is an alternative 
to such a violent and militaristic approach. Here it is a Catholic 
priest Percival, Lancelot's silent interlocutor throughout the novel, 
that seems to have the right answers. And even though Lancelot 
in disbelief inquires: "So you plan to take a little church in Ala- 


21 Elzbieta Oleksy, A Talk with Walker Percy, in: More Conversations, 
p.74. 
22 Percy, Lancelot, p. 164. 


J..
>>>
'1 


- 


Lost Cause Again? The South as the Mainstay... 


197 


bama, Father, preach the gospel, turn bread into flesh, forgive 
sins of Buick dealers, administer communion to suburban house- 
wives?,,23 - one unmistakably senses that this is the course of 
action supported by the author himself. The solution seems to lie 
not in turning the world upside down, but in a long and tedious 
effort to restore the morality and goodness. 
And as the aunt advises Binx Bolling: "In this world good- 
ness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. 
That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than 
a man.,,24 In this sense the fact that Percy's characters do not con- 
form to the morally dubious reality is not futile. It is not a lost 
cause to try and save the ideals which, while lived up to, give 
a man deeper dimension. Since that seems to be the very quality 
of life - life and not mere existence - that has the power to 
restore humanity. 


'- 


--- 
23 Ibidem, p. 239. 
'4 
- Idem, Moviegoer, p. 45.
>>>

>>>
"r 
! 


- 


LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 200 I 


JERZY SOBIERAJ 
Warsaw University 


Regionalism and the South 
An Introductory Note 


Apart from what we feel and go through as individuals we 
also participate in certain common experiences. As members of 

 certain group t
at resides in the same homeland, we participate 
In the events of that group and walk through the same topog- 
r
Phical labyrinth that other members of the group do. Irrespec- 
tIve of the fact that this country may be also an institutionalized 
entity, administrative or political, it is closest to us, first of all, 
because it is natural, it is our cradle of experience, land of initia- 
tion, the land that we learn first and know best. Even when one 
day we leave it, it remains our important point of reference. The 
narrator of Pat Conroy's novel The Prince of Tides expresses the 
Particular attachment of a Southerner to his homeland. Remem- 
bering his. childhood on a South Carolina island he says "My 
wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call."l 
It is romanticism that seriously directed our attention to the 
local and the regional. Romantic poets often focused on the local 
and regional environment, researching the folk tradition of the 
tnany parts of Germany or Britain or other countries. British po- 
ets might introduce language and manners characteristic of the 
--- 
1 Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides (Toronto, New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. I.
>>>
200 


Jerzy Sobieraj 


rustic life in the historic counties of Cumberland and Westmore- 
land, and poets from other countries were fascinated with the lo- 
cal traditions they knew well. 
In Europe the interest in the local and the regional gave rise 
to the development of regionalism as a formal discipline in the 
second half of the nineteenth century. In 1854 in France Frederic 
Mistral started the Felibrige movement whose aim was to redeem 
and propagate the literature of Provence. L. De Berluc-Perrusis, 
the activist of the movement, chose the term "regionalism" to de- 
scribe the ideology of the group, rejecting such terms as "pro- 
vincialism" or "federalism" as terms loaded with political conno- 
tation. The great supporter of the Felibrige group was Charles 
Brun, who not only was an active member of the "Federation 
Regionaliste Francaise" but also a founder of an important 
monthly "Revue du Mouvement Federaliste et Decentralisateur," 
devoted to the problems of regionalist ideology. His significant 
critical works on regionalism included Les litreratures provinciaZes 
(1907) and Le regionalisme (1911). He was convinced that what 
made literature real was its local color and the soul of the par- ! 
ticu1ar region that a work of literature reflected. He questioned 
the homogeneity of a national spirit, accentuating at the same 
time the idea that later became known under the name "Blut und 
Boden." 
In Germany, before the essence of "Blut und Boden" was 
finally distorted and adapted by the Nazis to categorize race, 
there had been several researchers examining regionalism. August 
Sauer, a German professor of Czech origin, scrutinized the as- 
pects of the early tribes, their movements, and mixing of various 
tribes and peoples. In this way he tried to examine the role of the 
tribes in the process of crystallization of national culture. His 
disciple, Josef Nadler, to some extent continued Sauer's interest 
in history, geography, and literature. Finally, German national 
socialism used Nadler's idea of "Blut und Boden" as a strong 
scientific support for the theory of the Aryan domination over 
other races of the world. Significantly, Nadler's greatest work
>>>
-'f 
! 


-- 


Regionalism and the South 


201 


Literaturgeschichte der deutshen Stamme und Landschaften (1912- 
-1928) was republished in 1938 in its new version under the title 
Literaturgeschichte des deutshen Volkes. His idea of regionalism 
stressed the importance of both time and space. These two should 
be always examined as interconnected. The region or the prov- 
ince was for Nadler the nourishing soil, the material ground, the 
land of particular people. Out of such soil and out of such blood 
the most precious emerges. 2 
The definition of "regionalism" is relatively complex though 
l11any of the known descriptions of the term associate it with 
Various political contexts. But the term "regionalism" must refer 
to the condition of social consciousness that dominates among 
the people inhabiting a given area, especially among those whom 
We may refer to as opinion makers. It also focuses upon the peo- 
ple's economic, cultural, and political activity. 
The organized regional movements are often the reaction to 
'- 
Centralism and uniformity but also the expression of various ac- 
tivities of ethnic and cultural minorities reinforced by economic 
and civilization differences of various areas. 3 Regionalism can be 
defined as a cultural Gestalt and political movement aiming at 
the defense and support of local culture, while at the same time 
strengthening autonomous political institutions. 
A regionalist treats his/her region as a unity, a social micro- 
CoSm.4 Thus regionalism can be also regarded as an idea that 
grows out of the need to prevent, cultivate, and develop the as- 
Pects of culture, values, and way of life on the area which dis- 


----- 
2 Josef Nadler, Historia /iteratur niemieckich plemion i prowincji, in: Teo- 
r
a badafz /iterackich za granicq, ed. Stefania Skwarczynska (Krak6w: Wydaw- 
Olctwo Literackie, 1966), Vol. 2, p. 424. 
. 3 Zbyszko Chojecki and Teresa Czyz, Region i regiona/izacja w geografii, 
10: Region. regiona/izm. Pojt:cia i rzeczywistosc, ed. Kwiryna Handke (Warsza- 
wa: Slawistyczny Osrodek Wydawniczy, 1993), pp. 30, 31. 
4 Krzysztof Kwasniewski, Elementy teorii regiona/izmu, in: Region. regio- 
ha/iz m . Pojt: cia i rzeczywistosc, ed. Kwiryna Handke (Warszawa: Slawistyczny 
Osrodek Wydawniczy, 1993), pp. 76.
>>>
202 


Jerzy Sobieraj 


plays unique regional or ethnic features, aimed at preserving and 
deepening social and cultural or ethnic identity.5 
In America, the sense of regional division developed early 
and quite naturally. The huge regions, referred to as sections in 
the nineteenth century, emerged slowly as areas of opposing in- 
terests, political and economic. The most significant example of 
such conflicting sections is the North and South. The Civil War 
and Reconstruction of the South were the events showing the 
conflict between sections but at the same time they were mecha- 
nisms integrating each of the sections and, especially in the case 
of the South, mechanisms reinforcing the regional distinctiveness 
of the area and stimulating the sectional identity of its inhabi- 
tants. W. J. Cash emphasizes that, "It was the conflict with the 
Yankee which really created the concept of the South as some- 
thing more than a matter of geography, as an object of patriotism, 
in the minds of Southerners.,,6 
The roots of the development of scientific sociological re- 
gionalism in America owe much to the activities of scholars, 
historians, writers examining the South and, finally, to the South- 
erners themselves. The nineteenth century works on the American 
South, as a distinctive section, presented to much extent a ro- 
mantic, idealized vision of the region. An important moment of 
transition in the development of American regionalism was de- 
finitely the 1930 publication of the famous manifesto written by 
twelve Southerners, connected with the Vanderbilt University. 
The essays, published under the title of I'll Take My Stand. The 
South and the Agrarian Tradition, tended to redeem the idea of 
the South, the agrarian culture, an entirely distinct region of the 
United States of America. As John Crowe Ransom, the author of 
the first essay, logically reasoned, 


S See Jerzy Damrosz, Region i regiona/izm (Warszawa: Instytut Kultury, 
1987), p. 22. 
6 W. J. Cash, The Mind of the South (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), p, 68.
>>>
- 


Regionalism and the South 


203 


The South is unique on this continent for having founded and de- 
fended a culture which was according to the European principles of 
Culture [...] The nearest of the European cultures which we could exam- 
ine is that of England [...] England was actually the model employed 
by the South [...] England differs from America doubtless in several 
respects [...] 
and finally contrasting the South with the North he wrote: 
Industrialism, the latest form of pioneering and the worst, presently 
Overtook the North, and in due time has now produced our present 
A.merican civilization. Poverty and pride overtook the South [...]. 7 
Though the attitude toward the South of many of the essayists 
\Vas again, to a great extent, romantic, it could not be overrated. 
As Louis D. Rubin wrote in the 1962 edition of I'll Take My 
Stand 
, 


From the very-beginning it has been singled out for praise or blame. 
Some critics have termed it reactionary, even semi-fascistic. Others 
have considered it a misguided, romantic attempt to re-create an idyllic 

topia that never really existed. Still others have seen it as a voice cry- 
Ing in the wilderness. Ridiculed, condemned, championed, it has been 
eVerything except ignored, for that it cannot be by anyone who wants to 
Understand a complex American region. s 
I'll Take My Stand must have been one of the factors that ini- 
tiated the serious interest of many researchers in the discipline of 
regionalism in America. During the two decades after the publi- 
Cation of' the essays by Southern agrarians, many important 
\Vorks on Southern regionalism and regionalism as such were 
PUblished in the United States of America. Howard W. Odum, 
One of the most eminent American regionalists, published his 


- 


7 John Crowe Ransom, Reconstructed but Unregenerate, in; I'll Take My 
Stand. The South and the Agrarian Tradition (New York: Harper and Row, 
PUblishers, 1962), pp. 3, 15. 
8 Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Introduction to the Torchbook Edition, in: I'll Take 
My Stand, p. VI.
>>>
204 


Jerzy Sobieraj 


Southern Regions of the United States, In Search of the Regional 
Balance in America and, together with H. E. Moore, American 
Regionalism. A. Morgan published A Small Community and W. J. 
Cash his famous The Mind of the South. It was obvious that the 
South became the most frequently scrutinized region in the works 
of American regionalists. 
Sixty years ago W. J. Cash defined the South as "... another 
land, sharply differentiated from the rest of the American nation, 
and exhibiting within itself a remarkable homogeneity.,,9 Obvi- 
ously the South has never vanished for good, though, as many 
scholars and journalists claim, it has become the land of chan- 
ges. 1O However, the remains of the traditional South are still there. 
As Sandra Stencel notices, "The lingering traces of the 'Old 
South' are most evident in the small and medium-sized towns 
that once epitomized the Southern way of life.")] As in any cul- 
ture there must be continuity and change. In spite of all possible 
disasters that the South has gone through, it not only did not dis- 
appear but strengthened its sense of identity. As Louis D. Rubin, Jr. 
claims, 
From the time that the states of the early American Republic began 
to identify their concerns along geographical lines, there was a self- 
conscious South. Nowadays, almost two centuries later, there still is. 
[...] If Southern sectional identity were dependent upon slavery, then 


9 Cash, The Mind of the South, p. VII. 
10 Many scholars focus on the changes that the South, similarly to any other 
region of the world, has undergone. Among many, the titles of chapters of the 
following books focus on "change" as a feature of the contemporary South: 
Hoyt Gimlin, ed., American Regionalism. Our Economic. Cultural and Politi- 
cal Makeup (Washington: Congressional Quarterly Inc" 1980); Earl N. Mit- 
tleman, ed., An Outline of American Geography (Washington: United States 
Information Agency, 1990); Louis D. Rubin, Jr., ed., The American South: 
Portrait of a Culture (Washington: The Forum Series, 1980). 
11 Sandra Stencel, The South: Continuity and Change, in: American Re- 
gionalism. Our Economic. Cultural and Political Makeup, ed. Hoyt Gimlin 
(Washington: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1980), p. 3 I.
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Regionalism and the South 


205 


the loss of the war and the end of slavery should have destroyed that 
identity. They did not. Military defeat brought devastation, catastrophe. 
[...] Yet in defeat, the South not only retained its sense of identity, but 
added to it the mythos of a lost cause, a sense of ancestral pieties and 
lOyalties bequeathed through suffering, and a unity that comes through 
common deprivation and shared hatred and adversity. This was not 
exactly what those who favored secession had in mind, but if their ob- 
ject was to preserve Southern identity, there can be no doubt that it 
Worked. 12 


Though the word "region" is usually popularly associated 
With geography, it is obvious that there are many aspects that 
give a particular territory and its people a regional characteristic. 
The South must be regarded as a unique region of the world 
first of all because of its size. It is probably, geographically and 
culturally, the biggest region of the world. Despite its size and in 

pite of the fact that the South includes many unique sub-regions 
It has managed to preserve many features and develop many 
landmarks that make this vast land, more or less, a homogeneous 
section of America. 
The aspects that make up a region, as in the case of the 
South, must refer to space, time, and people, always in strong 
reference to the former two. The following are the common de- 
terminants of regional structures: 
I. Territory and climate, often affecting the way of living, 

Ustoms, and rituals of its inhabitants. The climate of the South 
IS characterized by high temperatures, mild winters, and rela- 
tively high humidity. 
2. Economy, often dependent on the topographical and c1i- 
tnatic features of the region. In the case of the South there is the 

ertile soil and a long growing season. Agriculture was and still 
IS a strong branch of the economy. 


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12 Louis D. Rubin, Jr., The American South: The Continuity of Se/f-Defi- 
l'Iition, in: The American South: Portrait of a Culture, ed. Louis D, Rubin, Jr. 
(Washington: Forum Series, 1980), pp. 3, 5.
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Jerzy Sobieraj 


3. Origin, ethnic and demographic characteristics of the in- 
habitants. In the case of the South, the Christian religion is pre- 
dominately Protestant, with the exception of Louisiana. There is 
also the aristocratic or clan heritage of a relatively large propor- 
tion of its original settlers. The percentage of African-Americans 
is higher than in any other part of the country. 
4. Political aspects. Creation of local institutions and support 
of the same political bodies or parties. From the end of Recon- 
struction until 1960, the South, with no exception, always voted 
in the majority for the Democratic nominee in the presidential 
elections. 
5. Cultural aspects. Culture reflects the local and the regio- 
nal, exposing in artistic production a unique picture of the region 
and the experience of its inhabitants, often turning the region 
into a distinctive mythical land. In the case of the South it can be 
literature preoccupied with the painful history of the territory, 
exhibiting the unusual preoccupation with space and time. This is 
the way to illustrate and cherish the unique tradition of the area. 
The consciousness of distinctiveness presented by the writers, 
other region's opinion makers and ordinary people, help to create 
strong defensive mechanisms for preserving the culture of the 
territory. 
6. Shared historical experience of the inhabitants, especially 
of painful and tragic events of history. In the case of the South it 
was the events of the Civil War and Reconstruction that ce- 
mented and united different parts of the South. As many anthro
 
po logical and sociological theories emphasize, the common dan
 ' 
ger and the common enemy are one of the strongest factors unit- 
ing even relatively conflicting groups. 13 
Since the time of the Civil War the region has undergone vari
 
ous transformations, yet it has retained what one could call re- 
gional identity. One of the most important carriers of such iden- 


13 See for instance Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Milosc i nienawisc (Warszawa: 
Paflstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1987), p. 191. See also note 8.
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Regionalism and the South 


207 


tity is the written culture of the region and there can be no doubt 
that the South has produced outstanding literature. 
Although there are certain signs of regional awareness in 
Southern literature in the eighteen century the regional concern 
of Southern writers truly emerges in the nineteenth and espe- 
cially after the Civil War. The more the controversy over slavery 
arose, influencing seriously the relations between North and 
South, the more Southern regional concern overshadowed the 
l11atters of the nation. As Louis D. Rubin noticed, 
It was in the 1820s and 1830s, as the controversy over chattel slav- 
ery began to assume serious economic and political proportions, that 
Poems, stories, and other belletristic writings first began to be referred 
to as "southern" literature as distinct from "American" literature as 
a whole. The identity thus proposed arose out of the self-consciousness 
that attended the rise of sectional controversy. The heritage out of 
which southern literary study evolved, therefore, was strongly associ- 
ated with patrio
ic'utterance and sectiqnal self-defense. Secession, war, 
Itlilitary defeat, Reconstruction, and decades of poverty thereafter pow- 
erfully heightened the sense of regional solidarity. If southerners were 
Altlericans even so, as they began insisting once the immediate rancor 
ofthe war years subsided, they were so in a special way. The literature, 
therefore, was given the responsibility of embodying that uniqueness [...].14 
The first works of literature that initiated what might be called 
SOuthern literature were John Pendleton Kennedy's Swallow Barn 
(I832), a fine example of plantation fiction, and William Gilmore 
Simms's T.he Yemassee (1835). The second half of the nineteenth 
century significantly started with the publication of Harriet 
Beecher Stowe's famous novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). 
But the quick development of Southern fiction was postponed 
Until after the dramatic events of the 1860s and 1870s. The Civil 
War and the following Reconstruction resulted in the existence of 


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14 Louis D. Rubin, Jr., "Scholarship in Southern Literature: Its History and 
R.ecent Developments," American Studies International, Vol. XXI, NO.2 (1983), 
P.4.
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Jerzy Sobieraj 


the South as a unique region and distinct culture. This was dra- 
matically reflected by Southern, but also Northern authors. The 
literature of the American South, which was often attempting to 
define the South, entered into new phases, which have carried on 
to this day. The picture of the South that emerges from Southern 
fiction is perhaps one that is entirely unique, or perhaps one such 
as many other regions could accept as their own. 
"Our South isn't a matter of boundaries, or skies, or landscapes. 
[...] It's not [...] a South of climate, [...]. It's a certain ungeographical 
South-within-the-South - as portable and intangible as-as-" "As our 
souls in our bodies," interposed Barbara. [...] It's a sort o'something - 
social, civil, political, economic -" "Romantic?" "Yes, romantic! 
Something that makes -" "'No land like Dixie in all the wider world 
over,.,,15 


IS George W. Cable, John March. Southerner (New York: Grossed and 
Dunlop Publishers, 1984), p. 327. 


J.
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LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


BEATA WILLIAMSON 
Gdansk University 


Susan Warner - Regionalist of the 1850s 


In "The American Renaissance Reenvisioned" Joanna Dob- 
SOn argues that "the absence of early women's realism from our 
anthologies and course syllabi" has shown not only the "biases of 
evaluative criteria" against women, but has also resulted in the 
false, simplifie
 periodization of American Literature: 
"Regionalism and literary realism'in America have traditionally been 
considered developments of the late century, after the wave of romanti- 
cism had run its course in the 1850s. However, [...] by mid-century 
SUsan Warner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Alice Cary excelled at rep- 
resenting the commonplace rhythms of daily life in a specific place at 

 specific time: rural New England, the ante-bellum South, the develop- 
ing &ontier." (pp. 172-173) 
Susan Warner, along with other literary domestics, has not 
been treated gently by twentieth-century critics. If mentioned, 
her books 'were regarded until recently as typical for sentimental 
fiction in both use of this fiction's "standard devices" of plot as 
well as the exaggerated reliance on "weeping and kissing" 
(Cowie pp. 416-417). However now, after the critical "disco- 
Very" of domestic fiction, even this "tearfulness" of Warner's 
novels is said to reflect their very realism. Says Nina Baym, de- 
fending the "deluge" of tears in Warner's novels: "Need we say 
sOrnething in defense of tears? Women do cry, and it is realism in
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Beata Williamson 


our authors to show it. The nineteenth-century woman was not 
ashamed of her tears, and in woman's fiction, the heroines are 
encouraged to cry as a therapy." (pp. 144) 
Warner's tears, indeed, are realistic, yet the author seems at 
once to be rendering the actual and suggesting a metaphoric re- 
sponse to a harsh social and emotional landscape. 
The Wide, Wide World (1851), a work of two volumes, tells 
the story of a young orphaned girl, Ellen Montgomery, who is 
taken care of first by her aunt, a crude, cold-hearted farmer, and 
then by her aristocratic Scottish relatives, proud and domineering 
people, who treat Ellen as a fancy possession. In the meantime 
Ellen is befriended by a pious New England family, at the head 
of which stands a Protestant minister named Mr. John, who will 
finally save her from her unworthy relatives. Most of the action I 
takes place in rural New England, and one of the strong points of 
Warner's book is the descriptions of everyday life. 
These descriptions of rural New England recall the author's 
own life in many ways, yet behind them lies an ambivalence to- 
ward the land that frequently emerges in biographical writings 
about Warner but infrequently in critical analyses of her work. 
She was born and raised in the city, and only after her father's 
bankruptcy was forced to live in comparatively primitive condi- 
tions in the country. Even during the times of affluence, when 
Warner visited her grandfather's farm in New York State, she 
preferred to stay inside and read rather than admire the beautiful 
outdoors. Yet in her prose, depictions of glorious nature are very 
common. Edward Foster writes: When visiting her grandfather, 
Susan Warner had always preferred to stay inside with her books. 
"Her marvelous imagination," [her sister] recalled, "fostered this 
indoor life; with slippery hills, and creeping things, and strange 
wayfarers along the road, - all sorts of unknown possibilities 
everywhere, - the sheltering walls of the house seemed delight- 
ful, and she left them as little as she could." After spending the 
summer at her grandfather's when she was seventeen, she wrote: 
"I do not love Canaan very much certainly, and shouldn't care 


j...
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Susan Warner - Regionalist of the 1850s 


211 


much if I thought we should not spend another summer here." 
(PP.42-43) 
Warner was, or pretended to be, a patriot. She realized that 
to love America was to be proud of its beauty. Her descriptions 
of nature have been praised as realistic and artistically ac- 
complished. But none of Warner's heroines live in the country 
Willingly; Ellen of The Wide, Wide World and Fleda of Quee- 
chy (1852) are forced, just like their author, to country living be- 
cause of misfortune. Ellen is a ten-year-old child when she is 
orphaned and given to the care of her rough country aunt. All 
kinds of horrors await there the unfortunate city-bred girl. She 
?'lust wash in the cold water outside, she soils her white stock- 

ngs, and when she attempts a scenic walk she ends by falling 
Into the brook. 
Susan Warner makes sure, however, that Ellen praises the 
beauty of her surroundings: "Oh, how pleasant this is! how 
lovely this is! r:-..] the ground is .beautiful, and those tall trees, 
and that beautiful blue sky..." (p. 145). Then she even ventures: 
"Bow pleasant it must be to live in the country!" (p. 147). Inter- 
estingly, Ellen's companion, a nasty, cruel country girl Nancy, 
laughs at Ellen's aesthetic impressions. Nancy does not fall into 
brooks, and knows the art of survival among nature pretty well, 
but still she feels distaste for country living. To Ellen's exulted 
praise she responds: "The ground is all covered with stones and 
rocks, - is that what you call beautiful? and the trees are so 
homely as. can be, with their brown stems and no leaves. [...] 
Pleasant, indeed! [...] I think it's hateful. You'd think it too, if 
You lived where I do" (pp. 146-147). 
Nancy appears to voice the author's own belief. Ellen does 
not love her aunt's farm, either. She does not suffer from hunger 
Or cold, but her life on the farm is boring. At first she has nothing 
t
 do; she expresses a wish to be of some help, and her aunt pro- 
VIdes her with jobs to occupy the time: "Ellen's life soon become 
a pretty busy one. She did not like this at all; it was a kind of 
work she had no love for" (vol. 1 p. 171). Cleaning the dairy or 


..
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Beata Williamson 


paring apples does not appeal to the girl. Ellen misses her books, 
just as Warner herself must have preferred hers to Canaan. 
An interesting character of The Wide, Wide World is Ellen's 
aunt, Miss Fortune Emerson. It is curious that Warner presents 
her in a negative light: the character who would most probably 
appeal to a modern reader, Warner pictures as ambivalent, to say 
the least. This ambivalence might be connected with Warner'S 
belief that struggling for money was man's responsibility and 
domain. Miss Emerson runs the farm by herself, and runs it well. 
She is independent and strong. She is proud of her achievements. 
Yet Warner strangely underscores only her unpleasant features, 
although in many ways Miss Emerson could be read as a positive 
character. For example, Fortune Emerson really loves her farm. 
Once Ellen told her aunt that a place on the farm was beautiful: 
"Miss Fortunes' face rather softened at this, and she gave Ellen 
an abundant supply of all that was on the table" (vol. I p. 127). 
She did not starve the girl nor constrain her; upon her arrival, 
Ellen got a week for wandering around and getting herself ac- 
quainted with the neighborhood. Warner also talks about Aunt 
Emerson's household in undoubtedly positive terms: 
"[Buttery] was a long light closet or pantry, lined on the left side, 
and at the further end, with wide shelves up to the ceiling. On these 
shelves stood many capacious pans and basins, of tin and earthenware, 
filled with milk, and most of them coated with superb yellow cream. 
Midway was a window, before which Miss Fortune was accustomed to 
skim her milk; and at the side of it was the mouth of a wooden pipe, or 
covered trough, which conveyed the refuse milk down to an enormous 
hogshead standing at the lower kitchen door, whence it was drawn as 
wanted for the use of the pigs. Beyond the window in the buttery, and 
on the higher shelves, were rows of yellow cheeses; forty or fifty were 
there at least. On the right hand of the door was the cupboard, and 
a short range of shelves, which held in ordinary all sorts of matters for 
the table, both dishes and eatables. Floor and shelves were well painted 
with thick yellow paint, hard and shining, and clean as could be; and 
there was a faint pleasant smell of dairy things." (vol. 1 pp. 170-171)
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Susan Warner - Regionalist of the 1850s 


213 


Warner describes the fruits of Aunt Emerson's labor with 
relish, stressing the cleanliness and good organization of her 
pantry, the quality of cream and abundance of cheeses, and the 
brightness and nice smell of the place. She seems approving of 
this woman's ways. However, in other places Fortune Emerson's 
economy is explained as stinginess, and the unfair treatment of 
her niece is stressed: the aunt is never affectionate to Ellen, reads 
her personal letters, and will not let her keep a cat. Miss Fortune 
Emerson is the embodiment of a crude country woman, not evil, 
but not acceptable for Warner's elevated mind either. 
Queechy, Warner's second important novel, evinces a similar 
love-hate relationship with rural life, but with and added twist: 
in this novel it is clear that to Warner, Europe offers more hope 
and promise than the New World. The heroine, Fleda Ringgen, 
lives with her grandfather on a failing farm in rural New York, 
QUeechy - another farm modeled on the one Warner's family 
oWned. Soon before her grandfather's death Fleda receives an 
invitation from her wealthy relatives, the Rossiturs, to live with 
them. The Rossiturs treat her very kindly, and for six years the 
girl leads a luxurious life in Europe and America. Yet, this idyll 
comes to an end when her uncle Rolf Rossitur fails in business, 
and loses his wealth. The family moves to a farm, Fleda's old 
Queechy. Mr. Rossitur and his wife cannot get accustomed to the 
hardships of making a living, and the burden of running the farm 
falIs on Fleda and her sickly cousin, Hugh. The young people's 
hard work .enables the family to survive. Matters get more com- 
Plicated when an evil young man, Lewis Thorn, threatens to dis- 
close uncle Rossitur's compromising deed (forging a check); 
Thorn will spare the family's reputation only if Fleda marries 
him. The exhausted young woman's trials end soon, though. Guy 
Carleton, an old wealthy friend, appears, deus-ex-machina-like, 
to rescue Fleda and her family from certain disaster. The villain 
backs off, and Fleda and Carleton marry and move to Europe, 
where they commence a life of fairy-tale luxury. At the begin- 
ning of the novel, Warner talks a lot about the beauty of the 


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Beata Williamson 


countryside. She describes the woods, hills, Nature in general- 
she even provides names of the native trees and plants. The char- 
acters often talk about the charm of Queechy. Yet after the diffi- 
cult years of hard work on the farm, the country loses its appeal, 
and Fleda is ready to enjoy the landscape of her husband's Eng- 
lish mansion. The young bride leaves the United States with no 
regret. 
An interesting feature of both novels is the author's ambiva- 
lence to country and farmers. Warner stresses the beauty of Na- 
ture, but country living she always associates with hard work, 
which she is afraid of. She admires the ability to work and the 
strength of country people, and she shows her admiration in nu- 
merous descriptions of clean, well-organized farms, but she de- 
spises the crude manners of the farmers. The author seems to be 
torn between the respect for democracy and the distaste for so- 
cializing with the lower classes. Thus in Queechy she will ridi- 
cule one farmer's daughter's wish for "attending a course of 
philosophical lectures" (vol. 1 p. 290), only, in the later part of 
the book, to boast of American lower classes' drive to educate 
themselves (vol. 2 70). Similarly ambivalent are her patriotic 
feelings. When an Englishman, Mr. Stackpole, is appalled at the 
institution of slavery in America, Fleda argues: "That is the Eng- 
lish who introduced and upheld the law, which, however wrong, 
cannot be abolished by the federal government because of the 
freedom of states" (vol. 2 pp. 84-85). Warner, ostensibly against 
slavery herself, appears to hold with Fleda's reasoning. Her de- 
fense of the "American treatment of the aborigines" is similar: 
she argues that an Englishman, whose country is occupying 
India, should not accuse another country of injustice (vol. 2 
pp. 87-88). Yet, Warner will at the same time admire the class 
system in England: sometimes bearing with democracy, that is 
enduring the crude manners of her countrymen, can be trying. 
Admiring "the strong self-respect which springs from the secu- 
rity and importance that republican institutions give every man," 
Fleda will also find Mr. Carleton's aristocratic notions appealing:
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Susan Warner - Regionalist of the 1850s 


215 


"I have no doubt you are quite right," said Mr. Carleton smiling. 
"But don't you think an equal degree of self-respect may consist 
with giving honor where honor is due?" (vol. 2 pp. 304-305) 
Susan Warner seems torn between the notions of democracy 
and patriotism, which she was taught to respect, and which her 
reason approves of, and the feelings of an aristocrat, a woman of 
genteel background, who was forced to live with such reality on 
an everyday basis. 
The realism of The Wide, Wide World has been noticed by 
many critics. They praise Warner's good local color and lan- 
guage, her descriptions of the New England farms and the regio- 
nal customs. The Wide, Wide World and Queechy are not simply 
moralistic or didactic novels, as the domestic fiction of mid- 
nineteenth century was traditionally labeled. Warner described 
apple-paring bees, ways to preserve meat, and the behavior of 
sheep without apparent morally instructive reason. In the apple- 
bee chapter of The Wide, Wide World, the depiction of the farm- 
ers is excellent, and it is not didactic at all. Warner writes about 
work and play; she describes party games: "puss, puss in the cor- 
ner," "blind man's bluff," and "the fox and the goose." She de- 
picts clothes of the local beauties and the manners of village 
gentlemen, and she reports country gossip with gusto. 
. Nonetheless, the book's most striking realism lies elsewhere, 
In the characterization of Warner's young female protagonist 
rather than in the good regionalism of the novel. Ellen Montgom- 
ery and her trials, her ways of dealing with problems, her inter- 
ests and their lack, are what I call realistic. Comparing The Wide, 
Wide World to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Tompkins 
argues convincingly for this aspect of Warner's realism: Adven- 
tures of Huckleberry Finn has for long time stood as a bench- 
mark of American literary realism, praised for its brilliant use of 
local dialects and its faithfulness to the texture of ordinary life. 
Twain himself is famous for his scoffing attacks on escapism of 
sentimental and romantic fiction. But if one compares his han- 
dling of a child's relation to authority with Warner's, the events
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Beata Williamson 


of Huckleberry Finn enact a dream of freedom and autonomy 
that goes beyond the bounds of the wildest romance. The sce- 
nario whereby the clever and deserving Huck repeatedly outwits 
his powerful adversaries along the riverbank acts out a kind of 
adolescent wish fulfillment that Warner's novel never even 
glances at. When Ellen is sent by her father to live with a sadistic 
aunt in New England, when she is deeded by him the second time 
to an even more sinister set of relatives, there is absolutely 
nothing she can do. Ellen is never for a moment out of the power 
of her guardians and never will be, as long as she lives. While 
the premise of Twain's novel is that, when faced by tyranny of 
any sort, you can simply run away, the problem the Warner's 
novel sets itself to solve is how to survive, given that you can't. 
(Sensational Designs p. 175): Thus the very reasons that make 
little Ellen an "impossible prissy" (Cowie p. 418) - her tears, 
her submission, her love of luxury and distaste for adventure - 
are the true reflection of reality in the book. 
Susan Warner does not deserve the oblivion she has fallen 
,into. Even if we disregarded all other merits of her fiction, War- 
ner's local color alone should put her in the ranks of such writers 
as Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Sarah Orne Jewett. Yet the level 
I consider most interesting to investigate is not her skillful local 
color, but the psychology of her female characters, her manner of 
reflecting and refracting nineteenth-century culture through these 
character's behavior and mentality. Warner's American realism 
- not the local color - should be recognized and compared to 
the one of her male successors of the later nineteenth century. 


Works Cited 


Baym, Nina. Woman s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women 
in America 1820-1870. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1976. 
Cowie, Alexander. The Rise of the American Novel. New York: Ameri- 
can Book Company, 1948.
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Dobson, Joanne. "Reclaiming Sentimental Literature." American Litera- 
ture 69 (1997): 263-288. 
Foster, Edward Halsey. Susan and Anna Warner. Boston: Twayne Pub- 
lishers, n.d. 
Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American 
Fiction 1790-1860. New York: Oxford UP, 1985. 
Warner, Susan. Queechy. 2 vols. New York, 1852. 
-. The Wide. Wide World. 2 vols. New York, 1851. 


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LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


Section IV. Film and Music 


MAREK JEZINSKI 
Central European University, Warsaw 


The Utopian Dream about Freedom and Paradise: 
Neo-anarchism and the American Psychedelic 
Music of the Sixties 


'- 


The present paper is concerned with the utopian neo-anarch- 
ist vision of society presented in the social and artistic program 
of American psychedelic bands (acid-rock) of the sixties. The 
groups' social and political views were strongly influenced by 
the 19 th century anarchist movement, represented by such anar- 
chistic prophets as Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Charles Fourier, 
William Godwin, Michail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin. Moreo- 
ver, anarchism determined the myths in which the bands con- 
tained the visions of the post-revolutionary world. These ideas, 
however, c'onstitute artistic creations or mere poses rather than 
a Political program, and thus, cannot be taken literally. 
The urban character of psychedelic counter-culture influ- 
enced anarchist and artistic issues which are discussed in the pa- 
Per. The city determined social and political relationships and the 
visions of the future utopian social conditions presented by the 
A.merican musicians. Furthermore, urban influences are region- 
ally variegated and embrace firstly, the intellectual avant-garde,
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Marek Jezinski 


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beatnik, or folk experiments (East Coast bands: Silver Apples, 
Pearls Before Swine, Cromagnon, and The Fugs), secondly, the 
hippie-like communes based on folk and blues traditions (San 
Francisco groups: Quicksilver Messenger Service or The Grateful 
Dead), and finally, avant-garde electronics experiments com- 
bined with folk rock and blues traditions (Los Angeles' musi- 
cians of The United States of America, Joe Byrd and The Field 
Hippies, Tim Buckley, and Ya Ho Wa 13). Anarchist influences 
and urban inspirations can be found in both the music and the 
life-style of the numerous bands enumerated above. 


1. The Origins of the Psychedelic Movement 


The emergence of acid rock of the sixties was conditioned by 
economic, social, and aesthetic (i.e. music, fashion, etc.) issues. 
Undoubtedly, for the present analysis aesthetic factors become 
most crucial. As regards the common musical origins of the 
movement, the main sources of inspiration come from The Beat- 
les and Bob Dylan and such musical styles as folk, blues, beat, 
rock'n'roll and punk. I Moreover, as Joynson underlines, "psyche- 
delia brought electricity, mysticism and hitherto unknown musi- 
cal freedom to this kaleidoscope of styles.,,2 Other influences in- 
clude the elements of jazz, contemporary music, the avant-garde 
or electronic experiments which were employed by American mu- 
sicians in their productions. Moreover, in order to expand their 
musical ideas and enrich the sound, the bands employed instru- 
ments of the Middle East and Far East origins (e.g. tabla, sitar, 
marimba, wind chimes, or kazoo). 
Fashion represents another source of influence which cannot 
be neglected in the discussion of the psychedelic movement. 
Clothes or meetings and parties were the immanent elements of 


I Joynson V., After the Acid Trip: the Flashback. The Ultimate Psyche- 
delic Music Guide. (Borderline Productions: Telford, 1988), pp. 3-4. 
2 Ibidem, pp. 3.
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The Utopian Dream about Freedom and Paradise... 221 
the new trend. Fashion as well as peer pressure strongly affected 
the young people of the era. Self-realization through laughter, 
putting on the masks of innocence, youthful unconcern, and, in 
the wider context, participation in the new trendy movement can 
be perceived as a fashionable attractive intellectual and social 
adventure rooted in the carnivalesque perception of reality. 
The psychedelic centers, especially San Francisco and Los 
Angeles, attracted young people by their oddity or a fashionable 
life style, and by the tendency towards neglecting the rules of 
behavior imposed by the older generations. Undoubtedly, the peri- 
Pheral artistic subcultures, such as Height Ashbury or Greenwich 
Village, are always very appealing to young people. As almost 
eVery part of culture, the youth revolution was commercialized 

y the market: the peripheral movement of young rebels turned 
Into the immanent element of the official center. In the discussed 
Context, music and festiva.ls (including the Woodstock Music and 
Art Fair as the symbol of the era.) were simply the hogs in the 
commercial machine of the hippie industry driven by fashion. 
The "psychedelic" periods in the careers of such pop groups as 
The Mamas And The Papas, The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and 
the like instanciate this tendency.3 


2. The main myths generated by the movement 


The main myths generated and presented by the American 
psychedelic bands of the sixties were inspired and, to some ex- 


-- 


3 These groups, originally pop-oriented, followed the new fashion and 

l11ployed psychedelic sounds and hippie elements in the lyrics of their songs 
In the second half of the sixties. Moreover, it should be briefly mentioned that 
fashion embraced not only aesthetics but also political and ideological issues. 
therefore, anarchism, communism and socialism were fashionable in the West- 
ern world during the sixties and seventies. The New Left movement, neo- 

narchism, or Marxist approaches, apart of their intellectual values, were sub- 
JUgated to the rules of fashion and the commercial demands of the market.
>>>
222 


Marek Jezinski 


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tent, determined by the anarchist doctrine. Undoubtedly, social 
and political ideas in the USA were strongly influenced by the 
European anarchist roots. American movements such as hippies, 
yippies, students and academic circles or beatniks were consti- 
tuted upon utopian dreams known from the works of Bakunin, 
Wilhelm Reich or Herbert Marcuse 4 . The myth of Revolution and 
the myth of Community generated by the psychedelic movement 
of the sixties were directly influenced by the utopian anarchist 
tradition. 
Unquestionably, for many groups of the era the word "revo- 
lution" itself had almost magical powers and took a central place 
in their social and artistic activity. Such a change implied the 
need for neglecting the hitherto existing patterns of social behav- 
ior and the artistic means of creation. The neo-anarchist psyche- 
delic revolution was to be realized in several cultural spheres, 
namely, aesthetic, political, social and individual. All these as- 
pects underlined freedom of an individual and her or his right to 
self-realization through political, social or, as in the case of the 
discussed musical groups, artistic means. 5 


4 Although, the anarchist movement took its shape in the 19th century, 
to indicate the activity of Godwin, Proudhon, Stirner, Kropotkin, Bakunin, 
in the 20th century its role gradually diminished. In the mid-sixties the anar- 
chistic ideas were revived by the students movement. As Malinowski points 
out, the specific character of the renewal lies in the fact that in the place of 
the old anarchist groups in the International Anarchistic Federation, new groups 
emerged, especially in Italy, Germany, England and France, for instance, 
"Baader-Meinhoff', "Anarchist Federation of Britain", "Malatesta Group of 
the London Anarchist Federation" or "Brigate Rosse" who used terrorism as 
a direct method of fight with the old conservative structures (as pointed by 
Malinowski in Mil wolnosci. Szkice 0 anarchizmie. Ksi
Zka i Wiedza: War- 
szawa, 1983, p. 15). 
5 It should be stressed that most psychedelic bands musicians and their 
associates did not suggest a social revolution in a strict sense of the word and 
were not concerned with the social issues. Consequently, they did not opt for 
the change of social conditions. They focused mainly on art and its autono- 
mous value in social life rather than on changing the capitalist society. In other
>>>
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The Utopian Dream about Freedom and Paradise... 


223 


The notion of "community" refers both to a small social group 
and to global society. In many cases, the bands' musical creative 
and everyday life activities pursued in the communes; musicians 
and their co-workers lived together in travelling communes per- 
forming in different places all over the USA. The instances of 
Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope 
or the Charlatans are a case in point. For the members of the 
aforesaid groups, community was a fundamental value and should 
be treated as one of the factors (together with revolution and 
a new model of society) by which the world could be trans- 
formed into a better one. This anarchist and socialist program 
Was directly based on utopian belief in the power of anarchism 
and art itself. 6 
The neo-anarchist myths of revolution and community re- 
Vealed the weak and strong points in the former anarchist narra- 
tive myths. The myth of Revolution is connected with the vulner- 
able aspect of Reo-anarchist psychedelic counter-culture. Lack 
of a coherent vision of life after the upheaval, a poorly defined 
social program, or difficulties in providing the stable and pre- 
dictable forms of organization for the psychedelic trend proved 
that the movement leaders (real or supposed ones) were not pre- 
Pared for the work they promoted verbally. However, the ques- 
tion arises if the young generation was genuinely ready to under- 
take the "revolution" or treated it only as an attractive slogan 
Which summarized their attitudes towards the state and the par- 
ents' gener
tion. The myth of Community reflected the positive 
aspects of the neo-anarchist program of the psychedelic sub-cul- 


- 


words, the bands were artistically and hedonistically oriented and enjoyed an- 
archism within their narrow circle, but they were not ready to spread the revo- 
lUtionist ideas based on the Kropotkin's or Bakunin's writings. 
6 Undoubtedly, the above ideas, presumably characteristic of all members 
of counter-culture organisations, remained primarily in the sphere of declara- 
tions. As displayed by Jack O'Donnel in the film Revolution (1968), the Height 
Ashbury area quickly commercialised and served as a commercial centre where 
hippie ideas were sold to the newcomers.
>>>
224 


Marek J ezinski 


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ture. Undoubtedly, close relationships with other people in com- 
munity, a tendency to avoid the pathologies of the state (social 
boundaries, state frontiers, the exuberance of bureaucracy), or 
face-to-face contacts were supposed to make life more honest 
and easier. However, the fact that most of the communes settled 
in urban environments reveals the high level of conformism and 
adjustment to metropolis habits among young people who were 
not ready to escape from the city facilities which organized their 
lives. 


3. Regional colors of stars and stripes 


As already mentioned, the neo-anarchist acid rock bands and 
their audiences varied according to places and the regions of 
their residence which influenced their music. The whole psyche- 
delic scene, however, was determined by the urban setting. Among 
the most influential urban centers were San Francisco, Los Ange- 
les, and New York, the metropolises with a specific character, 
local customs, and musical background. 
The climate and the cultural traditions of the cities indicated 
contribute to the aforementioned specificity. Undoubtedly, the 
Californian sunny weather provided perfect conditions for the 
development of hippie communes enjoying outdoor meetings, 
concerts or sit-ins in city parks. Thus, such gatherings and festi- 
vals were the trade marks of the Californian youth movements. 
The Los Angeles' communes, on the other hand, were more or- 
ganized and formalized than the San Francisco's ones. 7 Better 
organization resulted from the higher number of record compa- 
nies. The list of corporations whose records were distributed on 
the whole USA territory includes, among others, Warner Broth- 
ers, UNI, and Elektra. As Joynson indicated, "any of the groups 
starting in LA had a 50: 50 chance of securing a recording con- 


7 Joynson V., After the Acid Trip, p. 4.
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The Utopian Dream about Freedom and Paradise... 


225 


tract while in San Francisco there were just two local labels - 
Fantasy and Autumn."g Furthermore, San Francisco local trade 
mark was community groups whose members both lived and wrote 
their musical material together. These were represented by Grate- 
ful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane or 
Country Joe and the Fish. More importantly, close relationships 
between the artists and their audience led to the emergence of 
SUpporters' groups totally devoted to a band. Fans were ready to 
follow their favorite band during almost every concert, as the 
case of "Deadheads" (the promoters of the Grateful Dead) indi- 
cates. 
In New York, on the other hand, the local club scene devel- 
oped as the climate of the city did not provide opportunities for 

ommune living. Following the patterns known from the be-bop 
Jazz scene and the beatnik movement, psychedelic bands per- 
formed in Greenwich Village, which was the center of counter- 
culture where such clubs or cafes as Night Owl, Max Kansas 
City, the Metro or Cafe Wha? wer"e based. These traditions were 
strong enough to influence the most important groups of the East 
Coast, namely, The Fugs, Holy Modal Rounders, Pearls Before 
SWine, Silver Apples, and Cromagnon. 
Although the three enumerated urban scenes were the strong- 
est, there were other psychedelia centers with their specificity 
and local character which gave birth to numerous bands. The list 
of the most significant ones includes Austin and Texas (The 
Children, The Conqueroo, Crystal Chandelier, Felicity, The Floyd 
Dakil Four, Kenny and the Kasuals, The Lost and Found, Mother 
Earth, Mouse and the Traps, The Moving Sidewalks, Nervous 
Breakdown, Question Mark and the Mysterians); Boston (Ulti- 
mate Spinach, The Beacon Street Union, Bead Game, Phluph, 
Teddy and the Pandas); and Detroit (punk groups: The Stooges, 
MC5, or Alice Copper). 


- 


8 Ibidem.
>>>
226 


Marek Jezinski 


a) San Francisco 
San Francisco, an ideal setting for the hippie communes and 
a symbol of the hippie era, was a home city of such blues, folk, 
country, and rhythm-and-blues oriented bands as Quicksilver 
Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the 
Holding Company, The Charlatans, Country Joe and the Fish, Jef- 
ferson Airplane, MU, and 13th Floor Elevators (originally from 
Texas) to enumerate only the most important ones. 9 
Such bands as Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Grate- 
ful Dead promoted Leftist and anarchist ideas in their life styles, 
although they were also successful in commercial terms. The 
bands' songs expressed such problems as the generation gap, 
loneliness, living on the road, love and peace issues. Further- 
more, the musicians underlined the significance of mystical pow- 
ers and psychedelic visions inspired by LSD in the young Ameri- 
cans' lives. Such issues were depicted in "The Fool", "Dino's 
Song", or "Freeway Flyer" by Quicksilver Messenger Service, 
and "Mountains of the Moon", "Rosemary", "Vida Lee Blues", 
or "Sitting on the Top of the World" by Grateful Dead. Country 
Joe and the Fish, "the wittiest, most political and most reflec- 
tive of San Francisco 'acid' rock bands,,,lo directly criticized (from 
the socialist Leftist position) the American political system, es- 
pecially Vietnam war. Their attitude was displayed in such songs 
as "I Feel like I'm Fixin' to Die," "Flying High," "Section 43," 
"Superbird," "Who Am I?" or "Acid Commercial". 
The above instances prove that the themes undertaken by 
San Francisco groups were typical of the rock hippie bands of 
the era (including groups form New York and Los Angeles). 
Moreover, the songs written by the musicians in this region dis- 


9 Other groups, including Family Tree, Faun, Laurence Frelingetti, Fever 
Tree, Gentle Reign, The Great Society, Indian Puddin' and Pipe, Mad River, 
The Mojo Men, The Mystery Trend, Salvation, Serpent Power, The Sons of 
Champlin, Sopwith Camel, Stoneground, T. I. M. E., and West were less known. 
10 Joynson V., After the Acid Trip, p. 22.
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The Utopian Dream about Freedom and Paradise... 


227 


play the strong influence of drugs: LSD, marihuana and the like 
Were the stimuli of the psychedelic visions rendered later in the 
Songs performed by the drug-using bands in front of the drug- 
Using audience. 


b) Los Angeles 
Similarly to San Francisco, Los Angeles was a home city of 
numerous hippie groups experimenting with LSD in their every- 
day lives. Los Angeles musical scene, however, was more com- 
mercially oriented than San Francisco's one as it was organized 
around the rules of entertainment industry (record companies, 
clubs, etc.)]]. Musical inspirations for songs of such bands as The 
Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Kaleidoscope, Love, The Bees, The 
Giant Sunflower, Goldenrod, The Hook, The Leaves, Limey and 
the Yanks, Moby Grape, Painted Faces, Research 1-6-12, Spirit, 
or Sunday Funnies can be found in pop, acoustic folk, country, 
honky-tonk, or acid rock. Furthermore, several Los Angeles bands 
preferred intellectual experiment and avant-garde ideas often sup- 
Plemented by pop or blues arrangements to commercial orienta- 
tion. This category includes, among others, The United States of 
America, Tim Buckley, and Ya Ho Wa 13. 
Joe Byrd's projects, The United States of America and Joe 
Byrd and the Field Hippies, employed the Wild West honky- 
tonk tracks, psychedelic hippie sounds, and rhythm'n'blues tra- 
ditions in their compositions. Byrd's most mature and important 
source of inspiration came from the electronic avant-garde of 
Contemporary music (Pierre Henry, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and 
John Cage). Pop melodies supplemented by electronic sounds 
generated by synthesizers, ring modulators and oscillators were 
accompanied by the hippie-like ironical texts inspired by chil- 
dren stories, political events or youth counter-culture. The above 
tendencies were reflected in such songs as "Love Song for the 


-- 


II Ibidem, p. 4.
>>>
228 


Marek J ezinski 


Dead Che," "Cloud Song," "Coming Down," "Garden of Earthly 
Delights" or "You Can't Ever Come Down." 
Tim Buckley started his career as a folk singer whose songs 
displayed jazz influences. In the late sixties Buckley changed 
his pop-folk orientation to fusion jazz, and jazz avant-garde in- 
spired by Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane or Don Cherry, and, 
more importantly, to such contemporary music composers as John 
Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. On the mature albums ("Lor- 
ca;" "Starsailor"), his unique voice was treated as an instru- 
ment and became an integral musical part of the drug influenced 
recordings 12 . In his song lyrics, influenced by chemical stimu- 
lators, impressionism and surrealism, Buckley commented on 
war and peace issues, loneliness and human relationships. A soli- 
tary man confronted with the outside world whose rules force 
him or her to act against the values he or she believes in was at 
the center of his musical and intellectual interests. Such issues 
were depicted in "No Man can find the War," "Starsailor," 
"Morning Glory," "Goodbye and Hello," "Driftin," and "Song to 
the Siren." 
In the late sixties and seventies the band Va Ho Wa 13 (from 
Hollywood) created surrealistic psychedelic visions accompanied 
by electric rock beats, dense drum lines, tribal chants, and blues. 
The band was described by Joynson as "the bunch of Hollywood 
misfits... [whose] albums are extremely rare and musically very 
weird... largely mellow, mystical and probably drug-induced.,,13 
Moreover, Ya Ho Wa 13 successfully combined vital and raw 
blues arrangements with a specific sense of humor that was 
aimed at Hollywood-like pictures of love and conservative fam- 
ily relationships. In their music, the group went on the mystical 
voyages through time and space understood both metaphorically 
and literally as the powers of the human mind and the cosmos. 
These mystical and drug influences found their best manifesta- 


12 He died of a heroin overdose on June 29th, 1975. 
13 Joynson V., After the Acid Trip, p. 88.
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The Utopian Dream about Freedom and Paradise... 


229 


tion in the following songs: "I'm Gonna take you Home," 
"Voyage," "Across the Prairie," or "Time Travel." 
This part of Los Angeles' scene resembled the experimental 
and intellectual tendencies displayed by the New York's bands: 
bebop, sonic experiment, and strong connections with literature 
Were at the core of the artistic and musical interest. 


c) East Coast 


The East Coast arena was comprised of New York clubs and 
Boston with its "Bosstown Sound" (e.g. Ultimate Spinach). Un- 
doubtedly, New York artists developed the style which can be 
described as more intellectual and more deeply affected by the 
European tradition and the radical industrial workers' associa- 
tions of the 19th and 20th century than the ones from San Fran- 
cisco or Los Angeles. This fact is connected with the cultural 
past and present of "the Big Apple": bebop jazz inspired sonic 
experiments while the beatnik tradition that combined surreal- 
ism, dadaism, and the influences of the French modernist artists 
of the 19th century Paris (Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine) af- 
fected the lyrics of numerous groups, including The Fugs, Holy 
Modal Rounders, Silver Apples, Cromagnon (from Connecticut), 
Lothar and the Hand People, or Pearls Before Swine l4 . 
The leaders of The Fugs were three beatnik poets: James Ed 
Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg and Ken Weaver. Within the musical 
Context, the group was unique because of the organic relation 
between poetry and sound. The group employed such musical 

onventions as blues, cabaret music, rock, country and western, 
Improvisations (improvised poems), and the specific heterogene- 


-- 


14 Apart of the experimentally oriented bands, there were numerous groups 
PlaYing "regular" psychedelia music. The names of The Tea Company, The 
Galaxies IV, Gandalf the Grey, The King Bee, The Magicians, The Myddle 
Class, The Sacred Mushrooms, The Youngbloods can serve as the examples of 
the phenomenon.
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230 


Marek J ezinski 


ous style of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in their 
recordings. Inspired by the nineteenth century modernist French 
movement and the beatnik writers (Neal Cassidy, William Bor- 
roughs, Jack Kerouac, or Allen Ginsberg who cooperated with 
the group in 1968), the band was perceived as a link between the 
beatnik generation and hippies: Sanders commented "we were 
too young to be beatniks, and too old to be hippies. We managed 
to be in the middle.,,15 The Fugs' poetry dealt with the issues of 
love, the place of an individual in history, mythology or history, 
employing such poetic traditions of the past centuries as the an- 
cient Greek poet Sappho, or British Romantic (Percy B. Shelley's 
"Ozymandius") and Victorian (Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach") 
poets ("Ramses II is Dead, My Love," "Carpe Diem," "The Garden 
is Open," "Crystal Liaison"). They also commented on current 
American politics, war and peace question, and social patholo- 
gies ("Exorcising the Evil Spirits From the Pentagon, Oct. 21, 
1967", "Slum Goddess;" "Supergirl," "Kill for Peace," "Wide 
Wide River," "We're the Fugs," and "Dirty Old Man"). . 
The band put the anarchist and social-democratic ideas into 
practice l6 . The group's members were the founding fathers of 
Youth International Party, they released their magazine (Sanders' 
"Fuck you: a Magazine of Arts"), and they were both poets and 
social activists. In other words, the Fugs' leaders were engaged 
in numerous undertakings to promote active culture inspired pri- 
marily by political ideas. The radical attitude to politics was also 
expressed in The Fugs' poems and accounted for a considerable 
part of their artistic output. The vision of society presented in the 
Kupferberg's poem "Nothing,,17 serves as the best illustration of 


IS Kupferberg T., Sanders E., Trafilismy w srodek (Interviewed by Bo Pers- 
son), NaG/os, 18/19, (1995), p. 102. 
16 Ibidem, p. 104. 
17 Monday - nothing. Tuesday - nothing. Wednesday, Thursday-nothing, 
Friday - for a change a little more of nothing, Saturday once more nothing. 
January - nothing. February - nothing. March and April - nothing, 
May and June are nothing, July also nothing...
>>>
The Utopian Dream about Freedom and Paradise... 231 


a social program based on anarchist ideas. The signs of cultural 
(artificial and ideal) and political (famous thinkers, despots, or 
state symbols) origin are brought together and ridiculed by 
Kupferberg as a means by which the Western culture is repro- 
duced in time and space. A phrase "nothing," as a diagnosis of 
the contemporary culture condition, reflected anarchist attitudes 
re-presented by the band (the group, however, did not propose 
Positive solutions to the discussed problems). 
Tom Rapp's ideas realized in the band Pearls Before Swine 
consisted in bringing together folk, psychedelic, and beatnik 
traditions, surrealism, and Bob Dylan's style into a unique and 
coherent form. In the texts, Rapp combined mystical visions, 
philosophy, impressionism, specific sense of humor, and surreal- 
ism with contemporary political and social issues. The problems 
Were reflected in such songs as "Regions of May," "Another 
Time," "Uncle John," "(Oh Dear) Miss Morse," "Drop Out!," 
"The Cowboy Who ate Vietnam," "I saw the World" in which 
Rapp put together the influences. of Buddhism, deism based on 
the solipsist foundations, and the anarchist anti-war attitudes. 
The bands Cromagnon (from Connecticut) and Silver Ap- 
ples (from New York) employed electronic devices (oscillators, 
modulators, etc.), monotonous rhythms, atonal fragments, noise, 
irritating pulsation, and deliberate repetitions in their recordings. 
Therefore, in their artistic creations, music, and life itself were to 
be perceived through the prism of dirt, loneliness, and pain. The 
feeling of. isolation maintained by strict social and cultural 
boundaries is the central aspect of the Silver Apples' vision of 
life in the metropolis. Cromagnon in turn evoked tribal, "cave" 
instincts in order to draw cultural parallels between the prehis- 


-- 


ViI/age Voice - nothing, New Yorker - nothing, .Sing Out and Folkways - nothing, 
Harry Smith and AI/en Ginsberg - nothing, nothing, nothing... 
Karlos Marx - nothing, Engels - nothing, Bakunin, Kropotkin - nothing, 
Leon Trotsky - a lot of nothing, Stalin - less than nothing. 
Nothing (by Tuli Kupferberg, 1965)
>>>
232 


Marek Jezinski 


toric past and the present. Both groups seemed to ask a funda- 
mental question about the future: where will the industrial devel- 
opment, which created cities perceived as beehives for human 
beings, lead the human kind as a whole? The enumerated issues 
were depicted in "First World of Bronze," "Fantasy," "Organic 
Sundown," or "Caledonia" by Cormagnon, and "Fractal Flow," 
"Oscillations," or "Program" by Silver Apples. 


Conclusions 


Undoubtedly, from today's perspective it is difficult to judge 
how deeply involved in politics the psychedelic groups were. The 
estimation should be based first of all on the song lyrics, mani- 
festos and the artists' life style. The fact that a band performed 
acid rock of some kind did not entail the anarchist or political 
involvement. On the other hand, however, taking part in psyche- 
delic counter-culture and in the creation and activity of local 
hippie communities can be interpreted as a fact of considerable 
political or at least social importance. Music and community life 
were supposed to alter young people as the responsible actors of 
social interactions. An individual (a hippie, a beatnik, etc.) was 
perceived as a conscious agent of the social agenda, the one who 
is able to express the demands opposing the older generations 
and fixed patterns of behavior, and realize them through com- 
munity life. 
On the other hand, in the USA there were many bands which 
expressed critical attitudes to the psychedelic hippie sub-culture 
and its aesthetic forms of manifestation. Such artists and bands 
as Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefueart 
and His Magic Band, or a large group of punk artists (The 
Stooges, MC5, The Seeds, Suicide) displayed an ironically criti- 
cal disposition to the hippie counter-culture, by pointing to its 
artificial character, irrational ideas, the impossibility of the cul- 
tural revolution within the petrified system of the welfare state,
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The Utopian Dream about Freedom and Paradise... 


233 


or the weaknesses and utopian character of the social program 
promoted by the hippies. Thus, the anarchist ideas were per- 
Ceived as attractive slogans with no potential for acting in order 
to change the hitherto existing status quo. 
Apart from the musical or aesthetic achievements, the com- 
munity aspect seems the most important value left by the neo- 
anarchist psychedelia of the sixties. As already mentioned, the 
Youth revolution was commercialized and put into officially ac- 
Cepted and easy to control forms. Therefore, it should be as- 
sumed that the psychedelic counter-culture did not achieve the 
supposed ends as regards the change of the social system as 
a whole. 


References 


JOynson v., 1988.- After the Acid Trip: the Flashback. The Ultimate 
Psychedelic Music Guide, Borderline Productions: Telford. 
IUpferberg T., Sanders E., 1995, TrafiliSmy w srodek (Interviewed by 
Bo Persson), NaGlos, 18/19, 1995. 
Malinowski A., 1983, Mil wolnosci. Szkice 0 anarchizmie, Ksi'lZka i Wie- 
dza: Warszawa.
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


DARIUSZ PESTKA 
Nicholas Copernicus University, Toruii 


John Zorn and his Concept 
of the Jewish Downtown Jazz 


Music for entertainment [...] seems to complement the re- 
duction of people to silence, the dying out of speech as 
expression, the inability to communicate at all. It inhabits 
the pockets of silence that develop between people molded 
by anxiety, work and undemanding docility [...] It is per- 
ceived purely as background. If nobody can any longer 
speak, then certainly nobody can any longer listen [...] 
Today [.. . the] power of the banal extends over the whole 
society. 
- Adorno, The Philosophy of Modern Music, New York: 
Seabury Press, 1973, p. 271. 
'" if one plays good music people don't listen, and if one 
plays bad music people don't talk. 
. - Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, Lon- 
don: Ernest Benn Limited, p. 21. 


The way the theme of the present conference is formulated _ 
The Local Colors of the Stars and Stripes - implies that se- 
lected aspects of American culture are to be approached from the 
Standpoint of their local nature. Needless to say, the concept of 
locality suggests the existence of centrality. In view of the above 
statements, does John Zorn, a Jewish avant-garde composer and
>>>
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236 


Dariusz Pestka 


musician based in New York, stand for the locality of the cen- 
trality then? And how to interpret powerful Japanese influences 
upon John Zorn's art? They do not fall into the category of the 
local oriental-colored Stars and Stripes; they retain the quality of 
their own locality, that of cherry blossoms. Thus in Zorn's music 
the locality of the centrality is fused with the locality without the 
U. S. boundaries altogether. 
The notion of locality thus makes sense if we take it for granted 
that something like the center of the overall structure does exist. 
However, as Oerrida puts it, "at the center, the permutation of the 
transformation of elements [...] is forbidden. [...] Thus it has I 
always been thought that the center, which is by definition 
unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which while I 
governing the structure, escapes structurality.,,1 In the light of 
this, the center is at the same time within and without the totality. 
And if "the totality has its center elsewhere [and] the center is 
not the center,"2 what does the term "local" imply? Something 
more prone to the substitution of its elements, to the permutation 
of their transformation? John Zorn's obses,sion with breaking 
stylistic barriers in music unites the locality with centrality and 
externality, denoting his origin, his absorption with the New York 
urban landscape, and his Japanese inspiration respectively. 
John Zorn was born in New York in 1953. He played a vari- 
ety of instruments before studying saxophone and composition at 
Webster College in St. Louis in the early 1970s. After a few 
years of experimenting in New York clubs and playing impro- 
vised music for the record company Parachute John Zorn's re- 
nown was established as a result of his collaborations with other 
avant-garde musicians such as Fred Frith, Bill Laswell, and Arto 
Lindsay. His involvement in no wave movement was then con- 


I Jacques Derrida, Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human 
Sciences, in: Modern Criticism and Theory, ed. David Lodge (London and New 
York: Longman, 1988), p. 109. 
2 Ibidem, p. 109.
>>>
John Zorn and his Concept of the Jewish Downtown Jazz 237 


solidated by his founding the Knitting Factory club in 1985, 
where the downtown jazz uncompromisingly fused divergent 
kinds of music. The record company Tzadik, established by him 
five years later, reinforces this inclination to combine such con- 
trasting motifs as hard-core and chamber music on the one hand, 
and attempts to explore Jewish cultural identity on the other. 
Thus the echoes of jazz, avant-garde, and classical are haunt- 
ingly adorned by Jewish scales and modes borrowed from the 
klezmer tradition. 
The creation of the Tzadik label was the result of Zorn's dis- 
satisfaction with the music presented to consumers. In this case, 
What resulted was a revolt of both the consumer and musician 
Who turned to production of iconoclastic, avant-garde and radi- 
cal music. His radical production contests the idea of popular 
music being just another hierarchical system in which consumers 
take what is offered without question. In view of this, the term 
"Radical Jewish.. Culture" coined by Zorn reflects his opposition 
to the "culture industry" that is little different from the industries 
manufacturing vast quantities of consumer goods as well as against 
the treatment of music as one of the products made and distributed 
according to rationalized organizational procedures and for the 
Purpose of profit maximization. As the music industry appears an 
eXceptionally brilliant "villain," its constant attempts to control 
creativity, to compromise aesthetic practices, and to offer audi- 
ences little real choice are effectively countered by pampering its 
favorites, 90cile and controllable enough to remain in the public 
eYe for some time. Unsurprisingly, the most favorable reviews of 
Zorn's albums had been written by some of the country's most 
notable jazz critics before he decided to stop cooperating with 
mainstream commercial record companies. Incidentally, the po- 
sition of post-war popular music has never been quite comfort- 
able; first its misfortune was that it was considered shocking, 
then subversive, and now its plight is that it is expected to be re- 
spectable, the term respectability being confined to its business 
efficiency. This tendency cannot be changed easily, as popular
>>>
238 


Dariusz Pestka 


music has become by now one of the most profitable industries. 
As early as the mid seventies it had become the most important 
cultural expression in the United States and "the core of a $2 bil- 
lion business that dwarfed other entertainment industries.,,3 
John Zorn was trained in classical composition, initial inspi- 
rations being the American composer-inventors Charles Ives and 
John Cage. Then he developed an interest in jazz and his later 
jazz idols included Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, and Ro- 
scoe Mitchell. Since 1974 he has been active on New York's 
Lower East Side, a leading representative of the downtown 
avant-garde, applying game theory to structure a free improvisa- 
tional method. A game piece is based on such a method of group 
improvisation where the structure of the piece denoting the rules 
of the game is set by a prompter at performance time, and the 
players have, complete freedom within the structure. It differs 
from free improvisation in jazz because of the prompter as well 
as it differs from contemporary classical aleatory music repre- 
sented by Cage, Stockhausen, and Pousseur and from conduction 
in the complete absence of musical notations of any kind. The 
playful and whimsical connotations of the word "game" are also 
relevant to Zorn's game pieces. 
The game pieces demonstrate Zorn's effort at creating musi- 
cal structures that don't dictate how things sound but give the 
proper insight into the manner in which they work when com- 
bined together. Thus the composer creates structures and situa- 
tions for improvisers to perform in. The structures may be as 
simple as providing an order for the possible solos, duos, trios, 
and quartets available for a particular size ensemble and then 
providing specific ways in which participating musicians can in- 
terrupt this order. In all of the game pieces a prompter, who does 
not play an instrument during the piece, keeps track of where 
players are within the structure, making sure that everyone 


3 Chapple, S. and Garofalo, R. Rock'n'Roll is Here to Pay: The History 
and Politics of the Music Industry (Chicago: Nelson Hall, 1977), p. xi.
>>>
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John Zorn and his Concept of the Jewish Downtown Jazz 239 


knows what is going on. The prompter acts as a referee or con- 
ductor, making choices when more than one player desires to in- 
terrupt the proceedings and otherwise shaping the music as it 
progresses. While these pieces, in part, grow out of the modern 
tradition of aleatoric and intuitive music created by such avant- 
garde composers as John Cage, Earl Brown, Christian Wolff, 
Pauline Oliveros, Jerry Hunt, Mauricio Kagel, and Karlheinz 
Stockhausen, Zorn's game pieces differ primarily in the nature of 
the structured interactions and performer choices allowed, and in 
Zorn's use of musicians who are more comfortable with impro- 
Vising in several styles of music. 
The term "kaleidoscopic" has been used to describe Zorn's 
approach to composing, because his pieces present a quick- 
changing array of disparate sound elements. Zorn constructs his 
music to reflect his fascination with the fast-paced flow of in- 
formation constituting a general tendency in the modern world. 
Interestingly, more than by any other source, Zorn's method of 
composition h
 been influenced by cartoon soundtracks and 
their composers, particularly Tex Avery and Carl Stalling (of the 
Warner Brothers cartoons), whom Zorn equates with Stravinsky 
for the ability to compose a piece from disparate musical ele- 
ments. Speed, the increasing rate at which the world changes, is 
a critical concern for the pace at which his musical moments give 
Way to or collide with one another. 
Obstinate, oppositional, and disjunctive, Zorn's music pres- 
ents a permanent dada where "totality proposes seeing things in 
their connectedness".4 In his music, like in modern philosophy, 
motion is no longer a contradiction to matter, but is. instead its 
essence which testifies to Einstein's theory of relativity as em- 
pirical proof of Hegel's critique of Kant. As a result, it was not 
Only the doctrine of motion and matter as primordial antinomies, 
but also that of the opposition between space and time, that was 
undermined. Zorn's resistance to acknowledge any potential dis- 


-- 


4 Ben Watson, Art, Class & Cleavage (London: Quartet Books, 1998), p. 22.
>>>
240 


Dariusz Pestka 


1 
I 
! 
I 


tinctions, including those between high and low elements inher- 
ent in culture, represented by classical and popular music, can be 
used simultaneously to analyse and denigrate the achievements 
of Western civilization. In this context, John Zorn's scored hard- 
core that can be perceived as a manifestation of unnecessary bra- 
vura has a marked tendency to surface in technically advanced 
art and, more importantly, it can be treated as the deployment of 
commercial devices which has a clarity and sense of purpose that 
makes it experimental. 
As a general rule, popular music is characterized by its dis- 
tinction from serious music. This difference is generally taken 
for granted and is looked upon as a difference of levels consid- 
ered so well defined that most people regard the values within 
them as totally independent of one another. Thus popular music 
is subordinated to the rule of standardization dictating that the 
chorus should consist of "thirty two bars and that the range be 
limited to one octave and one note.,,5 The writing of a song has 
become a mechanical operation motivated purely by commercial 
gain and social manipulation. An instrumental approach to the 
composition of music had led to songs being rationalized to the 
point that the elements could be substituted for each other, just 
like the cogs in a machine. 
Paradoxically, this mechanical substitution principle is thor- 
oughly exploited by John Zorn who ingeniously juxtaposes ele- 
ments commonly considered incoherent as a whole. The result is 
a gradually self-deconstructing piece the cogs of which jar against 
and clash with one another thus outwitting the continuous capac- 
ity of the industry to exploit innovation. This, in turn, proves that 
the division of the cultural field into "popular" and "serious" 
segments is relatively superficial; it should be grasped as a whole. 
What does appear recognizable instead, however, is the existence 
of two contradictory tendencies - music which affirms or ac- 


5 Theodore Adorno, On Popular Music, Studies in Social Science, Vol. 9 
(1941), p. 16.
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1 
I 
! 
I 


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John Zorn and his Concept of the Jewish Downtown Jazz 241 


cepts the social status quo; and music (of the avant-garde) which 
refuses such affirmation. Needless to say, the avant-garde musi- 
cian's and artist's, in general, life is not easy: his "insistence on 
innovation, his refusal to admire art maneuvers that depend for 
their effect on the ignorance of the punter, is condemned as 
'elitism' by those who adopt the patrician model ofculture.,,6 
The band called Naked City is one of John Zorn's most re- 
markable projects. The very name reflects the musician's obses- 
sion with the image of New York as a symbolic underworld of 
a modern metropolis, where violence and bloodshed are a part of 
reality as well as of mythopoeia created by contemporary mass 
media. The resultant music is a brutal mixture of styles played by 
five of N. YC.'s best jazzmen occasionally joined by a wild and 
disorderly Japanese vocalist. The pieces ranged from covers of 
classic film themes (A Shot in the Dark, The Sicilian Clan, The 
James Bond Theme), to rocked out avant-garde jazz, to deranged 
COuntry, to the screaming insanity of hardcore punk, to sinister 
classical pieces '(by Debussy, Scriabin, Orlando Di Lassus, and 
Messiaern among others). Unsurpdsingly, Zorn showed fascina- 
tion with the work of Jean Luc Godard whose jump-cutting 
montage techniques applied in his films are parallel to Zorn's 
approach to music. Like Frank Zappa's, Zorn's approach stems 
from the wide variety of music available on record. However, 

orn does not deflate his sources with "Zappa's besmirching leer, 
It is more a postmodern combination of elements, though a need 
for intensity [present in] Zorn's hardcore affiliations pushes it 
beyond the.usual PoMo smugness."? The heterogeneity of Zorn's 
sources of inspiration is demonstrated in his list calted 'Inspi- 
rations/Refer' directly corresponding to each song in one of the 
Naked City albums entitled Radio. Thus 'American Psycho', one 
of its tracks that is only about six minutes long, is said to have 


-- 


6 Ben Watson, Art, Class & Cleavage, p. 5. 
7 Ben Watson, Frank Zappa: the Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play (Lon- 
don: Quartet Books, 1995), pp. 341-342.
>>>
242 


Dariusz Pestka 


been influenced by: Liberace, Jan Hammer, Napalm Death, Eddie 
Blackwell, Charlie Haden, Mick Harris, Red Garland, The Bore- 
doms, Jerry Reed, SPK, and Roger Williams. 
From a conventional standpoint of music critics and review- 
ers, such a challenging concatenation of effects is usually inter- 
preted as an assault on commonly held belief in aesthetic princi- 
ples of coherence. Ironically, claims to know something about 
aesthetics are an affront to people who claim to know things as 
making an aesthetic judgement is tantamount to breaching the 
golden rule of equilibrium and moderation imposed by the estab- 
lishment in modern society. This rule, skillfully masked as "poli- 
tical correctness" or, more generally, as democracy, demotes sub- 
jective convictions to issues of merely private conscience. Thus 
the simple truth that "thinking is always the negation of what we 
have immediately before us"s expressed by Hegel seems to un- 
dermine the social model promoted today. In view of this, Zorn's 
resentment at the principles governing any musical genre com- 
bined with his display of provocation, self-deprecatory tone, and 
deconstructive violence are as easily exposed to the disapproval 
of more conventional reviewers as to their ambivalent reception 
by the Jewish orthodox communities. 
At the same time, Zorn himself is particularly sensitive to any 
manifestations of others' criticism of the Jewish. Characteristi- 
cally, his apparently postmodern vision of life in the modern 
world as a series of disconnected events, the vision omnipresent 
in his project Naked City, sharply contrasts with Zorn's vener- 
ated attitude to the Jewish tradition represented by such key- 
words forming leitmotifs of his musical creativity as: Tzadik 
("holy man" in Hebrew), Radical Jewish Culture, Great Jewish 
Music, or Bar Kokhba (the leader of the rebellion against Rome 
in 140AD). All these terms are closely related to Masada, the 
musical project started in 1994 which was to become one of 
Zorn's most famous and adventurous. (Masada is the name of an 


8 G. W. F. Hegel, Logic (Oxford: OUP, 1975), p. 17.
>>>
John Zorn and his Concept of the Jewish Downtown Jazz 243 


c 


almost impenetrable mountain-fortress which was where a group 
of Jews stood against the Roman army in a prolonged siege. The 
Romans finally defeated the rebels by using Jewish slaves to 
Construct a ramp up to the main gate. Unwilling to kill their own 
people, the Jews inside Masada could only watch as the slaves 
Were forced to build the ramp higher and higher. Instead of giv- 
ing the Romans the pleasure of conquest, the Jews inside Masadli 
defiantly committed mass suicide.) 
Musically, Masada demonstrates Zorn's attempt at forging 
a new form of Jewish music, one consciously rooted in the past 
and with an eye to the possible future of Jewish culture. Zorn's 
Masada compositions integrate elements of klezmer, Eastern and 
Middle Eastern music with jazz, avant-garde, and classical; all 
of them used to explore Jewish scales and modes in many con- 
texts. This combination indicated a shift in Zorn's intent for his 
output where more traditional-jazz - influenced song writing 
With melodies and changes was explored. Like many earlier 
Zorn's projects, 'it contains not only a musical, but also a political 
message, the starting point of which is an image of Jewish artists 
Constantly afraid of a rejection by a nation they live in and de- 
Voted their efforts to. Being a contemplation of issues of Jewish 
cultural heritage, Masada reflects a new self-assertive Jewish 
identity that seeks to understand the many triumphs and tribula- 
tions of the Jewish Diaspora over the centuries. It is creative in 
the sense that it does not merely constitute a conservative preser- 
Vation of the spiritual and cultural possessions of the community, 
but it creates a living relationship to tradition linking it to current 
Jewish consciousness, which is more often than not expressed 
Outside the framework of orthodoxy. 
Zorn's f
scination with Japan complements an intricate mo- 
saic composed of Jewish heritage and New York deconstructive 
pattern displaying an image of destruction. His obsession with 
Japan ironically refers back to the recurrent motif in American 
Pulp culture of the 50s frequently using supposed documentation 
of Japanese war atrocities to indulge S&M scenarios. The subse- 


f
>>>
244 


Dariusz Pestka 


quent combination of the Japanese and sadomasochism in John 
Zorn gives him unlimited freedom of expression on the one hand, 
and pushes the idea of corporeal ecstasy and suffering to the ut- 
most limit on the other which is epitomized by his Japanese por- 
nographic soundtracks and children's cartoon music. It is the 
covers of Zorn's albums where the themes of cruelty and human 
enormities are so transparent; images of executions, baskets full 
of cut off limbs, a cut off head used for medical experiments are 
only some of the designs used for the Naked City project. 
In religious terms, this obsession with the oriental-stylized 
horror has an affinity with the Old Testament mentality where 
sentimentality and emotionalism in the sense we understand them 
today from the stance of the New Testament-like compassion, are 
absent, being effectively replaced by ice-cold ratiocination on the 
verge of cruelty. Musically, this perception of reality corresponds 
to cacophony; dissonance; rapid changes of tempo, rhythm, and 
stylistic conventions; mathematical precision, and distortion of 
the presented musical forms. Paradoxically, the Western culture 
of today, following the Jewish creed in this respect, is far more 
likely to accept the code of the Old Testament after such recent 
calamities as the two world wars. Hence the parallels functioning 
in Zorn's consciousness between holocaust and Masada or Bar 
Kokhba appear to be more appealing than the Christian associa- 
tions accompanying the advent and the formative period of the 
hippie music, incidentally considered today artless and thus na- 
ive in terms of its leading concept as well as its execution. In 
rock, this tendency to replace harmony, symmetry, and classical 
elements borrowed from Baroque and Romanticism by harsh- 
sounding texture and short, half-articulated din was visible as 
early as in the late sixties in the albums of such bands as Velvet 
Underground or the Stooges; to be developed, or rather brought 
to an even more primitive shape, in the middle seventies in the 
form of the punk boom, which, in turn, in classical forms is re- 
lated to the growing popularity of contemporary minimal and 
laboratory music making use of cacophony and dissonance.
>>>
John Zorn and his Concept of the Jewish Downtown Jazz 245 


Inadvertently or intentionally, sharing the belief of post-punk 
culture that music cannot be understood in terms of transcenden- 
tal feelings, as it used to be interpreted in the era of idealizing 
and thus "naive" and susceptible to commercialism hippie music, 
Zorn takes sides against it with Marxism and Feminism so popu- 
lar today. Ironically, also in this respect, Zorn cannot be merely 
dismissed as conforming to the accepted code of a modern intel- 
lectual rebel. Indisputably, he is more than this being a hyper- 
Original artist. That this avant-garde musician has located him- 
self somewhat comfortably within the context of the theses, ideas, 
and values as controversial as they are widely spread by the so 
called alternative mass media currently, is a different thing - it 
is a symptom of the present time when any manifestation of re- 
volt is effectively publicized and thus undermined. It is virtually 
impossible not to be affected by social manipulation of the cul- 
ture industry, even for an iconoclast artist involved in avant- 
garde music and radical production, where stylistic barriers be- 
tWeen musical genres are blurred. Likewise the definition of the 
local in Zorn poses a difficulty. In view of this, New York liter- 
alIy standing for the centre is iridescent with its multiplicity of 
fOrms the aggressive concatenation of which attacks the listener 
and thus it becomes the epitome of the alien; Jewish scales and 
motifs that are expected to signify the local, become the core and 
the only stable point in Zorn's aesthetics; and, finally; the Japa- 
nese elements used to diversify the musical texture of both Na- 
ked City and Masada projects, express the musician's alter ego 
thus shifting from the peripheral to the status of the alternative. 
In consequence, the center, the local, and the extraneous denote 
externality, centrality, and locality respectively, which testifies to 
the fact that "the entire history of the concept of structure... must 
be thought of as a series of substitution of center for center,"9 
local for local, and external for external. 


- 


9 Jacques Derrida, Structure. Sign and Play, p. 109. 


.....
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


MAREK PARYZ 
Warsaw University 


Some Remarks on the Black Presence 
in Clint Eastwood's Film Unforgiven 


This paper is devoted to the fashioning and functioning of the 
character of Ned Logan in Clint Eastwood's Academy-Award-winn- 
ing film Unforg;ven (1992). The thrust of argument is that whereas 
Ned (played by Morgan Freeman), an African-American, is of para- 
mount importance as far as the very plot is concerned, his presence 
in the film playS- a crucial role in the depiction of other charac- 
ters, in relation to whom he emerges as an analogue or a figure of 
Contrast or, however self-contradictory such an assertion initially 
sounds, both at the same time. In Unforg;ven, we find certain con- 
figurations of characters: duets, trios, quartets, etc., in many of 
Which Ned Logan is in one way or another associated with other 
characters. Richard T. Jameson admits: "I can recall no Western 
(and few films of any kind) that so conscientiously tracks the 
ramifications and interrelatedness of people's actions.") Addi- 
tionally, the characters in the film fulfil specific roles, like those 
of victims and villains, and the implications of the introduction 
of Ned Logan into the film are definitely worth considering from 
this vantage point. For example, along with the prostitutes of Big 
Whiskey, he can be regarded as a representative of a group that 


-- 


I Richard T. Jameson, 'Deserve's got nothin' to do with it', Film Com- 
ment, Vol. 28, No.5 (1992), p. 13.
>>>
248 


Marek Paryz 


simply must conform to and never try to interfere with the harsh 
reality of the world ruled by ruthless white macho types. 
The arguments which this paper puts forward and the con- 
clusions which it foregrounds are based, to a great extent, on 
Toni Morrison's observations formulated in her essay Playing in 
the Dark. Whiteness and Literary Imagination. Although Morri- 
son concentrates on literature, her conclusions are of much wider 
application and reveal, or at least signal, some vital features of 
American consciousness. Basically, commenting upon the black 
presence in American literature from Poe to Hemingway, Morri- 
son states that the introduction of black characters, however un- 
derdeveloped or marginal they appear, or, in other cases, a bewil- 
dering absence of such characters, results in a more profound 
delineation of white characters, who sometimes through only 
a slightly insinuated black presence acquire broader dimensions. 
Morrison maintains that there are several key aspects to be noted 
in the investigation of the Africanist presence. The first is the 
appearance of the black character as "surrogate or enabler;" here, 
Morrison is interested in literary blackness as a vehicle for con- 
veying white writers' thoughts about themselves. Consequently, 
she stresses the self-reflexive dimension of Africanism and con- 
cludes: "African ism is the vehicle by which the American self 
knows itself not as enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desir- 
able; not helpless, but licensed and powerful; not history-less, 
but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of 
evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny." The second 
aspect is the use of Africanist idiom, while the third is "the ma- 
nipulation of the Africanist narrative [...] as a means of medita- 
tion [...] on one's own humanity." The last aspect to be consid- 
ered in the critical investigation proposed by Morrison and, 
admittedly, one of utmost importance for this paper is the "tech- 
nical side" of the introduction of a black character in order to 
"enforce the invention and implications of whiteness.,,2 


2 Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark. Whiteness and the Literary Imagi- 
nation (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), pp. 51-53.
>>>
Some Remarks on the Black Presence... 


249 


This paper concentrates on the importance of Ned Logan in 
the delineation of Will Munny, played by Clint Eastwood him- 
self, but it must be admitted here that Ned's presence in the film 
enhances certain features of such other characters as the Schofield 
Kid, the young partner of Ned and Will and the instigator of the 
whole affair, or Little Bill Daggett, the sadistic sheriff of Big 
Whiskey. Ned Logan and Will Munny are, so to say, birds of 
a feather. They share a gloomy past, in which all their "feats" 
Were achieved in a state verging on alcoholic delirium, and now, 
decades later, they are both ashamed, contrite and remorseful. 
Concomitantly, they painfully realize the passage of time, which 
has brought peace and stability but has "deprived" them of the 
thrill and excitement. While time is a major factor behind their 
transformation, they probably would never have changed so pro- 
foundly if it had not been for their wives. It is owing to their 
wives that their present ways of living look quite alike. Ned and 
Will are farmers and, however boring, tiring, or disheartening 
this occupation 'turns out to be, they would never quit such 
a recipe for existence. There is also some correspondence be- 
tWeen what happens to the two characters at the end of the film. 
Ned Logan dies after a severe beating from Little Bill Daggett. 
Of course, Will Munny does not die; if he did, we would not be 
dealing with a Clint Eastwood movie. Nevertheless, as his friend 
and partner perishes, Will, together with his children, disappears 
from his farm. The viewers learn that when Munny's mother-in- 
law came to the farm to visit her daughter's grave, Munny was 
not living there any longer. All she could resort to were rumors. 
lIence, the lots of Ned Logan and Will Munny, in a sense, mirror 
Or complement each other. The mirroring is evident in, for ex- 
ample, crimes which they committed in their youth or in the pro- 
fession of farming which they took up, the complementarity 
manifests itself most visibly in the fact that Will is a widower 
With two children, while Ned has a wife, though nothing in the 
film implies that they have children. 
John G. Cawelti comments on interracial bonding in Westerns:
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250 


Marek Paryz 


the Western hero almost never appears without some kind of mem- 
bership in a group of males. Often the group of comrades represents 
a marginal or alienated social class with an ethnic or national back- 
ground different from that of the hero: the WASP cavalry officer has his 
Irish sergeant, the cowboy has his Indian, Mexican, and in some recent 
Westerns his Negro companions. 3 
Cawelti adds that the Western hero, let us say: the white 
Western hero, oscillates between the wilderness and the civilized 
community; he loves the former, especially its spirit of freedom, 
and realizes his allegiance to the latter. It is possible to assume 
that the alliance with an alleged savage gives the hero a foretaste 
of the wilderness. Cawelti refers to Leslie Fiedler's discussion of 
interracial male friendship on the basis of Cooper's The Last of 
the Mohicans. Fiedler contends that what lies at the core of such 
friendship is the fear of being pinned down by a woman, the em- 
bodiment of civilization and Christianity, both of which provide 
the ultimate sanction for marriage. He characterizes this type of 
bonding as one "which symbolically joins the white man to na- 
ture and his own unconscious, without a sacrifice of his 'gifts', 
and binds him in life-long loyalty to a help-mate, without the 
sacrifice of his freedom.,,4 Quite predictably, Fiedler's observa- 
tions lead to the conclusion concerning a rather vague boundary 
between male friendship and homoerotic bonding. 
Eastwood successfully erases any possibility of homoerotic 
attraction between Ned Logan and Will Munny and an attempt to 
fit the heroes of Unforgiven into the formula proposed by Fiedler 
would lead to far-fetched conclusions, though it must be admit- 
ted that Munny's abstention from any sexual activity possibly 
offers some arguments in favor of such an interpretation. First 
and foremost, Will was married and Ned still is; the former stiII 


3 John G. Cawelti, The Six-Gun Mystique (Bowling Green: Bowling Green 
University Popular Press, 1970), p. 62. 
4 Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Stein 
and Day, 1982), pp. 211-212.
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Some Remarks on the Black Presence... 


251 


adores his late wife and literally worships her, with his visits at 
her grave turning into a ritual which comprises gazing at her 
Photograph, shaving, dressing up, and putting flowers on her 
grave, whereas the latter longs for his wife and the bed which her 
body warms for him, yet not for a moment does he hesitate when 
an occasion crops up to be unfaithful to her and have some di- 
Version. However, there is something in both marriage and wid- 
owhood as signifiers of peace and stability or of the necessity to 
maintain this stability that both Will and Ned instinctively fear. 
The two are poignantly aware of the passage of time that has 
blunted their senses and stiffened their movements. In one of the 
Opening scenes, Munny shoots at a tin or a bottle with an old 
colt, while his children witness this, but none of the bullets 
reaches the aim. Munny is desperate about his disastrous finan- 
cial situation and the welfare of his children, and we can assume 
that Ned is in similar need, though there is not direct evidence of 
that. Whatever motivation Ned and Will might claim to have, it is 
obvious enough- that the trip to Big Whiskey is their last juvenile 
adventure, and the presence of Ned Logan enhances this aspect. 
It is worth adding that, due to the kind of characters to be found 
in Unforgiven, the film is an interesting variety of the Western 
Subgenre which Cawelti elsewhere calls "the Godfather West- 
ern," which "deals with an aging hero, whose great days seem 
OVer but who embarks upon one more heroic quest or battle.,,5 
It is worth referring to Cawelti and Fiedler once more: the 
former quotes the latter's examples of "good companionship be- 
tWeen outcast white and men of darker skin"; Natty Bumppo and 
Chingachgook, Ishmael and Queequeg, Huck Finn and Jim, Ike 
MCCaslin and Sam Fathers. 6 One immediately discerns a series 
of essential differences which mark each of the enumerated pairs. 
These differences derive from background and experience. It is 


-- 


S John G. Cawelti, Reflections on the New Western Films, in: Focus on the 
Western, ed. J. Nachbar (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1974), p. 116. 
6 Cawelti, The Six-Gun Mystique, p. 62.
>>>
T 


252 


Marek Paryz 


self evident that Ike McCaslin and Ishmael need years to gain the 
wisdom and acquire the skills which Sam Fathers and Queequeg, 
respectively, have long possessed. Thus, in the pairs of characters 
mentioned by Cawelti, race is only one of the differences. The 
formation of companionship, accordingly, consists in recognizing 
and overcoming the differences and discovering some kind of 
sameness that would guarantee a lasting affinity. In Unforgiven, 
by contrast, the proportion between difference and sameness is 
totally reverse. Ned Logan and Will Munny share shameful me- 
mories and have undergone similar transformations. As elderly 
men, they have comparable purposes in life and both intuitively 
crave for adventure. One can conjecture that their childhoods re- 
sembled each other and that as youths they were rather down- 
and-outs, which led to their excesses. They were the same in 
crime and they are the same in honest life. Consequently, in the 
depiction of Ned and Will, sameness prevails over difference to 
the extent that race constitutes no barrier whatsoever. However, 
it is a difference that never disappears and the fact that there are 
no other serious differences between Ned and Will makes this 
one only more disturbing. This paradox is quite in keeping with 
Toni Morrison's observations. 
Race remains the only essential difference because otherwise 
the two heroes differ from each other in particulars. These are 
subtle differences, hinted at in gestures, scraps of conversations, 
situations of apparently lesser significance. For example, Will's 
aging is easier to notice than Ned's. In the shot immediately fol- 
lowing Ned's agreement to go to Big Whiskey we see Munny 
trying to mount his horse and falling down, while Ned sits up- 
right in his saddle. The former can hardly hit the aims he shoots 
at, and the latter, conversely, is still reputed for his capability of 
shooting a flying bird in the eye, which he never denies. Thus, 
Will's awkwardness is juxtaposed to his companion's agility. 
When Will gets feverish after the journey, Ned and the Schofield 
Kid take advantage of the spare time and spend it with the prosti- 
tutes. Once Ned expresses his curiosity at how Will satisfies his
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Some Remarks on the Black Presence.. . 


253 


sexual needs and is surprised to learn that his friend does not go 
to the nearest town to see a prostitute and even refrains from 
masturbation, because he does not yearn for this pleasure so much. 
At the same time, Ned is much more resolute about doing 
things. Even when he hesitates, he does so for a moment, while 
Will seems to permanently ponder over what he has decided to 
do. After Ned has made up his mind to join Will, we immediately 
See him on horseback. When he sheots to kill the younger of the 
cowboys who mutilated the prostitute, and only hits his horse, his 
COuntenance allows no doubt: he will not shoot again, whatever 
the consequences. After this incident he realizes he is no longer 
insensitive and relentless enough to kill, hence his instant deci- 
sion to abandon Will and the Kid, without any claims as to the 
bounty money. Summing up, in whatever he does, Ned remains 
natural; in the case of Will, on the contrary, the source of his de- 
termination appears to be some unnatural compulsion, much at 
variance with his will. 
In UnforgiVen, Eastwood ventures to examine critically a va- 
riety of concepts and categories that have lain at the foundation 
of the Western as a genre, one of such categories being heroism. 
A.dmittedly, heroism is probed in the most exhaustive way in the 
figure of Will Munny, but Ned Logan provides a contrasting 
Point of reference against which certain peculiarities of Munny's 
heroism can be seen in a better light. It is worth stressing that 
Munny is an anti-hero, at least in the beginning, and that in the 
course of the film we observe his transformation from an anti- 
hero into.a hero. This transformation is possible due to Ned Lo- 
gan. Initially, we get to know Munny as an unsuccessful farmer, 
trying in vain to separate sick hogs from healthy ones, and a fa- 
ther who, seemingly, does not enjoy too much esteem from his 
children. He is a man who has lost his entire interest in sex and 
a former gunman who has fogotten how to shoot or mount a horse. 
lie keeps reiterating that he is not the wicked man he used to be 
and that this change was possible because of his wife's dedica- 
tion to him. He is a romantic hero who fears that he might have
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neglected his beloved and did not prevent her death. His every- I 
day chores are a way to pay homage to her and he perceives the I 
decent upbringing of the children as a way to payoff his debt of . 
gratitude. Somehow, in many things he does, Munny appears in- 
ordinate, if not artificial. He dreams of mediocrity to ensure that 
he has really changed. This craving for normalcy contrasts with 
Ned's true normalcy. This is not necessarily a virtue; there are 
things which Ned does that are culpable, like his being unfaithful 
to his wife. Nevertheless, even his affairs with the prostitutes are 
somehow more "digestible" to the viewer than Munny's ritualis- 
tic visits at his wife's grave. 
Up to the moment when Will learns about Ned's death, dubi- 
ousness underlies his involvement in the whole affair as well as 
the efforts which he undertakes to complete their task to kill the 
cowboys. Although he shoots the younger cowboy, it is not to 
death, and he only mortally wounds him. Then he persuades the 
Schofield Kid to kill the other cowboy in the latrine. It is at the 
news of Ned's death that a complete transformation of Will 
Munny takes place; this metamorphosis signifies the dispersal of 
all doubts that haunt Munny on the one hand and a virtually mi- 
raculous recovery of all his talents as a gunman on the other. 
Additionally, the viewer now entertains no doubts as to Munny's 
righteousness. He fights for the underprivileged; needless to say, 
he expects no remuneration, unlike in his engagement by the 
prostitutes. Sheriff Daggett killed Munny's friend, but the victiJTl 
was also a person he could afford to kill without severe conse- 
quences. Lee Clark Mitchell observes: 


Marek Paryz. 


Western heroes are knocked down, made supine, then variously 
tortured simply so that they can recover in order to rise again. Or rather, 
the process of beating occurs so that we can see men recover, regaining 
their strength and resources in the process of once again making them- 
selves into men. 7 


7 Lee Clark Mitchell, Westerns. Making the Man in Fiction and Film 
(Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 174.
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Some Remarks on the Black Presence... 


255 


In Unforgiven, interestingly, Ned gets a beating for MunDY to 
regain his entire strength. As Mitchell adds: "The whole finale 
magically transforms Munny from incompetent hog farmer into 
dazzling exemplar of gunfighter heroism, able single-handedly to 
kill five gun-toting deputies."g 
The death of Ned Logan and the revenge that follows open 
a metanarrative channel in the film. It is thanks to Ned that, in 
the end, we have the Clint Eastwood as we know him from High- 
Plains Drifter or Pale Rider in Unforgiven, too. Eastwood, assur- 
edly an icon from Western movies, resorts to defamiliarization in 
the fashioning of Will Munny. It is only the concluding scene at 
Skinny's saloon that evokes a sense of familiarity in the viewer. 
Eastwood/Munny starts to kill by numbers, his bullets reach the 
aims, while he does not suffer a scratch. In the Westerns which he 
directed or in which he featured, Eastwood embodied characters 
who stood up for the underprivileged, the exploited, the powerless. 
In A Handful of Dollars, he brings freedom to the community of 
a forsaken Mexican town terrorized by two families, in High- 
Plains Drifter - to the exploited inhabitants of a town located 
near a mine, in Pale Rider, finally, to "an accidental community of 
gold panners made up of widows, wives, orphans, and bachelors,,9 
confronted with and persecuted by a ravenous tycoon of gold- 
mining, who employs an army of workers and uses technology that 
overwhelms the simple-minded panners. In Unforgiven, the char- 
acter played by Eastwood stands up for only one person, a deceased 
black man. It is interesting that similar determination and convic- 
tion do not mark Munny and his companions' determination to 
aVenge the mutilated prostitute. It is as if a prostitute had to reckon 
With the risks which her profession entails, whereas a black man 
should not inc
r any suffering merely because he is black. There 
IS perhaps an unintended bias in the fact that the prostitutes have 


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8 Mitchell, Westerns, p. 262. 
9 Henry Sheehan, Scraps of Hope. Clint Eastwood and the Western, Film 
Comment, Vol. 28, No.5 (1992), p. 26.
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Marek Paryz 


to pay money in order to accomplish their revenge and Ned, by 
contrast, gets the same for free, as if he were to be treated more 
kindly. On the other hand, there is an element of transaction here. 
Namely, in being an honest man whose murderer cannot roam 
around unpunished, Ned is concomitantly reduced to a pretext for 
Munny to enter the rich gallery of Eastwood's gunmen. 
Munny is just one of the characters whose assorted quirks are 
foregrounded in Unforgiven. In fact, in constructing the charac- 
ters in the film, Eastwood often makes use of caricature, which 
means that he needs some backdrop against which the tinges of 
caricature can be recognized. It goes without saying that the 
whole tradition of the Western as a movie genre provides such 
background. On the other hand, if Eastwood had created only 
a world of weirdos, Unforgiven would never have received the 
acclaim which it did enjoy. The film itself contains a certain plat- 
form of reference which enhances some characters' foibles. If we 
deal with oddity, the way to present it is by means of contrast 
with normalcy. Ned's natural demeanor has already been men- 
tioned. Alongside him, the prostitutes collectively constitute 
a contrasting background for the delineation of such characters 
as Little Bill Daggett (a mythomaniac and a do-it-yourself fan 
building a house), English Bob (a British aristocrat in the Wild 
West), the Schofield Kid (an initiate gunman suffering from short- 
sightedness), the two cowboys (caricatures of villains, one too 
innocent, the other too primitive to be truly evil) as well as WiIl 
Munny. Summing up, there are two factors in the film which help 
to sensitize the viewer to the quirks of an individual macho type 
and to the warpings of the macho world at large: gender and race. 
Henry Sheehan discusses the function of the prostitutes in terms ; 
of "humanization;"lo doubtless, similar importance can be as- . 
cribed to Ned Logan, "the most humane and gentle of outlaws.,,11 


10 Sheehan, Scraps of Hope, p. 27. 
II John G. Tibbets, Clint Eastwood and the Machinery of Violence, Litera- 
ture/Film Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 1(1993), p. 16.
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Some Remarks on the Black Presence... 


257 


Although in Unforgiven we have two important characters of 
racial background different from that of other characters, race is 
never really recognized as a crucial issue. Toni Morrison claims 
that evasion characterizes critical discourse on race: 
in matters of race, silence and evasion have historically ruled liter- 
ary discourse. Evasion has fostered another, substitute language in 
Which the issues are encoded, foreclosing open debate. The situation is 
aggravated by the tremor that breaks into discourse on race. It is further 
complicated by the fact that the habit of ignoring race is understood to 
be a graceful, even generous, liberal gesture. To notice it is to recognize 
an already discredited difference. 12 
Perhaps Eastwood could be accused of the kind of "gene- 
rosity" Morrison talks about since, at first glance, race is never in 
the foreground, it never becomes the subject of an utterance. 
Nonetheless, there is a lot to be achieved owing to Ned Logan's 
presence in Unforgiven, and there must be some design to it. Es- 
sentially, if Ned were to be white, we would end up with an un- 
convincing revenge story, set in a weird world. Recapitulating, 
Ned's presence in the film guarantees its narrative harmony. 


--- 
I' 
- Morrison, Playing in the Dark, pp. 9-10.
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LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torno 2001 


MARTA WISZNIOWSKA 
Nicholas Copernicus University, Torun 


Transcoding America: 
America's Shakespeare and Poland's America 


The present paper aims at examining two instances of Shake- 
spearean appropriations in fairly recent American films, The 
Tempest directed by Paul Mazursky (1982) and Romeo and Juliet 
directed by Buz Luhrmann (1996). Bombarded with various im- 
ages from utmost realism of the (un)real studio situations to vir- 
tUal reality, cinematic audiences "are hard to surprise. The films 
chosen for examination are not to surprise but to denote a cul- 
turalIy significant instance, where the plays go beyond readily 
acceptable ways of presentation, even though the range of Shake- 
sPeare's adaptations seem to expand rapidly. 
Since its young days cinema has always been looking at lit- 
erature with a greedy eye to adapt. I Excluding the shaky category 


- 


I Brian'McFarlane, Novel to Film. An Introduction to the Theory of Adap- 
tation, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996; Roger ManveIl, Shakespeare and the 
Film, London: Dent, 1971; Robert Shaughnessy, ed., Shakespeare on Film, 
London: Macmillan, 1998; Graeme Turner, Film Languages, in: D. Graddol & 
BOYd-Barrett, eds., Media Texts: Authors and Readers. A Reader, Clevedon, 
PhiIadelpia, Adelaide: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 1994, 119-135; Nicholas 
WayweIl, Robert Shaugnessy, editor, Shakespeare on Film, in: Times Literary 
SUpplement, January 22, 1999, no. 4999, 33 (review article); Andrzej Weselin- 
Ski, The Modern Novel and Film, Warszawa: Wyd. Uniwersytetu Warszaw-
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260 


Marta Wiszniowska 


I 
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of fidelity, which McFarlane (1996, 166) called "scrupulous trans- 
fer of the transferable" a special kind of infidelity or incredulity 
rather will be reviewed presently, that is the launching of some 
encoded images of America, thus justifying the label of "Amer- 
ica's Shakespeare." 
For comparison the above will be juxtaposed with some fairly 
recent images of America as rendered in televised performances 
and films by Polish playwrights and directors, such as Slawomir 
Mrozek, Janusz Glowacki and Janusz Zaorski, constituting "Po- 
land's America.,,2 
The outward incompatibility and the lack of symmetry be- 
tween these texts can be overcome, as they will be treated as in- 
stantiating some complex transcodification processes. Briefly, 
the process of acculturation and its consequences will be touched 
upon. 


America's Shakespeare: 
between New York, Greek islands and Verona Beach 


The above title may scare fidelity fans, but so would the 
open-air scenes launching both films. The beauty of a Greek is- 
land and an American-looking beach immediately indicate that 
the public will be exposed to a different Shakespeare or to differ- 
ent Shakespeares, because the logistic and the rationale behind 
each adaptation differs considerably. 
The immediately observable diversity denotes the use of 
Shakespeare's text, its absence from Mazursky's film, which only 
obliquely refers to the plot, and, by contrast, the text mutilated in 


skiego, 1999; Marta Wiszniowska, ... by action dignified... British Theatre 
1968-/995: Text and Context, Torun: Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika, 1997, 
pp.110-164. 
2 Video recordings 'have been used to discuss Luhrman, Mazursky, Glo- 
wacki, Mrozek and Zaorski.
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Transcoding America: America's Shakespeare... 


261 


LUhrmann's film. What finds its way into the films in the process 
of adaptation is a certain politically correct vision of America, 
amounting to a stereotype for sale. Mazursky's version poses 
Several questions concerning the so called "free adaptation," 
whatever it means in the world of intertextual exchanges and 
palimpsestic overwriting. To facilitate the presentation The Tem- 
pest must have its plot summarized first. ' 
Unfolding chronologically and via flashbacks, the film en- 
compasses the life of a successful New York architect, Philip 
Demetrius (of Greek descent), his actress-wife Antonia and their 
teenage daughter, Miranda. Suffering from a mid-life crisis, Phi- 
lip goes to Greece, meets a young American there, and all three 
of them settle on a beautiful island off the shore. The only native 
inhabitant there is a Greek shepherd, Calibanos. Philip wants to 
build a theatre there, Calibanos to seduce Miranda, and to make 
the island attractive for tourists, thus to earn a living. But truly 
breathtaking scenery is insufficient to balance primitive living 
conditions, PhIlip's (now Prospero's) refusal to have sex with 
Areta, and Miranda's longing fo
 civilization (a TV set, pop mu- 
sic, etc.). A rescue party arrives with Philip's wife and her pres- 
ent partner (a financial tycoon) to collect Miranda back to school, 
hence back to civilization. 
On Philip'slProspero's wish (due to a coincidence rather than 
mastery over people and nature - not evidenced earlier in the 
film) a storm breaks out and the intruders are shipwrecked. Div- 
ing in the sea Miranda meets Freddie, the son of her mother's 
lover and they instantly fall in love. A scene of reconciliation 
fOlIows, where everybody forgives everybody else and is for- 
given. As the camera moves away from the island it subsequently 
focuses on a view of New York and a helicopter coming to land. 
Three people emerge; it is the Demetrius family back in New 
York - together. The sound track of "We'll Turn Manhattan into 
an Isle of Joy" ends the film. 
Several juxtapositions converge, that of high society, money 
and success, the shallowness of human relationships and the ar- 


J.-
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262 


Marta Wiszniowska 


rogance of the rich, traffic jams and unspoiled nature, emotions 
and landscapes. The film's virtue or vice is supporting existing 
American stereotypes, which are ultimately preferred over the 
natural beauty of the Greek island and the so called "simple life." 
After geographical and emotional adventures, the protagonists 
return to their previous lives in New York, to crowded streets, 
posh parties, wife swapping, the banality of friends and rudeness 
of bosses, and other artifacts of postmodern society. 
Philip jumping from rock to rock in a dressing gown, Caliba- 
nos luring Miranda into his cave where she can watch TV - 
such are the instances the film abounds with. To label them as 
parody or pastiche seems slightly off the mark. Perhaps the most 
appropriate label would be travesty - a consciously degrading 
form of stylization, which strives to turn serious into comic. 
"Consciously" should indicate an awareness of the original. Sev- 
eral elements would readily support the travesty claim. Philip as 
Prospero makes the most striking instance. Not only is he unable 
to manage his own life, but also the lives of others. Furthermore, 
his white magic consists of reading old newspapers and com- 
plaining of not getting any update on baseball results. 
The perverse message of Mazursky's Tempest reinforces and 
sanctifies certain stereotypes of America. The Tempest dwells on 
one of the most banal images - that of easy money and afflu- 
ence, stating (probably to console the less successful viewers) 
that though the rich are rich, they are ill mannered, while those 
not too rich lead stressful lives. Yet, whatever the drawbacks of 
either social position, modern civilization is made irresistible. 
Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, advertised as the sexiest 
film on young love, obviously adopts a different point of depar- 
ture. The plot unfolds according to the original with the Shake- 
spearean text accompanied (mutilated beyond understanding due 
to the elocution of non-Shakespearean actors) and frequently 
drowned in pop tunes, the sounds of a modern seaside resort, 
helicopters, police sirens and loudspeakers. The play is rendered 
as a piece of televised news with the inscription "star-crossed 


J...
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Transcoding America: America's Shakespeare... 263 
lovers" (star-cross'd in Shakespeare) showing on the screen. 
A black newscaster conforms to the correct racial balance. 
The postmodern is evidenced in free associations, where props 
and locations have been modernized. Though, truth to tell, the pre- 
sent propensity towards globalization hardly makes skyscrapers 
a solely American image. The same holds true for advertiserments 
and billboards, in spite of being in English but consisting of inter- 
nationally recognized images (the Coca-Cola logo). However, the 
prevailing ones are those traditionally associated with America _ 
from skyscrapers to gang battles, big money and the uncouth rich. 
The use of the Shakespearean text invites a radical rethinking 
of the notion of the sign. The sign is no longer a de Sausserian 
category - arbitrary and thus unchangeable, but a floating sig- 
nifier that takes up various signfieds. Strikingly so, the word 
"sword" used by the characters is visually substituted with mod- 
ern guns; some of them blasphemously decorated with a picture 
of the space Virgin Mary. 
The eventS'-in Verona, now Verona Beach, are gathered into 
a collage, spotlighting the odd, ugly, pretentious, shabby, vulgar 
and non sequitur. The milieu, the entourage, even the parents of 
Montague and Capulet have been fashioned after gangster mov- 
ies. The film abounds in distorted images, striking costumes and 
exaggerated make-up (i.e. Father Laurence has a big cross tat- 
tOoed on his back). The film's props become a rubbish dump of 
Olodern civilization, where every gadget, however useless, ugly, 
gaudy or out of place, is incorporated into the framework of the 
story. It is a bizarre visual hyperbole. Such images easily cancel 
Out the not too precise image of Verona in Shakespeare's play. 
It may come as a surprise (or not) to realize that the film ad- 
heres to and subverts the principle of racial equality. Mercutio is 
a black drag queen, the Prince is black, Tybalt looks Hispanic 
and other members of the gang are either Asian-looking or white 
neo-nazi. In this way, the film imperceptibly sells the less sunny 
side of American reality. Another feature is the postmodern ra- 
cial mix the film is garnished with.
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264 


Marta Wiszniowska 


The film crosses a delicate border between classic and popu- 
lar literatures, between high and low genres. The inability to 
sustain the traditional distinction has been one of basic assump- 
tions of postmodernism. The film makes excessive use of cine- 
matic special effects. Accordingly, Shakespeare's adaptations have 
been increasingly acquiring a vaster and vaster arsenal of props 
and more and more stress on the non-verbal. Also it has become 
fashionable to criticize our civilization by exposing its shabbi- 
ness and falsity. In both of these Shakespeare adaptations, mild 
criticism (stress on mild) of civilization supports the status quo, 
manipulating sympathies and extenuating final acceptance. The 
Tempest is peopled with likeable characters and the vision of 
America retains the quality of a glossy postcard from a package 
holiday. On the contrary, Romeo and Juliet aims at an artistic 
provocation. 


The innocents abroad - Poles in America 


Due to several historical occurrences "Empire writes back," 
to use Salman Rushdie's postcolonial idiom. Though it has pri- 
marily been employed in postcolonial studies, here it is being 
appropriated to denote two issues. First, that American cultural 
expansion has been met with creative responses coming from the 
countries to which the American film industry has successfully 
been exporting its productions. Second, somehow naturally it 
voices certain reservations coming from various European coun- 
tries complaining of cultural imperialism. We have been living in 
an age of various responses to the Americanization of culture, 
particularly popular culture. The responses I want to examine 
come from Polish dramatists and filmmakers. Slawomir Mrozek's 
play Emigres (1974, also available in a TV version) and Janusz 
Glowacki's Hunting Cockroaches (1986) and Antigone in New 
York (1992, available ditto) and Janusz Zaorski's film Happy 
New York (1997) testify to a reversal of Jamesian juxtaposition.
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Transcoding America: America's Shakespeare... 


265 


The innocents are the newcomers from Poland, Puerto Rico 
and Russia. The immigrant population lives through a series of 
intercultural encounters; all ending tragically because of their 
lack of understanding of the ways in which American society 
operates. Besides linguistic and cultural discrepancies, various 
American institutions come under attack for their attitude to- 
Wards the immigrants, characterized by the absence of syntonia 
and empathy; bureaucratic formalism and sadistic implementa- 
tion of law and order; and shallowness of human relations. The 
plays reveal enough insight to underline the differences that 
make it impossible for the newcomers to be integrated into the 
host country/culture. The host is slow to understand and accept 
foreign ways; moreover, the immigrants' traditions and cultures 
hamper the process of acculturation. At the end of Glowacki's 
/funting Cockroaches, the narrator having observed an intelli- 
gentsia couple from Poland (a writer and an actress) hopes that 
with time, they will succeed, in the very words offering the 
American presCl:iption for success: 
Very soon the diligence, perseverance, integrity, and modesty so 
typical of the people from the eastern part of Europe will prevail. Our 
hero will receive the Pulitzer Prize and our heroine will win the hearts 
Of Broadway audiences. I hope you have enjoyed the evening. Good 
night and God bless you! God bless America!3 
Though the above quotation voices the opinion of an Ameri- 
can narrator, it is the immigrants who by taking part in or relating 
various events build up the overall immigrant experience. That 
shared experience has been rendered in an episodic structure, ac- 
Cording to which seemingly unconnected events will make a com- 
Prehensive whole (not unlike the strictures of a well-made play). 
The protagonists are innocent but mainly of American culture, lan- 
gUage and society. The immigrants are shown as minced by the 


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3 Janusz Glowacki, Hunting Cockroaches, in: Hunting Cockroaches and 
Other Plays, Evanston: Ill., Northwestern University Press, 1990, p. 130.
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266 


Marta Wiszniowska 


sly, underhanded, ignorant and uncouth representatives of the host 
country. These representatives are a policeman and an immigra- 
tion officer. Ignorance, preconceived ideas and distrust - initiate 
no dialogue between cultures. 4 Naturally, the rift between the rich 
and the poor has been explored. Yet, as already stated American 
society is virtually absent from Mrozek's and Glowacki's plays. 
Such seeming lack of balance redirects the plays inwardly, to in- 
dicate that the immigrants retain certain qualities which bar them 
from being incorporated into American society. Their flaws hap- 
pen to be minor or major, often ironically rendered. Inertia, drink- 
ing and boasting would seem insignificant enough, if it had not 
distorted their perception of reality. Insisting on giving John (Anti- 
gone in New York) a proper burial, which turns out to be a hole in 
Central Park, sounds ridiculous. And yet, that prevents the body 
of being put into a nameless grave, without friends around, proper 
candle lighting and memories exchanged. The scene in which the 
homeless bury their homeless friend eloquently argues for their 
case - if one is poor does it necessarily mean that one is 
stripped of dignity? As in Sophocles, Antigone died, Glowacki's 
Puerto Rican Antigone will hang herself on the gate of Central 
Park, thus protesting the law and choosing ultimate freedom. 
Not all plays end with death and disaster. However, they all 
question the stereotype of America as the land of plenty: plenty 
of money and opportunities. Not didactic enough (fortunately, 
too), the plays also reveal the shortcomings of the immigrants, 
their inflexibility, attachment to former values and lack of in- 
sight. Unquestionably the fate of immigrants differs considerably 
from what they film on videocassettes and send home to their 
families (as the protagonists of Zaorski's film do). 
The plays referred to affirm a difference between 'good old 
cultural Europe' and other countries where people are friendly if 


4 Marta Wiszniowska, Cinderella, Antigone, and Fortinbras. Fellow tra- 
vellers in Glowacki's American Odyssey, in: Marta Wiszniowska, ed., Amer- 
ica's Cultural Crossoroads, Tomn: Wydawnictwo UMK, 1996, 163-176.
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Transcoding America: America's Shakespeare... 267 


poor, and the successful but primitive America. Thus the plays 
promote yet another stereotype of America contrasted with 
Europe's pride - its cultural history, exemplified in Hunting 
Cockroaches with a rare edition of Goethe in German which the 
Polish couple has been trying to sell all in vain. 


Happy New York - (un)happy in New York 


A fairly recent Polish film entitled Happy New York (1997) 
deserves a special mention, for a variety of reasons. Its script has 
been compiled from a novel (Rat-Poles) and a play (Miracle on 
Green Point) by one of the best Polish satirical writers - Ed- 
Ward Redlinski. Still, fidelity or the absence is outside the scope 
of our investigation. What should be investigated is the breaking 
away from the common stereotype of immigrants as victims or 
"the innocents 
broad." 
Divided into three separate slots, ending up with Christmas, 
the film adheres to a stronghold of Polishness - a family Christ- 
Olas, an imitation of which the group of immigrants is going to 
Jive through. The seeming separateness of every story and every 
life - story progresses towards a miraculous resolution. After 
all, Christmas is the season of happiness and consequently wish 
fulfillment. The aura of miracle, which happens on Christmas 
Eve, is acceptable because culture specific miracles can happen 
then. YetI it also indicates that the immigrants' problems cannot 
be resolved in real(istic) terms. 
As in Mrozek and Glowacki, American characters are almost 
non-existent in the film. Coming to America to make money, the 
POles work very hard but get eXploited because they have neither 
a work permit nor a green card. Some have also learned that there 
are devious ways money can be made and subsequently thrive on 
Crime. The Poles are shown to swindle, rob and even maim their 
fellow countrymen, too. In order to earn money a man is shown
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268 


Marta Wiszniowska 


to offer a Polish prostitute to other Poles and exacting money for 
her services. It turns out the pimp is probably the girl's father. 
Besides the lure of easy and not so easy money, the Poles 
confront their image of America with the reality there with initial 
fascination turning into disillusionment. By conforming to the 
foreign standards, the Poles feel they have been partaking in 
a colossal swindle. In the first one they were objects, as a charac- 
ter confesses: "The greatest Communist swindle was the hope 
from the West." Later they have turned into perpetrators: "Why 
are we voluntarily helping America to take in the whole world 
beginning with our nearest and dearest?"s The latter refers to the 
videocassettes sent to Poland and watched there, providing an 
altogether false picture of the immigrant existence. 
A balanced view of the Polish community in America allows 
for a varied and happy ending, due to the aforementioned cul- 
turally specific reading of Christmas. As a result of wish fulfilI- 
ment, those who refuse to accept American ways return home 
and are shown happily singing carols at Christmas, surrounded 
by children, or otherwise reunited with their families. The pro- 
tagonist who wanted to "become American" is seen at a naturali- 
zation ceremony. He is one of many representatives of various 
races and colors. As the camera pans from face to face of the neW 
citizens, the Pole is the only one to wear a tie with the Stars and 
Stripes and the only one down whose cheek a tear rolls. This 
lonely tear is left without a comment. 
The faces of the people singing the anthem signify both ac- 
culturation and otherness. Here they are - adhering to the nec- 
essary ceremony of becoming American citizens. Ironically, they 
represent various races and still wear their national costumes. 
How long it will take them to look like the black American con- 
ducting the ceremony is anybody's guess. For otherness can be 
maintained and used as a form of superiority. The film is open to 
various interpretations. It shows how thick or thin the facade of 


S The quotations come from the film sound tracks.
>>>
- 


Transcoding America: America's Shakespeare... 


269 


national culture is, whether it is tradable or not and what the 
process of acculturation is like. 


Conclusion 


- The above instances meant to touch upon at least two vital 
Contemporary issues - the use of classics as a "reusable memory 
bank"6 - a reservoir from which topics may be taken, twisted 
and turned at will. The latter instance proves that the film indus- 
try (not only in US) lives of adaptation. Our postmodern reality 
poignantly labeled as "the culture of the copy,"? provides further 
evidence for such prevailing tendencies. 
- To label the present as postmodern a whole catalogue of 
characteristics can be composed, such as aporia, fragmentation, 
decanonisation, irony and hybridization coupled with excessive 
Use of modern -gadgets, annihilating traditional images of propri- 
ety and convention. America's Shakespeare and Poland's Amer- 
ica carnivalise the "non-carnivalisable." For all the differences, 

 permanent crisis in values dominates, rendering acculturation 
Impossible. 
- Comparing the incomparable reveals new grounds for 
eValuation. Americanized Shakespeare promotes both positive 
and negative images of America. Polish plays and films present 
another angle of view, a different perspective, an ironic comment 
On what America has meant for many Europeans and non-Euro- 
Peans alike. Local stereotypes are seen to gradually crumble and 
be dismantled. Some of them survive. There does not seem to be 
any preference, any consultation/consolation offered to immigrants. 


- 


6 Patrice Pavis: The Classical Heritage of Modern Drama: The Case of 
POstmodern Theatre, in: Modern Drama, vol. 29, no. I (1986), 1-22. 
7 Terence Hawkes, Making = Taking. The Culture of the Copy, Striking 
Likeness. Unreasonable Facsimiles by Hallel Schwatz, in: London Review of 
Books, 31 July (1997),16.
>>>
270 


Marta Wiszniowska 


There is no moral guidance, either. They must stick to what is 
good for them provided they can get away with it. 
_ The poignant absence of any dialogue between cultures 
should be taken as a warning. Not to politicize the issue, Pavis's 
proposition of a theoretical model of the hourglass of cultures 
can be brought to our attention. Primarily, the hourglass is demo- 
cratic by nature, for the top part can become the bottom one if 
turned round, then there are several stages to be fulfilled to reach 
exchanges between two cultures to take place. Though Pavis does 
not use the term acculturation and restricts his model to theatre, 
it can probably be extended and tried out to encompass the proc- 
ess of acculturation, where exchange does not mean loss of 
identity. 8 As it is we may still have to rely on miracles. 


8 The model has been reprinted with the Publisher's permission in my 
Preface to America's Cultural Crossroads.
>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


Section 
 Minorities Write Back 


CHERYL ALEXANDER MALCOLM 
{J niversity of Gdaiisk 


Regions of the Soul or Bad, Bad, Boys? 
Bruce Jay Friedman's, When You're Excused, 
You're Excused and Lady 


"- 


God can be beheld in each thing 
and in each pure deed. 
(Martin Buber) 
Friedman has said that his writing is inspired by an impulse 
to open forbidden doors. "I'm curious," he explains, "[about] the 
dark areas you're not supposed to tamper with."l In "When 
You're Excused, You're Excused" (from Friedman's first collec- 
tion of short stories, Far from the City of Class and Other Stories 
1963) and "Lady" (which forms part of About Harry Towns 1974, 
a novel comprised of six sections or short stories) those "dark 
areas," or regions, are found in a New York underworld of drugs, 
crime, and sex. They are also found in the literal darkness of the 
dusk to pre-dawn setting in both texts and in the metaphorical 


-- 


I Jerry Stahl, Conversation With Bruce Jay Friedman, The Transatlantic 
Review, No. 60 (1978), p. 58.
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272 


Cheryl Alexander Malcolm 


darkness of Friedman's "black humor" style. The language and 
organization of the narratives, which make "When You're Ex- 
cused, You're Excused" resemble an extended joke, and "Lady" 
read like a cocaine user's manual, make these male protagonists 
appear not merely "bad" but irredeemably so. They also make 
these texts seem anything but serious. However, the endings sug- 
gest otherwise. The significance of Yom Kippur in the first text 
and the funeral rites in the second one, point to complex themes 
beyond the seeming lack of seriousness of Friedman's writing. 
"When You're Excused, You're Excused" and "Lady" will be 
shown to be tales of redemption which reaffirm that Jewish 
American literature creates its own region - a spiritual one - 
or region of the soul. Friedman's rendering of the redemption 
theme will be shown to follow in the tradition of comedic treat- 
ments of spiritual issues thereby placing these Black humor 
pieces within not outside the traditions of Jewish American lit- 
erature. 
In these two short stories, Friedman ventures into the "dark 
areas" of the soul as much as into the depths of urban America. 
In Tom Wolfe's view, the short story ["Lady"] so obviously takes 
place in New York City that he "could supply the names of the 
New York restaurants in the piece, but Friedman can't bring him- 
self to name the city, much less the joints inside it - so powerful 
is the new convention of No Place Name.,,2 Just as the setting is 
recognizably New York City in spite of there being no explicit 
geographical markers in "Lady," a theme of redemption is con- 
veyed without obvious religious markers. The absence in the text 
of reference to traditional Jewish mourning rituals such as the 
rending of garments, covering of mirrors, and shivah or seven 
days in which close family and friends sit together in grief, 
similarly does not detract from the "Jewishness" of the protago- 
nist. Instead, it contributes to the view that the protagonist of 


2 Tom Wolfe, Introduction, in: The Secret Life of Our Times: New Fiction 
from Esquire, ed. Gordon Lish (New York: Doubleday, 1973), p. 23.
>>>
Regions of the Soul or Bad, Bad Boys?.. 


273 


"Lady," like the protagonist of "When You're Excused, You're 
Excused" and of Friedman's Stern (1962) a decade earlier, is 
"alienated from Judaic values.,,3 Friedman's protagonists may not 
exhibit religious faith or adherence to Jewish law and practices 
but this does not necessarily mean, as some critics would sug- 
gest, that Judaism is "absent" from these texts. The importance 
of Jewish religious rites and their symbolism in "When You're 
Excused, You're Excused" and the parallels to such rites in 
a Son's response to his mother's death in "Lady" attest to the 
Jewish thrust of Friedman's writing. 4 
In Friedman's writing, as in much of Jewish American litera- 
tUre, the "Jewish experience is often rendered in very oblique 
terms - not necessarily minimizing its full impact.,,5 For exam- 
ple, while it is true that the protagonist of "Lady" is "light years 
aWay in many surface respects... from those inhabitants of east- 
ern European shtetls or the ghettos of New York City and Chi- 
Cago. His life-style [as a successful screenwriter who lives in an 
extravagantly o'verpriced apartment] is probably three generations 
removed from Isaac Bashevis Singer's Gimpel or from Sholom 
Aleichem's Hyman Kaplan. Harry Towns is a classic schlemiel 
fig ure .,,6 Harry Towns is not only unlucky, but as Friedman 
Writes in "The Blind Side," also included in About Harry Towns, 
"he never seemed to get any huge lessons out of the things that 
happened to him.,,7 Kessler in "When You're Excused, You're 
Excused" is similarly a schlemiel who does not learn from but 
responds ,to what befalls him. By the end of both texts, however, 


- 


3 Max F. Schulz, Bruce Jay Friedman (New York: Twayne, 1974), p. 42. 
4 Evelyn A very, Bruce Jay Friedman, in: Dictionary of Literary Biogra- 
Phy: Twentieth Century American Jewish Fiction Writers, ed. Daniel Walden 
(Detroit: Bruccoli Clark Book, 1984), p. 93. 
S Melvin J. Friedman, The Schlemiel: Jew and Non-Jew, Studies in the 
Literary Imagination, Vol. 9, No. I (1976), p. 144. 
6 Friedman, The Schlemiel, p. 144. 
7 Bruce Jay Friedman, The Blind Side, in: All Our Secrets Are the Same: 
New Fictionfrom Esquire, ed. Gordon Lish (New York: Norton, 1976), p. 41.
>>>
274 


Cheryl Alexander Malcolm 


both protagonists exhibit free will and make moral choices which 
reaffirm their backgrounds thereby "returning" these protagonists 
to them. Kessler reaffirms his Jewishness. Towns acts as he per- 
ceives a good son should. Collective identity and filial duty are 
upheld on the positive note on which both texts end. Yet this is 
not to suggest that these protagonists cease to be schlemiels or 
that their lives will be transformed. Instead, their choices at the 
end of these texts, choices based on selfless devotion, illustrate 
that even fools can be good and that such acts, however small, 
have worth. 
Although several generations removed from immigrant writ- 
ers such as Cahan and others whose characters respond to Amer- 
ica in terms of their European pasts, Friedman similarly presents 
characters who "move" between two worlds - material and 
spiritual, represented respectively by the pleasures of New York 
City and religious or filial responsibilities. Presented as "geogra- 
phically mobile and culturally uprooted... severed from family, 
community, and tradition," they do not feel fully at home any- 
where. s While this fits the image of the wandering Jew, Fried- 
man's protagonists can also be seen to represent "the contempo- 
rary self-indulgent American.,,9 "When You're Excused, You're 
Excused" and "Lady" are thus not only about the difficulties of 
being Jewish American but wider issues of the condition of being 
a human being. This places these texts in a tradition of Jewish 
American literature, particularly comic writing, which goes back 
to the immigrants who parodied the Talmud and Psalms in cri- 
tiques of urban American materialism in the 1880's,IO The origins 
of social satire in Jewish American literature can in fact be 
traced back to European Yiddish folk culture. The Purim players 
and entertainers or badchanim at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs 


8 Avery, Bruce Jay Friedman, p. 73. 
9 Ibidem. 
10 Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers (New York: Harcourt Brace Jova- 
novich, 1976), pp. 75-76.
>>>
Regions of the Soul or Bad, Bad Boys?.. 


275 


who parodied and lampooned their subjects were predecessors of 
the Yiddish American satirists at the start of the twentieth cen- 
tury who used laughter "to teach the immigrant population and to 
guide them in their dealings with the complex problems of their 
newly adopted society.,,11 
The comic juxtaposition of levity with gravity, the everyday 
with the exalted, and contemporary realities with Biblical allu- 
sions have long been a part of literary responses to the often 
Conflicting double identity of being both a Jew and an American. 
By laying bare the perversions, "hang ups," "sacred cows," and 
taboos of urban America in a climate of growing irreverence in 
the 1960's and 1970's, Friedman's writing fits in with this tradi- 
tio n . 12 Black humor with its jarring juxtapositions is arguably 
a Jewish American comic tradition which is evident from its pres- 
ence in so many areas of Jewish American culture. These range 
from the mix of American working class and European shtetl 
humor which emerged from the Borscht Belt or Catskill summer 
resorts where tummlers or Jewish' comedians have performed on 
stage and off in the manner of Medieval j esters since 1904 to the 
Comedy of Woody AlIen. 13 According to Sanford Pinsker, Allen 
"characteristically muses in juxtapositions" producing "a prose 
style in which airy ideas and gritty urban details are forced to 
share floor space in the same paragraph, and often on opposing 
sides of a semicolon.,,14 The scene from Play It Again Sam, in 
which Allen tries to get a date with a suicidal woman standing in 
front of a Jackson Pollock in the Museum of Modern Art, cap- 
tUres "the mayhem of madcap juxtapositions, one frame of refer- 


-- 


II Kenneth Wishnia, At Home in Exile: The Living Paradoxes of Moyshe 
Nadir's Early 20th-Century American Yiddish Satire (Discussion and Trans- 
lation), MELUS, Vol. 25, No.1 (2000), pp. 55-56. 
12 Schulz, Bruce Jay Friedman, p. 25. 
13 Joyce Wadler, The Fine Art of Mountain Tumm/ing, Esquire, June (1985), 
P. 245-46. 
14 Sanford Pinsker, Woody AI/en's Lovably Anxious Schlemiels, Studies in 
A.merican Humor, Vol. 5, No.2, 3 (1986), p. 177.
>>>
276 


Cheryl Alexander Malcolm 


ence - popular, modern, awestruck - bombarding the other - 
classical, philosophical, reverent - with matzoballs": 
Allen: What does it say to you? 
Woman: It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous 
lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of Man 
forced to live in a barren, Godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in 
an immense void with nothing but waste, horror and degradation, form- 
ing a useless bleak straitjacket in a bleak absurd cosmos. 
Allen: What're you doing Saturday night? 
Woman: Committing suicide. 
Allen: What about Friday night?15 
Ironic conjunctions of this kind are a characteristic feature of 
Jewish American humor. How much this form of humor extends 
throughout Jewish American culture can be glimpsed from the 
popular and religious press. Reform Judaism, like many publica- 
tions intended for an ethnic readership in America, features ad- 
vertisements for travel agents and moving companies. What is 
distinctive, however, is the form of humor used to sell their 
services. Allusions to the departure of the Israelites from Egypt 
feature in an advertisement for a travel agent specializing in 
tours of Israel ("We measured the land with our own feet. ") and 
in the name for a moving company called "Exodus Relocation 
Services.,,16 Such humor which derives "the grin from the grim" 
is generally called Black and would appear from its prevalence in 
such a variety of forms to be "traditionally comfortable" for many 
Jewish American writers. 17 Since editing Black Humor (1965) 
(which featured writing by Edward Albee, James Purdy, Joseph 
Heller, Thomas Pyncheon, and John Barth), Friedman is associ- 
ated with Black humorists. Yet, what he prefers to call "tense 


15 Mark Schechner, The Conversion of the Jews and Other Essays (New 
York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), p. 53. 
16 Reform Judaism, Winter (1998), p. 98. 
17 Howard 1. Ehrlich, Observations on Ethnic and Intergroup Humor, Eth- 
nicity, No.6 (1979), p. 391.
>>>
Regions of the Soul or Bad, Bad Boys?.. 


277 


Comedy" may be considered characteristic of Jewish humor in 
general, particularly with regards to the treatment of religious 
subject matter. 18 
The "sudden thrusting downward from the exalted to the 
Workaday, from the tragic to the trivial" is the dynamic produced 
in the movement between the solemnity of the Yom Kippur set- 
ting and the outrageous misadventures of the protagonist in 
"When You're Excused, You're Excused" and between the fu- 
neral rites for a mother's death and a cocaine addict's pursuit of 
the perfect high in "Lady. ,,19 Neither of the protagonists in these 
texts could remotely be called religiously devout nor Jewish in 
the sense of observing the traditions of Judaism. Yet a pattern of 
alIusions to specifically Jewish religious observance makes this 
an issue in both short stories. In "When You're Excused, You're 
Excused," the protagonist excuses himself on the grounds of ill 
health from religious attendance on the eve of Yom Kippur. As 
the evening progresses, he goes on to excuse himself from other 
obligations as a Jew, a husband,- and citizen in the community. 
J.Iis descent into immoral and illegal activity is punctuated in 
the text by his reiteration of the words "When you're excused, 
YOu're excused." As a result, the first transgression - failing to 
observe Yom Kippur by going to a temple or remaining at home 
- is directly linked to other acts including, drunkenness, adul- 
tery, drug taking, and complicity in a murder. Exempting oneself 
from the observance of a religious holiday is thus presented as 
a dangereus first step toward exempting oneself from the obser- 
vance of all social, moral, and other laws. The speed with which 
the narrative moves from one sketchily drawn location, set of 
Cartoon-like secondary characters, and one transgression to an- 
other, suggests a domino effect where immoral behavior is con- 
c
rned. But the protagonist's moral downfall is not irreversible. 
By the end of the narrative which coincides with the dawn of the 


-- 


18 Schulz, Bruce Jay Friedman, p. 25. 
19 Shechner, The Conversion of the Jews, p. 50
>>>
278 


Cheryl Alexander Malcolm 


next day, he reaffirms his collective Jewish identity (albeit by 
defending the reputation of a minor league Jewish baseball player) 
and returns home sobbing to his wife. 
There is considerable significance in the final image of the 
protagonist "sobbing" at the end of "When You're Excused, 
You're Excused." Rather than implying a weakness of character, 
the tears suggest Kessler's positive transformation. This is in 
keeping with themes of repentance and reconciliation or the es- 
sence of the Ten Days of Penitence (Yom Kippur and the preced- 
ing period of Rosh ha-Shanah) which are the setting and so inte- 
gral to the plot of the short story. Friedman's choice of the word 
"sobbing" to describe Kessler also has significance beyond merely 
conveying the depth of the protagonist's emotional state. It serv- 
es as an aural and visual reminder of the Yom Kippur setting by 
alluding to the ceremonial blowing of the temple shofar or ram's 
horn. The length and duration of blasts are named for sobbing 
(shevarim) and wailing (teruah) and are intended to replicate 
these human sounds. 20 The first reference to the shofar is at the 
beginning of the text when Kessler setting out for a gym instead 
of temple says "I started to imagine there was a squadron of old 
rabbis prowling the streets taking down the names of Jews who 
were going off to gyms. When the railroad whistle sounded, I 
thought it was a ram's horn, and the wind tonight is like the wail 
of a thousand dying ghetto holdouts.,,21 
Hearing the shofar or call to repentance and redemption is 
also alluded to in two crucial scenes featuring human ears. The 
first is when Kessler nibbles on a girl's ear as someone had once 
done to his wife. This leads him to commit adultery and other acts, 
both immoral and illegal, in the course of the night. The second is 
in the final scene when Kessler is fighting with the girl's brother 


20 Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish (New York: Pocket Books, 1968), p. 511. 
21 Bruce Jay Friedman, When You're Excused, You're Excused, in: How We 
Live: Differentiations and Confusions, ed. Penny Chapin Hills and L. Rust 
Hills (New York: Collier Books, 1968), p. 660.
>>>
Regions of the Soul or Bad, Bad Boys?.. 


279 


and bites off a piece of his ear. This latter act can be read as sym- 
bolizing Keppler's own desire to be heard and his ability finally 
to hear the call to go home and end the night's transgressions on 
a note of defending his Jewish pride. All inferences before the 
fight scene indicate that Kessler is deaf to the call of the shofar. 
The words "When you're excused, you're excused" resemble 
a refrain which symbolizes the moral deafness of Kessler as he 
reiterates the same response in seeming disregard of the increased 
gravity of each new situation in which he finds himself. Thus, 
when the short story ends with '" I may have been excused', they 
heard him call back in the early morning, 'but I wasn't that ex- 
cused' ," the change in response indicates a change of heart. 22 
The title "Lady" is equally symbolic when it is applied first 
to cocaine then by inference to the protagonist's mother. When 
the protagonist has to choose between making a drug deal and 
attending his mother's memorial service, the moral dilemma is 
comparable to that which Kessler faces when his exercise night 
conflicts... with Yom Kippur. Since from the start of the text, Harry 
Towns's cocaine addiction' is obvious (nearly all of "Lady" is de- 
voted to descriptions of the look, taste, and rituals of obtaining 
and taking the drug), and his grief at the loss of his mother attests 
to his love of her, the choice of one "lady" over another is pre- 
sented as a formidable challenge for the protagonist. 
The opening words of "Lady" equate cocaine with purity, high 
holidays, and virility: "When it was good, it was of a smooth 
consistency and white as Christmas snow. If Harry Towns had 
a .slim silver-foil packet of it against his thigh - which he did 
two or three nights a week - he felt rich and fortified, almost as 
though he were carrying a gun. ,,23 In the ensuing pages, the pro- 
tagonist's addiction is depicted as a form of adoration with fre- 
quent parallels to religious zealotry and ritual. When Harry Towns 
and other addicts share stories of their best "highs," the scene 



2 Friedman, When You're Excused, p. 669. 
23 Bruce Jay Friedman, Lady, Esquire, January (1973), p. 98.
>>>
280 


Cheryl Alexander Malcolm 


evokes parable telling. At one point, the protagonist even reflects 
that the table on which he prepares his drugs reminds him of 
a Passover table and its associated rituals. Sniffing a capsule of 
amyl nitrate off of "a switchblade knife with a yellow-haired 
teen-ager on the other side... reminded Towns of a religious 
ceremony in which a hotly peppered herb was placed beside 
something delicious to remind worshippers of the hard and easy 
times of their forebears. ,,24 
When the protagonist of "Lady" sets out to finish his entire 
supply of cocaine on the eve of his mother's funeral, the infer- 
ence is that he wishes to physically cleanse himself in prepara- 
tion for the onset of public mourning. This is evident from the 
way in which he takes the drug. By not waiting to feel the effects 
of one dose before taking another, the experience is devoid of 
pleasure. "Normally, he would take a snort, luxuriate in it and 
wait for a noticeable dip in his mood before he took the next one. 
This time he didn't wait for the dips," Friedman writes. 25 Compa- 
rable to Kessler's moral awakening in the final scene of "When 
You're Excused, You're Excused," Towns exhibits a sense of 
moral conscience which had previously seemed not to exist. He 
spurns the company of his drug dealer, choosing instead to be 
alone with thoughts of his mother and memories of his attempts 
to make the last months of her illness pleasant. His failure in the 
latter is typical of other failures in his life and matches the lack 
of pleasure on this night of drug taking. 
Thus for all that this last scene is one of many which shows 
Towns taking drugs, it differs considerably from earlier ones. 
Towns's mood is mournful. The atmosphere is somber. Thoughts 
of Town's mother supersede those of the other "lady" in his life. 
Although Friedman concludes the short story on the eve before 
the mother's funeral, it is foreshadowed in this final drug scene 
in which Towns is so altered. 


24 Ibidem, pp. 101, 153. 
2S Ibidem, p. 157.
>>>
Regions of the Soul or Bad, Bad Boys?... 


281 


Comparable to the end of "When You're Excused, You're Ex- 
cused" in which Kessler returns metaphorically to his Jewish 
roots and by inference physically to his wife and home, "Lady" 
Concludes with Towns figuratively returning to his mother. The 
latter is an obvious symbol of the protagonist's Jewish origins 
and is associated with times at "the old summer resort" _ an al- 
lusion to the Borscht Belt where euphoria would have come, not 
from narcotics, but the comic rendering of the Jewish condition 
and a too frequently tragic collective past. By concluding these 
short stories with images of spiritual "return," Friedman presents 
his protagonists as redeemed, however briefly, because of their 
choices. Although it may seem ridiculous that Kessler defends 
a Jewish baseball player instead of Jewish dietary law or his 
marriage vows and that Towns sets out to destroy his cocaine 
SUpply by consuming it rather than by some other means, the fact 
that these protagonists are fools does not undermine the theme of 
redemption. It actually links this redemption with one of the fun- 
damental Hasidic principles of hallowing. As an event it begins 
With choosing 'and deciding. "Man cannot approach the divine," 
explains Martin Buber, "by reaching beyond the human; he can 
approach Him through becoming human.,,26 It may be stretching 
the point to say that Kessler and Towns are holy fools. Yet, the 
everyday is hallowed by these figures, ever briefly, even if ab- 
Surdly, making tales of redemption of these short stories which 
reaffirm a place for humanity in the modern world. 


- 


26 Martin Buber, quoted by Robert Kegan, The Sweeter Welcome: Voices 
for a Vision of Affirmation: Bel/ow. Malamud and Martin Buber (Needham 
Heights, Massachusetts: Humanitas Press, 1976), p. 20.
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


PATRYCJA BARAN 
The Catholic University of Lublin 


Toni Morrison's Version of Black America 
and Redefinition of Some Popular Myths 


Toni Morrison, undeniably one of the greatest voices in Ameri- 
can letters, has been known for her preoccupation with the issues 
of race, history, and gender. Being black and female but, never- 
theless, successful, Morrison seems to represent the American 
ideal of prosperity and serve as a living advertisement for the 
American Dream. However, in her novels, Morrison remains faith- 
ful to her African roots and tribal sensibility, drawing attention to 
the fact that in a multicultural society there may exist other con- 
cepts of reality and values than the ones imposed by the domi- 
nant culture. Morrison's characters, determined by their mythic 
past, perceive America through the prism of their West African 
heritage, thus providing new insights into contemporary Ameri- 
can life. The purpose of this essay will be to demonstrate how 
Toni Morrison challenges the notion of America as the Promised 
Land and offers new interpretations of some popular Western 
concepts. I will base my analysis on two of her novels: The 
Bluest Eye and Sula, in which the tension between the cultural 
values of white society and African mythic consciousness seems 
most dramatic. 
By making the life of black communities central in her nov- 
els, Morrison questions, what Harryette Mullen calls, the myth of
>>>
284 


Patrycja Baran 


white America. 1 This notion of the United States as a white na- 
tion may be related to the myth of white purity and superiority 
whose roots go back to the Puritan tradition. Whiteness, with all 
its symbolic implications, had been used by abolitionist writers 
as the standard of humanity, constructing the African-American 
subject as a black body with a white soul. 2 Thus, for many black 
Americans assimilation and adoption of white values seemed the 
only way to move from the margins of society to its center and 
become part of the white community. Assimilation, however, re- 
quired negation of one's own cultural identity in favor of white 
norms and ideals, thus splitting the self and leaving the person in 
the position of being neither white nor black. 
The conflict between Western and African cultural percep- 
tions and the dilemma it generates for black Americans seem to 
be among the major concerns of Toni Morrison's fiction. In her 
first novel, T.he Bluest Eye, Morrison sets out to question the 
adequacy of the white norms and ideals for representing the 
black self. The novel begins with a primer-like text describing 
the model of an American family: 
Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very 
pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the 
green-and-white house. They are very happy. See Jane. She has a red 
dress. She wants to play. [...] See Mother. Mother is very nice. Mother, 
will you play with Jane? Mother laughs. Laugh, Mother, laugh. See Fa- 
ther. He is big and strong. Father, will you play with Jane? Father is 
smiling. Smile, Father, smile... 3 
This opening passage serves not only as a perfect example of 
a typically white text, but also reveals how the white values and 
standards are inherent to the concept of American life. In what 
follows, Morrison breaks up and deconstructs the primer text, 


I Harryette Mullen, Optic White: Blackness and the Production of White- 
ness, Diacritics, Vol. 24, No. 2-3 (1994), p. 74. 
2 Ibidem, p. 84. 
3 Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (New York: Penguin Books, 1994), p. 3.
>>>
Toni Morrison's Version of Black America... 285 


rewriting it first without punctuation and capitalization, then also 
without spaces between words or sentences. In so doing, the 
author rejects the artificiality and idealism of the white text, pre- 
paring her reader for the confrontation with a reality totally dif- 
ferent from that symbolic of Western culture. 
In sharp contrast to the opening passage, the house of Clau- 
dia, Morrison's narrator, is old and cold, worry and sickness 
replace laughter, and the mother is just "somebody with hands 
who does not want [her] to die" (TBE, 12). Then, each subse- 
quent chapter, headed by a relevant fragment of the most chaotic 
version of the primer text, sets out to counter the white ideal with 
its black equivalent. The happiness taken for granted in the 
model of a white family contrasts with the pain, hatred, and an- 
ger ripping apart the family life of the Breedloves. They never 
had their own house, let alone a "green-and-white" one filled 
with free-spirited laughter. Their condition is that of "a minority 
in both caste and class, [moving] about anyway on the hem of 
life, struggling to consolidate [their] weaknesses and move on..." 
(TBE, 17). "- 
Growing up black in a society dominated by white ideology, 
Morrison's characters are forced to define themselves in terms of 
the dominant culture. In The Bluest Eye, confrontation with the 
white world is rendered metaphorically as migration from the 
Black rural south to the industrial North populated mainly by 
white people. 4 Although they are free to stay where they are, 
moving North is enforced by their economic condition: living on 
the brink of poverty black people migrate to white areas in search 
for jobs and hoping for a better life. The confrontation with the 
White reality proves destructive for Pauline and Cholly Breedlove 
and their so-far-happy relationship is shattered by quarrels over 
money. Being rejected and laughed at by other black women from 
a big city, Pauline realizes that in order to be accepted she has to 


4 Susan Willis, Specifying: Black Women Writing the American Experience 
(Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), p. 84.
>>>
286 


Patrycja Baran 


look and behave like the rest of them do: straighten her hair, 
wear trendy clothes and makeup. 
As Morrison implies, for many black women, striving to con- 
form to the white social norms results in the loss of their natural 
spontaneity and sensitivity, as the new environment teaches them: 
"how to behave." This normally leads to alienation and frustra- 
tion at not being able to wipe away, what Morrison calls "the 
dreadful funkiness" of nature and passion which makes adjust- 
ment to the stultifying norms of the white culture even more dif- 
ficult. 
Moving closer to the "centre" in spatial terms does not 
change the marginal position ascribed to one by his or her racial 
status. As a matter of fact, the Breedloves choose to live in a di- 
lapidated storefront because they are black, poor and they believe 
themselves to be ugly: 
[they] wore their ugliness, put it on, so to speak, although it did not 
belong to them [...] It was as though some mysterious all-knowing 
master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had 
each accepted it without question. The master had said, "You are ugly 
people." They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contra- 
dict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every 
billboard, every movie, every glance. (TEE, 38-9). 
For Pauline, the encounter with the world of Hollywood 
movies only deepens her sense of inferiority. It is in the dark 
room of the cinema that she is introduced to, what Morrison 
calls, "probably the most destructive ideas in the history of hu- 
man thought" (TBE, 122): the idea of romantic love and that of 
physical beauty. As Morrison makes clear, the silver screen cre- 
ates and promotes white standards of female beauty which ruth- 
lessly exclude the non-white minority as not beautiful. 
Apparently unaware of the contemporary feminists' perspec- 
tive on the representation of women as objects of "the gaze," or 
male desire in traditional Hollywood movies, Morrison's female 
characters seem to accept those standards as emblematic of the
>>>
Toni Morrison's Version of Black America... 287 


white culture. The artificiality of the Hollywood ideal and its to- 
tal inadequacy for women of color in particular is rendered 
visually when five-months-pregnant Polly Breedlove, trying to 
emulate her favorite movie star, does her hair up in a white 
fashion and believes she looks just like her idol, but then breaks 
her front tooth on a piece of candy. The incident once and for all 
destroys the illusion of ever being able to conform to those white 
male standards of beauty which turn out to be totally separated 
from reality. As her daughter Pecola worships the celluloid image 
of Shirley Temple on a kitchen mug, she believes it is the white 
girl's blue eyes that would make her pretty. Hoping for a Cin- 
derella transformation, Pecola begins to pray every day for blue 
eyes, which simply manifests her desire to be noticed and ac- 
cepted within a society that produces and praises only white dolls 
because black ones for them do not exist. 
Rejecting the idea of beauty as an idealized Hollywood pro- 
duction, Morrison insists on a beauty which is functional and 
real, just like Claudia's mother's,large, rough hands that readjust 
the quilt and rest on her forehead when she is ill. Claudia's fasci- 
nation with all sorts of bodily functions, such as vomiting or 
menstruating, shows the need for intimacy and sensual experi- 
ence often forgotten in the culture of idealized beauty. 
In her attempt to redefine beauty Morrison connects it to the 
reality of the body with all its imperfections which make it more 
beautiful because more authentic. Eva, who sacrificed her leg to 
earn monthly insurance money, appears attractive not in spite of 
but because of her deformity: she is visited by "a regular flock of 
gentleman callers"5 who simply enjoy looking at her joyful face 
and a neatly shod single calf. Similarly, in The Bluest Eye, 
Polly's crooked foot becomes almost an asset for her future hus- 
band who "instead of ignoring her infirmity, pretending it was 
not there, [...] made it seem like something special and endear- 
ing" (TBE, 116). 


S Toni Morrison, Sula (New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 1981), p. 41.
>>>
288 


Patrycja Baran 


In contrast to popular culture stars, whose fabricated image 
becomes a commodity, Eva Peace literally sells part of her body 
in order to save her children from life in poverty. The act of self- 
mutilation seems particularly meaningful as a form of rescuing 
the individual from an oppressive situation. Sula, confronted with 
a group of teenage white bullies, pulls out a knife and instead of 
threatening the boys she simply cuts off her own finger. As Susan 
Willis argues, in Morrison's writing self-mutilation "brings about 
the spontaneous redefinition of the individual" and serves as 
a figure for liberation. 6 
Deformed, or stigmatized characters tend to appear quite of- 
ten in Morrison's writing. Like one of her heroines in The Bluest 
Eye, who destroys and dismembers blue-eyed, pancake-faced 
Christmas dolls "to see what it was that all the world said was 
lovable" (TEE, 21), so does Morrison literally dismember her 
heroines to show what all the world forgot to love. Finally, bod- 
ily deformity may function also as a metaphor for the experience 
of both social difference and racial otherness: "Pecola's lack of 
blue eyes [...] capturers] the horror of seeing oneself as 'other' 
and inferior.,,7 
Just as Western ideals of beauty appear to be reserved for 
whites only, so do middle class standards of success. In her sec- 
ond novel, Sula, Morrison moves from the individual to collec- 
tive experience challenging the notion of America as the Prom- 
ised Land. The novel centers on the life of a black community in 
the small neighborhood called the Bottom. As we learn at the 
very beginning of the novel, the place's name refers to its origins 
as a gift from a white farmer who promised freedom and a piece 
of bottom land to his slave for performing some difficult task. 
Then, reluctant to give up any fertile land, the white master of- 
fered him the land up in the hills saying that this is "the bottom 
of heaven - the best land there is" (S, 5). As Maxine L. Mont- 


6 Willis, Specifying, pp. 104-105. 
7 Ibidem, p. 101.
>>>
Toni Morrison's Version of Black America... 289 


gomery is right to observe, in Morrison's novel the Bottom is 
Black America, whose ironic genesis functions as a symbol of 
white man's failed promises, and whose "toilsome existence 
challenges the notion of America as an ever-expanding Eden of 
boundless progress and unlimited opportunity. ,,8 
The black community's disappointment with America is ech- 
oed by that of other minorities Morrison refers to, if only very 
briefly, in her novels. European immigrants in Su/a believed they 
were coming to "a promised land - green and shimmering with 
welcome" but found only "a strange accent, a pervasive fear of 
their religion and firm resistance to their attempts to find work" 
(S, 53). Similarly, the storekeeper's, Mr. Yacobowski failure to 
notice Pecola may be also due to the fact that "his sensibilities 
[have been] blunted by a permanent awareness of loss" (TEE, 48). 
In spite of the fact that, as a result of "a nigger joke," the 
black population of the Bottom can every day literally /ookdown 
on the white folks living in the valley, the place stands meta- 
phorically for the lowest social stratum. The Bottom's chances of 
development and success are thwarted by the lack of a road con- 
necting it with the city of Medallion. While the streets of Medal- 
lion are "hot and dusty with progress" (S, 5), the black neighbor- 
hood remains sheltered by heavy trees. Hopes of a brighter day 
are inspired first by the plan to build the New River Road, an 
enterprise which is meant to provide black men with much- 
yearned-for job possibilities. However, as blacks are excluded 
from the project in favor of white workers, the idea turns out to 
be another failed dream. 
As Cedric G. Bryant suggests, the black community's "almost 
Worshipful anticipation of the New River Road bridge" becomes 
a myth of nearly Biblical proportions. Ten years after the idea of 
a bridge is abandoned in favor of a tunnel, black people are still 


8 Maxine Lavon Montgomery, A Pilgrimage to the Origins: The Apoca- 
lypse as Structure and Theme in Toni Morison's "Sula ", Black American Lit- 
erature Forum Vol. 23, No. 1(1989), p. 128.
>>>
290 


patrycja Baran 


waiting for a promise of employment, hoping, at the same time, 
that this great venture would mark the end of what they called 
"evil days.,,9 The tunnel's significance for the black community 
is implied in its specific meaning to Jude Green who "longed 
more than anybody else to be taken. Not just for the good money, 
more for the work itself' (S, 81-82). 
The collapse of the tunnel linking Medallion to a nearby town 
symbolizes the ultimate failure of any chance of improving the 
situation of the black community. In fact, the opening of the 
novel showing the destruction of the Bottom suggests the com- 
munity was doomed to die from the start. As the black neighbor- 
hood is being transformed into a city golf course, we witness the 
symbolic intrusion of the white future into the mythic African 
past: 
They are going to raze the Time and a Half Pool Hall, where feet in 
long tan shoes once pointed down from chair rungs. A steel ball will 
knock to dust Irene's Palace of Cosmetology, where women used to lean 
their heads back on sink trays and doze while Irene lathered Nu Nile 
into their hair. Men in khaki work clothes will pry loose the slats of 
Reba's Grill, where the owner cooked in her hat because she couldn't 
remember the ingredients without it. (8, 3) 
Pervading the fragment is nostalgia for a mythical community 
whose values and traditions seem to be deeply rooted in its Afri- 
can past. Attuned to the caprices of Nature, those in the Bottom 
find their own ways to order chaos and coexist with evil: "they 
let it run its course, fulfill itself, and never invented ways either 
to alter it, to annihilate it or to prevent it from happening again" 
(S, 89-90). What is more, the community seems to depend on the 
presence of evil in order to redefine their own ideals: once Sula 
is believed to have caused the death of some and bring misfor- 
tune to others, the black people begin to fortify themselves 


9 Cedric Gael Bryant, The Orderliness of Disorder: Madness and Evil in 
Toni Morrison's "Sula", Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 24, No.4 
(1990), p. 742.
>>>
Toni Morrison's Version of Black America... 291 


against "the devil in their midst" by cherishing, protecting and 
loving one another. 
The community's need for ritual is reflected, among other 
things, in the institutionalizing of Shadrack's National Suicide 
Day, which in the course of time begins to be identified with 
events like births and marriages. As Maxine L. Montgomery ob- 
serves, Shadrack's ritual bears close resemblance to the annual 
celebration of the end of the world among many non-Western 
cultures which perceive time as circular, not linear. 1o Sula's cir- 
cular narrative, whose beginning could be the novel's conclusion, 
together with numerous circular images within the narrative, also 
point to the black concept of time as totally different from that of 
contemporary Western culture. The African sense of time is part 
of an organic philosophy which views the world as living and 
thus, as Mircea Eliade explains, "subject to the law of becoming, 
of old age and death.,,11 In such cultures the end of the world is 
believed to have already occurred. Thus, annual celebrations of 
this past event┬╗rovide a connection between the sacred, or my- 
thic past and the present. 12 
The non-linear view of time, which depends on recurrence 
and repetition rather than progress and change, seems particu- 
larly suited to the experience of blacks in America. Unlike white 
Pilgrims who came to America as to the land promised by God, 
land of rebirth and new life, African Americans were brought 
here against their will, torn from their families, communities, and 
their own spiritual traditions. Instead of the Promised Land, they 
found a .world of suffering, death, and alienation. 13 Because the 
good life lay not before them but behind them, every effort was 
l11ade to retain the mythic past which provided some sort of ref- 
uge from contemporary reality. 


10 Montgomery, A Pilgrimage to the Origins, p. 130. 
II Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 45. 
12 Ibidem, pp. 54-55. 
13 Susan Bowers, "Beloved" and the New Apocalypse, in: Toni Morrison's Fic- 
tion, ed. David L. Middleton (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997), p. 211.
>>>
292 


patrycja Baran 


By portraying a community continually plagued by calami- 
ties, unexpected deaths, natural disasters, and racist oppression, 
Morrison redefines the concept of apocalypse as a future event 
stating that for black people in America the apocalypse is now. 
The condition of the black man is made worse by the fact that 
being cut off from his African past he is simultaneously denied 
participation in the Western future, and thus "stuck in an eternal 
now over which he has no control.,,14 
In Morrison's novel, the anguish of being trapped in an eter- 
nal present is manifested by Sula's dread of continuity and her 
desperate attempts to break away from it. She rejects the safety 
of married life, refusing to become, what she calls, "one of the 
spiders whose only thought was the next rung of the web" (S, 120), 
and chooses an "experimental life" instead. Her travels to North- 
ern cities, such as Philadelphia or New York, as well as the ru- 
mors that she slept with white men suggest her efforts to become 
part of white society. However, after many years of wandering 
through America, Sula returns to the Bottom realizing that nei- 
ther the attractions of contemporary culture, nor the frequent acts 
of sex she indulges in can fill the void inside her. For Sula, the 
only way out of the circle of time is death. 
In contemporary Western culture, based on the myths of 
beauty, youth, and success, death has come to be seen as a threat 
and a taboo, and techniques of death evasion have even been de- 
veloped by those unable to face the unavoidability of dying. For 
mythic cultures, however, as Mircea Eliade explains, death is not 
a definite end or annihilation, but is regarded as a return to the 
womb, or the beginning of life. 15 Sula's embryonic position and 
the imagery describing her death point to the mythical dimension 
of the act. The same ritualistic return to the past through water 


14 Bonnie J. Barthold, Black Time: Fiction of Africa, the Caribbean, and 
the United States (New Haven: Yale UP, 1981), p. 16. 
IS Mircea Eliade, Myths. Dreams. Mysteries (Collins: Fontana Library, 
1968), p. 191.
>>>
Toni Morrison's Version of Black America... 293 


and darkness is re-enacted by the community's march to the 
mouth of the tunnel at the novel's end. Each of these events, as 
the narrative makes clear, refers to returning to one's origins, and 
evokes a romantic past totally different from the oppressive real- 
. f W . 16 
Ity 0 contemporary estern society. 
What has been left after the collapse of the Bottom may well 
describe the state of the contemporary Western world in which 
the sense of community and tradition has been replaced by 
"separate houses with separate televisions and separate telepho- 
nes and less and less dropping by" (S, 166). Through her power- 
ful stories, Morrison forces us to re-examine some popular con- 
temporary myths and look at Western culture from a totally dif- 
ferent perspective. Morrison's fictive universe can be read as 
a metaphor for black America in which white society's basic 
flaws and weaknesses are reflected. The novels suggest that the 
'- 
only way for African Americans to cope with their oppressive 
situation is to turn for strength and endurance to their African 
past. And one should be aware of this heritage because due to 
African influences the face and identity of America are no longer 
the same. 


Bibliography 


Barthold, Bonnie J. Black Time: Fiction of Africa, the Caribbean, and 
the United States. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981. 
Bowers, Susan. "Beloved and the New Apocalypse." Toni Morrison s 
Fiction. Ed. David L. Middleton. New York: Garland Publishing, 
Inc., 1997. 
Bryant, Cedric Gael. "The Orderliness of Disorder: Madness and Evil in 
Toni Morrison's Sula." Black American Literature Forum 24: 4 
(1990): 731-745. 
Eliade, Mircea. Myth and Reality. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. 


16 Montgomery, A Pilgrimage to the Origins, p. 135.
>>>
294 


Patrycja Baran 


Eliade, Mircea. Myths, Dreams, Mysteries. Collins: Fontana Library, 1968. 
Montgomery, Maxine Lavon. "A Pilgrimage to the Origins: The Apo- 
calypse as Structure and Theme in Toni Morison's Sula." Black 
American Literature Forum 23: 1 (1989): 127-137. 
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. 
Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 1981. 
Mullen, Harryette. "Optic White: Blackness and the Production of 
Whiteness." Diacritics 24.2-3 (1994): 71-89. 
Willis, Susan. Specifying: Black Women Writing the American Experi- 
ence. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.
>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


ROY GOLDBLATT 
University of Joensuu, Finland 


"Puttin' on the Goy": 
Re-writing the Jewish American "Success Story", 
Mary Antin to What Makes Sammy Run? 


Jewish American immigrant narratives, classic works by 
authors such a's Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska, and, most impres- 
sively, Abraham Cahan in his The Rise of David Levinsky, which 
describe the steerage journey, the problems of culture shock, 
horrible ghetto conditions before trumpeting the success 
achieved in the new land by those who adhered to the Protestant 
work ethic and followed the advice of the likes of Benjamin 
Franklin and Horatio Alger. In the case of Yezierska, particularly 
in Bread Givers and in numerous short stories, and in Antin's 
The Promised Land the suitable path to be trod out of New 
York's Lower East Side or Boston's Dover Street is education. 
This can be labelled the "honest" method of escaping the ghetto, 
and can be contrasted with a second mode, the "not-so-kosher," 
the idea of cutting corners, cheating in business - in the sense 
of the Yankee captains of industry, the Morgans and Rockefellers . 
- as Cahan so brilliantly indicates in David Levinsky. 
Post-immigrant writers describe "what it was like and meant 
to grow up Jewish," to get their piece of the pie. Their fiction no 
longer reflects the dilemma of the greenhorn and making sense of 
America, but getting their piece of the pie, the problems involved
>>>
296 


Roy Goldblatt 


in dealing with their "otherness," the division between "us" and 
"them," Jew and Gentile. Many of these novelists later became 
screenwriters after rejecting the honest route through education. 
Budd Schul berg, however, was the son of a major figure at Para- 
mount Pictures in Hollywood, lived the life of a Jewish prince 
and thus re-inscribed the Jewish American narrative of success. 
I will examine this change occurring in less than a half century, 
tracing it from Abraham Cahan through Samuel Ornitz and fi- 
nally to Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? I will demonstrate 
the shift in the Jewish mentality from assimilatable to assimi- 
lated, and consider how in escaping to the comfortable if not 
truly opulent Jewish "ghetto" of HollywoodlBeverly Hills repre- 
sented a final break with the old traditions, a sense of experi- 
enced loss, and ultimately a disregard for anything but money 
and material success. Schulberg, however, does not make use of 
the divided personality which pervades the characters of the ear- 
lier generation of writers, and his novel contains little sense of 
Jewish values but a strong rejection of Judaism. 
Jules Chametzky states that Jewish American immigrant writ- 
ers tried to mediate between the Old World and American cul- 
tures, put together the phenomenon of biculturality (63), and be- 
lieves that the central dilemma facing the authors and the Jewish 
American community was the lack of a unified self. Stephanie 
Foote challenges his emphasis on such a self in claiming that an 
"integrated whole does not seem to me to be the absolute basis of 
subjectivity. ... the experience of self-division is the paradoxical 
basis of subjectivity" (52). In Cahan's "The Imported Bride- 
groom" Foote maintains that the ethnic subject functions as an 
actor in both of his worlds, as an empty self in his present New 
York one as well in the Poland of his true/past self. Moreover, 
each of these selves seems "complete and unchangeable" and can 
be extended to a number of Cahan's other protagonists: David 
Levinsky, Jake Podkovnik in "Yekl," and RouvkelRobert Fried- 
man in "A Providential Match." Sylvia Huberman Scholnick analy- 
zes success in the context of such businessman, contrasting its
>>>
"Puttin' on the Goy": Re-writing the Jewish American... 297 


basis in America - wealth - and in the Jewish tradition - val- 
ues such as yikhus (prestige) and /omdes (scholarship) - and 
concludes by asserting that the mitzvah of "What is hateful to 
you do not do to your neighbor... has been acknowledged as the 
foundations of Jewish ethics" (49) to show that the gulf between 
Jewish values and the American capitalist ethic, at least in the 
works to be discussed, cannot be overcome. 
In The Rise of David Levinsky, Cahan introduces the question 
of the divided self at the outset by contrasting his protagonist 
with Mary Antin's figure of transformation. Furthermore, Ca- 
han's novel posits the tenets of the immigrant auto-biography 
embraced in Antin's Horatio Alger-like values by strongly inter- 
rogating the lack of ethics in American business. Levinsky, re- 
flecting on the last thirty or forty years, describes two distinct 
selves: an inne,! (or P&st) identity which appears to be the same 
as when he arrived in New York, and an outer (or present) one, 
"one of the two or three leading men in the cloak-and-suit trade 
in the United States," which "seems to be devoid of significance" 
(3). The lack of significance is a reflection on his life as he him- 
self sees it: there is nothing spiritual, no love, no woman, no 
children, only money. Most importantly, the dream of his life, 
gaining a City College degree - replacing the Talmudic learning 
he left behind in Russia with the Gentile scholarship of America 
- has flliled. Underlying his regret in having lost his Jewishness 
are his business methods, clearly ganavish, in the sense that they 
are devoid of morality, as they must be in a business world dedi- 
cated to maximizing profit. Levinsky's tactics are goyish and he 
is a Jew in name only, his outward devoutness is a tool allowing 
him to benefit commercially. Levinsky's rejection of the "golden 
rule" central to Jewish values positions him a space where he is 
preoccupied with himself, isolating him from his community, and 
in essence Judaism. 
Thus the nostalgia and self-hate which Levinsky so power- 
fully expresses are remorsefully articulated in this passage to- 
wards the end of the novel:
>>>
r- 


298 


Roy Goldblatt 


I should readily change places with the former Talmud student like 
myself, the Russian Jew who holds the foremost place among American 
songwriters and whose soulful compositions are sung in almost every 
English-speaking house in the world. All my acquaintance with them 
has brought me is a sense of being looked down upon as a money-bag 
striving to play the Maecenas. (529-530) 
In respect to the question of divided selves and problems of 
unsuccessful integration many critics have called attention to the 
closing paragraph of the novel, where Levinsky sorrowfully re- 
marks: "I can never forget the days of my misery. I cannot escape 
from myoId self. My past and my present do not comport well" 
(530). As a result, the center does not hold; the unified self dis- 
cussed by Chametzky, the figure of assimilation sought by Cahan 
who could mediate between both cultures through the educa- 
tional values and rewards central to each does not materialize. 
What does appear is Foote's complete selves, with the unhappy 
present self looking back nostalgically and regretfully at the past 
self, one left behind in Russia, which he believes to be his genu- 
ine Jewish self. 
This also holds true in Samuel Ornitz's Haunch, Paunch and 
Jowl, where the same pattern of divided selfuood exists. Pub- 
lished in 1923, the novel is fiction posing as autobiography: the 
"actual memoirs of a judge five years deceased" (Browder 91). 
The importance of the "fraudulence" of this ethnic text is height- 
ened when considered from the perspective of the cynicism, cor- 
ruption and malevolence expressed in its two main characters, 
Meyer Hirsch, the judge, and his uncle, Philip Gold, a sweatshop 
entrepreneur whose makes Levinsky seem almost saintly. If Ca- 
han's novel is a statement rejecting Antin's overly assimilationist 
attitudes, Ornitz's in turn takes Cahan's to the extreme, portray- 
ing the hard work, the calculation done by Hirsch and Gold, as 
totally offensive, a degradation of the unsuspecting underclass, 
parodying and turning the Alger ethic upside down. 
Worse, by the standards of immigrant autobiography set by 
Antin, Hirsch and Gold represent the purest examples of anti-
>>>
"Puttin' on the Goy": Re-writing the Jewish American... 299 


Semitic stereotyping that any American nativist could desire. 
They have understood the Alger philosophy, the capitalist ethos, 
and refined it: in truth they have out-Yankeed the Yankee. Through 
their success, ethnicity may have been a badge of honor for Antin 
and Yezierska, and an element of nostalgia for Cahan's figures, 
but Ornitz's Meyer Hirsch comprehends ethnicity as perform- 
ance, a role to be played before an audience, a mask that can be 
put on and removed. He cynically gives the punters what they 
want and expect to see, as this example of Chinese ethnicity in- 
dicates: "Ly Chee was an intelligent fellow and could speak 
a pretty fair English but for this occasion he spoke pidgin Eng- 
lish. 'Me killee lou, me killee lou, lou, bling allee timee allee 
money, no floget, me killee Iou'" (153). 
In challenging the paradigm of the hard-working immigrant, 
Ornitz rejects school education as the means for escaping the 
ghetto. Education, as Levinsky learned, is on-the-job, from the 
street. Hirsch is imbued with the ambition, brains, ingenuity, and 
industry of the Alger hero, but is a master manipulator. His path 
to success requires knowing who to buy and how to do it, recog- 
nizing that the legal fraternity is little more than dishonest ambu- 
lance-chasers. The law, the foundation of the American Dream, 
its protection placed in the hands of lawyers, is a sham. Hirsch is 
in direct contrast with the ghetto intellectuals, the professionals 
serving their community, the social reformers seeking to better 
conditions. In the ideological struggle between these two factions 
the winner is of course Hirsch, who understands the order of the 
day - PLAY THE GAME AS YOU SEE IT PLAYED (227). And 
the notion of playing, either by the "rules of the game" or a role, 
returns us to the concept of performing ethnicity. 
The full title of the novel, Allrightniks Row, "Haunch, Paunch 
and Jowl", The Making of a Professional Jew reflects three 
aspects of Hirsch's existence. The first, "Allrightniks Row," rep- 
resents his Upper West Side home, a location diametrically op- 
posed to the houses of the Lower East Side; it is a place where he 
might mingle with the likes of Levinsky. "Haunch, Paunch and
>>>
300 


Roy Goldblatt 


Jowl" are obviously the physical attributes he possesses in his 
uptown home after spending years fattening himself on the cor- 
ruptive genius of American society. While "The Making of a Pro- 
fessional Jew" is clearly a parody of the would-be traditional 
and honorable title of an ethnic autobiography, it is in fact Meyer 
Hirsch's falsified ethnic narrative. The professional Jew, the 
past/genuine Jewish self, is a role to be performed. The reincar- 
nated and constructed ethnic self can be explained by his rejec- 
tion of Judaism and its subsequent appropriation as a means of 
protecting the status that has achieved: "I am a lawyer, politician, 
champion of Jewry and member of a dozen Jewish lodges, socie- 
ties and charity organizations. I became a Professional Jew in 
emulation of the successful Irish politician whose principal 
capital is being a Professional Irishman" (183). The two do not 
seem to be separate entities but parts of the same. On the other 
hand, the character of Hirsch does not seem to represent the inte- 
grated self as the end of the novel finds Hirsch questioning, in 
a manner similar to Levinsky, the profits and losses of his life. 
On Allrightniks Row with other Eastern European Jews, having 
"squeezed out the German Jews and their Gentile neighbors," 
Hirsch comments on his neighbors as crassly dressed women, 
"life viewed in terms of moneymaking," bejewelled, fat, loud- 
mouthed, course-humored people "aping the so-called swell so- 
ciety of the goyim" (HPJ 295). Uptown, in retirement, contem- 
plating the value of his life among the "acculturated" allright- 
niks, he is left solely with traditional ethnic food: good smelling 
Gedamfte brust und patate lahtkes (63) and his unwanted wife 
ironically singing "Tell me, life, tell me, what's it all about" (300). 
The publisher of Haunch, Paunch and Jowl feared the book 
would be subjected to charges of anti-Semitism. Similar fears 
were expressed that this might be the case when Budd Schul- 
berg's What Makes Sammy Run? was published in 1941. A cri- 
tique of the corrupt and exploitative practices employed by the 
studio system in Hollywood, it focuses its critique through the 
characterization of Sammy Glick, an uncultured, calculating up-
>>>
"Puttin' on the Goy": Re-writing the Jewish American... 301 


start who rises to power across the backs of friends and acquain- 
tances. Schulberg had received a letter from his father asking that 
the book not be published since it would lead to ostracism from 
the industry and Hollywood. He understood the feelings of the 
Hollywood moguls who controlled the industry, as well as the 
poor, Eastern European backgrounds they came from and the 
business practices they employed. Fear arose among them that 
Sammy Glick might be seen as a younger mirror image of them, 
especially by those same bigoted forces who would have reveled 
in Ornitz's corresponding figures, thus unloosing the anti-Semi- 
tism they had tried desperately to avoid. 
Looking at the novel itself and in terms of the tradition of the 
Jewish American "success" story, What Makes Sammy Run? is as 
anti-Semitic as Haunch, Paunch and Jowl. Schul berg does not cre- 
ate Sammy fo( any other purpose than to depict the means at the 
disposal of the slum-dweller in his attempt to escape, and to criti- 
cize studio practices in the film industry. Schulberg's narrator, Al 
Manheim, takes pains in explaining that Sammy's tactics are the 
result of ghetto poverty and the anti-Semitic behavior of other 
members of the ethnic poor on the Lower East Side. His Judaism is 
a handicap, only the cut-throat ways of America are valid, as he 
believes "Moses was a sap, look at the joke they made of those 
Commandments of his. They've been playing him for a sucker for 
two thousand years. At least mine work" (80). His objection to tra- 
ditional Jewish virtues derives from a number of early setbacks, 
both inside the household and out, all of which steel him against 
future failure. Despite being the Pale of Jewish settlement in 
New York, the Lower East Side was also an island surrounded by 
threatening goyim. Sammy's fate, which certainly drives him 
farther from his religion, is to be beaten daily by a larger and 
older Catholic boy who charges him with killing Christ. Sammy's 
ability to withstand punishment, his resiliency, is what eventually 
carries him forward to the status he achieves in Hollywood. 
Glick also contrasts Jewish humanistic virtues, values of com- 
munity, with those of American individualism, success and money
>>>
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Roy Goldblatt 


in his East Side life. In his eyes, his father was a loser, a man 
who unable to provide for his family, thus forcing them into pov- 
erty. Mr. Glickstein, however, is a man of conscience, ready to do 
his best for the community. A diamond cutter, and a foreman in 
the shop, Glickstein sacrifices his position to strike alongside his 
lower-paid co-workers, reducing himself to unemployment and 
a pushcart, and forcing Sammy into the streets to sell newspa- 
pers. There Sammy is smitten by prototypic notions of industrial 
America. To advance one must assimilate, so at the age of three- 
and-a-half he changed his name from Shmelka; at four he had 
already learned that to make money he had to "pull a fast one." 
Glick's denial of Jewish values can only be followed by a repu- 
diation of his Jewish self, an act expressed in his countering the 
checker's observation at a company not employing Jews that "Fer 
Chris'sake you look like a Jew-boy yerself' with "Oh, Jesus, 
everybody's always takin' me for one of them goddam sheenies" 
and then speaking "gibberish Italian" (223-224). 
Moreover, Sammy is a product of his environment, an Amer- 
ica founded so strongly on the success ethic, and his meteoric 
rise and success could some day be "published... as a blueprint 
of the way of life that was paying dividends in America in the 
first half of the twentieth century" (282). Manheim believes that 
Sammy reflects a new type of self-conscious self-made man, 
who takes "every new level as if it were the only one they ever 
knew, rushing ahead so fast they are ashamed, afraid to look back 
and see where they've come from" (35). 
Unlike those earlier characters who are portrayed as suffering 
from a divided self, Sammy is not and as a result Schulberg is 
forced to depict the conflict between American and Jewish val- 
ues by creating a foil for Sammy. Al Manheim represents almost 
everything that Glick lacks: talent, learning, culture, a Jewish 
heritage and humanism that endows him with the yikhus and 
/omdes that precludes Sammy from being a mensch. Moreover, 
he has little difficulty in coming to grips with his past. The son 
of a Reformed rabbi, his "father's message of tolerance was
>>>
"Puttin' on the Goy": Re-writing the Jewish American... 303 


imbedded too deeply in the undersoil of [his] adolescence for any 
Broadway cynicism to wipe away entirely" (23). Thus he persists 
in trying to understand Sammy Glick since it is impossible to 
love him. 
There is little of the Jew left in Sammy than the financial re- 
sponsibility he takes for his idealized, sentimentalized mother; 
and even she must regretfully note: "Sammy was not a real Jew 
anymore. He was no different from the little wops and micks who 
cursed and fought and cheated. Sometimes she could not believe 
he grew out of her belly. He grew out of the belly of Rivington 
Street" (220-221). In essence, he is now a goy, a transformation 
symbolized by his refusal to be bar-mitzvahed at the age of thir- 
teen, rejecting his Jewish manhood; the act forces his father to 
say kaddish, mourn for his dead son. He performs an ethnicity 
which, in spite of his descent and through his rejection of Juda- 
ism, permits Him to consciously, consent to the adoption of a to- 
tally American self, or in other words "puttin' on the goy." 
In the words of Randolph Bourne, Sammy is a prime example 
of what his breed could result in: "It is not the Jew who sticks 
proudly to the faith of his fathers and boasts of that venerable 
culture of his who is dangerous to America, but the Jew who has 
lost the Jewish fire and becomes a mere elementary, grasping 
animal" (254). For Sammy Glick, crawling out of the belly of the 
street demands the behavior and clawing instincts of an animal. 
Sammy is a grasping individual, grasping for success, latching on 
to anyone he can use and throwaway. He is kin to the boorish 
characters of Cahan. Throwing over Rosalie Goldblum, "a spin- 
dly-legged, too thin, sickly-pale, vague little girl" as being use- 
less to him in Hollywood smacks of Jake rejecting Gitl and his 
son for Mamie in Yekl. The search for a suitable and profitable 
match that brings him to the upper echelons of society - Ger- 
man-Jewish in Levinsky and Hirsch - culminates in his mar- 
riage to Laurette Harrington, a Gentile. Sammy's rise in Holly- 
wood is at the expense Julian Blumberg's talents, a mild-manne- 
red Lower East Side schlemiel, whose brain he exploits in steal-
>>>
304 


Roy Goldblatt 


ing a story and "revising" it into a screenplay. If Levinsky steals 
designs for his dresses, Glick plagiarizes, baldly appropriating 
Hecht and McArthur's classic The Front Page. 
Sammy Glick, despite his glaring similarities to the boorish and 
grasping businessmen of CahaR and Ornitz, differs from them in his re- 
jection of the Jewish self they still possess, which causes them to be 
divided. The epiphany each experiences is absent in Sammy. While in 
Schulberg's novel, there is perhaps a fleeting moment in which Glick 
realizes that he has suffered a loss - his adulterous pedigree wife - he 
is unable to walk out on her in fear of reprisals by her father, the studio 
head, and rationalizes: 
"But Christ, [...] you never know how you stand in this crazy busi- 
ness. Take that kid Ross, for instance. He's got something on the ball. 
But I don't like him. Don't trust him. He's a smart-aleck. I can see al- 
ready he thinks he knows more than I do. And who the helI knows, 
maybe he does. But with Harrington in my corner..." (278) 
In the new business conditions of the late 1930s, there is no 
security, no breathing room, no possibility of relaxing. There is 
and will always be a new generation of young hopefuls waiting 
to scheme, deceive and steal their way into the spotlight, ready to 
displace the Sammy Glicks of the world using the same tactics 
they themselves employed. Sammy's inability to stop running, 
his inability to symbolically find a home in America, makes him 
typical of so many figures in early 20 th century Jewish American 
literature. In spite of disclaiming his Judaism, travelling light, 
the baggage of the streets, his East Side origins go with him. In 
the 1930s Sammy and his ilk were only wandering Jews on the 
periphery of American society, not at its core as in this new mil- 
lennium. 
As a result, Schulberg is re-inscribing the 20 th century Jewish 
American "success" story. Hollywood was a place where, despite 
their own fears, the moguls had built "an empire of their own." In 
spite of the increased control wielded by the Wall Street banking 
houses after the revolution caused by The Jazz Singer, the film 
industry was still a Jewish business which invited creative Jew-
>>>
"Puttin' on the Goy": Re-writing the Jewish American... 305 


ish talent into "a boom town with a village [shtetl?] psychology" 
(105). Unfortunately, the moguls and their empire were Jewish 
almost in name alone. The ethnicity they performed, like Sammy 
Glick's, was also clearly American, goyish, from their right- 
wing, anti-union politics and fervent patriotism to their eradica- 
tion of things Jewish from the screen and their lives. Material 
success could come suddenly, and with equal suddenness it could 
disappear. With increased wealth and pressure living was fast, 
even faster and harder than it had been for immigrants in New 
York. Hollywood was a setting "where individualism [had to be- 
come] the most frightening ism of all" (281) and this refutation 
of a sense of community and the "golden rule" created an envi- 
ronment which would not or could not tolerate a notion of suc- 
Cess compatible with traditional Jewish ethics but precluded even 
the contemplation of one's life and the loss so integral to the fic- 
'- 
tion of the preceding generation of Jewish American writers. 


Works cited 


Antin, Mary. The Promised Land. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Sentry 
Edition, 1969 (first published 1912). 
Bourne, Randolph. The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-18. Olaf 
Hansen (ed.). New York: Urizen Press, 1977. 
Browder; Laura. "Self-Made Jews: The Immigrants' Answer to Horatio 
Alger." Other Americans, Other Americas. Magdalena J. Zaboro- 
wska (ed.). Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1998,80-103. 
Cahan, Abraham. The Rise of David Levinsky. New York: Harper Torch- 
books, 1960 (first published 1917). 
-. Yekl and the Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of the New 
York Ghetto. New York: Dover, 1970 (first published 1896 and 1898). 
Chametzky, Jules. Our Decentralized Literature. Amherst, MA: Uni- 
versity of Massachusetts Press, 1986. 
Foote, Stephanie. "Marvels of Memory: Citizenship and Ethnic Identity 
in Abraham Cahan's 'The Imported Bridegroom'." MELUS, 25: 1 
(Spring 2000), 35-53.
>>>
306 


Roy Goldblatt 


Ornitz, Samuel. Al/rightnik's Row: Haunch, Paunch and Jowl. The Mak- 
ing of a Professional Jew. New York: Markus Wiener Publishing, 
1986 (first published 1923). 
Scholnick, Sylvia Huberman. "Money Versus Mitzvot: The Figure of the 
Businessman in Novels by American Jewish Writers." Yiddish, 
1987,6: 4, 48-55. 
Schulberg, Budd. What Makes Sammy Run? London: Allison & Busby, 
1992 (first published 194 I). 
Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers. New York: Persea Books, 1985 (first 
published 1925). 
Hungry Hearts and Other Stories. New York: Persea Books, 1985 
(first published 1920).
>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


AGNIESZKA LAKATOS 
Warsaw University 


Two Contemporary African-American 
Urban Love Stories: Toni Morrison's Jazz 
and John Edgar Wideman's Two Cities 


The title of this paper suggests two different contexts for my 
analysis of the two novels. Morrison's Jazz and Wideman's Two 
Cities are both variations on the theme of a love story, and they 
both take place in big American cities. I want to look at the way 
narration manages to combine modern urban aesthetics with old 
themes of love and death to produce a spiritually coherent whole. 
The apparent clash between themes of passionate love and city 
violence results in a significant discussion of how to tell a love 
story that would be valid in the urban context of the present-day 
America and the Western world in general. 
Although the cover of Wideman's Two Cities defines it as 
"a love story," its introductory chapter shows only a solitary man 
looking through word definitions in his dictionary and pondering 
On images of Philadelphia and memories of his dead friend, John 
Africa. Moreover, later in the book he turns out to be not one of 
the lovers but old Mr. Mallory, a mysterious side character that 
often takes over the narration. When the love affair finally ap- 
pears, it is introduced in a manner that may appear rather vulgar. 
A couple of drunken strangers (Robert and Kassima) is going 
from a club to the woman's house to spend the night together.
>>>
308 


Agnieszka Lakatos 


The "plot" is simple: they met, they danced, they decided to go to 
bed. And although the lovers stay together for longer than one 
night, they do not seem to be going in any direction. Kassima 
tells Robert stories of her life and we learn that she had already 
lost her husband and two sons to street violence. She focuses on 
the past and finally decides to leave Robert, paradoxically be- 
cause she fears losing him, something she believes she could not 
bear again. It seems that violence has taken over the city life and 
disillusioned everyone. 
If we look at the very beginning of Jazz, all the vulgar ele- 
ments of the love affair convention are stated quite plainly right 
there. The book opens with the gossipy "Sth, I know that wo- 
man." What follows seems a summary of the whole story of 
Violet (the woman), Joe (her husband) and Dorcas (his lover): 
"Know her husband too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl 
with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad 
and happy that he shot her just to keep the feeling going" (3). 
After introducing the major perversities of the novel, the narrator 
informs the reader how the whole thing is going to end. One day 
Violet met another young girl, "invited her in... and that's how 
the scandalizing threesome on Lenox Avenue began. What turned 
out different was who shot whom" (6). In short, both novels seem 
to play with themes of love in a vulgar way that does not promise 
any development of the convention of the supremacy of spiritual 
love' over the dirt of the world. However, it soon turns out that 
what these narratives question is the very convention of con- 
structing a love story, rather than the possibility for love to 
maintain its major function in the novel. 
At one point in Two Cities Robert tells his story to a group of 
strangers. A comment by one of them might be understood as 
the key to both novels: "No disrespect, brother man, but these 
boo-hoo loved-and-lost stories a dime a dozen. You want some- 
body to listen you got to jazz them up. Salt or pepper or some- 
thing" (77). The need to "jazz up" the story to keep the audience 
interested might suggest that there is no place in fiction for ordi-
>>>
Two Contemporary African-American Urban Love Stories... 309 


nary, true emotions. Real life experience would then have to give 
up to fictive perversities that could spice the otherwise flavorless 
dish. However, this idea is risky because it is based on the as- 
sumption that genuine experience includes no "salt or pepper." 
It is questioned by O.D., who scolds the customers at his diner: 
"Youall don't deserve a good cook. Way youall dump salt and 
pepper and ketchup on my food before you taste it makes me 
want to run youall out of here" (163). Then he explains what he 
considers a proper attitude: "Now Mr. Mallory's different. He's 
a gentleman. Tastes first. Course, he's a Tabasco man. Got to 
have his Tabasco. And I don't mind because he tastes first. Gives 
my eggs the benefit of the doubt" (163-164). 
When we compare O.D.'s words with those of the listener 
who demanded "salt or pepper or something," it appears that the 
latter sim'plY,-did not give Robert's story "the benefit of the 
doubt." He simply did not "taste" it, only assumed it was going 
to fit the typical framework of the love story convention. And it 
is "the benefit of the doubt" attitude that help the lovers go be- 
yond the convention. After a long silence the heroine calls her 
lover and tries to explain things to him. When he says he under- 
stands, she objects: "No you don't. You're not supposed to. 
You're giving me the benefit of the doubt and I love you for that 
and it means more than understanding because goddammit I don't 
understand my own self tonight. But I need you to listen" (133). 
Understanding, then, would be like the assumption that the dish 
cannot be tasty by itself; listening, on the other hand, is like 
tasting things first and letting the flavor speak for itself. Interest- 
ingly, both Jazz and Two Cities gradually come to focus on the 
listening part and prefer not to rely on understanding too much. 
Possibly, this is what makes them so "jazzed up." 
In Jazz, Violet also has problems trying to share her experi- 
ence with another woman, who anticipates the progress of her 
story even before it is told: "Now I reckon you going to tell me 
Some old hateful story about how a young girl messed over you" 
(14). However, what we learn at the beginning of Jazz is also but
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310 


Agnieszka Lakatos 


a starting point. Here, the turn from understanding to listening is 
even greater: by the end of the telling the narrator comes to the 
point where everything that was told in the beginning must be 
canceled and retold. 
Surprisingly, both novels end with a happy ending: both 
couples stay together and seem fit to "live happily ever after." 
Moreover, their reconciliation is somehow aided by dead charac- 
ters: the young Dorcas, who was shot by Joe, and the old Mr. 
Mallory, who lived and died in Kassima's house. In fact, both 
narratives are controlled by the constant presence of the dead, 
and especially their pictures: the photograph of Dorcas' face, and 
the photographs taken by Mr. Mallory. The difference between 
the pictures is more complicated than it seems. Dorcas is de- 
scribed as a person, for whom the looks define personality once 
and for all. Comparing the way Joe treated her to the way her 
new, young boyfriend does, she says: "He didn't even care what I 
looked like... Joe didn't care what kind of woman I was. He 
should have. I cared. I wanted to have a personality and with 
Acton I'm getting one. I have a look now" (190). For Dorcas, 
what she looks like defines who she is. The signifier defines the 
signified. For Mr. Mallory, however, this is not so obvious: 
"I feel like a blind man who points his camera at a world he'll 
never see, never be sure of, even when he holds pictures of it 
he's taken in his hands" (83). 
The notion of defining reality according to visible signs is 
particularly important in the urban context, where individuals are 
just parts of an anonymous mass, and may only be classified by 
their looks. In Two Cities it becomes a problem for Robert, who 
puts a death notice in a newspaper for Mr. Mallory. When no- 
body comes to the funeral parlor to see him, he wonders: "who 
would connect the name in the paper with the strange old guy 
who appeared one day and soon stopped being a stranger because 
you'd see him everywhere" (205). If the name is unknown and 
the looks disappear the day a person dies, a question arises, if 
there really is anything left after a city dweller leaves the urban
>>>
Two Contemporary African-American Urban Love Stories... 311 


society. Ultimately, this is a question of whether the signifiers 
that stand for human beings in the cities point to any concrete 
signified that would give meaning to the human condition and its 
constitutive parts such as birth, love, and death. 
In his book The City in Literature Richard Lehan juxtaposes 
two philosophical concepts behind the literary depiction of the 
modern urban reality. The first is the modernist view, in which 
the city is chaotic and alienating, but still "reconciled to myths of 
the land" (287). Lehan explains that although for modernists the 
city is already "a system of signs," they can still see some 
"transcendental signifier (be it God, nature, history, or the ra- 
tional mind)," able to "hold the other signs in place" (265). In the 
second, postmodernist view, this possibility of transcendent mean- 
ing is neglected by the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, "who 
argued that such abstractions became the foundations of unwar- 
"- 
ranted constructs" (265). After, the loss of the "transcendental 
signifier," Lehan maintains, "urban signs begin to float and mean- 
ing gives way to mystery" (265). He concludes that the postmod- 
ern city "exacts a high price" for humanity, because "what is hu- 
man becomes virtually refined away, leaving us only a world of 
things and objects and the relations between them" (274). 
If we look at the city as presented in Jazz and Two Cities 
bearing Lehan's categories in mind, it appears that both texts 
contribute to his idea of "the constant play of urban signifiers." 
Although in the beginning of Jazz, its narrator maintains a belief 
that "if you pay attention to the street plans, all laid out, the City 
can't hurt you" (8), this claim is many times contradicted later, 
both by the narrator and by the direction that the narrative action 
takes. The belief in an order of signifiers is expressed by both 
Dorcas and Joe and leads them directly to their tragic fate. Dor- 
cas appears a victim of false promises of happiness that the City . 
offers: "the City, in its own way, gets down for you, cooperates, 
smoothing its sidewalks, correcting its curbstones... The City is 
smart at this... sending secret messages disguised as public 
signs" (63-64). Led by the City signs, Dorcas is trapped by
>>>
312 


Agnieszka Lakatos 


unrealistic concepts of love. She is later killed by Joe, who had 
believed her to be the "transcendental signifier" that would give 
meaning to his life. Thinking about Dorcas, he reveals a nostal- 
gia for a stable point of reference: "In this world the best thing, 
the only thing, is to find the trail and stick to it" (130). The nar- 
rator, however, anticipates the trap he is falling in: "he is bound 
to the track. It pulls him... That's the way the City spins you. 
Makes you do what it wants, go where the laid-out roads say to. 
All the while letting you think you're free" (120). The passage 
seems to confirm Lehan's vision of the postmodern city as one 
that "thinks us and not the other way around" (267). It seems 
clear that urban signs can only produce disorder, degeneration and 
violence. 
Similarly, ideas of order are constantly questioned in Two 
Cities. The novel begins with the dictionary entry of the word 
"zoo," where the second, slang meaning of the word defines it as 
"A place or situation marked by confusion or disorder" (1). Ap- 
parently, definitions are a comfort to Mr. Mallory, for whom the 
zoo means "Many times and places and things, too many to hold 
in his mind but also always zoo, what the words of the definition 
claimed, and it was nice to find zoo waiting, available in these 
pages" (I). However, Mr. Mallory soon gives up searching mean- 
ing in word definitions, because he decides that every word is 
"a story and he could waste more time than he could afford 
chasing after each one" (5). And whatever promise the stable link 
between the signifier and the signified offers, the narration that 
follows it constantly brings ideas of "confusion and disorder" 
into the foreground. For Mr. Mallory "Everything connects; noth- 
ing connects. Two simple truths and each made perfect sense on 
its own but together they mystified him" (6-7). Truth becomes 
arbitrary as there is no "transcendental signifier" to let humans 
know what it is. 
In short, both novels dissolve the traditional hierarchies that 
used to define the world. The state of disorder is constantly em- 
phasized by the narration, which combines many characters, events,
>>>
Two Contemporary African-American Urban Love Stories... 3 13 


concepts and other miscellaneous data without attempts to put 
things in order. In both novels the same events are often repeated 
in contradictory ways and the focus often shifts to side characters 
with no clear connection to the plot. Wideman goes as far as 
withdrawing even such basic information as who is speaking at 
any particular moment. Morrison, on the other hand, introduces 
a narrator, who is not only an unidentified character, but often 
contradicts his or her own words. The reader's confusion may 
lead to regarding the text as a labyrinth, the only function of 
which is to reflect the confusion and disorder of the modern ur- 
ban world. This brings us back to Lehan's observation that "With- 
out a transcendental signifier, urban signs begin to float, and 
meaning gives way to mystery" (265). 
Lehan's distress about the lack of "transcendental signifiers" 
in the postmodern image of the city seems to express a general 
anxiety concerning the condition of mankind in the postindustrial 
world. However, his understanding of the postmodern perception 
of reality as completely deprived of transcendence and meaning 
Seems too quick and rather far-fetched. Lehan bases his views 
mostly on his interpretation of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas 
Pynchon, disregarding a much earlier interpretation of the novel, 
proposed by Edward Mendelson. Mendelson brings one, extremely 
important context into his interpretation and that is the category 
of the sacred, as manifesting itself in the profane world through 
hierophanies. Where Lehan claims that the "lack of totalizing 
perspective" means that the signs "fail to point toward a redeem- 
ing God... but become wholly self-referential" (271), Mendelson 
notes: "As in all religious choices, no proof is possible" (119). 
Mendelson's concept of the manifestation of the sacred is 
based on Mircea Eliade's definition of hierophany as "the mani- 
festation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that 
does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part 
of our natural, 'profane' world" (Sacrum i profanum, 7). If we 
normally perceive our world in terms of logic, the "different 
Order" must stand above the limits of rationality. Consequently,
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Agnieszka Lakatos 


instead of a clear and comprehensible system of meaning we 
have to face a seemingly chaotic, irrational combination of pro- 
fane elements, "floating signifiers," which may manifest a com- 
pletely different order - a higher order of the sacrum. In this 
way, the charge of "dehumanization" acquires a new meaning: 
instead of relying on a defined belief system, humanity gives the 
world "the benefit of the doubt," choosing to listen, rather than 
pass judgment. 
A combination of traditional spirituality and city life might 
seem surprising, because archaic religious worldviews are usu- 
ally associated with nature and wilderness, extinct tribes and lost 
history. However, in Jazz and 1Wo Cities spirituality only appar- 
ently functions as nostalgia that contrasts the harmony of the 
past with the materialistic chaos of contemporary life. While im- 
ages of nature may well create nostalgia for some lost past, the 
city's focus on the present need not signify resignation from re- 
ligious ideas. On the contrary, it is only focusing on the present 
that can result with a truly religious experience. 
Nostalgia for nature is present both in Jazz and in Two Cities. 
"No air to breathe, no water to drink. No room to run free. City's 
sick. People can't live like they do much longer," John Africa 
complains (172). Other voices also express criticism of the city 
("Air ain't worth shit. Neither is the weather."), but they are fol- 
lowed by instant negation of utopian dreams: "You born here and 
you gon die here. Should know by now Philadelphia got the 
worst weather in the world" (164). Similar nostalgia is present in 
Jazz, where Violet claims that she was "a good girl" until she 
moved away from her home village, because "City make you 
tighten up" (81). However, when asked why she had decided to 
move from the countryside to the city, she reveals that she had no 
money to survive in the country, and although money is even 
more important in the city, at least "there's a way to get it here" 
(81). For Felice, who belongs to the first generation brought up 
in the city, Violet's nostalgia is incomprehensible - for her, 
"Living in the City was the best thing in the world" (207).
>>>
Two Contemporary African-American Urban Love Stories... 315 


In both novels, the beauty of nature is present only in memo- 
ries - of Joe in Jazz and Mr. Mallory in Two Cities. Paradoxi- 
cally, in the latter case, these are memories of the war. One day 
Mr. Mallory and his friend Gus left the army camp to meet two 
Italian girls and make one day and one night a holiday of love. 
The women did not speak English, and the men did not know 
Italian, so when they all lay naked on the beach, Mr. Mallory felt 
"past war, past language, past clothes," i.e. almost reaching the 
state of primordial unity. However, the day was followed by 
night. During the night the men's army "colleagues" came to de- 
stroy the utopia. Mr. Mallory escaped, but was shot in the leg, 
and the other three were killed. In Jazz, Joe recalls his trips into 
wilderness in search of his mother. We see him desperately 
looking for a sign from the mother he never knew, but who is 
said to be a "wild woman" (165) hiding in the woods and conse- 
quently called Wild. However" he never manages to find her, 
stays in the city and can only enjoy his "wild" fascination with 
Dorcas. 
Longing for the "original" state of primordial unity consti- 
tutes the great myth of Eternal Return, which can be found in all 
archaic cultures. But Eliade points out that this deeply religious 
feeling can also be recognized in secular "or even anti-religious" 
movements of our times: "for example in the nudist culture, in 
the movements for sexual liberation" (172). This comment should 
provide an insight into the role that images of the body and sex- 
Ual passion play in the two novels. 
In order to see the relation between the apparent "sexual lib- 
eralism" and the longing for the lost origin in the two novels, we 
need to notice that both Joe and Robert make an association be- 
tWeen their lovers and their mothers. For Joe, Dorcas is a relief 
from the distress about his absent mother. Looking for Wild in 
the woods, he was led by natural signs to a dark cave. When he 
decided to go inside, he crawled in the darkness until light hit 
him and he fell into an open cave, which was "like falling into 
the sun" (183). Inside, he found more signs of the woman's pres-
>>>
316 


Agnieszka Lakatos 


ence, but not her. Only in Dorcas does he find the qualities of the 
mother he never found, which lets him decide that "With her 
I was fresh, new again" (123). 
Interestingly, similar motifs also appear in the scene in Two 
Cities in which Robert goes to his lover's house for the night. 
"Inside her door... as if he's in a bumpy-roofed cave... he finds 
himself in a house he might have lived in once, a house of stories 
told before he was born" (15). This fragment is followed by 
a long description of going through pitch-black darkness and 
being "blinded" by the light coming from the woman's room (17), 
which reminds Robert of his mama, who "always left a light on" 
for him (37). 
The mother-lover association in both novels, together with 
the motif of the dark cave welcomes a Freudian reading of both 
novels as variations on the Oedipus complex. According to Eli- 
ade, Freudian terminology may and should be applied to prob- 
lems of the sacred, if only we agree that: "it is the Image of the 
Mother that is true, not just any actual mother" (Obrazy i sym- 
bole 17). As Eliade explains, then "the desire starts to gain mul- 
tiple meanings: it expresses the wish to return to the blissful state 
of the living, yet unformed Matter... it shows the longing for 
primordial unity" (17-18). 
No wonder, then, that for Joe, Dorcas "both blesses his life 
and makes him wish he had never been born" (40). The desire for 
the lost origin is a desire that cannot be fulfilled without dying. 
Primordial unity is a stage before life appeared in its present 
form. Robert seems to realize it when he thinks of "his mother's 
mother's house where he was dead, then a baby" (15). In pre- 
Christian imagery darkness is a symbol not so much of evil as of 
the original chaos, whereas light has always signified divine 
powers. Both can be only briefly experienced during lifetime - 
a longer encounter would inevitably involve death, as the only 
possibility of returning to the original state of being. If we bear 
this in mind, it is no longer astonishing that Joe had to kill Dor- 
cas "to keep the feeling going" (3). If he believed her to be his
>>>
Two Contemporary African-American Urban Love Stories... 317 


key to the state of original bliss, when she started going out with 
another guy, for Joe it was a profanation of his sacred link to the 
origin. Logically, then, Dorcas had to die. 
The image of the cave in Two Cities does not lead to confus- 
ing myth with reality. But it seems that, ironically, the lovers 
succeed because they do not let themselves fall into the trap of 
relying on any data. What could be interpreted as a lack of stable 
points of reference places the mythic association somewhere in 
the background, as an image rather than a real situation. By ques- 
tioning everything, Wiedeman's characters seem to give their ideas 
"the benefit of the doubt," on which their life and love rely on. 
I would like to end on an optimistic note. Both of the novels 
discussed here confirm that the city is what we have and cannot 
escape from. The modern metropolis is no utopia - no eternal 
happiness of life in an urban community can be expected. Mod- 
"- 
ern city life involves violence, alienation, and liberalism that re- 
sults in a lack of a stable value system. However, these narratives 
also tell us that it does not have to mean that humanity is doomed 
and civilization is bound to turn life into hell and head straight 
for the apocalypse. The failure of religion in the postindustrial 
society does not cancel a religious perception of the world, which, 
as Eliade points out, cannot possibly be neglected, can only be 
repressed into the unconscious. The apparent chaos of the city 
structure, as presented in the two novels, cancels the Western 
logic of Christianity, but may reveal a cosmic harmony that out- 
grows human reason. "Floating signifiers" of modern American 
cities, as presented in Morrison's and Wideman's fiction, make it 
possible for hierophanies to be experienced rather than ex- 
plained. And that is what a truly religious perception of the 
World is about. 


Bibliografia 


Morrison, Toni. Jazz. 1992. London: Picador, 1993. 
Wideman, John Edgar. Two Cities. 1998. Boston: Mariner Books, 1999.
>>>
318 


Agnieszka Lakatos 


Secondary sources 


Eliade, Mircea. Obrazy i symbole: szkice 0 symbolizmie magiczno- 
religijnym. 1952. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo KR, 1998. 
_. Sacrum i profanum: 0 istocie religijnosci. 1957. Warszawa: Wy- 
dawnictwo KR, 1999. 
Lehan, Richard. The City in Literature: An Intellectual and Cultural 
History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 
Mendelson, Edward. "The Sacred, the Profane, and The Crying of Lot 
49." Pynchon: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. E. Mendelson. 
Eaglewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1978. 112-146. 


\
>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


IZABELLA PENIER 
University of L6di 


Magical realism in Literary Quest for modern 
Afro-American Identity: Toni Morrison's Tar Baby 
and Gloria Naylor's Mama Day 


The local colors which I have chosen for my paper are the 
colors of the'-Caribbean, the threshold of the New World. I want 
to discuss two novels: Toni Morrison's Tar Baby and Gloria 
Naylor's Mama Day, both of which are set on fictive islands of 
the so-called "extended Caribbean."] "The extended Caribbean" 
is a term coined by Immanuel Wallerstain to describe a stretch of 
land on both continents, from Maryland in the United States to 
Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, with the Caribbean as its center. As 
Paule Marshal puts it in her novel The Chosen Place, The Time- 
less People, also set in the Caribbean, the islands of the Carib- 
bean "are "the stepping stones that might have been placed there 
long ago by some giant race to span the distance between the 
Americas, North and South.,,2 They mark the birth of America _ 
they are the place where different cultural realms meet. They are 


I Immanuel Wallerstain, The Modern World System, vol. 2: Mercantilism 
and the Consolidation of European World Economy (New York: Academic, 
1980), p. 103. 
2 Paule Marshall, The Chosen Place. The Timeless People (New York: 
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969), p. 47.
>>>
320 


Izabella Penier 


also the initial site of the displacement and subjugation of Afri- 
cans. As Gordon K. Lewis observes, it was in the Caribbean 
"sugar islands" that "the agrosocial system of slavery developed 
in its fullest and most harsh form,,3 "The extended Caribbean" 
signifies therefore societies developed on the basis of cotton, 
sugar or coffee plantations that were supported by slave labor. 
Consequently there are many reasons why Afro-American women 
writers (and not only Toni Morrison or Gloria Naylor, but also 
the earlier mentioned Paule Marshall or Gayl Jones) turn to the 
Caribbean while searching for their "mothers' gardens,,,4 that is 
their African roots, their myths and cultural identities. 
This quest for a new meaningful identity has taken a promi- 
nent place on the cultural scene of the United States, which in 
the last two decades witnessed many fierce debates over the is- 
sues of multiculturalism and ethnicity. Not only Afro-Americans 
but also Native Americans, Latin Americans, Asian-Americans, 
in short Americans of all colors and backgrounds, to whom ac- 
cess to the mainstream American culture has been constantly 
denied have started to look for more specific forms of identifica- 
tion. As a result, the doors have been opened for a wide scope 
search in the areas of American culture which have been so far 
disparaged and neglected. Also writings by Afro-American women 
writers have come all the way from the margins to the very center 
of attention of the American reading public. 
In my paper I want to explore some aspects of this relatively 
new phenomenon. I would like to concentrate on what I consider 
to be one of the most important developments on the contempo- 
rary American literary scene: that is an unprecedented popularity 
of fiction by black women writers and its extraordinary affinity 
with magical realist fiction produced by South American writers. 


3 Gordon K. Lewis, Main Currents in Caribbean Thought (Baltimore: 
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983) p. 2. 
4 Alice Walker, From an Interview, in: In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens 
(New York, 1983).
>>>
Magical Realism in Literary Quest... 


321 


I wish to argue that awarding the Nobel Prizes for Literature to 
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982) and Toni Morrison (1993) not 
only bears witness to this new extended versatility of literary 
circles and the reading public itself, but also proves that these 
two parallel developments, that is magical realism and fiction of 
such writers as Toni Morrison or Gloria Naylor, represent the 
same mode of writing, and furthermore that this mode of writing 
is used with the same intention. In other words I want to demon- 
strate that magical realism can be instrumental in recreating 
peoples' identities - in this case identity of contemporary Afro- 
Americans. 
Multiculturalism is something that North and South America 
have in common. Apart from the heterogeneous structure of their 
societies they also share the experience of colonialism, slavery 
and racism. The two hemispheres are equally multicolored and 
equally whit
ominated. In view of this fact they can both be 
regarded as belonging to the post-colonial tradition. The same 
concerns animate writings of post-colonial writers, South Ameri- 
can writers and Afro-American women writers, and these are: 
"the need in nations and groups which have been the victims of 
imperialism to achieve an identity uncontaminated by universal- 
istic or Eurocentric concepts or images."s Post-colonial writers, 
as well as South American writers and Afro-American women 
Writers, strive to free themselves from "the imperial center,"6 and 
from Western civilization. 
Nowhere is the identity crisis more conspicuous than in 
Morrison's novel. Jadine, the central character in Tar Baby, is 
a beautiful, orphaned, "yellow" woman. She is a middle class 
person who wants to "make it" in the white world. Educated in 


- 


S Simon During, Postmodernism and Post-colonialism Today (London: 
Routledge, 1995), p. 125. 
6 Aschroft, Bill, Gareth Griffith, Helen Tiffin, Empire Writes Back: Theory 
and Practice in the Postcolonial Literatures (London and New York: Rout- 
ledge, 1989), p. 4.
>>>
322 


Izabella Penier 


Paris in the history of European art, she is an example of a black 
person constantly exposed to Western culture and its values. She 
identifies with Western civilization and adopts indiscriminately 
its attitude towards other "lesser" civilizations, including her 
own African one. But the process of white acculturation which 
Jadine underwent in Europe sometimes seems incomplete. She 
feels lonely, confused and inauthentic in spite of her degree in art 
history and her success as a model. She finds it hard to ignore her 
African background or to accept it. Jadine cannot reach a com- 
promise between two different and conflicting sides of her per- 
sonality. Orphaned at young age and brought up in isolation, 
away from the black community Jadine is cut off from the core of 
African culture. 
Conspicuously absent from Jadine's life is the tradition of 
storytelling rooted in myth and folklore. For Morrison, as for 
Marquez, Carlos Fuentes or Octavio Paz, storytelling is a com- 
munal practice - it has to do with recuperation of history and 
mythology which constitute the core of a nation's identity. Mar- 
ilyn Sanders Mobley notices that these writers put themselves in 
the position of African griots - village storytellers, elders whose 
task was to pass on to the younger generations their history and 
cultural identity, "to clarify the roles that have been obscured, to 
identify those things in the past that are useful and those that are 
not.,,7 As Alice Walker puts it, these stories are "accumulated, 
co Ilective reality... dreams, imagery, rituals and legends that 
constitute the subconscious of a people."g Telling them again and 
again brings the community together and keeps the culture alive 
by constantly reaching to its roots and re-visioning its unique- 
ness. It also frees the history of a nation from the constraints of 


7 Marilyn Sanders Mobley, Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne 
Jewett and Toni Morrison (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State Uni- 
versity, 1991), p. 1 I. 
8 Alice Walker, From an Interview, in: In search of our Mothers' Gardens, 
(New York, 1983), p. 62.
>>>
Magical Realism in Literary Quest... 


323 


the dominant culture, creating perspectives for the future outside 
the homogenous social system. Unlike Morrison who dedicated 
her novel to "culture bearing"g women from her own family all of 
whom knew their "true and ancient properties," Jadine has never 
had a mother, a grandmother or an aunt who would put her in 
touch with her ancient heritage. Uprooted, she wages a solitary 
war to achieve a personal integrity and a power to assert herself 
in the multicolored and multicultural world. 
Naylor, on the other hand, explicitly shows in her novel how 
the consciousness of an individual can be transformed through 
the narrative act of storytelling. One of the main characters of 
Mama Day is Ophelia, usually addressed by the pet name Cocoa, 
who like Jadine is a yellow woman, but unlike her, she is rever- 
ent of her people's past and mindful of her African heritage. She 
is the last lixjng heir to the line of the Day women which was 
founded centuries earlier by a slave woman, Saphira Wade. Ac- 
cording to the legend passed on through generations Saphira Wade 
Was a conjure woman who persuaded her master, Bascombe 
Wade, to deed every inch of his land to his slaves; then she killed 
him and, finally free, flew back to Africa. Many versions of the 
legend circulate among the islanders and though nobody except 
the narrator, the voice of the island, remembers her name, every- 
body agrees that Saphira Wade was a great spiritual leader. Co- 
coa, brought up by two shrewd old women, her grandmother and 
grandaunt, is always aware of her rich family history. She does 
not go through an identity crisis because she knows where she 
belongs. The tradition of oral telling of the stories, of cultivating 
the memory of the past and elaborating the family sagas give 
Willow Springers roots in their land and helps them to fend 
themselves against exploitation, loss of cultural memory and mis- 
guided education. Unlike Jadine, Cocoa does not replace folk 
tradition with an alien version of her own culture. 


- 


9 Toni Morrison, Tar Baby (New York: New American Library, 1981), 
P. 156.
>>>
324 


IzabelIa Penier 


Both Tar Baby and Mama Day blend folk history and the mi- 
raculous in a manner typical for magical realism. Tar Baby leaves 
rapidly its realistic premises towards the world of magic and 
myth when Son, a dark black stranger, appears in the novel. The 
heart of this magical world lies on the other side of the island 
where the ancient and the natural still survive in the black thick 
swamp, and where the legendary blind horsemen wander at night. 
The island takes its name, Isle de Chevaliers, from the horsemen. 
According to the legend they are slaves who, in colonial times, 
three hundred years ago, fled from a sinking French ship to the 
island that struck them blind the moment they saw it. Ever since 
they have lived in that part of the island mating with mysterious 
swamp women who gave birth to their children, also blind. For 
the indigenous inhabitants of the island Son is one of the horse- 
men who saw Jadine from the hills and came to get her. His mis- 
sion is to save her from "the blinding awe"IO that she has for the 
white civilization. Son represents the most serious challenge in 
Jadine's quest for psychic wholeness. Another challenge is sent 
by the swamp women, the "ancestral mothers" evoked in figures 
such as Therese - an archetypal mother whose breasts give milk 
even though she has no children. All the women recognize Jadine 
as a "runaway child,"11 but then seeing her contempt for them, 
they turn way from her. Similarly Son turns away from Jadine, 
"a gate keeper, house bitch, welfare office torpedo, corporate cunt, 
tar baby side-of-the-road trap,,,12 a trap into assimilation with 
the respectable white culture. In the magical and bewildering 
resolution of the novel, guided by blind Therese, Son abandons 
his dreams of Jadine who "has lost her ancient properties,,(3 and 
returns to his fellow horsemen. The imagery of "lickety-lickety- 
lickety-split," of running "looking neither to the left or to the 


10 Ibidem, p. 189. 
II Ibidem, p. 155. 
12 Ibidem, p. 189. 
13 Ibidem, p. 263.
>>>
Magical Realism in Literary Quest... 


325 


right" implies clearly Son's escape from "the briar patch," "the 
tar baby,"14 Jadine. 
Therese is the most tangible proof that magic is still alive 
among genuine Afro-Americans. In her essay "Rootedness," 
Morrison says: "I blend the acceptance of the supernatural and 
the profound rootedness in the real world at the same time, with 
neither taking precedence over the other. It is indicative of the 
cosmology, the way in which black people look at the world. We 
are very practical people, very down-to-earth, even shrewd 
people. But within that practicality we also accept what I sup- 
pose could be called superstition and magic which is another way 
of knowing things."ls Therese is one of such people, and so is 
Mama Day, the titular heroine of Naylor's novel. 
Mama Day is a descendant of the seventh son of Saphira 
Wade and h
 white master - Bascobe Wade. A worthy and 
reputable heir to powerful Sapphira Wade, Mama Day performs 
numerous functions in the small community of Willow Springs. 
She is not only her community griot whose task is to keep the 
tradition alive, but she is also a healer, conjurer and clairvoyant. 
Dr. Smithfield, a local physician, bears a grudging respect for her 
medical achievements and validates her skills as a healer, while 
her position as a matriarch and community leader is validated by 
the whole population of Willow Springs. She is a profoundly 
ethical human being who uses magic in the service of her people. 
She performs a fertility rite on Bernice and a healing rite on her 
niece, Cocoa, she fights the dark and disruptive forces of the is- 
land represented by her neighbor Ruby who, driven by jealousy 
and hatred, "the most powerful hoodoo of all,,,16 can actually ac- 
Complish some evil aims with rootwork. Finally Mama Day is 


14 Ibidem, p. 264. 
IS Idem, Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation, in: Black Women Writ- 
ers (1950-1980) A critical Evaluation, Marie Evans, New York (1984), p. 121. 
16 Gloria Naylor, Malna Day (New York: Vintage Books, a Division of 
Random House, INC., 1988), p. 51.
>>>
326 


Izabella Penier 


endowed with the power of clairvoyance. She has not only pre- 
monitions about what is going to happen in her immediate vicin- 
ity, but also is able to pass accurate judgments on the distant de- 
moralized world of mainland America. While watching a Phil 
Donahue show she can read from the faces in the audience which 
ladies gave their children up for adoption and which are beaten 
by their husbands, which homes have been shattered by Vietnam, 
drugs or the alarming rate of divorce. 
Though the two novels discuss the problem of identity in 
a different manner, similarities between them are more than su- 
perficial. They both belong to the magical realist tradition of epic 
storytelling because they blend the sober reality of racial and 
economic abuse in the South, its painful and haunting history, 
with its folklore and the miraculous. Like magical realists, the 
two Afro-American women writers explore the paradigm of cul- 
tural clash and consequent dilemmas with identity formation. In 
both novels the cultural clash takes the form of a conflict be- 
tween man and woman. In Tar Baby Son and Jadine fail to make 
their relationship work because they are deeply separated by 
their various preconceived ideas about race and identity. In 
Mama Day Cocoa's husband, George, "a stone city boy,,,17 brought 
up in a shelter for boys, in reverence of rationalism and in pro- 
found distrust of superstition, dies because of his inability to be- 
lieve that genuine magic exists. 
Tar Baby is rich in magical realist techniques of writing. 
There is the theme of alienation of a modern emancipated woman, 
Jadine; there is also the motif of a quest, as both Jadine and Son 
try to find a place in the world where they can belong together. 
Finally there is the bewildering intrusion of myth and legend into 
the proper action of the novel, when the magical world does take 
precedence over reality. Mama Day on the other hand, is a story 
of witchcraft and conjuration which explores the dichotomy be- 
tween supernatural ways of knowing and healing and rationalistic 


17 Naylor, Mama Day, p. 9.
>>>
Magical Realism in Literary Quest... 


327 


and empirical ones. The miraculous, which manifests itself in 
woodoo rituals, changes the tack of characters' lives and their 
perception of reality. The book is related to magical realism in its 
emphasis on popular roots of contemporary culture and its use of 
myth and folklore. The folklore is captured through orality, 
which gives black people roots in their land and helps them to 
protect themselves from the loss of cultural memory and assimi- 
lation. The story is narrated alternatively by Cocoa and George, 
and their interactive performances form, as Thudier Harris ob- 
serves: "a call and response pattern,,18 long recognized in Afro- 
American folklore. The orality is also brilliantly depicted by the 
island's voice, which while narrating the events that take place 
on the island, uses black vernacular, indicative of the region and 
the levels of formal education of the speakers. It displays a ro- 
bust sense of humor, tells the story in a leisurely manner, and 
amicably cha11enges the reader., 


18 Thudier Harris, The Power of the Porch (Athens and London: Mercer 
University Lamar Memorial Lectures Number 39, The University of Georgia 
Press, 1996), p. 91.
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Toruli 2001 


DANUTA PYTLAK 
Warsaw University 


The Untold Story: The Image of the Polish 
Immigrant Family in the USA (1880-1939) 
in Polish American Fiction 


Currently, the tales of the immigrant experience of America's 
numerous adOpted children speak with unprecedented strength. 
This voice has been heard for generations, each one adding more 
weight to the issue. The American public easily bestows its at- 
tention on the voices of Chinese, Puerto-Rican, Irish, or Italian 
immigrants, but it is difficult to come across a contemporary Pol- 
ish side to this great debate. As for the experiences of those who 
are now long gone, it is next to impossible to locate such works 
on any given bookshelf. 
However, Poles in America also add to the captivating Ameri- 
can cultural mosaic. The diversity of the country's inhabitants is 
parallel to its variety of local colors, and both these aspects 
stimulate and enhance one another. It was first immigrants from 
Poland, later people of Polish descent, who helped create the lo- 
cal character of numerous places in the US: the industrial towns 
of New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the 
cities and farms around the Great Lakes and Midwest and the 
settlements on the Western frontier. 
Surely, these people had their story to tell. The Polish immi- 
grant experience was and is as rich, traumatic, and potentially
>>>
330 


Danuta pytlak 


inspiring as that of the others. Nevertheless, the fiction by Polish 
American authors has never been close to entering the main- 
stream national literature. This is especially true of the first and 
second generation of Polish immigrants, however this problem 
persists. 
For a long time, the Polish community remained, or has re- 
mained, hermetic, with only a handful of individuals, who by 
now have passed into obscurity, willing to tell their story in Pol- 
ish, let alone in English. Out of twenty-two Polish American 
dailies and magazines I have researched, from the period between 
1880-1939, only four published fiction created by the Polish 
Americans which referred to their unique experience. What is 
also revealing is the fact that in Polish American artistic journals 
of the period, literary activity seems to have been frequently un- 
derscored and comes last, behind music, dance, and acting. 
But surely, the new environment of the immense country with 
various local flavors - the city, farm, factory or coal mine - 
was there ready to be explored by the literary imagination of the 
immigrants. The private tensions which arose in these uprooted 
and transplanted people; the strained relations with their loved- 
ones in the old country and the conflicts within their own fami- 
lies in America; the fight for daily bread for their families, for 
the children's Polish education and for the family's Polish places 
of worship, and the chasm opening between Polish immigrants 
and their American-born children, were something the American 
public scarcely learnt about first-hand. 
The reasons for this long silence of the Polish people in 
America are complex, and this debate obviously reaches beyond 
the scope of this discussion. Herewith, I endeavor to reveal some 
aspects of the family life of Polish immigrants between 1880 and 
1939, as it presents itself through the tentative literary efforts of 
the Polish Americans in the period, and place these images in the 
context of the debate both within the community and outside. 
I also intend to sketch the line of development ofthis writing and 
trace the social and cultural transitions underlying this process.
>>>
The Untold Story: The Image of the Polish Immigrant... 331 


The American lives of Poles were depicted from various an- 
gles. There were uplifting stories, such as the novella published 
in 1908 by an anonymous author, titled Swiqteczne zakupy pani 
Slodkowskiej [The Christmas Shopping of Mrs. Slodkowska]. I 
Here the Slodkowski family embodies a whole spectrum of Pol- 
ish American ideals. Adam Slodkowski, the father, is a person of 
exceptional integrity, which he manifests not only at home but 
also at work. This eventually becomes a source of conflict with 
his Irish boss, when Adam cannot turn a blind eye to theft and 
a lack of professional ethics. Being a responsible person but also 
the sole breadwinner for his family, he chooses not to let his 
loving wife know about their precarious situation, in order to 
spare her distress. Christmas is coming and he knows how An- 
dzia is awaiting it. It has become her big dream to finally cele- 
brate it properly this year, with all the necessary Polish food, 
'- 
gifts, new holiday clothes, and special atmosphere. The family is 
clearly struggling towards a middle-class status. Adam is also 
trying to be a better husband and father every day, never satisfied 
until his family has all they deserve. Eventually, there is a reward 
for the hero, and he is not only promoted but also receives sub- 
stantial compensation. It is clear to the reader that all this boon 
Was not only due to the principles these people lived by, to their 
responsibility, but also to the couple's tender feelings. 
A novella by Helena Stas, titled Marzenie czy rzeczywistosc 
[Dream or Reality],2 offers a different, more complex perspec- 
tive. It shows a conflict between the parents and daughter which 
plays out both in the old country and the new one. Additionally, 
the story of the K((szycki family is intertwined with political al- 
lusions; the strained family relations are accompanied, and even 


I SWiqteczne zakupy pani Slodkowskie}: Opowiadanie na tie stosunk6w 
Polsko-amerykafzskich [The Christmas Shopping of Mrs. Slodkowski: A Story 
Based on the Polish American Relationships) (1908). 
2 Helena Stas, Marzenie czy rzeczywistosc [Dream or Reality) (Chicago, 
IL: W. Dyniewicz, 1907).
>>>
332 


Danuta Pytlak 


caused by, the situation of the partitioned Poland. Here, the fam- 
ily in a country torn by conflicts and outside threats and in a dire 
need of help, is disrupted by an enemy of that country, imper- 
sonated by a young Russian officer wooing the only daughter 
Wanda. To avoid disgrace and to end this sinful infatuation, the 
parents decide to sell whatever they can and leave for America 
_ a land of freedom, which holds cures for the ills of the whole 
world. However, just as the situation of the old country is grave, 
the evil holding Wanda in its grip will not let go so easily, and it 
will take time and a number of victims, until love and the 
daughter's repentance finally triumph in this family in America. 
In Marzenie czy rzeczywistosi:, published in 1907, it is still 
the parents who possess the wisdom about what constitutes the 
family's happiness, and in the end, it is their vision and values 
that prevail. In the 1930s, however, clashes between generations 
in the Polish American family were acute. The younger genera- 
tion flaunted their new, modern American values. The still tradi- 
tion-driven parents found it hard to negotiate crucial life choices, 
such as marriage, with their children. 
In contrast, a story by John Sypian published in American 
Polish Monthly in 1939, titled "His Girl,"3 also referring to the 
conflict between parents and children, has a different message. 
It also offers insight into the world and values of both sides, 
placing them as partners in this debate. This depiction was ap- 
parently designed to present the Polish American family in a po- 
sitive light, but how different it seems to earlier works. 
Joe Kowalski, a fancy Polish American lad, who even owns 
a car, had a series of failed relationships with "good Polish 
girls," who, regrettably, would get too serious as time went on. 
Now, he falls in love with an emancipated Irish beauty. Joe is 
distraught as he is sure his father will never accept the situation; 


3 John Sypian, "His Girl," American Polish Monthly: J//ustrated National 
Magazine of American Polish Life and Culture Syracuse, NY July 1939, 
pp. 6-7, 21.
>>>
The Untold Story: The Image ofthe Polish Immigrant... 333 


however, the boy cannot help it. We learn that, "The strengthen- 
ing of Joe's love for Sally came a straining in the bond that had 
been so close between him and his father.,,4 What is telling about 
the position of Polish American youth in the 1930s is the fact 
that Joe eventually asks the girl to marry him without consulting 
the father. 
The story, however, takes an interesting turn, as the father 
says, "Joe, you are a foolish boy to have made your father so un- 
happy these last weeks. What did you think, my son, that I would 
stand in the way of your happiness, I who love you and have 
raised you to be happy? And now that you have fallen in love 
you feared to tell your father and you became a stranger almost, 
sitting in silence at our table. Why did you do this, Joseph, to the 
person who loves you the most?"s 
This story provided Polish American parents with a different 
perspective 0'11 their feelings and devotion to their offspring. 
It offered enlightened family values, with the father ready to 
sacrifice a part of his ideals for the sake of his son's happiness. 
Although Mr. Kowalski seems to be a staunch traditionalist - he 
is a widowed single father focused exclusively on his only son _ 
he turns out to practice a modified, progressive Polishness, being 
family-centered, though in a reflective way. This middle-class 
family was likely to persuade a part of the Polish American pub- 
lic to adapt to a new situation for the good of their family life. 
And the public was likely to accept the suggestion, as again, the 
appeal of the middle-class status was very strong. 
However, Polish American parents were obviously not always 
presented as modern, new American citizens, full of empathy for 
their children. In a short story titled "And This Was Mrs. Michal- 
ski,,6 published in American Polish Monthly in 1939, the reader 


4 Ibidem, p. 7. 
S Ibidem, p. 21. 
6 "And This Was Mrs. Michalski," American Polish Monthly: I//ustrated 
National Magazine of American Polish Life and Culture Syracuse, NY June 
1939, pp. 2-3, 19.
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334 


Danuta Pytlak 


encounters a similar family situation and structure to that of the 
Kowalskis but the fate of this family is very different. Mrs. Mi- 
chalski is a widowed single mother who has devoted her life to 
her only son, now a successful college student. Their relation- 
ship, however, is broken when it turns out that she does not ap- 
preciate the boy's new eloquence and cool, polished manners. 
The son now expects more of his mother than sitting by the win- 
dow and dreaming, so the crack widens. But the mother, "couldn't 
tell him that she had slaved only for him [...]. He would con- 
demn her for treating him with the only way she knew, as a mother 
who loved her son and demanded love in return. So she knew she 
had lost him. He was a new person. So she remained quiet and 
looked from her window.,,7 
Mrs. Michalski dies never having been able to adapt to the 
new situation, rejecting the American lifestyle and values. The 
fact that the end of the heroine's life is so sad, lacking fulfill- 
ment, is a strong comment on the tradition-driven Polish Ameri- 
can parent. On the one hand, this parent is totally focused on the 
children, and on the other, partly dwelling in the past, cannot see 
beyond it and expects his children to adjust to his or her view- 
point. 
This short story provides an additional perspective. An An- 
glo-Saxon neighbor of Mrs. Michalski, though seemingly open to 
other cultures and eager to strike an acquaintance with the Pole, 
cannot grasp why the woman lacks enthusiasm for her son. The 
neighbor rightly blames her Polishness for the situation, but is 
not correct about the exact cause of Mrs. Michalski's tragedy 
when saying, "...Polish are a queer lot at the best and the poor 
woman was probably treated like a slave by her husband. They 
do that, you know. Worked to death, no doubt. poor fool.,,8 
It was justified that people of other than Polish backgrounds 
often had a one-dimensional perspective on the Poles in the US. 


7 Ibidem, p. 19. 
8 Ibidem, p. 3.
>>>
The Untold Story: The Image of the Polish Immigrant... 335 


In the 1930s Good Housekeeping magazine published stories by 
Monica Krawczyk, who was clearly inspired by the local color of 
her native Minnesota, and probably the most prominent Polish 
American writer of the period. Since 1931, her stories had also 
been appearing in Woman:S- Day, The Country Home, The Minne- 
sota Quarterly, and The Farmer:S- Wife. Krawczyk herself was 
close to the idea of a Polish American woman writer her people 
could welcome; she was not exclusively focused on writing but 
was a teacher, a social worker, and a mother. She was even com- 
pared by Eric P. Kelly to "... the type of [...] woman, who could 
hold a child in her lap, churn butter with one hand, keep wool in 
order with the other, and fix her eyes upon an open copy of Cae- 
sar or Virgil or Homer [...].,,9 
In "My Man"IO the reader is offered a full array of problems 
facing the group's family. Here, divorce and remarriage are com- 
monplace phenomena, and are accompanied by brutality, beating, 
and all forms of mistreatment' of the wife. Children are left to 
suffer the consequences, and the situation at home badly influ- 
ences their performance at school. Husbands are stingy, insane 
drunkards and tyrants. Wives, in turn, are cunning, often seek 
a divorce, and are likely to sue their partners afterwards. The im- 
age of the Polish American family in the US projected here 
clearly reinforces in the American public the stereotypical vices 
of Poles, but also of the other groups of new immigrants. 
Another short story by Monica Krawczyk, published in Good 
Housekeeping, offers a more complex image of the family. How- 
ever, a closer reading reveals that, in fact, the people portrayed 
here are anything but ideal. A short story "Tokens: When a Mother 
Wills, She Will Find a Way,',11 concentrates on the phenomenon 


9 Monica Krawczyk, If the Branch Blossoms and Other Stories (Minnea- 
polis, MN: Polanie Publishing Company, 1950), p. vi. 
10 Krawczyk, "My Man," Good Housekeeping, April 1933, pp. 48-49, 118-119. 
II Eadem, "Tokens: When a Mother Wills, She Will Find a Way," Good 
Housekeeping, July 1932, pp. 68-69, 136.
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336 


Danuta Pytlak 


of the Polish wedding and the institution of marriage. A resour- 
ceful mother is determined to marry off her oldest son although 
the boy is only eighteen. This idea seems to be a big mistake 
to an Anglo-Saxon teacher in the story, who tries in vain to 
persuade Mrs. Dobejko to change her mind. The story implies 
that it is common for Poles to marry at an early age, and, more- 
over, that the future success of such unions is highly question- 
able. As the plot develops, the reader becomes convinced that the 
fate of the newly-weds will be grim. The lavish shower, the ex- 
pensive clothes and the wedding reception for a few hundred 
people thrown by the working-class mother are by no means 
viewed as a good prognostic for the couple's well-being, but as 
an unnecessary ritual designed to accumulate a few dollars, 
which will be easily spent later on. The occasion lacks charm and 
purpose for everyone else but the mother. She seems to know 
what she is doing. 
It is also very revealing that the mother is the author of this 
scenario. She even clearly admits that her husband has nothing to 
say here. It is after all she who does the son's laundry, and she 
has had enough. This is the reason why she pushes the immature, 
unemployed son into a marriage with a poor girl. Additionally, 
she will gain a hand in the household when the wife comes to 
live with them. Finally, it will be the wife who will eventually 
support the young husband, working outside the home even dur- 
ing her pregnancy. 
This short story shows that there is little love or affection in 
these families. Mrs. Dobejko herself admits, "I used to leave [the 
children] alone when I got married, and I wanted pretty things in 
my house. My husband, he don't earn enough in the coal yard, so 
I went to work, and my children was out on the street.,,12 
However, unlike the stories published in Good Housekeeping, 
Krawczyk's other pre-1939 works portray the family as a place 
where one is likely to find not only happiness, fulfillment, and 


12 Ibidem, p. 136.
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The Untold Story: The Image of the Polish Immigrant... 337 


love, but also remorse and an indiscriminate disregard for the 
needs and expectations of the young generation. 
Monica Krawczyk, a social worker and teacher herself, seems 
to be showing that it is impossible for the Poles in America to 
stand alone, that for the sake of their families and their own 
well-being, they should be able to adapt and adjust to new con- 
ditions. In her stories, the attractions offered by the middle-class 
way of life are likely to speak volumes to the readers. 
During my on-going research of the Polish American family, 
I have noticed a recurring pattern in the treatment of the immi- 
grant family in fiction published between 1880 and 1939. The 
works written by the group's authors and directed to the group 
itself, whether written in Polish or appearing in the ethnic press, 
tended to present the Polish American family as a full, well- 
functioning unit, characterized by profound love and respect on 
the part of mo
 family members, and usually the parents. 13 
It would be wrong, though, to claim that the community was 
not offered any information about the fluctuations in the family 
structure and life, or, simply speaking, its dark side. These usu- 
ally came either from reprints of books published in Poland, from 
works by Polish American authors but set in Poland, depicting 
Polish families,14 or from Polish American fiction in which the 
situation in America was responsible for the breakdown of the 
family. IS It is likely that these disturbing images of not only dis- 


13 See: Wojciech Morawski, Na dwoch polkulach [On Two Hemispheres] 
(Chicago IL: Zjednoczona Prasa Polska, 1907); Antoni Paryski, Wi/ia rodziny 
Drzazgow [The Christmas Eve of the Drzazga Family] (Chicago IL: A. A. Pa- 
ryski, 1913); Stanislawa Romanowska, Nad Michiganem [On Lake Michigan] 
(Chicago IL: Zgoda, 1903); Helena Stas, "Polski Pien," [The Polish Trunk] 
Gazeta Polska w Chicago, 23 May-6 June 1907. 
14 See: Antoni Parysoo, Nieposluszna [The Disobedient Girl] (Chicago, IL: 
1886); Szatanski posiew: Opowiadanie dla ludu i mlodzieiy na tie rzeczy- 
wistych wypadkow [The Infernal Seed: A Story For the Folk and Youth Based 
on Real-Life Events] (Toledo, OH: A. A. Paryski, 1916); Helena Stas, Marze- 
nie czy rzeczywistoH:. 
IS See: Melania Nestorowiczowa, "Pan Krzywda, "[Mister Harm] Ameryka-
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338 


Danuta pytlak 


functionality, but also brutality and crime in families, had a dis- 
tinct purpose. They appear to be serving the Polish American 
family by showing a negative example, exposing the conse- 
quences of moral decline and a lack of ethics in order for the 
Poles in America to beware of them. One can hear in this reason- 
ing a distant ring of the "city upon a hill" philosophy earlier 
American settlers preached. 
A study of the Polish American press, its family-related dis- 
course in the period, lets one conclude that there was a profound 
concern for the quality of family life. The figure of wife and 
mother seems to be central to this discourse. She is viewed as 
responsible for what happens at home, and consequently, in the 
community. She is the custodian of the family circle, the recep- 
tacle for the nation's patriotic, cultural and religious values. She 
is chiefly responsible for the socialization of the children while 
the father takes care of the daily bread. It is also the woman that 
is capable of shielding families from absorbing too much foreign 
influence. She can also steer her children clear of delinquency, 
and provide her husband with a warm welcoming home which he 
longs to return to after work, instead of his treading the path of 
drunkenness and moral decline. She is a Matka-Polka, which 
translates as a mother and a Polish woman at the same time, with 
both spheres equally important and influencing one another. 


Echo, 31 Aug. 1907; eadem, Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu [The Salesgirl from 
Broadway] (Detroit MI: Unity Press, 1937); eadem, "Historya bialego domku," 
[The Story of the Little White House] Ameryka-Echo, 21 Dec. 1907, p. 17; 
Stanislaw Osada, Z Pennsylwanskiego piekla [Out of the Pennsylvanian Hell] 
(Chicago IL: Smulski, 1909); Iza Pob6g, "Ich syn," [Their Son] Gazeta Polska 
w Chicago, 24 March 1910, p. 4; eadem, "Odzyskane pami!\,tki na cmentarzu" 
[Mementos Recovered from the Cemetery] Gazeta Polska w Chicago, 10 Nov. 
1910, p. 13; Romanowska, Nad Michiganem; Stas, Na ludzkim targu [In the 
Human Market] (1911); Stas, "Na falach zycia, czyli moc zmartwychwstania," 
[On the Waves of Life, or the Power of Resurrection] Gazeta Polska w Chi- 
cago, 4 Apr.-16 May 1907; Stas, "Aniol Milosierdzia," [The Angel of Mercy] 
Gazeta Polska w Chicago, 28 Feb.-21 March 1907.
>>>
The Untold Story: The Image of the Polish Immigrant... 339 


My tentative suggestion is that the image of the Polish 
American family in the group's fiction between 1880 and 1939 
ranged from praise and approval of the family in the land of 
freedom and plenty, as frequently seen in the works of Helena 
Stas J6 or Wojciech Morawski,17 to blaming American alien con- 
ditions for an imminent crisis, evident in the case of Melania 
Nestorowicz,18 Stanislawa Romanowska,19 Iza Pob6g,2┬░ and Sta- 
nislaw Osada. 21 There are also displays of full-scale discontent 
and criticism, as in the works by Krawczyk or Henryk Szczu- 
towski,22 sometimes with a view to possible improvements of 
family relations, as offered by Sypian. It was by the 1930s that 
Polish American writing entered the phase of open criticism. At 
that time, only a handful of Polish American short stories slowly 
started to receive national attention, thanks to publishing in the 
mainstream press around the 1930s. Then the portrayals of the 
Polish American family underwent significant changes. Now the 
nation had a Polish American insight into a whole host of trouble 
and vice within the Polish immigrant family. Sometimes these 
stories were so filled with delinquency and contempt that they 
sent a clear message to the American reader about how low and 
uncivilized the group was. Notably, the very form of the short 
story particularly invited such one-sided presentation and read- 
ing. The short story relies on swift mirrorlike portrayals and on 
completeness, thus it has the most powerful graphic narration. 23 


16 See: Stas, Marzenie czy rzeczywistoH:, "Polski Pien." 
17 Morawski, Na dwoch polkulach. 
18 Nestorowiczowa, "Pan Krzywda;" eadem, Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu; 
eadem, "Historya bialego domku." 
19 Romanowska, Nad Michiganem. 
20 Pob6g, "Ich syn;" eadem, "Odzyskane pamicttki na cmentarzu." 
21 Osada, Z Pennsylwafzskiego piekla. 
22 Henryk Szczutowski, Moj pierwszy "Thanksgiving Day:" Z pamifttnika 
"grinola" [My First Thanksgiving Day: From a Greenhorn's Diary] (1908). 
23 'short story,' Encyclopedia Americana (New York, NY: International 
Edition, 1974).
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340 


Danuta PytIak 


Additionally, the problems the Polish immigrant family was 
grappling with were gripping the imagination of writers, tired of 
mellow and saint-like portrayals offered by the Polish Americans 
to their fellow countrymen. 
This evolution of the image of the Polish immigrant family in 
fiction prior to 1939 may be linked to the emergence of a new 
type of Polish American author. Not willing to stay in the shal- 
low water of folklore or oddity, this type of immigrant writer, 
often second-generation, middle-class, and educated, with am- 
bitions to enter the circle of appreciated writers willingly com- 
plied with the publishers' demands for material legitimizing the 
Progressive ideology of social amelioration. Also, this writer of- 
ten felt responsible for educating the Polish masses. 
This development is also symptomatic of larger cultural, psy- 
chological and social dynamics within the community. The most 
likely reason for this evolution is the generation conflict within 
the group, a good part of which was caused by the appeal of 
popular culture, consumerism, urban values, and lifestyles to 
the young. On the part of the elders, though, one could observe 
a tendency towards sentimentalizing their role and performance 
as parents and spouses. 
This process of change in the image of the Polish American 
family in fiction seems to be universal and true of other ethnic 
groups, though the speed at which it developed in the Polish 
American case, with a clearly manifested contempt for the "Pol- 
ish ways" by the young generation in the 1930s, may be reveal- 
ing and characteristic of the nature of this community and its 
family. And these negative portrayals of the family were not only 
confined to the conflict of the children versus the parents, but 
they implied a clear inferiority and delinquency of the whole 
group. 
This dynamic development can be observed in works of other 
new immigrant writers, notably in Jewish-American fiction. 
Anzia Yezierska, who was also of Polish descent, offered severe 
criticism of the Jewish-American family. Conversely, in Italian-
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The Untold Story: The Image of the Polish Immigrant... 341 


American fiction, the group's family had been consistently por- 
trayed until the 1970s as a unit which, though troubled with 
conflicts, was full of warmth, and provided its members with 
a private sphere alternative to the often threatening and confus- 
ing world outside. Helen Barolini points out that in the works by 
John Fante or Jerre Mangione, "there are depths of bitterness, 
frustration, rancor, repression, and disappointment behind the 
surfaces of those warm and humorous portrayals of family life 
[.. .]. ,,24 Moreover, the Italian-American family was never por- 
trayed in a way as to suggest an inherent inferiority or demorali- 
zation of these people. This, in contrast, was what befell the 
Polish Americans, and it is worth examining, in further research, 
what processes brought such images into being. 
The story of Poles was steeped in the American experience 
and quietly became a part of the nation's heritage. The still un- 
charted territory of the group's fiction before 1939 holds the se- 
crets behind the untold, though rich and diverse, story of the 
Polish immigrant family. 


24 Helen Barolini, The Dream Book: An Anthology of Writings by Italian 
American Women (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1985), p. 41.
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LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


AGNIESZKA WROBLEWSKA 
Warsaw University 


(In)visible minority? 
Chinese Americans in California 


Contemporary American society harbors a curious paradox, 
whereby people of color, who are frequently called "visible mi- 
norities," suffer from a peculiar kind of invisibility. This pre- 
dicament hinders their identity-formation process, since, in the 
age of visual, or as some like to call it, picture-culture, one is 
forced to be alert to the visual projection of oneself. 
Ethnic writers are acutely aware of the problem and fre- 
quently devote their pages to its analysis and dissection. Ralph 
Ellison's now canonized novel, Invisible Man (1952) provided an 
influential set of terms through which to describe the situation of 
African American minority in its struggle for recognition and 
visibility in the predominantly white society. Similarly, Asian 
American writing shows considerable concern with the issue of 
racial visibility. Both Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, 
among the best-known Chinese-American authors, take up the 
task of mapping out certain blindnesses on the part of the white 
majority but also on the part of their own people. Their writing 
brings the Chinese community both, into the "white" field of 
vision. LInd into the full vision of Asian Americans themselves.
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344 


Agnieszka Wr6blewska 


Surprisingly, invisibility as an aspect of minority experience 
in the United States seems to have been somewhat ignored by 
literary criticism, although African American writing (partly thanks 
to Ralph Ellison) has received a certain amount of attention in this 
respect. When consulting the MLA Bibliography, one discovers 
that among the articles on American literature which concern them- 
selves with invisibility, there are but few that deal with the problem 
outside the African-American context. This opens a possibility of 
giving a new, fresh look from a different angle on the complexi- 
ties of Chinese American identity and female identity in particu- 
lar. For women suffer from twofold invisibility. They are not only 
unseen by the white majority because of their Oriental "mark", they 
are also rendered invisible by the patriarchal character of their 
own culture which denies women selfhood and individuality. 
In presenting the ways in which Asians are invisible to Cau- 
casians, the writers link the problem with the American way of 
looking. In The Joy Luck Club one of the characters, Lindo Jong, 
describes it in the following way: 
Americans don't reaIly look at one another when talking. They talk 
to their reflections. They look at others or themselves only when they 
think nobody is watching. So they never see how they really look. They 
see themselves smiling without their mouth open, or turned to the side 
where they cannot see their faults. I 
Reflections are likely to return a distorted picture, one missing 
essential details. Westerners refuse to see Asians the way they 
are but need to see them through the prism of a more familiar and 
hence comfortable form. Stereotype blurs the edges of ethnic 
identity into a simplified, compact and easy to comprehend set of 
features. An ethnic image reflected in the mirror of racial para- 
digm returns a unified picture, brings individuals to a common 
denominator, producing a totalising effect. This allows Ameri- 
cans to dismiss Asians as all looking alike. "I got away with 


I Amy Tan, Joy Luck Club (London: Vintage, 1998), p. 255.
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(In)visible Minority? Chinese American in California 345 


aliases," Maxine's father tells her, "because the white demons 
can't tell one Chinese person from another. ,,2 
Tan's metaphor is not an entirely new idea. It hearkens back 
to Invisible Man, where in the opening monologue, the narrator 
tells us: 


I am invisible, understand, simply because the people refuse to see 
me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in the circus side- 
shows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard distort- 
ing glass. When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, 
themselves, or figments of their imagination - indeed, everything and 
anything except me. 3 
Here, too we are offered a picture of an ethnic person in the blind 
spot of the white vision. He is encircled by mirrors reflecting the 
viewers and the "surrounding" but not himself. He becomes an 
absence, or at best a sum of viewers' images and "the back- 
ground," be it cultural, social or political, thus being reduced to 
a non-being; or a stereotype, ,a void or a familiar generalization 
of ethnicity, a non-individual. Ellison stresses the fact that the 
viewers make a conscious choice not to see the narrator. His in- 
visibility does not just happen to him; it is imposed by the ma- 
jority's refusal to see a man of color. Kingston follows this 
argument when she angrily comments on the stereotype of the 
"inscrutable oriental." "How dare they call their ignorance our 
inscrutability,"4 she writes in her response to the (predominantly 
favorable) reviews of her book The Woman Warrior. Like Elli- 
son; she puts the blame for Chinese invisibility/inscrutability on 
the white viewers/readers. 


2 Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men (London: Picador, 1981), p. 236 
(subsequent page numbers in the text). 
3 Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965), 
p. 7 (first published 1952). 
4 Maxine Hong Kingston, "Cultural Mis-Reading by American Reviewers," 
in: Asian and Western Writers in Dialogue: New Cultural Identities, ed. Guy 
Amirthanayagam (London: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 56-57.
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346 


Agnieszka Wr6blewska 


The theme of mirror reflections appears also in Amy Tan's 
The Hundred Secret Senses where she depicts the way in which 
white majority sees ethnic minorities as projections/reflections of 
themselves only with different accents. When looking at Asians 
they see imperfect versions of themselves, "a slant-eyed version 
of Natalie Wood," as we read. 5 The novel's narrator describes the 
way in which, as a child, she imagined her Chinese sister (fa- 
ther's first daughter), who was soon to join the family in Amer- 
ica: "It occurs to me only now that my mother and I both mod- 
eled our hopes after actresses who spoke in accents that weren't 
their own" (p. 7). American perception of Asians has been a re- 
flection of myths built by the media, particularly Hollywood. The 
visual images molded Asian features into a simple formula of an 
American face "spaced up" by a few foreign traits, just like the 
American version of Chinese food, which bears just a slight re- 
semblance to the true Oriental cuisine. It is just "exotic" enough 
to be interesting, but it does not offend Western tastes. It offers 
secure comfort of familiarity "with a difference." 
This misconstrued way of looking is not, however, an exclu- 
sively Caucasian phenomenon. In their urgent need to appropri- 
ate America, some members of the minorities internalize the 
prejudiced perception of their own races. The notion of "double 
consciousness" goes back to the influential work by W. E. B. Du 
Bois The Souls of Black Folk where he describes it as "this sense 
of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of 
measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in 
amused contempt and pity.,,6 While Du Bois' work was address- 
ing the predicament of the African American minority, it can well 
be adopted in discussions of ethnic groups in general. The refer- 
ences to "looking with American eyes" appear quite frequently in 
the works by Asian authors. 


S Amy Tan, The Hundred Secret Senses (London: Flamingo, 1997), p. 7 
(subsequent page numbers in the text). 
6 W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (London: Penguin, 1996), 
p. 5 (first published in 1903).
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(In)visible Minority? Chinese American in California 347 


Already in Jade Snow Wong's Fifth Chinese Daughter (1945) 
we find hints as to the main character's awareness of certain 
duplicity of vision. When describing her college class visit to her 
father's clothing factory, she comments: "Jade Snow suddenly 
felt estranged, for while she was translating the conversation 
between instructor and parents, she was observing the scene with 
two pairs of eyes - Fifth Daughter's and those of a college jun- 
ior.,,7 Here, too, the American way of looking seems to win and 
she feels ashamed of the poverty and simple ways of her family. 
She implies a certain duality of perception; a sort of identity split 
that is caused by two contradictory forces pulling her in opposite 
directions. 
In more recent texts, like those by Tan and Kingston, we are 
dealing more with a metamorphosis, a taking on of a certain 
mode of seeing rather than employing double vision. "I've be- 
come too American and now I see things with different eyes, eve- 
rything looking smaller, poorer, not so good," complains Kwan in 
The Hundred Secret Senses (184). She is unable to appreciate her 
homeland (she grew up in China) the way she did before she 
immigrated to the United States. The places no longer impress 
her, as they seem inconsequential when reflected in the distorting 
mirror of Americanness. Here the duplicity is transcended by the 
fully internalized Western vision tinted by condescension for 
ethnicity. 
Confusion caused by American preconceptions of races can 
blind people from recognizing who they really are. In a poignant 
scene at the beginning of Tripmaster Monkey Wittman makes 
a surprising discovery: his hair is actually brown, rather than 
black, which would fit the stereotype. "What color was his own 
hair?" he asked himself, "He pulled a mess of it forward. It's 
brown. But he always put "black" on his i.d.s. I've got brown 
hair. And never knew it though combing it at the mirror daily be- 


7 Jade Snow Wong, Fifth Chinese Daughter (London: Hurst and Blackett, 
1952), p. 175.
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348 


Agnieszka Wr6blewska 


cause when you think Chinese, Chinese have black hair."s He 
must have been looking at himself in the mirror of stereotype 
that returned a picture "colored" with racial prejudice. He has 
allowed himself to be manipulated by popular beliefs, and he was 
not an exception. As he points out in an emotional speech, there 
are Asian Americans willing to mutilate their bodies to fit in the 
Western ideal of beauty. Women not only feel compelled to have 
their hair permed and dyed but are prepared to undergo plastic 
surgery to make themselves look like Westerners. Wittman also 
points out that a large number of Chinese marry outside their 
own race, finding other races more attractive, which may lead to 
eventual dissolving of the Chinese community in America and he 
calls for an unprejudiced celebration of a racial body. 
Asian writers raise also the question of a new, more recent 
color blindness in America. While, they claim, the society is 
aware of the existence of the two extreme colors: black and white, 
it seems to shut out the knowledge of the existence of other 
variations. In her recollections of the Korean War times, Maxine, 
the narrator of China Men (Kingston's partly autobiographical 
projection), remembers the tags they had to wear as children in 
an American school: "... our dog tags had a for religion and 
a for race because neither black not white. Mine also had a for 
blood type. Some kids said a was for 'Oriental', but I knew it 
was for 'Other'" (p. 269). Thus she expresses an experience of 
a void, a certain lack that Asian Americans had to endure while 
not being able to count themselves among any of the major racial 
groups, "neither black nor white," they are always alien, their 
self-identification hampered by the overwhelming "otherness." 
Ethnic writers suggest a variety of ways to oppose invisibil- 
ity. They seem to agree that racial assertiveness is most promis- 
ing. The closing scenes of Wong's Fifth Chinese Daughter por- 
tray the protagonist working in the window of her pottery store. 


8 Maxine Hong Kingston, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (London: 
Picador, 1990), p. 59.
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(In)visible Minority? Chinese American in California 349 


She is sitting there in plain view, her bare feet working the 
wheel, her skirts pulled up, working on another art piece for the 
shop. She thus defies the codes restraining her as a Chinese per- 
son and as a woman. And one should bear in mind that the book 
was published in 1945. She forces the community to see her as 
a woman independent and in control of her life. She is self- 
employed and self-reliant, she refuses to be categorized as quiet, 
submissive, and subservient. Equally important is the fact that 
while breaking through invisibility, she chooses to foreground 
ethnic traits rather than to conceal them. After all, in her pottery 
making Jade Snow does reach for ancient Oriental motifs. Work- 
ing with American materials, she produces art inspired by her 
Chinese heritage. She rebels against constraints of traditional 
Chinese femininity, but her hair is braided in Chinese fashion. 
She is thus trying to bridge and blend the two cultures, attempt- 
ing to bring the two continents together. 
Writers
eem to agree that the time has come to cease to dis- 
guise their ethnicity and to see it as an asset rather than liability. 
Kingston suggests that wearing the banner of Chineseness and 
attacking white visual esthetics may be the way to be seen in the 
true sense. Wittman resolves to offend people with his looks. He 
chooses mismatched outfits, greens and navy blues - colors that 
bring out his skin color, in a demonstration of "otherness" and 
a loud demand for acceptance. He was inspired by a college 
roommate, who said: '''We look yellow in that [green] color'. It 
had to do with racial skin. And of course, from that time on, he 
knew what color he had to wear - green, his color to wear to 
war" (p. 44). 
This is a war for recognition and inclusion, and it is also 
played out on the level of selection of images that writers choose 
to include in their texts. In their attempts to draw attention to and 
to visualize Chinese culture, they do not hesitate to include its 
more difficult or shocking aspects. In The Woman Warrior we 
find a graphic description of a "Monkey feast" where a live mon- 
key's head is cut open and the brain eaten out by the members of
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350 


Agnieszka Wr6bIewska 


the party, while the participants of the feast are being amused by 
the grimaces on the animal's face. Tan gives us an account of an 
agonizing death of a chicken in The Hundred Secret Senses, 
where we are watching a bird with its throat slashed, blood drip- 
ping, staggering around, dying a slow death - all for the visual 
pleasure of the Western visitors as we later find out. A similar 
scene, appears in Joy Kogawa's Obasan where the reader wit- 
nesses young Naomi's first encounter with death - she watches 
a chicken with its neck broken, being tortured by little boys. 
The endings of many books written by Asian authors attempt 
in various ways to embrace the ancestral heritage, to incorporate 
it into modern-day America and to arrive at some sort of recon- 
ciliation between the contradictory forces and emotions torment- 
ing the characters. Visibility, they seem to assert, will only work 
for Asians in America if they come to terms with their cultural 
roots and proudly embrace them. 
At the end of The Hundred Secret Senses, Olivia, who ex- 
pressed ambivalence towards her Chinese ethnicity, finds that it 
actually offers her a sense of belonging. In a symbolical gesture 
she assumes her Chinese half-sister's name, thus identifying with 
the family history. She rejects the Italian name of her stepfather 
and the Irish name of her ex-husband. Her allegiance is not to 
the man who raised her, nor to the biological father whom she 
hardly remembers, nor to her husband. Her spiritual center, her 
sense of connectedness is with China. "What's a family name if 
not a claim to being connected in the future to someone in the 
past," (p. 320) she concludes, making her decision. 
The Woman Warrior closes with a story that unites a Chinese 
mother and an American daughter. The beginning is the mother's 
but the ending is Maxine's. It illustrates the fluidity of culture, 
which takes nutriment from the past but looks into the future. 
Together the story is a metaphor for Kingston's writing where 
she draws from her mother's stories and knowledge about China, 
but presents the material in her own way, in her own words. The 
result is the book, which brought about a renewed interest in
>>>
(In)visible Minority? Chinese American in California 35 I 


ethnic issues and placed Asian Americans in the focal point of 
Western vision. 
The Joy Luck Club ends with a symbolical, even if idealized, 
scene of three sisters embracing, two of them Chinese, one Ame- 
rican. It is an allegorical visualization of the unity of Han people 
who, the scene seems to suggest, all descend from the same 
mother/land, and therefore share common feelings and emotions. 
There is a sense of reconciliation, and visibility is achieved by 
embracing (literally) the ancestral past. 
The interplay between visibility and invisibility continues to 
attract ethnic writers' attention. Their texts pose numerous ques- 
tions concerning ways of looking and seeing different races. 
There seems to be no doubt, however, that taking pride in one's 
racial heritage, reaching towards one's cultural roots and show- 
ing white America that one has not arrived empty-handed are 
strategies that are frequently favored by the authors. Neither 
identity nor 'Visibility can be built on denial or suppression. Hid- 
ing one's ethnicity under Western disguises gives no promise of 
winning visibility.
>>>

>>>
-,-- 


LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torut1 2001 


MIROSLAWA ZIAJA-BUCHHOLTZ 
Nicholas Copernicus University, Torun 


Local Color in Black and White: 
The Bouquet by Charles W. Chesnutt 


Since the establishment of Afro-American studies as an aca- 
demic field in its own right, literary scholars have grown reluc- 
tant to identify Charles Chesnutt with the local color movement. 
While taking exception to this convenient classification with in- 
creasing forcefulness, historians of American literature as well as 
students of Chesnutt's fiction .seek more appropriate labels. For 
example, in the 1988 Columbia Literary History of the United 
States, Martha Banta mentions Chesnutt briefly along with Joel 
Chandler Harris in the chapter on "Realism and Regionalism" 
(Banta 1988: 513-514), but she discusses his fiction in greater 
detail in the section entitled "Immigrants and Other Americans" 
of the chapter devoted to "Literary Diversities" (Banta 1988: 
574-575). Published a year later, Peter Conn's Literature in 
America features George Washington Cable and Kate Chopin, 
but not Chesnutt, as representatives of "the local scene" in 
southern literature (Conn 1989: 275-277). Highlighting Ches- 
nutt's civil rights work, Conn groups him with Booker T. Wash- 
ington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Paul Laurence Dunbar under the 
heading "Black Writers" (Conn 1989: 328-329). In his contribu- 
tion to Amerikanische Literaturgeschichte, published in 1997, 
Winfried Fluck deplores the persistent habit of misreading Ches-
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354 


Miroslawa Ziaja-Buchholtz 


nutt as a "local color writer." According to Fluck, sympathetic 
readers, beginning with William Dean Howells, tended to ignore 
Chesnutt's cunning inversion of a traditional narrative pattern, 
and to praise him merely for vignettes of the past era, or faithful 
transcription of the dialect (Fluck 1997: 168). 
Chesnutt scholars unanimously refute arguments about his 
affiliation with local color. Ernestine Williams Pickens presents 
Chesnutt as an activist in the Progressive movement, whose fic- 
tion, especially novels, reflects his political concerns, and serves 
as a weapon in political struggle. Holding on to his "belief that 
morality and democracy were one" (Pickens 1994: xi), Chesnutt, 
like other middle-class Americans, reacted against the social Dar- 
winism of industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Mor- 
gan, and Andrew Carnegie in an effort to "recapture the eco- 
nomic individualism and the political democracy" (Pickens 1994: 
ix-x). Like Pickens, Joseph McElrath perceives Chesnutt as 
a protest writer, and corroborates the views of Russell Ames, who 
in his 1953 study associates Chesnutt with the social-realist lit- 
erary tradition of the Progressive Era (McElrath 1999: 11, Ames 
1999: 152-153). According to Charles Duncan, Chesnutt only 
seems to belong to the local color tradition, and seems to echo 
Thomas Nelson Page, George Washington Cable, Joel Chandler 
Harris, while in fact "his often subversive use of the materials 
typical of those traditions, his near preoccupation with race mat- 
ters, and his subtle narrative presentations all combine to distin- 
guish his writings from those of his contemporaries" (Duncan 
1998: 4). Charles Crow points out the complexity of Chesnutt's 
short stories to prove "how far Chesnutt is .from the accommodat- 
ing local colorist he is still sometimes taken for" (Crow 1999: 
266). In the fourth edition of Reference Guide to American Lit- 
erature Sylvia Lyons Render, another Chesnutt scholar, hails him 
as "the first real Negro novelist," "the pioneer of the color line," 
and the first American writer not only to use the folk tale for so- 
cial protest but also extensively to characterize black Americans 
(Render2000: 155).
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Local Color in Black and White: The Bouquet... 355 


All these wholehearted recommendations of Chesnutt's 
achievement go hand in hand with an implicit depreciation of 
local color, which is considered "accommodating" in aesthetic 
and political terms. In contrast to Chesnutt, regional writing 
appears as a mere nostalgic recreation of the past, deficient in 
narrative subtlety and indifferent to racial issues. Conn finds 
a plausible explanation of this condescending attitude toward lo- 
cal color; he argues that prejudice against "scribbling ladies" was 
projected on regional literature as a whole. "In part because so 
many of the regional writers were women, the strengths of their 
work long tended to be undervalued" (Conn 1989: 270-271). 
Women such as Freeman and Jewett were banished to the "back 
parlor of allegedly quaint and merely antiquarian interest," and 
received backhanded praise for their "delicate," "sentimental," 
"exquisite," "charming" stories. Conn admits that these female 
writers "traded in melodrama and sentimentality," but insists that 
they also contributed to realism and remain memorable espe- 
cially for their statements "on behalf of obscure female lives" 
(Conn 1989: 271). 
Even if for the sake of prestige Chesnutt is celebrated first 
and foremost as an Afro-American author, the dividing line be- 
tween his fiction and local color writing remains thin to an un- 
prejudiced eye. Like other regionalists, Chesnutt won renown 
for his short fiction. The two volumes of his short stories were 
both published in 1899. The first collection of seven stories, en- 
titled The Conjure Woman, was clearly modeled after Joel Chan- 
dler Harris's narratives. Drawing on antebellum fairy tales in- 
vented by black slaves to outwit their white masters (Duncan 
1998: 6), Chesnutt's stories are "neither aggressively didactic 
nor bitter in tone" (McElrath 1999: 4). Abounding in humorous 
touches, the stories collected in The Conjure Woman are also 
characterized by extensive use of southern rural dialect rendered 
with admirable precision (Duncan 1998: 17). It was only in the 
second collection, The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of 
the C%r Line, that Chesnutt resolved to effect "a shift in style
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356 


Miroslawa Ziaja-Buchholtz 


and emphasis away from the plantation dialect tale and toward 
a more 'realistic' representation of postwar Southern economic 
and social conditions" (Wonham 1998: 7). Relatively neglected, 
the latter collection was rediscovered by Lorne Fienberg, who 
notices in the arrangement of the nine stories in the collection 
"a ceaseless oscillation across boundaries: from present to past, 
from North to South, from freedom to slavery and back again" 
(Fienberg 1999: 212). 
The story selected for closer analysis comes from the second, 
neglected, "realistic" collection, and may evidence Chesnutt's 
affinity with feminine local color. Like Freeman and Jewett, 
Chesnutt employs and transcends parochial sentimentality in 
order to record insignificant female lives. "The Bouquet" has 
often been overlooked in critical analyses (e.g. Fienberg 1999, 
Duncan 1999) because it seems to invite facile sentimental read- 
ing; the division of roles in the racial conflict apparently over- 
laps in this story with the simplistic division of roles in a melo- 
drama, where there is always. victim and victimizer, hero and 
villain. The political correctness of critics and scholars who have 
commented on the story so far seems to make them blind to 
shades of color, which I try to restore. I would like to show in 
"The Bouquet" the ambiguity, which critics such as McElrath 
and Duncan notice elsewhere in Chesnutt's fiction. In view of the 
recent dramatic surge in translation studies, it is also worth ad- 
dressing, or at least touching upon, the question of how much 
"local color" is irretrievably lost in the process of cultural and 
linguistic mediation. 
"The Bouquet" was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in 
1899, and has since given rise to critical responses ranging from 
high praise to downright censure. In 1900 Howells singled "The 
Bouquet" out in his review of Chesnutt's short fiction as one of 
"admirably rendered effects" (Howells 1999: 53). Acknowledg- 
ing "racial interest" of Chesnutt's short stories, Howells prefers 
to view them exclusively as "works of art." He notices that they 
are occasionally a little pompous, "a little too ornate for beauty,"
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Local Color in Black and White: The Bouquet... 357 


that their diction is at times "journalistic, reporteristic," but he 
hastens to add that "for far the greatest part Mr. Chesnutt seems 
to know quite as well what he wants to do in a given case as 
Maupassant, or Tourguenief, or Mr. James, or Miss Jewett, or 
Miss Wilkins, in other given cases, and has done it with an art of 
kindred quiet and force" (Howells 1999: 53). Ten years later 
Benjamin Griffith Brawley published an article on Chesnutt in 
which racial issues come to the fore, and yet "The Bouquet" is 
recommended chiefly on artistic grounds as "one of the very best 
technically" among Chesnutt's oeuvre (Brawley 1999: 123). Lit- 
erary taste must have changed dramatically within the next 
twenty years if in 1930 John Chamberlain mentioned "The Bou- 
quet" as one of the least successful productions, in which Ches- 
nutt proves that he "can become as sentimental as any of the 
cheaper fiction writers of his day or ours" (Chamberlain 1999: 136). 
The charge of sentimentality reappears in the analysis offered 
by William Andrews (Wonham 1998: 122-123) and in Joseph 
McElrath'
appraisal (McElrath 1999: 253), and seems justified 
as far as the main thrust of the plot is concerned. "The Bouquet" 
begins as a story of Mary Myrover, a would-be Southern belle 
reduced to teaching in a colored school. The disaster of the Civil 
War has claimed the lives of her much respected father, as well 
as of her brother and her lover. Since Mary's father had commit- 
ted not only his life but also his wealth to the Confederate cause, 
the end of war brings with it financial ruin as well as bereave- 
ment. Left without income, Mary has to fend for herself and look 
after her embittered invalid mother. Out of dire necessity she 
looks for a job and the only acceptable position she can find is 
that of a teacher of fifty or sixty black children. The first day at 
school gives Mary a tremendous headache, but she soon comes to 
like her new responsibilities. The children admire and trust her, 
especially a poor black girl, Sophy Tucker, whose devotion is 
irresistible and endearing. 
The girl shows affection in a variety of ways: she carries 
Miss Myrover's books home and brings her flowers. In her at-
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358 


Miroslawa Ziaja-Buchholtz 


tentions to the teacher, Sophy vies with the white .lady's white 
spaniel, "a dog of high degree," bearing the appropriate name 
Prince. When Mary Myrover dies at the end of her second year in 
school, Sophy resolves to bring a bouquet of roses to her grave. 
However, this simple act of remembrance abounds in insur- 
mountable obstacles. Mary's mother believes that the effort of 
teaching black children has killed her daughter, and denies all 
blacks the honor of participating in the funeral rites at home and 
in church. Turned out of Mrs. Myrover's house and out of church, 
Sophy foIlows the cortege to the cemetery with a bunch of by 
now withering flowers, but she is again stopped this time by 
a notice to the effect that "[t]his cemetery is for white people 
only. Others please keep out" (Chesnutt 1992: 247). IronicaIly, 
the skill of reading, which Sophy had learned from Miss Myro- 
ver, brings merely the recognition of racial boundaries. When all 
the mourners leave the cemetery, Sophy notices the white spaniel 
Prince lying beside Miss Myrover's grave. She calls him by his 
name, and entrusts him with her mission. 
Chesnutt's narrative contains staple motifs of melodramatic 
fiction, from destitution (both black and white), to bereavement, 
to affection forbidden by racial prejudice, to premature death, to 
canine fidelity. The presentation of these events and circum- 
stances is, however, far from sentimental: there are no effusive 
authorial commentaries, no high-sounding declarations, no heart- 
rending death-bed scenes. Dialogues are short, few and far be- 
tween, which implies that communication and hence understand- 
ing are impeded not only across color line but also within the 
white family. A close reading of the dialogues is particularly 
helpful in revealing the complexities, ambiguities, and "mixed 
messages" (McElrath 1999: 16) of Chesnutt's prose. The juxta- 
position of two language systems in "The Bouquet" - standard 
American English and black vernacular - may well be viewed 
as a "discourse war" (Crow 1999: 266) with an equivocal out- 
come. The first one to speak is Mrs. Myrover, who thus voices 
her dissatisfaction with Mary's teaching position:
>>>
Local Color in Black and White: The Bouquet... 359 


"I don't like it, Mary," said her mother. "It's a long step from own- 
ing such people to teaching them. What do they need with education? 
It will only make them unfit for work." 
"They're free now, mother, and perhaps they'll work better if they're 
taught something. Besides, it's only a business arrangement, and doesn't 
involve any closer contact than we have with our servants." 
"Well, I should say not!" sniffed the old lady. "Not one of them will 
ever dare to presume on your position to take any liberties with us. I'll 
see to that." (Chesnutt 239-240) 


Sensing racist tendencies in all white characters, critics such 
as Duncan and Andrews fail to notice the differences between 
mother and daughter, which are evident in this exchange. While 
Miss Myrover sounds conciliatory and rational, her mother re- 
hashes pre-war rhetoric and emotions. The contrast between the 
daughter's objectivity and the mother's egotistic aloofness is still 
more glaring in their second and last exchange. When Mrs. My- 
rover notices Sophy carrying Mary's books, she protests loudly, 
"Mary, r-wish you wouldn't ,let those little darkeys follow you to the 
house. I don't want them in the yard. I should think you'd have enough 
of them all day." 
"Very well, mother," replied her daughter. "I won't bring any more 
of them. The child was only doing me a favor." (Chesnutt 243) 
It is only too tempting to view the standard American English 
used by mother and daughter as the language of power. In fact, 
however, the two white female characters do not share speech 
pa.tterns. While assuming authority, Mrs. Myrover reduces her 
daughter to meek submission. And yet, the older woman's sense 
of power is deceptive; her insistence on authority is expressed in 
the hysterical, repetitive language of despair. The rational re- 
sponses of her daughter, on the other hand, in both cases fall into 
two irreconcilable parts: a defense of the blacks and a promise to 
comply with the old woman's wishes. The reader can never be 
sure if Miss Myrover merely humors her invalid mother, or else 
subscribes to her racist views.
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360 


Miroslawa Ziaja-Buchholtz 


Miss Myrover shows an altogether different face to her pupil. 
There is no mentoring or militant tone in her remarks addressed to 
Sophy. The first sentence she utters sounds personal and savors of 
a mere romantic fancy: "'When I die, Sophy', Miss Myrover said 
to the child one day, 'I want to be covered with roses. And when 
they bury me, I'm sure I shall rest better if my grave is banked 
with flowers, and roses are planted at my head and at my feet''' 
(Chesnutt 241). Miss Myrover's obsession with and aestheticization 
of death is an understandable reaction to the atrocities of the Civil 
War. Unlike her mother, Miss Myrover does not blame anyone and 
willingly accepts the black girl's homage. Co-opting the teacher's 
attitude to a larger ideological system, the narrator suggests her 
susceptibility to the images of a feudal lady or the Virgin Mary, 
whom she apparently tries to imitate (Chesnutt 1992: 239, 241). 
The two brief exchanges between teacher and pupil are very much 
alike. In both the little girl offers her help or a gift of flowers, 
and the white lady accepts gracefully, lavishing praise on the child. 
"Lemme tote yo' bundle fer yer, Miss Ma'y?" she asked eagerly. 
"I'm gwine yo' way." 
"Thank you, Sophy," was the reply. "I'll be glad if you will." 
(Chesnutt 1992: 243) 
"Dey [yellow roses] come offn my own bush, Miss Ma'y," she said 
proudly," an' I did n' let nobody e'se pull 'em, but saved 'em all fer 
you, 'cause I know you likes roses so much. I'm gwine bring 'em all ter 
you as long as dey las'." 
"Thank you, Sophy," said the teacher; "you are a very good girl." 
(Chesnutt 1992: 243) 
Sophy and Mary seem to understand each other very well, even 
though they use different language varieties. Unlike the double- 
voiced nameless narrator in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Sophy 
addresses her white teach
r in her own black vernacular. The 
ambiguity of this act remains unresolved. Does the girl use dia- 
lect to assert her racial identity, or simply because she does not 
know better?
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Local Color in Black and White: The Bouquet... 361 


The longest and most heated exchange takes place in Mrs. 
Myrover's kitchen on the day of Mary's funeral. Sophy comes to 
negotiate with the affectionate black cook the possibility of de- 
positing her bunch of roses. When the cook disappears to see if 
her mistress is upstairs, Mrs. Myrover storms into the kitchen, 
upbraids, and dismisses the black girl. Following this dismissal, 
the girl is repeatedly confronted with the standard American 
English language of power used in an impersonal way. First, the 
usher in the church announces on behalf of the institution he rep- 
resents that colored people are not to be admitted "until the white 
people have all gone in." Second, the white-robed priest eulo- 
gizes Miss Myrover's services to black children. And third, the 
impersonal notice on the cemetery fence - white letters on a black 
background - forbids all blacks to enter. These official an- 
nouncements preclude all interaction and communication. Thus 
the "discourse war" seems to have been won by Mrs. Myrover. 
And yet, at the very end of the story, Chesnutt destabilizes the 
verbal hierarchy once again in allowing the black girl to have the 
last word. She addresses the white dog in her black vernacular: 
"'Take that ter Miss Ma 'y, Prince', she said, 'that's a good dog- 
gie'" (Chesnutt 1992: 248). Thus Sophy's story has a happy end- 
ing, which is nevertheless bitter. Yes, she does achieve her aim, 
but only through subterfuge and without dignity. 
A prospective Polish translator of "The Bouquet" would have 
a hard time searching for a fully satisfactory equivalent of black 
vernacular, and would look in vain for models in Polish transla- 
tions of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Mark 
Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or William Faulkner's 
The Sound and the Fury, or Carson McCullers's The Heart is 
a Lonely Hunter, or Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, to name 
just a handful of examples from Leszek Berezowski's seminal 
study, Dialect in Translation (1997). Since no Polish regional 
dialect evokes a comparable set of connotations, the translator 
would have to resort to lexical and syntactic means of colloqui- 
alization or rusticalization, which is a difficult task given the
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362 


Miroslawa Ziaja-BuchhoItz 


brevity of the few exchanges in Chesnutt's "Bouquet." The story 
would lose much of its atmosphere if, for example, Mrs. Myrover 
and her black cook should speak the same standard Polish. Its 
message would be disambiguated if Mrs. Myrover and her daughter 
shared their speech habits. As Duncan rightly points out, Ches- 
nutt depicts "a plurality of both black and white characters rather 
than offering reductive generalizations about blacks or limiting 
his artistic expressions to a single politicized voice" (Duncan 
1998: 21). 
While the translator would have to see shades of color, liter- 
ary critics persistently view "The Bouquet" in terms of binary 
oppositions. Their well-meant racial segregation of Chesnutt's 
characters leads to ghettoizing the author as a black writer with 
a straightforward anti racist agenda. Misread as "one-dimensional 
documents," like the majority of slave narratives, his stories lose 
"rich plurality of perspectives and voices" (Duncan 1998: 23), 
and become, to use Eugene Goodheart's expression, "the captive 
of identity politics" (Goodheart 1999: 117). Critics seem to be- 
lieve that black authors should naturally take sides with black 
characters and point to victimizers among the whites. A reader 
who knows that Chesnutt belonged to the "bright mulatto" class 
of African-Americans, enjoyed certain social and economic ad- 
vantages (Andrews 1992: viii), and was one of the leaders of 
a small group of the best black citizens, the so-called "talented 
tenth" (Stone 1999: 116, Fienberg 1999: 210) can hardly identify 
him with Sophy Tucker in "The Bouquet," who is explicitly one 
of the blackest and least privileged children. 
The figure of Sophy is particularly troublesome; she is toO 
much of a victim to be true. The stereotype of a docile, servile 
black child has appeared outrageous to certain late twentieth- 
century critics. While Duncan sympathetically defines the story 
as a "portrayal of the persistent social inequalities facing African 
Americans at the turn of the century" (Duncan 1998: 140), Wil- 
liam Andrews, Chesnutt's foremost academic critic, complains 
that Sophy is particularly "type-ridden," that she is the epitome
>>>
Local Color in Black and White: The Bouquet... 363 


of sentimentalized childhood, "little more than a diminutive per- 
sonification of the Afro-American as devoted, patient, long-suf- 
fering, and wholly self-forgetful" (reprinted in Wonham 1998: 
122-123). Andrews seems to take his cue directly from Chesnutt, 
who in a letter to his friend and mentor George Washington Ca- 
ble, expressed his disdain for the standard magazine representa- 
tion of African Americans as devoted servants whose "chief vir- 
tues have been their dog-like fidelity to their old master" (Helen 
Chesnutt 1952: 57, Wonham 1998: 4). In view of these facts, 
does Chesnutt's introduction of such a character in his Own short 
story result from unconscious inconsistency or premeditated ar- 
tistic plan? 
The answer to this question will remain a mystery, but it seems 
that in focussing on Sophy, Duncan and Andrews overlook simi- 
larities between Sophy and Mary. Both teacher and pupil are fa- 
therless. Both are poor by the standards of their respective caste. 
Both are powerless, and yet manage to circumvent the dictates of 
society. In d.efiance of "public opinion," Mary teaches in a black 
school. Without breaking the 'unjust law, Sophy has her bouquet 
placed on her teacher's grave. The narrator draws an analogy 
between the black girl and the dog in showing how Sophy vies 
with Prince for Miss Myrover's affection, and appears worse off 
than the dog when it comes to entering the teacher's house or the 
white cemetery. However, Miss Myrover also bears a resemblance 
to the dog. Like her spaniel Prince, she has a pompous name 
which gives her no economic privilege. She is worse off than the 
dog in that she cannot reveal her affection for the black child in 
public. Dramatizing the change in social standing of teacher and 
pupil, Chesnutt redraws the racial boundary. The white woman 
reduced to teaching and the black girl elevated to the status of 
a pupil are drawn closer to each other. The dividing line between 
victim and victimizer is thus blurred; both Mary and Sophy prove 
to be victims of "public opinion." Their attachment is proscribed 
by two white institutions: the Southern family, in which the 
mother wields power, and the Church, whose priests promote the
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364 


Miroslawa Ziaja-Buchholtz 


idea of patriarchal rule. By placing the mutual sympathy of two 
insignificant female characters in the context of large political 
and social concerns, Chesnutt merges two dominant nineteenth- 
century ideologies: the republican emphasis on freedom and the 
cult of domesticity. 
Critics who read "The Bouquet" for the sake of its realism 
find it deficient in many respects. Searching for historical accu- 
racy, Andrews, for example, claims that "[t]he social analysis in 
the story is not detailed, examples of discrimination against 
blacks are mentioned without special highlighting from the author" 
(Wonham 1998: 122). Instead of extensive realistic descriptions, 
the reader finds in "The Bouquet" poetic devices which, interest- 
ingly enough, through their indirectness resemble the verbal stra- 
tegies of oppressed people. Chesnutt employs analogy, contrast, 
color symbolism, emblematic names, understatement, and silence. 
For example, he suggests analogies between Sophy, Mary, and 
the dog. Looking at the funeral service with Sophy's eyes through 
a hole in the stained-glass window, which presents Jesus bless- 
ing little children, the narrator creates a powerful image which is 
an ambiguous allusion to the expulsion of the blacks from the 
church, and to Miss Myrover's educational efforts. The gifts Mary 
and Sophy exchange are neither black nor white, but somewhere 
in between: yellow. Mary gives a yellow ribbon and receives 
yellow roses. While Miss Myrover's last name suggests roman- 
tic wandering or piracy, the name Sophy Tucker unites wisdom 
and the down-to-earth ability to "draw together into a small 
place" or "to eat heartily." The narrator implies, rather than 
states, politicization of educational institutions when he remarks 
at the outset of the story, using passive voice, that "a Freedmen's 
Bureau school and a Presbyterian missionary school [...] had 
been withdrawn when the need for them became less pressing" 
(Chesnutt 1992: 238). Finally, the silence about Sophy's father 
is an indirect indictment of the destructive influence of slavery 
on black families. Duncan rightly observes that Chesnutt dis- 
tances himself from the black literary tradition of truthtelling in
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Local Color in Black and White: The Bouquet... 365 


that he "calls attention to the artificiality of his productions" 
(Duncan 1998: 6). 
The awareness of a tension between artistry and plain truth- 
telling in "The Bouquet" is crucial to its prospective translator. 
While cultural and political underpinnings would need to be ex- 
plained in footnotes to the Polish readers, the translator would 
also have to modulate the tone as adroitly as Chesnutt does. Oth- 
erwise, the ambiguous messages conveyed indirectly might be 
lost. The translator would find himself/herself walking with 
Chesnutt the tightrope of the color line, and balancing on the 
tightrope of high-strung melodrama. It would take the cultivated 
restraint of Chesnutt's stamp to embed an indictment of racism, 
without becoming contentious or propagandistic, and to employ 
a melodramatic plot, without indulging in mawkish sentimentality. 


Works Cited 


Ames, Russell. [1953] 1999. "
ocial Realism in Charles W. Chesnutt." 
Critical Essays on Charles w: Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph R. McElrath Jr. 
New York: G. K. HalI and Co. 
Andrews, William L. 1980. The Literary Career of Charles w: Chesnutt. 
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 
Banta, Martha. 1988. Part III of Columbia Literary History of the 
United States. General Editor Emory Eliott. New York: Columbia 
University Press. 
Berezowski, Leszek. 1997. Dialect in Translation. Wroclaw: Wydaw- 
, nictwo Uniwersytetu Wroclawskiego. 
Brawley, Benjamin Griffith. [1910] 1999. "Charles Waddell Chesnutt." 
Critical Essays on Charles w: Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph R. McElrath Jr. 
New York: G. K. Hall and Co. 
Chamberlain, John. [1930] 1999. "The Negro as Writer." Critical Es- 
says on Charles W. Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph R. McElrath Jr. New 
York: G. K. Hall and Co. 
Chesnutt, Charles W. 1992. Collected Stories. New York: A Mentor Book. 
Chesnutt, Helen M. 1952. Charles Waddell Chesnutt: Pioneer of the 
Color Line. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
>>>
366 


Miroslawa Ziaja-Buchholtz 


Conn, Peter. 1989. Literature in America: An Illustrated History. Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press. 
Crow, Charles L. 1999. "Under the Upas Tree: Charles Chesnutt's 
Gothic." Critical Essays on Charles W Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph R. 
McElrath Jr. New York: G. K. Hall and Co. 
Duncan, Charles. 1998. The Absent Man: The Narrative Craft of Char- 
les W Chesnutt. Athens: Ohio University Press. 
1999. "The Telling Genealogy: Notions of the Family in The Wife 
of His Youth." Critical Essays on Charles W Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph 
R. McElrath Jr. New York: G. K. Hall and Co. 
Fienberg, Lorne. [1990] 1999. "Charles W. Chesnutt's The Wife of His 
Youth: The Unveiling of the Black Storyteller." Critical Essays on 
Charles W Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph R. McElrath Jr. New York: G. K. 
Hall and Co. 
Fluck, Winfried. 1997. "Realismus, Naturalismus, Vormoderne." Ameri- 
kanische Literaturgeschichte. General Editor Hubert Zapf. Stuttgart: 
Verlag J. B. Metzler. 
Goodheart, Eugene. 1999. Does Literary Studies Have a Future? Madi- 
son: University of Wisconsin Press. 
Howells, William Dean. [1900] 1999. "Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt's Sto- 
ries." Critical Essays on Charles W Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph R. McEl- 
rath Jr. New York: G. K. Hall and Co. 
McElrath Jr., Joseph R. [1997] 1999. "w. D. Howells and Race: Charles 
W. Chesnutt's Disappointment of the Dean." Critical Essays on 
Charles W Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph R. McElrath Jr. New York: G. K. 
Hall and Co. 
1999. Introduction. Critical Essays on Charles W Chesnutt. Ed. 
Joseph R. McElrath Jr. New York: G. K. Hall and Co. 
Pickens, Ernestine Williams. 1994. Charles W Chesnutt and the Pro- 
gressive Movement. New York: Pace University Press. 
Render, Sylvia Lyons. 2000. "Charles W. Chesnutt." Reference Guide to 
American Literature. Fourth Edition. Ed. Thomas Riggs. Detroit: 
St. James Press. 
Stone, Alfred Holt. [1908] 1999. "A Talented Tenth." Critical Essays on 
Charles W. Chesnutt. Ed. Joseph R. McElrath Jr. New York: G. K. 
Hall and Co. 
Wonham, Henry B. 1998. Charles W Chesnutt: A Study of the Short 
Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers.
>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


Section VI. Experiences of Otherness 


TOMASZ BASIUK 
Warsaw University 


The Place of Fiction and the Place of Autobiography 
in Edmund White's "Skinned Alive" 


Edmund White's "Skinned Alive," included in his 1995 col- 
lection by the same title, is a work of fiction that verges on the 
autobiographical. While autobiography may be a natural vehicle 
for assertive representation of gay life and self-identity, fiction 
creates more opportunities for making general observations and 
may also save a writer the embarrassment of an exhibitionistic 
spectacle, a concern perhaps especially pertinent to the writing 
which inevitably posits sexuality as the core of gay identity con- 
struction. White's story is narrated in the first person by an un- 
named gay male American writer living in Paris, who has been 
diagnosed with AIDS - the analogies to the author are too evi- 
dent to be dismissed. At the same time, "Skinned Alive" is an 
elaborately wrought literary piece whose poetic self-awareness, 
marked with elegant compositional symmetries, performs a meta- 
fictional reflection on the gay subject (in/as) writing. 
Places playa role, geographically speaking. Most of the story 
is set in Paris, but a number of other cities also figure impor- 
tantly. After the narrator's lover Jean-Loup leaves him for an- 
other man, the narrator takes his other lover, Paul, to Morocco.
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Tomasz Basiuk 


However, though they try to avoid places that are just "anywhere 
sunny," even the desert seems full of "carpet-tending spiel" of 
ubiquitous vendors. The place is a far cry from the desert as de- 
scribed by, say, Paul Bowles in The Sheltering Sky. The spaces in 
which White's story takes place are densely populated and are 
filled with man-made signs of one kind or another. They are 
postmodern spaces, predominantly cities, overflowing with mean- 
ings. There is no wilderness to escape to, and the only wild acts 
take place in bedrooms. This is not to say, however, that these 
places blend into a homogenous space devoid of all specificity. 
On the contrary, they are endowed with distinct characteristics 
and help produce in the narrator a sense of his own identity: 
"...a punk interviewed me on television and asked, 'You are 
known as a homosexual, a writer and an American. When did you 
first realize your were an American?'" To which the narrator 
replies: "When I moved to France."l 
That nothing stands on its own, that one thing depends on 
another is very clear in the story. For example, this principle 
applies to sexual as well as national identity. The narrator's two 
lovers are each other's opposites in that Paul (like the narrator) 
likes pain, a preference which makes him and the narrator sexu- 
ally incompatible, while Jean-Loup likes to inflict pain and dis- 
cipline his lover, at least until he in turn submits to Regis. On the 
other hand, both Paul and Jean-Loup are alike in that they pro- 
duce narrative art with sexual content: Jean-Loup draws adult 
comic strips featuring a misfit, Frankenstein-like character, and 
Paul has written a story which draws on a Greek myth to arrive at 
a sadomasochistic resolution. In some ways, the two lovers are 
like polar opposites, but sometimes these opposites unite, and the 
narrator's sexual identity is rendered in relation to this movement 
of alternate splitting and splicing. 


I Edmund White, Skinned Alive (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), p. 59. 
Further references are to this edition and page numbers are given in parenthe- 
ses. The short story "Skinned Alive" was originally published in Granta.
>>>
The Place of Fiction and the Place of Autobiography... 369 


This mode of identity-formation could be defined as rela- 
tional, or even positional, but there is simultaneously a specific- 
ity to the feelings and experiences, as well as the people and the 
places described, which perfectly balances out their being typi- 
cal. Perhaps the clearest example is the acute jealousy experi- 
enced by the narrator at the thought that Jean-Loup had left 
him for another man. Because he had reconciled himself to the 
thought that he would never have Jean-Loup other than as a transi- 
tory lover and friend, especially as the young man insisted he 
was bisexual and could never settle down with a man, the narra- 
tor is all the more deeply pained and outraged to learn that the 
same Jean-Loup has simply moved in with Regis. His raving 
about this to friends makes them "laugh and hiss: 'Jealous, jeal- 
ous, this way lies madness'. Jealousy may be new to me but not 
to them," the narrator comments. "My condition is as banal as it 
is baneful" (87). 
The polarity so drawn between that which is universally rec- 
ognizable and that, which is individually experienced, does not 
permit an unproblematic delineation of a border between them. 
Rather, the two overlap in the discourse. This overlap is related 
to the fuzzy boundary between fiction and autobiography, a bound- 
ary "Skinned Alive" enacts and exploits by mapping the elegant 
symmetries of its characterizations onto the author's actual biog- 
raphy, thus re-creating these symmetries in another place, so to 
speak. I am interested in the multivalent readings implied by this 
ambiguity, and suggest that what is at stake is the relationship 
bet,ween mimetic representation and the discursive (performa- 
tive) function of a text as an object of linguistic exchange. With 
a view to investigating this polarity between the place of the mi- 
metic and the place of the performative, my own reading will 
oscillate between Julia Kristeva's "The Bounded Text" and Leo 
Bersani's "Representation and Its Discontents." 
In an argument about the pre-modernist novel, which never- 
theless applies to the short story as a genre, Kristeva identifies 
what she defines as the novel's ideologeme, or the logic of its
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370 


Tomasz Basiuk 


intertextual semiotics. Her point of reference is an early French 
Renaissance narrative, Antoine de La Sale's Jehan de Saintre 
(1456), which marks the moment of a transition from the aes- 
thetic regime of the symbol to that of the sign. The logic of non- 
disjunction, constitutive of the sign in fiction, means that no par- 
ticular sign is ever complete, or that meaning is only obtained 
from a sequence of signs which form oppositions; however, these 
oppositions alternate along the axis of narrative progression 
rather than occur simultaneously. The logic of nondisjunction is 
"neither this nor that." Signs are arranged in dyadic pairs but the 
oppositions which they form are never, in the aesthetic logic of 
fiction, complemented by a gesture of "radical negation," or the 
recognition that the opposites could be united, that they are mu- 
tually dependent. Instead, series of hierarchically arranged op- 
positions form the deviant path of narrative progression, "a me- 
tonymical concatenation of deviations from the norm signifying 
a progressive creation of metaphors.,,2 Translating this Lacanian 
model into another set of terms, the progressive logic of "devia- 
tions" gives rise to the narrative sequence described by Aristotle 


2 Julia Kristeva, "The Bounded Text," in: The Critical Tradition. Classic 
Texts and Contemporary Trends ed. David H. Richter (New York: St. Martin's 
Press, 1989). Excerpted from Kristeva's Desire in Language: A Semiotic Ap- 
proach to Literature and Art (1980), p. 992. Emphases in the original. An ex- 
ample of this effect is the presenting of Woman as the Other and, consequently, 
as "a mystifying center" in the courtly literature of Southern France. Kristeva 
contrasts this usage with the "conjunctive disjunction (hierogamy)" (i.e., sa- 
cred marriage) characteristic of ancient Chinese poetry to conclude that the 
courtly poets' "idealization of woman (the Other) signifies the refusal of a so- 
ciety to constitute itself through the recognition of the differential but nonhier- 
archizing status of opposed groups." Instead, the Other (Woman) [is that] 
within which is projected and with which is later fused the same (the Author, 
Man)" (998-999, emphases in the original). The emphasis on later is crucial; it 
points to the temporal alternation of oppositions in gestures of incomplete ne- 
gation (so that the "mystifying center" remains un-deconstructed), a process 
which gives rise to "a metonymical concatenation of deviations from the norm 
signifying a progressive creation ofmetaphors."
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, 


The Place of Fiction and the Place of Autobiography... 371 


as peripeteia and as imitation of an action. Kristeva would insist 
that the narrative sequence of peripeteia, which inevitably leads 
to an (ideological) anagnorisis, is produced by the same devia- 
tions that also produce the text's metaphors: "It is within this 
split negation that all mimesis is born. Nonalternating negation is 
the law of narrative: every narration is nourished by time, final- 
ity, history, and God. ,,3 
The alternating pattern of incomplete negations requires that 
the text's oppositions play themselves out without arriving at 
a recognition of the emptiness of the center around which the op- 
positions circle. The ideal sign produced by "radical negation" 
(unavailable in the literature of the West), would entail the rec- 
ognition that the opposing signs are united, that they mark a dif- 
ference that is absolute rather than hierarchical. As it stands, the 
novel's semantic openness, even in comparison to the symbolic 
regime, in which the outcome is much more rigidly determined 
from the start, is somewhat dissatisfying and suggests that the 
novel is, logically speaking, in the midst of a transition from 
symbol to sign, rather than already belonging to the sign. In other 
words, the novel always stops at the valorization of one or the 
other side of its constitutive opposition (or a set of oppositions) 
rather than withhold such valorization. 
Kristeva's argument about the mechanics of fiction applies to 
White's story, even if White does manage to arrive at a more in- 
clusive sense of oppositions than is typical for the pre-modernist 
novel. Thus, the opposition between the narrator's two lovers is 
re
olved by the suggestion that they both are ultimately inter- 
ested in submission, and the question of the typical versus the 
idiosyncratic, focalized in the topic of the narrator's jealousy, is 
answered with a description of Jean-Paul's ass, which is intended 
- at Jean-Paul's long-standing request - to be dry rather than 
wimpy and wet, and which is quite comical even as it enacts 
a nostalgic gaze at the lost lover. The persistence of both per- 


3 Kristeva, p. 997.
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372 


Tomasz Basiuk 


spectives is marked by the intense, almost bitler, irony of the 
closing paragraphs. The narrator points out that "(i)f the great 
pleasure of the poor is, as they say, making love, then the great 
suffering of the rich is loving in vain... I wasn't rich, but I was 
free and idle enough to ornament my liberty with the melancholy 
pleasure of having lost a Bordeaux boy with a claret-red mouth" 
(86). The irony both intensifies and focuses on Jean-Loup (rather 
than the narrator) as the story closes: "He told me his mother 
would never let him sleep in his slip when he was growing up. 
She was afraid underpants might stunt his virile growth. These 
Bordeaux women know to let a young wine breathe" (88). The 
joke mocks the former lover, reduced to a somewhat ridiculous 
object of maternal affection, but there is little question that the 
cruelty of the ridicule betrays the narrator's emotional involve- 
ment in the very same object, making him an object of the spec- 
tacle as much as the Bordeaux boy. The rhetorical spectacle of 
the closing description is an attempt to bridge the gap between 
the particularity of individual desire and its universal readability. 
The alternating negations which, Kristeva suggests, enable the 
emergence of fiction that investigates psychological complexities 
(a process which begins with the invention of the double), are 
complemented in White's story by a playing out of the opposition 
between a psychological investigation into the particular self and 
a reflection on the typicality of the psychological phenomena so 
investigated. 
For Kristeva, the logic of nondisjunction, or incomplete ne- 
gation, is connected to the primacy of the phonic: the phonocen- 
tric bias of European culture, with the univocality of intentions 
implied in the speaking voice (as described by Derrida) prevents 
successful recognition of opposites being simultaneously appli- 
cable instead of being applied in an alternating sequence. The 
inclusion of an ostensibly written description at the end of 
White's story and, moreover, one in which a double-edged irony 
is directed in part against the speaker himself, seems to be an ap- 
propriate rhetorical gesture to suggest the overcoming of limita-
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The Place of Fiction and the Place of Autobiography... 373 


tions of the novelistic ideologeme. At the same time, the style of 
this closing description is indistinguishable from that of the pre- 
ceding narrative (in particular, the first person point of view 
persists), which is once more an appropriate rhetorical gesture, 
suggesting that the whole piece, although rendered in a collo- 
quial first-person format, is nevertheless a piece of writing rather 
than telling. Once again, the underlying question is that of the 
relationship between fiction and autobiography. However, Kris- 
teva does not posit the textual moments which highlight writing 
as intimations of the ideal, polyvalent sign, and even attacks the 
Russian formalists for their valorization of "literariness" and 
"arbitrariness," suggesting that they remained blind to the func- 
tion of literature as an object of exchange. In fact, she describes 
the novel as a combination of narration and citation, and as 
a compromise between testimony and citation, insisting all the 
while that the phonetic prevails, especially as the citations them- 
selves are 'in fact phonetic, "even if their extrascriptural (verbal) 
source goes back to a few books before" the one we are reading. 4 
In denying any possibility of escaping the phonocentric re- 
gime, Kristeva argues that "the story as word upon word it pro- 
ceeds" is itself contained in "the loop utterance (exchange ob- 
ject) / addressee (... the reader)." The story's containment within 
the logic of exchange is, on the one hand, related to its ideologi- 
cal positing of a mystifying center, i.e., to its ideological closure 
(the story is a finished product, a complete message sent by the 
author) and, on the other, it is frequently marked in the text by 
a species of mis-en-abyme, wherein a story quoted or referred to 
within the fictional piece "becomes... its rhetorical representa- 
tion, its other, its inner lining," i.e., a metafictional moment. 5 


4 Kristeva, passim, p. 1002. 
S Kristeva, p. 993 (first quotation is from La Sale). Let me suggest in the 
briefest way possible that, based on Kristeva's analysis, La Sale's book bears 
some resemblance to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter." A letter is sent 
whose ambiguous meaning depends on who reads it and how they control its 
function; that letter is itself a double, whose meaning remains trapped in the
>>>
----,..- 


374 


Tomasz Basiuk 


Metafiction is not the ideal sign of writing, potentially arising 
from a linguistic gesture of "radical negation," but rather the sign 
of fiction's status as a letter that is subject to phonocentrically 
determined exchange. 
"Skinned Alive" contains a mis-en-abyme which may be read 
as the outer's story "other, its inner lining." Paul's story (which 
the narrator links to Mallarme's "L'apres-midi d'un faune") is 
based on the musical contest between the god Apollo and the sa- 
tyr Marsyas. The latter is better able to mimetically reproduce in 
his music that which he sees: he can "imitate the god as easily as 
the bawd," while the melody improvised by Apollo is superior in 
the stern and cold beauty of formal perfection. In contrast to the 
sensuous music of the satyr, the god's music is abstract: "it 
moved without moving... polished crystal with its breath alone, 
clouding then cleansing every transparency without touching it" 
(81). The contest is not resolved until the angered god suggests 
that they play their melodies backwards. This Marsyas is unable 
to do. He loses the musical duel and is hung upside down and 
skinned alive by the god. But as Apollo is flaying Marsyas, the 
satyr wins the god's full attention. While the story describes the 
erotic economy of sadomasochism (in which the primacy of the 
latter term is asserted by the paradoxical control which the bot- 
tom/masochist exerts over the top/sadist), in the context of 
White's narrative other readings also suggest themselves. After 
reading Paul's work, the narrator finds himself 
... stupidly wonder(ing) which character Paul was-the Apollo he so 
resembled and whose abstract ideal of art appeared to be his own, or the 
satyr who embodies the vital principle of mimesis and who, after all, 
submitted to the god's cruel, concentrated attention... I wondered if it 
was also addressed to me-as a reproach for having abandoned the 


logic of incomplete negation. Thus, metafictional readings which present fic- 
tion as writing rather than speech are ever-deceptive; metafiction points to 
fiction's function as a letter, an object of exchange, rather than offer an escape 
from the phonocentric regime.
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The Place of Fiction and the Place of Autobiography... 375 


Apollonian abstractness of my first two novels or, on the contrary, as an 
endorsement for undertaking my later satires and sketches. (82) 
In a way which becomes comprehensible under the terms of- 
fered by Kristeva, these comments announce the complicity of 
mimesis (including autobiography) and literary artifice (includ- 
ing metafiction). As she puts it with reference to La Sale, "[his] 
narrative confirms the narrative of his writing: La Sale speaks 
but also, in writing, enunciates himself The story of Jehan de 
Saintre merges with the book's story and becomes, in a sense, its 
rhetorical representation, its other, its inner lining."6 Or, to turn 
to her comments on narration and citation, "(n)ovelistic speech... 
inserted into the novelistic utterance... unveils the writer as 
principal actor in the speech play that ensues and, at the same 
time, brings together two modes of the novelistic utterance, nar- 
ration and citation, into the single speech of he who is both sub- 
ject of the book (the author) and object of the spectacle (actor), 
since, within novelistic nondisjunction, the message is both dis- 
course and representation."? Let me point to two rhetorical ef- 
fects in this last comment. First, the phrase "subject of the book" 
is a double-entente: the author is both the ultimate instance of 
the book's intended meaning and the one who "enunciates him- 
self." This (very Lacanian) ambiguity offers a way of bridging 
the gap between fiction with autobiography ("the message" _ 
whose message, if not the author's - "is both discourse and rep- 
resentation"). Second, the writer becomes "the principal actor in 
the speech play that ensues" and "object of the spectacle." Al- 
though Kristeva ostensibly refers to the speech act which evolves 
into the work of fiction, the play of literature-in-the-making 
which will be forgotten in literature-as-finished-product, the 
irresistible suggestiveness of "object of the spectacle" once again 
suggests that the writer is somehow drawing attention to himself 
in an act of disturbing and possibly obscene frankness. Autobiog- 


6 Kristeva, p. 993. Emphasis in the original. 
7 Kristeva, p. 995. Emphasis in the original.
>>>
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376 


Tomasz Basiuk 


raphy, though unmentioned here, is the spectacle lurking behind 
the spectacle of writing as play. And in fact, as Kristeva points 
out in a footnote, most literary historians who wrote about An- 
toine de La Sale were drawing comparisons between his fiction 
and his life. 
Before turning to Leo Bersani for a complementary discus- 
sion of discourse and mimesis, let me remark on the way in 
which Kristeva connects deviant sexualities, exemplified by La 
Sale's protagonist, with the mechanics of novelistic performance, 
which she has already described as "deviations": 
Saintre is the accomplished androgyne: the sublimation of sex 
(without sexualization of the sublime). His homosexuality is merely the 
narrativization of the nondisjunctive function peculiar to the semiotic 
process of which he is a part. He is the pivot-mirror within which the 
other arguments of the novelistic function are projected in order to fuse 
with themselves: the Other is the Same for the Lady... He is the Same 
who is also the Other for the king, the warriors, or Boucicault... 8 
The protagonist's deviant sexuality serves to thematize the 
"semiotic process." The key term "sublimation" effects an elision 
of (homo)sexuality (androgyny) with a view to enabling the 
smooth functioning of La Sale's oppositions. In direct contrast to 
Kristeva's quirky parenthetical remark, White's story does enact 
a sexualization of the sublime in replacing the prototypical sub- 
lime landscape (since even the desert has become shopping 
grounds for carpets) with Jean-Loup's bodyscape. 9 The sexual- 
ized sublime becomes the site of the story's most radical irony, 
organized around the impossibility of rendering feelings of grief 
as simultaneously the unique reality of the individual experience 
of loss and the subject of a shared message about this experience 


8 Kristeva, p. 999. 
9 Paul's story also invokes the Kantian sublime by relying on the discourse 
of form versus content, or presentation versus conception: "If Marsyas gave 
them [Apollo's sisters, who were judges at the contest] the god's form, the god 
himself revealed the contents of his mind." White, p. 8 I.
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f 


The Place of Fiction and the Place of Autobiography... 377 


which, because it must be readable, can never completely be 
one's own. 
Leo Bersani's discussion of discourse and representation, 
equally invested in psychoanalytical categories, insists on the 
centrality of the sexual in representation, and indirectly subverts 
the opposition, presumed by Kristeva, between sublimation and 
the sublime, by proposing that sublimation may be an extension 
rather than a repression of the sexual. Bersani points out that in 
The 120 Days of Sodom Marquis de Sade "comes close to sug- 
gesting... [that] excitement is the consequence of sex rather than 
its motive... [ or, that] (s )exual excitement must be represented 
before it can be felt; or, more exactly, [that] it is the representa- 
tion of an alienated commotion" (i.e., sexual excitement per- 
ceived in another). "Sadism is a logical consequence of this view 
of sexuality.,,10 A reading of Freud's "Instincts and Their Vicissi- 
tudes" and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality further sug- 
gests that "in speaking about the presumably limited, even mar- 
ginal structure of sado-masochistic sexuality, Freud unexpectedly 
proposes an ontology of sexuality itself.,,11 Two points are crucial 
to this off-centered definition: sexuality is the experience of ex- 
cess (such as the excess of pain) which leads to a pleasurable 
shattering of the unity of the self; and: sexual excitement is in- 
duced by representations of such shattering, including such rep- 
resentations as may be formed in fantasies; in fact, our sexuality 
is "inescapably fantasmatic.,,12 
'A disturbing correlative of this argument about sexuality and 
its relationship to the fantasmatic, and by extension to mimesis, 
is its complicity with violence, readily present in the example of 
de Sade, but which is also there in White's story especially be- 


10 Leo Bersani, "Representation and Its Discontents," in: Allegory and Rep- 
resentation. Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1979-80. New Series, 
no. 5, ed. and with a Preface by Stephen J. Greenblatt (Baltimore and London; 
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 146-146. 
II Bersani, p. 148. 
12 Bersani, p. 150.
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378 


Tomasz Basiuk 


cause of its concern with sado-masochism. 13 Bersani seeks to 
redress the alleged proclivity of the sexual instinct toward vio- 
lence by turning to Sa/6, Pasolini's film adaptation of de Sade's 
novel. He paradoxically suggests that "Pasolini distances himself 
from his Sadean protagonists by going along with them... It is as 
if a fascinated adherence - to Sade, to Pasolini's own cinematic 
libertines, to the techniques of his film - were, finally, identical 
to a certain detachment.,,14 The detachment produces a perspec- 
tive through which we are also distancing ourselves from the 
violence of the commotions - and the orgiastic effect that it has 
in de Sade, but not in Pasolini, whose "saving frivolity" is that he 
stages "a promiscuous mobility thanks to which our mimetic ap- 
propriations of the world are constantly being continued else- 
where and therefore do not require the satisfyingly climactic de- 
struction of any part of the world."lS 
This way out, describable perhaps as the "saving frivolity" of 
failing to conclude one's (erotic) investigations, is complemented 
with a discussion of Freud's essay on Leonardo, whom Freud 
scolds for abandoning "unconcluded investigations." The essay's 
"theoretical turbulence," Bersani suggests, "can perhaps be traced 
to Freud's resistance to the implications of his traumatic (mater- 
nal) model of sexuality," a model implying "a view of cultural 
symbolization as a continuation rather than a repressive substi- 


13 All sexual acts in White's story are sado-masochistic. The narrator re- 
calls Jean-Loup reminiscing about a model of a town he had built from card- 
board and plywood as a child of seven or eight and which he had set on fire 
and "watched the conflagration with a bone-hard, inch-long erection" (White, 
p. 65), an episode which exemplifies Freud's genealogy of sadism; the narrator 
also describes Paul being excited by "a movie in which big men were hurting 
each other" (White, p. 75). Finally, all the art produced in the story takes sado- 
masochism as its subject-matter in more or less explicit ways - this is true of 
Jean-Loup's bandes dessimies, Paul's story about Apollo and Marsyas, and of 
White's narrative itself. I am not suggesting that they are limited to represent- 
ing sado-masochism but the subject conspicuously figures in all. 
14 Bersani, pp. 152-153. Emphasis in the original. 
15 Bersani, p. 154. Emphasis in the original.
>>>
The Place of Fiction and the Place of Autobiography... 379 


tute for sexual fantasy... a view of sublimation as coextensive 
with sexuality, as an appropriation and elaboration of sexual im- 
pulses rather than as a special form of renunciation of such im- 
pulses.,,16 Whereas the "sublimation produced by the Oedipal 
stage is nearly indistinguishable from repression," in the Leon- 
ardo essay Freud stipulates another kind of sublimation, "in 
which cultural forms would be the productively mistaken repli- 
cations of sexual fantasy." Under this framework, "the paternal 
figure would no longer play the role of the inhibiting law." In- 
stead, "the father would... function as a duplicating generaliza- 
tion of [the mother's] love," a factor socializing the trauma rather 
than repressing it, a scenario which promises "the removal of 
paranoia as a dominant social structure.,,17 
Bersani's example of a work of art which takes up this pos- 
sibility is Mallarm6's "L'apres-midi d'un faune," in which 
"sublimation is not a transcendence of desire, but rather a kind of 
extending-of desire that has taken the form of a productive reced- 
ing of consciousness." As Bersani explains, "the faun's art is not 
the metaphoric replication of bodily lines as lines of music." His 
dreaming, rather than a mere dream, becomes the proper object 
of his desire, so that the poem's "mockery is the faun's ironic 
snapping away from his own naivete," and the poem "performs 
sublimation as a mode of Mallarme's irony."18 
The example of "Afternoon of the Faun" returns us to White's 
tight-rope hesitation between the literary and the autobiographi- 
cal. In so far as Mallarm6's poem may indeed be compared to 
Paul's story, Marsyas and Apollo are combined in the fantasizing 
faun. Read as an authorial figure, the faun suggests that White's 
narrative - which evokes Mallarm6's poem also in its closing 


16 Bersani, p. 157. 
17 Bersani, pp. 158 and 159. Significantly, while White's narrator flinches 
when Jean-Paul addresses him as his mecene, he "wouldn't have minded play- 
ing his [Jean-Loup's] father, but that never occurred to him." White, p. 63. 
18 Bersani, p. 161.
>>>
380 


Tomasz Basiuk 


description, or bodyscape - attempts a combination of sexual 
fantasizing, which it links with mimetic representation, and the 
"Apollonian abstractions," which it enacts in the cool elegance 
of its self-irony. By incorporating autobiographical elements into 
his fiction, Edmund White returns to the metafictional devices 
characteristic of the novel before it assumed the veneer of ideo- 
logical transparency. Simultaneously, his explicit but sharply 
ironic use of gay male sado-masochism serves to thematically 
construct a sense of identity based on a shared sexual practice 
and/or preference even as it performs this sexuality as inherently 
mimetic and potentially sublime.
>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Torun 2001 


JUSTYNA MARIA KOCIATKIEWICZ 
Wroclaw University 


Saul Bellow's Early Novels 
as Antibildungsroman 


Saul Bellow who has devoted most of his artistic energy to 
the re-creation of Chicago of his youth seems to be a perfect 
choice of subject for a conference concerned with the local color. 
However, I would like to address a different issue: Bellow's use 
of a well-established genre for the specific purpose of his novels. 
Bellow's critics are very fond of applying the term Bildungs- 
roman to Bellow's work, although they can never quite agree 
whether a particular novel is or is not one. Bellow himself is un- 
easy about the labeling of his work: in two separate interviews he 
first calls Herzog a Bildungsroman, and then a non-Bildungs- 
roman because "it goes in reverse.,,1 Abbott tries to find a way 
out of the argument by claiming that Bellow appropriates the 
, genre inasmuch as "Bellow's stress in describing his work as 
a Bildungsroman is skewed to meet the specifications of his own 
mid-Atlantic variant of the form. It is a form adapted to meet the 
needs of an author under siege, who feels in a narrower, more 
acute way than his European predecessors a threat to the self: 


I See Gordon Lloyd Harper, "The Art of Fiction: Saul Bellow," in: Con- 
versations with Saul Bel/ow, ed. Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel (Jackson: 
Univ, Press of Mississippi, 1994), p. 73, and Rockwell Gray et aI., "Interview 
with Saul Bellow," p. 213.
>>>
382 


Justyna Kociatkiewicz 


a threat which derives from a perverse relationship to ideas.,,2 
It is my contention that the apparent discomfort in the use of the 
term may be solved by referring Bellow's novels to the tradition 
of the Antibildungsroman. Gerhard Mayer develops the concept 
of the Antibildungsroman basing on the critique of the traditional 
understanding of Bildung, that is formation, apprenticeship or 
human emergence, which may be viewed on the one hand as 
a necessary and beneficial compromise between the private and 
the public, and on the other - as a subjugation, a defeat, a frus- 
tration of the individual by the society. Aware of the dubiousness 
of final affirmation in the Bildungsroman, Mayer uses the term 
Antibildungsroman to designate novels that invert the optimistic 
premises of the genre thus signaling that "a particular novel par- 
ticipates in a recognized literary tradition and at the same time 
[separating] the text from the conservative ideology associated 
with the genre's history.,,3 
Bellow's first two novels, Dangling Man and The Victim, 
bearing characteristic Bellovian marks and dealing with themes 
recurring in his later fiction, are a good starting point for the dis- 
cussion of Bellow's work in terms of the Antibildungsroman, 
suggesting a possibility of new interpretation of his oeuvre. 
Dangling Man is a record of thoughts, feelings and reminis- 
cences of Joseph, a young man waiting for his army draft during 
World War II. His induction delayed by the official investigation 
of his identity (he is Canadian by birth), Joseph is forced to wait 
occupied by nothing but what goes on in his mind, analyzing 
changes that have taken place in himself during that period, 
feeling more and more isolated from his fellow men. Eventually, 
to accelerate his induction, he volunteers. 


2 H. Porter Abbott, "Saul Bellow and the 'Lost Cause' of Character:' in: 
Saul Bellow in the I980s.: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Gloria L. 
Cronin and L. H. Goldman (East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1989), 
pp. 113-136. 
3 Todd Kontje, The German Bi/dungsroman: History of a National Genre 
(Columbia: Camden House, 1993), pp. 64-65.
>>>
Saul Bellow's Early Novels as Antibildungsroman 383 


The journal Joseph keeps during this prolonged period of 
idleness and self-observation may be treated as a set of represen- 
tative anxieties of the age;4 and the major concern is the meaning 
and the use of freedom in the modern age, and the ability to live 
in isolation from the society.5 On the personal level it is an at- 
tempt at understanding oneself and at organizing one's experi- 
ence into a coherent and meaningful whole. In fact, as the form 
of the novel suggests, Joseph takes the outside world into ac- 
count only inasmuch as it influences himself, so that the war and 
his prospective participation in it become only a pretext to a full 
presentation of his spiritual state which Joseph calls a "dishevel- 
ment of mind.,,6 One factor responsible for his confusion is the 
frustration of the plan he devised before the war in order to an- 
swer questions "How should a good man live; what ought he to 
do?"7 The plan comprised his wife, his family and his friends as 
well as himself, but it failed to take into account the human real- 
ity of corruptness and limitation. Yet, Joseph claims, "[t]he plan 
could be despised; my need [to live by one] could not be."g Ac- 
cordingly, he comes up with another project: to analyze himself 
to brace himself for the double challenge of living and dying. But 
even this analysis is futile because Joseph lacks resources to an- 
swer questions concerning his nature, his purpose and his des- 
tiny. This deficiency is made evident in the scene describing his 
reactions to Haydn's Divertimento. The music Joseph eagerly 


4 See Eusebio L. Rodrigues, Quest for the Human: An Exploration of Saul 
Bel/ow's Fiction (Lewisburg: Bucknell Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 20-21, and 
Robert F. Kiernan, Saul Bel/ow (New York: Continuum, 1989), pp. 16-17. 
5 See Brigitte Scheer Schazler, Saul Bel/ow (New York: Frederick Ungar, 
1972), p. 10; M. Gilbert Porter, Whence the Power? The Artistry and Huma- 
nity of Saul Bel/ow (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1974), p. 8; Robert 
R. Dutton, Saul Bel/ow (Boston: Twayne, 1982), p. 20; Ada Aharoni, "The 
Search for Freedom in Dangling Man," Saul Bel/ow Journal, Vol. 3, No. I 
(1983), pp. 47-52. 
6 Saul Bellow, Dangling Man (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988), p. 37. 
7 Bellow, Dangling Man, p. 39. 
8 Ibidem, p. 57.
>>>
384 


Justyna Kociatkiewicz 


listens to makes him aware that he "was still an apprentice in suf- 
fering and humiliation," a common human lot one should try to 
meet "with grace, without meanness," true marks of "a whole 
man." Deeply moved by this message, Joseph confesses his weak- 
ness and unwillingness to attain such a wholeness, but he rejects 
the source of help the music suggests - God - because it is 
intuited, not rationally proposed, and he would rather trust "reason, 
in its partial inadequacy" than surrender to religious beliee 
Soon afterwards, when his niece disturbs his meditations by in- 
sisting on a change of music and by insulting him, Joseph proves 
unequal to the task of following the clues of the music: he fights 
Etta and spanks her. 
Remaining very much an apprentice in becoming "whole," 
Joseph plunges deeper and deeper into indifference toward others 
and a discomfort in reference to himself, which leads him to vol- 
unteer. The ending of Dangling Man has met with various inter- 
pretations: it has been declared to be affirmative (when Joseph's 
decision is interpreted as a return to the society and social obli- 
gations he has so far shunned) or pessimistic (when his enlist- 
ment is seen as an assent to the obliteration of the self he wanted 
to preserve), and it has been criticized as unclear and arbitrary.lo 


9 Ibidem, p. 67-68. 
10 Porter sees the ending as optimistic, a celebration of "the end of his long 
painful isolation, the return to community experience, however imperfect," 
suggesting "the bare possibility that he may indeed find answers to his ques- 
tions in a new way of life." Joseph's confrontation with death, leading to the 
acknowledgement of its inevitability, ends with his affirmation of life (Whence 
the Power?, p. 23). Rodrigues' tone is rather neutral when he states that the 
ending provides "a decisive end to the drifting story of Joseph," and a tempo- 
rary thematic solution to his "agonizing desire to know himself and to partici- 
pate in the doings of the world he inhabits" (Quest for the Human, p. 23). 
Scheer-Schazler notes the ironic tone of the ending with Joseph's solution 
bearing "strong marks of defeat" (Saul Bel/ow, p. 15). For Ellen Pifer "Joseph 
ends his record of prolonged introspection by celebrating the glories of action 
- and the power it has to supplant thought" (Saul Bel/ow: Against the Grain 
[Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1991], p. 39). Similarly, Jonathan
>>>
Saul Bellow's Early Novels as Antibildungsroman 385 


But the characteristic indecisiveness of the ending suggests an 
inconclusiveness of the novel itself. Dangling Man is but an in- 
terlude, a record of the time in between two epochs in the pro- 
tagonist's life: the comparatively carefree antebellum period and 
the threatening age of the war. This interlude could be a period of 
transition, of a gradual process of maturation and advancement in 
the ways of the world. Instead, it is a chronicle of disillusionment 
leading to hatred of the self and fear of the world, to alienation 
from society followed by a desperate attempt to return to it. 
The negative quality of Joseph's development is implied by 
a rift between what he announces and what he actually does in 
his journal. In the first entry Joseph promises a sincere confes- 
sion of his innermost thoughts and emotions; he expresses the 
awareness of the necessity to pursue an ideal life and an ideal 
personality, but he suggests that his attainment of these ideals is 
hindered by his inability to use the freedom he has been offered 
against Qjs will. Yet he himself soon subverts this stance: the 
openness and validity of his testimony is reduced to a mere ex- 
planation and defense of his idleness; his frankness becomes 


Baumbach writes that Joseph, "[u]nable to bear the terrible responsibility of 
his nominal freedom... gives himself up to the army, seeking redemption per- 
haps through death, seeking escape from the consciousness of his guilt through 
mindless action" (The Landscape of Nightmare: Studies in the Contemporary 
American Novel [New York: New York Univ. Press, 1965], p. 38). Claude 
. Levy sees Joseph's volunteering as a declaration of failure and an act of hope- 
lessness (Les Romans de Saul Bel/ow: Tactiques Narratives et Strategies 
Oedipiennes [Paris: Klincksieck, 1983], p. 29). Keith Opdahl points to the 
ambiguity of Joseph's decision which may be treated as both affirmative 
(it completes the thematic requirements of the novel as a social and a psycho- 
logical story) and pessimistic (it emphasizes his incapability to "give himself to 
imagination or faith") (The Novels of Saul Bel/ow: An Introduction [University 
Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1967], pp. 47-48). Malcolm Bradbury 
calls it "a testament of loss, a testament of gain, an acquiescence in the defeat 
of the solitary free spirit in its solipsism, but an embrace of historical attach- 
ment, enforced community, the 'uniform of the times'" (Saul Bel/ow [London: 
Methuen, 1982], p. 39).
>>>
- 


-
 


386 


Justyna Kociatkiewicz 


a self-justification to such a degree that Joseph feels free to bor- 
row the emotions of Hemingway's hard-boiled heroes he has 
professed to detest, this way becoming a poseur whose account is 
marked by the incongruity between facts and the rhetoric used 
for their presentation. I 1 
Further, Joseph denies the sincerity of his confusion about his 
freedom when, at the end of his journal, he is reluctant to confess 
the very failure he has already revealed: his phrase "I'm unwill- 
ing to admit that I do not know how to use my freedom" in the 
beginning of his account is repeated in the middle of it: "If I 
were a little less obstinate, I would confess failure and say that I 
do not know what to do with my freedom.,,12 Joseph's final deci- 
sion simply confirms what he has already announced, so that all 
his considerations in between are rendered irrelevant. 
Moreover, as H. Porter Abbott points out, despite his descrip- 
tion of himself as "a man of plans, a throwback to eighteenth- 
century rationalism," looking for "a program of self-education 
and an ideal construction to identify himself as citizen and good 
man," Joseph does not provide his account with "ideological fix- 
ity" and thus cannot arrive at any conclusions. 13 And although 
the intellectual approach fails him, Joseph rejects the possibility 
of imaginative or instinctive programming of one's life. The 
epiphanies of the transcendental he discards as irrational. Obsti- 
nately sticking to his ineffective course, Joseph seems to under- 


II Of particular interest here is the following fragment: "I can safely think 
of such things on a bright afternoon such as this. When they come at night, the 
heart, like a toad, exudes its fear with a repulsive puff' (Bellow, Dangling 
Man, p. 123), which is a long-winded version of Jake Barnes' "It is awfully 
easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is an- 
other thing" (Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises [New York: Scribner's, 
1954], p. 34). Kiernan notes that Joseph's reactions to Haydn's Divertimento 
are borrowed from Chapter Five of E. M. Forster's Howard's End (Kiernan, 
Saul Bel/ow, p. 19). 
12 Bellow, Dangling Man, pp. 12, 151. 
13 Abbott, "Saul Bellow," p. 119.
>>>
Saul Bellow's Early Novels as Antibildungsroman 387 


mine the seriousness of his own endeavors, and to indicate the 
impossibility of any growth or development on his part. The only 
marks of the spiritual turmoil he has gone through are new lines 
on his face, "inevitable price of experience" whose import or 
value he is unable to account for. 
As an Antibildungsroman, Dangling Man is a record of man's 
inability to form his character beyond the narrow confines of 
well-established and fashionable ideas, of making use of the va- 
riety of experience, of taking advantage of numerous ways of ac- 
counting for this variety. Joseph escapes from the examination of 
his inner state and from the personal analysis of his time because 
he feels threatened by the complexity of life; behind his rhetoric 
and philosophizing he tries to hide his fear of the mystery which 
is the world and the unknown which is himself. Realizing the fact 
that his belief in his own strength is unfounded, realizing his 
double failure to explain his feelings and to uphold them in the 
face of challenging reality, Joseph escapes into an alternative 
reality in which he will be a mindless, self-less and obedient 
object of external rule. Thus his journal registers a general dis- 
appointment with what the world offers to man, and with what 
man may offer to himself. 
A similar sense of disappointment haunts Bellow's next novel, 
The Victim. Its protagonist, Asa Leventhal, after a period of un- 
employment, poverty, harassment and unhappiness, finds himself 
settled with a job, an apartment and a loved wife, reducing his 
'ambitions to preserving what he has already achieved. Suddenly, 
during his wife's absence, on a strangely hot summer day, he is 
caught in a vortex of events demanding his attention and action: 
he is forced to take care of his absent brother's family, and to 
deal with an unexpected appearance and irrational claims of an 
acquaintance of his, Kirby Allbee. Through these two contending 
involvements he faces the unreasonable and illogical demands of 
his sister-in-law, who is afraid of committing her sick baby to 
the hospital, and of Allbee, who insists on Leventhal's guilt in 
Allbee's physical and spiritual deterioration. Further, Leventhal
>>>
388 


Justyna Kociatkiewicz 


must reconsider, albeit unwillingly, the nature of his accommo- 
dation with reality, his connection with other men, and his under- 
standing of his own self. 
Leventhal images himself as a possible victim of the uni- 
verse, and his method to avoid victimization is to subdue his ca- 
pacities, to accept a stance of a witness to whom nothing wrong 
can happen because of his lack of involvement. He plunges into 
mental inertia and physical habit, avoiding any action that could 
either reduce or display his concerns, preferring to wait in torpor 
until threats of external attacks are over. Yet the combined de- 
mands of Elena and Allbee break through the shell of Leventhal's 
apathy, pushing him into a spiritual confusion, forcing him to 
recognize the uneasiness and discomfort caused by his detached 
stance. He must realize how very little knowledge he has gained 
through his uninvolved observation, how many questions he can- 
not answer. This impossibility to find solutions to the basic facts 
of existence, such as illness and death, Leventhal begins to see as 
unfair and even tragic, and he admits his participation in this 
tragedy. This acquiescence on his part induces a realization of 
the approach of some kind of crisis which "would bring an end 
of his resistance to something he had no right to resist" - 
"[i]lIness, madness, and death" that he simply "had arranged not 
to know.,,14 
The nature of Leventhal's crisis is disclosed during one of his 
conversations with Allbee: the latter claims that people know 
very well what goes on inside them: "All this business, 'Know 
thyself'! Everybody knows but nobody wants to admit."ls Thus 
Leventhal's plight is to admit what he knew all along: his reluc- 
tance to be involved in the inevitable human matters and to par- 
ticipate in the universal human nature. Through his strange link 
with Allbee he is forced to admit evil and injustice threatening 
man from within and from without. 


14 Saul Bellow, The Victim (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), p. 131. 
IS Ibidem, p. 184.
>>>
,....- 


Saul Bellow's Early Novels as Antibildungsroman 389 


This gradual admission of the truth concerning the compo- 
nent of evil in the universe becomes for Leventhal a process of 
development and change. Thus The Victim may be called "the 
story of education," presenting the protagonist's initiation into 
"a new comprehension of what being human entails.,,16 This ini- 
tiation Leventhal sees as "some freakish, insane process" that 
fills him with dread and foreboding: his progress "from a state of 
confusion to a kind of perception" is unenthusiastic, grudging, 
reluctant. l ? Nevertheless, to rediscover his humanity, to come to 
an acceptance of the true nature of the world around him, Le- 
venthal must reconsider the same issues that trouble Joseph 
of Dangling Man: death, proper approach to the outside world, 
one's accountability for others and for oneself. However, unlike 
Joseph who was willingly reduced to his own resources, Leven- 
thal encounters several reality instructors who would teach him 
"about responsibility, about injustice, about evil, and about the 
human condition.,,18 One such teacher is Allbee, whom Leventhal 
needs "to drag in his life the reality of suffering, passion, shame 
and disorder [he] dreads to confront,,,19 so that he can realize "his 
absolute ignorance and lack of experience of the cruel world 
outside,,20 and the deficiency of his existence when he kept him- 
self away from real suffering. Another one is Leventhal's friend 
Harkavy who urges Leventhal not to allow Allbee to pester him, 
stressing Leventhal's free will in accepting responsibility and 
establishing its limits. Finally, he orders Leventhal to wake up 
and admit that life equals consciousness, that existence cannot be 
reduced to impassive metabolism. Yet the most evident reality 
instructor is an old journalist and theatre critic, Schlossberg. In 
a speech concerning the nature of good acting, which is widely 


16 Rodrigues, Questfor the Human, p. 35. 
17 Ibidem, p. 39. 
18 Ibidem, p. 50. 
19 Pifer, Saul Bel/ow, p. 52. 
:!O Rodrigues, Questfor the Human, p. 45.
>>>
390 


Justyna Kociatkiewicz 


recognized as a metaphor for human conduct, Schlossberg tries to 
define the "exactly human," which depends on dignity as man's 
conscious choice and as an indicator of human behavior. It is an 
acceptance of the whole of human nature, including mortality, 
which simply allows people to make full use of the temporal life 
they are given, without pretension and lies. What Schlossberg 
suggests, says Jonathan Wilson, is "the development of a healthy 
respect for limits and an awareness of death that will symboli- 
cally enable one to retain a sense of proportion as to what can be 
achieved in a single lifetime." Schlossberg's message is to inten- 
sify life, not to dissolve it (67). 
To what extent Leventhal profits from the lessons of his 
teachers is evident in his solution of the problems resulting from 
his involvement with Max's family and with Allbee. In the first 
case, Leventhal renews family ties, in the second he finds strength 
to define the limits to his responsibility when, his life threatened 
by Allbee's suicidal attempt, he throws him from his flat. In other 
words, Leventhal must learn to gain courage and confidence in 
his own powers; he must believe in his own resources whose ex- 
amination he has avoided in fear of unsettling what Pifer calls 
"the precarious balance he has struggled to maintain in a turbu- 
lent and threatening world.,,21 Only through asserting himself 
upon the reality, only through announcing his involvement in his 
life, can Leventhal establish a more permanent equilibrium. 
The result of Leventhal's experience is an attainment of inner 
peace or balance. In the final chapter of the novel - a kind of an 
epilogue - Leventhal looks younger, is more prosperous, and his 
wife is expecting a baby. He is grateful to fate for his good job, 
but he no longer thinks he is usurping someone else's place, nor 
does he envy anyone who is better off than himself. Yet, as Jona- 
than Baumbach puts it, "[e]ach discovery that Bellow permits us 
to make takes us farther away from a pure and simple answer yet 
nearer to the final discovery that there is no discoverable final 


21 Pifer, Saul Bel/ow, p. 40.
>>>
Saul Bellow's Early Novels as Antibildungsroman 391 
truth, only a profound and ambiguous approximation of it,,22 - 
Leventhal is not allowed to remain satisfied and content with an- 
swers he has achieved through his ordeal. In a theatre he meets 
Allbee again. In the course of a casual conversation, Allbee's in- 
nocent remark "I'm the type that comes to terms with whoever 
runs things" provokes an ominous question: "Wait a minute, 
what's your idea of who runs things?,,23 His query unanswered, 
Leventhal is left groping for a solution. 
This final question may be interpreted as Leventhal's failure 
"to grasp... the lesson of his experience: that he is running things, 
that his decision has brought about a change of direction.,,24 But 
it seems more accurate to treat it as a display of the protagonist's 
lasting vulnerability and anxiousness to determine the nature of 
the universe and of his place in it. If we agree that Leventhal's is 
a story of initiation, then its focus is the process, not the out- 
come, and to provide the protagonist with ultimate and satisfac- 
tory an
er would be to pinpoint the result of the process. More- 
over, like Dangling Man, The Victim may be considered to be an 
Antibildungsroman, in which the hero is an unwilling apprentice 
in the art of living, incapable of remaining content with solutions 
he has been offered; his initiation into the mysteries of existence 
ends negatively with an exposure of his doubts and confusion. 
Dangling Man and The Victim raise questions pertinent to 
general human understanding which can be subsumed into one 
comprehensive inquiry: how should a man live to fulfil his hu- 
man potential? Thus put forward, the question presupposes the 
existence of an ideal that man should pursue, the latent ability to 
be "a good man." It also suggests the necessity to seek and act 
according to this ideal. Both Joseph and Leventhal arrive at a point 
in their lives when to answer this main question becomes of high- 
est importance because only through solving it can they subsist 


22 Baumbach, The Landscape of Nightmare, p. 50. 
23 Bellow, The Victim, p. 238. 
24 Dutton, p. 40.
>>>
392 


Justyna Kociatkiewicz 


in the contingent world without losing their selves in it. In their 
different situations - Joseph devoted to the examination of him- 
self and Leventhal to the understanding of his involvement with 
others - both protagonists assume they must try to acknowledge 
certain truths about themselves in order to reach the universal 
truth. Caught in a reality of contending forces of chaotic violence 
and numbing inertia, both inner and outer, Joseph and Leventhal 
seek to achieve an inner equilibrium whose existence is sug- 
gested in the glimpses of human community, of the significance 
of human activity, and of the transcendental that are offered to 
the protagonists. 
Yet both novels indicate the futility of the protagonists' en- 
deavor and the ambiguity of ultimate answers. Neither Joseph 
nor Leventhal are ready to take advantage of the momentary 
revelations of the ordered universe. Joseph is unable to resign his 
claim to reason, although his intellect and his rational approach 
fail him numerous times; he must acknowledge the disintegration 
of the world as he conceived of it but proves incapable of accept- 
ing the reality organized by the tenets of either contingency or 
religion. Faced with his own uncertainties and misgivings, Jo- 
seph yields his search for answers, his demand of freedom and 
personal destiny, his own uniqueness, to the requirements of the 
social and historical forces that he unsuccessfully tried to defy. 
Leventhal, on the other hand, accepts the failure of his own plan 
for avoiding the misery and savagery of the universe and of hu- 
man nature. Forced to abandon his intentional indifference and 
detachment, he must admit the existence of evil within and with- 
out, and the possibility of balancing this evil with human ac- 
countability. But even if he makes the necessary concessions, his 
story is that of ephemeral resolutions, and its end is only a be- 
ginning of yet another search for understanding. 
Thus the protagonists' quest for inner harmony remains un- 
fulfilled: the process that, in the case of the Bildungsroman, would 
lead to an accommodation into and acceptance of the universal 
condition, here ends either in evident failure - Joseph, escaping
>>>
Saul Bellow's Early Novels as Antibildungsroman 393 


from the insoluble mystery of human existence, desperately 
plunges into the army life representing the social world at its 
most mindless, automatic, and impersonal - or in a highly 
qualified compromise - Leventhal, having attained a kind of 
a balance that should allow him to live peacefully ever after, is 
faced with one more question that again raises his indignation 
and indicates the insoluble, ever enigmatic nature of the uni- 
verse. The inconclusive character of the discussions Joseph and 
Leventhal hold with various interlocutors together with the am- 
biguity of the novels' endings indicates the continuous if not 
abortive nature of human enterprise to know man and to under- 
stand reality. 
If a Bildungsroman is a prologue to a story of a life led ac- 
cording to the wisdom and consciousness the protagonist has ac- 
quired during his apprenticeship, Dangling Man - the story of 
Joseph's circumventing such wisdom and consciousness - and 
The Victim - the story of Leventhal's realization of the unending 
character'-.of his apprenticeship - deserve the label of Anti- 
bildungsromane.
>>>

>>>
LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Toruo 2001 


ZOFIA KOLBUSZEWSKA 
The Catholic University of Lublin 


Edward Gorey's Beastly Babies, 
Gashlycrumb Tinies, and Hapless Children 


'-. 


Oh, I know that the books are about some- 
thing, not what they seem to be about... but I 
don't know what that other thing is. I would 
agree with George (Balanchine): when people 
are finding meanings in things - beware! 1 
And what if then we don't find out 
What all of it has been about? 
- ? 
THE IPSIAD, can. XI- 


Edward St. John Gorey "famously did not travel," recollects 
Alexander Theroux, a long time friend of the American eccentric 
cult artist - virtually unknown in Poland 3 - who died on April 


I Edward Gorey, Gorey Posters (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1979), p. 7. 
2 Edward Gorey, "The Awdrey-Gore Legacy," in: Amphigorey Also (San 
Diego, London, and New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1983), n. pp. 
3 Four of Edward Gorey's stories were presented to Polish readers in Lite- 
ratura na Swiecie No. 6 (1997): "The Willowdale Handcar, or the Return of 
the Black Doll" ("Drezyna z Wierzbowej Dolinki, czyli powr6t czarnej lalki"), 
pp. 54-71; "The Hapless Child" ("Nieszcz,sliwe dziecko"), pp. 178-195; 
"The Beastly Baby" ("Bachorek"), pp. 208-218; trans. by Agnieszka Taborska. 
"The Remembered Visit" ("Pami,tne odwiedziny"), trans. by Elzbieta Siwecka, 
pp. 120-136.
>>>
396 


Zofia Kolbuszewska 


15th 2000 at the age of 75. He went abroad only once - to 
Scotland because "one place, any place, anywhere, seemed as 
good as another,,4 to him. 
Born in Chicago he was constantly moving east during his 
lifetime. Having very little artistic training (one semester at the 
Chicago Art Institute) he enrolled to study French literature at 
Harvard where he shared his lodgings with Frank O'Hara "whose 
poetry he found fairly unmemorable."s Edward Gorey was also 
friends with the poet John Ashbery. In the BookPage interview of 
1998 Gorey recalls that they were "all very interested in being 
avant-garde. John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara were especially 
good at discovering people nobody else would hear about for 
years. ,,6 
The artist then moved to New York, where he was so fasci- 
nated with George Balanchine's art of choreography that for 30 
years he did not miss a single performance at the New York City 
Ballet. During this time he earned his living as an illustrator and 
cover designer for Doubleday. When going out he would sport 
a big raccoon fur-coat, a long trailing scarf, and sneakers. After 
Balanchine's death in 1983 Gorey decided to leave New York 
and in 1986 he moved to Cape Cod, first to Barnstable, and 
then to Yarmouth Port, where he lived alone with his six cats in 
a 200-year-old house and opened his mail every six months. 
Edward Gorey's renown was initially based on his graphic 
art. He worked as an illustrator of books written by other authors, 
ranging from Edward Lear's The Dong with a Luminous Nose 
and The Jumblies through T. S. Eliot's The Old Possum s Book of 
Practical Cats to Samuel Beckett's All Strange Away. He also 
designed book covers and theatre sets. The sets for the 1977 


4 Alexander Theroux, The Strange Case of Edward Gorey (Seattle: Fanta- 
graphics Books, 2000), p. 8. 
S Theroux, Strange Case, p. 9. 
6 Alden Mudge, "Edward Gorey," BookPage Interview November 1998, 
p. 2. Available http://www.bookpage.com/981Ibp/edward_gorey.html
>>>
Edward Gorey's Beastly Babies... 


397 


Broadway production of Dracula won a Tony award in 1978, 
which, incidentally, has marked the high point of a fame and 
popularity that eventually turned into a cult. The cult became 
more widespread when the public TV service, PBS, broadcast the 
"Mystery" series whose opening titles were designed by Gorey. 
Moreover, the artist designed posters and postcards and was 
a puppet maker and puppet theater producer on Cape Cod. 
Gorey is also the author of exquisitely and meticulously ed- 
ited little books, which unite drawings with text in a unique 
synthesis radiating morbid charm. Most of his books have been 
collected in three anthologies titled: Amphigorey (1972), Am- 
phigorey Too (1975), and Amphigorey Also (1983); the word 
"amphigorey" being a pun on the name of the author and on the 
a term "amphigory,,7 denoting a kind of burlesque or parody, es- 
pecially a kind of nonsense verse which appears as if it is going 
to make sense but does not. 
Edward Gorey was never so much fascinated by the local 
color of'-.a particular geographic region as by the local color of 
a particular period - the late Victorian and Edwardian era. This 
coincides with his view that in culture "nothing new has hap- 
pened since 1914. 'You could probably push that back to 1885,.,,8 
It is worth noting, however that this "local color" is not an imi- 
tation but a meticulous and painstaking construction. Many dif- 
ferent intertextual impulses contribute to the making of the world 
of Edward Gorey. 
His literary influences range from Lewis Carroll, Shelley's 
Frankenstein, and Victor Hugo - the books he read as a small 
child - through Anthony Trollope, Theodore Dreiser, Lady Mu- 
rasaki - an old Japanese writer - Willa Cather, the "Lucia" 
books of the prolific Edwardian E. F. Benson, Samuel Beckett and 
Jorge Luis Borges. Gorey especially admired Jane Austen, who 


7 See J. A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms (London and New York: 
Penguin Books, 1982), p. 35. 
8 Mudge, "Edward Gorey," p. 2.
>>>
398 


Zofia KoIbuszewska 


"knew more about everything than anybody else who ever lived - 
just how awful it really is underneath.,,9 
Alexander Theroux draws the readers' attention to the fact 
that Gorey's books "resonate with the subjects, plots, entire vocabu- 
lary - and feel - of Twenties and Thirties cinema; lost love, will- 
ful debutantes, pashas and Egyptian daggers, Gardens of Allah, 
fables of stage, detective and mystery, innocent chiidren."IO All this 
is recast in distinctly late Victorian and Edwardian images, whose 
decorativeness and ornamentality, however, are influenced by Go- 
rey's interest in Japanese graphic art and its reception in colonial 
England. "Decor is description in Gorey." I I He also admired Goya, 
Matisse and Balthus's languid and compromised young girls as 
well as Francis Bacon's paintings. Nevertheless, his literary and 
visual references are usually very indirect and general - he al- 
ludes to particular genres, traditions, or to the style of an artist or 
writer. 12 His works are thus very complex pastiches. 
Gorey always inscribes himself in his books by introducing in 
them his verbal or graphic personae, or alter-egos. Verbal perso- 
nae function as his pen-names. Most of them are anagrams of his 
name: Mrs. Regera Dowdy, D. Awdrey-Gore, Ogdred Weary, 
Dreary Wodge, Roy Grewdead, Dogear Wryde, Drew Dogyear, 
E. G. Deadworry, Raddory Gewe, Aedwyrd Gore, Garod Weedy, 
and Edward Pig. Edward Blutig and 0 MOde are German equi- 
valents of Edward Gorey and Ogdread Weary. 
His graphic alter-ego is always a writer and never a painter. 
Alexander Theroux observes that: 


From the beginning, of course, [Gorey] artistically insinuated him- 
self into his work - that New Testament beard, that phalanx of iron 
rings, that fur-coated fellow in sneakers - as a sort of alter-ego. Or 


9 Theroux, Strange Case, p. 57. 
10 Ibidem, p. 36. 
II Ibidem, p. 54. 
12 See Clifford Ross and Karen Wilkin, The World of Edward Gorey (New 
York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996), p. 90.
>>>
Edward Gorey's Beastly Babies... 


399 


was that him? "It's a kind of this-is-me-but-it's-not-me thing," he 
once explained to [the critic]... 13 
Elizabeth Hollander points out that whereas many novelists in 
the late Victorian and Edwardian periods that Gorey depicted, 
wrote about 
the tribulations of painters to exemplify their own creative difficul- 
ties, Gorey was the first to project creative bafflement onto the image of 
a writer. Pictured both in and out of various states of literary angst, in- 
cluding writer's block, fear and loathing of "the horrors of literary life," 
Mr. Earbrass's flat head, blank expression, and elaborate gentlemanly 
accoutrements embody a sense of deep, rather guilty implication in the 
production of books. 14 
One of the critics to notice and recognize Gorey's mastery very 
early was Edmund Wilson. He wrote a review of Gorey's first 
four books for The New Yorker in 1959. He likens Gorey to Max 
Ernst and equates him with Beardsley. Although the critic has 
some reservations about Gorey's verse, he praises the artist's 
drawings unreservedly. 15 
Therefore the introduction of a writerly alter-ego by Gorey 
might be construed as an expression of his wistfulness about be- 
ing to a greater degree a graphic artist rather than a writer. It thus 
comes as a surprise that he stresses the priority of the written text 
in relation to his drawings: "If I start doing the drawings before 
the text is finished, something happens to the book and it disap- 
pears."16 The artist admits that his "ideas tend to be first literary 
ones, rather than visual ones."I? 


13 Theroux, Strange Case, p. 15. 
14 Elizabeth Hollander, "The End of Line: Rory Dagweed Succumbs," 
Goodbye Magazine, March 2000, p. 4. Available http://www.goodbyemag.com/ 
marOO/gorey.html 
IS Thomas M. McDade, "Edward Gorey: An American Gothic," Goreyogra- 
phy - Articles on Edward Gorey, p. 3. Available 
http://www.goreyography.com/west/articles/articles.htm 
16 Theroux, Strange Case, p. 60. 
17 Gorey, Posters, p. 6.
>>>
400 


Zofia Kolbuszewska 


It seems, however, that in introducing a persona - a writer - 
in his drawings, Gorey acts like O'Hara, who in expressing in po- 
etry his regret for not being a painter ("Why I Am Not a Painter") 
paradoxically shows deep interdisciplinary ties between art and 
poetry. Gorey's persona is a manifestation of his deep sense that 
the literary and the graphic are inseparable in his unique, new 
genre which, I suppose, can be referred to as amphigorey. 
The genre eludes classification. It has been situated some- 
where between children's books, literature of nonsense, black 
humor, Surrealism, and Gothic: 
Gorey's is an uncIassifiable genre: not really children's books, nei- 
ther comic books, nor art stills. His work - sort of small and humor- 
ously sadistic parodies of the obsolete Victorian "triple decker" - 
comes in the form less of booklets than midget novels, each the size of 
a hornbook, withered into a kind of Giacomettian reduction of twenty to 
thirty doomful pages of scrupulously articulated and curiously antiquar- 
ian Gothic illustration and a spare but sequential just-about-concIusive 
narrative, often merely wistful and understated captions of spare but 
distracting economy. 18 
Edward Gorey did not think he had done anything terribly scary. 
He claimed that people believed him to be much more macabre 
and Gothic than he really was and stressed that the macabre and 
Gothic did not interest him any more nor did he think they ever 
had. The impressions his works make can simply be attributed to, 
in Gorey's own words: "just the way it came out,,19. 
Gorey has gone on record as saying, "I think a lot of my work has to 
do with reality. I think of my stuff as quite real. I mean, people end- 
lessly nattering on about nothing at all, terrible things happening or 
nothing happening. I don't know. I'm not a firm believer in cause and 
effect. Fantasy I've always found a word I don't much care for.,,20 


18 Theroux, Strange Case, pp. 1-2. 
19 Clifford Ross and Karen Wilkin, The World of Edward Gorey (New 
York: HarryN. Abrams, Inc., 1996), p. 14. 
20 Theroux, Strange Case, p. 6.
>>>
Edward Gorey's Beastly Babies... 


401 


The artist always contended that he saw "no disparity between 
his books and real life" because, he insisted, he wrote "about every- 
day life"21, which, he agreed with the Surrealist writers, is the 
most mysterious thing of all. However, he believed that everyday 
life was very discomfiting and tried "to convey that discomfiting 
texture"n in his books. 
This texture is intriguingly heavy with atrocities, and mishaps 
befalling children. They are molested, battered and maltreated; 
they die violent and absurd deaths sucked dry by leeches, run 
over by relatives, kidnapped by their own beds or ravished by 
gigantic insects. Edward Gorey seems to delight in both dispatch- 
ing them and meticulously presenting the moments that lead to 
the demise. 
Children's violent and absurd deaths occur in his limericks 
from "The Listing Attic" and "The Fatal Lozenge," in stories com- 
bining the visual and literary narrative such as "The Hapless Child," 
The Beastly Baby, "The Pious Infant," "The Insect God," "The 
Stupid Joke," "The Tuning Fork," and "The Loathsome Couple," 
as well a
 in a macabre alphabet "The Gashlycrumb Tinies." 
In an interview with Clifford Ross of 1994 when asked about 
a book of photographs he owned of small children who had died, 
the artist answered: "That book I found very difficult to sit and 
look at straight through. But I do collect postcards of dead ba- 
bies.,,23 He also recommended a book of photographs of "ravish- 
ingly beautiful crime scenes. Sometimes the corpse and every- 
thing. There's a completely fortuitous, Surrealist aspect to a lot 
of them.,,24 And this aesthetic fascination, which by framing 
erases the morbid aspect of death, finds its way into his art. 
It is worth noting that Gorey believed crime to be very reveal- 
ing about everyday life: "Crime tells us in detail about the way 


21 Gorey, Posters, p. 7. 
22 Theroux, Strange Case, p. 22. 
23 Ross and Wilkin, World, p. 14. 
24 Ibidem, p. 15.
>>>
402 


Zofia Kolbuszewska 


people really live.,,25 However, corpses are rarely depicted in 
Gorey's drawings; usually they are merely hinted at by such 
a graphic detail as a foot sticking from under a bed. The violence 
always happens, as it were, off stage. 
In reality the artist was not well acquainted with children: 
A lot of my books I've intended for children primarily, but nobody 
would ever publish them as children's books. I don't know many chil- 
dren. And I don't know if I really remember what it was like being 
a child. I use children a lot because they're so vulnerable. Children are 
pathetic and quite frequently not terribly likeable. I don't really know 
any babies. I've never known any babies. 26 
It seems that what appealed to him was one aspect of children's 
nature as constructed in the nineteenth-century discourse - their 
vulnerability. The concern with children's vulnerability can be 
regarded as a displaced anxiety about the frailty of innocence 
ascribed to children in Victorian and Edwardian era. On the other 
hand Gorey is also aware of another aspect inherent in children's 
nature - their lack of innocence - which renders this construct 
very ambiguous indeed. Answering the question about his atti- 
tude towards children, Gorey said: 
When I was 12, I read a book called A High Wind in Jamaica by 
Richard Hughes. In it good-natured pirates rescue some kids from 
a hurricane. But in the end the kids are responsible for having the pi- 
rates hanged. That... killed the myth about innocent children for me. 
It was the sort of book you never forget, and you never feel the same 
because of it. I didn't need Lord of the Flies as a paradigm. 27 
When employing children as a vehicle Gorey makes use, as a mat- 
ter of fact, of their ambiguous status in culture. 
His works bring out the liminality of the child's position in 
relation to Lacanian Symbolic order. The children either have not 


2S Theroux, Strange Case, p. 40. 
26 Gorey, Posters, p. 6. 
27 Theroux, Strange Case, p. 12.
>>>
Edward Gorey's Beastly Babies... 


403 


left the Imaginary - like the Beastly Baby, that "bulbous blob 
carried away by an eagle and exploding in midair"28 - or have 
not crossed over completely to the Symbolic yet; they function, 
as it were, in the space where the Symbolic and the Imaginary 
ambiguously meet. 
The Symbolic and the Imaginary interact in their operations 
on what Lacan calls the Real. "The Real is for [him] the given 
field of brute existence over which the Imaginary and Symbolic 
range in their rival attempts to control: one can say that it is that 
to which all reference and action have relevance, but which can 
only be handled through signifying practices. ,,29 Death can be 
construed as a return to the Real. Like the latter it can only be 
managed within the Symbolic and Imaginary through a conspicu- 
ous excess or conspicuous lack of signification. 
The works of Edward Gorey, which unite the visual and the 
verbal, are characterized by an excess of graphic detail coinciding 
with the lack of direct depiction of death. Moreover, the texts 
accompanying the drawings are usually remarkably terse and 
"- 
sparse, while within them. children's deaths are stated blankly. 
Thus, child deaths are characterized by under-signification in an 
attempt to play down the anxiety about the void caused by death 
in everyday life. However, the very lack of signification para- 
doxically throws into relief the non-existence of, or the impos- 
sibility of incorporating the Real within the Symbolic and the 
Imaginary even more acutely, contributing to the sense of bleak 
cruelty inherent in Gorey's depiction of everyday life rife with 
. violence towards children. 
The artist emphasized the fact that: "It's obviously much 
more poignant to do things to children." They are "a kind of 


28 Mel Gussow, "Edward Gorey, Artist and Author Who Turned the Macabre 
Into a Career, Dies at 75," The New York Times on the Web 17 April, 2000. 
A vai lab Ie http://www.goreyography.com/west/Ob it/Goodbyes/Spots/ 
obit-e-gorey.html 
29 Elizabeth Wright, Psychoanalytic Criticism (1984, London and New York: 
Routledge, 1993), p. 110.
>>>
404 


Zofia Kolbuszewska 


a Victorian convention, Dickens and so forth. They're very use- 
ful for satire and parody.,,30 In this he is an heir to the late Victo- 
rian and Edwardian convention of representing the death of chil- 
dren. Discussing a discrepancy between the hostile reactions of 
literary critics and the very emotional response of Dickens's 
reading public to the deaths of children in his novels, A. O. J. Cock- 
shut concludes that the feature in common to those reactions is 
an implied conviction that "Dickens is emotionally disturbing to 
read.,,31 He points out that children's deaths arouse the strongest 
emotions and "may lead to the deepest questionings. When Dick- 
ens writes of them he brings us face to face with our own deepest 
convictions,,,32 and, one might add, with our deepest doubts. 
However, as Kimberley Reynolds shows in the article "Fatal 
Fantasies: the Death of Children in Victorian and Edwardian 
Fantasy Writing," it is in some works of fantasy, ostensibly writ- 
ten for children, that the most "complex and disturbing attitudes 
to the death of children are found, for each of these texts in some 
way celebrates, demands, and presents as desirable the death of 
its child protagonist(s).,,33 Moreover, Reynolds stresses the am- 
bivalence of attitudes to children as conveyed through literary 
representations of child death. The critic points out that in Vic- 
torian/Edwardian texts it is used in many ways; among others as 
a repository for sexual feelings and desires which had no other, 
or at least no obvious, form of expression. Thus, 


30 Tim Wood, "Frightening Things About Life According to Edward Gorey," 
A-Plus Magazine, October 1995. Available 
http://www.geocities.com.SoHo/Gallery/9l67/GOREY_ARTICLE.HTM 
31 A. O. J. Cockshut, "Children's Death in Dickens: A Chapter in the His- 
tory of Taste," Representations of Childhood Death, ed. by Gillian Avery and 
Kimberley Reynolds (London: Macmillan Press, Ltd, 2000; New York: St. 
Martin's Press, Inc., 2000), p. 151. 
32 Cockshut, "Children's Death," p. 152. 
33 Kimberley Reynolds, "Fatal Fantasies: The Death of Children in Victo- 
rian and Edwardian Fantasy Writing," Representations of Childhood Death, 
ed. by Gillian Avery and Kimberley Reynolds (London: Macmillan Press, Ltd, 
2000; New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 2000), p. 171.
>>>
Edward Gorey's Beastly Babies... 


405 


in representing the death of children, Victorian/Edwardian fantasies 
create a rich amalgam ofthe familiar and the unfamiliar, the official and 
the unofficial, the consolatory and the exploitative, the conscious and 
the unconscious, the pure and the perverse. 34 
Also, these representations compel older readers at least to con- 
front less comfortable aspects of the self, while the subversion of 
the return to reality structure of fantasy closure leaves them in 
limbo. 
On the other hand, Reynolds points out that the death of chil- 
dren was such an established and popular literary convention that 
it became a subject of black humor. 35 The child deaths parodied 
and ridiculed by Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde 
belonged to such genres as morality tales, cautionary verses, and 
bathetic examples of evangelical novels. 
It it worth noting that in his depictions of child deaths Ed- 
ward Gorey follows to some extent the course of nonsense litera- 
ture parodies of the theme. However, his stories of hapless children 
or ghastly alphabets invoke Victorian/Edwardian child deaths as 
sites of crossing ambivalent discourses. These stories both pro- 
voke emotional responses in readers and neutralize those re- 
sponses by subjecting the representations of child deaths to the 
process of de-semanticization that is characteristic of nonsense 
literature. 
The texts accompanying or organizing sequences of Gorey's 
drawings are inspired by Edward Lear's and Lewis Carroll's non- 
sense poetry. In Philosophy of Nonsense Jean-Jacques Lecercle 
describes the relationship between syntax and semantics in non- 
sense in the following way: "The formal excess of syntax com- 
pensates for a semantic (material) lack, or incoherence,,36. How- 
ever, a problem arises here. 


34 Reynolds, "Fatal Fantasies," p. 185. 
35 Ibidem, p. 17 I. 
36 Lecercle, Jean-Jacques, Philosophy of Nonsense. The Intuitions of Vic- 
torian Nonsense Literature (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 60.
>>>
406 


Zofia Kolbuszewska 


Semantic incongruity is normally dealt with by producing 
a metaphorical interpretation, whereas nonsense develops four 
strategies in order to avoid metaphors. These are: 1) strict literal- 
ism, or matter-of-factness and tautology; 2) coinage, or hyper- 
metaphors, a rejection of the dangers of metaphor through ex- 
cessive indulgence and arbitrariness of interpretation; 3) the so- 
called "kicking incongruity upstairs," achieved by using sen- 
tences without any logical link between them, so that no meta- 
phorical interpretation can develop and the only interpretation of 
each sentence is literal, while the nonsense becomes global be- 
cause the sentences or syntagmata constituting the text are down 
to earth and trivial; 4) replacing a metaphor with puns, which 
limits the proliferation of interpretations because ambiguities 
have a limited number of meanings. 37 
Since the semantic creativity characteristic of metaphors poses 
a threat of potential disruption of order, the strategy of avoidance 
is employed in order to limit creativity. Lecercle points out, how- 
ever, that, 
By choosing semantic void against semantic proliferation, non-sense 
against metaphor, nonsense runs the risk of reintroducing the danger it 
deprecates. Semantic void is the locus either of no creativity or of 
maximal creativity... Here lies the semantic contradiction of nonsense. 
Semantic nonsense illustrates the plasticity of meaning, the impossibil- 
ity to limit it, to fix it, as one applies chemical substance to "fix" colour 
on a photographic film. To the contradiction between the semantic void 
and hypercorrect syntax we must add an internal semantic contradiction 
between semantic void and the proliferation of semantic constrains 
(cliches, tautologies, lists and series).38 
Thus, an ambivalent attitude towards semantic creativity is brought 
out by nonsensical texts. 
The claimed priority of literary ideas and a narrative in Go- 
rey's works encourages an interpretation of his works in which 


37 Lecercle, Philosophy of Nonsense, pp. 62-66. 
38 Ibidem, p. 67.
>>>
Edward Gorey's Beastly Babies... 


407 


the sequences of drawings can also be regarded as subject to the 
rules governing the production of literary nonsense. This ex- 
plains why the emotional appeal of the images of children's 
deaths inherited by Gorey from Victorian and Edwardian tradi- 
tion is put under erasure. The content of these images of grue- 
some deaths, atrocities, and violence in general masquerades as 
a formal device. On the one hand they are a source of aesthetic 
pleasure, while on the other they remain disturbing. 
This is so because it is the syntactic and generic features that 
are dominant in Gorey's works, which results in the often men- 
tioned inconclusiveness or frustrating abruptness of his stories. 
The formal level is complete and correct at the expense of the 
frustration of the readers at the level of semantic content of the 
stories. The implied dominance of formal level imposes on the 
reader the renunciation of a quest for the deeper meaning. Also, 
the grae.hic form - for instance the employment of gaps in the 
narrative such as horrifying events happening outside the frames 
of drawings - encourages the proliferation of alternatives rather 
than interpretations. Fittingly, Gorey subscribes himself to the 
view that: "Life is full of alternatives, but no choice.,,39 
The ambiguities resulting from the dialectics of subversion 
and support perceptible on the level of syntax and semantics of 
nonsense are also at work on the level of pragmatics. Lecercle 
emphasizes that: "If nonsense insists on depicting the violence of 
conversation, it is in order to deprecate it.,,40 The same can be 
said of Edward Gorey's works. He depicts violence in everyday 
life not in order to celebrate it but to denounce it. The vulner- 
ability of children Gorey invoked in his interviews, and their 
ambiguous status in society serve his purpose exquisitely. 
The ambiguities discussed above are best illustrated by the 
discrepancy in the reception of "The Loathsome Couple," a book 


39 Wim Tigges, An Anatomy of Literary Nonsense (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 
1988), p. 183. 
40 Lecercle, Philosophy of Nonsense, p. 72.
>>>
408 


Zofia Kolbuszewska 


whose frontispiece warns that: "This book may prove to be its 
author's most unpleasant ever." The tale is based on the true 
story of a British couple who murdered children. When Gorey's 
agent presented the book to Robert Gottlieb, then an editor at 
Simon & Schuster, he rejected it "on the grounds that it wasn't 
funny. An astonished Gorey replied, 'Well, Bob, it wasn't sup- 
posed to be funny; what a peculiar reaction' .,,41 However, as Amy 
Benfer remarks: 
"The Loathsome Couple" is hysterically funny. You will be for- 
given for finding the juxtaposition of child murders with helpless 
laughter outrageously blasphemous. The humor in this story comes from 
the sheer blandness of it all. Mona and Harold, the hapless villains, 
move from their dismal childhoods to dismal aduIthoods of petty crime, 
to an unsuccessful union (they "fumble with each other in a cold wood- 
shed" after a crime film, and when they attempt to make love, their 
"strenuous and prolonged efforts came to nothing") to embark on their 
"life's work - luring small children to their deaths in a rented "remote 
and undesirable villa." To celebrate their first kill, Harold and Mona 
dine on "cornflakes and treacle, turnip sandwiches and artificial grape 
soda.,,42 


Indeed, in being both disturbing and funny Edward Gorey com- 
pellingly conveys "that discomfiting texture" of everyday life 
and destabilizes our complacent view of it. 


41 Amy Benfer, "Edward Gorey," Salon, February 2000, p. 1. Available 
http://www.salon.com/peop fe/bc/2000/02/15/ gorey !index. htmf 
42 Benfer, "Edward Gorey," p. 1.
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LOCAL COLORS OF THE STARS AND STRIPES 
Toruil2001 


JOSEPH KUHN 
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan 


The Upturned Face: Stephen Crane's The Monster 
and the Phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas 


In the short story "The Upturned Face" (March 1900) Ste- 
phen Crane describes the difficulty two officers have in burying 
a dead comrade on the field of battle. They shovel earth over all 
of the body apart from the. upturned face, but to cover this seems 
an act of particular desecration. It is the upward direction of the 
face which induces this mysterium tremendum. One soldier cries 
out to the other: "Good God... Why didn't you turn him some- 
how when you put him in?"] This figure of the upturned face is 
a curiously insistent one in Stephen Crane's writing, occurring, 
for example, in the central scene of The Monster (1898).2 In the 
novella Henry Johnson, a black coachman for a prosperous doc- 
tor, Edward Trescott, tries to rescue his employee's son Jimmie 
from a fire in the family home. While carrying Jimmie through 


I Great Short Works of Stephen Crane (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 
p. 143. Future citations from this work will be included in the text as GSW. 
2 This figure has been analyzed by Michael Fri
d in Realism. Writing, 
Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1987). Fried interprets the upturned face as a trope for a blank 
sheet of paper and thus for a barely repressed "scene of writing." For all its 
compelling formulation, this argument overlooks the religious dimension of the 
face in Crane's work.
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410 


Joseph Kuhn 


the doctor's blazing laboratory, Henry slips, and one burning 
chemical, in the shape of a snake, writhes its way down a desk- 
top and "flowed directly down into Johnson's upturned face.,,3 
Henry survives, but his face and mind are burnt away. He is 
shunned by the populace of the genteel northeastern town of 
Whilomville as a "monster" and has to live under the protection 
of Dr. Trescott. 
In works like The Red Badge of Courage (1895) Crane often 
rehearses an encounter with a prone or sleeping body, a body 
with which the onlooker is drawn to exchange a rapt look. Why 
does Crane put this emphasis on the face and why should it be 
upturned, that is orientated towards the dimension of height? The 
familiar "God is cold" interpretation of Crane's work provides 
a ready answer, although one that is ultimately incomplete. 4 This 
interpretation might point to the example of "The Open Boat," 
(1897) where height appears as a mere naturalistic extension 
which incorporates the human, as when the correspondent in the 
lifeboat thinks that the wind tower on the beach "was a giant, 
standing with its back to the plight of ants" and thus bespeaks 
a nature "indifferent, flatly indifferent" (M: 234). This line of 
interpretation might further argue that when Crane's characters 
implore or imprecate this height - as when earlier the narrator 
of "The Open Boat" mentions the need to make a "personifica- 
tion" of a "high, cold star" and beseech it "with hands suppli- 
cant" or when Henry Fleming wants to deliver a "philippic" at 
the red sun after witnessing Jim Conklin's death in The Red Badge 
of Courage - these upward gestures, of which the upturned face 
is a reified variant, only display a misplaced anthropological 
self-importance. 5 


3 Stephen Crane, Maggie and Other Stories (New York: Washington Square 
Press, 1960), p. 90. Future citations from this work will be included in the 
text as M. 
4 "God is cold" is the refrain from Crane's poem "A man adrift on a slim 
spar." (1897) 
S In poem 14 of War is Kind and Other Lines the voice community of earth
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The Upturned Face: Stephen Crane's The Monster... 411 


However this interpretation needs qualification. Crane is not 
simply a naturalistic demystifier of the anthropocentric. For in 
his writings the head seems to elude his pervasive reduction of 
the pseudo-uniqueness of the human to the abstract sameness of 
objects. Were this not so the head would be only what the cap- 
tain's head is for the seagull in "The Open Boat" - that is, just 
another place to land. However in "The Upturned Face" the 
"chalk-blue" face seems to draw onto itself the hallucinatory sheen 
of some unique surface, while in The Monster facial disfiguration 
has a negative ousia, even assembling a stone-throwing mob at 
one point. This uncanny of the facial is apparent in Henry Fle- 
ming's two encounters with corpses in The Red Badge of Cour- 
age. Early on in the novel the marching soldiers come upon 
a dead soldier "staring at the sky" and, as in "The Upturned 
Face," "the ranks opened covertly to avoid the corpse." Fleming 
"vaguely desired to walk around and around the body and stare; 
the impnlse of the living to try to read in dead eyes the answer to 
the Question" (GSW: 23). Later, after he flees from battle and 
apparently receives a "sign" from nature that likewise frightened 
squirrels do not die "with an upward glance at the sympathetic 
heavens," Fleming comes upon another corpse, sitting upright 
inside a "chapel" formed by arching boughs and lit by "a relig- 
ious half light." With its "liquid-looking eyes" he exchanges 
a "long look" (GSW: 45-46). In the flow of battle sensations the 
epiphany of these corpses opens up like some unassimilatable 
rebus. As with Crane's gnomic poems in the collections The 
Black Riders and Other Lines (1895) and War is Kind (1899), 
religious revelation in these confrontations is no longer transpar- 
ent as it might be in the Methodist writings of his pastor father, 
but entombed within a riddle, within the mausoleum of a corpse 
(Maurice Blanchot once commented that the corpse is its own 


rises upwards: "The senseless babble of hens and wise men - / A cluttered 
incoherency that says at the stars: / '0 God, save us!'" (For this collection see 
http://www.gongzaga.edu.lfaculty/campbell/crane/warkind.htm. )
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412 


Joseph Kuhn 


image). 6 The question of the ultimate value of the fronting of 
face with sky is layered inwards by the corpse, which by its very 
nature refers as a sign to something which has now disappeared 
or has "died," namely the body.? 
Crane was, of course, like his contemporaries Ambrose 
Bierce and Mark Twain, an iconoclast when it came to conven- 
tional Christianity. He liked to write lines like that in Maggie: 
A Girl of the Streets (1895) describing the boy Jimmie running 
from his loutish mother and "shrieking like a monk in an earth- 
quake" (M: 8). But although many of the poems in The Black 
Riders reject the God of ontological attributes - one poem reads 
"Blustering God / Stamping across the sky / With loud swagger / 
I fear You not" (no 53) - Crane tries to give tentative voice to 
what he calls "the God of his inner thoughts" (no 51).8 In this 
light the upturned face may be a figure of the religious in Crane 
in a similar way to the theology of the face presented in Em- 
manuel Levinas's Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority 
(1961). This work, which Levinas startlingly calls one of "meta- 
physical atheism," outlines not a positive theology of content but 
one defined by the face to face encounter, a radical insufficiency 
before the face of the other which at the same time is an orienta- 


6 Blanchot cited in Fried, Realism, p. 186. 
7 In an anomalous naturalistic context Crane invokes the earlier nineteenth 
century American type of the sphinx, a type which Hegel called "the symbol of 
the symbolic itself' in giving examples of his category of symbolic or Egyptian 
art. Hegel claimed that in symbolic art, as distinct from classical, outer form 
was in "mysterious and dumb" excess to spiritual content, and in the revived 
American Renaissance form of Hegel's genre such excess is best represented 
by the prone corpse of Melville's Bartelby in the neo-Egyptian prison of the 
Tombs. [Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 
1975), trans. TM Knox, Vol. I, p. 360.] In the chapel scene, where the dead 
soldier rests on a "columnlike tree," nature appears as a ruined temple or ca- 
daver of religious meaning. It takes this form of "the symbolic" in Crane's 
poem of ancient Mexico, "A row of thick pillars. " 
8 Citations from The Black Riders are from: 
http://www.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/crane/black.htm. 


'.
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The Upturned Face: Stephen Crane's The Monster... 413 
tion towards the dimension of height. 9 For Levinas the face comes 
from "above" because its "overflowing of exteriority, non-ade- 
quate to the vision which still measures it, precisely constitutes 
the dimension of height or the divinity of exteriority" (TI: 296). 
It is this ethical summoning of the face which is at the heart of 
Dr. Trescott's stubborn protection of Henry against the Whi- 
lomville community. After the fire Judge Hagenthorpe tells 
Trescott that in restoring the burnt Henry to life the doctor will 
be creating "a monster, a perfect monster" (M: 97); later Trescott 
loses most of his practice in the town and a delegation of citizens 
led by John Twelve tries to convince him to send Henry to a farm 
up the valley; and in the concluding scene of the novella Trescott 
finds his wife quietly weeping among a pile of unused tea-cups 
because her parties are shunned by the Whilomville ladies. De- 
spite all this Trescott cannot abandon Henry. He cannot formu- 
late this dedication, apart from his gratitude for Henry's saving 
of his sOh's life, but it takes the form of a resistance to the col- 
lective provincial thinking of the town, or in Levinas's more 
philosophical language its totality, in favor of a more primary 
response to the alterity manifest in Henry's disfigured face. 
Crane, like Levinas, seems attuned to a non-ontological the- 
ism in which, to quote Totality and Infinity, "it is our relations 
with men... that give to theological concepts the sole significa- 
tion they admit of' (TI: 79). Indeed Levinas's definition of the 
. religious is "the bond that is established between the same and 
the other without constituting a totality" (TI: 40) and it is this 
primary predicament of "being-together as separation [which] 
precedes or exceeds society" that lies behind Crane's "subtle 
brotherhood of men" on the sea in "The Open Boat" (M: 218).10 


9 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. 
Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), p. 77. Future 
citations from this edition will be included in the text as TI. 
10 The second quotation is from Jacques Derrida, "Violence and Metaphysics: 
An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas" in: Writing and Difference, 
trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), p. 95.
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414 


Joseph Kuhn 


In particular Levinas makes a fundamental connection between 
the face and the infinite, since both are types of what cannot be 
grasped and made reducible to a known concept - they are types 
of non-adequation. The excess that comes from the infinite 
overflows as irreducible presence in the face. Crane also makes 
an implicit connection between the upturned face and the hori- 
zon. After the narrator of "The Open Boat" says that any attempt 
to "confront a personification" in nature is met by "a high, cold 
star" the correspondent recollects a line of verse from his 
schooldays beginning "A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Al- 
giers." Previously this line had never touched him, but now he 
imagines the soldier as a "human, living thing," lying on the 
sand, while in the "far Algerian distance, a city of low, square 
forms was set against a sky" (M: 231-232). The distance of the 
horizon is in proportion to the luminescence of the upturned face. 
Furthermore this scene of desert and horizon invokes that mute 
nature as a ruined temple which underlies Crane's poems. These 
poems retain the spatial armature of the religious imagination - 
the use of horizon, desert, star, and mountain top - while ques- 
tioning its ontological content. One might say that Crane seems 
to invest the very spatial dimension with a religious sense. In 
these poems the speaker often climbs the mountain of truth - as 
in the poem "There was set before me a mighty hill" (Black Rid- 
ers, no 26) - only to see "gardenslLying at impossible dis- 
tances" as though rehearsing an eternal inadequation of the ob- 
ject before the subject. One could emphasize the note of futility 
here. But it is worth introducing Levinas's distinction between 
the more fundamental religious sense he calls the metaphysical, 
which is an opening to exteriority without ever rendering it cog- 
nizable as concept, and the conventional or ontological religious 
sense, where there is an adequation of the infinite and knowl- 
edge. In the first the type is the voyage, in the second that of the 
return. In this light the protagonists of Crane's poems are often 
driven by what Levinas calls "metaphysical desire." One poem 
(number 24) of The Black Riders reads:
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The Upturned Face: Stephen Crane's The Monster... 415 


I saw a man pursuing the horizon; 
Round and round they sped. 
I was disturbed at this; 
I accosted the man. 
"It is futile," I said, 
"Y ou can never -" 
"Y ou lie" he cried, 
And ran on. 


The man's pursuit of the horizon seems a pursuit of the delu- 
sions of the infinite. But the infinite to Crane is not only the 
equivalent of the illusory. Perhaps the point is not that the man 
cannot reach the horizon, but that the horizon should be pursued 
at all. This pursuit incurs Levinas's definition of the infinite as 
that which always remains on the horizon. In analyzing a passage 
of Descartes Levinas argues that the infinite always exceeds its 
predication as concept: "the idea of infinity is exceptional in that 
its ideatum surpasses its idea" (TI: 49).11 Insofar as this excess 
also applies to the face Levinas can make the striking formula- 
tion that "ethics is an optics" (TI: 23), an equation that also 
seems ingrained in the spatial imagination of Crane's work. 
Of course the metaphysical horizon seems rather distant in 
The Monster where the totality which offsets Henry's disfigured 
face is presented in more direct social terms: it is that of a de- 
ceptively pastoral New York State community, bound together by 
. imitative reflex responses (these run the gamut from tea party to 
children's games to the chief of police's comments of the mob, 
"of course nobody really wanted to hit him, but you know how 
a crowd gets" [M: 116]). At the beginning of the story, however, 


II The last poem of The Black Riders (no 68) is a parable illustrating this 
insight of Levinas. There "a spirit spedlThrough spaces of night" looking for 
"God! God!", only to proclaim finally that "there is no God!". At this moment 
he is smitten dead by a "sword from the sky." The moment space is defined 
naturalistically and adequation seems to be reached is the moment that the the- 
istic emerges as negative illumination.
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416 


Joseph Kuhn 


Henry is, to use Levinas's distinction, more facade than face (TI: 
192-193): indeed his promenading as a dandy in lavender trou- 
sers along Whilomville high street early in the novella uneasily 
evokes the minstrelsy stereotypes that Crane displays in the 
Whilomville story, "The Fight" (a story concerning the rivalry of 
two blacks in stealing a watermelon.) It is only the burnt Henry 
lying on Judge Hagenthorpe's bed who presents, as Levinas puts 
it, "the very straightforwardness of the face to face, without the 
intermediary of any image" (TI: 200). The imagelessness of the 
face draws up to the sheen of a shiny eye, looking out from the 
bandaged head, an eye so disconcerting that the Judge cannot - 
in its presence - deliver his advice to the doctor that Henry 
should be allowed to die. Later the "wail" of Henry or the dis- 
ruptive power of his fragmented remnants of courtly speech in 
scattering Bella Farragut and the inhabitants of Watermelon AI- 
ley are the oral equivalents of this sheen, grounding speech as 
expression in the presence of the face while distinguishing it 
from speech as merely external and instrumental act (TI: 202).12 
It might be objected that far from expressing presence in 
a face Henry is actually physically faceless. But paradoxically 
the combination in Henry of absent material face and facial ousia 
reflects the fact that for Levinas the face is not physical: "the 
relation with a face is not an object-cognition" (TI: 75). Levinas 
further observes, in a description that could be applied to the 
Henry draped in "a heavy crepe veil" (MS: 120), that "the shim- 
mer of infinity, the face, can no longer be stated in terms of con- 
sciousness, in metaphors relating to the light and to the sensible" 
(TI: 207). This shimmer might be contrasted with Crane's em- 
phasis on absolute visibility in the early urban description of 


12 Levinas argues that speaking is expression before it is "an exchange of 
ideas" (TI: 202). Likewise the face is seen as fundamentally expression (TI: 51). 
Both Levinas and Crane criticize "intentionality" in language (TI: 27) as a sec- 
ondary form of speech or as what Crane sees variously as newpaper talk and 
the "appropriation of phrases" (M: 95-96, 81).
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The Upturned Face: Stephen Crane's The Monster... 417 


a Whilomville under the blue light of the street lamps where 
"Henry's face showed like a reflector" (M: 80). That is, this fa- 
cade of the face meets its expected form within the totality, hav- 
ing aspects of minstrelsy caricature. . 
The nakedness of Henry's face "without the intermediary of 
any image" (TI: 200) is the result of a relentless stylistic process 
of defiguration in the novella whereby Crane seeks to strip away 
the bewitching images that his characters in general subject 
themselves to and seeks to find some pure ground of reference. It 
is fitting that one of the principal tropes behind the "personifi- 
cation" of nature in Crane's characters is prosopopeia or the 
endowing of the inanimate with a "face.,,13 At the beginning of 
the novella Crane shows the play of this trope in the doctor's 
"shaving [his] lawn as if it were a priest's chin" (M: 74). The 
prosopopeia associated with Whilomville's citizens (nicely fig- 
ured in the "ivory head" of the judge's cane which acts as a kind 
of mental "narcotic" for its owner) and the imagelessness of the 
actual face clash in the Judge's bedside confrontation with the 
shiny eye. 
But for all this Crane seems ultimately unsure of how to lo- 
cate the monster. There seems an element of the gratuitous in 
Henry's disfigurement (one remembers Julian Hawthorne's com- 
ment that the novella was "an outrage on art and humanity,,).14 
It seems that together with the depiction of Henry as an upturned 
face which Crane derives from his extra-naturalistic intuition 
there is also a more naturalistic reduction in which the faceless- 
ness of a marginal race emerges with a kind of biological horror. 
Thus the girl at the children's party who sees Henry through the 
window says that what she saw was "simply a thing, a dreadful 
thing" (M: 114). In this context the phylogenetic racial manner- 


13 This is pointed out in Lee Clark Mitchell, "Face, Race, and Disfiguration 
in Stephen Crane's The Monster," Critical Inquiry, Vol. 17 (1990), p. 176. 
14 Quoted in R. W. Stall worthy, Stephen Crane: A Biography (New York: 
George Braziller, 1968), p. 602.
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418 


Joseph Kuhn 


isms into which Henry regresses after the accident such as his 
crooning "a weird line of Negro melody that was scarcely more 
than a thread of sound" (M: 121) during the children's game of 
dare seem to echo the arguments of those academics of the 1890s 
who argued that "basic hereditary characteristics" meant that 
blacks, once they emerged from slavery, "quickly reverted to 
savagery.,,15 But in the transformation of this "melody" to a "reli- 
gious chant" Crane fuses this quasi-anthropological type of the 
monster with the more "metaphysical" figure of the upturned 
face and the veil: 


The monster on the box had turned its black crepe countenance to- 
ward the sky, and was waving its arms in time to a religious chant. 
"Look at him now," cried a little boy. They turned, and were transfixed 
by the solemnity and mystery of the indefinable gestures. (M: 124) 
To conclude, it might be said that Crane is located between 
a naturalist paradigm, the inheritance of pragmatist and Darwin- 
ist 1890s America, and a more metaphysical sense (in Levinas's 
meaning) that moves over the bleak debris of this domain. Crane 
is caught within the paradoxes of being a post-Christian Chris- 
tian. The most compelling scene in the novella, where Henry 
Johnson is trapped within a laboratory full of "burning flowers," 
is a confrontation of the two poles of this paradox. On the one 
hand there is a naturalistic nature seen so intently, so impression- 
istically that its objects - here the burning chemicals - disinte- 
grate into pure amd volatile sensation, which can only be cap- 
tured by an imagery of semblance. This is particularly seen in the 
"scintillant and writhing snake" which moves with a chance mo- 
tion over Johnson's head that Crane describes as a "mystic im- 
pulse." Here the positivistic neutrality of matter takes the form of 


IS See Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African 
American Voices (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 121. In "Vashti 
in the Dark," a short story probably destroyed by Crane, "a Methodist preacher 
finds his wife has been raped by a Negro in a forest and kills himself" (Stallman, 
Stephen Crane, p. 426.)
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The Upturned Face: Stephen Crane's The Monster... 419 


the daemonic (which is only this neutrality in archaic form), of 
that which mutates across the categories of the animal and the 
inorganic. 16 This vision runs up against the tentatively defined 
religious implication of the upturned face. Crane can do no more 
than stage their confrontation: "... the red snake flowed directly 
into Johnson's upturned face." 


16 In the sketch "The Snake" Crane observes that "in the formation of de- 
vices hideous and horrible, nature reached her supreme point in the making of 
a snake." Quoted in Fried, Realism, 152. 


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