During the past four decades, the voice that prevailed among young literary intellectuals was the voice of the skeptic and rationalist. But among the generation which has lately become articulate there are signs of agreement with the conviction expressed by Alfred North Whitehead: “If men cannot live on bread alone, still less can they live on disinfectants.” There is a perceptible loss of faith in the bread of materialism and the disinfectants of science, and a perceptible rise ol interest in religious experience and the meaning it can bring to life. Two current manifestations ol a new outlook among the young intellectuals — an outlook which by and large is oriented much more toward mysticism and vitalism than toward orthodox religion — are RELIGION AND THE REBEL (Houghton Mifflin, $4.00) by COLIN WILSON and EMERGENCE FROM CHAOS (Houghton Mifflin, $4.00) by another very young Englishman, STUART HOLROYD.
Mr. Wilson has now assumed the prophetic stance of a Toynbee: his main concern is to analyze the decline of Western civilization in terms of the formulations arrived at in The Outsider. His book, however, is a hodgepodge. The most fascinating part, perhaps, is the “autobiographical introduction,” which is followed by a recapitulation of The Outsider, illustrated with studies of a curiously mated trio — Rimbaud, Rilke, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, With his eye on Spengler and Toynbee, Wilson proceeds to assess the decline of the West. Then he switches back to the Outsider’s problem (a vision of life as chaos and a hunger for ultimate reality) and examines the lives and thought of various men who have responded to the problem with a religious solution — men such as Boehme, Pascal, Swedenborg, Kierkegaard, and Shaw. The final chapter tries to draw together the historical and religious strands in a consideration of two major twentieth-century philosophers, Wittgenstein and Whitehead. The sympathetic reader will discern the logic behind all these gyrations, but there is a certain madness, too. To group Bernard Shaw and Cardinal Newman under the same label; to toss off such statements as “The Outsider’s way of thinking is called existentialism, but it might as easily be called religion,” is surely to be what Burckhardt termed a “terrible simplifier.”
In its barest essence, Mr. Wilson’s thesis can be briefly summarized. What ails Western civilization is “the bifurcation of nature” — the extreme separation of intellect, intuition, and body. Western man, since the Renaissance, has exalted intellect at the cost of becoming spiritually crippled. The Outsider is at once a symptom of this crippling and a potential savior. Wilson compares him to Toynbee’s “internal proletariat” out of which may emerge a new “creative minority” with a new religion.
The weakness, as a recipe for cultural salvation, of the mystical religion which attracts Wilson is simply that its disciplines are more or less a full-time job. What forces him into this extreme position is an assumption which is far from self-evident: namely that life as lived by ordinary men is unmitigated hell.
About Mr. Holroyd’s Emergence ! from Chaos little need be said, since his basic position is similar to Mr. Wilson’s and is less provocatively developed, and his method of procedure is the same. The first part, which refers to the Outsider’s problems, argues that religion offers the only answer to the present pervasive sense of chaos, The second part is a discussion of six poets in whom the author finds varied expressions of the religious life — Dylan Thomas, Whitman, Yeats, Rimbaud, Rilke, and T. S. Eliot. Judging from this selection, the author might have argued with about equal force that all great poetry is an expression of the religious life.
During what Ilya Ehrenbourg called “the thaw” which followed Khrushchev’s attacks on Stalinism, the magazine Novy Mir published a first novel by VLADIMIR DUDINTSEV, whose devastating picture ol Soviet bureaucracy touched off a furor, most of it in support of the book. The cheers were in due course silenced by an official pronouncement that the author, though well-intentioned. was guilty of pessimistic distortion. In a preface to the U.S. edition of NOT BY BREAD ALONE (Dutton, ,$4.95), Dudintsev piously proclaims that he is merely describing “the birth pangs of a new world in which there is no injustice.”The fact remains that no other Soviet novel has been so forthright in its treatment of some of the seamy realities of Soviet life and that it heretically glorifies a lone-hander who fights for the rights of individual against constituted authority.
Dudintsev’s hero, Lopotkin, a teacher romantically dedicated to Communist ideals, has invented a labor-saving machine for casting pipes whose great value has been recognized by the Bureau of Inventions. The backing he initially received has been withdrawn, however, at the instigation of a powerful scientist, who has designed a rival but inferior machine. The story focuses, somewhat relentlessly, on Lopotkin’s eight-year struggle with officialdom, and it forcefully documents the cynical self-seeking, the corruption, and the snobbish preoccupation with the material symbols of status which prevail in the higher echelons of Soviet society.
The hero finally wins out, but the conclusion suggests that his victory is only temporary, that the idealist will always have to fight against suppression by bureaucratic careerists.
From a literary standpoint, the novel is mediocre — prolix and sentimental in its portrayal of the virtuous characters. What is best are the rogues: one of them, Drozdov, is a masterly characterization. Ironically, the book closely resembles an old-fashioned literary product of the era of untrammeled capitalism: the romantic muckraking novel which indignantly exposed “abuses” without seriously relating them to the system that enabled them to flourish. Robber bureaucrats have taken the place of robber barons.
THE MAKIOKA SISTERS (Knopf, $4.95), by JUNICHIRO TANIZAKI — introduced to Americans with Some Prefer Nettles (1955) and widely con-
sidcred to be Japan’s leading novelist — chronicles the affairs of a once rich and still proud family of the great port of Osaka through the years leading up to World War II. Japanese critics have called it “the Buddenbrooks of Japan.”
The two eldest Makioka sisters. Tsuruko and Sachiko, are happily married, and the central strand of the story is their search for a suitable husband for a third sister, Yukiko. In this story is mirrored a way of life on the road to extinction, that of the conservative upper bourgeoisie, a class acutely conscious of family status, rigorous in its code of manners, versed in the traditional arts, and deeply attached to the traditional pleasures — cherry blossom parties, firefly hunts (of which there is an exquisite description), visits to beauty spots and shrines, the Kabuki theater and the dance.
The Makioka Sisters, while it has none of the elusiveness or obscurities one often finds in Japanese novels, displays the sensory richness and aesthetic refinement that characterize the best Japanese writing. The book is a magistral fresco of cultural change, warmly and perceptively articulated in terms of human beings. My one substantial reservation is that the story is dramatically too lowkeyed — it lacks the narrative drive one would welcome in a work of such spacious dimensions.
In the novels of Tanizaki and other talented Japanese writers, literature reaches out into the domain of painting; in the talcs of ISAK DINESKN it reaches back to its early origins — to the storyteller who narrated happenings wondrous, dire, and edifying which took place in a world where reality and fantasy were intermixed, and where fate was a felt presence. Isak Dinesen’s new book, LAST TALES (Random House, $4.00), is her first to appear in seventeen years. In an interview published in 1956 in the Peris Review, she referred to a group of forthcoming stories as “anecdotes of destiny,” and the phrase admirably suggests the special character of the present collection. Melodrama and Gothic inventions are clothed in the elegantly controlled style of an aristocratic raconteur, and the portentous theme of each of these long anecdotes is the mysterious workings of late.
A cardinal recounts a tale of noble twins, one marked for the Church, the other for art; the latter dies in childhood but his destiny is fulfilled, for the priest and the artist serve the same master — both are the mouthpieces of God. Other tales unfold incest and witchcraft; a son’s atonement for his father’s crime; a tragedy wrought by the dictates of honor.
The collection, though not quite as impressive as Seven Gothic Tales, is a reminder that Isak Dinesen is one of the finest and most singular artists of our time.
THE LAST PHASE
THE LIFE AND WORK OF SIGMUND
FREUD: Volume III, 1919-39 (Basic Books, $7.50) by ERNEST JONES completes one of the great biographies of the twentieth century. The present volume opens with an account of further stresses among Freud’s disciples. The world-wide growth of psychoanalysis is a continuing motif. The central drama is Freud’s sixteenyear-long battle with cancer of the jaw, which developed when he was sixty-seven. Throughout his long ordeal, in which he endured thirtyone operations and unspeakable suffering, he maintained his practice and (to a substantial degree) his astonishing literary productivity. It was in this phase of his life that he formulated his structural hypothesis of the Ego and the Id and brought his doctrine to bear on religion and the nature of society.
No man can ever have been more true to his convictions than Freud was in the grip of a fatal disease. He never wavered in his rejection of the comforting belief in an afterlife; his acceptance of reality was complete — devoid of irritation or self-pity. So strong was his distaste for any blurring of consciousness that he refused to relieve his agony with opiates until he was on his deathbed.
The latter part of Dr. Jones’s book contains surveys of Freud’s application ol his theories beyond the field of mental therapy, and it provides* among other things, a valuable clarification of Freud’s much-debated views about the nature of artistic creation.
Dr. Jones’s great achievement is that — in addition to setting on record so detailed, lucid, and informed a study of Freud’s personal history and his work — he has projected to the layman the inner drama that pervades Freud’s life, the excitemnt of a revolutionary adventure of the mind.