THE TEMPER OF OUR TIME (Harper & Row, S3.95) is a collection of aphoristically witty essays by ERIC HOFFER, longshoreman turned intellectual and philosopher through self-education. Mr. Hoffer attacks half a dozen current problems, but one idea runs through the book like string through the beads of a necklace. The author argues that we live in a time of rapid and constant change which produces a juvenile state of mind in whole populations because “the juvenile is the archetypal man in transition.” The result is “a time of wild dreams, extravagant fairy tales, gigantic masquerades, preposterous pretensions, marching multitudes . . . messiahs bringing glad tidings and mass migrations to promised lands.” While this description seems, at first glance, hardly applicable to our more familiar troubles, Mr. Hoffer’s elaboration of it is detailed and persuasive. He neglects, however, to prove that youthful overexuberance is necessarily less desirable than an elderly excess of caution.
SATORI IN PARIS (Grove, S3.95) is another of JACK KEROUAC’S ostensibly autobiographical pseudonovels, composed in eccentric, conversational, on-the-run prose, spattered with passages of brilliant observation and description, and ending where it started. Satori, Mr. Kerouac explains, is a “Japanese word for ‘sudden illumination,’ ‘sudden awakening’ or simply ‘kick in the eye.’ ” Since the book recounts the author’s drunken attempts to locate family records in Paris, where no librarian would trust him with a book, and in Brittany, where he decided the whole thing was too much trouble in a cold drizzle, the last meaning is probably the one that applies. Possibly Mr. Kerouac’s claim to have experienced satori is an ironic joke in the Zen manner.
MASADA (Random House, $12.95) is the plateau on the Dead Sea coast which was fortified by Herod the Great and later held to the last bitter ditch by Jewish rebels against the rule of Rome. The place, with its palaces, magazines, cisterns, and fortifications, has not yet been completely excavated, but much progress has been made by an archaeological team directed by YIGAEL YADIN, whose book on the dig is pleasantly informal as well as highly informative. Good pictures and maps.
Motion pictures made from books are a commonplace, and may be good or bad without surprising anybody. Novels derived from, or written specifically for, filming are a relatively new device and so far of questionable merit. NIGHT GAMES (Coward-McCann, S4.95) was written by MAI ZETTERLING, actress and director, in connection with a film of the same name. The film was promptly hailed as a cinematic masterpiece and just as promptly banned, and it is not clear whether Miss Zetterling composed the prose version as a preliminary script, or afterward, as a defense. As a defense against charges of obscenity, the novel works well, for while every artistically fashionable sexual perversion is mentioned, most of them are kept so well offstage that the effect is incongruously genteel. One has the impression of a lady gingerly pawing through her garbage pail in search of a missing heirloom spoon.
ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET, who wrote the script forLast Year at Marienbad,is more successful with his novel LA MAISON DE RENDEZ-VOUS (Grove, $4.50). He plays fair with the possibilities of the film-to-be, confining himself entirely to visible action and hearable dialogue, all of it very precise. What is not precise, or even detectable, is any connection between the preoccupation with “women’s flesh,” announced in the opening sentence and supported by a love-trap last scene, and the rest of the action, which consists of a series of episodes connected with the death of a rascally old Hong Kong dope magnate. The bones of a Fu Manchuish thriller are there, but are carefully not assembled into a proper skeleton because logical arrangement would put an end to the speculative croticexotic-heroic daydream which is the real purpose of a narrator who is sometimes narrator, sometimes expatriate American rogue, sometimes a renegade English nobleman. The pure process of invention is what makes La Maison de Rendezvous interesting, and it becomes distinctly interesting as soon as one accepts the author’s intention as a reasonable experiment.