Fifteen Hits
From RALPH's
Earliest Years
As one of our Spanish-speaking friends would say, "Happy Bird-Day."

The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities is fifteen-years-old this month.

Here are some of the editors' most beloved poems, reviews, readings and articles from our earliest years.

Mr. Dimock Explores
The Mysteries
Of the East
Journeys in India
Edward Cameron Dimock
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
I have this theory about travel books. The theory is that the writer must appear to be (by his or her words) someone that I would be willing to be with, for a fair amount of time, on a slow boat to China, on a sled in the Antarctic, or on an elephant in India. In other words, I want my travel writer to be funny and smart and patient and wise. I don't want some old sourpuss like Paul Theroux.

By these criteria, my four favorite traveling companions would be Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Everett Gee Jackson, Eric Hansen, Apsley Cherry-Garrard and now, god love him, Edward Cameron Dimock, viz:

    Playing golf in India is, in its essentials, not very different from playing golf elsewhere. There are, of course, minor differences: little temples and tombs of saints in the middle of the fairway, cobras in the rough, and I am told that if you overshoot the ninth green on "the highest golf course in the world," in Darjeeling, your ball plunges four hundred feet into a clear glacial stream that carries it to Bangladesh ... What is different, on India, is that it is on the golf course that some of the clearest demonstrations of the law of karma are to be found. Karma as a principle of golf is not unknown elsewhere, of course.

He then goes on to demonstrate karma from an earlier --- and magic --- golfing experience of his in Cape Cod:

    The ball lay an easy eight-iron from the pin, but I got up on it a bit too much, hit it in the middle, and sent it, about three feet off the ground, on a line right over the "green" at the top of the rise on which my ball lay. My despairing cry at this turn of events was cut short by a metallic clang, as what to my wondering eyes should appear but my ball, making a high arc and coming back to rest about two feet from the pin. It had hit the hood of a tractor pulling a grass cutter just out of sight over the rise, no doubt surprising not only the groundskeeper but also my three companions, who could not keep from expressing their admiration. "Lucky son of a bitch" is one of the comments that sticks in my mind.

Dr. Dimock first went to India in 1955, and --- deciding, as we sometimes do, that it was his love-country --- has returned many times since then. The experiences that might drive you and me loony (noise, traffic, streets jammed with people and cows, monkeys and cobras in the bedroom) are ones that obviously please and delight him. But more than that, the man learned, somewhere, unlike most academicians, how to write, how to write with clarity, how to write with that droll joy that is a delight to those of us who, for a living, have to plow through so many ill-thought-out, ill-edited, ill-constructed books by the lunk-heads who think that their last year's journey to Bulgaria, Kenya, or the Maldives deserves our attention.

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Bound and Gagged
Pornography and the
Politics of Fantasy
In America

Laura Kipnis
(Duke University Press)
Ms. Kipnis compares Larry Flynt and his magazine to the 16th Century satirist, Rabelais. For, in opposition to the Playboy/Penthouse body, "the Hustler body is often a gaseous, fluid-emitting, embarrassing body..."

Ms. Kipnis says that we are in a strange place with our pornography, or ersatz pornography: "Museum curators are put on trial. Parents are arrested for taking naked pictures of their kids. Sex and AIDS education are under assault. The National Endowment for the Arts is defunded by Congress..." She calls it a panic --- and sees it as a particularly ironic one, since movies, TV, and advertising are constantly stealing the techniques of pornography to sell their wares.

We would like to think that someone out there in the law business should listen to Ms. Kipnis. We would want to hope that some of those dull-bulb professors of communications would make her chapter on Larry Flynt required reading. But the truth is that the very wisdom of her words --- and the very unflinching ability of hers to look at all the wild and weird and up-against-the-wall videos and publications we call "pornography" --- is going to work against her. Ms. Kipnis is so honest, and direct (and, on top of that, mirabile dictu, is such a persuasive writer) --- that our guess is that like the world she is trying to reveal to us, Bound and Gagged is going to be shoved under the table. What it has to tell us is so excruciatingly real and important, that we must --- as they did with Rabelais four hundred years ago --- hide from it, bury the messenger not in obloquy, but in ignorance.

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Mrs. Caliban
Rachel Ingalls
(Harvard Common)
Ingalls manages to make all this screwball business work because, like Kafka and his neurotic bug Gregor, she knows better than to describe Larry too much. Thus we figure out that Larry is green, and large, with two arms, two legs, and head --- and that he's a swimmer (she refers to him as "frogman") --- but mostly, he's a vague, sweet monster, with vaguely human needs:

    He sat down beside her. He said, looking at her, "l've never seen. Men, but not someone like you."
    "A woman," she whispered, her throat beginning to close up.
    He asked, "Are you frightened?"
    "Of course."
    "l'm not. I feel good. But it's very strange."
    A lot more than strange, she thought. And then: no, it's just the same. They rolled backwards together on the bed.
    "Wait. Not like that," she said.

Understatement. This 125-page opus thrives on understatement:

    "Not like that," she said.
    "Show me."
    "l'm a bit embarrassed."
    "What does that mean?"

He's human, but not too human. He's pure, like Doestevsky's Idiot, or Melville's Billy Budd. Once, he walked through the city at night, made up, with a wig, like a drag queen: "I've figured out the make-up. The secret is to wear a color that's different from most of the people who live in the area," he says.

And love. He is learning about love, man-love, woman-love:

    They made love on the living-room floor and on the dining-room sofa and sitting in the kitchen chairs, and upstairs in the bathtub. And they talked. Most of the talk consisted of asking and answering questions. She asked him, "Where do you come from? Does everyone make love so many times in one day?"
    "ls it too much?"
    "No...It's perfect..."

(Even though he's a frogman --- perhaps because he's a frogman --- it becomes de rigueur that they make love in the bathtub.)

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Vignettes of
A Tragic Century

George F. Kennan
Never had I realized more keenly the extent to which the Europe of my youth, and the Europe about which I had cared, had left me and receded into the past, just like the America of the same description. A man's life, I reflected, is too long a span today for the pace of change. If he lives more than a half century, his familiar world, the world of his youth, fails him like a horse dying under its rider, and he finds himself dealing with a new one which is not really his. A curious contradiction, this: that as medicine prolongs man's span of life, the headlong pace of technological change tends to deprive him, at an earlier age than was ever before the case, of the only world he understands and the only one to which he can be fully oriented. For it is only the world of one's youth, the nature of which is absorbed with that tremendous sensitivity and thirst for impression that only childhood and early youth provide --- it is only this world that answers to the description. The Western world, at least, must today be populated in very great part by people like myself who have outlived their own intellectual and emotional environment, and who are old not only in the physical and emotional sense but also in relation to the time. We older people are the guests of this age, permitted to haunt its strange and somewhat terrifying halls --- in a way part of its life, like the guests in a summer hotel, yet in a similar way detached from it. We sometimes talk with the hotel staff. We are listened to with interest, amusement, or boredom, depending on the relevance of our words.

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Presence in the Flesh
The Body in Medicine
Katharine Young
Remember --- the only strangers that can get us to take off all our clothes without protest are doctors and prostitutes (or, under protest, someone with a gun or a knife.) Lovers and morticians can get us to strip, too, but the former usually aren't strangers, and the latter get to our bodies when we are beyond caring.

Young is concerned with showing us the techniques that are used to keep the patient's dignity quiescent while he or she is being dehumanized in the physician's office. The writer is concerned, for example, with the structure of the clinic: cubicles, offices, desks (patient on one side, secretaries on the other --- desks which "guard" the entrance to the inner rooms.) And then there are the uniforms: white jackets, or green or pink or black shirts, pants.

You and I will take off part or all of our clothes (often with the exception, she notes, of socks) while physicians will add a layer of clothing: a knee-length white coat. Listen to her observation on this discrepancy:

    The archeology of these artifacts is suggestive here: the layering of an outermost and predominant role over a complete social person as opposed to the reduction of a complete social person to a diminished role.


    Physicians make their initial appearance already in costume for their role, whereas patients change costume in the course of the performance.

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Dirty Artists and
The Clean Rich
Sir William got out an easel and a big portfolio, in red morocco with a monogram in gold. And he took out a big double mount, of the best Bristol board, cut by a real expert, with a dear little picture in the middle. Sky with clouds, grass with trees, water with reflection, cows with horns, cottage with smoke and passing laborer with fork, blue shirt, old hat.

"Lovely," I said, puffing my cigar. "Only wants a title --- what will you call it? Supper time. You can see that chap is hungry."

"I think the sky is not too bad," said she. "I just laid it down and left it."

"That's the way," I said. "Keep it fresh. Get the best colors and let 'em do the rest. Charming."

"I'm so glad you like it," said she. And she was so nice that I thought I should tell her something. "Of course," I said, "the sky is just a leetle bit chancy, looks a bit accidental, like when the cat spills its breakfast."

"I think I see," said her ladyship, and Sir William said, "Of course, Mr. Jimson, you do get skies like that in Dorset. It's really a typical Dorset sky."

I saw the Professor winking at me so hard that his face was like a concertina with a hole in it. But I didn't care. For I knew that I could say what I liked to real amateurs and they wouldn't care a damn. They'd only think, "These artists are a lot of jealous stick-in-the-muds. They can't admire any art but their own. Which is simply dry made-up stuff, without any truth or real feeling for Nature."

"Yes," I said, "that is a typical sky. Just an accident. That's what I mean. What you've got there is just a bit of nothing at all --- nicely splashed on to the best Whatman with an expensive camelhair ---"

"I think I see what you mean," said her ladyship. "Yes, I do see --- it's most interesting."

And she said something to Sir William with her left eyelash, which caused him to shut his mouth and remove the picture so suddenly that it was like the movies.

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Who Goes First:
The Story of
In Medicine
Lawrence K. Altman
(Random House)
Dr. Altman tells of many unknown heroes in self-experimentation: Claude Barlow, Arthur Looss, Maurice Hall, David Clyde. He also comments acidly on the unjustly famous Walter Reed: three of his colleagues exposed themselves to mosquitoes bearing the yellow-fever virus. One, Jesse Lazear, died of it. A second, James Carroll, was permanently weakened by it.

Reed? The day he was scheduled to experiment on himself, he disappeared --- and by the time he returned he refused to go through with it. Yet he got the glory --- while his compatriots sickened or died.

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Death Fugue
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink in the morning at noon we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined.

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Memoirs of
My Nervous
Daniel Paul Schreber
Schreber's writing has a very peculiar effect on the reader, for it is an extended disquisition into the fears, angers, and babblings that constitute the mad eigenwelt and umwelt. At the same time, it enmeshes us in the logic of lunacy --- a logic that is neither more nor less persuasive than our own. His writing makes it so we are able to participate in a world enriched by strange smells, funny tastes, clinging insights, and extraordinary visions:

    In daytime I thought I could notice the sun following my movements; when I moved to and fro in the single-windowed room I inhabited at the time, I saw the sunlight now on the right, now on the left wall (as seen from the door) depending on my movements....When later I regularly visited the garden again I saw --- if my memory does not wholly deceive me --- two suns in the sky at the same time, one of which was our earthly sun, the other was said to be the Cassiopeia group of stars drawn together in a single sun.

It is the casual phrase if my memory does not wholly deceive me, thrown in as an afterthought, that makes this work so scarifying. It is, I claim, as rich a rendering of a man's inner life as Hamlet or Ulysses. Single insights put a whole new light not only on the author's mental state but on the workings of all our minds:

    High-grade voluptuousness eventually passes into sleep,

he writes. Or:

    Another time I traversed the earth from Lake Ladoga to Brazil and, together with an attendant, I built there in a castle-like building a wall in protection of God's realms against an advancing yellow flood tide: I related this to the peril of a syphilitic epidemic.


    As proof of this statement I will at present only mention the fact that the sun has for years spoken with me in human words and thereby reveals herself as a living being or as the organ of a still higher being behind her.

What Schreber has given us are elegantly felicitous ideas that are the poetry of madness, cast in such a way that one finds oneself becoming maddened --- or at least feeling edgy --- as we go along with him and his words. Emotions, distant from "sane" feelings, emerge through a daring born of desperation. We are forced to join him in his world, and there are no anchors there: the human soul gets pulled up so we can see it naked and raw. We are forced into a drifting state with a human that has the brain so infected that he is surviving, and teaching us to survive, without any foundation. And we find ourselves asking if this madness is infectious. (Some family therapists have suggested so. A few hours with Memoirs --- like a few hours shut up with a schizophrenic --- might help convince us).

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Deep in the Land
Of Ultimate Projection
Was Father Serra as deranged as Columbus --- to whom he bears no little spiritual resemblance? Or was he just an optimistic tale-spinner? Maybe the father had a necessary supply of bunkum in his soul, something appropriate to other salesmen that were to appear in Alta California over the next two-and-a-half centuries.

It may have had to do with the fact that if he were to report honestly on the barrenness of the countryside, it would be the end of any and all further exploration or interest from the Spanish Crown. By sending back glowing reports of verdant fields and potable water --- even hinting at a good silver mine just waiting to be worked --- Serra was making sure that his own stupendous efforts on this godforsaken peninsula would not be in vain.

Perhaps it is wrong to call him a liar. Perhaps it is best to think of him as a romantic, the Don Quixote of the desert, a man who was able to find flowers and trees and good, sweet water where no one before (or since) ever would find them. There has to be something daft, indeed, about one who presumes to walk 800 miles up the most barren peninsula in the world, claiming all the while that it is in the service of The Divine:

"I have undertaken this journey to the Ports and San Diego and Monterey, for the greater glory of God and the conversion of heathen to our Holy Catholic Faith."

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Saving the Deputy
Warren Hinckle
I locked myself away with a late edition of the Manhattan Yellow Pages and a bottle of Scotch whiskey and drafted a magnificent telegram, in length somewhere between the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence, and kept the Western Union lady on the telephone for nearly three hours, as I dictated to her the names and addresses of an eclectic group of invitees drawn at whim and whimsy from, the Yellow Pages. I am no longer in possession of a complete list of those opinion-making journals which received a ramblingly urgent telegram the next morning inviting them to meet Edward M. Keating for Bloody Marys and Danish at the Waldorf Astoria, but some stained notes indicate the nature of the constituency:

The American Organist, Bedside Nurse, Casket and Sunnyside, Detergent Age, Elementary Electronics, Floor Covering Weekly, Foreign Affairs, Greeting Card Magazine, Hebrew Weekly, Hardware Age, Hospital Management, Hot Rod Magazine, Irish Echo, Intimate Story, Iron Age, Jack and Jill, Jewish Braille Review, Kosher Food Guide, The Journal of Nuclear Medicine, Little Flower Magazine, Metal Finishing, Mobile Homes Magazine, Model Airplane News, Modern Concrete, New York Daily Fruit and Vegetable Reporter, Oriental Rug Magazine, Paris Match, The Polish Press Agency, Personal Romances, Plastic Laminating, Professional Barber, Progressive Grocer, Refuse Removal Journal, Rubber Age, Saucer News, Scholastic Coach, Sexology, Solid Wastes Management, and so on.

I asked the exhausted Western Union operator her name, as I wanted to send her one hundred roses; she declined, I believe suspecting baser motives. I crashed the into bed, exhausted, to await the dawn, secure in the hope that Ed Keating would have the pleasure of the company of at least some ladies and gentlemen of the press in the morning; most of those papers had never been invited to a press conference at the Waldorf, let alone in a telegram from a Catholic publisher who was defending an anti-Catholic play against Jewish pressure groups.

The phone rang with the rising of the sun. It was Keating, wondering if I had "any news" about the news conference. I said I had sent out reminder telegrams scented with bay rum, and the rest was in the hands of the grim reaper. The press conference was at 11 A.M. in Keating's suite; at 10:50 there was nobody there but several ruby-eyed Cuban waiters who stood like salt shakers guarding what seemed like a mountain of Danish pastry and a cotton field of coffee cups and highball glasses. The minutes ticked on without visitors. Keating slumped on a couch, looking glum, staring blackly at the movable feast I had precipitously ordered.

At 10:58 he announced, that nobody was coming. I got a drink for myself before they took the booze away.

At 11:03 A.M. the walls melted. There were suddenly hundreds of people piling electronic gear into the room; within five minutes there was standing room only, the food was gone, and we had sent down for more drink. The straight New York press had arrived en masse, but apparently my last telegram had flushed out a heavy representation from the journalistic hedgerows.

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One Hundred Years
of British Electric

E. Jackson-Stevens
(David & Charles)
We used to call them streetcars or interurbans, and seventy years ago, they were everywhere, and they were efficient and friendly. Then, as a matter of policy, General Motors started buying up city councils from Maine to California and promptly had the rail systems dismantled and melted down to insure their own smelly buses and cars a monopoly of the streets.

England, like the U. S., may be a socialistic country --- socialism for the rich, that is --- but it has been wise enough to keep public transportation decisions out of the hands of the corporate huns, so their tramways survived another two or three decades, and even to this date they have a fine rail system which includes trolleys in Manx, Blackpool, and Snaefell Mountain. Did you say Snaefell Mountain?

These historical photographs should be enough to pull at your heartstrings, especially the double-deckers (some with open tops), and the bogie cars with glazed windows.

Jackson-Stevens claims the first tramway was built in 1776 --- of cast-iron, with L plates for the wheels. He quotes approvingly from Lord Macaulay who said

    those inventions which abridge distance have done most for the civilization of our species

but those of us who have been in a medieval European town when the tour buses pull up may have a different opinion.
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Sumner Welles:
FDR's Global Strategist
Benjamin Welles
(St. Martins)
Welles' grasp of world affairs was astonishing; he spoke several languages, and was known as a man who would work nonstop on whatever project was sent his way. He was once described by Washington columnists Alsop and Kintner as a "tall, powerfully-built, beautifully tailored man with the glacial manner, and an expression which suggests that a morsel of bad fish has somehow or other lodged itself in his moustache." His role, according to Benjamin Welles, his son, and author of this biography, was as one who

    wielded a major influence on U. S. foreign policy, thought shrewdly, practically, forcefully and always to one end --- maintaining a reasonably healthy international situation without involving the United States in dangerous commitments.

But fate --- in the form of the strange windings of his icy personality --- intervened. On a presidential train to Alabama, in 1940, Welles, drunk, tried to seduce not one but several sleeping-car porters. As the author says,

    Possibly no one would believe that a senior government official in his right mind --- least of all the patrician Under Secretary of State --- would solicit Pullman porters on a train carrying the President, the cabinet, the Secret Service and railway officials.

But it was so (a similar incident occurred on another train weeks later), and although it took three years, the man who rose to, in effect, be such a powerful force in U. S. foreign affairs, a major architect of what was to become the U. N., was finally driven from office. (According to his son, he was able to stay as long as he did because Roosevelt believed that what a man did when drunk should not be held against him.)

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Eating Duck
Jerome K. Jerome
We felt a strong temptation, at one point, to turn into a village inn we passed, and have a cheese and a few loaves between us; but we heroically restrained ourselves: we should enjoy the duck all the better for being famished. We fancied we smelt it when we got into the town and did the last quarter of a mile in three minutes. We rushed upstairs, and washed ourselves, and changed our clothes, and came down, and pulled our chairs up to the table, and sat and rubbed our hands while the landlady removed the covers, when I seized the knife and fork and started to carve.

It seemed to want a lot of carving. I struggled with it for about five minutes without making the slightest impression, and then Joe, who had been eating potatoes, wanted to know if it wouldn't be better for someone to do the job that understood carving. I took no notice of his foolish remark, but attacked the bird again; and so vigorously this time, that the animal left the dish, and took refuge in the fender.

We soon had it out of that though, and I was prepared to make another effort. But Joe was getting unpleasant. He said that if he had thought we were to have a game of blind hockey with the dinner, we would have got a bit of bread and cheese outside.

I was too exhausted to argue. I laid down the knife and fork with dignity, and took a side seat; and Joe went for the wretched creature. He worked away, in silence for a while, and then he muttered, "Damn the duck," and took his coat off. We did break the thing up at length, with the aid of a chisel; but it was perfectly impossible to eat it, and we had to make a dinner off the vegetables and an apple tart. We tried a mouthful of the duck, but it was like eating india-rubber.

It was a wicked sin to kill that drake. But there! there's no respect for old institutions in this country.

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The Colonel
The Life and Legend
of Robert R. McCormick

Richard Norton Smith
(Houghton Mifflin)
We've always heard that Citizen Kane was a thinly fictionalized account of the life of William Randolph Hearst --- but Charles Foster Kane, says Smith, is more a composite of Hearst, the utility magnate Samuel Insull, and Col. McCormick.

McCormick was constantly playing with new ideas, and long before they became common, he was "a pioneer in wireless news transmission, the use of color, and a primitive version of fax technology." He was also an inventor, and came up with the parking garage, and, if you'll believe it, the disposable milk carton --- as well as ideas for improving printing presses (he could take one apart single-handedly and put it back together without any pieces left over).

This is not to say he wasn't a bit quirky. During the First World War, he expected a U. S. invasion by the Germans, and in a book of his With the Russian Army, specified that massive fortifications should be built at Albany, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Vicksburg and Houston, "with additional installations guarding strategic mountain passes in the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas."

You'd have to be some kind of a newspaper nut, or a Chicago nut, or a McCormick nut to get all the way through The Colonel. It tells you everything you might want to know about him, and then some. And it just ends: when McCormick finally calls it quits on April Fool's Day, 1955, so does the book. We never learn the resolution of some of his on-going battles, especially with members of his own family (he was a great believer in the enemy-from-within theory of family systems.)

I have a friend who has been working on a book on Herbert Hoover, on and off, for twenty years. "I can't finish it because I keep going to sleep --- he was so boring." One could never say the same about McCormick, a genuine eccentric who never let his eccentricity get in the way of a lust for power and money.

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