R A L P HVolume Seven, Number Three
The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities
Early Winter 2001-2002
The Folio is the print version of
RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature,
Philosophy, and the Humanities
https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/ It comes out every month or so, and contains what we believe to be some of our best on-line reviews and articles.
It is sent to regular subscribers, and --- on a one-time basis --- to any stray visitors who request a free copy.
Reviews may be reprinted by anyone, for any purpose whatsoever --- outside of the obviously sadistic ones --- but should include information that readers can find us on the web at the address given above.--- A. W. Allworthy,
The Editors' PicksBeing a list of twenty-one books that we have received over the last few months that stand out as being especially interesting, funny or wise.
§ § §
The First World War
Gerard J. De Groot
(Palgrave)In this 200 page description of the events before, during, and after WWI, historian De Groot has chosen to avoid the stylistic twitches of the drones like Martin Gilbert (who go plodding, month-by-month, through the battles, until the reader wants to scream and pull out his hair). De Groot's is a sensible and well-paced overview of the war, peppered with some wonderfully sly comments on those who were in charge of the butchery.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AY/world-war-one.html
Photographs by David Finn
(Harry N. Abrams)Many of the almost two hundred figures represented here are so exquisitely sensuous that one feels one might be in the presence of the "perfect" human form. The Greek Classical sculptures from 2500 years ago --- works of Renaissance artists such as Baccio Bandinelli, Giambologna, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini --- are so inviting that we feel a bit silly, wondering that icy marble could convey so much lust. And the 19th Century artists Antonio Canova and Giovanni Dupré turn breast and buttock and thigh --- even the marble drapes scantily covering these parts of the body --- into something that wouldn't be out of place in the pages of "Playboy" or "Christopher Street."https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AI/new.html#nudeThe Same Sea
Nicholas de Lange
(Harcourt)He's all you could want in a novelist: funny, heartbreaking, outrageous. He can sew together a plot that will knock your socks off. He knows hearts, old and young. He shares the good and the bad of love --- old love, new love --- and loves to tell. Most of all, he, or rather he and his translator, are dynamite with words.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AY/amos-oz.html
Of Beetles and Angels
A True Story of
The American Dream
(Megadee)We reviewers prize our toughness when reading books that may try to shove us over into naked sentiment. With this one, however, I had to surrender. The eighteen-year-old Asgedom, a poorer-than-poor refugee from Ethiopia, finds himself accepted: I got home and found two envelopes waiting for me, one from Harvard and the other from Yale. I opened them and read their contents. Then I walked over to the living room to tell my parents. Their dream had come true. Their boy had earned admission to the best universities in the country. His parents wept. He wept. And, alas dear reader --- so did this reviewer.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AX/ethiopia.html
Of Abbie Hoffman
(Four Walls/Eight Windows)It's useless for us or anyone else to try to "review" Abbie Hoffman's autobiography. He is an eloquent spokesman for himself, and what he has to tell us is pure Abbie. He was a merry idealist who was appalled at a governmental system that was (and, apparently, still is) willing to validate cruelty, war, and injustice as patriotism. As a reward for his funny, righteous caring about his country, he was spied on, cornered, beaten, jailed (three times in one day was his record) and finally set up with a drug charge which, had he not fled, may have consigned him to jail for the rest of his days.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AX/briefs.html#abbie
Our Man in Vienna
Richard Timothy Conroy
(St. Martins)We were fully prepared to dislike Conroy and his book, but he is such a merry wordsmith that by page fifty we were prepared to drop everything and head out to Washington to visit the Smithsonian Institution where he hangs out now and thank him for jollying up our weekend. Obviously, he is a man who has found as much to dislike about the State Department and the Foreign Service as the rest of us, but he wisely takes the edge off of his feelings by writing in a sardonic style that can best be compared to the late Raymond Chandler. Or maybe one of those English teachers we had in college who viewed the world with a deep interest tempered by a profound sense of the folly of it all.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AI/vienna.html
(Arizona)Rathje started the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona in 1972. He was a trained anthropologist and reasoned that since we have been able to draw exact portraits of ancient cultures by examining what they discard, we could do the same with our own by carefully and scientifically excavating our dumps. Utilizing classic archeological techniques, Rathje & Co. come up with some wondrous facts...and they are wonderful, literate writers, with a great sense of fun. The book, now thankfully reissued by the University of Arizona Press, is not only packed with disgusting and delightful tid-bits, but, as well, unlikely quotes, ranging from "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, the "National Enquirer," and various garbage workers, to Wallace Stegner, Charles Reich, and Thomas Jefferson.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AW/briefs.html#rubbish
Let Us Now Praise
Photographs by Walker Evans
(Houghton Mifflin/Mariner)If you have never read Agee you might consider the possibility of dropping this review and calling up the American Book Exchange or Powells to get a copy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men so that you don't have to waste your time in having us tell you what a fine piece of work it is. It's the work of a young man (twenty-seven) who knows words and knows how to use them and wants us to see and hear and smell and feel what it is like to be intimately involved with three families who are certainly not famous but certainly are poor --- "dirt poor" as we used to say. He is obviously trying to do with words what companion Walker Evans did with the sixty-four pages of photographs that appear in this volume.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AU/famous-men.htmlMasquerade
(Arcade Publishing)Soros comes out of this as a beguiling trickster, a combination of Woody Allen and Groucho Marx. He's the kind of person that we would want to hang out with just because he has that wry irony and let-nothing-daunt-me attitude that we'd need if we were Jews trying to survive in Budapest in 1944. There is a powerful implied kindness in all his works. He doesn't say, "I'm a kind person." He doesn't have to. Despite his living in the midst of such human bestiality, he remains a steadfast humanitarian. He comes off as one who is simply not built to give up, much less see the world in terms of enemies and friends.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AW/soros.htmlUnder the Skin
(Harcourt)This one will get under your skin and, at the same time, probably make you give up hitchhiking forever. At least in Northern Scotland. It's a jim-dandy seat-grabber (or seat-stabber) of a book, and part of the pleasure is getting into the heads of those who are, after all, running nothing more than an exotic meat-packing plant stocked with humans for transshipment --- fattened and frozen --- to their far-off world. Specialty meats, it's called.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AW/under-skin.html
The Art of the
(Princeton)Ms. Prettejohn with her Pre-Raphaelite name is a worthy guide to the Pre-Raphaelites, addressing the questions of history and technique and impact. The renascence of our interest in that school of art came out of the Tate exhibit of 1984, which, she says, was perhaps the most comprehensive that was and will be. There are here line drawings, close-ups, and 170 color reproductions, 300 fine pages in all.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AM/pre-raphaelites.html
(Chicago)MacCreagh's style grows on you. At first, it seems a bit juvenile --- but by some magic, he steals our hearts, involves us with him, through the rapids, or while being eaten by piume flies, or negotiating with the various characters that infest this virgin world of eighty years ago. All along, he is wonderfully droll and (one realizes) exceptionally courageous. When stranded near the headhunters of the Tiquié, he contrives to convince the Indians that he is different than the thousands of other whites who merely saw them as savages to be robbed --- and it works. There are few travel/adventure books which excite and please as much as this one.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AS/white-black-waters.html
The Last Cheater's Waltz
Beauty and Violence in
The Desert Southwest
(Arizona)She takes a naturalist's world view, mixes it with geology, history, psychology, humanity --- and blends a lyric whole that is sweet, sharp, and sometimes very poignant. The desert is where she lives. It's where she travels. It's where she wonders about, for example, the United States creating and testing and developing the most secret awful weapons in her back yard. It's a profound and wondering (and sometimes very funny) account of one person in her element, the Southwest Desert, which turns out to be not only the hiding place for the sins of America's warlike character, but, too, a graveyard for those who have died wasting away for lack of the most basic stuffs of life --- food, shelter, water.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AP/desert-atomic.html
The Barn at the
End of the World
The Apprenticeship of a
Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd
Mary Rose O'Reilley
(Milkweed)The freshness of her writing cuts through these pages, offering honesty, curiosity, and that American craving for answers. Intermixed with it are very human bouts of American fret-work, anger, and guilt: the what-am-
I-doing- with-my- life? syndrome --- along with what-does- it-all- mean? and what-in- God's-name- am-I- doing-here? We are invited inside her soul, to become part of her family, feel her woe at loss of children (they grow up, they go away), experience her continuing affection for her early Catholic training, marvel at her attempt to follow the Buddhist precept of sacrifice and caring for all sentient creatures. She writes with a style that is a reviewer's dream --- essays that are as light as angel-food, that are at once profound, funny, lively and insightful.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AO/quaker-buddhist.html
My War Gone by,
I Miss It So
(Penguin)It's one of those books that comes out of the blue to blow one away. He tells of atrocities and being strung out on drugs and what to do (or not do) when The Big Fear of Dying first hits you in the middle of battle. Then there are the irritating UN spokesmen and soldiers with their own strange good-luck charms and touchstones and, most of all, what happens to the soul of any reasonably civilized person who comes across what he shouldn't have to come across in Bosnia. Loyd is a reporter's reporter, the one we want to tell us what is truly transpiring, not what the government back-pocket media wants us to think is happening.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AN/war-gone-by-rev.html
Adventures in Wartime Russia
(Steerforth)We can't think of another prison book that puts the reader right in the middle of a pest-hole --- with the stink of the latrine, the lice (three kinds: head, body, groin), the cold, the bodies pressed together, the watery soup, the 600 grams (or less) of bread, the occasional treat when one is able to bribe a trusty to bring in something special. As in life, as in prison, there must be diversions. Here they come from the details --- some funny, some weird, some scary, some wildly imaginative: How to construct chessmen from chewed pieces of bread, how to give a tattoo to a fellow prisoner with India ink pens, how to hoard food, how to hide things from the guards, how to divert the prisoners who want to beat up on you, how to light a cigarette with no matches.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AN/without-vodka.html
The Naked and
(Picador USA)We picked it up to revive old memories of a book we had once read and could never forget. We were not convinced we wanted to labor through all 721 pages of it but...alas, it caught us. Mailer's vision of men and their lives and their wars is uniformly bleak. It's not just that these soldiers are lonely agonized characters. They fight each other as vigorously as they fight the Japanese. The worlds they came from are as grim and hopeless as the world of the battlefield. From the grunt soldiers to the officers, they create such a tension that one half expects them to explode in flames.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AK/naked-dead1.htmlHistory: A Novel
(Steerforth Italia)Morante has the ability to capture her characters so completely that it puts us in mind of a fine movie, and there is an especial childlike beauty in this one: it's a world of children that has become touched by, at times poisoned by, at times elevated by, the adult world. It reminds us of the enchanted world of early Borges --- but this is two decades before Borges. Morante magically transports back to 1942 or 1944 Italy to participate in the wonders and horrors of four people merely trying to survive in a world of no shelter, little food, and constant state sanctioned murder. It's cosmic writing --- a writing that lets the reader come into the day-to-day of people that we would never otherwise have a chance to meet. This is the story of Moravia's forgotten peasants, written by one who was his lifelong companion.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AR/elsa-morante.htmlSex, Drugs &
The Twinkie Murders
(Loompanics)Krassner is first and foremost a journalist and a reporter. His writing is clear and direct, and he marshals facts to make his point, no matter how bizarre. He trained himself to write in a snappy fashion, and he does his homework. We could thus say that he represents the New York Times of the acid set.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AK/krassner.html
War & Politics by
A Journalist's Memoir
(University of Washington)Scates is a reporter of the old school. He is honest and he is driven --- and he is, too, more than a little courageous. During the Six-Day War, he and Bill Maudlin drove themselves --- in a rented car, no less --- to where they thought the next action would be taking place. They were usually right: this meant they got there before the bombings started, which meant they were right in the middle, had to duck when it actually happened. He is not only profane and gutsy --- he's a fine writer.https://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/AK/scates.html
The Pleasure and Tribulations
Of Moving from a Big City to
An Old Country Farmhouse
(Harper Collins)In the stygian world of New York publishing, one of the few bright lights is Michael Korda. His writings are mercurial, witty and free of self-deification. (His tale of meeting President Reagan --- it appeared in The New Yorker ten years ago --- is as wicked as they come.) Country Matters is a stern warning to those of us who think we should return to our peasant roots, and as such, reminds us of two other back-to-
the-farm classics of our youth: S. J. Perelman's Acres and Pains, and Betty MacDonald's The Egg and I.
The PhilosopherA man rides a bicycle into town. He's forgotten his clothes,
or maybe this is what he means to do.
He rides carefully into the burning town.
Apartments of old stone list, iron balconies, awnings,
the window-grates blacken with heat. He rides by.
His lip perspires, his eyes intent.
In the hills behind him there is a glow that is not the burning.
The Acropolis maybe. The Dome of the Rock.
The man has a book under his arm. The pages are gilt-edged, the title
has worn away. He has a shoulder-wound also, an old crescent scar.
Now his chest sweats, now his abdomen.
He is more agile than laughter.
The road turns. A black sedan rounds the corner
behind him. They are leaving town or they're trailing him.
Either way it's too late.
The man is not cold without clothes. He sees whole worlds
wherever he looks, and this keeps him busy.
Maps and globes and civilizations not on fire.
Now when he stops and considers the spokes, the bicycle tires,
he sees ashes, nails, explosions of glass.
He does not believe in this. He believes in something else.--- Rebecca Wee
From Uncertain Grace,
©2001, Copper Canyon Press
Gangrene and Glory
Medical Care During
The American Civil War
Frank R. Freemon
(Illinois)Just when you thought it was safe to go back into war again, along comes Gangrene and Glory which describes, in disgusting detail, the quality of medical care during the American Civil War. It wasn't just having an arm or a leg or a head ripped off by a shell --- it was, too, yellow fever, malaria, small pox, typhoid, dysentery, scurvy, measles, "black" gangrene, and infections from the hospital itself.
Out of a total of 2,400,000 soldiers mustered up on both sides, mortality figures reached over 600,000. The death rate in battle was moderate --- it was the subsequent devastation of disease and doctors ignorant of sanitation that killed the larger number of soldiers.
As a book, Gangrene and Glory is a mess. The book design is like something they'd hand out to you in Nathan Hale High for your 10th grade English composition workbook. In addition, it is quite scattered. It goes into great detail about the lives and education of various doctors, lists American Medical Schools in 1860 (there were slightly more than four score), and contains a number of rather peculiar tables: "Union Doctors Released at the Winchester Accord," "Support Hospitals for the Army of Tennessee," and "Workers at Chimsborazo Hospital, January 1863" [166 Hospital Stewards, 58 cooks, 123 Laundry Workers].
It is, thus, not even a little bit like reading Ward, Churchill or Macauley. But some of the quotes from those who lived through it are genuine show-stoppers. This from a doctor William Morton, receiving the wounded at Fredericksburg:
It is the most sickening sight of the war, this tide of wounded flowing back. One has a shattered arm, and the sling in which he carries it is the same bloody rag the surgeon gave him the day of battle; another has his head seamed and bandaged so you can scarcely see it, and he weaves like a drunken man as he drags along through the hot sun; another has his shoe cut off, and a great roll of rags around his foot, and he leans heavily on a rough cane broken from a pine tree; another breathes painfully and holds his hand to his side, where you see a ragged rent in his blouse; another sits by a puddle, dipping water on a wounded leg, which , for want of dressing since the battle, had become inflamed; another lies on a plot of grass by the roadside, with his browned face turned full to the sun, and he sleeps.
The photographs, etchings, and drawings, as badly reproduced as they are, almost make up for the lack of structure. The portraits of the surgeons general look like they just got out of prison (or out of bed). The textbook drawings of procedures for amputation are alarming enough so that if you lived in Newport News, New Haven, Boston or Charleston in 1863, and if you were of draft age --- you would have been best off taking the next steamer to Canada. The reference books the doctors used were quite direct. Those soldiers who claimed to be sick were cowards:
In cases of doubt, it is always safest to assume the disease as feigned, rather than real.
Many commentators have pointed out that the American Civil War, like the Spanish American War and WWI, came about more through happenstance, bad timing, and an innocent and naive populace, rather than through political necessity. Now as then, a bit of jingoism serves to enhance the image of those in power, gives a shot to the nation's finances, and offers economic juice to those who have --- as opposed to those who have nothing.
Wars scarcely benefit the populace at large; are, indeed, somewhat detrimental to the well-being of young men who are young enough to be of service to their country. Edmund Wilson's justly famous Introduction to Patriotic Gore should convince anyone who has romantic ideas about war in general and the Civil War in particular that there was a special bloodiness on the battlefields that was unheard of in previous wars. It was thus a strong foreshadowing of what was to come in the trenches of Ypres.--- F. J. Wirth[READING]
His father rebukes him again
and also pleads a littleThe Same Sea, Amos Oz's newest novel, is written in a series of vignettes and monologues. Rico David is off in Tibet, has just taken up with the Portuguese woman Maria. The monologue here belongs to his father, Albert Danon, calling him from Israel. Dita is his girlfriend, now living with Albert; Rico's mother has just died of cancer. As with much of the book, this chapter is written in verse.Listen carefully. This is your father speaking. A simple man,
a rather grey man, and so on and so forth, but still your father. The only one
you have, and that's something your irony can't change.
That cheap woman you're with may let off
fireworks in bed, I'm not an expert in such matters
and I'm sorry to mention it, but fireworks
go out and time is drying up and the summer is over and you are
not back. The summer is over the autumn is gone and what about you,
where are you? Shrouded in fog in limbo in the arms
of a whore. It's lucky your mother --- well, never mind. Don't hang up.
Just a minute. Listen to me: Dita is back here. In your room.
Sometimes, just in my mind's eye, I look at her and think,
my grandchild is drying up. Wait. Don't put the phone down. The autumn
is over and you are just mist. Last night I dreamed of my own father,
he was kneading dough, grunting hoarsely in Ladino, Stupido Albert,
asno, in ten more minutes se hizo bamets. This call
is already costing me a fortune, but there's one more thing I have to tell you:
under the same roof she is waiting and so am I. There is something not right
about this. The summer is over and the autumn is gone, the rain brings me
a smell of dust. Don't come back too late.
--- From The Same Sea
©2001 Harcourt, Inc.
[GREAT REVIEWS OF THE PAST]
The Floating Opera
It's not new...in fact, it's almost fifty years old. But if you haven't read it up to now, call up the American Book Exchange on your computer and order up a copy. You won't regret it. I swear: it's Barth before he became famous, and turned obscure.
It's ostensibly the tale of a Maryland country lawyer, involved in country law: wills, divorces, personal injury, torts. But being Barth, it's more --- much more. For one thing, it has to be one of the best writings extant on the silliness of the practice of law in American. It is, too, one of the first novels --- outside of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Anderson --- to demonstrate what some might think of as U. S. Existentialism.
Most fetchingly, there are the tricks the author uses to suck us in: tricks right out of Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne. "I don't know anything about this novel-writing business," the hero seems to say, "But I'll try, and let's see what comes out of it." And so he leads us a merry chase, at times chastising himself for getting off the track; at times chastising us for what we might be thinking. For instance, if the main character's name is Todd, does that have anything to do with the German word for "death?" Absolutely not, says Barth: perish the thought. And the very fact of his bringing it up makes it stick in our minds: maybe The Floating Opera is all about death.
Every reader will have his favorite passages. For me, it's the description of the central legal hinge of the novel, the Harrison Mack Senior Will case:
Now of the several characteristics of Harrison père, three were important to the case: he was in the habit of using his wealth as a club to keep his kin in line; he was, apparently, addicted to the drawing up of wills; and, especially in his last years, he was obsessively jealous of the products of his mind and body, and permitted none to be destroyed.
As the narrator tells us, this gives Todd and his legal counterpart on the other side a chance to have a field-day with legal technicalities. It is in the description of these that makes the book such a pleasure.
There is, above all, the simple fact that Barth is a fine writer. Listen to this description of the possibility that because of a peculiar heart condition, that Todd, relatively young, might well pop off at any moment:
Eleven times the muscle of my heart contracted while I was writing the four words of the preceding sentence. Perhaps six hundred times since I began to write this little chapter. Seven hundred thirty-two million, one hundred thirty-six thousand, three hundred twenty times, since I moved into the hotel. And no less than one billion, sixty-seven million, six hundred thirty-six thousand, one hundred sixty times has my heart beat since a day in 1919, at Fort George G. Meade, when an army doctor, Captain John Frisbee, informed me, during the course of my predischarge physical examination, that each soft beat my sick heart beat might be my sick heart's last...
[Note the luscious use of "soft;" the heart-beat like repetition of "sick heart"]
...Having poured my drink, I may not live to taste it, or that it may pass a live man's tongue to burn a dead man's belly; that having slumbered, I may never wake, or having waked, may never living sleep...Having heard tick, will I hear tock? Having served, will I volley? Having sugared will I cream? Having eithered, will I or? Itching, will I scratch? Hemming, will I haw?...
Sigh. This is prose-poetry of the highest order --- and it is part of a dandy novel, one that won't leave you alone until you come, very regretfully, to the end.
--- Laurie Wilson
[A LETTER]Dear RALPH:
I have been reading RALPH since its inception. Or should I say, "Since the literary D&C that some people would call a birth."
Wouldn't it be worthwhile for you and your writers to do something constructive now and again besides beat on America, Americans, and American publishing?
My definition of your magazine is "peculiar." Or would you prefer "puerile?"
I hope you are smart enough to figure out what it means. It rhymes with "phew."
Meanwhile think about getting a life. Or, even better, a job.--- A. A. Leventhal
(Norton)We always heard that Marx was a humorless drudge, the equivalent of a computer geek, slaving away in the British Museum Reading Room. Nonsense. He was a merry one, or at least as merry as one could be --- having been born in dreary Trier, Germany.
He was a dynamite speaker, especially when there was a brouhaha amongst his fellow rabble-rousers, as there usually was. He could round up the troops, get anything he wanted passed when he was running, say, the International Working Men's Association.
And he was wonderful at insults. Arnold Ruge, he said,
stands in the German revolution like the notices seen at the corner of certain streets: "It is permitted to pass water here."
A rowdy, loudmouthed and extremely confused little mannequin whose life-motto came from Rameau's Nephew --- "I would rather be an impudent windbag than nothing at all."
After he started Das Kapital, he was forever and a day promising to deliver the manuscript to the publishers, forever and a day putting it off. He had a bad liver, pains here and there, and boils so terrible that he often couldn't sit to work. These carbuncles gave a colorful edge to his work. When he delivered Das Kapital to his German publishing house, the manuscript had blood all over it. Engels had to lacerate one of his more pernicious boils, sited on his...well, don't ask; I won't tell.
He and Frederick Engels were a pair. They used to go pub-hopping along Tottenham Court Road. There were eighteen pubs, and they vowed to visit each and every one. By the time they got to the last, they were drunk enough that they began to throw cobblestones at streetlights --- until the police came running. To avoid being caught, they ducked down alleys and jumped over fences like a couple of rowdy schoolboys. O these kids!
Marx was gloriously stupid with money. One of his followers --- a certain "Lupus" Wolff --- left him 800 pounds, a considerable sum for the time. Within months, Marx had spent it all on a fancy apartment, dresses for his daughters, tobacco, paper, hock. He was, they say, a loving father, buying books galore for his three daughters, telling them funny stories late into the night.
"Marx had a most endearing passion for sobriquets and pseudonyms," Wheen says. He himself was known as "Moor" --- after Othello --- because of his dark skin and hair, "coming out of every pore." His alias when he was hiding out from the police in Paris was "Monsieur Ramboz," after the movie character Rambo. I just made that up.
Engels was called "The General" because he was such an armchair soldier. His housekeeper (by whom, they say, Marx sired a son) was "Lenchen." His wife Jennychen became "Qui Qui, the Emperor of China." Daughter Laura was "Kakadou" and "The Hottentot." His children were encouraged to call him "Nick" or "Charley." Hi. Who are you? "Just call me Charley Marx."
Never a day went by that Marx and Jenny weren't being harassed by tradesmen to whom they owed money. Sometimes when they demanded entrance, Marx would have to hide behind the ratty old couch in the upstairs office. The office itself was a scandal. Pipes, tobacco, bottles, manuscripts, books, letters, and newspapers were scattered all over the place, but in exactly the right place so he would know where to find whatever he needed. No one was allowed to touch the desk or his room. When money ran out, as it always did, he would hock the furniture, then the girls' shoes and clothes, so that they were often ashamed to go to school because they were in such rags.
He fought with all the political types who came into his orbit, either in person, by mail, or in pamphlet: Michael Bakunin, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Ernest Jones, Karl Heinzen, Gottfried Kinkel, Joseph Wedemeyer, Wilhelm Liebnecht --- even the deceased Hegel. Engels --- who stuck with him through thick and thin, and was a master of forgiveness --- would even, at times, lose all patience. When one of his mistresses died, he received a long letter from Marx complaining about his own problems and lack of finances. Usually, when things got bad, Engels would ship off a case of sherry, which he claimed was a fine medicine for the carbuncles and fevers.
Marx authored almost 500 articles for Richard Henry Dana, editor of the New York Daily Tribune. Or rather, he was assigned to write articles for them. Being a notorious procrastinator, he would hand them over to Engels, who did the actual writing.
§ § §
Wheen has done a fine job of making Marx human. Better, he translates the key Marx documents for those of us who are unwilling to suffer through them ourselves. His take on the various works is original and daring. He says the Communist Manifesto, rather than being the radical document that everyone assumes, "celebrates the bourgeoisie." "The bourgeoisie," wrote Marx,
by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations, into civilization.
"He also," says the author, "understood that the pace of technological change would become ever more frantic, creating a sort of permanent revolution where any computer software bought more than a couple of years ago is all but obsolete."
Wheen is at his most captivating in explaining Das Kapital: "More use-value and indeed profit can thus be derived from Kapital if it is read as a work of the imagination," he says.
A Victorian melodrama, or a vast Gothic novel whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created ("Capital which comes into the world soiled with mire from top to toe and oozing blood from every pore"); or perhaps a satirical utopia like Swift's land of the Houyhnhnms, where every prospect pleases and only man is vile. In Marx's vision of capitalistic society, as in Swift's equine pseudo-paradise, the false Eden is created by reducing ordinary humans to the status of impotent, exiled Yahoos.
He then compares it to the Manifesto:
All that is solid melts into air, he wrote in the Communist Manifesto; now, in Kapital, all this is truly human, becomes congealed or crystallized into an impersonal material force, while dead objects acquire menacing life and vigor. Money, once no more than an expression of value --- a kind of lingua franca in which commodity could speak unto commodity --- becomes value itself.
Wheen makes much of the language that Marx uses: "appears," "phantom-like," "Unsubstantial ghost," "pure illusion," "false semblance." He compares it to high comedy (Marx was a great fan of Tristram Shandy:)
To expose the difference between heroic appearance and inglorious reality --- stripping off the gallant knight's disguise to reveal a tubby little man in his underpants --- is, of course, one of the classic methods of comedy.
Here, Wheen might be writing about the very writing of this book. The words "Karl Marx," still, for most of us, have such power. The author has chosen, as we would expect, to reveal the man warts and all, with all his silly tiffs over forgotten competitors, his funny nicknames, his chaotic way with personal finances, his endless procrastination. He could have made Marx an object of high ridicule, could have made him "a tubby little man in his underpants."
But he has chosen to do something far more dramatic. He gives us the man Marx, carbuncles and all, and we end up with no little respect for him, his struggles, his works. The life he had in England was a mess; how he was able to write at all --- much less, write one of the key economic treatises (or, if you will, Gothic novels) of the 19th century --- could be classified as miraculous.
After reading Wheen, we are left with not only respect for the man --- as cantankerous and off-putting as he was --- but respect for one who sincerely wanted better for the world: better for the workers, better for the poor, better for those who, at the time, were at the very bottom of the financial and social totem pole.--- R. A. Rawson, PhD
Animal QuackersOn my tenth birthday, my dad gave me two Pekin ducks. Since they looked exactly alike, I called them Kate and Duplicate. My sisters said no. "Their names are Pete and Repeat," they said. I was outvoted three to one.
We bonded easily --- not my sisters and me, but me and the ducks. They would follow me around the yard: me, then Pete, then Repeat, in single file. When we tired of playing foot-soldier, we would head down to Fishweir creek where we would wade under the loblolly pines, with moss hanging off the trees, in the cool shade (this was Florida, 1943). They followed me upstream, doing duck things in the water like nibbling at the weeds and eating the sand-flies and making muttering noises of contentment.
Their quacks should have given them away. Female ducks quack, noisily; male ducks just make a hoarse, whispery "wack" sound. By late summer, Pete and Repeat started leaving eggs here and there in their pen. They were, indeed, Kate and Duplicate, but you don't go around changing ducks' names in midstream. Unlike other pets, I ate all their babies, scrambled in butter, for breakfast: and I didn't feel like a cannibal.
One day when I was off playing softball with my friends the family Chesapeake Bay retriever suddenly remembered his calling. By the time I got home, Pete was a goner and Repeat was barely hanging on. We took him to the local vet, but in those days they had little in the way of duck-resuscitation equipment. That evening I buried the two of them down at the creekside and wet their gravestones with many a tear.
§ § §
After all these years, you'd think I'd get over it, right? Not so. Recently, I was fiddling around looking up chickens in hyperspace and ended up at the FeatherSite, eyeing Silver Grey Dorkings and Silkies and Orpingtons and at one point I stumbled across Indian Runner Ducks and there went my heart.
These guys look just like Pete and her sister but they stood up tall, like they were trying to be penguins. I mean, imagine a duck standing straight, not hung close to the ground like all their other duck brothers and sisters.
I fiddled around in the bowels of the Global Village for awhile and found that Metzer Farms in Gonzales, California sends out ducklets the day they are hatched, to be delivered by the P.O. They don't up and die on you because ducks (and chickens) can live without food or water for three days postpartum. It's a clever device thought up by their Darwinian ancestors to make it possible to survive in the wild, and hatcheries like Metzer make full use of it.
Nine of the Runners made it to my doorstep and I set them up in the bathroom on a card table with water and food and a 40-watt light-bulb to keep them warm which was a mistake because they kept me up all night drinking and laughing and telling each other noisy motherduck stories. They also made a disgusting mess in the wooden box that I had so lovingly created for them.
I started showing them to some of my friends, and some of my friends' kids. Then, when their parents were in the other room, I would ask the youngsters if they'd like to have one or two as a gift. By this subterfuge I managed to get rid of seven ducks in one week, and --- in the process --- managed to alienate several close friends who had to put up with a new and very raucous pooper-
peeper in their homes.
The kids and I were very subtle about it. I coached them in their lines, lines like, "If you don't let me have these ducks right now I'm gonna hate you forever."
I kept two ducklets for old time's sakes, and they've grown like weeds and have taken over my back yard. They're less like ducks, however, and more like old ladies in a retirement home: they hate strangers --- even me --- and they bitch endlessly if they don't get fed exactly at six in the morning and six in the evening. In spite of this, they have the appetite of polled Herefords.
I'm thinking that by mistake they've sent me genetically engineered ducks. At six weeks, these guys stand almost twenty inches tall and I figure by Guy Fawkes' Day they'll be as tall as I am.
I've named them you-know-what in honor of my buddies from sixty years ago. However, and alas, there is no near-by creek to take them to and if there were I probably wouldn't do it anyway because I don't much fancy heading down the street with a couple of six-foot-tall Indian Runners in hot pursuit.
Furthermore, it's different now. As a kid I didn't notice things like flies and poop and the down-home astonishing stupidity of these ninnies. They're not like a Siamese that'll put the attic rats to death or a hound that you can train to roll over and play dead.
There is one compensation, though. As soon as they start delivering, I am going to be eating their progeny. Scrambled; in butter; with a bit of chives; served on toast.--- L. W. Milam
Of Beetles and Angels
A True Story of the American Dream
(Megadee, Box 57060, Chicago IL 60657)Mawi Asgedom and his family left Ethiopia when he was three years old. The insurrections and civil wars had made life impossible for his father, a doctor, to survive there. Ultimately, they ended up in Chicago, where Asgedom learned English, attended school, and, along with the family, fought for survival.
It's a story of many battles: getting out of the town of Adi Wahla, walking for days to the Sudan, living in a refugee camp, finding a sponsor to bring them to the United States, and then, once here --- making it through school and into college with no assets at all outside of brains and gumption.
Asgecom manages to convey in less than 150 pages a story of horror, mayhem, and joy. One of his first memories is of a refugee woman fleeing with them from Ethiopia, "limping, wanting to stop, but knowing that if she did, she wouldn't move again."
She pressed on and on, and soon her limp became a crawl. And then I saw a sight that I would never forget --- the soles of her naked feet melting away, and then disappearing into the desert, leaving only her bloody, red flesh, mixed with brownish sand and dirt.
Any writer can come up with horror tales --- and the refugees of Ethiopia can come up with some of the most squalid and disheartening. But there must be hope (for the writer, for the reader) and, at times, humor. For instance, in his case, there are always the puzzles of America. Like his fellow Ethiopian, Fisoom,
who mistook the refrigerator for a clothes dresser. He organized his trousers and shirts on the shelves, even placing his underwear and socks in the pull-out drawers on the bottom.
Or watching television after arriving in Chicago, having just left one of the bitterest civil wars on the planet. Asgedom's father cries out,
God show mercy on us! Did you hear that? The boyfriend killed his girlfriend and her parents, too. He stabbed them more than fifty times. What kind of country have we come to?
Not the least of their problems is Asgedom and his brother trying to survive in the American schoolyard:
"African Boodie Scratcher! Scratch that Boodie!"
"Black Donkey! You're so ugly!"
"Why don't you go back to Africa where you came from?"
He and his brother are fighters. They had to be:
We were just two, and they were often many. But they had grown up in a wealthy American suburb, and we had grown up in a Sudanese refugee camp. We were accustomed to fighting almost daily, using sticks, stones, wood chips, and whatever else we could get our hands on.
§ § §
One of the tests of a worthy writer is how he or she handles unbearable tragedy. Sentiment and pulling out all the stops is easy (we see such in the newspapers every day). Using restraint --- no matter how deep the grief --- can move travail into art. In the midst of surviving and beginning to prosper in America, Asgedom's older brother Tewolde is killed by a drunken driver.
Not long after his death, I went to his room and looked through some of his papers. A single picture stopped me. It showed a dark-haired South American boy, about five years old....
I flipped the card over and read it: "Here is your child. Thank you for sponsoring him...."
I wondered how my brother had donated $240 a year to Compassion International, when he had so little money to spare.
The joy of his own success is pitted against the death of his brother and the decline of his father --- spiritually, emotionally, physically. Asgedom compares his father to Gregor, in Kafka's Metamorphosis. Soon after arriving in America, blindness made it impossible for him to work, and he turned into a querulous old man, with little to do, making the children clean and re-clean the house, the driveway, the basement. But just before his death, at a gathering of Ethiopians, he offered them a memory of what they had left behind:
He had a rare talent for rhyming in geetme, our culture's spoken-word freestyle rap. He would go on for half an hour without pause,
"ISIKOOM DHO KITBAHALOO AKAHL GODOLO, AYNISIKUM INDEEKUM BEHAGOD NETEE MULUO KEYHEE BAHREE TIZELILWO."
(OH, YOU, WHO ARE CALLED HANDICAPPED. AREN'T YOU THE VERY ONES WHO WITH BOUNDLESS JOY LEAP OVER THE EXPANSIVE RED SEA?)
"In my younger days, my embarrassment created a smokescreen that blocked me from hearing my father's rhymes," the author says. Later, "maturity opened my ears and my heart....I remember one time when his poetry rivaled Homer, Virgil, and Shakespeare. I waited until we got home and then asked him to repeat the lines."
I have since forgotten those lines, but I can never forget the quiet, almost embarrassed shock that flooded his eyes when I asked him to repeat them. It was the shock of a man who had slowly been convinced by those around him that he had little to offer; a man whose new country had labeled him insignificant; a man whose opinion rarely mattered as it once had.
§ § §
We reviewers prize our toughness when reading books that may try to push us into sentiment. With this one, however, I surrendered. Asgedom finds himself accepted to five colleges. Then, later,
I got home and found two envelopes waiting for me, one from Harvard and the other from Yale. I opened them and read their contents. Then I walked over to the living room to tell my parents. Their dream had come true. Their boy had earned admission to the best universities in the country. And Harvard --- the best-known one in the land --- had offered him a full-tuition scholarship.
His parents wept. He wept. And, dear reader, alas --- so did this reviewer.--- Lolita Lark
Of Abbie Hoffman
(Four Walls/Eight Windows)"Free speech is the right to shout 'theatre' in a crowded fire."Abbie Hoffman's father always wanted to know "where he went wrong." Certainly it wasn't birth or upbringing. His grandparents were Ashkenazi from the Ukraine, don't-
rock- the- boat types: "[W]e felt our parent's generation was a bunch of cop-outs. Six million dead and except for the Warsaw ghetto hardly a bullet fired in resistance!"
Hoffman figures it was his getting into Brandeis. The teachers that ended up there! In the mid-1950s, you could find Herbert Marcuse, Frank Manual, Irving Howe, Max Lerner, Abraham Maslow, Philip Rahv, and "a crafty old codger named James Klee who slipped off each summer to score mushrooms in Mexico."
After graduating, Hoffman found Berkeley and "strange rumblings" in the United States: sit-ins in Greensboro, "angry poems" in San Francisco, vigils for Caryl Chessman, and the House Un-American Committee hearings in San Francisco. He was on his way.
We go along willingly. For Abbie writes winningly, scintillatingly. His tale of those years is the tale of so many of us being bored silly during the Eisenhower years, all the while knowing that our country was sponsoring secret revolutions abroad, murdering dissent within its own borders. Our sense of justice was piqued, especially when we found out that our own elected officials "overthrew the elected governments of Guatemala and Iran. They are trying every day to kill Castro."
There was organizing, there were marches, there was love in the streets, and psychedelics:
ALife magazine cover story was touting LSD as the new wonder drug that would end aggression. I've always maintained that Henry Luce did much more to popularize acid than Tim Leary. Years later I met Clare Boothe Luce at the Republican convention in Miami. She did not disagree with this opinion. America's version of the Dragon Lady caressed my arm, fluttered her eyes and cooed, "We wouldn't want everyone doing too too much of a good thing."
The CIA was funding LSD experiments at the Langley Porter Clinic. Hoffman and his friends stole a batch, and after trying it out, he reports: "Say what you want about the CIA, but they sure had damn good acid."
Time danced in space. I talked continuously. When the others didn't want to hear, I picked up the phone and called God --- collect. We had a nice chat. The Virgin Mary swept down from a cloud in the ceiling and I think we...I'm not sure, but we petted a little...
I took buddy Ira's pen and wrote, "I was burned on the silver rim of space." It took on meanings beyond meanings.
Later, Hoffman goes alone out to get food for everyone. The guy "with the funny white hat" repeats back his order,
"That'll be four tunafish, two ham and egg, five BLTs, four hamburgers, three malteds and a Coke."
"That's right," I agreed. "Do you have any mushroom clouds?"
"No, we ain't got mushroom but I can whip up a cheese omelette..."
"Right." I said.
Twenty-six lives later he appeared out of the back room with three huge brown bags stuffed with food. I paid the bill and somehow managed to steer everything back to the loft. "Let's see now, who ordered the pickle-
and- mushroom bomb?"
Later, Hoffman is to give a speech at a "movement disco at a church."
Father Gonyer eyed me strangely. "Your speech was getting pretty flowery there. What's all that jazz about 'trailways of life' and 'byways of bliss?' You trying to be Allen Ginsburg or somebody, hunh? hunh? hunh?" he jabbed.
§ § §
Hoffman is comic, but he's no fool. He studies television intensively to figure out how to use it to change the world. His philosophy is pure pragmatism:
I practice nonviolence as a tactic, but was far from a follower of Gandhi. Confrontation always demanded surprise and uncertainty. By saying, "If you punch me in the face, I'll turn the other cheek," you could often get hurt more than if you kept a threat of returning the blows. While Gandhi was fasting in jail, guerrillas blew up trains throughout India. When Martin Luther King, Jr., prayed, blacks rioted and armed groups formed in the ghettos.
Despite this rhetoric, much of Hoffman's power comes from his willingness to be silly. The trial of the Chicago Seven --- and the description of it here --- is so rich because he's talking high theatre, carefully orchestrated by him and most but not all of his fellows (Tom Hayden, he convinces us, was an arrogant twit, "absolutely without humor.")
The defendants had something different to offer the world --- their "willingness to go outside the accepted form of courtroom behavior:"
Once it was demonstrated that we neither feared the court's power nor were impressed with the pomp and circumstance of tradition, all hell broke loose. The Chicago Conspiracy Trial became, among other things, the greatest comedy of manners ever to occur in a courtroom.
As Hoffman (Abbie, not Julius) said later, "When decorum becomes repression, the only dignity free men have is to speak out." And as Hoffman, (Julius, not Abbie) said during the trial, "The jury will disregard the kiss blown by defendant Hoffman."
§ § §
It's useless for me or anyone else to try to "review" Abbie Hoffman's Autobiography. He is an eloquent writer, and what he has to tell us is pure Abbie. He was a merry idealist who was appalled at a governmental system that was (and, apparently, still is) willing to validate cruelty, war, and injustice as patriotism. For his funny, righteous caring about his country, he was spied on, cornered, beaten, jailed (three times in one day was his record) and finally set up with a drug charge which, had he not fled, may have consigned him to jail for the rest of his days.
Even in hiding, he could not stop working for Right and Good. He reappeared (new face) as Barry Freed and embarked on Save the River! to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from destroying the St. Lawrence.
But running away turned out to be ruinous. For one who was so purely Abbie, changing his name and his face, hiding, always on the move, always terrified of being discovered, pretending to be who he wasn't --- all these murdered the true, comic part of him. Even after he emerged from underground, he was given to grievous depressions. Finally, several years ago, using Phenobarbital and alcohol, he did himself in.
§ § §
I have lived outside of the United States for many years. I do it mostly because of health and dotage but, too, I return less than I should because, when I am here, I cannot stop despairing for my country. Abbie was of our generation and our mind-set. The barriers that me and my friends stormed, marching, protesting --- and, yes, getting naked --- were a small scale tribute to Abbie's works on such a grand scale.
It seems harder now. To demonstrate at a convention, Democratic or Republican, they move you as far from the action as possible, into an isolated open-air prison called "The Protest Area." To march for any cause, one has to have a license, and often the police --- in their Darth Vader outfits --- outnumber the protesters. Free speech has come to mean low insults on radio or television. Our legislators seem as much bought, paid for and delivered as those from the desolate times after the Civil War.
The country seems stuck on an escalator that continuously moves down. Bulging prisons, ruinous, meaningless drug laws, a slow and careful dismantling of the Bill of Rights coupled with the victories of position, money and power that come from stepping on the still-warm corpses of the poor and the dispossessed.
The media that Abbie so loved for its ability to change people now seems primarily used to show the needy what they need in order to get ahead (advertisements), coupled with the repeated message (programs ) that to achieve these goals one must have guns, cruelty, greed, cynicism and a terrible desolation of spirit. The message has gone far beyond the medium.
Because I am away from America many months of the year, I often miss national events of importance. The whole Gulf War took place outside my consciousness, as did the Clinton Weenie Scandals. (Unfortunately I was here when they destroyed the WTC).
I somehow missed news of Hoffman's self-inflicted death in April of 1989, so as I read through his Autobiography, I found myself looking forward to the last chapters where, in his merry way, he would offer some ideas of how we might get out of this new jungle of American frenzy and hate --- one that seems so much more vicious than the one that we lived through in the 60s. Then I learn, on the very last page, in a brief encomium by Howard Zinn, that Abbie is no longer with us; and I find myself feeling abandoned, grieving that our society should so casually chew up and spit out such a patriot; drive him into exile, forcing on him a death of spirit from which there could be no escape.--- Ignacio Schwartz
My Friend, You Are Legally Blind
A Writer's Struggle with Macular Degeneration
(John Daniel & Co.)For seventeen years, Charles Champlin was a reporter with "Time" and "Life" magazines. Then, for almost three decades, he worked as film critic and arts editor for the "Los Angeles Times"--- L. W. Milam
In 1999 he was diagnosed with a degenerative disease of the eyes known as AMD --- age-related macular degeneration. He begins his story with the first symptoms: the feeling that there was never enough light to read by; then, one day, "a smudge of ash, as from a distant fire, falling on the page of my book." It was not ash that was falling; it was his vision that was failing.
Within weeks, Champlin was forced to give up driving, his daily luncheons with friends and --- except, at great strain, using peripheral vision --- going to art shows and watching television and movies. Hardest of them all, for one who had been writing for over sixty years, he lost the ability to read.
There were, of course, compensations. There were books on tape, and the many recordings offered by the Library of Congress. But he complains that it never will be the same; he often finds himself drifting off to sleep after a couple of chapters of, say, The Brothers Karamazov.
Champlin can still compose letters and articles on his computer, but he faces the problem that many of us touch-typists have: when his fingers drift to one side or the other, and "smf jr gomfd jo,dr;g etoyomh ;olr yjos" [he finds himself writing like this].
It is hard not to be touched by this most ironical of destinies for one whose life was reading and writing. And, because he is such a good reporter, in the course of My Friend one learns a great deal about AMD. But simple fact-telling can be frustrating for the reader, and possibly for the writer.
As a reporter, Champlin was trained in post-WWII America journalism, where one must keep emotions under control, to let the facts speak for themselves. He is obviously a person who has been programmed to be uncomfortable with feelings.
This becomes apparent in his telling of his meetings at the Center for the Partially Sighted in Los Angeles, where he had an interview with a young social worker:
She asked me many questions about depression. Was I depressed? Did I have to fight depression? She asked the same basic questions in different guises, almost as if they were trick questions and this was one of those devious police interrogations.
He tells us that he shrugged these off "with a show of resistance to the questions as being irrelevant." He then goes on to tell us, "I think I have coped with my new handicap fairly well."
However, those of us who have been in the handicap business all these many years know that coping doesn't always mean stiff-
upper- lipism. At times, it means laughing or crying; at times, it means cursing the gods, raging at the very stupidity of it all. Any kind of disability (physical, mental) is hideously, wearingly, nauseatingly repetitive, and it brooks few delusions. § § §
"I dream as if I were still fully sighted....Perhaps because of my dreams, I awake each morning imagining for one brief, very brief, moment that my full sight has returned."
Champlin offers the possibility that his dreams might be "a psychological truth that is probably worth studying."
Well, yes and no. Denial, as he is rapidly learning, can be a life-saver. But it can also be punishing. Dreams have a truth of their own that has little to do with journalism, and less with logic --- at least the logic of the daytime world. I have been in a wheelchair or on crutches or on a gurney for almost fifty years now, but I still dream of walking --- although, wonderfully true to form (for me, for the dreams), it's often as if I am trying to walk through molasses.
The very persistence of these dreams may be telling me that my walking or running (or even wading) is not the key to survival. More crucial is what we do with what the gods have dealt out to us.
We can rage at those around us, be angry at the world, sulk. Or, we can pretend that it never happened. We can also keep on keeping on, and maybe learn a few tricks in the process.
In his fine autobiography, John Hockenberry wrote that being quadriplegic gave him a chance to teach himself about a whole new world: of wheelchairs, of getting from here to there without falling, and --- if you will believe it --- of learning to give live network feeds to NPR at a time when there were no pay phones built to handle wheelchairs.
Champlin doesn't spend much time on his grief or anger. I suspect his journalistic self thinks it unseemly to do so. But there are clues of something going on... far beyond what he believes he is telling us about himself.
He admits to being moved when his brother Joe, a Catholic priest from Syracuse, had the whole family do a laying-on of hands, "touching my head and saying a silent or barely audible prayer." He tells us that it was a "deeply moving experience," reports that the moment of togetherness with his family "reaffirms me when the going gets rough."
It probably goes deeper than "reaffirmation," and the truth of this shows in his choice of words. In two pages, speaking about his new dependence, his lost independence, and related spiritual matters, he wobbles between three different personas --- "I", "you," and "one." (Good psychotherapists invariably examine case --- the use of the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person in patient's speech --- to reveal how far we are distancing ourselves from our agony.)
On page 38 of we have "Generally speaking, my faulty vision is not a danger to me." [Italics added.] On page 39, it's "You are dependent --- most particularly on your wife, who has suddenly added the duties of full-time chauffeur, stenographer, reader, guide to all the functions you had before." And towards the bottom of the page, the final mix: "Wherever one stands theologically, I commend to you the warmth and support of family and friends."
Champlin tells us that his friends are fond of his sense of humor. There's the quote from George Burns:
He used to say, he read the obituaries in bed, and if his own name was not among them, he got up and shaved.
Describing the simple accomodations that must be made in the morning in front of the mirror, the mirror in which he can barely see himself, there is always the matter of whiskers, teeth, and hair: "Parting my hair is such sweet sorrow."
Most of what he has to tell us, though, is that whatever it is that has him hurts, and he's troubled by how to deal with the hurt. He wants to be brave and stouthearted --- we all want to be brave and stouthearted; we certainly don't want to be accused of whining. But we have to run into the fine line between being brave and working overtime to hide the ache.
Many writers --- writers as diverse as John Hockenberry, Andre Dubus, and Ram Das --- refer to their post-disability world as "a new life." We would hope that Champlin, now an integral part of this brave new world, with his years of critical and intellectual discipline, will be able to offer insights that can be of benefit to others, to help those with AMD and other disabilities who try to make it through their days without bitterness, with love.The Folio is published by The Reginald A Fessenden Educational Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Monies in excess of subscription rates are contributed to various good works, such as the Prison-Ashram Project, the Prison Library Project, and a rehabilitation center for the disabled in Southern Mexico. We also give direct assistance to several Mexican families in the Tijuana area who have been pushed to the edge of financial disaster by recent partial closings of the border. All contributions are tax-deductible by determination of the IRS and the State of California.
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