Landscape Fiction

Podhoretz, John

ideological cold warrior comm-tted to makieg life u~..pleasant for the Sandinistas. Guatemala City, May 26. The culture shock on arriving here is intense. Guatemala City, with its heavy...

...Mickelsson, it seems, has been driven mad by nothing less than the sorry state of mankind in the late twentieth century...
...Not one insane professor...
...We follow him through the most~dis*Random House, $16.95...
...But this is precisely what most John Podhoretz, formerly the movie critic of The American Spectator, has wr#ten for Harper's, the New Republic, Policy Review, and the Wall Street Journal...
...As a member, I understand I can return any book if not satisfied...
...his eyes might be the eyes of his intellectual hero (and, eventually, villain), Nietzsche...
...No development here and therefore no story...
...No monthly cycle of publicity to respond to: and so no parcels you didn't mean to order...
...John Podhoretz LANDSCAPE FICTION John Gardner's shot at The Great American Novel...
...It is also symbolically inappropriate...
...He worries about his children, ruminates over his past life, fantasizes about and enters into a fitful sexual relation with a gorgeous Jewish sociology professor, and is drawn into a search for a document that might delegitimate the Mormon Church...
...They thought they were getting a general, and found they had gotten a preacher," commented one political leader...
...I am no bibliophile...
...I n a 1956 piece for Partisan Review, Leslie Fiedler, reviewing four new novels, found himself seized by "a depressing desire to sneak out to a movie...
...Though this is an enormously long novel THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR OCTOBER 1982 17 by any standard, Gardner has no particular story to tell, not even about Mickelsson's descent into psychosis...
...The Folio choices give you a wide selection (over 120) of books of permanent, not passing interest...
...All are links in the chain: no minor writers, no major writers...
...They are individually designed, strikingly illustrated, carefully produced: set, mainly, in hot metal, printed on special makings of paper, and properly bound in the traditional way...
...How respectable [the novel] has become, how predictable...
...This rather hackneyed image comes straight out of a Hitchcock movie...
...Books worth reading and re-reading...
...I am interested in joining The Folio Society, and would like to see your Presentation Volume of The Sun King isr his Loves by Lucy Norton, together with the 1983 Prospectus...
...Mickelsson seems to experience everything as an educated stranger to all these things would...
...Through the protagonist we confront present-day literature, philosophy, music, politics, and such major issues as abortion...
...BE A UTIFUL BOOKS FROM THE FOLIO SOCIETY The Folio Society is a unique international society of book lovers...
...Classics like Pickwick Papers and Our Mutual Friend need to look new to the taste of later generations...
...Since the overthrow of the brutal, corrupt military dictatorship two months earlier, the mood has lightened...
...Your passport to an unforgettable age The coupon below will bring you a copy of the elegant Presentation Volume for Folio members: The Sun King and his Loves, together with the full 32-page Folio Prospectus for 1983...
...Powys period, Cold Comfort Farm...
...The Folio volumes have revived and reconsidered the Victorian art of illustration...
...State Department...
...This is, of course, no longer the case, but Fiedler's comment still holds true...
...In Folio it is elegant but not arty: like all Folio's editions it is intelligently introduced and in this case lithographs by Dodie Masterman evoke the romantic Byronic tale...
...Signed...
...Five are certainly his best: The Superfluous Man, Mumu, King Lear of the Steppes, Asya, First Love...
...Emphasis on human rights is maintained at the middle-level of the State Department by Carter Administration holdovers, but even opponents of this policy in the U.S...
...Not only a reader, but a re-reader, for a writer's books are the tools of his trade...
...Since Gardner evidently wants to say that we are driving ourselves to destruction by using nuclear power, he might better have made his point by contriving to place Mickelsson behind the wheel of the truck...
...Gardner, whose many books include October Light (which won the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award), has written a novel in the grand style--a long, sprawling, intensely serious work that finds its author staring down into the famous abyss...
...Mickelsson is crazy at the beginning of the novel, and despite some moments of razor-like clarity, he remains crazy until the end, when he becomes crazier still...
...Louis XIV Q043 (Pleaseprim all information below...
...He is in quest of some higher truth, driven to large questions which by his own account fascinate him precisely because they are out of his grasp...
...At certain moments, when Mickelsson comes face to face with things which by now we all take for granted, the book bursts into life...
...As with the question of nuclear power, so too with environmental matters: Gardner trots out that old favorite, whalehunting, in several different conversations...
...The problem is that Gardner, in his effort to describe life in America today, paradoxically tells us both too l i t t l e and too much...
...My Turgenevs were good but small and worn...
...Specially commissioned by the Society from Lucy Norton (translator of the Saint-Simon Memoirs), this glittering portrait illuminates what Voltaire called 'an unforgettable age' . . . through the character of Louis XIV of France, the absolute monarch whose relentless pursuit of glory bequeathed to his heirs Versailles - the grandest palace in Europe - and the seeds of the bloodiest revolution in history...
...Mickelsson, this professor of philosophy, is given to rather obscure meditations on the contributions and failings of various twentieth-century philosophers known only, ! am afraid, to enthusiasts of the field...
...He is bemused at the infinkesimal trickle of aid permitted because of the past regime's human rights transgressions...
...To him, as to the other Guatemalans, the Falklands War underscored the undependability of Uncle Sam...
...Folio does this for us now...
...No detail is too small to escape his notice and his rapidly moving pen, whether it is the sound of a car engine when the ignition key is turned, or the color of a hair sticking out of the mole on an old man's neck...
...military aid...
...And it is the mark of a mature artist that he knows what he can and cannot say, that he knows what he understands and what he does not...
...In our meeting at the presidential mansion, Rios Montt subdued the flamboyant Christian evangelism that has been his life the last five years...
...I want to do the authors honour because they have lasted, whether they are major, minor or eccentric figures...
...Modern man, and his world, destroyed by big trucks carrying nuclear waste, whale-hunters, and homicidal Mormons...
...the truth is that it suffocates itself with its own detail...
...Of course...
...N e v e r t h e l e s s , Mickelsson's Ghosts might well seem to be a novel about the way we live now...
...Mr Mrs Miss Address . City . State...
...But the major plot strand concerns a teenage prostitute Mickelsson takes up with...
...Gardner will devote two or three closely printed pages to the various ways Mickelsson repairs a dining-room wall, but gives no more space, no more emphasis, to his dramatically necessary moments...
...This may describe the infancy and childhood of a work of art, but it does not describe art in its mature state...
...Embassy hesitate to restore aid...
...With this article be begins a regular column on fiction...
...The sharp decline in so much of our present printing and our binding seems to me one more sign of the decline in the honour in which a literary culture was once held...
...Fiedler was writing at a time when there was something disreputable, something delightfully scandalous, about preferring movies to novels...
...In one p a r t i c u l a r l y dazzling scene, Mickelsson is taken to a recital being given by a dour married couple, the Swissons...
...Normal price: $16.75 FREE to members...
...The house, representing Mickelsson's great effort at spiritual regeneration, is destroyed, and when it goes he descends into a psychotic s t a t e from which presumably he will never recover...
...John Gardner's new novel, Mickelsson's Ghosts,* is a particularly interesting case in point...
...The sixth, Turgenev's last tale, The Song of Triumphant Love, has irritated or bewildered many critics, including Richard Freeborn the present translator, who speculates on Turgenev's elderly experiments in the occult and Oriental...
...not even a p a r t i c u l a r group of men...
...If you pick as few as four books from the 120 beautifully made (and modestly priced) titles described, and send us your order, The Sun King and his Loves remains yours absolutely free...
...The young Army officers who brought him to power have been stunned...
...of New York at Binghamton, is (as Gardner informs us in a preface) a"lunatic...
...But Gardner fails miserably in t r a n s l a t i n g these a b s t r a c t interests into concrete dramatic terms...
...ashiugtou, May 28...
...And sends them free of all shipping charges...
...he hears voices all the time and even sees the ghosts of the title...
...You order four books only once a year in advance from over 120 listed in the fully descriptive 32-page prospectus...
...THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR OCTOBER 1982 19...
...Though Gardner seems consciously to invite comparisons here with the double axe-murder in Crime and Punishment, he is completely offhand in his treatment of the episode, as though it had no more significance for the novel and for Mickelsson himself as a character than the replastering of that dining-room wall...
...Based in London, England, it sells its books to every country in the world...
...Folio Books Ltd, c/o Expediters of the Printed Word Ltd, 527 Madison Avenue (Suite 1217), New York, NY 10022...
...I returned home slightly encouraged by El Salvador but not reassured about the fate of all Central America...
...He also believes Guatemala must look for military help not from Washington but from Israel, South Africa, and Argentina...
...Ambassador, Frederick Chapin, is an old foreign-service hand who helped write the Marshall Plan and is an expert on foreign aid...
...At last, too, I can get Bewick's My Life: there is an incurable amateur naturalist in English readers, but I want it for the exquisite engravings...
...His terror of nuclear power, for example, is p o r t r a y e d in a midnight scene when Mickelsson's car is nearly run off the road by 18-wheel trucks without headlights carrying nuclear waste...
...I was mad about the Fall of Granada when I was thirteen...
...To the surprise and delight of everyone but Mickelsson, the concert turns out to be a parody of classical music...
...This is no longer a city of fear where cars stay off the street after dark...
...Why didn't I know of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza's eyewitness report The War in Granada ? How sad...
...Folio Books are based on ideals of quality, not quantity...
...My stolen Lermontov, that marvellous Russian short story...
...This emphasis on minor detail--detail that never adds up to anything and thus never justifies itself becomes all the more striking as it dawns on us that there are no major details in the novel...
...Two years ago I needed to look at one of Trollope's short stories, particularly Lotte Schmidt, so well spoken of...
...I will send my order for a minimum of four books promptly, thus taking up membership on the terms described, or else send back the Presentation Volume...
...But despite his obsession with detail and his up-to-the-moment trendiness, he seems to think that the effort is beneath him...
...In the Twenties, privately-printed editions played an important part in drawing attention to new writing and the established...
...here again the lithographs of Janos Kass add their comment on the manners of his society...
...It is because The Folio Society restores this honour to literature and its authors that I am more than eager to speak for them...
...Rios Montt is Guatemala's first ruler in recent memory who has any rapport with the public, but he obviously has not even the slightest concept of government, especially of economics...
...Date...
...This Thomist somewhat improbably turns out to be a self-appointed member of a Mormon hit squad, and he forces Mickelsson at gunpoint, for reasons that I will not go into because I could not understand them, to take his reconstructed house apart bit by bit in hopes of finding some document...
...One tantalises me with the memory of an irrecoverable impulse...
...Efrain Rios Montt, president of the junta, has taken the position that he needs no U.S...
...The astute General Alvarez in Honduras had told me that Guatemala was a markedly more serious problem than El Salvador, and I quickly found him to be correct...
...Though flat broke, he buys a beautiful, ramshackle old house which he lovingly re.stores to its former aristocratic grandeur...
...His ex-wife is demanding an alimony settlement that comes to several thousand dollars more a year than he earns...
...I The Sun King & his Loves by Lucy Norton...
...but Modern Man himself...
...Impossible to find a copy outside the British Museum, but here it is in the Folio The Two Heroines of Plumplington, introduced by Julian Symons...
...We learn from one another at random...
...18 THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR OCTOBER 1982 V. S. PRITCHETT on The Folio Society A year or two ago I overheard a bibliophile mutter 'Reader1 with disappointment as he sniffed along my chaotic bookshelves...
...The gM becomes pregnant, and Mickelsson, who has a horror of abortion, is forced into a terrifying step to save the life of what may not even be his unborn child...
...Apart from the pervasive economic doldrums, guerrilla activity is uncontrolled, and the government lacks adequate arms and expertise...
...Thus in his manifesto, On Moral Fiction (1978), Gardner writes: "Art is as original as it is precisely because it does not start out with clear knowledge of what it means to say . . . . The artist composes, writes or paints just as he dreams, seizing whatever swims close to his net...
...The purpose ofMickelsson's Ghosts-a book which is nothing if not ambitious-is to show modern man on the brink of selfdestruction...
...But the biggest, most important country in Central America remains in deep trouble...
...There is an opportunity to preach democratic capitalism in Central America, but there is no appreciation of this in the U.S...
...I even wrote 150 pages of a novel on the subject at that time...
...Only a very few novelists have been able to plumb deeper than that, and John Gardner is not one of them...
...And then there are books one ought to have known and which I know now I shall never read but which some younger maniac might jump at...
...The new U.S...
...To: The Membership Secretary...
...In Latin America, Uncle Sam is perceiyed as part of the problem--and the perception is correct...
...I do not chase first editions...
...Editions that often go up in value as the years go by...
...The protagonist, Mickelsson, a distinguished professor of philosophy at the State University...
...But Folio does strike a balance between the old and the new, the solid and the esoteric...
...Major and minor classics from literature and history: the well loved and the half forgotten...
...Gustavo Anzueto, a defeated consereatire presidential candidate in the last :orrupted election, agrees...
...In particular, the role of the United States in Central America seems confused, contradictory, committed to no overriding strategy...
...Like Waugh's Scoop and Black Mischief, Huxley's Brave New World, Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, they deserve their commemoration...
...In the most important scene i n the novel, Mickelsson furiously breaks down the door of an a p a r t m e n t , causing the man i n s i d e - - a miser whom Mickelsson has observed through a window fondling an enormous cache of money - - t o suffer a heart attack...
...Most of my books are serviceable: there is the occasional gleam of an elegant production, but there is a lot of the reach-me-down bought 'out of my wages when I was young, and some - like my French and Spanish, though not my Russian - are getting tatty and my eyesight is not up to the grey print of modern replacements...
...An impending operation against some 800 guerrillas hard by the Mexican border was going to have to use civilian helicopters...
...recent American novels have failed to do...
...To say, as some critics have, that Mickelsson's Ghosts rambles is an understatement...
...There is also a collection of six ^ft^ Turgenev stories...
...He talks to himself continually and has been known to dress up in Victorian garb while smearing his face with Indian war-paint...
...Hero of Our Time, seminal to the Russian and indeed European short story, was schoolbookish...
...Gardner demonstrates intermittently here and in pre,(ious novels that he is quite well equipped to describe the way we live now...
...Guatemala City, with its heavy traffic and highrise skyline, bears no resemblance to decaying Managua and hardly any to the sleepy Guatemalan capital I last visited in 1966...
...and the great English gift for comedy and satire has its moderns like Stella Gibbons' wicked fun with the rustic novels of the T.F...
...Folio methods mean you choose...
...It commits you to nothing more than sight of our full list, plus The Sun King and his Loves, which is yours to keep if you decide to join...
...Once he learns these things, any good writer who keeps his eyes open and his mind unclouded by political or religious dogma can tell his r e a d e r s a g r e a t deal about the world they share...
...There are finds...
...Mickelsson is intrigued by this: The devices Britt Swisson used in his compositions were mainly of the kind an ordinary, uneducated listener (like Mickelsson) would describe as "noise": discord, scrambled rhythms, an occasional passage of what might have been jazz, another that might have been the slightly "off" thumpings and poopings of a German town band--passages leading nowhere, ripped from their context, not so much "music" properly speaking as fragments of sound, glittering objects from civilization's music dump . . . . were the musician's all-butuniversal modern world-sense: the rage and alarm of an accidental consciousness stripped of its comforting illusions . . . [F]or what was the meaning, intentional or otherwise, of Swisson's comic use of devices invented out of anger and fear if it was not mockery of the devices by misapplication, to demonstrate, by mimicking them, how childish they were in their existential w a i l . . . ? Once all pretensions to tragic grandeur were dashed . . . what could be expected but--what else was possible than--a return to good humor, classical sociability in place of the Romantic yawp ? This sort of novelistic essay on a subject as complicated, as alienating, and as difficult as modern music is reminiscent of the kind of thing Trollope himself often did...
...Movies with a presentday setting, even if otherwise deceptive and false, cannot help but show us something of " i h e way we live now," as Anthony Trollope significantly titled one of his novels...
...The Folio edition of his Fathers and Sons is graceful, suited to the delicate master of Russian prose, who was above all a man of taste himself...
...Fie believes that productivity can be achieved only through private incentives, not through the Keynesian planning demanded by both the International Monetary Fund and the State Department...
...To my ear this tale has chiefly a biographical interest: I suspect it of starting as one of those fanciful operettas he used to write as a doubtful compliment to the singer Pauline Viardot who tormented him...
...In an im.erview with me, though, he suggested that the failure of Washington to help might mean a Communist victory here...
...They do not want Guatemala to be subjected to the same humiliating surveillance by Congress now required for Ei Salvador...
...Landscape is fiction," Henry James said, and while I think the s t a t e m e n t is too narrow to describe his own work or that of any o t h e r major writer, it certainly holds for the general run of minor novels...
...The house, however, is haunted...
...one realizes with some pleasure that with the slightest shift in emphasis, this novel could be a parody of itself...
...But if G a r d n e r ' s focus is suicidally microscopic, his reach is much too grandiose...
...astrous year of his life, as he struggles to find a bit of peace...
...Gen...
...For in its mature state, a work of art does know what it is saying, and says it clearly--even if what it is saying is in some sense untrue, or wrong, or morally base...
...m Drawing by Qucntin Blake from Scoop When I think of getting a new copy of a book that has been pinched from my shelves - Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time or Helen Waddell's The Wandering Scholars for example - I know now where to look for a distinctive edition worthy of the author and of my trade...
...And, silliest of all, Gardner brings in the primitive religious fanaticism that we are incessantly told nowadays threatens us all in the person of a bumbling professor of Medieval Studies...
...Find out more . . . To try this small and beautiful system, simply mail us the coupon below...

Vol. 15 • October 1982 • No. 10


 
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