The Talkies / Big Man On Campus

Bayles, Martha

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS John Irving's The World According to Garp is first and foremost a campus novel. Its hero, T.S. Garp, grows up in a New England prep school where his unwed mother is a nurse;...

...Eloquent criticism of the Civil Rights Movement's course toward egalitariansim, instead of individualism, in the fight against racism...
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...The only way to tell major from minor characters is to count appearances, and to watch who trumps whom...
...But games are in, especially on campus...
...But unlike 20 THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR OCTOBER 1982 his neighbors, he manages to be self-righteous about it...
...This omission enables the audience to applaud Garp's sensitive, nurturing instincts while still disparaging the sort of parents who are uptight about drugs, sex, crime, or racial violence...
...then marries the wrestling coach's daughter, who becomes an English professor at a small New England college...
...The reader who takes this as a profound observation on existence will do well to consider its source, which is not the orig!nal genius of John Irving but English Department cant...
...For liberated householders, it's hip to be paranoid...
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...Persico suggests several of his own...
...In the film hesmashes the plumber's tail lights with a crowbar, and relishes the grisly fate of his wife's rejected lover, whose penis is bitten off in a freak car accident...
...And that is all...
...That was good enough for Rockefeller...
...Like his mother, who in the novel fends off an amorous soldier by slicing his arm to the bone with a surgical scalpel, Garp enjoys the occasional taste of blood...
...The world we get" from Irving is not according to a truly imagined character named Garp...
...He is a typical member of the sixties generation in that he has turned his attention inward toward marriage and children --preoccupations which, needless to say, he shares with his straight, middle-class neighbors...
...Only 32 of the book's 300 pages of text deal with the pre-1966 Rockefeller...
...The author did no burrowing through archives...
...The single most important entity on which a rational social system and harmonious relations depend [is] the free and sovereign individual...
...The war between the s e x e s is depicted as raging so hotly that Garp's mother must convert the old family mansion into a sort of field hospital...
...CITY STATE . . . . . . . ZIP leads away from politics and into private life...
...The song is a gentle, ambivalent mockery of middle-class domesticity, English-style...
...Hayek, Szasz, Nozick, yon Mises, and others...
...DaT~ling display by a great moralist and thinker illuminates some of the most vexing issues of our time...
...TOMORR...
...Judging from the number of female casualties who turn up, t h e r e must be a lot of hostile males out there just Waiting to do to G a r p ' s women and children what t h e y ' v e already done to t h e i r own...
...New collection of superb essays aimed at providing the serious general reauer wtth representative example of the main philosophical approaches to the defense of a fully free society...
...For commercial success he needs a message which can get across in spite of those playful deconstructionist touches signal!ng the difference between poems and mimesis...
...Garp fans are rather the great mass of backsliders: the majority who by sixties standards have gone straight, but who hate to admit it...
...No one ever said flatly, 'I disagree.'" These qualities were reflected in his style of policy making...
...I have refreshed my recollections with the help of colleagues who were closest to him...
...Feminism is the route, for Irving and for his audience, which I lAISSEZ FAIRE B( KS Best Sellers POLITICAL THEORY Bast|at, THE LAW, $2.95 Clark, A NEW BEGINNING, $5.95 Machan (ed), THE LJERTARIAN READER, $12.95/$27.50 Mencken, A MENCKEN CHRESTOMATHY, $7.95/$17.95 Mises, LIBERALISM, $4.95/$15.00 Morley (ed), ESSAYS ON INDIVIDUALITY, $3.50/$8 Nozick, ANARCHY, STATE & UTOPIA, $8.95 Paul (ed}, READING NOZICK, 12.95/$27.50 "Rothbard...
...SOCIALISM, $5/$11 Rothbard, MAN, ECONOMY AND STATE, $10/$30 Rothbard, POWER AND MARKET, $4.95/$15 Sowell, MARKETS & MINORITIES, $6.95/$13.50 SowelL KNOWLEDGE & DECISIONS, $9.95/$21 Witffogel, ORIENTAL DESPOTISM, $8.95/$40 HISTORY & FOREIGN POLICY Bailyn, IDEO...
...Which would be all right except that it also provides them with an excuse to regard their nesting instincts as ideologically and morally superior to those of other people...
...One of the many merits of Joseph E. Persico's new book, The Imperial Rockefeller, * is that it gives us plenty of evidence with which to fashion answers for ourselves...
...Of course, What is narrow may also be deep...
...And e a r l i e r , he buys a house r i g h t a f t e r an airplane has crashed into it, on the grounds that it has been " p r e - d i s a s t e r e d . " What could be more conventional than this worrisome protectiveness ?.Yet again, the work of camouflage takes place, s e p a r a t i n g G a r p ' s anxieties from those of his neighbors...
...From the chewing off of a dog's ear to elaborate fantasies of rape, revenge, and mutilation, Garp is chock full of attacks and counterattacks...
...It's an appealing beginning, but the song itself is too straightforward and honest to reflect a state of mind as convoluted and hypocritical as the one celebrated in Garp...
...Child worship is such a stereotyped trait of the American middle class that this ought to be a parody, but it i s n ' t . The film makers are doing their job, faithfully imitating Irving's knack for disguising Carp's middle.class concerns with a cloak of eccentricity...
...Garp becomes her spokesman, since she too is tongueless...
...Gentle because it echoes an old music-hall tune...
...I refer the reader to Gerald Graft's Literature Against Itself (1979) for a lucid discussion of recent critical dementia...
...Obviously, if Irving fully achieved this ideal, his works might be a smash at TriQuarterly, but they wouldn't top the best-seller list or get made into movies...
...t is according _9 Not an exaggeration...
...Extensively annotated for both specialists and general readers...
...to what Irving has been taught: that a fictioneer is most authentic when he has nothing to say about nothing...
...As a conscious s t a t e m e n t about feminism, Garp is equivocal...
...his cold narrow eyes growing even smaller and more menacing when a distinguished counselor dares suggesi a lack of enthusiasm for some whacky new scheme...
...no extended interviews *Simon and Schuster, $16.50...
...The idea for it came to Rockefeller from an acquaintance he was chatting with at a cocktail party, who reported that Japan's low addiction rate was attributable to a policy of life sentences for pushers...
...Karl 0 'Lessker is a senior editor of The American Spectator andprofessor o f public and environmental affairs at Indiana University...
...It is not n e c e s s a r y to be a member of the post-sixties crowd to share Garp's anxious hovering over his loved ones...
...By the end of the story they are back at the same prep school, with Garp having taken over as wrestling coach...
...His top aides were people of great ability, Persico remarks, "forceful figures in their own spheres, but something went out of them in his p r e s e n c e . . . Never in eleven years did I witness a staff member take him head on...
...But that still leavens us to ask why this lifelong Republican, inheritor of one of the major American fortunes, hardliner on law and order, bitter opponent of Communism in all its forms, passionate advocate of U.S...
...After five novels, he has perfected his method of shuffling and reshuffling lots of one-dimensional characters--each identified by two or three superficial traits: enough to fit on an index card--and playing out both dialogue and plot as though they were tricks in whist...
...They are not the activist remnant--in fact, Irving makes a point of ridiculing political crusaders...
...Whenever Irving's characters venture off campus, they meet whores, bears, and political fanatics...
...What is required to turn a country into a total dictatorship7 How did the Nazis accomplish it7 Is it happening here7 Peikoff argues that today's dominant ideas are leading America down the road to a Nazi-type dictatorship in the not-too-distant future...
...Not so Irving...
...Then it has Ellen James reappear and repudiate such dreadful goings-on...
...no effort to provide a detailed account of the major policy initiatives of those la~st eleven years in office...
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...Joseph Epstein has described Irving's readership as "young urban professionals," "with a bit of the hippie-dippie counterculture clinging to them still-yuppies . . ." To me they seem not so much urban as campus-oriented, having spent many years at school...
...Thanks to the pervasive influence of feminism, many g r a d u a t e s o f the sixties consider themselves to be enjoying a reformed and enlightened domestic bliss, in contrast to all those sexists out there who have not yet learned to hug their kids or stop beating their wives...
...they represent real life...
...Nelson Rockefeller's failure to achieve what may have been his life's h!ghest ambition tells us a great deal about the nature of political power in America, about the Republican party, about the uses and limits of wealth in elective politics, and about the remarkable personality of Rockefeller himself...
...It is not, at any rate, a trivial question...
...But Garp is about feminism, make no mistake...
...But it is nevertheless one of the most incisive and revealing portraits of a major political figure of our time...
...One correct answer is that his political and personal behavior made him unacceptable to the great majority of Republican activists outside the upper Northeast...
...As a hero of this audience, Garp gets credit for having invented the joys of family life...
...John Irving probably doesn't understand the obscure machinations of critics like Jacques Derrida and Frank Kermode, but he does seem to have pickedup enough .of the lore to end his most recent novel, The Hotel New Hampshire, with these lines: "So we dream on...
...THE LIBERTARIAN READERt edited by Tibor Machan, 418 pages, $12.95/$29.75...
...What Irving does is embellish, politicize, and romanticize the choices these people have made, so that the choices appear more unconventional than they really are...
...At places like the University of Iowa, where Irving studied creative writing, there are no more novels and stories--only "fictions...
...First it sets up a group of zealots: women who have cut out their own tongues to p r o t e s t the rape of a child named EllenJarnes...
...But aside from giving Garp emotions about his dead father--which he lacks in the novel--the film makers might as well have used cardboard...
...Argues that the science of economics has been reshaped into a coherent, comprehensive approach to the study of human problems...
...A good example of this was his notorious and controversial "drug-pusher law...
...It's a pretty boring game...
...ambivalent because while distancing itself from the bourgeois life, it also suggests that some day even the Beatles might be sixty-four...
...I should note, however, that while the book is much more than a set of answers to the question of why its subject never became President, it is not, as the subtitle misleadingly claims it is, a biography...
...OMINOUS PARALLELS: The End of Freedom in America, by Leonard Peikoff, Intro...
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...OF ROMANTIC LOVE, $2.95/$10 Branden, PSYCHOLOGY OF SELF-ESTEEM, $3.50 Breggin, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF FREEDOM, $10.95 Szasz, LAW, LIBERTY, & PSYCHIATRY, $4.95 OTHER Holt, TEACH YOUR OWN, $8.95/$13.95 Pearson- & Shaw, LIFE EXTENSION, $22.50 Poole, CUTTING BACK CITY HALL, $6.95/$12.50 Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED, $4.95/$18.95 Rand, CAPITALISM, THE UNKNOWN IDEAL, $2.95 Richards, THE SCEPTICAL FEMINIST, $9.50/$21.50 Rickenbacker (edL THE TWELVE YEAR SENFENCE, $14.50 Schiff, HOW ANYONE CAN STOP PAYING INCOME TAXES, $10.95 paperback price/hardcover price Recent Additions REIL1DICES: A Philosophical Dictionary, by Robert Nisbet, hd, 336 pages, 7.50...
...Martha Bayles is film critic of The American Spectator...
...Whores are a big deal in Irving's novels...
...And I have no doubt that those who read the evidence thoughtfully will come up with still others...
...with any of the thousands of people outside the staff who were involved with Rockefeller in politics, business, or personal affairs...
...Basically they are the sixties generation, now comfortably settled into middle-class domesticity, but unwilling to call such a life-style by its right name...
...The author's personal experience allows her insight into race relations...
...THE OTHER SIDE OF RACISM: A Philosophical Study Of B.l.l.lack Race Consciousness, by Anne Worthman, hd, 353 pages, $12.50...
...There is a sojourn in Vienna, but the only people Garp meets there are whores...
...One of the best informed Soviet observers shows us the USSR as a multi-ethnic, multi-national state in ferment...
...Others occur to me...
...Some of these fictioneers, as I like to call them, have remained on campus so long they have moved past the point of obliterating meaning in literature, and have taken up denying that language makes sense or that life exists outside the workings of their minds...
...In the film this house-of-cards effect is inevitably replaced by flesh-and-blood actors, the mere sight of whom leads us to expect more development and depth...
...Already translated into six languages and a bestseller in France and Sweden, this is one of the most controversial books in Europe today...
...The sixties generation, I'm sure, is captivated by the opening sequence of the film, ychich shows an adorable baby floating up through the air to the strains of "When I'm Sixty-Four," by the Beatles...
...Unfortunately Irving's cure for anxiety is a mode of expressiqn which most of his audience would presumably reject: gratuitous violence against strangers...
...At least the novel's flat characters are cleverly arranged to prop each other up...
...It's particularly frustrating to see Robin Williams so squelched, since even on TV's inane "Mork and Mindy" he demonstrates more wit, intelligence, and zany spunk than a dozen John Irvings...
...military supremacy-why such a man was so illregarded by the rank-and-file of the party whose principles these attitudes represent...
...Describes the recent revolution in economics toward the free market...
...As originally proposed and only slightly modified before enactment, it mandated life imprisonment without possibility of parole for anyone convicted of de.aling in heroin, LSD, amphetamines, methadone, or hashish...
...With no further consultation with anyone he announced it to his staff as a major 22 THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR OCTOBER 1982...
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...Yet in terms of conveying the message, I think the film does succeed...
...Once an idea--from whatever source derived --struck his fancy, he pursued it with all his immense personal force and staff resources...
...Persico comes closer to characterizing it accurately in the Preface when he calls it " a personal memoL- based largely on the eleven years from 1966 to 1977 during which I worked for Nelson Rockefeller as his principal 'speech w r i t e r . . . I recount essentially what I knew and was a part of...
...Piercing and often unexpected insights on liberty, authority, religion, science and the individual...
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...Contains all own notes of Smith's lectures on jurisprudence delivered at Glasgow in 1762-63...
...When he entered a room, he sucked up all the authority," recalled one high-ranking state official...
...nor, finally, is there so much as a single footnote or bibliographica t citation...
...Persico accomplishes this through the accumulated power of hundreds of fmely judged brushstrokesmRockefeller rearranging the furniture in a motel room, instructing a waitress on how to serve coffee, publicly humiliating a senior staff member or impulsively giving a work of art to another, sheepishly accepting a repby Karl O'Lessker rimand from his young mistress or taking another man's wife for his own and damning the political costs...
...ORGINS OF THE AMER...
...Garp's fear, however, is convincing...
...His temperament, in a word, was truly imperial and he was able to add to this an awesomely dominating presence...
...But the odd thing about the debate is that nobody says much o f anything, except that the human race would be b e t t e r o f f w i t h o u t the twin evils of rape and linguectomy...
...She argues that character and identity are based on self-esteem and not bestowed by society...
...To say that the director of Garp, "George Roy Hill, and screenwriter, Steve Tesich, succeeded is at best a partial compliment...
...Foreboding, in fact, is one of the few genuine emotions that the film and the novel both successfully evoke...
...In the film, G a r p ' s smugness is conveyed by an episode in which he hires a babysitter so he and his wife can sit outside in the' car and gaze at their own children through the window...
...If his millions of readers enjoy or put up with Irving's literary game, it is probably because they find in it some r e s i d u e of meaning...
...by Ayn Rand, hd, 383 pages, $16.95...
...When a plumber's truck drives too fast down G a r p ' s quiet s t r e e t , he runs after it and remonstrates with the driver...
...THE MOST HAPPY FELLA One thing I ann 't stand is a goddamned bleeding heart...
...Contends that the greatest threat to the Soviet Union is from within its own borders...
...A profoundly disturbing book...
...Nelson A. Rockefeller Why was Nelson Rockefeller never nominated for the presidency by his own party...
...Occasionally Irving will bring in .a benevolent football player or a traveling circus, but for the most part his books deal with a range of experience so narrow it makes The Preppy Handbook look like Balzac...
...My problem is that I don't like the message...
...And anyone wishing to enlarge this audience still further-say, to a number commensurate with box-office success--must therefore locate that residue and communicate it through the more naturalistic medium of film...
...And a fiction is a self-enclosed, self-referential structure that can be evaluated only by the latest, most arcane mode of formalistic analysis-which is itself a fiction...
...OW, CAPITALISM, by Henri Lepage, hd, 254 pages, $14.95...
...The disasters that strike the Garp family are unusual, to say the least: Both his mother and he are assassinated by anti- and pro-feminist e x t r e m i s t s . Feminism is the only live issue in Irving's campusy little world: There is no hint of the real dangers that real middle-class people worry about...
...ECTURES ON/URISPRUDENCE, by Adam Smith, qpb, $5.50...
...Current academic criticism teaches that it is wrong to consider a literary text as referring in any way to the world...
...Except for a couple of fantasy sequences, one of them nicely animated, the movie by Martha Bayles seems to have done away with the novel's only strength, which is ingenuity...
...He combined the supreme assurance of the wellborn with the tenacity and cunning of a self-made man," Persico remarks at one point...
...Thus we invent our lives . . . we dream on and on . . . . . . And our dreams escaPe us almost as vividly as we can imagine ,them...
...DECLINE OF AN EMPIRE: The Soviet SoeialL~t Republics in Revolt, by Helene Carrere d'Encausse, 319 pages, $5.95/$12.95...

Vol. 15 • October 1982 • No. 10


 
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