Amherst Magazine

Amherst Authors

Is the Bible worth recovering for today's women?
Talking Back to Emily Dickinson and Other Essays
Prison Writing in 20th-Century America
Russia in the World Arms Trade
Deep Surfaces: Mass Culture and History in Postmodern American Fiction.
Amherst College Books

Is the Bible worth recovering for today's women?

The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own. By CULLEN MURPHY '74. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998. 302 pp. $24.

Was Jesus a feminist? Was Adam male? How "male" is God?

Cullen Murphy addresses these and a host of other questions that concern feminists (and many others) in this excellent and provocative new book that looks at both ancient women in the Bible and modern women (and a few men) who study them. Murphy claims--accurately--that over the last 25 years feminism has wrought an intellectual revolution in the study of the Bible. The Word According to Eve makes much of that revolution available to readers in a remarkably user-friendly way. It is informative without being intimidating and presents a variety of views with judicious analysis and balance.

Murphy, who is managing editor of Atlantic Monthly, acknowledges that this "book of reporting" is by a middle-aged white male, one who can be fairly described as a (mainstream) feminist. Before going further, I should state I am also in that camp, and that the reviewer and author are not only college mates, but were classmates and dorm mates. We have also both spent a good deal of time at the academic meetings that are entertainingly described at the book's beginning and end, and know many of the same people who appear in the book (including Ross Kraemer, wife of Michael Kraemer '69), although my academic expertise is in classical Indian thought.

One of the main issues running through the feminist study of religion is, "is the Bible worth recovering for contemporary women?" Are there interpretations of the text that are usable for feminists today, or is it hopelessly sexist, androcentric, and patriarchal? That is, the Bible (like most traditional scriptures) was written and edited by men, and contains a male-oriented and -dominated world view, concerned with male interests and power. To what degree does the fact that the Bible is a historical document subject to its time and place and containing little on the private ("women's") realm limit its relevance for feminists or all people? Among the huge number of little-known nuggets about the Bible that Murphy imparts is that in the Hebrew Bible (generally known to Christians as the Old Testament) only 151 of the 1,400 people with names are female.

The Bible has also been overwhelmingly studied and taught by men; Murphy points out that the Society for Biblical Literature, the primary professional organization for Bible scholars, held no panel on issues involving the Bible and women until 1980, and only in the last quarter-century have women entered scholarship and ministry in significant numbers. Today, in fact, women are actually in the majority in some (and these generally highly prestigious) seminaries. There are many Biblical passages that reveal the androcentric perspective mentioned above; perhaps most famous are in Genesis and Paul's letters. While there are two creation stories in Genesis (1:12:3 and 2:43:24), the better known (from Genesis 2:3) is traditionally understood to state that woman was created after man (and from his rib), is subordinate to man, and that the fall from grace is due to the woman, who will suffer in childbirth as a punishment. Paul's letters are ambiguous, but he does say that a woman should keep silent in church, has no authority over a man, and is subject to her husband. On the other hand, a woman may prophesy (though with covered head), and Paul says in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither male or female (nor Jew or Greek nor slave or free), for all are one in Jesus Christ.

In the body of the book, Murphy generally starts a chapter by offering an often fascinating biography of a feminist scholar and an issue her work raises. For example, an early chapter describes the important Hebrew Bible scholar Phyllis Trible (mentioning among other things that such scholars need to master Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, French, German, and also perhaps Akkadian or Ugaritic). Trible has closely examined the Genesis stories, the first of which simply says that man and woman were created in God's image (at the same time). She makes the point that in the better-known second story the Hebrew word 'adham is the generic word for human (a being from earth), and only after the Lord takes the rib from 'adham are the sexes differentiated (ish and ishah).

Another important scholar, Elaine Pagels, points out that one can read the creation stories as suggesting that woman led man astray, bringing sin and death into the world, that man is ordained to rule over woman, and sex is corrupting, or that man and woman are equal, both formed in God's image, and given the gift of moral freedom (or, of course, parts of both).

I will mention two other points in Murphy's discussion of the Hebrew Bible. The first is, according to the scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky, that in the Bible "gender is a matter of biology and social roles" rather than "basic nature or identity." Men and women certainly had different functions in ancient Israel (where the society needed large families, so producing children was a major concern), and the social position of women was inferior. But men and women were, she holds, innately equal and equal before God.

Also, God, while not genderless, is not sexual, and is never depicted "below the waist." It is also worth asking whether a woman wrote any part of the Bible. It is generally agreed that the book that most has "a woman's voice" is the Song of Songs, the only book in which a female voice appears to speak directly (and which never actually refers to God!). Also, as the Yale literary critic Harold Bloom has written, there may be an early source (J., the Yahwistic writer) who is a woman writing for women. As one might imagine, such ideas are highly contested.

The second half of Murphy's book focuses on the New Testament. Perhaps most important is the question of whether Jesus can be construed as a feminist. Many scholars agree that Jesus attacked traditional mores and social structures, and that the Bible generally stresses the themes of liberation and emancipation. Among others, the well-known scholar Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza argues that Jesus was a radical egalitarian, emphasizing the equality of all marginalized people before God: the polluted, the crippled, tax collectorsand women. She also points out that a woman (unnamed) anoints Jesus before the crucifixion, a woman first discovers the empty tomb, and first experiences a vision of the resurrected Jesus. Other scholars, such as Kathleen Corley, write that while Jesus was "on the side of" women, against all structures of privilege and for widespread community participation and shared commensality, he was not gender-focused or intentionally a feminist.

Murphy points out that feminists show less interest in Mary, despite her vast popular appeal. Mary seems too "meek and mild," and the emphasis on her virginity seems to denigrate female sexuality (freedom from sex brings freedom from sin). Thus one hears little of Jesus's brothers and sisters mentioned in the Gospels. Still, as Jaroslav Pelikan asks, what is the nature of a woman who is "mother of God?"

And what of Mary Magdalene, witness to the crucifixion and seer of the empty tomb? Murphy shows that she became linked to prostitution only in later centuries; artistic images of her are much richer and more certain than is the historical record. He then describes the very interesting extra-canonical Gospel of Mary, in which we find Mary Magdalene in dialogue with the savior. Her report is doubted by Peter, who comes across here, as elsewhere, as temperamental and even a bit dim.

Finally, and particularly relevant to our time, Murphy describes scholarly opinion about how much of Christian teaching about sexuality and sex roles is due merely to the ideology of gender difference and hierarchy then current in the Greco-Roman world. For example, to what degree is Paul a product of social and gender conventions of his time and place, in which man/active/superior and woman/passive/inferior go together? The Catholic Church (and others) hold that only males can be priests because Jesus was male and so were all the disciples. Are those sufficient reasons to deny women pastoral opportunities today--especially given the possible evidence that women were deacons in the early church?

Murphy ends on an optimistic note. Contemporary women are more involved than ever as leaders in organized religion. The Bible, and the women therein, are also being taken seriously today from many perspectives and in new ways. The Bible is a rich and complex document with many voices and opinions, and it demands reflection and response. While there is a tremendous gulf between the past "there" and the present "here," the Bible remains, as Murphy concludes, "an ageless provocation".

--Andrew Fort '74
The reviewer is a Professor of Religion at Texas Christian University.

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Talking Back to Emily Dickinson and Other Essays

By WILLIAM H. PRITCHARD '53, Henry Clay Folger Professor of English. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998. 303 pp. $29.95.

Literary study in recent years has become a severely challenging enterprise because the concept of art is being replaced by a social and ideological preoccupation with class, gender, and ethnicity within the academic practice now called Cultural Studies. What used to be known as a poem is now treated as nothing more than a "text" to be examined for the social biases out of which it was "constructed." Equally distracting, indeed, is the growing sense that bits of moving images--yes, on TV and Hollywood film--have replaced words in the expression of our thoughts and feelings. This is the era of word-image pastiche.

Professor Pritchard's new collection of essays on the art of writing punctures this post-modernist solemnity with piercing humor, and brilliantly illuminates the fact that written art is made first of all of words, not philosophy or politics. Pritchard's achievement, moreover, recognizes that the writer comes into a world flooded with language, and there is no reality not already classified by humans. The whole task of art, then, as a French theorist reminded us, is to create from the world's language another speech, an exact speech. Our language, while rule-governed, is infinitely creative and every day each of us employs sentences and phrases
that have never been uttered before. Readerly pleasure and surprise, then, are endless. The mind's cognitive processes in reading, a thrilling phenomenon that Pritchard will surely develop more fully in the future, are the basis of this adventure and surprise, often involving the shocking grasp of contradictions.

His forceful terms for the best way to approach poetry, fiction, and criticism appear in the Preface where he recommends engaging literature "in ways both appreciative and argumentative, aesthetic and judgmental," and "talking back as a form of aggressive engagement, not always gently and affectionately."

The breadth of Pritchard's commentary is impressive, dealing with English and American writers beginning with Shakespeare and Edmund Burke, and coursing through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to include poets from Blake, Wordsworth, and Byron to Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Donald Hall. He deals as well with notable critics such as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, and R. P. Blackmur, and such contemporary writers as Kingsley Amis, V. S. Naipaul, and Doris Lessing. Arranged chronologically, the essays, for the most part printed originally in the journals Hudson Review, American Scholar, New Republic, and Sewanee Review, are rich with references to other literary critics, biographers, and historians whose perspectives on the individual writers under analysis support or run contrary to Pritchard's own. Indeed, the Name Index covering the 27 essays also includes theorists and philosophers, runs from Aristotle to Wittgenstein, and covers seven pages!

In the book's Preface, Pritchard boldly advises the reader exactly what his inspiration is as a literary critic. While later, in his essay on T. S. Eliot, he asserts that he wants to respond to "the volatile surface intensities of language rather than the stable meanings some critics have presumed to lie under them," in the Preface it is Robert Frost who, talking about writing as performance, articulates Pritchard's basic process.

Here is Frost:

  It's just the same as when you feel a joke coming. You see somebody coming down the street that you're accustomed to abuse, and you feel it rising in you, something to say as you pass each other.

Here's Pritchard on that trait:

  Frost's connection between the humorous impulse and the impulse to talk back to literature, to do it one better, seems to me profound. At any rate, I suspect it's the inspiration behind the present collection.

In his essay on Julian Symons, Visiting Writer at Amherst College
in the mid-1970s, Pritchard finds the same motivation: "The Amherst students who took his classes that year were fortunate in their exposure to a working critic, untouched by any academic system or vocabulary, willing to say in response to various undergraduate judgments and assertions, 'Yes, but...' This was the true teacher's and critic's principled role."

Reviewing a 1994 edition of Henry James's travel writings, Pritchard praises the author's descriptions not of his own mood and musing but of things as they are, saying that in his writings about Italy the relation to actuality "becomes especially satisfying and his style is felt in its most glowing warmth." A quotation illustrates James handling the actuality of the Torre del Mangia in Siena:

  It rises as slender and straight as a pennoned lance planted on
the steel-shod toe of a mounted knight, and keeps all to itself in the blue air, far above the changing fashions of the market, the proud consciousness or rare arrogance once built into it.

But Pritchard talks back to James later when evaluating the writer's description of Cape Cod: it is "obliterating in its chatterbox torrent of words any sense of place or actuality, making of the pictorial, the picturesqueness of which the early James is master, a mishmash of fussings."

Talking back to literary critics is Pritchard's fiery purpose in his essay "That Shakespeherian Rag" (jazzy title taken from T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland). Of the New Historicist Stephen Greenblatt, he says that "Greenblatt reads Shakespeare without ever evincing, as far as one can see, any pleasure in the text." Pritchard does not flinch from declaring his own strong view regarding particular critics' interpretations that are a "deflection of criticism (and not just in regard to Shakespeare) into abstracting and reductive 'thematic' or ideological 'readings.'" And he says further: "I judge these aggressive efforts to interpret Shakespeare to be insufficiently literary in that they don't tell us what it is like to read the plays." Finally, he declares with admirable passion: "You have to care enough about the poetry to want to see it for itself and not another thing."

The long essay "T. S. Eliot: A Revaluation" is a reprint of his contribution to Columbia History of American Poetry (1993). His central concern is to show that Eliot is not to be consigned to the dustbin of old traditionalists who valued "aural richness." Present readings of "the world-cultural poetry barometer that registers who's high and who's low," he writes, "must be corrected by the insistence that at least at one collegeand I suspect at many moreEliot is alive and well, his poems, and to some extent his criticism, seriously and satisfyingly engaged with by members of the latest generation." On Eliot's own practical criticism in particular, Pritchard's commentary is delightfully applicable to his own practices, as he declares that Eliot's "is seldom or never a matter of patient analysis of a poem, but of provocative assertion and invitations to compare one poem or series of lines with another." The implication is that Eliot, like Pritchard himself, should talk back not only to the poet he's evaluating and to his audience, but to--ready?--himself: "He likes to strew difficulties in the paths of his readers and himself--anything to make things other than cut and dried."

In "Talking Back to Emily Dickinson," the essay (originally a professional lecture) that gives the book its racy title, Pritchard identifies himself at the outset as a "non-Dickinsonian." His central question is one of value, just how much does Dickinson's achievement weigh, and "what kind of achievement it is anyway." He discovers correctly that "critics tend to talk for her by bringing out, usually at length, what it is she's implying" in her poems. The reason, he explains, is that her poems don't invite the analysis we give to other poets because there are not clear tonal indications in them and readers cherish her difficulty and uncertainty. More than 20 critics, this reviewer included, are invoked throughout the essay to make the point. Then, once again, Robert Frost is summoned to inform readers that clarity of tone is crucial: "Never if you can help it write down a sentence in which the voice will not know how to posture specially." At the end, two short poems are quoted where Pritchard, to a reader's delight, finds mischievous, "even wicked" expression that is, in his words, "exuberant" and "very satisfying."

To follow up this fine book of provocative and illuminating essays, what Professor Pritchard must now tell us concerns the new sculpture in the little park near the Dickinson Homestead in Amherst. There, the black steel figures of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson are shown in conversation. What are they saying? Everyone wants to know. Is Frost, with firm instructional intent, talking back to her, like Pritchard, about her lack of tonal precision? Or is Emily talking without interruption about the shocking contradictions of existence, as she did when her famous preceptor Thomas Higginson visited her in 1870, prompting him to tell his wife "I am glad not to live near her"?

--David Porter
Author of numerous studies in British and American literature, including
the work of Emily Dickinson, the reviewer is Professor Emeritus of English, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Prison Writing in 20th-Century America

Edited by H. BRUCE FRANKLIN '55 New York: Penguin Paperback Original, 1998. 368 pp. $13.95.
American society has long been among the most violent and crime-ridden in the world, among the most punitive in its responses to crime, and, at the same time, the most optimistic in its view of human character and the most deeply invested in maintaining the dignity of all its citizens. Recently, an escalating punitiveness, with more people being punished more harshly, has gone hand-in-hand with a decrease in the crime rate. We seem to be punishing more and getting more from it. Yet one might ask whether this relation between penal severity and public safety is more apparent than real. Or, even if it is real, whether we should feel good about the punishment that is being wielded in our name. And, whether we can reconcile increasing punitiveness with respect for human dignity.

The answers to these questions depend, in part, on the philosophical perspective one brings to the debate about crime and punishment. Some, let's call them pure utilitarians, would say yes, we should feel good about and endorse escalating punitiveness if that policy reduces crime. If we have to punish more people and to be more severe in order to reduce crime, then, so they might say, let's do it. Others, pure retributivists, would say that justice, not utility, should be the guiding light of our responses to crime. We should give criminals what they deserve, nothing more, nothing less. And, what they deserve should be calculated without reference to crime rates.

A third perspective on crime and punishment, different in its attitude and its substance from either a utilitarian or retributivist perspective, informs Prison Writing in 20th-Century America. For lack of a clearer designation I would call this either the "human dignity" perspective, or the "values preservation" perspective. In this view no one can forfeit, by virtue of any act, no matter how reprehensible, his or her claim to human dignity and to the minimal threshold of respect to which all humans are, by virtue of their status as humans, entitled. In this view we must ensure that how we punish comports with that entitlement. However, another way of interpreting this concern focuses less on criminals and what we owe to them and more on us. When we punish, the values preservationist argument suggests, we must do so in a way that comports with who we are and who we want to be. We may want to rape the rapist because such a punishment seems just, proportionate to the crime, or because it will deter rape, but we ought not do so, because we do not want to become like those whose acts we condemn. We do not want to punish in such a way as to diminish ourselves in the act of punishment. And, it is in punishment that we may be most tempted to do so, to give "them" what they deserve, to make "them" feel the kind of pain they have inflicted on innocent others.

From either the other-regarding concern for human dignity or the self-regarding interest in preserving our own values, there is an imperative to know in detail what it is that we do when we punish. H. Bruce Franklin '55, who is the John Cotton Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University at Newark and editor of the pioneering book Prison Literature in America (1978), has collected the writings that comprise the volume under review. Some were written from prison, others were written about prison by someone previously incarcerated, some are fiction, some non-fiction, some prose, some poetry, some by the famous or the infamous (e.g., Jack London, Robert Lowell, Malcolm X, Jack Abbott), some by persons much less well known, which provide one kind of knowledge, the knowledge of those on whom punishment is imposed. This book intends to take us behind the walls of America's prisons, to let us hear the voices of the incarcerated as they tell us what it is like to be "in the belly of the beast."

Most readers will, I suspect, find these writings alternatively disturbing, moving, and infuriating. They are disturbing because they tell of the awful despair and fear that comes with being in prison, a fear borne of helplessness before the state and those charged to run its prisons. Many will find themselves startled to learn that if there is a true state of nature it is found inside, not outside, law. It is found
in the lawlessness and brutality that are the everyday realities of life in America's prisons. As Kate Richards O'Hare puts it in her selection, "...[W]hen I arrived in prison I found that by the workings of the prison system society commits every crime against the criminal that the criminal is charged with having committed against society. . . . We send thieves to prison to teach them not to steal and rob, and all prison life is thievery and robbing."

These writings are moving because, for a few, the kind of suffering that prison imposes produces a deep experience of self-discovery and/or a particularly powerful literary rendition of that experience. Thus Malcolm X tells us that his journey to spiritual awakening and redemption began "back in Charlestown Prison." And, Robert Lowell, in his autobiographical "Memories of West Street and Lepke," writes that even for a "fire-breathing Catholic C.O." like him, going to prison was a particular voyage, "Down and down: the compass needle dead on terror."

But many will be simply infuriated by writings that are as powerful in self-pity and self-indulgence as they are lacking in literary merit. Throughout this book, which collects work from men and women produced over the course of nearly 100 years, there is almost never a mention of the crime for which the author is/was punished or of the grotesque pain some of their criminal acts caused. We hear little about their victims in the writings of many whose literary intention seems only to be to portray themselves as the real victims of what Franklin himself, somewhat melodramatically and inaccurately, calls the "American Gulag."

Yet in the end, through all the disturbance, the empathy, and the anger that these writings evoke, Franklin has done a great service by collecting them and making them available to the general reader. Thus Tom Wicker gets it right when he says, in his Foreword, that "what happens inside the walls [of prison] inevitably reflects the society outside." We can learn a lot about who we are, and what we are becoming, by learning about the experiences of those we incarcerate in an increasingly punitive society.

--Austin Sarat
The reviewer is William Nelson Crom-well Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst.

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Russia in the World Arms Trade

Edited by: ANDREW J. PIERRE '55 and Dmitri V. Trenin. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1997. 127 pp. $14.95 (paper).

The question of what kind of international system has emerged after the end of the Cold War has still not been fully answered almost a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For this volume Andrew Pierre, a former Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, now at Johns Hopkins's School of Advanced International Studies, has selected writings by Russian experts that remind us that U.S. policymakers are by no means alone in grappling with the consequences of a disruption of old alliances and a shift in political and economic power.

Russia, too, is confronting new geopolitical realities as it undergoes revolutionary internal changes. Through the lens of the arms trade, Pierre and his collaborators offer a unique view of the crises created in Russia by the simultaneous reorganization of its government, military and economy. They also alert us to how direct competition in arms sales may spark new conflicts between the United States and Russia. During the Cold War, each sold almost exclusively to its own allies; but sales are no longer governed solely by political allegiances.

In the new open market Russian defense industries have not fared well. Their share of sales in the global arena has shrunk drastically. "From 1990 to 1994, the United States made half of all arms agreements with the Third World, with its share rising to 74 percent in 1993, when Russia's share amounted to less than 10 percent. This 7-to-1 ratio," Pierre and Trenin observe, "is particularly striking if one takes into account the fact that, as recently as 1987, the ratio was almost even." The decline of Russian exports relative to the U.S., especially at a time when the overall market for arms is not expanding, has added to many Russian policymakers' hostility toward the U.S. This book, however, seeks to dispel any notions that the U.S. is to blame for Russia's woes in this area.

In another chapter, Russian military experts Mikhail Gerasev and Viktor Surikov explore the roots of the failure of exports to rescue Russian defense industries. They detail a multitude of hardships facing Russian arms producers, including declining domestic orders and state subsidies. Also, whereas the Soviet government once offered its allies easy credit terms and low prices, firms now must try to assess and recoup real production costs. They suggest that Russian managers must learn marketing and cost-cutting skills simultaneously, that they must learn to provide credit arrangements despite their cash-poor positions and follow up sales with good technical support.

Other chapters discuss the potential for increased civilian control over arms exports and the state of Russian arms deals with the Middle East and China. Russia has found a market niche in supplying states that are in a poor position to receive Western assistance, countries such as Iran and Syria. Russia's choice of trading partners is likely to further strain its relations with the U.S.; but, as Pierre
and Trenin note in their conclusion, "There are strong industrial forces in both countries that are reluctant to accept restraint as they try to survive in a world of shrinking demand for arms, both worldwide and domestic." Given the fact that, "much like Cold War strategy the contemporary arms trade is regarded as a zero-sum game," the authors hold out the prospect of continued rivalry between Russia and the U.S. If anything, the deepening financial crisis in Russia should heighten our concern with the repercussions that the collapse of a superpower may have for U.S. security. This study of the global arms market is important and timely.

--Kathleen E. Smith '87
The reviewer is Assistant Professor of Government at Hamilton College.

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Deep Surfaces: Mass Culture and History in Postmodern American Fiction.

By PHILIP SIMMONS '80. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press. 236 pp. $50.

Philip Simmons was one of a number of extremely talented literary people in Amherst's first four-year coeducational class of 1980. A double major in Physics and English, he was also a promising writer of fiction, and so the high quality of his critical book on postmodern American writers came as no surprise to me. Deep Surfaces combines theoretical acumen with first-rate practical criticism; scientific and "televisual" interests with a love of novels and storieswith what's going on in contemporary American fiction. For all his professional expertise and academic credentialsthe bibliography of works cited suggests he's put in plenty of time with Foucault, Baudrillard, and Frederick Jameson (and better him than me)Simmons's heart is with the aesthetic motive. He cares about literature for the way it moves him and he wants to share this pleasure with others.

The book's title provides a shaping metaphor for the relation between mass culture and postmodernist fiction. In choosing such a paradoxical, oxymoronic phrase as deep surface, Simmons is moving beyond the distinction, observable in T.S. Eliot's criticism, say, between an art that is essentially of the "surface" (in Eliot's example, the plays of Ben Jonson) and one that invites us to imagine "depths"what Eliot calls the third dimension, experienced in the art of Shakespearean creation (a Hamlet, a Falstaff). In the postmodernist texts Simmons is concerned with,

  we see a narrative pattern emerge in which gestures toward "depth" of historical understanding are continually returned to the "surface" of postmodern image culture with its rejection of epistemological foundations and master narratives.
Mass culture, in its seeming or real trivialities, provides the "life," the materials out of engagement with which Simmons's writers make their peculiar, something less than "master" narratives. (If you aren't sure what a master narrative is, try Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale, or Dreiser's American Tragedy, or Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.) The fictional narratives Simmons writes about are those in which "local and contingent historical narratives are organized at the mass cultural 'surface.'"

The organizing principle of Deep Surfaces is original and subtle, but I found even more interesting Simmons's practical critical demonstrations of how, in individual writers and books, trafficking with mass culture brings aesthetic pleasure and value. His choices of writers to consider are ambitious, sometimes surprising. The first chapter compares Walker Percy's prize-winning novel of 1961, The Moviegoer, a meditative account of a man at odds with society, with Nicholson Baker's recent tour de force, The Mezzanine (1988), in which a happy, solipsistic narrator explores the artifacts of contemporary life: "the cardboard milk container, the ice cube tray, the stapler, the electric hand dryer, white bread, Jiffy
Pop Popcorn . . . and the plastic straw." Readers of Baker's brilliant, self-enclosed book will recall its astonishing and delightful ingenuity. Compared to it, The Moviegoer is a "classic" work of American fiction (Simmons puts it in a list with books from that time by Salinger, Cheever, Updike, and Richard Yates), in which a certain "spiritual poverty amidst material prosperity" is cause for
criticism. But addressing a historical decade, the Eisenhower years, as Walker Percy's novel does from a critical stand-point (Simmons calls it "negative classicism"), seems no longer possible or desirable: "What has changed in the nearly thirty years that separate Percy from Baker is that mass culture has so completely engulfed society that the kind of critical position from which . . . Percy could write has been rendered nearly irrelevant." Juxtaposing these two interesting books is a fine stroke on the critic's part.

Chapter two considers Don DeLillo, by all odds, especially in White Noise and his recent Underworld (too late for Simmons to consider), the novelist who along with Thomas Pynchon is most sensitive to "telecommunications." Chapter three takes up Ishmael Reed and E.L. Doctorow, making, in Doctorow's instance, a case for the interest of a writer I had more or less forgotten about, certainly not kept up with. But the most original chapter in the book for me is its fourth, in which Simmons has many freshly interesting things to say about "minimalism," as encountered in the work--primarily though not entirely short fiction--of Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie and Bobbie Ann Mason. He calls them the major practitioners of Low Postmodernism, their fiction filled with the "sorts of characters to whom life just 'happens.'" Their shared style, for all its individual variances, is "the cool mean style," and we are reminded that James Joyce had characterized the style of his Dubliners stories as one of "scrupulous meanness." What raises Bobbie Ann Mason above Carver and Beattie in my judgment--and Simmons doesn't make the evaluative comparison--is that she really does care about the people in her fiction, both comically and at a deeper level. That caring can be seen in her first novel, In Country, about which Simmons writes usefully; also in her masterly Spence + Lila, which he doesn't take up. It may also be seen in her overlong but underappreciated novel Feather Crowns (Simmons deals with it later in the book), and in numerous of her fine stories--a selection of which (Midnight Children) appeared last spring. The Low Postmodernists'
"argument" is of course that their minimalist refusal of historical depth "grows out of a perception that contemporary historical conditions themselves resist representation in language that creates the illusion of depth." Yet in my reading, and I don't think Simmons would disagree, Mason at her best breaks through this line of talk (or cant) and brings back the third dimension, human and historical, that is supposedly no longer available to the contemporary writer.

The final chapter on Pynchon I found difficult to read, just as I find criticism of Pynchon hard to read generally--to say nothing of reading the master himself. (How many of you out there made it through Mason & Dixon, raise your hands.) But Simmons is nothing if not circumspect in recognizing the difficulty of staking out new ground in the Pynchon criticism field. He writes mainly about the way, in Gravity's Rainbow and Vineland, Pynchon establishes his deep surface "by continually providing alternate historical frames, alternate meta-narrative perspectives, from which to make a given set of events intelligible." Of course it's only through Pynchon's zany inventiveness that this technique can seem more than game-playing, and sometimes it seems no more than that, even in the master's voice.

In conclusion, this scrupulous, densely informed, never less than strongly argued trip through some recent American writers is designed to make you want to read or reread themor at least some of them. The book has a kind of appropriately millennial feel about it, as if a lot of things were getting put into their places, temporarily at least, and it exhibits Philip Simmons's boldness and range as a reader and critic of the way we live, and some of us write, now.

--William H. Pritchard
The reviewer is Henry Clay Folger Professor of English at Amherst College.

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Amherst College Books

 

Appropriating Gender: Women's Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia. Edited by Patricia Jeffery and AMRITA BASU, Professor of Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies. Oxford, England: Routledge, 1998. 276 pp. $19.95 paper.
In a series of essays, most presented at a 1994 conference in Bellagio, Italy, the editors explore the activism of women in the religious politics of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The book is divided into three parts"Gender, Nation, State" (ways that the state and religious communities influence the construction of gendered identities); "The Everyday and the Local" (the meaning of religion
in women's everyday lives); and "Agency and Activism" (an analysis of women's expressions of resistance). Basu also contributes two of the essays.

Community Conflicts and the State in India. Edited by AMRITA BASU, Professor of Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies, and Atul Kohli. Delhi, India: Oxford University Press, 1998. 287 pp. $35 cloth.
Much of the serious and violent conflict that India has experienced in recent years has been directed against the state. In a series of essays, eminent scholars of Indian society and politics identify the causes, consequences, and possible resolution of these conflicts and analyze the links between new expressions of community identity (especially religion, caste, language and region), growing violent ethnic conflict, and the deinstitutionalization of the state.

Applications of Computational Algebraic Geometry: American Mathematical Society Short Course. Proceedings of Symposia in Applied Mathematics Vol. 53. Edited by DAVID A. COX, Professor of Mathematics, and Bernd Sturmfels. Providence: R.I.: American Mathematical Society, 1998. 173 pp. $ 35 cloth.
First presented in San Diego in 1997, seven lectures aim to bring the concepts of computational algebraic geometry to a wide audience of mathematicians. The lectures introduce Gröbner bases and resultants, survey recent methods for solving polynomial equations, and discuss applications to computer-aided geometric design, complex information systems, integer programming, and coding theory.

Using Algebraic Geometry. Graduate Texts in Mathematics, Vol. 185. By DAVID A. COX, Professor of Mathematics, John Little, and Donal O'Shea. New York, N.Y.: Springer-Verlag, 1998. 503 pp. $39.95 paper.
Written for nonspecialists but assuming knowledge of material covered in a standard undergraduate course in abstract algebra, this book illustrates the many uses of algebraic geometry. The authors provide an introduction to some algebraic objects and techniques and then highlight some of the more recent applications of Gröbner bases and resultants.

Death Before Dying: The Sufi Poems of Sultan Bahu. Translated and introduced by JAMAL J. ELIAS, Associate Professor of Religion. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1998. 156 pp. $14.95 paper.
Elias has translated the Punjabi poems of Sultan Bahu (d. 1691), one of India's most beloved and respected scholars, whose poetry and prose constitute a central pillar of the Sufi religious and literary tradition. Readers also get
a glimpse into the religious lives of rural Muslims during the days of the Mughal Empire.

Islam. By JAMAL J. ELIAS, Associate Professor of Religion. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc., Religions of the World Series, 1999. 128 pp. $18 paper.
Elias provides a history of Islam from the birth of Muhammad in seventh-century Arabia to the differing situations of Muslims throughout today's world, including a look at contemporary Muslim beliefs and practices and the ways in which this rapidly growing religion is meeting the challenges of the modern world. The book is part of the "Religions of the World" series.

Method in Ancient Philosophy. Edited by JYL GENTZLER, Associate Professor of Philosophy. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press - Oxford, 1998. 408 pp. $72 cloth.

Based on papers read by leading scholars at a conference on ancient philosophic method held at Amherst College in 1994, this volume focuses on how the ancients reasoned and how they thought about methods of reasoning. Understanding how the ancients came to hold the views they did helps us to see how we have come to think as we do.

The Breakage. By GLYN MAXWELL, Visiting Writer. London, England: Faber and Faber Limited, 1998. 80 pp. UK £7.99.
Running through Maxwell's fourth collection of poetry is a deep concern for England. His themes reflect on love, fatherhood and the passing of time, and his locales move from the South of France to the South Pole and from the Amazon to the Somme.

La ruota gira: Vita a Sermoneta, 1951-1952/The Wheel Turns: Life in Sermoneta, 1951-1952. By DONALD PITKIN, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology. Milano, Italy: Franco Angeli s.r.l., 1998. 126 pp.
Based on Pitkin's 1954 dissertation at Harvard University, La ruota gira, written in Italian, is an anthropological study of Sermoneta, a community still tied to traditional rural customs, poised on the brink of the wrenching political and economic developments of post-War Italy. The book represents the background against which Pitkin's other pictures of life in Sermoneta (The House That Giacomo Built and Mamma, casa e post fisso) are projected.

Law in the Domains of Culture. The Amherst Series in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought. Edited by AUSTIN SARAT, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, and THOMAS R. KEARNS, William H. Hastie Professor of Philosophy. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1998. 180 pp. $52.50 cloth.
In their ongoing exploration of the relationship between law and culture, the editors have selected essays, one their own, that discuss theoretical issues in the cultural analysis of law. The study encourages the forging of a new interdis ciplinary synthesis, a "cultural studies of law." This is the eighth book in the series, each of which explores a theme central to an understanding of law as it confronts the changing social and intellectual currents of the late 20th century.

Fundamental Issues in Law & Society Series, Vol. 1. Justice and Power in Sociolegal Studies. Edited by Bryant G. Garth and AUSTIN SARAT, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, et al. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press and the American Bar Foundation, 1998. 336 pp. $79.95 cloth, $29.95 paper.
Law and society scholarship combines an understanding of the culture's values and ideals with an examination of the complex ways in which law actually functions. The essays in this volume explore the concepts of justice and power and determine how they relate to law. Also discussed are how legal policy is formed and how law operates in and through social relations.

Fundamental Issues in Law & Society Series, Vol. 2. Everyday Practices and Trouble Cases. Edited by AUSTIN SARAT, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, et al. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press and the American Bar Foundation, 1998. 240 pp. $69.95 cloth, $29.95 paper.
This book seeks to identify those concerns and functions of law that establish norms and routines regulating everyday social life and deal with conflicts or "trouble cases" as they arise. Providing a framework within which to examine various theories and approaches to law and society research, the essays cover fields such as regulation, courts, and the legal profession.

Fundamental Issues in Law & Society Series, Vol. 3. How Does Law Matter? Edited by Bryant G. Garth and AUSTIN SARAT, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, et al. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press and the American Bar Foundation, 1998. 336 pp. $79.95 cloth, $29.95 paper.
This volume of essays focuses on the impact of law ("how law matters"). The authors debate the role of law in society, discuss the methods and approaches used to identify how law matters, and highlight changing relationships that influence the legal academy, the law and society community, the social sciences connected to law, and the types of authority competing with law.

Fundamental Issues in Law & Society Series, Vol. 4. Crossing Boundaries: Traditions and Transformations in Law and Society Research. Edited by AUSTIN SARAT, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, et al. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press and the American Bar Foundation, 1998. 456 pp. $79.95 cloth, $29.95 paper.
Showing the broad range of scholarship being produced by law and society researchers, these essays "cross boundaries" in at least two senses: by undertaking research that questions and often bridges traditional methodological and disciplinary divisions, and by using nontraditional approaches to explore the interconnections between law and its social context. Grouped in three sections, the essays consider how the issue of boundaries is implicated in research practice, confront law's role in the boundaries of social identity, and denote linkages between boundaries and legal actors and institutions.

Dark the Night, Wild the Sea. By ROBERT McAFEE BROWN '43. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. 167 pp. $15 cloth.
A mix of love story, Scottish myth and church history, this novel asks, "What happens when we find love and redemption and then fear we've lost it for all time?"

Money and the Global Economy. By ALEXANDER P. REED '46. Cambridge, England: Woodhead Publishing Limited, 1998. 320 pp. $99.95 cloth.
An international banking professional explains the global economy in which goods, services, investments, loans and people move across national borders with increasing freedom. This resource is for financial specialists interested in knowing where the money is and how it moves and for others interested in an historical interpretation of today's political and economic events.

Cultural Calisthenics: Writings on Race, Politics, and Theatre. By ROBERT BRUSTEIN '47. Chicago: Ill.: Ivan R. Dee, 1998. 304 pp. $26 cloth.
The well-known theater critic assesses the cultural climate
of contemporary society and appraises the theater on and off Broadway in productions as far-ranging as Shakespeare, Albee, Arthur Miller, Chicago and Ragtime. Brustein includes his debate with August Wilson about segregated casting, his defense of the National Endowment for the Arts against the political right, his response to the impact of political correctness on theater and university, and his criticism of the "coercive philanthropy" used by funding agencies and foundations to impose their values on artistic institutions.

Through the Ages: An Abbreviated History of Our World. By ROGER H. CLAPP '50. Naples, Fla.: Howland Publishing Company, 1997. 329 pp.
Writing to provide readers with a broad perspective on world history from the creation of the earth through the 20th-century Information Age, Clapp arranges his material chronologically. By devoting one chapter to each century, he covers the important historical events occurring all over the world during the same time period.

In Irons: Britain's Naval Supremacy and the American Revolutionary Economy. By RICHARD BUEL JR. '55. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. 400 pp. $35 cloth.
A historian discusses one aspect of the Revolutionary War: the impact of naval warfare on the agricultural sector of the American economy as the British Navy denied Americans access to overseas markets. Culling from American, British and French archives, Buel shows how the French alliance, naval operations in the Atlantic and Caribbean, miliarty operations in North America, and the policies of state and continental authorities contributed to the collapse and then the rivial of the revolutionary economy.

Revlotutionary Lexington & Concord: The Shot(s) Heard Round the World! (Modern Myths&Revolutionart Realities 1775 to Today) By JOSEPH L. (JOEL) ANDREWS, JR., M.D. '59. Concord, Mass.: Concord Guides & Press, 1998. 64 pp. $9.95 paper.
Longtime history buff, writer of travel articles and founder and director of the Concord Guides walking Tours, Andrews has published a new guide to Concord's heritage for visitors and area residents. The book includes sites to visit, historical documentations, quotations, maps, photos and pictures.

Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men. Editied by DeWITT HENRY '63 and James Alan McPherson. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1998. 239 pp. $24 cloth.
This collection of essays, memoirs and fond wishes by 19 writers explores what it means to be a father to their daughters. The focus is on the concern fathers feel for their daughters and includes the overwhelming sense of responsibility that accompanies fatherfood in an age of questioning, polarization and social change.

Beautiful Flowers of the Maquiladora: Life Histories of Women Workers in Tijuana. By Norma Iglesias Prieto. Translated by MICHAEL STONE '72 with Gabrielle Winkler. Austin: Tex.: University of Texas Press, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1997. 115 pp. $20 cloth, $9.95 paper.
Originally published in 1985 as La flor más bella de la maquiladora, this book is based on interviews the author conducted with more than 50 Mexican women who worked in the assembly plants along the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1970s. As conditions among workers has worsened and unemployment has risen since then, scholars are paying increasing attention to the 1997 translation, especially in light of the North American Free Trade Agreement. (NAFTA).

The Letters of C.P.E. Bach. By STEPHEN L. CLARK '75. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press - Oxford, 1997. 308 pp. $92 cloth.
The first complete edition of C.P.E. Bach's letters to appear in a single volume in any language, this book presents a picture of the son of J.S. Bach as he publishes his own music, debuts aesthetic matters, and champions the music and teaching of his father. Falling into three phases, the letters how Bach learning his responsiblities as music director of the churches in Hamburg, his collaboration with his printer, and the preparation of his estate and legacy.

The Optimism Gap: The I'm OK --They're Not Syndrome and the Myth of American Decline. By DAVID WHITMAN '78. New York, N.Y.: Walker and Company, 1998. 190 pp. $22 cloth.
Through historical analysis and case studies, Whitman offers insights into how public option affects our lives. Generally upbeat about their own lives and futures but pessimistic about the future of the country as a whole, Americans tend to exaggerate national problems and distrust the country's ability to solve them and to understate or ignore local problems. This breeds complacency and civic paralysis and explains why popular proposals such as trimming the budget or reforming health care are difficult to pass.

At the Field's End: Interviews with 22 Pacific Northwest Writers. By NICHOLAS O'CONNELL '80. Seattle: Wash.:University of Washington Press, 1998 (second edition). 380 pp. $22.95 paper.
In an exploration and celebration of Pacific Northwest literature, O'Connell interviews 22 of the region's best known writers, representing various genres, to discuss their work and the region's influence on it. The authors, including A. B. Guthrie, Taymond Carver, Tom Robbins, and poets David Wagoner and William Stafford, reveal the uniqueness of the region in their work and speak eloquently about issues of regional identity.

Closet Devotions. By RICHARD RAMBUSS '83. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1998. 193 pp. $49.95 cloth, $17.95 paper.
Rambuss traces the relationship, throughout history, between religion and sex, body and soul, sacred and profane, by examining the issue of "sacred eroticism," the literary or artistic expression of devotional feelings in erotic terms. From the devotional verse of the metaphyscal poets to Renaissance religious iconography to photography to contemporary gay porn, he uncovers the highly charged erotic imagery that suffuses religious devotional art and literature.

The Chain Reaction: Pioneers of Nuclear Science. By KAREN FOX '91. Danbury, Conn.: Franklin Watts Lives in Science Series (a division of Grolier Publishing),1998. 144 pp. $24 cloth.
Written for a high school audience, this book tracks the growth of nuclear science by profiling the lives of its major contributors. Fox traces nuclear development from its start in the early 1900s by Marie and Pierre Curie, to the scientists who participated in government-funded efforts to harness nclear energy, to Maria Goeppert-Mayer who, 50 years later, analyzed the properties of protons and rounded out our basic understanding of the nucleus.

Upstart Start-Ups: How 25 Young Entrepreneurs Overcame Youth, Innexperience, and Lack of Money to Create THriving Businesses. By RON LIEBER '93. New York, N.Y.: Broadway Books, 1998. 256 pp. $15.
Based on interviews with 25 young independent entrepreneurs who have developed high-profile companies and products, this book explains how to start a business even with youth, inexperience and lack of money working against you. Included are timely and practical ideas for Generation Xers and fledgling entrepreneurs who want to be their own boss.

Compiled by Elizabeth J. Rolander

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