An Empty Shell Game

A.P. Foulkes: Literature and Propaganda; Methuen; New York.

The cover of Literature and Propaganda, the proverbial warning notwithstanding is very telling about the book’s contents and about how perverse the image of America is in the offices of Methuen. Indeed, the cover makes an impression with such a magnitude of force that it is difficult to take A. P. Foulkes’s work with the seriousness that it would deserve if he, too, didn’t succumb to ophthalmic difficulties when it comes to matters concerning capitalism in general and the U.S. in particular. First, the cover. It shows a rendition of Flagg’s Uncle Sam, one that brings a word processor gone mad to mind. That is, the image is composed of the letters forming the title repeated over and over again. Clearly, Uncle Sam is supposed to be the archpropagandist. In reality, he, or those whom he represents, are in the bush league as com­ pared with Lenin or Goebbels, but reality doesn’t get in the way of those whose avowed purpose it is to “demystify” things. In one sense, however, the old saw about a book and its cover is applicable here: only one chapter, a paean to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, deals with American literature to any extent, and it seems to have been dropped into the book as a sop to American readers (i.e., Methuen’s head­ quarters are in London). Still, the imperialist uncle threatens with his typographical index finger.


Chances are, A. P. Foulkes had nothing to do with the cover art. But he probably isn’t disappointed in it — and is, perhaps, delighted with it — given the fact that he is busy ferreting out the “buried metaphors of capitalism” that pollute modern English and deform perceptions and feelings, noxious phrases like ”cashing in” on a good situation and calling a popular entertainer a “hot property.” Presumably, such coinages (oops!) make junior Shylocks out of one and all who use modem English for, as he points out in reference to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic determinism, “language does not reflect ‘reality,’ but creates it according to the structures and limits per­ mitted by the language of a given culture,” so if we’re babbling about bullion all the time, we can’t help but become blood­ sucking members of the bourgeoisie. Even those who take care not to use the insidious formulations are caught if they know how to read. Professor Foulkes has an eye when it comes to spotting “capitalist integration literature” but is blind to panegyrics written about people’s milling machines, concrete, and high-speed steel. Although he parades in Barthes, Eco, and other “hot properties” whose “stock is high in the literary marketplace” and “employs” illustrations showing the dynamics of reading, his thesis. is less revolutionary than all of this “excess freight” might imply. To wit: anyone who writes anything does so for a purpose. This is as true for the hack (party or mercenary) who wants to “cash in” as it is for the “producer” of bona fide literature. A wade through Professor Foulkes’s book is a “stiff price to pay” for that “shop-worn” observation. To quote the character who must be a hero of users of modern English even though they might think the opposite, Iago, “Put money in thy purse.”   cc

Misbegotten ‘Conservatism’

Sol Gordon and Judith Gordon: Raising a Child Conservatively in a Sexually Permissive World; Simon and Schuster; New York.

For more than two decades, liberal has been the proud badge of respectability and acceptance among those governing American academia, culture, and media. With growing public awareness of what liberal dogma has done to our chaotic schools, flaccid churches, disintegrating families, and our skyrocketing rates of crime, drug abuse, and teenage suicide, however, that label has lost some of its appeal. Consequently, a few liberals have stopped identifying themselves as such: they’re not going to take the blame for all those teenagers slitting their wrists. Some liberals have even begun to call themselves “conservatives,” while actually conserving nothing but the vacuum at the heart of value­ neutral egalitarianism. Thus we have Sol Gordon and Judith Gordon, authors of an egregiously mistitled work justifying every conceivable sexual activity pleasing to the consenting adult who does not exploit others. Sneering at the religious New Right for having “preempted the meaning of conservatism,” they shamelessly pervert that meaning by redefining it around the thoroughly modern concept of “good self-esteem.”

What Mr. and Mrs. Gordon prefer to ignore is that no conservatism, pious or secular, has ever made the self its center. The self, hopelessly fallible, finite, and mortal, cannot be conserved as a cultural standard, and should not be so elevated. What can be preserved, and against which conservatives have always insisted that the puny ego measure itself, are the truths discovered during centuries of religious devotion, intellectual research, and social stability. Such verities are cheer­ fully discarded by the Gordons, who pathologize ”Victorian morality” and the traditional “authoritarian” family while legitimizing homosexuality and sodomy. Even when they reach the conservative conclusion that teenagers should not be “sexually active,” the first reason they advance for their position is radically non­conservative: “They do not have ready access to contraception.” And what can possibly be termed “conservative” in an interpretation of family violence as a by­ product of traditional sex roles and of pornography as the result of too few public sex-education programs?

The   Gordons’  argument for frank  discussions  about sex between  parents  and  children is compelling, but their unqualified enthusiasm for sex education in the schools is less persuasive, especially in the context of their patronizing dismissal of religious teachings and their uncritical idealization of Sweden as a model of proper enlightenment It seems impossible that the Gordons failed to note the dramatic upswing of venereal disease among y0ung Swedish teenagers in the decades since Sweden made sex education compulsory, beginning in the first grade. But then, since the more severe forms of such diseases cause brain damage, a widespread epidemic might help more people accept their claim to be “conservative.”(BC)  cc

Avarice and the Other Six

Richard Condon: A Trembling Upon Rome; G. P. Putnam’s Songs; New York.  

Upon learning that his A Trembling Upon Rome has been categorized as a ‘Waste of Money,” Richard Condon will undoubtedly feel a momentary rush of pleasure (because of the reference to a medium of exchange), then launch into an overlong scenario about how it came to pass, one that will be chock-full of intrigue, double crossings, sex, financial manipulation on a world scale, sex, murders, more sex, and interlocking events that make a spider’s web appear to be heavy­ handed engineering. Condon, author of works including The Manchurian Candidate, made contemporary affairs as a series of plots within plots within plots his literary turf when Thomas Pynchon was still in short pants. Some, although kinky, are interesting exercises; Winter Kills, for example, is a rendition of the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories which not only co-opts the reigning ones, but does them one better. Unfortunately, Condon, with this, his 22nd book, seems to have become enthusiastically enamored of facts, figures, d moral perversions. The novel is a tabulation of events surrounding the Medicis (bankers are a favorite target for Condon) and the antipope John XXIII (picked, perhaps, rather than Benedict XIII because of his higher numeral, the highest in the Church until the bona fide John XXIII [1958-1963]). Typical of the approach in the novel is this rendering of a bit of local color:

[Snow] fell upon the thirty towers and gateways of the walled city of Konstanz, which had a population of six thousand people on the day Pope John XXIII entered the city. Two months later, by the end of the first week of January 1415, Konstanz had twenty thousand people; sixty thousand by the end of February the same year.

Lest any reader equipped with maps, a calculator, and a calendar have any doubts about the accuracy of this description Or about the value of the vast numbers of gold coins that are bandied about ( typically in the form of bribes), Condon appends a “Bibliographic Note” that lists works that can be consulted: “I’m legit,” Condon tacitly insists.

Condon doesn’t merely expose a man who apparently wore the cloth only for the sake of the collection plate and who preferred cavorting about beneath sheets; he renders the Church body as being cancerous through and through. Only a mind that sees all motives as being suspect and ultimately tainted by a rapacious selfishness could create such a blighted expanse that serves not   to instruct or entertain, but only to denigrate. Suspicion has not merely laid Condon low; it has figuratively buried him.  cc