Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Reporter - Part 4: September 8, 1955


As the banner on the cover indicates, the September 8, 1955 issue of The Reporter focuses on New York City. While living there, I never found the City to be colorful in quite the same way as suggested by the cover art. Color me concrete and soot. This issue also has several articles about the on-going Geneva Conferences (1954, 1955) and other aspects of then contemporary Cold War geo-politics. Interesting history, but this time I am going to concentrate on the magazine’s coverage of things cultural. As a dim reflection of what is going on in Arizona today, however, I will quote this one bit about the demographic makeup of New York City in 1955:

A generation ago, a rule of thumb had it that the city was a third Jewish, a third Protestant, and a third Catholic. Today, the best estimate of New York’s population puts Catholics at fifty-two per cent, Jews at twenty-five, Protestants at twenty-three—which, on the surface, would support the politician’s dictum that the Catholic Church is the greatest single power in municipal politics. …While Protestant migration to the suburbs has been heaviest, Negro Protestants have largely replaced white Protestants in the city’s percentages. …Meanwhile New York’s largest single ethnic group remains its two million Jews, closely followed by its Italians, and then the Irish and the Germans, who in turn are followed by eight hundred thousand Negroes. …The Puerto Rican…is the city’s biggest emotional problem if not its biggest administrative one. …In a city smarting with so many irritants, angry at dirt, traffic, taxes, and crowding, a scapegoat has had to be found, and the Puerto Rican fills the role currently. He is the one who is cursed when a middle-class neighborhood starts to crumble. His “Bodega Latina” and “Carniceria Hispaniola” are banners announcing to residents that the “invasion” has begun.

And so it goes.

As a novelist, Aldous Huxley is probably best known today for his futuristic fable, Brave New World. As compared to his entire oeuvre, however, Brave New World cannot be evaluated as artistically among the best of his works of fiction. We will briefly discuss below another of his novels.

Huxley happens to have died on November 22, 1963—the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That seems a long time ago. It feels somewhat strange to be holding in one’s hands an issue of a magazine containing a review of a new novel by Huxley; one written when he was younger than I am now. The novel is The Genius and the Goddess. I’ve never read it, and probably never will. The review is by our common thread in this collection of The Reporter, Sydney Alexander. He didn’t much care for the novel, but didn’t want to trash it either. Call the review lukewarm. I will quote in full only the opening and the penultimate paragraphs:

For openers:

The phases of Aldous Huxley, like those of the moon, are luminous dialogues between the powers of light and the powers of darkness. Darkness is human bondage, the flesh; light is nonattachment, an apprehension of the Highest Common Denominator, the metaphysical Ground. Over a long and prolific writing career Huxley has stressed first one and then the other of these terms: sense and spirit, flesh and soul—back and forth in his erudite, witty, and abstract mind has shuttled as if between two ancestors: his Darwinian grandfather, T.H. Huxley, and his pedagogical great-grandfather, Dr. Thomas Arnold.

And toward summing up:

… [T]here has always seemed to be an air of meretriciousness when westerners drink their deepest draughts from Oriental wells. One wonders how much of the cosmic jag results from the exoticism of the liquor. The Huxley in California with its Bahai temples and musical cemeteries and kidney-shaped swimming pools, the Huxley at the corner of Hollywood and Heard—somehow it was difficult not to wonder whether his flights into Nirvana weren’t really rope tricks. Philosophy may be perennial, and the metaphysic Ground may know no East or West. Nevertheless an Englishman in a loincloth is ridiculous.

To be fair to both Huxley and Alexander, the final sentence of this review is:

For the first time we feel that Aldous Huxley has not tried to be clever; for the first time he bows his head and is as mired as the rest of us in the human condition.

This magazine also uses the occasion of the Second Annual Newport Jazz festival (only the second! imagine that!) to launch an article on the advent of “serious jazz scholarship.” This is “serious,” one concludes, as opposed to “shouting, stomping, or cries of “Go, man, go!” To prove that jazz has become worthy of intellectual, highbrow, consideration, the author points out that, “There are record albums entitled ‘Annotations of the Muses,’ ‘Badinage,’ and ‘Innovations in Modern Music.’ Single compositions have titles like ‘Thelonius Epistrophy,’ (sic?) ‘Euphoria,’ ‘Cyclotron,’ ‘Fugetta,’ and ‘Futurity.’

Fugettaboudit. This reporter was obviously sans clue. So, moving right along…

Another book review, perhaps the most striking piece in this issue, is of Dr. Michihiko Hachiya’s Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician: August 6—September 30, 1945. Below, an excerpt from the review:

When the bomb fell Dr. Hachiya was badly wounded, but that is not quite the way to say it, for he did not know that a bomb had fallen; he was aware only of a bright flash of light, that his house was collapsing, that he was pulling a piece of broken glass from his throat, that the flesh had been torn from one thigh, and that he was stark naked: “…although I did not feel the least bit of shame, I was disturbed to realize that modesty had deserted me.” With his wife he made his way…to the hospital of which he was the director. He came upon a soldier standing with a towel slung over his shoulder. He asked for the towel to use as a loincloth and the soldier gave it to him but did not say a word. On that day no one said anything. He lost the towel and his wife gave him her apron. Before he reached the hospital he fainted. …the dying and the dead lay in filth in the rooms, the corridors, the entrances, and out of doors. They carried the dead out when they could, cremating them on makeshift pyres. …The stench was all-pervasive… Dr. Hachiya bowed to the dead. He regretted the absence of priests and fitting ceremonial. …His duty was to the living. Despite his physical weakness as the result of his wounds, and his instinctive desire to flee the dead city with his wife, he accepted his duty. That is why Dr. Hachiya’s diary is so proud a testimonial to man’s courage in adversity.

And you thought you were having a bad day.