THE BLACK BULL: ANOTHER VIEW THE BLACK BULL, a novel by Frank Goodwyn, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, New York. $3.95. ARLJN N I read The Black Bull well impressed and went to Austin, where Frank Goodwyn, the author, lived for a while and studied and taught. I talked with two people, for fun; and The Black Bull came up. One of those people was Ronnie Dugger, a good conversationalist, and editor of the current vanguard journal of the Southwest. He said that he threw The Black Bull down before he had finished the first chapter because it was full of cliches. I said it was a good book. He said review it for him; and when he wrote me to jack me up about the review, he referred to “The Black Cliche.” On my next trip to Austin I found Dugger had published another review panning The Black Bull for not being a novel. A cliche is a set expression, repeated without imagination or originality. There are places where Goodwyn could be given a traffic ticket for his kind of journalistic infraction. He is not guilty, however, of worse cliche sins, such as leading a cliche existence, uttering cliche ideas, ascribing to a cliche doctrine, or writing a cliche novel. If gustos should not be disputed, as they say, we cannot deny a man his right to his peculiar errors of opinion or taste: He can throw down The Black Bull or throw up a bowl of menudo; I will never be so small as to refuse to accept a drink from him. The author of The Black Bull did not go to any journalism school. In a sense he did not go to school at all. In his childhood, he became rooted deep, like the mesquite. in the King Ranch; and like the tree he grew an individuality that is difficult to control. They have machines as big as houses ploughing around on that ranch. but they can’t eradicate the mesquite. Growing up on the ranch. Goodwyn lived on coffee and canned milk, the way Mexican children do. in cow camps and in the brush. hearing and speaking nothing but Spanish as spoken by the border people that survive there. Goodwyn’s subsequent encounters with the outside world and its weather, such as a doctorate at University of Texas, had relatively little effect on him. He writes true books like The Black Bull about the King Ranch, where he learned what he knows; and such being the case, he is one of the few writers that make good use of their education. In Austin I also called on J. Frank Dobie, the man who has blazed the broadest trail for Southwestern writing. He is good to listen toor just to look at, for that matter. Dobie was strong for The Black Bull. He said that I was the only person he knew who had read it besides himself. He said he had just written Lon Tinkle, a Dallas critic, “If I kick off, I can do so with more satisfaction seeing what the young men are doing.” Dobie used to give Goodwyn some rough criticism when Goodwyn was writing his first novel, The Magic of Limping John. The Limping John novel was good, I thought, and so did Elmo Hegman, who has read everything printed in English, including The New York Times and The Texas Observer. But for some reason the other readers of the world did not show a similar interest in Goodwyn’s people from the Laureles pastures the way they have gone for, say, that Texas hill-billy a dog, Old Yeller. Limping John might have sold more if it had been illus trated, as Goodwyn wished, by the Texas Cruikshank, Robert Christian Eckhardt, instead of by some gal out of art school who had no more idea of the locale than, for instance, Edna Ferber or a Hollywood producer. Also publicity, the factor that determines the fate of so many social endeavors from elections to soap sales, was lacking. On the other hand, it could be that Goodwyn’s novel was too close to reality. The public is conditioned to expect a stereotype or cliche story rather than the more haphazard flow of events as they occur in Goodwyn’s books and in life. Next Goodwyn wrote a commercially more successful book, Life on the King Ranch, which to his dismay displeased the owners of the ranch that has shaped his life. Goodwyn was told by his former patron, “your life belongs to you and you can write anything about it you wish but the ranch belongs to me and you can’t write anything about it.” They were planning to have Tom Lea write the authoriied version to specifications \(now available The bosses of the King Ranch are wrong about books, especially if the book represents a man’s best effort to say truth. The ranch owners did well to wish Tom Lea to write about them, because Lea is a good writer, informed on the border, and a superb illustrator. But they made a mistake to pay him for it. His portrait of Captain Richard King, an interesting man, is free of cliches of phrase but adds up to cliche of public-relations writing. The King Ranch bull chasers of Goodwyn’s fiction will last longer. `Come to Life’ I didn’t expect The Black Bull to be so good as it is. I picked it up with interest, knowing that Goodwyn used to sing an interminable mournful ballad in Spanish. composed on the King Ranch, and called “El Toro Moro,” and knowing that what he wrote about the brush people was authentic. But I didn’t know that he had improved as a writer. When I last saw him about five years ago, he was under a pecan tree in Williamson County, naked except for a pair of cut-off pants, stretched almost horizontal, and typing ninety miles an hour. He had constructed a folding chair and low folding table that would slide over his unbelievably long gaunt classical cowboy chassis resting on the chair. On this went the typewriter. In the trunk of his car, which he had backed up to the tree, he had voluminous wooden card files constructed by himself, where he would record what he thought to be choice combinations of wordssometimes even lettersthought up early in the morning when he sprang out of bed with his mind afire. \(He did not use coffee prised to see how much Frank Goodwyn has learned. I wondered whether it was teaching at the University of Maryland, burying himself in the fabulous Library of Congress, turning out a million words, or just growing older that had improved his work. The plot of The Black Bull is simple. Two cowboys set out to catch a dangerous outlaw bull and their search discovers for the reader the lost distances and people of the ranch. Fauna, flora, cattle, cowboys, and guardians come to life. You feel an athletic compulsion to rope an animal that can kill you. The way and character of that hidden folk society, known by few people beyond its borders, is well recorded. As the bull trailers go deeper and deeper into the remote and bushy fastnesses of the ranch, the reader finds himself in a forgotten wonderland. They stop at the place of Don Faustino Fonseca, one of the keepers of a gate. “Snugly nestled among willows, mesquites, and smaller shrubbery, it contained all that was needed for the slow passing of lazy lives … Pigs grunted lazily in luxurious muddles under the leaky, dripping cistern. The windmill, an ancient Eclipse model with a slow-moving wooden wheel towering only a few feet AUSTIN \(At the recent University of Texas Conference on Texas Bywaters, director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and John Rosenfield, art and amusements critic of the Dallas Morning News, discussed Texas’s cultural resources. Here are excerpts from the Bywaters and Rosenfield reBywaters L For many decades after the effete East heard the first romantic reports of the great American West \(especially Texas and areas lived up to expectations. There were paintings of Indians on the plains, paintings of fandangos or the Alamo in Old San Antonio, antelope running against a background of the mountains in the Big Bend, fields of the gentle bluebonnets massed against the horizon of the hill country or most popular of all, hell for leather cow-pokes riding into the sunset. In the past two decades the situation has worsened, so to speak, so far as the art expected of us is concerned. In other words, there are far fewer pictures of cowboys and almost no Paintings of Indians. … But despite the flamboyant mixture of fact and fiction, of hickdom and oily sophistication consistently attributed to us by roving journalists, the production of art has had a glamorous history, with a most vigorous present, and the promise of a most satisfactory futureand the widespread interest in art in Texas is amazing to witness and a thrilling privilege to service, as we try to do at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. There are some evident and precise reasons for the vitality of contemporary art in Texas. First, the growth of art museums, university art departments, and public school art classes has produced over the past two decades an atmosphere of tolerance and interest in which the Texas artist has developed remarkably both in number and in qualityand this in spite of the fact that no museum and no art department in the state receives proper financial support as do science, business and engineering departments or law schools, education departments or even theological seminaries. To its great credit is the plan recently formed by the University of Texas for the construction of a new fine arts center and a university art museum. An interesting aspect of the strength of Texas artists is in their penchant for meeting life head on and rarely isolating themselves in ivory towers. Except for such individuals as the cigar-smoking Elisabet Ney, great early sculptress, few Texas artists have courted Bohemia. As a matter of fact, many of the most able artists in the State today have come to be in demand on architectural and industrial build pierced the air with lengthy, plaintive, lazy-sounding squeaks, as if in protest against the power of the wind that forced its turning … crickets shirred continuously, making the tree foliage crackle in the hot sun and glazy vapor like bacon crackling in hot grease. The monotony of their songs had such a sedative effect that to the accustomed ear it was more like silence than sound.” Goodwyn’s best chapter has to do with another happen-upon ing projects. Many new skyscrapers, banks, petroleum clubs or institutional buildings have their murals, mosaics, sculpture or even stained glass. More often than not these works are done by native artists who have found the tycoons of industry not much more demanding than the princes and churches of oldand much better paying. A most interesting development, along with all else mentioned above, has been the growth of the Texas collector of artsometimes fabulously wealthy and yet again no more wellheeled than the school teacher or a young doctor … … the collectors with the most independence … are acquiring works by Texas artists and really enjoying the experience. They are getting paintings for their homes when the same painting would cost them twice as much at a New York dealer, and they are buying paintings by the young and promising Texas artists to find most pleasantly that these artists’ works are jumping in price on the open market. When the young collectors cannot afford the full price of a painting it is very easy for them to arrange time payments with the artists or to rent a painting and if they care to keep the painting after several months of renting, the rental fee paid will apply toward the purchase price. Here, again, in this business of collecting art, the univerities have made their contribution by imparting to their graduates a feeling for the humanities to balance out the sciences; and the universities have made evident the soul’s desire to use art as a normal enrichment of every day living, and as a most rewarding experience for our increasing leisure hours. Today we find some 500 Texas citizens, both men and women, listed as artistsand at least 150 of these can conscientiously be called artists. Further, ten of these may honestly be listed among the 100 top flight artists in America today. … Texas artists have proVed themselves as capable as any of cerebration as well as technical proficiency. Fortunately there have been vigorous historical, environmental, and creative influences at work in Texas so we have had the combined classic approach which is essentially intellectual, together with a romantic quality of mystical reality. This could also be called a cornbination of universal plastic generalities and a particularization of human and geographical interests …” I Rosenfield … All Texans, save the Indians, came from somewhere else. Their instinct to express themselves in the arts was as early as their arrival, once food and shelter had been arranged. Their drives to develop audiences and support for the arts were mani fest from the beginning. And all denizen of those wilds. Don Agustin Mendoza is a 50-year-old blueeyed bachelor whose people had once owned the land and who lives with his books and guitar and philosophy and a remuda of fine horses. He rides with elegance of posture and costume. He sings with medieval beauty of word. He composes the Ballad of the Black Bull when he hears the events of the chase from the bull hunters. He entertains the passerby with a reading from Genesis and comments on several aspects of Man’s predicament. “The curse of our age comes from
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