Page 3


sense of Morris wanting anything, much less of him not getting it. The whole affair has been made so pleasant, so congenial, that occasionally you feel like you are being led through a palatial nursery by an intelligent child who is showing you the amusing toys: “Now, here is a funny old oil and gas lobbyist. If you punch him here, he’ll make a funny noise.” When the book is funny, though, it is very, very funny. The account of the young Morris as baseball prophet of Yazoo City is worth the price of the book; as is editor Morris’ adventures with the John Birch Society of Austin. The tone is genuinely humorous in these passages, relaxed and sure of its control over the effects. The sections dealing with death and violence are less successful. There is a considerable difference between stopping just short of Sentimentality and pushing on through into almost inhuman ramifications of violence and death. Morris chooses diffidence in every case, and only in one scene early in the book are the stark unreconcilable necessities and complexities of death and living in the South developed. In this account of his experiences as bugler for military funerals during the Korean War there is an urgency which disappears, or is submerged for the rest of the book. Later, as editor of the Observer, dealing every day with the fathers of. boys killed in that war, the tone of the narrative has changed radically. We have moved, it seems, from Sartoris to The Gay Place as Morris moved from Mississippi to Texas. THE FINAL section of the memoir describing Morris’ adjustment to New York is by far the most difficult part of the book to come to terms with, at least for me. Morris doesn’t really come to terms with it himself, but his failure is understandable. First, adjusting to an intellectual community is an intellectual operation, and Morris isn’t really interested in describing that operation for us; secondly, he is now writing about people with whom he has to work, so he is somewhat less than candid in his discussion. What discussion we do get, though, illustrates the danger of an intellectual community far better, it seems, than Morris explains. Simply stated “intellectuality” and “community” rarely go together, and anyOne who moves into the “Big Cave,” as Morris calls New York, finds himself more in need of friends than of intellectual stimulation. This is just as well because the nice guys are not necessarily the smart ones, or the talented ones, or the ones who are thinking out where the thinking is very difficult. Nor are the smart ones necessarily nice. Living in the province tends to make you as arrogant and timorous as the only lady in Fargo who reads Proust, but it does give you the opportunity to read Susan Sontag without lighting her cigarettes, and to swear at Mailer without having to fight a duel. Now Morris quite rightly points out that people like Kazin and Podhoretz were playing Stalin and Trotsky while we provincial waifs were still playing Cowboys and Indians; what he doesn’t point out is that most of that community is still playing Stalin and Trotsky, in various guises, so that moving from the University of Texas to Commentary doesn’t involve such a great leap after all. You go from 1910 to 1936 and the rents are higher. To be able to take issue with Morris at this point is really comforting. Since he is so nearly my contemporary it is a real pleasure to draw a generation line behind him. When he talks about intellectual fashion in New York, he always distinguishes between the more “serious” Jewish intellectuals and the so-called “popnihilists.” He comes down very heavily with Kazin and Podhoretz, for humanity in art, liberalism in politics, and for less concern with the technical and systematic aspects of living. We must not see the same world; in fact, I’m sure we don’t. The world I see has been drenched with melodrama. World affairs are analysed us ing the same discipline associate professors apply to minor Victorian novels. The news from Vietnam is modeled on Hemingway. The news from Washington on Faulkner. John Chancellor sounds like Walter Kerr, and Eric Sevareid like Judith Crist. Every nominal item from the smallest rock to the worst novel to the President’s gall has “significance” and is worthy of “commentary.” We have endowed a covey of moderately intelligent men with fair undergraduate educations with the right to utter prophecy in “intellectual” magazines, and naturally they do. Seriously, men who have read The Soft Machine discuss the impact of the computer; polemically, men who have retained their integrity much the way a steer retains his chastity explain the’ future of democracy in the modern world; angrily, they hurl their thunderbolts of post-existential humanism into the computerized type-setter to be mailed electronically across the nation, zip-code properly applied; earnestly they pray that the quality of American life can be brought up to their standards, but no higher or they might have to go back to school. If it was good enough for Trotsky …. In a milieu like this, it would seem, anyone, pop-nihilist or not, who tries to rescue time and space from its almost insufferable burden of commentary and sensibility, is doing something worthwhile. Whether the technical jargon Morris deplores in the text of North Toward Home or the evaluative splashes on its cover constitute a worse corruption of the language can be argued both ways. I would say the blurbs are worse, since they debilitate our capacity for judgment and force us to read a book which cares for language in a distorted atmosphere. Given a choice between a technical fact and a beautiful lie in 1945, I would have taken the beautiful lie. Now I will take the fact. Beautiful lies are a drug on the market, and Icarus, after all, didn’t fall because of any lack of will or courage or grace or humanity. He fell because he didn’t know the physical characteristics of wax. 0 Willie Morris in Texas Austin The almost irresistible tendency for Texans reading Willie Morris’ North Toward Home will be to start out in the middle of the book, the Texas section. But I counsel against that; knowing something of Willie’s early life in Mississippi makes his Texas adventures more meaningful. There are many well-told tales of Texas public life in this book, a number of which will be familiar to Texans but which are brought vividly alive by Willie’s engaging style. And there is some new material about Texans in public life. For example, there is the story of Bill Moyers, in early 1964, while Moyers was Johnson’s closest adviser, asking Willie: “You know The Texas Observer the difference between [John] Connally and [Lyndon] Johnson? Connally wants to be lionized in the best country clubs in Fort Worth and Dallas. Johnson wants to be the best President in the history of the United States.” Willie had been asked if he would consider joining LBJ’s staff. Since some uncomplimentary remarks have appeared in the Observer about LBJ, Morris asked Moyers if the President knew Willie had been asked about the job. “As a matter of fact, I brought it up just the other day,” Moyers said. “What did he say?” Willie asked. “I asked him if he remembered you, and he said, ‘Wasn’t he one of those Texas Observer boys?’ and I said yes.” “And what did he say then?” “He said, ‘Those Texas Observer boys haven’t ever been good to me’.” Willie was asked by Moyers to consider the job offer but, as it developed, heard no more of it afterwards. “As one of the Texas Observer boys, it was undoubtedly just as well,” Morris writes. My favorite passage in the book is one which vividly and eloquently catches the essence of what the liberals’ presence used to mean in the Texas House of ,Representatives: “… Sometimes, by surprise, on some lazy afternoon the chamber would suddenly break into eloquent, angry exchanges, going straight to the dilemmas of our politics. The bill under debate