i.e. The Cambridge Review
On the Shelf
Blazing garishly in a speckled yellow cover, the fifth issue of i.e. is large not only in bulk (152 pp.) but in the range of its contents. Moreover, it combines quality and provocativeness more successfully than any of the previous numbers, and states more clearly its present situation in its quest for a point of view.
The quantity and diversity of material in the present issue make it rather difficult to approaching a general way. The magazine is ostensibly dedicated to the memory of James Agee, and the excerpts from his unfinished and as yet unpublished novel, A Death in the Family, certainly make up the most distinguished body of fiction that the editors have yet presented. On the other hand, there is considerable emphasis on the works--fiction and essay--of the New York writer Paul Goodman, whose writing has appeared in previous issues.
Agee's reminiscences of a young boy in Knoxville some forty years ago have a sweet moodiness, poignantly illuminated with bright and powerful descriptive flashes. The prose has a rather softly persuasive rhythm, and blends the specific qualities of sight and sound and feeling with the dreamlike removal of remembered childhood. "(He) mused with half-closed eyes which went in and out of focus with sleepiness, upon the slow twinkling of the millions of heavy leaves on the trees and the slow flashing of the blades of the corn...and everything hung dreaming in a shining silver haze..." In his treatment of the boy's father's Agee shows a sure power of characterization, even in these few pages, which is nearly equal to his descriptive skill. The only possible complaint is that more space was not devoted to these excerpts.
Encouragingly, however, the issue contains still more excellent fiction--selections again, from a novel in progress by James Reichley. The three sections, which appear here under the title "Shimonis," sketch quickly and incisively the character of a young, aggressive politician and the small Pennsylvania city in which he lives. Reichley's staccato prose is full of the broken rhythms of speech and laughter which fill the words with energy until they seem ready to burst from the page with excitement. Sometimes callous, sometimes raucous, always to the point, his style is very far from Agee's, and in its way is effective and gripping.
Turning from the issue's highly satisfactory fiction, we find that its most important preoccupations with the problem of the academician's function. Paul Goodman's article, "The Freedom to Be Academic," is an interesting if somewhat briefly presented reaction to the problem of anxiety in university faculties. Using two recent books on the academic freedom issue as a starting point, Goodman argues for the greater commitment of both teacher and student in the academic relationship. His insistence on the need of dedication to propositions is echoed by the editors of i.e. in their editorial, "The Place of Opposition": "A society of no open conflicts, where gossip is the only expression of feeling, is unhealthy. If an emotion does not exhaust itself on its proper object, it can never exhaust itself and becomes an endless spin of talk. We need more directness, more active awareness."
The issue of apathy versus commitment which appears here is important and provocative--especially, as the editors seem fully aware, in the context of the Harvard community. Goodman's article unfortunately verges on the hodge-podge; he has tied to include and compress too much, and the result, although tantalizing, is not satisfactory in toto.
Goodman's other work in this issue consists of a short story and a series of tangled aphorisms. The story, while clever, is unimportant. The aphorisms, much too heavily burdened with the jargon of the psyche, seem on the verge of saying something. Perhaps they do, but for most readers they will be unrewarding.
The crannies of the magazine are filled by book reviews, undistinguished poetry, and a series of fine photographs by Walker Evans. Evans' pictures of subway faces--taken 16 years ago--are not only handsome in their own right, but complement the issue thematically because of the photographer's collaboration with Agee.
Evans' style is related to Brady and Atget in respect to his clear delineation of form and his almost exclusive use of the point in space rather than the point in time as the means of expression. In this respect he is quite different from Henri Cartier-Bresson, who has developed the "Decisive Moment" with such skill that it almost seems the only means by which a photograph may be constructed.
Since the moment is not the essential of only one picture, the series is able to gain meaning from the shifting viewpoints, all similar and all of similar subjects. The photographs do not merely record unusual faces of unusual expressions. Rather, Evans has succeeded in taking the common man on the common man's transportation and giving him unusual depth.
A general approach to the fifth number of i.e. is hard to find. But this is feeble criticism. The outstanding quality of the fiction, the imaginative inclusion of the photographs, and the greatly clarified presentation of the magazine's developing point of view clearly make this the most successful issue to date. It is fair to point out that some justly object to the magazine's claim to be a Cambridge review, at least on the grounds of its sources. Still, its attempt to reflect a considered stand on the problems of the academic community seems to give it a vitality of interest which overrides this criticism. When it escapes obscurity, it is a thought-provoking job.