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It is always difficult to characterize an issue of the "Advocate", taken as a whole. Yet, whether consciously intended by the editors or not, there is a certain unity in the April number, which can hardly be accidental. Possibly it is the mood in which the literary undergraduate is new working, possibly it may be traceable to the instruction in composition courses, for which many of the contributions appear to have been written. I should describe it as the awareness of contrast between the ordinary American life, and the vast complex of older, deeper, more heavily charged forces which impinge upon it everywhere. This contrast, it seems to me, is exploited, openly or tacitly, with real effect by practically all the contributors.
As a literary theme this is of course nothing new. When Mr. Brown's long poem "For the Ballet of Sulla" entwines rumba notes and jarring subway trains with rich musical echoes from the past, it is not unfair to say that its inspiration is the same as that of most youthful verse since "The Waste Land". It is gratifying, however, to find this motif displayed not banally or sensationally, but with true lyrical feeling in a profusion of really haunting evocations. Less ambitiously, and in a more quizzical mood, Mr. G. M. Messing has composed another modernistic elegy, based on Jewish ceremonial, "The Wailing Wall".
In the fiction the elegiac note is absent, but the same restrained exoticism still appears. Each of the stories is good, but the only one which seems to emerge from the level of distinguished composition-class work is "Another Country" by John M. Cunningham. Setting the Sciltan Mafia on an American water-front, it builds with almost unfailing crescendo, a sequence of extortion, intimidation and violent death. "The Blue Bird" by H. P. Coolidge places a troupe of Russian ballet dancers in an American hotel and sketches with humor and feeling the aversion of a lesser Nijinsky tragedy. The third fictional item, "I said my Penance" by Peul Clark, is a light, almost New-Yorkerish vignette of a Catholic college student setting his rather elastic conscience aright for "Easter duty".
Without forcing it might be said that the same pre-occupation with contrast invades even the non-fictional prose or this issue. The book reviews are filled with the problems of perversion and suffering, literary experiment and revolution, frustration and release. But the most comprehensive discontent is expressed in a lengthy article by Arthur Rosenbloom, "Hara-kiri in the Ivory Tower". Mr. Rosenbloom uses the Harvard Tercentenary Conference on Arts and Sciences as his springboard, and from it launches into a vehement stream of reflections on the plight of the modern academic intellectual. Exposing with more vigor than originality the impotence of idealistic reformers, he concludes "If the intellectuals are faced with the alternative of continuing their search for the truth or setting the world free, they had better choose the truth or they will have neither truth not freedom." I have no intention of denying the seriousness of this problem,-it depresses us all,-but I doubt whether Mr. Rosenbloom is justified in criticizing the Tercentenary Conference on the basis of a program ascribed to it, as far as I can make out, by journalists in the "New York Times". Just what that conference was intended to illustrate, and what it actually achieved, had better be decided by future historians of Harvard.
To conclude I should like to praise two contributions by John Day which fall somewhat outside the unity I have attempted to see in this issue. One is a review of "The Late George Apley", the other a well-buttressed sensible plea for the creation of an athletic endowment fund at Harvard. If undergraduate criticism of academic administration were always as judicious as this last, it might become an instrument of real service to the University.
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