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The Summer Advocate

From The Shelf

By Max Byrd.

The editors of the Advocate did not plan this issue around a single theme, but the magazine's tone is consistent. The tone has to do with sex--sloppy sex. If there is a puddle school of Cambridge photography, there seems also to be a crotch school of Cambridge writing. The old pendulum of emphasis has swung with a vengeance in the past few decades from Victorian modesty to paperback love; it has not been a desirable move. A passage like, "I learned my first great lesson in love one afternoon when I came upon my mother curled in a corner of a basement plugging herself with an oiled corncob" (from Joe Porter's The Last Muscle) makes one suspect some sort of mental sanitation problem over at Advocate House.

Pointless writing like that--and examples could be taken from almost every piece in the issue--is not only offensive, it is also dull. One thinks of Harry Truman's reaction to the Follies Bergere: "It was okay for the first few minutes, but you get tired of watching a lot of naked women bounce around after a while." The editors and the writers will undoubtedly insist that their frankness shows life as it is, that openness about sex belongs to the new trend in literature, and that the artist must be honest. Few would disagree with them. But proportion, gentlemen, proportion. The artist can be honest about other things as well. Exhibitionism is quite as distasteful in literature as anywhere else. If the undergraduate writer cannot do more than parade neuroses across the printed page, he fits Faulkner's definition of failure: "He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands."

Where proportion is observed, however, the writing in The Advocate is impressive. I mean particularly the prose of Gerald Hillman, George Horowitz, and Donald Bloch, and some scattered poems.

In an excerpt from a novel, Horowitz accomplishes the difficult job of having a character inside the story relate another story; a slight stiffness of style hardly detracts from the chapter's interest. Hillman displays a flair for style with his first sentence: "Jo swept in with a querulous wind, she all flushed and gasping, it cold." Donald Bloch's "Metasis," although hard to follow, is eminently readable.

Most of the poetry suffers from comparison with the prose, largely because it is so much less coherent. Sidney Goldfarb writes vividly and sometimes powerfully, as in "This You Told Me." But with most of the poems one is not always certain, after reading, just what they were about. Robert Dawson's "The Troll at the Toll," whether or not one understands it (I don't), is great fun.

This Advocate runs to better than ninety pages and includes nineteen different authors, among them several professionals: Brother Antoninus, William Burroughs, and Norman Mailer. Their names may sell copies and most the magazine's prestige, but The Advocate is--or ought to be--Harvard's literary magazine, not a rough draft of The New Yorker. This issue is good enough to stand by itself, without professionals.

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