As others read us: American fiction abroad; John Dos Passos, part one
This is the fourth in a series of programs untitled as others read us American fiction abroad produced and recorded by the Literary Society of the University of Massachusetts under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. The subject of this hour's discussion is the work of the American novelist John Dos Passos. We should be particularly concerned with the impact of his writing on foreign readers participants on this program our Mr Dos Passos himself and two of his most perceptive critics Mr. Harry Levin and Mr. Maurice gun drill. Moderator for the discussion will be Mr. Seymour Rhoden of the University of Massachusetts English department. Mr. Brill thank you Mr. Nader. Man I begin by introducing the participants in our discussion. John Dos Passos has long been regarded on both sides of the Atlantic as a major figure in the history of American literature is the
author of a long list of distinguished novels and of much nonfiction among his novels are three soldiers Manhattan Transfer the celebrated trilogy USA comprising the forty second parallel 1999 the big money which offers a multi-leveled picture of American society from before World War 1 through the 20s his second brother Gerry the District of Columbia contains the works published separately as adventures of a young man number one and the Grand Design. One of his more recent novels is chosen country is critical in historical writing includes journeys between wars. The ground we stand on tour of the head and heart of Jefferson and the recently published The theme is freedom. Of the critics who are in love then professor of comparative literature at Harvard University is well-known for his critical treatment of such varied figures as Christopher Marlowe. But as I stand out and James Joyce he is a celebrated teacher and student of the modern novel. Well he's kwento born in France is professor of romance
languages at Princeton University. He has written an author or date of study of modern French drama and titled it The Weight. Mr. Cuomo is also a critic and translator of American literature. His volume to me again interprets our literature for the French reading public. Most of this process I wonder whether as a way into a discussion of your work you might be willing to give us a general statement giving us the principles that have guided your work throughout your career. That is what you consider to have been the things that you have tried to do in American fiction both from the point of view of content and and from the point of view of that of technique. When I started Manhattan Transfer 30 or more years ago my aim was to contrive a highly energized sort of no. I wanted to find some way of making the narrative carry a very large load instead of far away and low ago I wanted to be here and now.
A good deal of the French an Italian writing that fell into my hands when I was serving the ambulance service. You're the first of the Great War was headed in the same direction. The Italian Futurist the freshman of the school Rambo the scraps of verse of the poets who went along with Cuba has been trying to do something that stood up off the page. So I'm limited because of it. I've got I've been very much affected by the sort of novel it's known doll originated in French with a sharp burst of power exactly in English with that affair. I remember reading Vanity Fair for the tenth time rather early in my life. After that I lost count. It was the sort of novel where the story is really a pretext for the presentation of a slice of history not only to seen an active voice on Mars to personal inventions keep moving with the social Chronicle historic events dimly imagine misunderstood incompletely and in vision take the place of the Olympians of the ancient drama. I read James Joyce's Ulysses
a little later on my way home from Europe with a bad case of fluid torn inside Capital One of the big English letters I got linked in my mind with Tristram Shandy which tried to make his narrative carry a very large load. I've sometimes taken with the meticulous discipline of the force narratives and feelings and modest rollicking satire. Cause I have to admit that feeling smart really came to be through all Capt. Marriott sea stories gave me infinite pleasure without a small boy I dreamed of using whatever all these methods to produce to chronicle the world I knew. I felt everything should go in popular songs political aspirations and prejudices ideals delusions clippings out of old newspapers the raw material of this sort of fiction is everything you seen and heard and felt. Your childhood your education in serving the army and traveling at odd places and find yourself in odd situations. It's those rare moments of suffering in delight when a man's private sensations are amplified lit
illuminated by a flash inside that give him the certainty that what he is seeing and feeling is what millions of his fellow men see and feel in the same situation. This sort of universal experience is the raw material of all the imaginative arts these flashes of insight when strong emotions all perceptions up to the highest point of the nuggets of pure gold. They are rare even in the lives of great poets. The judgment of the arts have to eat them out with lower quality all and not have to use all the stories people tell about themselves or their little dramas and other people's lives he gets glimpses out without doing just what went before. I just woke up after the fragments of talk you over here in the subway or on a street car that he picks up on a street address by one unknown character to another. The words on a scrap of paper fall into trash basket the occasional visitors of reality the flash from the mechanical diction of newspaper reports these are the old materials the
chronicles of your own time are made up of no matter how much leg work you do. You can see it all yourself. You're dealing with scraps and fragments. A lot of it has to be second hand. The fictional imagination depends on being able to reconstruct a whole and see an animal from a tooth and toenail to the splendor of SCO. Of course sometimes you go wrong back after apologists who fell for Piltdown Man. It was that sort of impulse the producer for USA novels. Somewhere along the line I've been impressed by contrived documentaries So just because a Potemkin montage was the word used in those days to describe the juxtaposition of contrasting scenes in motion pictures the montage to try to make the narrative stand up off the page in the next step in the Columbia novels I was trying to fuse the whole thing in your single follow up narrative with more emphasis maybe on the satirical in Tate enjoying country. I try to make the current of the narrative even more
advance intelligence that very different from the continual present tense of a gnat and drags for an USA and so it goes. Thank you very much Mr. Kurtz past aside I think that the statement you've given us of what you've been trying to do can help us understand what you have in fact achieved in the novels and I'd like to throw the discussion open up to you and to Mr. love animistic Andro in an attempt to find out what it is that your work has meant both in this country and abroad. I wonder whether Mr. Levin might start us off. I am being praised by Mr Dos Passos statement not only as an indication of his own intentions and achievements in the novel but as a good statement of what every good novelist achieves from the time of the first novelist. There are volunteers that was precisely what he was. G.V. he was moving away from the far and away from the far away
and long ago as it was in his day in the romance to the here and now of these times. But since time moves on that has to be done by each novelist in turn and I know of no one who has done it more comprehensively or with more observant detail than Mr. process for our time and place. I feel that I am perhaps the only one here who is not an authority on our subject in one way or another. But I can speak as one who was in college at the time that the USA trilogy was appearing and I can speak of how much it meant in putting together what seemed to be the contradictions in the world we were growing up into. The twenties had had their satirists especially Sinclair Lewis in fiction. They had written lightly and without perhaps the counterbalance of values. And that was what we found I think beside the broad panorama of our world. Accurate at all the points where we could test it
and goings on much farther beyond in Mr Dos Passos his work and we found a framework put together a conception that we could understand. I wonder whether you might give us a little clearer idea of what conception that is that you say you feel underlay a mischievous process contribution to our understanding of our own country. If I had to put the spotlight on one of the many brilliant and perceptive historical portraits that are interspersed throughout the book it would be that of Thorsteinn blood as Mr Dos Passos present see of me in the passage and titled I believe the bitter drink the bitter drink gives hemlock but unlike SOCRATES He does not take it at the end of his life he doles it out little by little in the bitter wisdom be as learned as an observer. Half an outsider looking at American society it seems to me that the values that
the book presents are not as was commonly supposed at one time. The values of Karl Marx but rather those of Thorsteinn Ventnor Evelyn's acute social criticism. Is a critique of the leisure class and what is taught us to call conspicuous consumption. All these things realize of concrete lead by Mr close passes in his social panorama. These were counter weighted what by what vessel called the instinct for workmanship is. And here I think is a sense of the potentiality of American life which also comes through along with the social protest I think it is dramatized in the tragic figure of. Charlie Anderson an inventor figure full of potentiality and yet tragically caught up becoming a playboy caught finally in a tangle of ticker tape in the room and the depression I think it is dramatized even in a little vignette at the end of the trilogy
where you have the contrast between the executive riding in the airplane luxuriously over head and being forced to give up his luxuries for lunch while you have the young young boy unemployed as a vagrant. But still hopeful. Trying to thumb a ride on the road below. Mr those passes I wonder whether you might have some comment on the valuable insights that Mr Levin has given us. I was very much more influenced by by Karl Marx because I must say I read the bill before I read Marx and it was much more like da. I wonder Mr. Quadro whether we've been talking about them as dust passes earlier work primarily especially the USA trilogy where you might begin to give us some notion of how this was received and felt by perceptive readers in Europe as Mr. Levin has given us a notion of how it was
received by perceptive readers in this country. Yes size thing I can say that the great interest that Europe took in Mr. Dunn's past was an early work ethic comes from the fact that Mr Dos Passos for the first time showed European countries and I'm thinking particularly of my native country what American life was what the Americans were how they lived how they suffered and for the first time we had the feeling that we had someone who had opened his eyes clearly without any fear and knew perfectly well by giving us exactly the life and thinking of Manhattan Transfer the life of New York with all its beauty and its a Guinness. He was doing to his country a great service because there was no Mormons understanding and we knew that across the ocean.
Human beings were after all exactly the same that you are something which until then was a little bit doubtful in the mind of a great many Europeans who had had practically no opportunity to judge Americans except through extremely wealthy one used to spend hours and we had no idea of what a real American was what real American life was. You would say then that Mr Dos Passos was uniquely able to to make us Americans available so to speak to the European public. Perhaps in a way that but no American writer had quite done before. That's right and I think that he also did a great service to the other writers. I remember reading when after a Manhattan Transfer was published reading a very interesting and almost moving article by
Sinclair Lewis lasting value is that list of those passes in Manhattan Transfer has done what we all try to do and didn't succeed and I think that's exactly what the European leaders were waiting for. We later I may have the opportunity to talk about the fact that in France particularly the climate was the atmosphere was ready to accept a book like Manhattan Transfer. Just at that time had been certain movements certain tendencies in French literature which aimed towards a book like this and the proof is later are books that have got almost a similar technique. Although enlarged to the proportions of say the men of good will are if you don't really come out of the midst of those passengers. Innovations whether
the impact of Mr. bus passes work is judged in terms of its effect on this country or on Europe but I think most of us who've been reading him and reading about him for most of our lives are aware that at least one thing that has been said repeatedly about his work I think is that his early work was grounded in a sense in what might be called a face in in the possibility of a social revolution a faith in protest so to speak. And I wondered whether looking back on his work at this point there might be any hindsight's on this as a as a decent way of understanding let's say the dust process of us. I wonder Mr. Levin whether you you might have some comment on that attitude toward us pastors. I think it still is in some respects of course the novel has moved away from the social and political sphere. I expected to move back again. One of the many remarks in Mr Dos Passos initial statement that
impressed me had to do with his reading of various historical novels and their early impact on him and clearly that has shaped his intention and and colored his achievement. A good deal of the impact of public events song private lives which Tolstoy has simply spread before us. War and Peace that has to be done again and again as history moves on. I think that anyone with a sense of history. Or perhaps I should put it this way that we are indebted we are indebted to Mr Dos Passos for our sense of history. Those of us who have grown up in this country in this century. Mr. best process in your recent collection of essays the famous freedom you suggest among many other interesting points but so many of the terms that were used in reference to your work and to much other literature say in the
30s like radical terms a literature of protest etc. no longer have the kind of meaning no longer can serve as a way of understanding those words in the way in which they once did not. I wonder whether you you might have glorified that aspect of looking back at your earlier work for us a bit. We are indeed the people who consider themselves radical say the 20s now in the position of being somewhat hoist by our own petard because we you know. We find holding drainage glass of officeholders more or less using the phraseology of of the socialist protest as the commonplace language of the day so that it seems we now have to sharpen our dives in a somewhat different form.
But I think I might say I just think you looking through these books so that we have our table or some of them I haven't seen for a great many years. I rather doubt if the social protest note hasn't been somewhat exaggerated by the critics stormed out to say his novels was saturated with the Napoleonic wars and with the with it a strange way with characters Poleon at the same time you certainly can't think of stormed out as of have again used for any particular phase of the political movements of that time and I think as we get away from the political passions of the period of the 20s it may turn out that some of the books that we're talking about. Would no doubt use the propaganda
effect but I think it was rather the novelist's aim was what dominant than that of the soap box art. I am quite sure all of us would be willing to agree to that judgement of your work certainly. We've been talking about your work dealing with the America of the 20s and the period immediately before and I wonder whether we might not find it useful at this point to hear you read an excerpt from just such a work to give us a little more clearly. Some of the things you were actually writing in those years about this country. I'm thinking specifically of the passage in the USA concerned with Eugene Debs and I wonder Mr. Levin whether you might just briefly tell us what place that passage has been. Mr Dos Passos work is a hole that is in the novel. As I recall he is the first of the series of biographies of actual figures representative Americans
of the years of the early years of the 20th century which are presented interspersed with the other presentational devices and more particularly the large sections of imaginative prose in which the lives of the various fictitious characters are introduced and followed through. It seems to me quite significant that Eugene Debs that now perhaps a half forgotten is the first of the series and that the book develops under the aegis. So to speak of his social protest and political idealism. Then as I remember we take up the life of a character named Makem in boyhood with the traditions of Irish revolution behind him and and followed his adventures among the other under-privileged his own
mental development to the stage where he becomes interested in various radical doctrines. There was a railroad man born in a weatherboard were born in a weatherboard shack at Terre Haute. He was one of 10 children. His father to come to America in a sailing ship in 49 now station from korma. Not much of a money maker lot of musical reading Give me a drop of a chance to finish public school that is about all he could do to 50 Gene Debs was already working as a machinist in Indianapolis and her whole career way. He worked as a real locomotive fireman clerk in a store joined the local of the Brotherhood of Locomotive fireman with elected secretary. Traveled all over the country is organizing troller shareable footed bear he had a sort of gusty rhetoric that said her father illegal workers railroad workers in their pilot boarded holes made them walk the world he wanted a world brothers my old where everybody would spin even
I'm not a labor leader. I don't want you to follow me about it or anyone else. If you're looking for Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness he will stay right where you are I would not lead you into this promised land if I could but if I let you in somebody else will lead you out. That is how I talk to freight handlers and Gary walkers the fireman switchman engineers telling them it wasn't enough to organize the railroad men that all workers must be organized or works to be organized. The workers Co-operative Commonwealth overboard if I went on many a long nights run under the smoke of fire burned him up but gusty would be behind boarded horses. He wanted his brother to be a free man. Then when he saw the crowd met him at the all well Street people when he came out of jail after the Pullman strike they were the men chalked up 900000 votes for a movie night. 12 and scared the frock coats of the top hats and Diamond hostesses its article was pretty good with the body of a socialist president.
But where would you bring in brothers in 1985 when Woodrow Wilson had him locked up at Latham for speaking out against war. Where were the big men fart of whiskey and fart of each other. Gentle rambling tellers of stories or bars of small towns in the Middle West wideband who wanted a house with a porch a power outage a fat wife to cook for them a few drinks cigars a garden to dig a little rag with him wanted what Freud and others to work for it. Where were the locomotive foreign engineers with a hospital after Atlanta potential. And they brought him back to die in Terre Haute to sit on his porch and Rocco is a goddess by the side of American Beauty who is his wife fixed and bore the people of Tara hold the people of Indiana. People have been a West were fond of him and afraid of him and thought of him as a door card they are called love them and want to be with him and I would give them candy. But they were afraid of him. As if you can track your silver disease syphilis or leprosy. I thought it was too bad but on account of the flatted
prosperity and making the world safe for democracy they were afraid to be with him but I think much of our people fear they might believe what he said. While there is a lower class of it while there's a criminal class I have argued well there's a soul in prison I would not free. So I wonder Mr. quandary whether you might tell us what it was that Europe thought of this picture of the United States when it read this picture of Mr. Dos Passos novels. But I think Europe didn't pay very much attention to the fact that the character was a radical. They were much more interested in the fact that the connector was human and that's that human quality. I think that appeals particularly to the readers at the time that the early work of mist of the past of course but just what makes me believe there is is the fact that I don't think that the reputation of Mr. dispassionate has
increased after his novels became more our floor of political content. So although there were always novels we asked us any novels you have read but a great many things which dealt with politics. Fight obscured off our European readers the way I did many things which they didn't know exactly what it was about. But what remained was the literary quality and I don't think that Mr. Dobbs passers would mind if I say that first of all above all in Europe he is considered considered as a great psychologist and a marvelous artist. That's really the thing which makes his reputation and explain his inference. I wonder whether first love and you might round out this part of our discussion by suggesting to us whether you think that is the way in
which American readers are increasingly beginning to see the achievement of the sponsors as well. I think of Mr Dos Passos controlling social vision as a very strong virtue and that is why I think it has not been a mistake for critics to emphasize it but it would be a mistake of course if it led us to be blind to the other many virtues of his work and particularly to the rich comprehensiveness with which he has embodied these facets of American life. In the trilogy of which we have been speaking I think if we had time he would be wended to hear it. Mr Dos Passos read to set in our minds alongside of the portraits of dames the portraits of Isidora Duncan of Henry Ford of J.P. Morgan of Woodrow Wilson and some of the other figures who expressed
American achievement something characteristically sometimes we highlighted with that with comic insights in Mr Dos Passos revealing portraiture through the whole epoch. In the earlier part of our program Mr. bus passes read several read and excerpt from one of his earlier works and the discussion centered primarily on the impact of those earlier works on readers here and abroad and I think we might move into a discussion of the thought and mistrust I was late to work by asking him to read a passage that exemplifies that later work and perhaps to tell us just briefly I want the place of the passage that he's going to read is in the novel from which it comes. Well we know your works were full of the USA you voted for four of the impact of World War 1 and you have to remember that I belong to a generation that we've grown up to believe that
- John Dos Passos, part one
- Producing Organization
- University of Massachusetts
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- In this program, part one of two, critics Maurice Coindreau and Harry Levin discuss the works of John Dos Passos, Dos Passos himself also speaks on the program.
- Other Description
- This series analyzes European views of the works of American authors.
- Broadcast Date
- American literature--Europe--History and criticism.
- Media type
Guest: Levin, Harry
Guest: Dos Passos, John, 1896-1970
Guest: Coindreau, Maurice Edgar
Moderator: Rudin, Seymour, 1922-
Producing Organization: University of Massachusetts
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-22-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “As others read us: American fiction abroad; John Dos Passos, part one,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 17, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fb4wn713.
- MLA: “As others read us: American fiction abroad; John Dos Passos, part one.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 17, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fb4wn713>.
- APA: As others read us: American fiction abroad; John Dos Passos, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fb4wn713