Penguins On The March

Penguin Education Specials:
A LAST RESORT? CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SCHOOLS. Editor: Peter Newell. 60p.
THE PAINT HOUSE: Words from an East End Gang. The Collinwood Gang and Susie Daniel and Pete McGuire. 30p.

A Penguin Special:
THALIDOMIDE AND THE POWER OF THE DRUG COMPANIES. Henning Sjostrom and Robert Nilsson 40p.

Three books, each important, each original, each an attack on common assumptions, and all written well without propagandising.

The first two, A Last Resort and The Paint House, are about two different aspects of violence. And instead of laying the blame where it is usually put (on the children in schools or the toughs’ in the skinhead gangs), they place it squarely where it belongs; on the shoulders of the people who made them that way, and on the society which sanctions and uses violence as the quick and easy way of getting what it wants.

A Last Resort was compiled from material collected by the Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment (STOPP), and is the first shot in their campaign to abolish corporal punishment in schools. They are doing this along with the National Council for Civil Liberties. The book demonstrates how educationally and socially destructive the threat and actual use of physical punishment in schools is, and how a school can work better, both for the teachers and the pupils, when it is removed. Unfortunately, abolishing it also means that the traditional teaching methods and attitudes have to be questioned and modified or scrapped, and the book includes examples of schools where this has been done

One example will show how destructive caning and the threat of it is. Caning is often used as a punishment for truancy. This makes the school an even more unpleasant place to be, so the child is more likely to play truant again, and less likely to want to go back – after all, the first thing he will face is a caning. Eventually he will lose interest in being at school and want to be away from it as soon as possible. It may take longer to talk to and understand a child, but isn’t that better for him and everyone else (since it avoids building violence into him as a means of getting his own way), than the easy way out with a cane?

The Paint House is about East End boys whose background (including their schools) leaves them no means of self-expression except violence, and no importance except in the eyes of one another — hence the gang, and the violence they can get away with as a gang, become the most important things for them.

Who can blame them for using violence for getting their own way? After all, police, parents, government, teachers, even doctors use violence in one form or another to get their way. Some of us have a recourse against this in our social status – they have no such comfortable bolster.

The words are the words of the gang members themselves, with a thread supplied by the two ‘outsiders’, and occasional comments (highlighting the misunderstanding and ignorance) from people in authority, whether in school, work, pub or whatever.

It is a committed book, about change and about class differences, but it restrains its preaching and puts a cogent case. That we are all people, but you wouldn’t think so from the way we treat one another. Most of us are subtle about it. Skinheads are not.

The third book I want to talk about is about one of the worst cases of disregarding people in order to profit — the thalidomide story. Thalidomide and the Power of the Drug Companies. Time after time, so calmly you almost don’t notice, the book details how Chemie Grunenthal ignored mounting evidence about the various permanent side effects of thalidomide, until the sudden incidence of ‘thalidomide babies’ gave them no option. Even years later, when on trial, the contended that there was no proof that thalidomide caused the damage. Profit, in other words, was a higher consideration than people. The amazing thing is that, with the exception of the USA, most countries have done little to tighten their regulations regarding the introduction of new drugs. And that the majority of the population in some countries where thalidomide was sold still do not know about what happened!

Three books then, that attack basic assumptions and structures in our world. If you don’t believe things need changing, read them and see.

Underground Classics

Candy by Terry Southern & Mason Hoffenberg — NEL, 40p
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Farina — NEL 40p
Junkie by William S. Buroughs — NEL, 30p
Opium by Jean Cocteau – NEL, 30p
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac – NEL, 40p
Jail Notes by Timothy Leary – NEL, 50p

The Underground Classics series produced recently by New English Library is a re-publication of some famous and difficult to obtain books, including some works by members of the ‘beat’ and ‘underground’ generations. It is good that many of these are available again, for they allow people who did not read them in the past, or were too young, to read some of the most important ‘new’ writers to emerge in the last twenty or so years.

Candy by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, often described as one of the greatest sexual satires of our time, is one of the titles. When it was originally published here a few years ago, only an edited version was available. But times have changed and the text of this new edition is complete. The book is a combination of black, black humour and sexual athletics, resulting in a very funny novel, sending up the role-playing and hypocrisy of the heterosexual world.

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me is a novel written by the late Richard Farina, who died in a tragic motorcycle accident in California in 1966 — two days after the book’s publication. It is a sadly neglected work, being an important document describing the contemporary ‘hip’ scene in the States (which was later to cross over here) during the early sixties. The film that has been made of the book is hopefully to be released here soon.

Junkie was William S. Burrough’s first novel, and possibly, to many, his most accessible. Originally published under the pen name William Lee, the narrative tells of the author’s own history of escalating drug addiction, ending in his cure, apparently partly due to Burrough’s discovery of hallucinogens. A frightening but important book.

Opium by Jean Cocteau is another book concerned with drug addiction. This time it is the author’s account of his experiences whilst ‘hooked’ on opium, with details of his extraordinary life and thoughts, along with descriptions of the acute suffering he went through during the ‘weaning off’ treatment. It is a fascinating book, that still has much relevance today. The drawings that illustrate this edition are the same that appeared in the original version.

Jack Kerouac, the author of Big Sur, was the first and most important writer to emerge from the ‘beat generation’ of the fifties. The effect of his novel on a generation still cannot be measured. And the freedom he gave other writers because of his success, is something modern literature will always be in his debt for. After his death a short while ago, many of his works were re-issued, this being the latest. It is a lyrically told story of a searching for meaning in the complexes of America and a tale of spiritual yearning and final awareness. Big Sur was sadly underrated when it first appeared, despite the inclusion of one of Kerouac’s best poems at the end of the book, which also is included in this edition.

Jail Notes by (Dr) Timothy Leary is an account of the author’s prison experiences, after being sentenced to a possible ten-year term for possession of marihuana, and before his escape from jail in September, 1970. Leary is someone you either take seriously or you dismiss completely, there is no middle way. His views on homosexuality (in other works) leave a lot to be desired, but his explorations of the uncharted depths of the human mind have meant Leary has had to make many brave sacrifices.

Soon to be published is Quiet Days in Clichy by Henry Miller, which has recently been made into a feature film, although at present it is without a certificate to be shown in this country.

An American Scream

The Room – by Hubert Selby Jr.
Published by Calder and Boyars £2.50.

Now that the Media has tired somewhat with The Permissive Society, just as they took up and dropped Swinging London, Drugs and Decimal Currency as soon as their mileage as circulation boosters faltered, it is possible for a book like Hubert Selby’s The Room to be quietly assimilated into the English literary scene without outraged shrieks from The People or purple prosed editorials from The Sunday Express.

It is his first novel since Last Exit To Brooklyn brought the world wide controversy over obscenity, censorship, and the arts to a head; and although it has been dismissed in some quarters as one of the most unpleasant books ever written, it has strengthened the right of the writer and his audience to choose for themselves.

Briefly, the book once again examines the Kafka-like horror of life in American cities; how life and love can be transformed to death and hate through the enigmatic powers of the Fascist State.

A nameless man is confined to a prison cell, his crime is vague and insubstantial, his trial apparently endlessly lived out in his mind. There are masturbatory fantasies of his early teenage experiments – guilt-ridden finger-fucking ending in joyless orgasm; and sadistic fantasies involving platoons of policemen forced into impersonating performing dogs — begging, fucking, licking each other’s arses in front of an audience of their families and children.

It is a weary and joyless novel, conceived in concern and despair, but it is impossible to deny that Selby’s work is amongst the most vital now being written. This is the age when the novel is arguably dead, with only Mailer, Nabokov, Fowles, Lord Longford’s team and a handful of others even trying to keep it alive, and although The Room is unpleasant, probably obscene (it is not an erotic work), it is important nonetheless. Read it.

Warts And All

Bob Dylan by Anthony Scaduto. Abacus paperback – 6Op

Anthony Scaduto’s biography has attempted a portrait of Bob Dylan, warts and all, and what spoils it from being a definitive history of Dylan from childhood until now, is a scarcely hidden veneration approaching idolatory. But between this book and the autobiography that Dylan is reported as writing (will it take as long to reach us as his novel Tarantula, possibly the most famous underground novel of all, until it was finally published), enough material must now be on record to interpret the myths and enigmas which have always surrounded one of the earliest of the Super Stars. Scaduto appears to have interviewed every known Dylan contact — exhaustively.

And the only trouble is that in his effort to appear completely objective (an effort that fails) large chunks of apparently unedited, uninformative interviews roll endlessly on ie: “When I knew him he was in no way being Jewish. That was something he was absolutely not being at all. Even after he knew that I knew he was Bob Zimmerman from up on the Range, he was not being Jewish. He was saying his mother wasn’t…” And this after many pages dealing with Dylan’s early denial of his heritage.

Dylan appears not only as a ruthless, cruel, unhappy manipulator who’s only aim was the pinnacle which he has now found to be so untenable, but as one of Rock ‘n‘ Roll’s few serious claimants for the ‘Genius’ tag.

Rumours that homosexual or bi-sexual episodes in his life have been removed at Dylan’s ‘request’, tie up with Scaduto’s obviously total involvement and admiration.

Nonetheless, an honest enough attempt to present the truth behind the changing face on the LP covers.

Heroes And Villains

Heroes and VillainsAngela CarterPicador paperback, 4Op.

Heroic, legendary, Tolkien-like… these and similar phrases pepper the quotes on the back cover of this book. Well, for me, it wasn’t quite so large in scope. I thought, in fact, that it’s structure clearly indicated its firm roots in the here and now.

On the one hand, a clinical, orderly, comfy, well-protected community, in which the greatest respect is accorded academics and those with ‘experience’; on the other, the violent, brutal, primitive world of the ‘Barbarians’, to whom the professor’s daughter escapes.

We, like Marianne, are asked which is best. The brutal and elemental, or the coldly civilised? The madness induced by societal repression, or the death from wounds or disease? Primitive or civilised?

This is in many ways the conflict everyone shies away from – the fears of the older generation as the young threaten to destroy the constricting, but also supportive structure called society. The book stands as an expression of the falseness of the security kick – the feeling of security which no-one seems to have and everyone wants – and the way in which this debilitates people. The Barbarians are much more alive than the Professors.

But the question ‘Which is best’ is never answered, the conflict never resolved. It all depends on what you want. If you’ve made your mind up that you’re on the side of the revolution, then this book will be too. And vice versa. It doesn’t look like any choice at all to me.

Seconds Out

In the past few weeks three major books about women’s liberation have been re-issued in paperback. If you are at all interested in what women’s lib is about, and why the women active in the movement consider their struggle necessary, then these three books are essential reading.

The first is The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. Originally published in France in 1948 (the English translation first appearing in 1953), this book still remains one of the most indispensible works on women and their position in male-dominated societies.

The second is Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics. This American writer’s book is considered by i many to be as important as Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Her comments on homosexuality, both male and female are particularly interesting.

Lastly, The Dialectic of Sex, (subtitled: The Case for Feminist Revolution) by Shulamith Firestone, is thought to be a contemporary continuation of the analysis of sexism as first defined by Simone de Beauvoir. It presents an articulated blueprint for sexual revolution by one of the most outspoken of America’s Radical Feminists.