The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on March 31, 1985 · Page 53
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 53

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, March 31, 1985
Page 53
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The Salina Journal Entertainment Sunday, March 31,1985 Page 6 'Exodus' touches on political fundamentals By JOHN GROSS The New York Times EXODUS AND REVOLUTION. By Michael Walzer. 177 pages. Basic Books. $15.95. In 1960, Michael Walzer, who was visiting a number of Southern cities in order to write about black student sit-ins, went to a Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala., and heard an impassioned sermon on the parallel between the Book of Exodus and the political struggle of Southern blacks. It struck him all the more forcibly because back in graduate school he was then working on a dissertation about Cromwell and the Puritan Revolution, and he had encountered many Puritan sermons and speeches in which Israel's deliverance from Egypt figured as a central text. For the first time, the full political potential of the Exodus story was brought home to him, and he has been reflecting on its implications ever since. Walzer is a distinguished political philosopher, and in turning to a biblical theme he has not abandoned his customary trade. "Exodus and Revolution" is fundamentally as much about politics as "Spheres of Justice" or any of his other books. It traces the lessons that have been discov- Review ered in Exodus by figures as diverse as Savonarola and Rousseau, as the Boer nationalists who fought the British and the proponents of "liberation theology" in present-day Latin America. It shows how the same story came to be invoked by Benjamin Franklin (who in 1776 proposed that the Great Seal of the United States should depict Moses lifting his rod while the Egyptian army drowned in the sea) and Lincoln Steffens (who in 1926 wrote a full- scale apologia for Lenin called "Moses in Red"). But for the most part, Walzer sticks fairly close to the biblical narrative. While his aim, as he says, is to read the text in the light of subsequent interpretations, "to discover its meaning in what it has meant," he also argues that the uses to which it has been put are not violations or mere inventions. The text itself demands to be understood in political terms; it is "a paradigm of revolutionary politics." In the first place, Egypt as it is portrayed in the Book of Exodus is not just a scene of misfortune, but a society that is judged and condemned. It is a house of bondage, of oppression that is primarily social and economic in character. True, the Israelites also are threatened with extirpation, since Pharaoh orders their newborn sons to be put to death, but the earliest discussions of the Exodus story, in Deuteronomy and the Prophets, establish the traditional emphasis, which has always been not on killing but on forced labor, harsh conditions and the abuse of power. Once they have made their escape, the Israelites murmur against Moses and lament that they ever left Egypt. What their murmurings illustrate, Walzer argues, is something very like Stanley Elkins's much-debated thesis about the psychological effects of slavery in the American South. Servitude induces slavishness, and the Israelites found it impossible to adjust to freedom without a long period of transition; hence, essentially, the 40 years in the wilderness. Yet Egypt exerts positive attractions as well — the lure of idolatry and of the "fleshpots." While Moses is away on Mount Sinai, the Israelites fashion and worship the Golden Calf, and when he returns, he resorts to savage measures, commanding the Levites — the shock troops of the new order, the Red Guard — to put the idolaters to the sword. Walzer describes the slaughter as "the first revolutionary purge." This is by no means the whole story, however. Moses is capable of kindness as well as anger; he works by teaching as well as terror. And the covenant that he enforces in his role of lawmaker is with the entire people, not with a priestly caste or an elite. It presupposes "the moral competence of ordinary men and women," and it opens the way "for a different and a more democratic kind of politics." It also offers a better life, in terms that anyone can understand — life in a land flowing with milk and honey. But the promised land is not to be confused with the Big Rock Candy Mountain; it will only fulfill its promise if its new inhabitants fulfill theirs, if they become "a kingdom of priests" — a kingdom without a king — "and a holy nation." Walzer's discussion of the two-fold nature of the divine pledge is particularly searching, and goes well beyond a simple opposition between the material and the spiritual: "There is, if I may say so, an idealism, a spirituality, a high theory of milk and honey; and it is easy to see — indeed, it is suggested in the text — that the Levites have a material interest in holiness." Adams tries his hand at fantasy-ad venture novel NEW YORK (AP) - While he's often compared to J.R.R. Tolkien and is probably best known for an adventure tale about rabbits, Richard Adams has turned to writing about bizarre sex, hunger for power and beautiful women. The author — whose other books include the comparatively tame "Watership Down," "Shar- dik" and "The Plague Dogs" — offers no apologies for the change of literary course. "The process of creative writing is not like building a bridge or planting a garden," Adams said during a recent visit to New York from his native England. "These are very deliberate creative things. ... But creative writing isn't like that. "William Blake used to say the angels talked to him, and I'm not at all sure that it can be expressed in more accurate terms." Adams' new book, "Maia" (Knopf, $19.95), is a fantasy-adventure set in the Beklan Empire, part of the same imaginary civilization as in his earlier book, "Shardik." Named for its 15-year-old heroine, "Maia" chronicles the rise of a beautiful peasant' girl from slavery to national heroine, before she learns, like Dorothy in Oz, there's no place like home. Maia's mother, jealous because Maia is sleeping with her stepfather, sells the girl to flesh peddlers. While in their possession, Maia is seduced by Occula, a street-smart slave. He contrives to have them both sold to Bekla's high counselor — a repulsive libertine who is so fat he cannot walk more than a few steps at a time. Meanwhile, there are plots and subplots afoot as various factions make war against each other. "'Maia,' except that it includes a great deal of explicit sex, is really not so very different from H.G. Wells or Conan Doyle — or even The Three Musketeers' or 'The Prisoner of Zenda,'" Adams said. "It's very simple stuff. Apart from the fact that there's a lot of very explicit sex, it could almost be a Victorian romance. Cut out the sex and Tom Sawyer's Aunt Polly would've loved it." Best sellers Adams defends the sex, even the most degrading encounters, as necessary for the emotional growth of the heroine. "Maia, with all the dice loaded against her, and having been dragged in and out of bed, finally realizes by nothing but the light of her own clear spirit that what she really wants to do is marry this guy and live happily ever after," Adams said. "And at the very end of the book, her friend Occula says, 'Why don't you come back to Bekla? You'd have the city at your feet.' And she thinks this over and says, 'No, I don't want to. I want to go on living with my husband.' "And this is my idea of true sexuality." Adams, at 64, is so successful a writer that he admits he doesn't need any more money, and finds it rather "indecent" that he's made as much as he has. But until publication of "Watership Down" in 1972, he was a British civil servant and quite content in his work. He wrote "Watership Down" for his daughters, who were then 9 and 7, as a kind of fairy tale about rabbits who lived in the English countryside where Adams grew up. "I would have been perfectly happy with a modest hardback edition of a few thousand copies so I could give it to my daughters," Adams said. "When it took off the way it did, no one could have been more astounded than I." While trying to get "Watership Down" published, Adams wrote "Shardik," which he considers his best work and compares to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" for its theme of sin and redemption. It was published in 1974. "The Plague Dogs," published in 1977, is an anti-vivisectionist treatise disguised as fantasy in which dogs are the main characters. They escape from an animal research station where experiments of obscene cruelty are carried out. Adams began to deviate from the world of animals with "The Girl in a Swing," published in 1980, a combination love story and ghost story laced with eroticism. N.Y. Times News Service (Last week's ratings in parentheses) FICTION 1. Family Album, Danielle Steel (2) 2. If Tomorrow Comes, Sidney Sheldon (1) 3. Thinner, Richard Bachman (3) 4. Inside, Outside, Herman Wouk (5) 5. Proof, Dick Francis (9) 6. Glitz, Elmore Leonard (4) 7. The Hunt for Red October, Tom Claiicy (10) 8. Mexico Set, Len Deighton (8) 9. The Finishing School, Gail Godwin (7) 10. Mindbend, Robin Cook (11) 11. See You Later Alligator, William F. Buckley Jr. (6) 12. The Sicilian, Mario Puzo (12) 13. Hotel Du Lac, Anita Brookner (13) 14. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams (-) 15. The Talisman, Stephen King and Peter Straub (-) NON-FICTION 1. lacocca: An Autobiography, Lee lacocca with William Novak (1) 2. Breaking with Moscow, Arkady N. Shevchenko (2) 3. Loving Each Other, Leo Buscaglia (3) 4. Citizen Hughes, Michael Drosnin (4) 5. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feyn- mann, Richard P. Feynmann (7) 6. The Bridge Across Forever, Richard Bach (6) 7. Son of the Morning Star, Evan S. • Cornell (5) ' 8. The Living Planet, David Attenborough (-) 9. The Courage to Change, Dennis Wholey (9) 10. A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein (12) 11. Moses the Kitten, James Herriot (10) 12. The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, Michael Mott (8) 13. The Abandonment of the Jews, David S. Wyman (14) 14. Cry of the Kalahari, Mark and Della Owen (11) 15. Hey, Wait a Minute, I Wrote a Book!, John Madden with Dave Anderson (-) ADVICE, HOW-TO, MISC. 1. Weight Watchers Quick Start Pro- gram Cookbook, Jean Nldetch (2) 2. Nothing Down, Robert G. Allen (1) 3. What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack (3) 4. The One Minute Sales Person, Spencer Johnson and Larry Wilson (4) 5. The Frigal Gourmet, Jeff Smith (-) New books at the Salina Public Library Money Talk, Carole Phillips The Experts Speak, Christopher Cert and Victor Navasky The Good News is the Bad News is Wrong, Ben Wallenberg Fort Worth, Leonard Sanders California, Leland F. Cooley

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