gentle rereader

. . . rediscovering Jacques Barzun

Total Experience

“A Total Experience”; review of Irwin Edman’s novel Richard Kane Looks at Life: A Philosophy for Youth
The Columbia Varsity, volume 7, number 2 (May 1926), pages 15, 25.

Jacques Barzun here reviews Columbia teacher Irwin Edman’s fictional exploration of a young person shaping an outlook on life, beginning with:

“In a philosophy for youth, all depends on the philosopher’s protagonist.  For youth has difficulty in dissociating ideas from personalities.  The pitfalls, therefore, which Mr. Edman avoided were many.  Richard Kane is not a formless burlap sack for theories and notions but a perfectly credible human being.”

Barzun finds the theme from his own short story, “Fantastique” (in this same Varsity issue), naturally reappearing in Edman’s novel:  “The anxieties and self-questionings which haunt the minds of all young adults in possession of the ordinary quota of brains, are rendered with perfect fidelity and astonishing vividness.”

Jacques sketches the circumstances that Richard encounters in college and praises Edman’s means of revealing what Richard can see of himself and what he (and others) cannot.  The Jamesian (William rather than Henry, despite the fiction) influence on Barzun is evident in another remark about the protagonist’s life after college:  “Tossed between workaday reality and speculative ideation, Richard feels that only a blind but well-established faith can save him from despair.  He quickly abandons this tender-minded conclusion that it is the anxiety which is attitude, however, and arrives at the faith.

“No amount of comment or description can do justice to a book which is so complete a résumé of a total experience.  As such, it is perfectly clear that the particulars of Richard’s pilgrimage are but the signal points on a route which the great majority of the generation must travel.  The philosophy does not consist in predetermined responses to stimuli but in the technique of such responses.”  

Recommending the book to his own generation, Jacques concludes that they “will find in Mr. Edman’s book an abundance of discerning judgments on art and letters, as well as recurrent evidences of an erudition which appears always aptly and often illuminatingly.”


Responses welcomed. Courtesy appreciated.

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