Fall 1992, Volume 9.3
In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the First Voyage Reviewed by
Dean W. Collinwood
Disease, Depopulation, and Culture Change in Northwestern New Spain, 1518-1764 Reviewed by Carol J. Loveland
Memorias: A West Texas Life Reviewed by Mark Luna
Political Discourse in Exile: Karl Marx and the Jewish Question Reviewed by Gary Lee Malecha
Collected Poems Reviewed by Brenda R. Sims
Breeding Leah and Other Stories Reviewed by Vaun Waddell
Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon Reviewed by Candadai Seshachari
In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the First Voyage by David Henige. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1991, 359 pp., $24.95 (cloth).
Reviewed by Dean W. Collinwood, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Weber State University
In Search of Columbus will infuriate everyone who reads it, but everyone interested in Columbus must read it nevertheless. Unlike the bulk of Columbus scholarship which assays to encompass the oceanography, geography, or more recently, the sociology of the entire Columbian enterprise, bibliographer David Henige's book targets only the documents pertaining to Columbus's first voyage. And as primary sources go, that corpus is agonizingly small and incomplete. Most important is the diario, not actually Columbus's diary or shipboard log as the title implies, but a paraphrase/partial copy of the original log (or some intermediate document) written by the Spaniard BartolomZ de Las Casas. Next is the Historia de las Indias, also written by Las Casas. The final document is the Historie by Columbus's son Ferdinand. Most of what we know about Columbus's first voyage ultimately derives from these scanty documents.
But do modern scholars present these documents as they stand, challenges Henige, or is our knowledge of Columbus based instead on intentional mistranslations, deformed transcription, arguments from silence, inattention to detail, and other "stunning departures from long-established editorial norms?" In page after page of convincing textual criticism, Henige provides evidence for a massive abuse of the primary documents by virtually every editor, author, and translator. These scholars have forced the texts to say things they do not say, creating a fictionalized Columbus and a fictionalized New World encounter. After centuries of "editorial legerdemain" the general public can no longer distinguish fact from fiction. For instance, the 1991 PBS television documentary on Columbus and the Age of Discovery cited its information source as Columbus's own diary, "a copy of which has been preserved." Actually, however, the referenced document is the diario about which the only thing we know for sure is that it is not Columbus's diary. Likewise, historian Gianni Branzotto's book, Christopher Columbus, says its data source is "the ship's log written by Columbus himself," an incredible assertion since the log has been missing for 500 years. Fantasy often becomes fact because scholarship is "so often in thrall to other skills and attitudes."
Take the landfall mystery, for example. Over the years nearly a dozen islands have been tendered as Columbus's first landfall, the proponents of each assembling an impressive array of data to support their respective claims. A recent example is the high-tech approach of Joseph Judge. Aided by computer simulations of transatlantic crossings, aerial photography, on-site excavations, and, claims Henige, interpretations of the diario that the text "neither supports nor disallows," Judge declared that the island of encounter was Samana Cay. Most scholars claim the data point to Watlings Island, but again, says Henige, only because they too have massaged the text.
Where then does the diario, unembellished by prejudice and preference, place the exact spot of landfall? It does not say, claims Henige. Filled as it is with contradictions and lacunae, the diario does not allow an airtight case for any of the proffered sites. Like it or not, the document must be allowed to say what it says rather than what we want it to say.
Some readers may dismiss Henige as yet another Columbus deconstructionist. But Henige is no Kirkpatrick Sale or Hans Koning. He is not directly concerned about the uses to which society puts the Columbus event, but rather with the "mythification of the sources" of our knowledge. In this, Henige's arguments are unassailable, his logic tight. That it is wrong to argue past the facts and worse still to alter them to fit a priori conjecture is axiomatic.
Yet Henige's call to repentance is weakened considerably by his own flights into fantasy and by a cynicism that breaches social norms (he defensively concedes that the book is "a sustained exercise in devil's advocacy"). For instance, Henige argues that the description of the flags unfurled on San Salvador is "superfluously detailed" and that therefore it could not have been penned by Columbus. With no other evidence than his personal opinion of its superfluity, Henige declares this passage bogus. Yet the text, as it presents itself, declares that this passage was penned "in the very words" of Columbus. Likewise, Henige doubts that Columbus actually saw a light a few hours before landfall and virtually dismisses the possibility that another sailor saw it tooeven though the text explicitly says otherwise. Again, Henige's skepticism is based solely on his interpretation of Columbus's character and motives. Readers thus will certainly be annoyed at Henige's unwillingness to accept the text as is, especially in light of his merciless castigation of others doing the same thing. None of this weakens Henige's philosophical position, although it does damage his personal case for it. Yet thanks to his own lapses we can predict that the wresting of the Columbian texts will continue unabated. For even the most careful scholars find it useful to translate freely in order to make their discoveries accessible to the public. Accessibility is why Robert H. Fuson's The Log of Christopher Columbus, which contains first-person passages that Columbus never spoke nor wrote, is so humanly satisfyingreaders feel as if Columbus were actually speaking to them. That every sentence does not contain the exact words of Columbus seems trivial in the face of the opportunity to imbibe the spirit of a dramatic human encounter, and it is that spirit that most people will likely seek in the future, Henige notwithstanding.
Disease, Depopulation, and Culture Change in Northwestern New Spain, 1518-1764 by Daniel T. Reff. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1991, 330 pp., $30.00 (cloth).
Reviewed by Carol J. Loveland, Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology, Utah State University(Return to top of page)
The Indians spoke the word cocoliztli with fearand with good reason, for the Nahuatl word for epidemic disease came to connote the end of coherent social and cultural life. The diseases introduced by the European resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Indians, as well as the destruction of the culture and lifeway of the survivors.
Daniel Reff has interwoven several lines of evidence in his reassessment of the impact of European disease in northwestern New Spain. Using original sources, he has evaluated the size and social structure of aboriginal populations during the early contact period. Early explorers who traveled in the region between 1530-65 generally describe sizable populations living in large centers throughout much of Durango, Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua and the American Southwest. The accuracy of these reports is seen by many scholars to be challenged by the writings of the Jesuit priests. The Jesuit accounts, which began with the establishment of their first permanent mission in northwestern New Spain in 1591, record smaller population numbers and a different social organization.
Researchers have tended to favor Jesuit estimates because the priests were learned men whereas the explorers, who were often inexplicit regarding their travel routes, are judged to have been inaccurate chroniclers. Reff contends that both types of accounts are basically accurate; he suggests that the discrepancies can be attributed to the depopulation of the region between the time of the explorers' writings and the establishment of Jesuit missions.
To prove his point Reff compares four lines of evidence: observations of Spanish explorers, the archaeological record, writings of the Jesuits, and known epidemic disease patterns. Reff synthesizes these into paleodemographic estimates and a reconstruction of aboriginal culture for the period 1518-1764.
Several diseasessmallpox, measles, typhus, typhoid, dysentery, malaria and plagueraged through various groups at various times. Epidemiologists contend that the Indians were unfamiliar with all of the diseases prior to European contact. Thus, the Indians faced the onslaught of disease without any natural resistance. By the mid 1700's Indian populations were reduced by as much as 90 percent.
The precipitous decline resulted in major cultural changes. Some groups, such as the Tepehuan, Acaxee, Irritilla, and Xixime, were so devastated by disease they were unable to survive as distinct cultural entities. Their fragmentation resulted in the loss of several native languages. The Tarahumara, after severe early population losses, consciously isolated themselves in the inhospitable rugged country of southern Chihuahua. As a result of their seclusion, they suffered less exposure to diseases; their population stabilized and actually more than doubled during the 1800's.
The impact of European disease on the majority of northwestern New Spain's Indian cultures lies between these two extremes. Large, nucleated settlements, which were described by early explorers, had ceased to exist by the mission period. Subsistence strategies were interrupted with each epidemic, leaving the people malnourished as well as sick. Epidemics which occurred during the growing or harvest season meant that starvation might follow an epidemic. Craft production and exchange ceased because the people concentrated on survival needs. Complexities of social organization and kinship mentioned by the explorers had ceased to exist by the mission period.
The epidemics contributed to more than physical and territorial conquest. Disease also undermined native belief systems and cleared the way for Jesuit success in conversion of the Indians. As Reff notes,
It is apparent that many natives petitioned for missionaries and baptism, hoping that the priests and their "cleansing of the soul" would provide a protection from or cure for disease. (260)
In addition to filling the religious void created by the failure of native priests and shamans to prevent or cure epidemic diseases, the Jesuits inserted themselves into Indian culture by replacing the decimated Indian caciques as administrative officeholders. Thus, much of the success attributed to the Jesuits probably occurred in response to a breakdown of traditional Indian cultures. Reff is to be credited for investigating the oft-ignored allegiance between cultural, religious and epidemic conquest.
Reff's meticulous study has relevance for other areas of the Americas. Analysis of the spread of disease in northwestern New Spain indicates that the disease experience previously documented for central Mexico and Peru is not unique to those two civilizations. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that many groups were affected by Old World diseases prior to sustained European contact; however, prior to permanent European settlement the spread of disease was irregular, depending upon such things as population size, trade connections, and weather. One caveat introduced by Reff's work is that a suitable infrastructure, such as widespread trade connections, must exist to facilitate the spread of infectious disease.
It is the awareness of interconnecting causes and conditions that makes Reff's scholarship convincing. Researchers throughout the Americas will find "food for thought" in this carefully researched book.
Memorias: A West Texas Life by Salvador Guerrero, ed. Arnoldo De Leon. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 1991, 126 pp., $20.00 (paper).
Reviewed by Mark Luna, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Weber State University(Return to top of page)
It is often difficult to grasp the abstract notion that individual experience is something no one can claim as personal property. There are a variety of sophisticated reasons to explain why some people find this concept hard to understand, but I have a rather simple thought: self-elevation seems natural when society acknowledges you. For those who need never ask for recognition, it may seem a waste of time to question that which may be taken for granted and enjoyed with satisfaction. For the dominant group in our society, this privilege is spoken quietly, but unequivocably, in a certain mode and pace of conversation, with ease in assuming shared symbols, and in the comfort of faces. For many American minorities, however, attempts to assert a place in the world often are obstructed by social conventions which effectively transform individuality into isolation. In other words, when selfhood is devalued, alienation follows. Conversely, when one's uniqueness is validated, positive self-identity is nurtured. If knowledge about the past is one way to attain an authentic self and to gain respect and legitimacy from others, minorities have yet fully to navigate that passage. As with other Hispanics whose childhood identities were shaped by the misguided, racist practices of the fifties and early sixties (what with their curl-relaxers and English-only expectations), I have reclaimed my heritage piecemeal, through hints and rumor.
This is why Salvador Guerrero, having recounted his days in, around, and looking toward West Texas, has in turn connected me to "memorias" that are not my own, but which are mine. That is, it is deceptive that Salvador's memories are stated as autobiography. On the one hand, they can be considered as part of the larger history of Mexican-Americans during this century. Editor De Leon has discovered a treasured diary which brings alive his previous research detailing migration patterns in the southwest, primarily between 1915 through 1955. On the other hand, his personal journey extends beyond the confines of Tex-Mex geography. It calls out my genealogy, my family's landscape.
Thus, in Guerrero's journal I find my past through the symbols of our shared histories: adobe walls and thatched roofs; silent and strong fathers; movie-theatre balconies; railroads; barrios with street names of U.S. Presidents; white school boards; fly-weight pugilists; fruit stands and stoop labor; death for women in childbirth; death for men at Normandy. Yet I am struck by Salvador's (our) struggle to find America, and once redeemed, his (our) willingness to embrace it. I feel discomfort in his pride for sacrifices he made in behalf of this nation. His patriotism is difficult to accept perhaps because I, along with other baby-boomers whose jaded opinions were informed by the cynicism of the late 1960's, cannot reconcile such cheerfulness against the backdrop of oppression. Salvador himself was made a "legitimate" citizen only after draft boards declared him eligible as fodder. Yet upon his return, he was routinely denied access to public places. His accounts of longsuffering and silent compliance seem to be familiar characteristics of our people, passive attributes that even now sustain our troubles.
Perhaps this strange forbearance explains why Salvador Guerrero spent the better part of his memoirs on World War II revelry. In the chapter "A Uniform At Last," he recalls goose-bumps upon hearing F.D.R.'s solemn declaration of war: "'Ya estufas! (This is it!)' This time, I knew there was a uniform with shiny brass buttons and the emblem of the United States army on it waiting for me." How horrible the thought for me that it was only the most extreme of circumstances that created the possibility for Salvador to find purpose, dignity, and self-worth. How damnable to learn of a nation forced to integrate us temporarily, solely because of external threat. If purple crosses, moving targets of brown flesh, and death were Salvador's criteria for empowerment, it is difficult for my generation to congratulate him for having achieved the American Dream he so desperately sought.
But if I have offended the memorias of Salvador Guerrero, I have at once indicted myself. I cannot continue to question his resolve to remain optimistic about and active toward the promise of a better America, lest I be hypocritical. For beyond the differences between our separate generations, there remains a shared understandinga kind of genetic yearning born of social marginalizationa yearning his life stories ultimately convey clearly. It was his hope to be validated by a frightened society that would not recognize him. It is our search for home.
I admit my investment in Salvador's journal may be too earnest. After all, on an analytical level, this is a "case history" simply to illustrate the larger, abstract issue of social mobility. Autobiographies perhaps also can be taken as innocuous, light-hearted "human interest" accounts of courage and perseverance. On the surface, his memoirs occasionally read like a Horatio Alger story, if only a more humble rags-to-riches version. While there is something here for every level of understanding, readers would do well to approach Salvador's story within its social and historical context to uncover its true hidden value.
Political Discourse in Exile: Karl Marx and the Jewish Question by Dennis Fischman. Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 160 pp., $21.95 (cloth).
Reviewed by Gary Lee Malecha, Department of History and Political Science, University of Portland(Return to top of page)
Over the years, students of Karl Marx's voluminous writings have attempted to gauge the influence that his own religious heritage had on the development of his ideas. While scholars have frequently commented on Marx's putative anti-Semitism, most of them have concluded that his own "Jewishness" had little impact on his philosophical ideas and political theory. In Political Discourse in Exile, Dennis Fischman challenges this "widely held orthodoxy" (8). Enlisting elements of the Jewish tradition to forge his intellectual vantage point, he proffers a fresh and extremely evocative analysis that underscores the ontological, hermeneutic and conceptual similarities between Marx's writings and Judaism.
For Fischman, Marx's response to the "Jewish question" is more convoluted than most scholars have portrayed it. While conceding that Marx's "scurrilous attacks" on the Jewish religion (18) betray a virulent anti-Semitism, he shows that Marx considers "Judaism as a social power" to be "supremely important" (24). Working through Marx's writings, he demonstrates that it is in what Marx refers to as "'everyday' Judaism" that Marx discerns the "elemental social force of human need" making the transcendence of both civil society and the state possible (30).
After exploring and giving an account of Marx's ambivalence towards Judaism, Fischman turns to a discussion of the beliefs, methods and concepts common to Marx's writings and the Judaic tradition. In Chapters 2 and 3 he elucidates the ontological principles on which both are based. Most political theorists, the author writes, read Marx from a Greco-Christian perspective. Profoundly influenced by the "Greek" pattern of thinking, of which the works of Plato and Aristotle are emblematic, exponents of this intellectual tradition generally envisage reality as fixed and hierarchically ordered. Preferring the contemplative life to the life of action, adherents to this world view also elevate theoretical wisdom over practical knowledge. Though influential, this intellectual heritage, Fischman argues, is not the only one within which Marx can be understood. Specifically, he contends that Marx's ideas can be made more intelligible by placing him within the Biblical tradition based on the "Hebrew" way of thinking.
In the "Hebraic" tradition, which is the polar opposite of the Greco-Christian heritage, "reality" is conceived of as "dynamic and constantly in motion" (40). Indeed, "the touchstone of reality in the Torah is the active dialogue between God and humankind" (48). What this conceptualization of reality as a "dialogical relation" means to the "Hebraic" thinker is that individuals constitute themselves and their world through their relations with others. For Fischman, it is this dialogical conception of reality that is in accord with Marx's ontology. "Over and over again" he finds that both Marx's belief that "things are constituted in relation to one another" and his disdain for elevating contemplation over "productive practice" are at odds with "the Greek conception of "being" (64-65).
Besides sharing similar ontological beliefs, Marx and the Judaic tradition, Fischman argues, engage and comment upon texts in much the same way. An integral element of the Judaic tradition is the hermeneutical approach commonly referred to as "midrash," a "creative style" of textual analysis that initially emerged around the third century (75). In employing "midrash," the reader inquires as to how the text can help him or her confront "the problems of everyday life." The reader also proceeds from the assumption that "every detail" has meaning and that texts are, within certain limits, subject to multiple interpretations, because as time passes, "changes" in "particular situations may empower" individuals to discern "something in the text" that was previously obscured (76-82). It is this analytic approach, Fischman argues through an examination of Marx's interpretation of Hegel, that Marx uses to elaborate his own philosophical Weltanschauung.
Having demonstrated how "reading Marx as a midrash-maker" clarifies his understanding and use of Hegelian concepts (89), Fischman enlists the Judaic notion of "exile" to shed light on Marx's concept of "alienation." According to the author, the idea of "exile" as it appears in the tradition of Judaism is tantamount to a situation in which individuals lose "the shared context of meaning" that makes the interpretation and articulation of their own experiences possible (104). It is this state of affairs, Fischman contends, that resembles what Marx means by "alienation." "Interpreted as exile, alienation," he notes, suggests that individuals are deprived "of the ability to make sense of the world" (107). The author then concludes his study by showing how understanding Marx in light of the Judaic concept of "exile" makes Marx's ideas still relevant for today's world.
In sum, Fischman provides a learned and most intriguing contribution to the literature on Marx. This work, however, is not without minor shortcomings. There are, for instance, sections in Fischman's discussion that could gave profited from a more sustained consideration of Marx's primary works. Clearly, a more thorough treatment of a wider range of Marx's writings would have strengthened his thesis. Then, too, many scholars will find that the author is a bit cavalier in his dismissal of the standard interpretations of Marx's work. Still, by highlighting the impact that the Judaic heritage had on the development of Marx's ideas, Fischman has provided a novel and important way to read and make sense of one of the most enigmatic yet influential thinkers in the history of political thought.
Collected Poems by Kay Boyle. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1991, 172 pp., $10.00 (paper).
Reviewed by Brenda R. Sims, Department of English, University of North Texas, Denton, TX(Return to top of page)
Kay Boyle has witnessed some of the most traumatic and shattering events of this centuryboth political and literary. Her writing career began in Paris in the twenties where she was among the expatriate writers known as the Lost Generation. During this time, she came to know such artists and writers as Djuna Barnes, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce. She was in Austria during the thirties when Nazis were gaining power. She and her husband Joseph Franckenstein (an Austrian who had fled from Nazism and become a US citizen) were subjected to loyalty hearings during the McCarthy era. During the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, Kay Boyle devoted her time to many social and political issues in the US while she was on the faculty at San Francisco State University. She spoke out for the rights of racial and ethnic minoritiesand for women; she demonstrated against the Vietnam war; she turned her annual birthday party into a fund-raising activity for Amnesty International. In reflecting on her life and work, Kay Boyle said that "the writer, the artist, does not make the choice to fight against oppression." Her poetry, moreover, does not let her remain silent.
Kay Boyle's poetry reflects her life and her commitment to fight against oppression. In "A Poem about Black Power," she speaks out against the oppression of the African American in the US. This same concern appears in "Testament for my Students, 1968-1969" in which in a prose paragraph she blasts the white educational establishment and its patronizing of the African American people: "'Dr. Parnassus is not just a psychiatrist who is black,' the professor began this memorable introduction. 'He is a black psychiatrist. I hope you can all grasp that distinction'. . . . The black psychiatrist himself had instantly become expendable as he sat on the stage fingering his yellow silky tie" (127). She speaks out for the Jews in "The Jews among the Nations." She speaks against the Vietnam war in "The Lost Dogs of Phnom Penh": "lost dogs of Phnom Penh, cry out, cry out, as men cry out/ Across the intricate frontier of broken, still unbroken, Vietnam,/ Under the same unfaltering stars!" (ll. 24-26). Her poetry becomes, in many ways, her social voice. According to Sandra Whipple Spanier, Kay Boyle believes that the writer must "redeem the world" from the corruption it has undergone. Her poetry makes us think about our world as in "A Poem About Black Power" in which she writes, "Let us grow old admitting we saw the fire, the savage betrayed eyes,/ Heard the screaming terror of their deaths, and wrote a letter,/Nicely phrased, to someone else, and slept then,/ As the old sleep, nodding, remembering. Remembering what?/ That four black girls died in a church?/ Are we quite certain that we heard their cries?" (ll. 14-19).
Kay Boyle's poetry encompasses not only her social voice, but also her love and respect for other writers. Many of her poems are tributes to or dedicated to other writers, especially poets. Among these, she wrote tributes such as "Two Twilights for William Carlos Williams," "Valentine for Harry Crosby," "A Poem for Samuel Beckett," "A Dialogue of Birds for Howard Nemerov," "A Communication to Nancy Cunard," as well as several others. These tributes are frequently intensely personal; as the readers, we almost feel as if we were outsiders because the poems express a unique event or a time perhaps that Kay Boyle singularly shared with another person. For instance, in "For James Baldwin," she writes, "In New Hampshire when you wore/ A foxskin cap, its tail red as autumn/ On your shoulder. In the waters of the Sound/ You jumped the ripples, knees knocking,/ Flesh blue with brine, your fingers/ Cold as a dead child's holding mine" (ll. 12-17). Although we can picture the foxskin cap and almost feel the cold of the water, we also sense that Kay Boyle and James Baldwin have shared these experiences in a way that we cannot. In many of these tributes, we feel we are eavesdropping on only one side of a personal conversation between Kay Boyle and her close friend. The poems may even be almost too personal for readers outside her circle of friends. Yet, as in "For James Baldwin," many of Kay Boyle's poems successfully combine her intensely personal voice with her social concerns: "We are a race in ourselves, you and I,/ Sweet preacher. I talked with our ancestors/ One night in dreams about it/ And they bade me wear trappings of gold/ And speak of it everywhere . . . They said it might just save the world (ll. 36-40, 43).
Kay Boyle's poetry incorporates many different forms. The poems contain prose paragraphs, often in italics, appearing with lyric refrains, as in "A Glad Day for Laurence Vail" and "A Landscape for Wyn Henderson." She also experimented with marginal glosses (as in "A Complaint for Mary and Marcel"), with subtitles and with parallel dialogue columns (as in "A Communication to Nancy Cunard"). Boyle often mixed these forms in one poem, the forms occasionally distracting from the text of the poem.
The Collected Poems of Kay Boyle will give any reader a kaleidoscopic glimpse of one poet's views of the social events that have shaped much of this decade, but also insight into the personal and private life of Kay Boyle. Though the poetry is at times uneven, she is a master of language.
Breeding Leah and Other Stories by John Bennion. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1991, 157 pp., $14.95 (paper).
Reviewed by Vaun Waddell, Department of English, Ricks College, ID(Return to top of page)
Breeding Leah is about impotence. Its women cannot or will not give birth; its men languish to be born. Its pervasive metaphor is sexuality, but its central symbol is man isolated.
Howard Rockwood is protagonist in three of the seven stories. He travels from high school memories of nuzzling Belinda, to presenting his wife Sylvia a totem dried snake skin, to stranding himself in a desert cabin. In "The Interview," Tom is restrained from Carolyn by homosexuality. The title character of "Jenny, Captured by the Mormons" is a gentile stuck in Salt Lake City , preoccupied with escape from her husband, a fundamentalist who relates only to her womb. In "The Last Wonder of Nature" union is achieved, but only a hallucinated one, surprising even the narrator. Leah, of "Breeding Leah," is a sow with a tooth for piglet.
Howard, in "A Court of Love," returns from a Mormon mission to his ancestral home, Rockwood, Utah, in the Sevier desert, flying through a cloudless sky, his "future . . . as expansive as the wide and sunlit desert." From the adobe mansion built by his great-great-grandfather, he hopes to "find a woman to marry" and an orderly, meaningful life. His reculturation is not easy, nor is life smooth in the family he lately left. "A House of Order" finds Howard and his wife Sylvia farming at Rockwood, university studies unfinished. The marriage is thus far infertile, and Howard faces dimensions of his potency other than sexual. In "Dust," he has fled Rockwood, from the desert into the wilderness, to an isolated cabin near a coveted spring. Now a chemical weapons scientist, Howard has personally evoked the apocalypse. He can no longer abide Sylvia and the children, no more than he can irrigate alfalfa from the spring.
The pervasive question in Howard's life is "How?" (his name, after all, is not Whyard). Typically Mormon, he knows precisely why, but is baffled by how. He ends up a hermit, a spiritual invalid, because he will not live in the world and can no longer be of it. His odyssey is from the cedared midnight ditchbank, where soft-branched Sylvia in her blanket seduces him before he can get his irrigation boots off, to the "Dust" desert, his ambiguous butte with the igneous plug, a "thick phallus . . . or . . . hardened black nipple." While he was harrowing hell, this Ulysses' plow stuck fast.
Howard is a man suspended: Salt Lake City and the Angel Moroni to his east, Ely with its casino owners and madames to his west, Skull Valley Testing Grounds to his north, to his south the polygamist neighbors. In the dimension of time he hangs between his Rockwood founder and the apocalypse. He can see in the distant northeast the place where Sylvia and the children live, the direction of his former haunts; lately he travels only south and west. Being at the center of his universe, he is nowhere. His desert spring no longer brings life. Howard neither is nor is not.
The young Howard hoped for "a marriage of spirit and matter." Increasingly he sees himself through his ancestors' vision, finding his life increasingly small, his soul increasingly elusive. His grandfather's blood is yet warm under the alfalfa, but he is a dried snake skin, more febrile, less vital, than the old man. Meanwhile, in our actual Utah, the Church is not yet Zion; our brotherhood in Christ does not confirm that our will is His will; and Kolob is still "a hundred trillion miles past our sun." Howard is not a good man, and I am not what I should be. Bennion has hooked onto some girders with a delicate touch.
I've wrestled considerably with myself over this book. John Bennion was an undergraduate acquaintance of mine, but that does not account for the ambivalence his stories provoke in me.
Breeding Leah reads at several levels. At first I found it disjointed, sly, peripheral. Then it turned up speckled with suggestion, thematic strands, and philosophic dimensions to belie its simple style. Ostensibly it is about people at the fringes of Mormondom, but on reflection the characters connect with archetypes: "Jenny," as farmers know, meaning "she-ass;" Jenny's husband Peter who thinks himself as apostle but is only a prick; the self-devouring female fertility of Leah, like the mother of half Israel, paradoxically unproductive though throbbingly fecund; her optimistic owner who, like every Utah Mormon, is a farmer at heart but has lost the knack; internalized and impotent men juxtaposed with women who are vital but pagan; and brooding over all, Howard, the Rockwood, who cannot help knowing what and why but can never discover how, the dogged dilemma of today's Mormon.
Bennion's stories can be read as satires on Mormon life, ugly and dissociative. Mormons are like Americans, who are like Earthmen, falling short of their spiritual potential, wallowing in indecision, futility, and impotence. Or the stories can be read as confessions of spiritual powerlessness, if not yet brokenhearted, at least contrite, admitting the necessity of faith from within and grace from above. They are consistent in their revulsion of superficiality, their demand for introspection. They illustrate the paradox that, while every man is at his center, no man is at the center.
As a fifth-generation, middle-of-the-road Mormon, male and middle aged, I wrestle with the same forces as Howard Rockwood. I don't enjoy John's book any more than I enjoy the struggle, but they both feel truthful to me
.Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon by Carlton Sherwood. Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1991, 705 pp., $29.95 (cloth).
Reviewed by Candadai Seshachari, Interim Dean, College of Arts and Humanities, Weber State University(Return to top of page)
Imagine this scenario: A hard-hitting, highly respected journalist, the only reporter ever to have won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Peabody Award, sees an irresistible opportunity to do a woof-and-warp exposZ on an alien church. The leader of this church has been tried for federal tax evasion and duly sentenced to 18 months in jail. This church has been publicly ridiculed and openly attacked in the American press. U.S. Senator Robert Dole and Congressman Donald Frazer have vociferously accused the church of brainwashing religious-minded Americans with lies and blasphemies. The reporter hires himself on the staff of a newspaper that is owned by the much-maligned church to "get an inside track on one of the most controversial religious organizations in the United States." In time, he earns the trust of its leaders, secures access to its inner echelons of power, and gains access to confidential records. The stage is now unabashedly set for an explosive account that could conceivably blow the church off the American soil!
Now the players: the church, the Unification Church; the leader, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon; the newspaper, the Washington Times; the would-be exposer, the redoubtable Carlton Sherwood. Sherwood had hoped to undermine the Unification Church by mining the very stuff of "juicy sex scandals." He thought he would surely confront in Moon "a Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart clone running loose." Result of investigation? "Zero." And what about all the grizzly stories of kidnapped kids who were forced to disavow their parents and religions? "In a word: bunk," to quote Carlton Sherwood again. What Sherwood found instead was a church that was puritanical to its core, a church that did not suffer even ordinary moral lapses by its membersone that was simple, straight-forward, and amazingly charitable. He uncovered a horrifying story of government's hate and intolerance toward everyday, ordinary Americans who had chosen to exercise their religious freedom by following the tenets of the Reverend Moon. Sherwood's investigation showed that the CIA, FBI, INS, SEC, FTC, and a host of other federal agencies including a dozen senate, state, and congressional committees had single-mindedly hounded Moon and his Church. It was tantamount to nothing short of a government-backed inquisition. Sherwood's discovery and abhorrence at what he found are best stated in his own words: "The Unification Church, its leaders and followers were and continue to be the victims of the worst kind of religious prejudice and racial bigotry this country has witnessed in over a century. Moreover, virtually every institution we as Americans hold sacredthe Congress, the courts, law enforcement agencies, the press, even the U.S. Constitution itselfwas prostituted in a malicious, oftentimes brutal manner, as part of a determined effort to wipe out this small but expanding religious movement."
Inquisition is a thoroughly researched story of the persecution and prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The charge against Moon was that he had used nearly $8,000 of church money for his everyday use, something that mainstream churches have historically done. Sherwood details how certain members of the jury were "Mooney" haters and how some others were manipulated. He narrates other grueling tales of iniquities and injustices that were heaped on the Reverend Moon in the name of law and justice. But the significance of the book lies elsewhere.
Inquisition is a telling indictment of the racial intolerance and religious bigotry that, like some bloody scourge, defiles the national American character. Our national history is often told in terms of blood and violence that are directly related to intolerance and bigotry. From Anne Hutchinson to Joseph Smith, Jr., to Sun Myung Moon to the nine Buddhist monks who were recently slaughtered in Arizona, we hear episodes in our history of the persecution of those whose beliefs are different from ours. The Quakers and Shakers and the Hare Krishnas are self-effacing symbols of our national urge to brutalize those who are not part of the mainstream. Of course, all of this began with the early Puritansthose who fled persecution in turn became ruthless persecutors themselves. Also, Native Americans have paid a heavy price, to the point of becoming exterminated, for the mere fact that they were and are different. Religiously and racially.
The Reverend Sun Myung Moon paid the price for being different on both scores in spite of all the guarantees enshrined in the First Amendment. Perhaps what makes Inquisition more than worthwhile reading is that it brings to the fore the idea that there is something in our national character that makes us recoil at wanton, arbitrary, and mindless violence and hate. We celebrate the life and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr., precisely because he exposed our everyday hatreds and pettinesses. We revere Lincoln because he made us confront our racism. The Los Angeles racial riots are a testimony to our intolerance of color and race as much as their aftermath is a challenge to our ability to live together. In some basic ways, American society is a fragile society where the best is held in tension with the worst, and the sublime is held in check by the profane. And there is always hopewitness the unending barrage of laws guaranteeing fairness and equality that roll out of our legislaturesthe hope that our idealism will be the harbinger of a better America that is racially and religiously more tolerant. That hope is at the heart of Carlton Sherwood's Inquisition. It is also at the heart of the price that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon has paid.