My Belief: Essays on Life and Art
by Hermann Hesse, translated by Denver Lindley
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 393 pp., $8.95
Three Faces of Marxism: The Political Concepts of Soviet Ideology, Maoism, and Humanist Marxism
by Wolfgang Leonhard, translated by Ewald Oser
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 500 pp., $15.00
The Invisible China: The Overseas Chinese and the Politics of Southeast Asia
by Garth Alexander
Macmillan, 264 pp., $7.95
Xingu: The Indians, Their Myths
by Orlando Villas Boas, by Claudio Villas Boas, edited by Kenneth S. Brecher, translated by Susana Hertelendy Rudge
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 270 pp., $12.95
Hermann Hesse, who lamented the decline of the West and celebrated the journey to the East, whose double-souled heroes are both continually suffering and affirming life, whose novels personify the drama of dualism, the projection of “the ideal into reality,” was himself enthralled by two opposing cultural tendencies, the transcendental longings of German Romanticism, in the literary period between 1750 and 1850, and the chaos and plight of the modern world. In these collected essays on life and art, extending from 1904 to 1961, all of Hesse’s abundant meditative energy, his proliferation of poles and counterpoles and syntheses, his masterly studies of Dostoevsky and Jean Paul and Hölderlin, his frank and penetrating discussion of moral and political and cultural issues, show him struggling to overcome the dichotomies of past and present, science and poetry, and espousing the belief “that there are not various peoples and minds but only One Humanity, only One Spirit.”
At times both the predicament and the resolve are stated quite baldly: “The way leads from innocence into guilt, out of guilt into despair, out of despair either to failure or to deliverance: that is, not back again behind morality and culture into a child’s paradise but over and beyond these into the ability to live by the strength of one’s faith.” But more representative of Hesse’s style are those qualities of modesty, delicacy, and tact, the aura of what he calls “magical thinking,” which illuminate even the most casual excursion and disarm us by the earnestness and purity of his voice.
Within rather strict self-imposed limits, the author has accomplished very much. This is a book about political concepts: it is mainly concerned neither with broad theoretical issues nor with the detailed historiography of communist organizations. Leonhard gives us a concise factual account of the political theory of Marxism from the days of the founding fathers up to the present. Based on original sources, his book analyzes the principal changes in Marxist political ideas, first into Leninism, later into Stalinist doctrine, and finally into the present three-way split between Soviet Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, and the humanist Marxism that has flourished intermittently and been repeatedly suppressed in Eastern Europe.
Leonhard’s division of Marxism into four major periods and his careful survey of its factional varieties is most useful in a field in which many Westerners tend to get hopelessly confused. The picture is complex indeed: the political concepts of Marxism have changed beyond recognition since Marx’s death. As Marxism became entwined in the different national revolutionary experiences, it produced widely divergent and often irreconcilable solutions to the central issues of revolutionary politics: the preconditions, timing, and leadership of the revolution, the forms of struggle, the role of the Party, the prospects for war and peace. Even more disparate are the various blueprints for the future classless society. Above all, nobody agrees on how long-lasting, dictatorial, and proletarian the dictatorship of the proletariat will be. Although the treatment of Chinese communism is adequate, there is unfortunately no reference to Marxism in other third-world countries.
During the last century ten million Chinese settled outside China, 96 percent of them in Southeast Asia. They now control most of the trade in that region, and they pay most of the taxes. Yet they are the victims of second-class citizenship (legally explicit in Indonesia and the Philippines), witch hunts, and pogroms; they have become the Jews of the East, persecuted by all localities, sustained by their own commercial power and ethnic ties. Alexander suggests that “anti-Sinicism” has played a much more active role in the turbulent events of the area than has been generally recognized. Indeed, he argues that the major upheavals in the recent past—the Vietnam war, the Indonesian “confrontation,” and the federalization of Malaysia—can be understood as a manifestation of a pernicious fear of the “yellow peril,” often disguised as the ideological “red peril.”
Several factors have contributed to such racism: general anxiety about “an unreasoning and irresistible force”; a hypersensitivity to Chinese saber rattling; ambivalent feelings toward cultural assimilation of the Chinese; the consequent reassertion by the Chinese of their ethnic identity, for example by reviving their “secret societies”; and skillful politics by Taiwan in marshaling world fears of the Red Chinese—in effect internationalizing the Chinese civil war. Alexander sees the Domino Theory as an indication that Americans are susceptible to “Chinaphobia”: unless we make a stand, they will conquer us all. He is a meticulous, analytical journalist, who has spent four years researching his book; the effort is well justified.
The Villas Boas brothers are almost singlehandedly responsible for the survival of many groups of Indians in Central Brazil during a quarter of a century that has seen the opening of a gold-feverish, gun-happy, genocidal frontier in the Amazon jungle. This book, drawn from twenty-five years of their journals, is a compendium of myths from the tribes of the Xingu River region where the brothers—rough adventurers and men of gentle intelligence—persuaded the Brazilian government to establish a large protected (and now highway-threatened) reservation.
The book begins with a brief survey of the flora, fauna, and climate of the Xingu and a history of some of the tribal wars, mergers, intermarriages, and extinctions that gradually created its culture-sharing “society of nations.” For the non-anthropologist this part of the book is hard to follow, a tangle of unfamiliar tribal names, though one does occasionally catch a glimpse of Indian groups living like shy wild bird flocks in the forest. The most interesting material, however, is in the thirty-one myths themselves: not set in an “ethnographic context,” not philosophically dissected like those in Reichel-Dolmatoff’s Amazonian Cosmos (1970), but told simply and vividly, as if out loud, like Jaime De Angulo’s Indian Tales (1962). And they are full of humor and mystery—myths that parallel our own (the origin of day and night, the flood); myths that account for the origins of art and customs (often by theft or trickery); myths which reveal by implication the social lives of people—all coming out of a “dreamtime” in which humans, otters, jaguars, fish, and vultures are intimately related by intermarriage and transformation. A man warms himself by a firefly, flutes live in the water, the dead journey as snakes, a canoe has eyes—anthropologists and artists will find them rich and strange.
(Notice in this section does not preclude review of these books in later issues.)
Copyright © 1974 by Kirkus Service, Inc., a subsidiary of The New York Review of Books.