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Hove, Arthur (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 66, Number 2 (Nov. 1964)

Kubly, Herbert
Discovering America,   pp. 12-14


Page 13


and Italy I found what I'd been searching for my en-
tire life: an awareness, a recognition of myself as a
person. I was accepted, not as an American with an
American's troublesome milieu of foreign aid dollars,
of Hollywood's luxury fantasies, of-during my first two
visits-McCarthy politics, but as a human being.
   The experience of discovering one's Americanism by
 leaving America must be a common one and to an
 American writer I would think almost necessary. After
 fighting a dozen years to gain admission into the Amer-
 ican writing community, I was welcomed for a book
 I wrote after my prodigal alienation and reconcilia-
 tion. American in Italy was as much about America as
 it was about Italy. In writing it I had re-entered into
 my Americanism. Europe and Europeans had showed
 me the way, and the end of my alienation from Amer-
 ica was the real beginning of my reconciliation with
 myself.
   I fled my land to find my identity and what I found
 was my American identity; in my separation I dis-
 covered those bonds and loyalties which marked me
 inviolably American. Looking at America through
 European eyes I saw its greatness, greatness not in a
 political or doctrinal sense, but greatness as a fulfill-
 ment in history, in the destiny of humanity. Because I
 returned loving it, as I had once hated it in my anger,
 I cherished zealously my privilege, my commitment,
 my duty to criticize it.
 JT IS only when we realize we will never meet the
   image of ourselves which we have cherished, that
 the outlines of it commence to take shape. Sometimes
 when I equate accomplishment with boyhood aspira-
 tion, my life seems to me to have been a dismal chron-
 icle of failure. Of all my enemies of fulfillment, the
 most corrosive has been poverty, or fear of poverty
 rather than poverty itself. In order to write I have
 worked at menial half-jobs, lived on unemployment
 insurance, borrowed from friends, but I have never
 known hunger or poverty as I have seen it in the Med-
 iterranean or in the slums of our cities. Still I remain
 a bourgeois, descended through my ancestors from one
 bourgeois nation and born into another. Though I have
 escaped now and then into Bohemia, I could never es-
 cape into Bohemianism because I will always long for
 those bourgeois corporealities-family, home, financial
 security-which give substance to life not only in Switz-
 erland and America but in every enduring country of
 the western world. But because I have chosen to be
 a writer, these things have been denied me, and I have
 not been able to make my peace with my disenfran-
 chisement. To have to accept poverty with meekness
 within the affluence of our land seems to me to be a
 debilitating stagnation, a degradation of life. For it is
 not true that suffering, physical and spiritual, without
 an apportionate amount of fulfillment, ennobles a man.
 Instead it debases him, makes him bitter, envious,
querulous. Another writer from Wisconsin, Glenway
Wescott, has said that it is inadvisable for a writer to
undertake the writing of novels unless he is sure of
November 1964
  being able to produce a great quantity in a popular
  vein. If this is true, one's heart must mourn for all the
  fine books that are not to be written. Despite the classic
  example of Mozart (who could tell what he might have
  composed had the circumstances of his life been other-
  wise?) I believe the greatest poem is the one still un-
  written, the greatest song the one that may be pre-
  vented from being sung.
    Against things such as these I have vented my bit-
 terness, my anger, and the most vicious part of it all
 has been that one is not allowed anger, is not permitted
 to complain, but is expected to make his humble peace
 with the intolerations of his life, to accept his allotment
 of bile.
   But self-pity is a ruining force; anger is destructive
 and destroys the one who is angry. And so the greatest
 enemy to my fulfillment has been myself, believing as
 I have that I could rise to the potential of my talent at
 the same time that I would be a success in a very ma-
 terialistic sense. Having propelled myself out of the
 world into which I was born and never achieving the
 world toward which I aspired, I have been no place,
 belonged nowhere. Vulnerable to the stresses of life,
 I have been afraid to forgo the small opportunities and
 seek the large ones. Too many times I have stood at a
 fork, choosing a road I might better not have traveled,
 because I had not the courage to resist, because I did
 not clearly understand my commitment. In my scram-
 ble for security, for success, the one I was betraying
was myself.
   It is no accident that the anti-heroes of American
 novels-Saul Bellow's Augie March, Philip Roth's Gabe
 Wallach, Hemingway's rootless floaters and Wolfe's re-
 bellious poets, even O'Hara's status-climbing tycoons-
 are outside society trying to batter their way into the
 human family. For that is precisely the plight of the
 American writer. In Europe it is work and work alone
 that is expected of the author and he is honored ac-
 cordingly. In America, with America's deification of
 personality and icon of success, it is the writer's in-
 timate life that is demanded, his body, his privacy, his
 curtained seclusion. By contrast, in the socially oriented
 novels of Balzac, Proust, Thomas Mann, and the great
 Russians, the protagonists are concerned with finding
 meaning inside the frameworks of their fixed societies
 because the authors are writing of their situations.
 Sociologists keep showing us how American life is an
 exhaustive, anxiety-ridden and   effortful ascension,
 branch by branch, up the materialistic beanstalk to-
 ward the cornucopia of fulfillment, the frustrating re-
 wards of luxury, status, power, and by indirection, love
 and sex, which awaits them at the top. Whether from
 choice or incapacity a vast group of American writers
 does not come to grips with this vertically impelled
 order, and so we have in American letters an inordinate
 preoccupation with children and adolescents, an es-
 cape from the responsibilities of adulthood into the
 memories, the nostalgic fantasies of childhood, or early
 innocence. A result is the peculiar phenomenon of the
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