Baxter Bernstein, by Stephen Seley
The first part of this book is first rate. There is a form of social criticism, inevitably increasing in vogue, that consists in affirming the very opposite of the virtues and aspirations that one is supposed to approve (this is criticism of mores), or even that it is common sense to approve (this is metaphysical dismay, despair, disgust). Where the accepted values are not spectacularly successful in making us happy, it is reasonable to energize our heroes with different values. This “transvaluation of values” is either rationally proved, as by André Gide; or lyrically proved, as when Jean Genêt waves his red rag in front of the bulls; or proved by overwhelming the scene with feces and foolishness, as Louis-Ferdinand Céline does. Now Seley presents us with his “hero of sorts” more quietly, simply affirming him by refusing to regard anything else as interesting, or justified or especially unjustified; very simply, avoiding also the theatrical stoicism of the Existentialists. Baxter is a real no-good, about to run out, explaining his present defections by a past defection (not having fought in the Spanish Civil War), not even callous or guiltless but his guilt will not move him, rationalizing and not believing in the rationalization yet not tempted to analyze any deeper, etc., etc. In fact Baxter promises to be a devastating hero who could bring the world to a salutary standstill; and also a by no means impossible ideal for men to attain to.
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