Commentary Magazine


The World Is a Wedding, by Bernard Kops

So it isn’t a Wedding

The World is a Wedding.
by Bernard Kops.
Coward-McCann. 264 pp. $5.00.

This is a daft, rather sad book and the fact that it made its way into print at all says something about the sentiment of the English Left since Suez. The autobiography of a youngish Anglo-Jewish playwright, it is all of a piece with Arnold Wesker and Joan Littlewood, with Aldermaston and the Universities and Left Review’s Coffee House in Carlisle Street. I seriously doubt if such a work would have even got past the publisher’s reader before 1956. Since then, however, a tide of anti-intellectual left-wing populism has passed over the country and books of this sort have not only been published but praised as well.

Like the populism of the American Radical Right, this English movement of the Left amounted to a revolt against modernism. That is to say, while its declared aim was the surrender of a national deterrent and the abdication of costly imperial adventures, the underlying impulse was directed against the growing inaccessibility of high-level government and corporate decision-making. It was against the ruthless, supposedly inhuman calculations of Realpolitik and for the simple, immediate virtues of common life. Hence there was a rise among English intellectuals in the fortunes of working-class culture and a growing interest in the culture of any group which was thought to find satisfaction in the natural, forth-right exercise of its own native values. Novels and plays idealizing the rugged vigor of working-class life got good acceptance, as did the cockney masques of Joan Littlewood. The irreverence, style, and strident energy of lower-class teen-agers came in for approval from Colin MacInnes, who also admired the lackadaisical warmth of the newly arrived West Indian immigrants. In fact, MacInnes’s praise of the new English Negro summarized all the esteemed values of the new spirit. The Negro, MacInnes said, was sunny, easy-going, and refreshingly unpunctual, as against the rigidity and facelessness of the men of the Warfare State.

All this was a sort of political pre-Raphaelitism or a William Morris dance set to jazz. C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite became an unofficial CND pamphlet and a Jamaican steel band led the procession from Aldermaston. Arnold Wesker and Bernard Kops found a natural welcome under these circumstances, more, perhaps, as Jews than as members of the New Left. Like the working classes, the Jews have what strikes the English eye as a colorful life of their own. More than that, they have an esoteric ceremonial calendar. Thus they come into the admired category of “folk,” which puts them, in turn, nearer to the impulsive heartfelt origin of things. No wonder, then, that Jews have been popping up all over the place. Two enormously popular musicals by Lionel Bart featured on the one hand a jolly, bowdlerized Fagin and, on the other, a cut-price Yiddishe Momma Courage. Lovable Jewish ironists turn up in Frank Norman’s Fings aint what they used ter be, in Joan Littlewood’s Sparrows Can’t Sing, and in Anthony Newley’s Small World of Sammy Lee. And finally, Centre 42—sponsored by the Trade Union Council to bring drama to the factory floor—opened its program with Kops’s own Enter Solly Gold.

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The second reason for the ready adoption of such literature has more to do with the supposed vision of the Jew than with his “folksy” behavior. The vision, as advertised, is marked by a shrugging ironic simplicity that has been taken as a godsend by a movement which has given up logical rigor in favor of the “crunch” of wise innocence. Herman Kahn can be refuted more convincingly with a phrase like “So who needs a bomb?”—which has the timbre of intuitive wisdom and the sad smile of an absolutely unanswerable, ancient, suffering sagacity—than with pages of careful analysis.

Kops comes on with an Uncle Tom version of both these “Jewish” talents. The World Is a Wedding glares with colorful effects and gives a rich dose of folkways, both Jewish and cockney. The opening paragraph alone sets the tone for this picture. “Take one Jew and immediately you have an opposition party. In our family it was no exception. Our home was like a Yiddishe parliament, with seven opposition parties . . . and we shouted most of the time, mainly to ourselves. There was always someone laughing or crying at any given moment.” Oh the laughter, the tears, the eloquence!

Then there is the philosophical “vision,” the simple piercing honesty which takes us beyond all trouble-some complexity to such lucid ironies as: “So what’s so wonderful about caviar? Just rich man’s anchovy”; or “What was a house but some bricks which separated people from the Universe?”

That Kops can write such drivel is rather surprising in view of his claim that as a very young man he “plunged into the mainstream of literature by reading T. S. Eliot,” and that at about the same time he “went on a voyage of discovery into the endless, beautiful continent of Russian literature where I remained happily and am still wandering.” Wide reading tends to scorch out the sort of deathless pensées to which Kops is prone, or at least it encourages a certain self-protective reticence. Kops, however, is actually literature-proof—one of those auto-didacts who can read till they are blue in the face and still be capable of saying: “I wanted to know how I fitted into the order of things. I wanted to discover my roots and establish some sort of identity.”

The impulse to create in such people is often irresistible. They have oceanic, inchoate feelings of creativity, like a phantom pregnancy which swells and stirs and which, though it may never deliver itself, disturbs the bearer with thoughts of imminent greatness. (Kops says that he “felt creation like a disease” within him.) More often than not, this sensation of brimming fertility fails to develop into anything more constituted than Kops’s “disease,” licensing the sufferer, in his own mind at least, to behave with artistic oddness. But it may also lead him into scribbling like a mad thing and jotting down a load of trivial nonsense, all very “philosophical.” Like Kops. Like this book, which provides a perfect and tragically self-revealing picture of the syndrome of romantic abortion.

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