CLEFT IN TWAIN
By Rivers Scott
TO the best of my knowledge, Mark Twain never used the line "Cl Hamlet, thou bast cleft my heart in twain," for a pun on his own name. But well he might have, and with cruel aptness.
For, as Justin Kaplan shows in a brilliant new study, Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (Cape, 45s.), the comic creator of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn was a man deeply and tragically divided against himself.
Mr. Kaplan's title is designed to make this clear at the outset. Sam Clemens was the private person, born in Hannibal, Missouri, of impoverished but respected parents, moving East in the 1860s at the age of 31, marrying and striving towards gentility and the polite values. Mark Twain was the public persona of the entertainer, all brash manners, lecture-room tricks, risque stories and whisky jags.
And the Clemens/Twain reflected that of the whole of America: North v. South, Eastern manners v. those of the West, above all the gulf between the pre-Civil War economy and the dollar-greedy ethos of what Twain called "the Gilded Age."
Mr. Kaplan quietly illuminates this background, while his treatment of his hero—in fact, of his whole subject—has an almost caressingly sympathetic quality. Never does he cornmit the biographer's cardinal sin of allowing his thesis, however interesting and enlightening, to crush or imprison the human being he is writing about.
Alas, sweet though success smelled, Twain's divide was never bridged. It revealed itself in many ways, including psychosomatic illness.
"The report of my death was an exaggeration," he had declared, in a famous riposte to a newspaper's false alarm. The world laughed heartily but Mr. Kaplan demonstrates the defiance and bitterness Twain's clowning so often concealed.
KARL RAHNER'S writings have a reputation, not undeserved, of being very difficult to understand. It would be a pity if this reputation were to prevent readers from tackling his Biblical Homilies (Burns, Oates, 28s.).
For these homilies. delivered at the University Church of Innsbruck, are remarkably simple and easy to understand, while containing much original thought and throwing new light on many well-known biblical texts. Besides, they are modern in the best sense of the word.
in the homily entitled "The Christian, the Devil and Culture," for example, Fr. Rahner says, in contrast with such well-known devotional books as "The Imitation": "The Christian is not just a man who is waiting for eternity and who looks on all earthly things as temporary. As a Christian he is a man sent into the world to carry out the earthly mission of his creator and Lord .. ."
This does not mean that Fr. Rahner disregards the supernatural aspect of Christianity; but he joins the natural vocation of man to his supernatural destiny after the example of the parables of Christ himself. Though Rahner has deeply studied the existential philosophy of Heidegger, there is no trace of existentialist pessimism in these homilies; on the contrary, he exhorts his hearers to become "composed, integrated people," because as children of this earth they have the spirit of eternal God.
As will have been gathered from these few remarks, there is no sermonizing, there are no pious commonplaces in these homilies. They are down to earth, full of sanctified commonsense, and will be as interesting and instructive to simple as to sophisticated Christians. They would provide excellent Lenten reading. Apart from a few infelicities, the translation, by Desmond F o rris t al and Richard Strachan, is excellent.
'OTH Karl Rahner's The lffi Christian of the Future, translated by Kevin Smyth (Herder-Bums and Oaths, 12.s. 6d.) and his Theological Investigations, VoL IV, translated by W. J. O'Hara (Darton. Longman and Todd, 55s.) are translations of his writings taken from his collected
studies, appearing in English as "Theological .Investigations."
The smaller paperback under review here, in the familiar Quaestiones Disputatae series, contains a selection of essays from the sixth volume, due to appear later in complete form. Presumably the English publishers have reached an agreement about this among themselves, and readers and purchasers will have to decide whether they are glad to have an advance instalment of Volume VI, or irritated at perhaps having to buy the same material twice.
At any rate, both the volumes under review can be unreservedly recommended, especially since Rahner has been well served by his translators. The four essays in "The Christian of the Future" contain some of Rahner's reflections on what we have now to recognise as the post-conciliar epoch in which we live.
They are. it seems to me, models of their kind, and are to be recommended equally to those whom recent changes in the life of the Church have meant anxiety rather than liberation, and to those whose sense of liberation has sometimes made them forget their responsibility to the whole community of Christians.
Rahner's reflections are a good modern instance of the sort of discretion shown by St. Paul writing in his first letter to the Corinthians on food offered to idols.
The fourth volume of the "Investigations," published so soon after the fifth, may make prospective purchasers hesitate. They must be urged not to miss what is in many ways the finest of the volumes so far published. There are studies in this volume which open up entirely new perspectives for theology.
Perhaps the most striking is the essay on the theology of the symbol, leading on to a very remarkable study, "The Word and the Eucharist".
"Expressiveness" becomes a theological category which revitalises theological thinking over all its range; we may perhaps be reminded of the way in which St. Augustine made his simultaneous advance in human self-understanding and the theological understanding of the Trinity.
We should remember, however, that we should be doing Rahner a disservice if we become merely purveyors of Rahnerism; these studies are offered for our collaboration in the unending task of theological investigation.
It is to be hoped, too, that Rahner's collaborators will not omit a brief essay towards the end of this volume on "Poetry and the Christian"; this too is a consideration of "expreasiveness" which no theologian should ignore.
Cornelius Ernst, O.P.