Title: The Machine Against The Garden
Subtitle: Two essays on American literature and culture
Date: 1985
Source: The Machine Against the Garden, Edited and with an introduction by John Moore, Aporia Press, 1992
Notes: “To The New York Review of B” and “On The Machine in the Garden” originally appeared in the Fifth Estate, Vol. 20, No. 2 (October 1985), under the title “The Machine Against the Garden”. The editor and publishers wish to thank Lorraine Perlman for her support of this reprint. Aporia Press 1992. ISBN 0 948518 92 8. This edition copyright Aporia Press & John Moore Introduction copyright John Moore. Cover, paste-up, design &c: Ed Baxter. Typesetting: Ed Baxter; Cecilia Boggis (to whom many thanks). Distributed in Britain by Counter Productions, PO Box 556, London SE5 ORL UK. Write for our mail-order catalogue of unusual titles. (Text from the original booklet, 1992)


One can only approach with trepidation the task of writing an introduction to a text that takes as one of its themes the ways in which forewords domesticate or recuperate the works they introduce. To forestall accusations of proving this thesis, the introductory remarks that follow will therefore attempt to open up debate rather than limit it through imposing a supposedly definitive reading of the two essays published in this volume.

These essays are important first and foremost because they are the last works of Fredy Perlman.[1] Written during February and March 1985, and subsequently typeset by the author, they were published in the October 1985 issue of the radical primitivist Detroit periodical, the Fifth Estate. But this was a posthumous act of publication, for Perlman had tragically died while undergoing heart surgery in June 1985. Aside from his unfinished epic The Strait, therefore, these essays are, nolens volens, Perlman’s last will and testament.

The two essays, “To The New York Review of B” and “On The Machine in the Garden”, are concerned with American literature and culture, or more precisely American literature and culture of the nineteenth century. According to Lorraine Perlman, the aim of the former essay remains one of “reclaiming Hawthorne as a fellow critic, not a celebrator of the Invaders’ takeover of the continent. For several years, Fredy had been studying the many resisters to the progress imposed by the arrogant Europeans, and he recognized that Melville, Hawthorne and Thoreau had helped him enormously to distinguish the fraudulent from the authentic.”[2] These comments echo Perlman’s own prefatory remarks to his two essays, which note that “many of North America’s best-known 19th century writers, among them Melville, Hawthorne and Thoreau, were profound critics of the technological society.” But the way in which Perlman chooses to undertake the reclamation of these authors remains equally significant.

As indicated above, Perlman’s concern centres on the domestication or recuperation – what he calls the conquering and pacifying – of literary texts by critics for the status quo. The focus of his critique, however, remains one man: Leo Marx – as reviewer/ introducer in the first essay, as author in the second essay. This choice is significant. Marx may, as Perlman notes, have been a Professor at Amherst College in 1959, when he wrote the Foreword to the Signet Classic edition of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter which Perlman so aptly dissects. But by the time Perlman composed his two essays in 1985, Marx had become Professor of American Cultural History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of The Machine in the Garden, a standard and much celebrated text in the field of American Studies. In criticizing Marx, therefore, Perlman challenges the entire nature of academic constructions of American culture. Marx emerges as the representative man of academia, and as a disillusioned ex-academic, Perlman the engaged social critic knows from bitter experience the character of his enemy.

In “To The New York Review of B”, Perlman censures Marx for acting as a literary broker, whether in his role of publicizing slurs on Hawthorne’s character or in his role of providing reactionary misinterpretations of Hawthorne’s work. Perlman’s exposure of Marx’s ideological motives remains pertinent, but his alternative readings of Hawthorne’s texts are not entirely unproblematic. In ideological terms, Perlman’s readings are thoroughly sound, but in terms of literary hermeneutics they are less satisfactory. Marx’s interpretations of Hawthorne’s texts are characterized as distorting, bigoted, reductionist and above all as providing a reactionary textual closure. These accusations are true, but one cannot help wondering whether Perlman’s anarchic readings do not enact a comparable, if ideologically contrary, process of textual closure. The subversive potential of The Scarlet Letter (for example) could be said to reside precisely in its resistance to textual closure and its polysemic openness to multiple hermeneutics, figured in the plethora of meanings available to the symbol of the scarlet letter itself. To pose any reading – anarchic or reactionary – as definitive could be seen as limiting the text’s radical hermeneutic heterogeneity. In terms of an anarchic reading, this could be construed as an unwitting totalization which risks undermining the liberatory purpose of the textual interrogation.

At the level of Hawthorne’s narratives, textual heterogeneity is represented by figures such as the revellers in “The Maypole of Merry Mount” and the “merry company in the forest” of witches, Indians, outlaws and dissenters in The Scarlet Letter. These heterogeneous assemblages, primary examples of Bakhtin’s carnivalesque forces of insurrection, are celebrated by Perlman when he gleefully recounts how the critically sanitized “saints of American letters” were returned to their true home “among malcontents, insurgents, mirth makers and witches” during the 1960s. And yet despite this celebration of polymorphousness, Perlman insists upon confining the textual play of forces in The Scarlet Letter within a manichean framework of binary oppositions.

Hawthorne’s text takes place on the interface between the town and the forest, the city and the country, civilization and the wilderness, culture and nature, repression and liberation. Hester Prynne, the novel’s protagonist, lives on the boundary between the two spheres – persecuted by the forces of control and yet declining the offer to join the forces of resistance made by the witch Mistress Hibbens. In part this failure on Hester’s part to commit herself derives from the allegorical schema of the text. If Hester’s husband Chillingworth represents Science, and Hester’s lover Dimmesdale represents Religion, then Hester herself represents Art. And Hawthorne conceives of the artist as a trangressive, if rather problematic figure. Through her needlecraft Hester, the first American artist, ornaments the patriarchal state that persecutes her. And yet the isolation her position entails leaves her free to develop a radical programme for psychosocial transformation:

“As a first step, the whole system of society is to be torn down, and built up anew. Then, the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified, before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position. Finally, all other difficulties being obviated, woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms, until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change.”

But Hester is no activist: her theoretical meditations are never embodied in practice. The activism of the merry company in the forest and the theorizing of the intellectual outcast are never synthesised into a visionary resistance praxis. This failure may constitute a working definition of the American tragedy. Hester can transgress the borderline between the areas of control and resistance, but cannot align herself with the latter because of her refusal to be trapped in those binary oppositions that characterise Western thought. In a sense this typically antinomian resistance to hierarchical structures remains positive. But in Hawthorne’s narrative of America it becomes paralyzing due to the fact that the contrast between the forces of control and the forces of resistance in the text is ultimately a false opposition. The two opposing forces are not homogeneous units. The Puritan State may be regimented and uniform, but its opposition remains multiform, proliferant and aberrant – but above all protean, impossible to pinpoint and constellate.

Hester does not seem to realize how this play of forces qualifies this particular binary opposition, making the incorporation of the elusive resistance into such a structure extremely difficult, and thus rendering her refusal of dichotomies inapplicable in this instance. Unfortunately, however, Perlman appears to make the same mistake. He seems to want to simplify the text, especially by collapsing Hester into the resistance, and thus provide a textual closure by reclaiming its supposedly “real” or “original” meaning as one antithetical to power.

Perlman is on surer ground in “On The Machine in the Garden”, where he adeptly analyzes Leo Marx’s apologetics for the Faustian urges of the West. But even here there are problematic elements, and ones not unrelated to issues that arise in “To The New York Review of B”. Perlman states that the knowledge that “there’s a ‘before’ as well as an ‘outside’” to the control complex (or Leviathan, as he calls it) and its linear his-story, remains crucial to his thought. He then rightly reprehends Marx for denying the authenticity of this primitivist impulse and trying to explain away its discursive encodements as merely examples of the literary convention of the pastoral.

Perlman, however, seems to assume that “pastoral” forms of literary discourse, stripped of excrescences in the shape of domesticating critical interpretations, can provide direct access to the “outside.” He uses the image of an electrically charged barbed wire fence to characterize the strict limits placed around life in the concentration camp world of the control complex. He correctly criticizes Marx for reductively asserting that the problems of civilization can be resolved through political processes: “Politics, the ‘science of power/ the ‘art of the possible’ – is that a breach in the fence or the fence itself?” But the question aptly asked of political discourse could also be directed at its literary counterpart.

On one level, literary discourse – like any other semiotic system – can be seen as a self-reflexive, closed system and one whose origins lie within the terrain of civilization. In this respect at least, it remains debatable whether language in general and literary discourse in particular are breaches in the fence or the fence itself. At another level, however, semiotic systems maintain dialogic relationships, not only with one another, but with socio-material processes. And within such negotiations can be discerned those intimations of the “outside” that “pastoral” discourse provides. It is here that the subversive potential of literary discourse becomes apparent: in the ability of a text to act out revolution – rather than merely speak of revolution, and in the process possibly inhibit the development of revolutionary discourse. And in this respect, Perlman’s heterodox insights are crucial, not merely in apprehending a “before” and an “outside,” but also a “beyond.”

Shortly after composing these essays Perlman apprehended a “beyond” of cosmic dimensions. But it cannot be coincidental that these last works are both fittingly written in the form of letters. In itself this remains indicative that until the end he, like Hawthorne, continued the attempt (in the words of the latter) to open an intercourse with the world.

John Moore


The Machine Against The Garden: Two essays on American literature and culture

Prefatory Note

Critiques of economic development, material progress, technology and industry are not a discovery of the Fifth Estate. Human beings resisted the incursions from the earliest days, and many of North America’s best-known 19th century writers, among them Melville, Hawthorne and Thoreau, were profound critics of the technological society. Since these writers became “classics of American literature,” and therefore available to all interested readers, defenders of official views have had to carry on a “cold war” against them. The most powerful weapon has been the classroom assignment; most students attacked by this weapon never again cracked a book by a “classic.” Other ways of “conquering and pacifying” the classics have been more subtle: the authors were maligned, the works were misinterpreted, the critiques were diverted and at times inverted.

The two essays below are descriptions of some of the methods used in the “cold war.” The first was submitted (but not published in) the official organ of the “cold warriors,” The New York Review of B. The second, originally a letter, attempts to unravel and expose the diversions and inversions of one of the more influential “cold warriors.”

To The New York Review of B

While skimming through a recent issue of your magazine, I came across a caricature of a man baring his chest and exposing a letter stamped or branded on it. I supposed that the mark was intended to be a scarlet letter, even though the cartoon was black and white. I learned that the branded man in the cartoon was supposed to be Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of an unforgettable exposure of bigots who branded human beings with scarlet letters.

What can this mean, I wondered. My curiosity being aroused, I plunged into the article accompanying the cartoon.[3] The article was by a Leo Marx; I did not at first remember that I had encountered this name before. The subject of the article was a book on Hawthorne’s Secret by a Philip Young who, a footnote told me, relied on Freud to do his probing. My wonder was not dispelled by my reading of the article. On the contrary, my wonder grew.

While reading the article, I thought of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. You may remember the story. In case you’ve forgotten, I’ll remind you. The setting is the New England of the earliest Founding Fathers of American Democracy. The story begins in the chapter titled “The Market Place,” on “the grass plot before the jail, in Prison Lane.” On a certain summer morning, “the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people... could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment.” The culprit might be “a sluggish bond servant, or an undutiful child,” “an idle and vagrant Indian,” or it “might be, too, that a witch... was to die upon the gallows.”[4]

On this particular morning, the culprit was a young woman who had given birth to a child, a baby girl whose father was not the young woman’s long-absent husband. For this crime, not against nature but against the laws of legislators democratically elected in a renowned New England town council, Hester, the culprit, is not only imprisoned; she is condemned to wear a brand on her breast, a scarlet letter “A”, as a lifelong reminder and visible sign of her “sin.” She was further condemned, on emerging from prison, to climb a scaffold which “constituted a portion of the penal machine,” the platform of the pillory, where she was to expose herself and her brand to “the stings and venomous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in every variety of insult.” Above her were “the Governor and several of his counsellors, a judge, a general, and the minister of the town; all of whom sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting house, looking down upon the platform... They were, doubtless, good men, just and sage. But out of the whole human family, it would not have been easy to select the same number of wise and virtuous persons who should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring woman’s heart...”[5]

The repression of an individual by the iron machinery of the State has rarely been so powerfully depicted. Yet this is only the beginning of the story. The sequel is an unrelenting exposure of the Bigotry, in its various guises, of the founders of the American Way of Life.

One of the ministers on the balcony overlooking the platform is “the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor,” of whom one of the spectators says that he “‘takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation.’”

And one of the spectators is the long-absent husband, turning up just in time to see his branded wife, clutching another man’s child, on the platform of the pillory. This man changes his name to Chillingworth and undertakes to find the father of his wife’s child. His researches quickly lead him to “the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor.”

New England bigotry is compounded with hypocrisy. The self-righteousness of the Chosen People rests on lies. The lies, furthermore, have intercourse with one another and give birth to broods of new lies. The guilty Reverend confesses to his congregation, he exposes himself as a greater sinner than the condemned culprit, he bares the scarlet letter branded on his own chest. And the more he confesses, the more saintly he becomes in the eyes of his admiring flock. His confessions confirm and justify the iron laws and chains needed to keep sinners less saintly than the Reverend on the straight and narrow path.

With the character of Chillingworth, the “betrayed” husband, Hawthorne added another dimension to the story. Chillingworth is not a narrow Puritan but a man of “learning and intelligence... extensively acquainted with the medical science of the day.” He is a dispassionate scientific researcher, a successor of the medieval Inquisitor and forerunner of the modern Psychiatrist. Chillingworth quickly discovers that the preacher is his man, but he does not expose the saintly Reverend to the congregation, he does not hand the culprit over to the secular arm. Such informing would have no scientific interest. Chillingworth moves in with the guilty man and experiments with the guilt in the privacy of his own clinic, alone with his patient. He finds the sore, sticks a knife into it, slowly turns the knife, and goes on turning, fascinated by the effects. Whatever motive of revenge he might have had at the start is soon forgotten, replaced by fascination, by scientific interest in his squirming victim’s behavior. Chillingworth completes the picture of a society that confronts nature and humanity with lies, instruments of torture and lethal weapons.

As an allegory of the branding of this continent with the scarlet letter “A”, as an allegory of America – young, middle-aged and old – Hawthorne’s story is overwhelming. Melville’s The Confidence Man is neither as all-embracing nor as clear. The exposure of every official American virtue is as fresh today as when it was written, and it continues to be a festering sore on the “image” of America.

In the USSR, such festering sores are “liquidated”; the authors’ names are removed from encyclopedias and library catalogues, the stories are removed from bookstores; the State sees to it that the story and the author never existed.

American methods are much subtler. Here it is not forgotten that the Catholic Church gained in stature by turning heretics into Catholic saints. Here heretical authors were turned into “American classics” while the anti-American purport of their work was handed over to the secular arm. Here the secular arm saw to it that readers read the exposures the same way Reverend Dimmesdale’s congregation heard his confessions, as yet another proof of the virtue of the authorities sitting or standing on the balcony overlooking the platform of the pillory.

With these thoughts and recollections passing through my mind while I read the review of Hawthorne’s Secret in The New York Review of B, I suddenly remembered where I had previously seen the name of the reviewer. I found my old copy of The Scarlet Letter, a 1959 Signet Classic, and there, on the title page, below the author and title, I saw the words: “With a Foreword by Leo Marx.” A professor at Amherst College. The very man who reviewed Hawthorne’s Secret. I remembered that my Signet Classic contained different works by different authors, the shorter a polemic against the longer. I re-read the Foreword and confirmed my memory. Sure enough, the Foreword is like a nearly-opaque lens intended to help students stay on the straight and narrow path while wandering in the forest; it is a crutch, a map, a “How to read this book without getting lost” guide; it removes the sting and makes the “great American classic” safe for wholesome American students.

In this Foreword, Professor Marx warns that “entering the world of The Scarlet Letter is like walking in a large, many-sided hall of mirrors.” He, the Professor, possesses the key to this labyrinth. The key is the Professor’s view of “the wilderness.” The landscape, the geography is “no mere backdrop; it is inseparable from policy and action and meaning.” To Professor Leo Marx, the wilderness is “grim.” Its grimness can even be felt “in the grim mood of the crowd waiting at the prison door.” The Professor grudgingly admits that “some of the grimness can be explained in other ways,” but he promptly disposes of the “other ways”; he insists that it is neither the Puritan colony nor its Bigotry, but rather the Wilderness that is “grim.” And he drives his point home. “Here is a tiny outpost of English society cut off from civilization by the ocean on one side and a vast, unexplored reach of wild nature on the other. What this may portend is quietly suggested by the appearance of a savage at the edge of the crowd.”[6] This statement does not come from a racist “Indian-killer” of the Jacksonian era of mass exterminations; it comes from our contemporary, Amherst Professor Leo Marx, a century after the holocaust perpetrated on this continent’s original inhabitants was officially terminated. The war is still going on.[7] The Wilderness is still a place that has to be extirpated, enclosed, pacified and processed. The wild forest is a place of “tempting licence,” “a place where people elude the rules of the community, ...a place where no laws obtain; in short a moral wilderness.”[8]

The wilderness is red, like Hester’s letter. And the Professor, like the saintly Reverend, is “committed to the iron side, with all that implies about man’s weakness and his inescapable need for restraint, order and institutional control.” From that side, the iron side, Professor Marx declares war on Hawthorne, who “ deliberately enlists us all on Hester’s side,” on the wild side, for, in the Professor’s words, “Hester is perfectly willing to disregard all that men (sic) have inherited from the past – religion, tradition, law and society. She believes in the new beginning.” Professor Marx does not, and he turns somersaults in order to pull the “great American author” away from “the sentimental side” over to his side. “Hawthorne calls forth our warmest impulses – our sympathy for the lonely, our solidarity with the persecuted, our anarchic urge for fulfilment now; and then, when our gentlest selves have been exposed, he forces us to recognize their fallibility.”[9]

Nowhere in The Scarlet Letter did Hawthorne force us to recognize the fallibility of our anarchic urge, but Professor Marx wishes he had; his wish becomes fact and finally it becomes “the moral” of The Scarlet Letter: “Hawthorne finally would have us see that as a principle the wild rose is no more adequate than iron.” The problem is that, “having weighted the argument so heavily on the sentimental side, it is no easy task to restore the balance.”[10] I readily admit that it is no easy task for me to imagine a “balance” between a wild rose and iron; I picture the flower firmly held in a vise; in human terms, I imagine an individual, gifted with life and thought, encased in armor.

Of course the Professor does not, for he cannot, quote the moral with Hawthorne’s words. He tells us that Hawthorne placed this moral in “the final chapter” where “he spells out the lesson,” where “the language is so simple, the author so outspoken, and the meaning so plain that we scarcely recognize the moral – much less its profundity.”[11]

I glanced at Chapter 24 of Hawthorne’s story, titled “Conclusion,” and I admit that I could “scarcely recognize” anything like Professor Marx’s moral, “much less its profundity.” But then I noticed that my Signet Classic contained yet another “final chapter” after the story’s final chapter, a short story written by Hawthorne at a different time and in a different spirit, a story with the title “Endicott and the Red Cross.” I realized that Professor Marx had committed a sleight of hand, that he had set a trap for his students, by appending this story to The Scarlet Letter.

The story of “Endicott and the Red Cross,” jarring as a conclusion to the tale it follows, seems to show its author as a defender of iron Puritans and an enemy of the scarlet and the wild; it seems to contain Professor Marx’s “lesson.” Here the famous Puritan governor Endicott, in his “polished breastplate,” confronted the bearers of England’s “banner of the Red Cross.” “In close vicinity” to Endicott stood “the sacred edifice” as well as “that important engine of Puritanic authority, the whipping post.” Nearby, “at one corner of the meeting house was the pillory, and at the other the stocks”; the head of an Episcopalian was “incased” in the one, the feet of a “fellow criminal” in the other. A woman wore “a cleft stick in her tongue, in appropriate retribution for having wagged that unruly member against the elders of the church.” “Among the crowd were several whose punishment would be lifelong; some, whose ears had been cropped...; others, whose cheeks had been branded with the initials of their misdemeanors; one, with his nostrils slit and seared; and another, with a halter about his neck...” The King’s men were also on hand, with their banner, threatening to curb the powers of the Puritan authorities. Endicott ordered the English banner lowered “and, brandishing his sword, Endicott thrust it through the cloth, and with his left hand rent the Red Cross completely out of the banner.” The story ends with a moral, a lesson. “With a cry of triumph, the people gave their sanction to one of the boldest exploits which our history records. And forever honored the name of Endicott! We look back through the mist of ages, and recognize in the rending of the Red Cross from New England’s banner the first omen of that deliverance which our father’s consummated after the bones of the stern Puritan had lain more than a century in the dust.”[12]

We recognize in Endicott the forerunner of the Jacksons and the Reagans. We see the glorious origins of the American Way of Life. “The language is so simple, the author so outspoken, and the meaning so plain that we scarcely recognize the moral...” A lazy student could simply leap from the Foreword to the book’s last paragraph to learn what it all meant. The moral, the profound lesson, is patriotic; it can be summarized as “Stars and Stripes Forever!”

The last paragraph of the Signet Classic edition of The Scarlet Letter annihilates all that precedes it. Hemmed in between Professor Marx’s Foreword and the patriotic last paragraph, Hawthorne’s tale lost its sting and, like Joan of Arc, could safely be placed among the angels.

Yet only a person steeped in the metaphysics of empire-building could read this last paragraph without suspecting that its author had his tongue in his cheek. Even a student who allowed the last paragraph to annihilate all that preceded it could have disabused herself by simply reading yet another of Hawthorne’s short stories, a story with the title “The Maypole of Merry Mount.” If this story had also been appended to the Signet Classic edition, no reader could have missed the irony of the seemingly patriotic last paragraph, nor could any reader have read that paragraph as a celebration of the feats of Endicott and his imperial successors.

In the story of the Maypole, Hawthorne made his view of Endicott’s America amply clear. If Europeans had to land on this continent’s shores, they need not have brought their repressive State machinery, their prisons, pillories and stocks, their genocidal militarism and their Bigotry with them. Another alternative existed. There were initially two different groups of settlers on New England’s shores: Endicott and his Puritans were in Salem; altogether different people were in Mount Wollaston (which they renamed Merry Mount).

Those at Merry Mount were everything the Puritans were not. “Jollity and gloom were contending for an empire.”[13] At Merry Mount, “the Maypole was the banner staff... They who reared it, should their banner be triumphant, were to pour sunshine over New England’s rugged hills, and scatter flower seeds throughout the soil.” These people laughed, danced in masks, caroused and fornicated, and they invited their neighbors, the people of the woodlands, the original inhabitants, to join them in their festivals.

“But a band of Puritans, who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.” Sensing the invisible threat, the dancers and carousers sadly reflected that “nothing of futurity will be brighter than the mere remembrance of what is now passing.” It was an epoch when “mirth makers of every sort... began to be discountenanced by the rapid growth of Puritanism...”[14]

“Not far from Merry Mount was a settlement of Puritans, most dismal wretches, who said their prayers before daylight, and then wrought in the forest or the cornfield till evening made it prayer time again... A party of these grim Puritans, toiling through the difficult woods, each with a horseload of iron armor to burden his footsteps, would sometimes draw near the sunny precincts of Merry Mount... The men of iron shook their heads and frowned so darkly that the revellers looked up imagining that a momentary cloud had overcast the sunshine... Should the grizzly saints establish their jurisdiction over the gay sinners, then would their spirits darken all the clime, and make it a land of clouded visages, of hard toil, of sermon and psalm forever... the leader of the hostile party stood in the centre... So stern was the energy of his aspect, that the whole man, visage, frame and soul, seemed wrought of iron, gifted with life and thought, yet all of one substance with his headpiece and breastplate. It was the Puritan of Puritans; it was Endicott himself!... And with his keen sword Endicott assaulted the hallowed Maypole. Nor long did it resist his arm. It groaned with a dismal sound; it showered leaves and rose buds upon the remorseless enthusiast... ‘There,’ cried Endicott, looking triumphantly on his work, ‘There lies the only Maypole in New England. The thought is strong within me that, by its fall, is shadowed forth the fate of light and idle mirth makers, amongst us and our posterity... Wherefore, bind the heathen crew, and bestow on them a small matter of stripes apiece, as earnest of our further justice. Set some of the rogues in the stocks... Further penalties, such as branding and cropping of ears, shall be thought of hereafter’... ‘And shall not the youth’s hair be cut?’ asked Peter Palfrey, looking with abhorrence at the lovelock and long glossy curls of the young man. ‘Crop it forthwith, and that in the true pumpkin shell fashion,’ answered the captain. ‘Then bring them along... there be qualities in the youth, which may make him valiant to fight, and sober to toil, and pious to pray; and in the maiden, that may fit her to become a mother in our Israel...’” Those not exterminated would be reduced to wage-workers and housekeepers; love and laughter would give way to industry, playfulness to Bigotry and flowers to shears of iron. “As the moral gloom of the world overpowers all systematic gayety, even so was their home of wild mirth made desolate amid the sad forest.”[15]

The author of the story of the Maypole cannot easily be made to carry Professor Leo Marx’s moral; he cannot easily be visualised standing alongside “bold” and “honored” Endicott; he can more easily be visualised in Endicott’s pillory, alongside his friends Emerson, Melville and Thoreau, one in the stocks, the second with his ears cropped, the third with his nostrils slit and seared. Despite his place of birth and his illustrious ancestry, the “great American writer” can be considered a forerunner of all the Unamericans, a beacon to anarchistic and seditious aliens who longed for the imminent overthrow of American government.

Professor Marx hemmed in The Scarlet Letter, but to no avail. Only a few short years after the publication of his Signet Classic, his students began to scatter flower seeds throughout the soil, to laugh, dance, carouse and fornicate, to identify with all that was “dark,” “wild,” and “savage” to the Professor. Rebels repelled by the metaphysics of Indian-hating and empire-building turned their backs on the entire iron edifice of violent Americanism with all its Bigotry and Racism. And some of the rebels saw the author of “The May Pole of Merry Mount,” and also the author of The Confidence Man, as precursors of the rebellion.[16]

It appeared as if the saints of American letters were about to fall among malcontents, insurgents, mirth makers and witches. Something had to be done. A new method of exorcising the subversive purport of ancient stories had to be found.

Another comparison with the USSR can be instructive. There an individual who publicly rebels against the pathological behavior of the State is promptly arrested and incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. The individual’s critique is inverted; it is turned against him. All tortures, all crimes are permitted to the State; they are its norm; the State can even brand an individual with a letter “I” (Insane) if the individual refuses to take part in the State’s crimes. It becomes the task of the State’s torturers, in this case psychiatrists, to remake the individual into a “normal” participant in officially sanctioned insanity, namely to break the individual’s spirit.

Here the same result is obtained with somewhat different methods. The lessons of the early Pioneers have not been forgotten. Here critics are not incarcerated in the overcrowded prisons and psychiatric hospitals, to be fed and lodged at public expense. Here critics are branded on the platform of the pillory; here the torture is not inflicted inside the confines of the penal institution, but in public view. And thanks to the progress of information technology, even long-dead critics can be branded and displayed on the modern platforms.

In 1959 Professor Leo Marx hemmed in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter but failed to remove its sting. Twenty-six years later, the Professor turned on the author. He discovered the dossier published as Hawthorne’s Secret: An Untold Tale, by Philip Young, “a biographical critic with something of a reputation as a gifted literary detective.”[17] I was tempted to refer to the detective as a modern Chillingworth but I remembered that, in his earlier Foreword, the Professor had warned that this character was not lifelike; “this cold-blooded man is a stock character, a villain out of the Faust myth who anticipates the heartless psychiatrist of current lore.”[18] Since Chillingworth was only a “stock character” out of myth, and since even the “heartless psychiatrist” exists only in “current lore,” I will refrain from comparing the literary inquisitor to anyone else; I’ll stick to the facts.

Professor Marx says that “Young has altered the way we think about a major author and his work. He has left us with a Hawthorne who in one important respect bears a striking resemblance to his own creation, Arthur Dimmesdale: in the relationship between his secret guilt and his public discourse.”[19]

Hawthorne’s secret, as the branded figure in the cartoon already told us, is Incest, sexual relations with his sister.

Yet the wonder of it all – and Professor Marx admits this – is that “Young has no evidence whatever of an actual relationship between Hawthorne and his sister”![20]

The entire “case” rests on insinuation. The only “proven fact” is that Hawthorne had a sister. The only other information in the dossier is that two sisters of Hawthorne’s first American ancestor were found guilty of incest by a Puritan court. This information is apparently not offered as a joke. The reader is asked to believe that the Puritan court reached its verdict on the basis of evidence more substantial than Philip Young’s. The reader is also asked to believe that the propensity to incest is hereditary.

A latter-day apologist for the iron Puritans might still believe in the fair-mindedness of a Puritan trial; others will only wonder what the two women had actually done, if anything at all. A latter-day believer in the racial transmission of cultural traits might be disposed to believe that the propensity to incest is similarly transmitted; others will be as repelled by the genealogical as by the racist Bigotry.

A quarter of a century ago, the Professor tried to remove the “grimness” from the Founding Fathers and transfer it to the Wilderness. Now he is trying to remove the guilt from the State and transfer it to the critic.

Now my wonder is dispelled. I think I finally understand what all this means. We’ve returned to the now-grassless plot before the jail, in Prison Lane. We, the readers, are spectators looking up at a scaffold which is called The New York Review of B. On this scaffold or platform stands the author of The Scarlet Letter and “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” baring his chest to display a scarlet “I”. Above him are the Governor and several of his counsellors, a judge, a general, a professor and a literary detective, all of them sitting or standing in a balcony, looking down upon the platform. These good people are dressed in all their finery, but in the place where their faces should be, nothing is visible but a capital letter “B”, its colors red, white and blue, its pattern of stars and stripes varying from one personage to the next.

February 1985

On The Machine in the Garden

Your comments as well as the urgings of other friends stimulated me to read Leo Marx’s book, The Machine in the Garden?[21] I quickly recognized the reviewer of Hawthorne’s Secret and also the author of the Foreword to my Signet Classic edition of Hawthorne’s superb novel. But I do not regret reading the book. The central themes of Leo Marx’s book have for several years been among my main concerns, and the book’s range as well as the profundity of many of its observations impressed, provoked and disturbed me.

You may be right in your assessment of Leo Marx (in this book) as “more historical observer than advocate.” He does let his “characters” speak for themselves, and he does not make his own views obtrusive. But his own views do come through; by the end of the book he unobtrusively expresses a coherent outlook on nature, humanity and technology; to a reader with different and often diametrically opposed views, Leo Marx does not seem a mere observer, but an advocate.

A barbed wire fence can be described in many ways. To one observer it may look like a device for the protection of good people from criminals and predatory beasts; to another it may look like a device created by criminals and predatory beasts to repress good people. The side from which the observer sees the fence is important, but not determining; imagination enables an outsider to “see” with the eyes of an insider, or an insider with the eyes of an outsider. The vantage point may (or may not) provide insights, but it does not make one an authority. I, for example, have never been incarcerated in a concentration camp, yet I’ve tended to see barbed wire fences with the eyes of the victims imprisoned in them. Other people I’ve known, who were no closer to (and no further from) the fences than I, have tended to see all such fences, except the specific one behind which their kin perished, with the eyes of those who benefitted from fences. Naturally we argued. We hurled “reality” into each other’s faces. Leo Marx’s book is a continuation of that argument. Leo Marx hurls “reality” into my face, a reality I’ve chosen not to accept, his reality.

For me the knowledge that there is an “outside,” the knowledge (and not merely the belief) that the rest of the world does not consist of concentric circles of barbed wire, has been critical. Leo Marx qualifies such knowledge as “naive, anarchic primitivism” (p. 11) and dismisses it as an “escape from the Reality Principle” (p. 9), a “recoil from the pain and responsibility of life in a complex civilization...” (p. 22). I refer to the “outside” with terms like Community, Freedom, and sometimes Nature, and I realize that others have used the terms, concepts and literary conventions that were available in other times and places; Ancient Greeks, especially during the days of Hellenistic despotism, referred to the “outside” with poetic images of a pastoral Arcadia, and some Western Europeans, during their Renaissance, borrowed this language. The statements became stilted, and they admittedly conveyed less and less. But Leo Marx asserts that these statements never conveyed anything at all, that they had never been anything more than “literary patterns” (p. 18), poetic gimmicks. He goes on to claim that such statements express the opposite of what they claim to express, that they “reveal the inadequacy of the Arcadian situation as an image of human experience” (p. 23), that they “call into question... the illusion of peace and harmony in a green pasture...” (p. 25). For this man, war and disharmony are the realities, even in green pastures.

After I had read twenty-five pages, my main thought was: I’ll be damned if I’m going to read this whole book. As someone who considered Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid more informative about species survival than all of Darwin’s words about the “struggle for survival,” I was repelled by Leo Marx’s crude latter-day Darwinism. But you (and other friends of mine) had recommended Marx’s book, so I read on. The themes he was tackling were dear to me; I could see that he was heading toward a confrontation with profound critics of his “reality”; I wondered how he would wiggle out of the corners in which the critics left him. I thought he was bent on repeating the feat of rhetorician Daniel Webster, a feat Leo Marx describes as follows: “his trick is reduction in the technical literary sense of giving in to a feeling or idea in order, eventually, to take it back” (p. 213). Webster, a friend of Industry, pretended to be dismayed by the devastation only in order “to neutralize the dissonance generated by industrialization. The rhetoric forms an emotional bond between the orator and the public. It puts him in touch with the mass surge toward comfort, status, wealth and power that rules the society... Webster understands the practical political truth – the facts of power” (p. 217).

So does Leo Marx. His facts of power begin in the America of the 1840s, with what W. W. Rostow called the “take-off” into industrialism (p. 29). At that moment, escapists from the reality principle have “a sense of the machine as a sudden, shocking intruder upon a fantasy of idyllic satisfaction” (p. 26). Realists are euphoric. The middleman, the entrepreneur, the man who undertakes to cut up the environment into processed, saleable commodities, becomes the model realist. The type was already envisioned by William Shakespeare in the character of Prospero, the autocrat who wielded his empire’s inhabitants as “hands” and even concocted a tempest to shipwreck his foes. Prospero’s reality is “a symbolic middle landscape created by the mediation between art and nature” (p. 71), namely by what Thorstein Veblen called Business Enterprise.

This “great revolution in science and technology,” this “massive shift in prevailing ideas about man’s relation to nature” (p. 74), this “mingling of mind with brute matter” (p. 93) becomes America’s “all-embracing ideology” (p. 88). Page after page describes this euphoria for “that irreversible and accelerating process of change now regarded as the very powerhouse of history.” The raped landscape, referred to as a “well-ordered garden” is “magnified to continental size” (p. 141); the rape requires “a stronger, more centralized government with power to enforce uniform economic policies” (p. 152). With such a government and with machinery, Prospero’s heirs “conquer nature,” remake a “waste land” into a synthetic garden, “abolish space and time” by imprisoning surviving human beings in enclosed spaces and clock time, set out toward the “liberation of the whole world” (pp. 183–206 passim) and use the language of pastoralism to advertise the real estate and the merchandise of their processed world.

Leo Marx is not himself an advertiser of the improved real estate. He does not prettify America’s industrialization. But he expresses a certain nostalgia for the period when intellectuals were urged to “conquer the new territory opened up by industrialization” (p. 241), the period when there was “nothing inherently ugly about factories and railroads” (ibid.). And he expresses something close to contempt toward early critics of that conquest of “new territory.”

He dismisses Montaigne’s critique of the European expropriators, “On Cannibalism,” as “one of the fountainheads of modern primitivism” (p. 49) (and for Leo Marx, the word “primitive” is neither positive nor neutral). He expects the reader to chuckle when he says that “What finally enables us to take the idea of a successful ‘return to nature’ seriously is its temporariness” (p. 69).

He blandly claims that “it was not easy for intelligent men to maintain a primitivist position,” and he “proves” this claim in the oddest manner: “Jean Jacques Rousseau was drawn to the spontaneity and freedom he associated with primitive life; but he too had to face the undeniable fact that ‘natural man’ was, by European standards, amoral, uncreative and mindless” (pp. 101–102). The “fact” (of European superiority) is so “undeniable” to Leo Marx that T. Jefferson’s occasional claim to the contrary strikes him as a “charming absurdity” (p. 120).

He finds that Thoreau’s Walden goes “to the verge of anarchic primitivism” (p. 245), but he, Leo Marx, rescues Thoreau from falling into the abyss. He considers Thoreau’s “indictment of the Concord ‘economy’” to be “overdrawn,” but he assures the reader that “Thoreau feels no simple-minded Luddite hostility toward the new inventions” (p. 247). Thoreau said, “I will not have my eyes put out and my ears spoiled by its (the railroad’s) smoke and steam and hissing.” In Leo Marx’s translation, Thoreau “says that the pastoral way of life... is doomed” (p. 254), and after a few more such translations, he demonstrates that Thoreau “redeems machine power” (p. 261).

His translation of Hawthorne’s story “Ethan Brand” is even more sanguine. Hawthorne’s character separated himself from the whispering forest, from the life giving sun, and set out on a quest for the fire that fuelled Blake’s “Satanic Mills,” the fire of the Enlightenment, as knowledge as an end in itself, of Science and Industry, of the Western Spirit’s domination over the wilderness. The man’s intellect became severed from his heart and, at the end of his quest, burdened by a “sense of loss, anxiety and dislocation,” he threw himself into the fire. And when the Satanic fire was at last extinguished, nature recovered her former grandeur. Leo Marx points out that Hawthorne is ironic in his description of nature’s recovery (presumably more ironic than in his description of the Satanic fire), therefore the story is a parody of its apparent message and its real message is surely the opposite of its apparent message (pp. 269–275 passim).

In addition to deflecting the critical content of stories, Leo Marx refers to the old argument that technology furthers democracy (p.174), but writing his own book in the age of technocratic totalitarianisms, he does not offer this argument as his own. He also wants to make sure the reader knows that “there was no effective opposition to industrialization” (p. 180) (although he does not tell what rendered the opposition ineffective), that overwhelming majorities were enamored with steam and rails – but he knows that overwhelming majorities were also enamored with Hitler, with Nixon, with Reagan, and he doesn’t make much of this argument either. He offers yet another argument, a bizarre one in a book whose subject is the opposition between nature and artifice: the machine, the artifice, is also a part of nature, as everything else is. But he quickly drops this argument since, with no opposition, there’s no book.

Leo Marx is not shy or secretive about revealing the purpose of all his debunking, his ridicule, his translations and revisions. His aim is to rub our noses in what he considers the stinking reality behind the fragrant pastoralism. “Today... we can easily see what was wrong with the pastoral theory” (p. 114), he confidently announces. That theory was blind or indifferent to the fact that “the savages, the limitless spaces, and the violent climate of the country did threaten to engulf the new civilization” (p. 44).

Dealing with an author (Beverley) who “comes out with an almost entirely favorable impression of the natives” (p. 79), Leo Marx makes haste to tell us that this author “does not shy away from the unpleasant truth (sic) about the Indians. He describes the massacre of the colonists...” (ibid.). Leo Marx admits that Beverley “invariably puts the ultimate blame on the aloof, superior English” (ibid.). (The English may have been aloof; they thought themselves superior; they also possessed the additional attribute of being invaders, an attribute that is not mentioned once in Leo Marx’s book about America.) Leo Marx does not let Beverley get away with blaming the English. He does not call Beverley a liar – not quite. He say, “Beverley’s Indians are an admirable people. They are gay, gentle, loving, generous and faithful. And for him the reason is not far to seek. It is implicit in his controlling image, the garden landscape...” (p. 80). Such people are nothing but figments of “Beverley’s ruling metaphor,” they are fictional inhabitants of pastoral myths.

Leo Marx knows who those people really were, and he uses Melville’s novel Typee as a vehicle for conveying his knowledge to us. “In Typee, as in The Tempest, the movement toward nature is checked by Caliban – by a Melvillian counterpart, that is, to Shakespeare’s ‘thing of darkness’” (p. 284). For Leo Marx, Shakespeare’s Prospero symbolizes the invading “civilization”; Shakespeare’s Caliban symbolizes the exterminated “savages.” Caliban is an anagram for Cannibal; it is a mindless, cruel thing that threatens “to engulf the new civilization”; “...the Typees are in fact cannibals. In a series of quiet but sinister episodes Melville leads his hero to the edge of primitive horror” (ibid.).

Leo Marx disregards Melville’s words about racist historian Francis Parkman, words that Melville wrote after his extended stay with South Sea Islanders, after he wrote Typee: “When we are informed that it is difficult for any white man, after a domestication among the Indians, to hold them much better than brutes... we beg leave to dissent... Why should we contemn them? Because we are better than they? Assuredly not... We are all of us – Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks, and Indians – sprung from one head, and made in one image. And if we regret this brotherhood now, we shall be forced to join hands hereafter. A misfortune is not a fault; and good luck is not meritorious” (Melville, “On Parkman’s Indians” in W. Washburn, The Indian and the White Man, 1964).

For Leo Marx, the misfortune of being expropriated and exterminated is a fault; it is this that makes the victims Calibans. His book is not a comparative study of the eating practices of Romans, Englishmen and South Sea Islanders; its author does not ask whether the crime is in the killing or in the eating; nor is he concerned to determine who “engulfed” whom.

Charges of Cannibalism and human sacrifice have been recruiting calls for Final Solutions and justifications for mass exterminations. If the Nazis had carried their Final Solution through as completely as American settlers did theirs, I myself would now be a skeleton of an anonymous four year old European Cannibal.

Leo Marx does not heed Melville’s warning to Parkman; he carelessly plays with the term Cannibal as if it were a toy; he ends up applying it to the wilderness as such, to all of nature, again using a work of Melville, this time the one on the whale,[22] as his vehicle. The reality behind the pastoral design, he tells us, is a “primitive mindlessness” (p. 289), “a hideous, menacing wilderness, habitat of cannibals and sharks located beyond (or hidden beneath the surface of) the bland green pastures” (p. 285). Starbuck, one of the novel’s characters, is a fool for “his habitual tendency to deny the cannibal underside of reality” (p. 314). So now we know “what was wrong with the pastoral theory.”

Genocide? Devastation? Not in Leo Marx’s book. Cannibals are not human beings; their extermination doesn’t count. A “hideous wilderness” is already desolate; it cannot be devastated; it is a waste land, and “a waste land can be transformed into a garden” (p. 183); “... the raw landscape is an ideal setting for technological progress” (p. 203); the technology “is another outcrop of that international upsurge of energy... supplanting obsolete forms in every possible sphere of human behavior” (p. 231).

The pacification (terrorization and extermination) of the indigenous population and its various “obsolete” cultures and communities, the devastation of the “raw” forests, valleys and prairies, are carried through with unmatched energy. But the promise of the machine in the garden is not realized; the actual achievements do not warrant the “confidence... that rises above all possible doubts,” the confidence of a Whitman who “sings the achievement of engineers” (p. 222).

Leo Marx tells us that the “premonition of mankind’s improving capacity for self-destruction” was “not wholly fanciful” (p. 184). He lets Carlyle, Emerson and Karl Marx speak of “alienation (pp. 176–179 passim) and of the “use of the outer world as a commodity” (p. 230) without translating or debunking them.

In the last third of the book, he not only gives in to critiques, like Daniel Webster; he immerses himself in the “darker view of life”; he becomes Job wrestling with his soul.

The separation of intellect from heart does not only lead to a sense of loss, anxiety and dislocation. Leo Marx tells us it leads (in Melville’s words) to “‘a system of cruel cogs and wheels, systematically grinding up in one common hopper all that might minister to the well-being of the crew’” (p. 286). “In Melville’s hero the thrust of Western man for ultimate knowledge is sinewed with hatred” (p. 293). “Melville uses machine imagery to relate the undisguised killing and butchery of whaling to the concealed violence of ‘civilized’ Western society” (p. 296). “The Age of Machinery transforms men into objects” (p. 298). “The means are sane, the motive and object mad” (p. 300). Ahab, the sequel to Prospero, “dedicated to an unbridled assault upon physical nature, selects and awards men who adapt to the demand for extreme repression” (p. 315). And at last, Leo Marx refers to the pilot’s quest as the “psychic equivalent of the shark-like cannibalism of the sea” (p. 316).

Now Leo Marx raises the alarm. How come? The reason is not far to seek. Earlier only a hideous wilderness and shark-like cannibals were attacked. Now Prospero himself is threatened by the products of his “arts.” Now the beneficiaries of the fences find themselves fenced-in.

Now Leo Marx himself becomes a critic, alongside the grandson of President John Quincy Adams,[23] Prospero’s direct heir. Now Leo Marx accepts a contrast, not between “primitive anarchy” and a “well-ordered garden,” but between the Virgin and the Dynamo, between “two kingdoms of force,” between Catholic Church and Capitalist State, mother and son. But the Virgin Mother, the Church, forerunner and initiator of the Dynamo that established its dominion over the world’s continents, is not as meaningful to Leo Marx as it was to Henry Adams, so Marx is left with only one kingdom of force. And in this kingdom, whatever is still anarchic and primitive, in fact whatever still lives, is already “doomed” by the waiting bulldozers, by the chemical wastes, by the stockpiles of bombs.

Now Leo Marx is no longer as sanguine about his “willingness to accept the world as he finds it” (p. 319). Now a man who accepts the “facts of history,” who takes technology for granted, who regards the automobile as a “spontaneous fruit of an Edenic tree,” is called a “manufactured man” and even a “modern primitive” by Leo Marx (p. 363). Nevertheless, he says, “until we confront the unalterable... there can be no redemption from a system that makes men the tools of their tools” (p. 355).

But “the unalterable,” the “real,” the “fact of history” is that we ourselves, the living, the very biosphere that sustains life, are now mere illusions, mere figments of a poet’s imagination, in the face of the nuclear and chemical “realities” of Pentagon and Kremlin. What “redemption” is still available to us?

Leo Marx continues to disparage the “belated ritualistic withdrawal in the direction of ‘nature’” (p. 364); he bemoans the “inability of our writers to create a surrogate for the ideal of the middle landscape” (pp. 364–365); he concludes that “the machine’s sudden entrance into the garden presents a problem that ultimately belongs not to art but to politics” (p. 365). What politics? The politics of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, of Disarmament Conferences, of a Prospero-like Fuehrer, of a seizure of power by The Party?

Politics, the “science of power,” the “art of the possible” – is that a breach in the fence or the fence itself? Can it provide ways to leave the camp, or only ways to administer the camp? Leo Marx, it seems to me, has reached the ultimate impasse. To reach this impasse, the modern Job had to stack the evidence; he had to be what C. W. Mills called a “crackpot realist”; he had to project Cannibalism, the “struggle for survival,” to the beginning of the world and to all its corners; he had to approach the Biosphere and its inhabitants with a philosophy “sinewed with hatred.”

He himself told us “that the New England Puritans favored the hideous wilderness image of the American landscape” because “colonies established in the desert require aggressive, intellectual, controlled and well disciplined people” (p. 43). He did not tell us that the aggressiveness was required because the invaders were setting out to “engulf” the previous inhabitants of the “desert.” Like the Puritans, he transferred the “cannibalism” from the aggressors onto the victims.

But as Melville said of an earlier, similar transference: “We beg to dissent.” The term Cannibal, after all, refers to human beings who devour other human beings; at most it refers to animals who devour their own kind. Leo Marx enlarges the term to embrace the wilderness, the ocean, and even the hunted whale. If his enlarged term can be applied to the ocean, it can also be applied to another entity – the Industrial System.

In a curious passage in the middle of his book, Leo Marx had summarized Karl Marx’s observation that “within capitalist relations of production, accompanying the division of labor and mass manufacturing, the workingman’s product may well become his ‘enemy’” (p. 177). Leo Marx had understood this to mean that “the more he produces, ...the more danger there is that the market will be glutted and that he will lose his job” (ibid.); he reduced the problem to one that “politics” can deal with.

But the earlier Marx’s observation surely also means that the workingman’s product may be the barbed wire that imprisons him, that the workingman produces the integument that encases him, that the workingman is a devoured human being who labors within the belly of a beast which could aptly be named Cannibal.

The enlarged term fits the Industrial System much more snugly than it fits the entities to which Leo Marx applies it. Oceans, winds, whales and sharks have, after all, existed for eons without devouring the countless species of plants and animals nor the innumerable human communities and cultures, whereas the Industrial System has existed for a bare few centuries and it has already consumed numerous species of plants and animals, masticated most communities and dissolved the varied human cultures with its lethal acids.

By removing the term Cannibal from the entities to which Leo Marx applied it, and by applying it to the entity it fits so well, we can immediately see that Leviathan or Cannibal or “survival of the fittest” is not all there is, is not “reality”; we can see that the artificial beast has devoured much, but not yet all; we can see that there’s a “before” as well as an “outside.”

As long as we still live and sing, we’re not doomed, we remain at least as real as It; freedom remains more than a myth, figment or literary flourish; the exterminated live on in us as our dream spirits and guides. Even if we cannot yet see the breaches in the electrically charged barbed wire, we already know that inmates found their way out of the entrails of earlier mechanical monsters, camped outside the hulks that had seemed so real, and saw the abandoned artificial carcasses collapse and decompose.

March 1985


[1] They are also important because they constitute the only sustained pieces of literary criticism in Perlman’s corpus.

[2] Lorraine Perlman, Having Little, Being Much: A Chronicle of Fredy Perlman’s Fifty Years (Detroit: Black and Red, 1989), p.122.

[3] Leo Marx, “All in the Family” (a review of Philip Young, Hawthorne’s Secret: An Untold Tale; Boston: D. R. Godine, 1984), The New York Review of Books, February 14, 1985, pp. 29–32.

[4] Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (New York: Signet Classics; New American Library, 1959).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Leo Marx, Foreword to Ibid., pp. vii-xii.

[7] See Frederick Turner, Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness (New York: Viking Press, 1980).

[8] Leo Marx, Foreword to Ibid., pp. vii-xii.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Endicott and the Red Cross,” appended to The Scarlet Letter (New York: Signet Classics; New American Library, 1959), pp. 247–254.

[13] Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Maypole of Merry Mount” in Selected Tales and Sketches (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), pp. 138–149.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (New York: Meridian; New American Library, 1980).

[17] Leo Marx, “All in the Family”, Ibid., ft. 3, pp. 29–32.

[18] Leo Marx, Foreword to Ibid., pp. vii-xii.

[19] Leo Marx, “All in the Family”, Ibid., ft. 3, pp. 29–32.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).

[22] i.e., Moby Dick.

[23] i.e., Henry Adams.