A LONGING IN THE LAND: Memoir of a Quest by Arthur Gregor

A LONGING IN THE LAND: Memoir of a Quest

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Immigrating to America when only a teenager, in 1934, Gregor (along with his family) escaped Nazi Vienna in time--but faced dejection, lostness, at his first taste of American ""emptiness. . . absence."" Compared to Vienna, where the city's scale was explicitly human, accultured, America he finds a bewildering space in every way--with attractive aspects (its social openness) canceled out by dismaying ones (materialistic appetite). Yet when, after the war, Gregor returns to Europe on a visit, it too is not home anymore. And a new sense of rootedness does not come to him until--already a published poet, engineer, publishing-house editor--he discovers Vedanta in the 1950s and travels to India. But the prose in which poet Gregor describes this spiritual rescue is sparing (the experience is too personal and profound to describe, he says) yet still disappointing: ""Words are pointers; without the distinctive force their power is lost, the aim obscure, the horizon diffuse. The magnitude is too extensive, too inclusive, the discourses, ever-enfolding, reaching too deeply into silence, into the silence beyond silence, into that which is more than, other than an absence of sounds. . . ."" Sentences like these make the book slow going--as does the formal, stiff, Latinate, unmusical seriousness elsewhere. ("". . . It is only through interpersonal relationships that the essential wellspring is touched. . . . Alas, that achieving this is severely blocked by ego-centered interests and hence a mutual nurturing of it rarely sustained, I discovered, painfully, in the ensuing years."") And, apart from too-brief glimpses of Jean Garrigue, Marianne Moore, and John Cage, we get no sense of artistic relationships: Gregor goes on more about his distaste for bohemianism than about his aesthetic education. A flat, rigid, uninvolving autobiography.

Pub Date: Aug. 12th, 1983
Publisher: Schocken