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How-I-was-radicalized autobiography has long since passed into the mainstream of American publishing, which may signify the strides being made by the national consciousness or -- more probably -- the kind light in which an idea may be regarded when people feel that the pretense of taking it seriously has succeeded yesterday's need to do something about it. In any case, Bruce Franklin represents the genre at its best. At the time when his opposition to the Vietnam war began to deepen into an obsession, Franklin was a rising light in the Stanford English Department, a noted specialist and the author of a well-received book on science fiction (Future Perfect, 1965). He had come to his profession by a somewhat circuitous route -- a late-Depression, early-wartime childhood in the milieu of white-collar unsuccess, some disillusioning summer jobs in small (and crooked) businesses, academic distinction at Amherst, a brief stint as mate on a railroad tugboat in New York Harbor at the height of the longshoreman's union controversy, a longer stint in the Air Force refueling B-47s for clandestine missions over the Soviet Union, finally graduate school at Stanford where he seemed at last to have hit his stride. The account of his conversion to a frankly Marxist outlook could have been 'a set of cliches, but a sense of individual intelligence predominates. His analysis of the socio-political implications of the orthodox critical approach to literature is extreme but not simplistic; his account of the Stanford administration's resort to force majeure in the late '60's is obviously one-sided but ultimately convincing. Less effective is his discovery of communal fulfillment as exemplified among the Vietnamese he met during a sabbatical in France who touched off his conversion to Marxism (when describing his heroes rather than his enemies, Franklin approaches banality). He ends minus his Stanford job, but with an enviable (if questionable) confidence in the approaching hegemony of the masses after the inevitable red dawn. One doesn't know whether to admire the force and thoughtfulness of this personal manifesto or. to deplore the current intellectual mud puddles into which it will fall with only the most modish of splashes.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1975
Publisher: Harper's Magazine Press