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158 the minnesota review This observation cannot, however, take place without the lens of language, along with its distortions and effects. Various arts have clearly and admittedly had an influence on these poems. Various authors and artists — Browning, Magritte, and George Romero (Night ofthe Living Dead) — are either expUcitly mentioned or aUuded to. But the effect of these individuals is not abstract but derives from their particular works. Art too is artifact. This system of observation may seem to leave Uttle room for commentary, but through the use of multiple voices and many objects, the system of objects is evoked. This is done through imagistic decoupage. The juxtaposition of objects, in memory, experience, and representation, creates commentary. ImpUcit similarities and dissimilarities are made apparent by spatial proximity. Once again place becomes meaning. He works his collage through rain whole afternoons, crops snapshots to except family, collects the varied landscapes where cacti, conifer become blood relations where echoes pry their junctures no matter what cement. The assonance and dissonance of alliteration underUne the coming together and flying apart of objects and people; metaphor is replaced by the metonomy of choice and Umit. The world of people is unveiled as the poetry of time and place. DANIEL D. FINEMAN William Alexander. Film on the Left: American Documentary From 1931 to 1942. Princeton: Princeton University Press, I98I . xvüi + 355 pp. $27.50 (cloth); $12.50 (paper). It should perhaps become a rule-of-thumb in reading history to approach with great wariness any text that feels compelled not merely to give names and dates but also addresses and personal descriptions. Too often, a fetish of isolated facts can substitute for any desire to understand the broader forces of history — the clashes of class, the plays of power — and, as a consequence, history-writing descends into mere chronicle or journalism. This concern for particularized events as against contexts seems doubly pronounced in film historiography where a love of singular events has been amplified by the buffism that has long dominated approaches to film — the sense that film is an art of fascinating and dynamic personalities, that its history is a colorful one fashioned from the drives of these personalities. This kind ofhistoryexerts a powerful hold. Even when historians try to recover an alternate past, the long-hidden history of struggles against dominant modes, an equally dominant myth of what it means to engage in recovery operations can take over and turn new history into one more version of the same old thing. This recuperation is unfortunately the precise fate of William Alexander's Film on the Left, the first full-length study of the politically alternative documentary tradition in America. Writing about this moment as if it were simply the story of unique and vibrant men, Alexander denies himself the abiUty to understand the relationships of those individual men to the sweep of cultural and poUtical history in which they were caught up. History becomes anecdote. To cite only one example among many, political struggle turns into a purely psychological difference between individuals : "It must be clear by now that a painful sidelight to my research has been the stories about bad blood between people . . . Life, of course, is like that but the fact does not dilute the poignancy. On one occasion, one of my interviewees walked me to a subway entrance at 2:00 AM, stunned by what had happened during our long talk" (p. 217). The mythic appeal to a "common sense" ("Life, of course, is Uke that"), the notion that the lesson of history (if there be such a thing) is purely emotional ("the poignancy'), the obsession with minor detail ("2:00 AM") aU demonstrate a form of writing that continues to repress what it claims to uncover. 159 reviews This recuperation is particularly unfortunate in the case of 1930's filmmaking, a virtually unexamined field. The liberalism of the New Deal has long encouraged a mythology in American historiography in which Rooseveltian cultural politics stands as the only strong and viable culture of the time (against, as the mythology would have it, the weaknesses ofa vulgar Marxism, an American CP. mechanically following the commands of the Soviet Union). Radical...


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