Partisan Review: A Commentary

I have been a London-based New Yorker for the last 25 years, where I was an academic within the University of London. I read and wrote about 18th century and Romantic Age literature. I have now turned my eye toward my native city and am starting a sustained reading of the entire run of PARTISAN REVIEW — a journal that was begun in the 1930s in New York City and that offered a radical and socialist anti-Stalinist version of modern thought and literature and theory and politics.

Though later many contributors to PR moved much further to the right and became not only anti-Stalinist but anti-left well, in the 1930s and during WWII, Partisan Review shaped a critique of politics, art, and literature and inspired a generation of young women and men to understand and engage in debates that remain important in our own cultural and political time. I will be reading and writing about each issue in chronological order

I welcome everyone who is interested in this material to join the discussion and offer comments and corrections as necessary.

Partisan Review is available to read on-line through the
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center
hgar-srv3.bu.edu/collections/partisan-review

Annie J

Introduction:

In December, 1937 Partisan Review ceased to be the cultural and
political serial publication of the John Reed Club, an organisation
run by the Communist Party, USA. Under its new editors, it became an
edgy retort both to the Stalinism of the CPUSA and to forms of Liberalism associated with the Popular Front during the Depression. It allied itself, as a “Literary Monthly” with Modernism, and against the Socialist Realism and Prolitcult programme of the USSR. At the same time as they were critics of capitalism, some PR writers, such as
Clement Greenberg and Dwight Macdonald, took aim at the rise of ‘middle brow’and ‘mass’cultural forms.

The first issue, Vol.4, No.1 1937 was edited by Philip Rahv, William
Philips, Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald,George L.K. Morris, and
F.W. Dupee. Macdonald’s first wife, Nancy, was the business manager.

The Editorial Statement Begins:
“ANY magazine, we believe, that aspires to to a place in the vanguard of literature today, will be revolutionary in tendency; but we are also convinced that any such magazine will be unequivocally independent. PARTISAN REVIEW IS aware of its responsibility to the revolutionary movement in general, but we disdain obligation to any of its organized political expressions.”

Rahv and Philips were the chief editors, working not only on the day to day demands of creating a journal, but on the main themes of Partisan Review‘s political and literary positions.  Other names connected with the journal in its early years  have been burnished over the decades, including Mary McCarthy (novelist, political journalist, and ),  Dwight Macdonald (who left to start his own journal, Politics), and Delmore Schwartz (who has steadily become reified as the poet maudit of New York in the 20th century).

These clever, articulate, and intellectually aggressive thinkers were happy to
adjust the already familiar habits of revolutionary rhetoric to shape
their publication.  Fred DuPee had been a member of the CPUSA, but was drawn to the arguments and interests of his friends at PR.

 Rahv, McCarthy, and MacDonald were all happy to argue with wit, on high volume, and at times with
cruelty. What they were able to do together was put together a table of
contents for their first issue that included a stunning array of
brilliant thinkers, poets, and fiction writers. The ‘Editorial Statement’ endorsed Marxism without Stalinism:

“Marxism in culture, we think, is first of all an instrument of analysis and evaluation; and if, on the last instance, it prevails over other disciplines, it does so through the medium of democratic controversy. Such is the medium that Partisan Review will want to provide in its pages.”

The latest post is right below this information page.

This Quarter: The War of the Neutrals” Partisan Review Editors. Fall, Vol 6. No. 5. Fall, 1939. Part II

Part II:  Now the editorial turns more fully to the state of the US Communist Party after the Stalin-Hitler Pact has been agreed: full text here

” When the shattering news of the Pact was announced, one of the American comrades is said to have remarked triumphantly to a bourgeois friend, “I guess this will prove to you that we don’t have any pipeline to Moscow!” But even this modest gain cannot be extracted by the Party from the wreckage caused by the Pact. It is probably true that  the American Party hierarchy were not informed in any detail as to just what was going to happen — and when.  By judging from a significant change in Party propaganda in the months immediately preceding the Pact, the chiefs at least knew something was in the air. In the daily ritual anathemas of the Daily Worker, Hitler and Mussolini began to yield their places of honour to Chamberlain and Daladier. In any well-ordered bourgeois household like the Third International, the butler may not know exactly where  — or how far — the master is going, but he knows enough to pack the bags and call a cab.

For all their premonitions, however, the Party chiefs seem to have been unprepared for the abruptness with which Stalin executed his about-face. For weeks the ideological bedlam was something extraordinary even for the Communist Party. In a single interview  given out by Browder there might be counted from three to five mutually exclusive “explanations.” For a while, the Party stood firm on two major political lines in sheer conflict with each other. The stirring peals of anti-fascist unity of all men of good will continue to boom out, the Pact being presented as the bombshell that shattered the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis and the death-blow to Hitlerism, and the newborn war being supported with the same old ardor.  At the same time, a new note, reminiscent of the “Third Period” days of ultra-revolutionism, began to be heard: this is an imperialist war…the Munichmen are the tools of finance capital…the Soviet Union is well out of the whole bloody mess.

Even in the Communist Party, such a state of confusion could not safely be allowed to last very long. To the surprise of many observers, the Party bureaucracy had chosen to stick by Moscow — and Hitler — rather than break away and continue to function as the extreme left wing of the New Deal war machine. This choice is of the utmost significance in estimating the nature of the Party and its relation to the American scene. If the Party had cut loose from the Comintern in favour of the New Deal, it would have meant that its social base — both as to jobs for its bureaucrats and the real inner life of the Party –had shifted to indigenous reformation of the New Deal and American Labor Party variety. But, although such a course would have enabled the Party to continue its rapid growth of recent years and its friendly relations with the New Deal, this course was not taken. Instead, the Party has clung to Moscow, and is now denouncing the war and calling for peace at any price. It has moulted almost its entire brilliant plumage of fellow-travellers and “innocent” organisations,  has sacrificed much of its influence over the labor movement, and has not only lost its favorite position with the government in Washington but has at one stroke become  a prominent object of governmental persecution.

That in spite of all this, the Party bureaucracy found itself unable to break with Moscow shows how thoroughly Stalinized the Party apparatus has become. Indeed, it is misleading to speak of Browder and the rest having made a “choice”.

th  Earl Browder, Leader of the US Communist Party.

For all their long cohabitation with native American reformism, they remained the loyal agents of the Kremlin in American politics. It is also remarkable that the rank and file of the Party seems to have stood firm in these trying weeks. There were defections, but apparently not on a mass scale. And a recent Party rally was able to fill the twenty thousand seats of Madison Square Garden with a reasonable enthusiastic, all things considered, crowd of comrades. The disciplined, monolithic character of the Party organisation shows up most dramatically.

There is really something terrifying about this mindless, passive acceptance of directives, however irrational, from above, this abdication on the part of tens of thousands or more or less sincere radicals of all critical judgment. One feels that if the Party were ordered — by the proper authorities, of course, to march over a cliff en masse, it would obey. And this, metaphorically, its just what the American Party has been ordered to do. Even in the best of periods, the Party has a very large turnover of members, some say as much as thirty or forty per cent each year. Even if the ranks hold fast on this issue now, it seems likely that the Party will waste away rapidly as old members drop and no new people come in to replace them.  For the present Party line, acceptable though it may be to disciplined members, has practically no attraction for those outside the Party.

The present C.P. line on war is a weird mixture of pseudo-isolationism and pseudo-revolutionism. We say ‘pseudo’ because it all boils down to a tactic directed toward no more elevated end than the protection of the mutual interests of Moscow and Berlin. The Party’s isolationism can be dismissed in a few words. It has nothing in common with the indigenous midwestern variety, which is naive and provincial but is at least  honestly concentrated on keeping this country out of a European war. The Party, too, now advises the American masses to keep out of the imperialist blood-bath, which in itself is excellent advice. But what the Party, as Moscow’s agent in this country, is really interested in is not peace or isolationism but the victory of Hitler-Stalin over the Allies, just as last winter, when it was shrieking for a democratic holy war against Hitler, it was really concerned not  with any such high-flown business at all but quite simply with the implementation of the Kremlin’s ultimately successful attempt to force Hitler into an alliance. C.P. ‘isolationism’ has nothing to do with the interests of the American masses, and will be chucked overboard tomorrow when and if the Kremlin’s foreign policy takes a new turn.

The ‘revolutionary’ line on the way is smokescreen to obscure two awkward realities: (1) the Moscow-Berlin alliance; and (2) the Red Army’s division of Poland with the Reichswehr, and the more recent imperialist diplomatic drive against the Baltic States. The general idea is that the Soviet Union is a socialist state and that, in the interests of the world revolution, anything goes.

The comrades explain away the alliance with Hitler as a smart trick: Stalin doesn’t ‘really’ trust Hitler and is merely ‘using’ him for the time being, to betray him later on. Thus the Soviet Union is not committed to the fascist side. But this is nothing more than normal, everyday imperialist power politics. No one ‘really’ trusts any one else, and everyone ‘uses’ their allies as much as he can, and betrays them whenever it is in his interest to do so. Stalin made a pact with Hitler, and if the Allies seem to be winning later on, Stalin will probably betray Hitler and return to the democratic camp.  Mussolini also made a pact with Hitler and he, too, if the Allies seem to be winning, may be counted on to turn traitor to the Axis as being as ardent a democrat as — Daladier. In that case, according to the Party line, Il Duce will have also struck a mighty blow for world socialism.

As for the Red Army’s recent exploits, these are also hailed as mighty strokes for socialism. Nothing is more ludicrous than the attempts of the Stalinists to picture these ‘provincial conquests’ in Trotsky’s phrase, as though they represent the spreading of the October revolution to the rest of the world. Even as imperialist burglaries, they are not very impressive. The Polish ‘campaign’ of the Red Army, in which the chief excitement was provided by the tanks getting stuck in the mud or running out of gas, was the sort of hollow victory over a prostrate and inferior foe that the Fascist legions won Ethiopia. And like the Ethiopian campaign, its chief utility was for internal consumption to soothe the grumbling masses and to inflate a little the collapsed morale of the Red Army.

As for world revolution, it is noticeable that the Third International, in its current anti-war phase, has not dared raise anywhere the classic Leninist slogan, the only possible basis for a revolutionary opposition to war: Turn the imperialist war into civil war! The Kremlin is no more anxious for world revolution than is Downing Street or the White House.

But Trotsky propounds the final and unanswerable question: “If the Kremlin wants to foment world revolution, how could it sacrifice its influence over the international working class for the sake of occupying some border territories?” “Eleven million more people enjoy socialism!” exults the New Masses.  But what if the hundreds of millions of French and English and Indian and Chinese and American and German and Italian and other workers throughout the world whose faith in socialism has received this ultimate betrayal by the Kremlin gang and its agents throughout the world? The exposure of Stalinism as the implacable enemy of the international working class had to come sooner or later, and it will be, in the long run a healthy and progressive development.  But the immediate effects are shattering and demoralising. The labor and socialist movement the world over has hardly been a century in such a state of collapse as today. For this tragic situation the Kremlin and its dupes and agents — the Browders and Pollitts and Thorezes, the Lamonts and Stracheys and Cowleys and Lerners and Hickses and Shumanns and Brouns — must bear full responsibility. Some of these have already broken with Moscow, though for the most part in a hypocritical and disingenuous way, and more will do so in the future, Those who keep silent or who continue to support the policies of the Third International must from now on be called bluntly what they are: agents of the Kremlin, and for the present, at least, of Hitler.

Next week: Part III

 

 

“This Quarter: The War of the Neutrals” Partisan Review Editors. Fall, Vol 6. No. 5. Fall, 1939.

PART I of “This Quarter.”

The quarterly report from the editors of Partisan Review  carries on from the sense of not-yet-war doldrums of the spring and summer of 1939. Remember that the USA is on the other side of the ocean, and PR’s Editorial pages are rather more influenced by the politics of Fascism and Stalinism than by domestic policies.

The piece opens with the oxymoron of a war between  neutrals — engaged but not quite: “The War abroad the moment of writing, is like a movie that has abruptly been stuck  in immobility by the jamming of the projection apparatus. PR speaks from the. grounds of cultural politics, and the image of movie stasis — the freeze-frame — features not a vivid moment of carnage, but of something close to nothing.

“The film started off briskly and portentously enough, with the ratification of the Stalin-Hitler Pact by the Soviet Congress, and the first German guns roaring into Poland a few hours later; the ultimatums of England and France to Hitler, followed by formal declarations of war; the swift, brutal blitzkrieg in Poland; the massing of French troops in the Maginot Line; the disappearance of the British High Fleet into the North Sea on war duty; the torpedoing of the Athenia; the nightly blackouts in Paris and London. It seemed that the final cataclysm, long expected, was at last here. But once the Reichswehr and the Red Army had divided Poland amicably between them, the film jammed.”

blitzkreig poland Blitzkrieg into Poland

With the forces organised and lined up for action, without much happening, the real battle appears to be that of the Axis for the support of the Neutral Nations. [the War neutrals in Europe were Andorra, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (with Liechtenstein), and the Vatican].  Accordingly, the “This Quarter” analysis can only focus on the two great states: the USSR and the USA.  It is clear that the USA will enter the war if/when the Allies needs its help. A win by Germany will be a disaster for US capitalism.  But it is also the case that the USA and the Allies are competitors for world power and for markets. And here comes the sting for the Allies:

“The more the Allies are exhausted by the war, the better for the interests of American capitalism. The aim of our diplomacy, therefore is to wait until the last possible moment, but not to delay so long  that the Allies are defeated before American aid can reach them”. And the punchline runs like this:

“NO, the United States is an imperialist nation, the mightiest of them all, it also has a huge economic stake in the struggle, and it will intervene for one purpose only: to protect its own imperialist interests.”

stalin & pipe Stalin’s “Benevolent Pipe”

The Second ‘Neutral’ is the USSR… “A few weeks ago, the Comintern was agitating for a world crusade against Hitler… Stalin has been transformed from an international philanthropist, whose pipe was an index of his philosophical benevolence, into a Metternichean power politician, his pipe-puffing now signifying preternatural guile.”

stalin's preternatural guile pipe. Stalin’s Preternatural Guile Pipe.

While some would say that Stalin’s turn to Fascist Imperialism was an ‘inevitable’ transmutation of Leninism, the authors of this Editorial think nothing of the kind.

“NO, on the contrary, we believe that the Soviet government has been obliged to go in for power politics because it long ago abandoned the Leninist conception that the defense of the Soviet Union was inseparably bound to the liberation of the masses in other countries.  The degeneration of the 1917 Revolution is not to be understood in terms of the free, unhampered working out of Bolshevik theory to ‘its logical conclusion.’ The principal factors in the rise of Stalinism, seem to us to have been the impact of such largely uncontrollable phenomena as the devastation and demoralisation caused by the protracted armed intervention of the Allies, the economic and cultural backwardness of Russia, and the failure of the revolution to establish itself in any other country.”

“The fear of the Soviet masses and the international proletariat is the key to Stalin’s foreign policy. Stalin, like Chamberlain, has wanted above to all, to avoid war at any cost. And as is now being demonstrated, it was possible to make common cause with Hitler without provoking any military intervention from the Allies.”

Germany and France realised that war was going to happen; and Hitler had to be destroyed. and so on Augst 31, 1939 The Soviet Congress unanimously ratifies the Ribbentrop- Molotov pact.

Next week: Part II of “This Quarter.”

 

 

Partisan Review, Vol. 6, No.3, Fall 1939: Clark Mills, “Pastoral for Poland”.

The German invasion of Poland on September 1,1939  was the opening of the Second World War. The articles in the Autumn issue of PR are marked throughout by the sense of its inevitability permeating Europe and the world at large that summer. I will return next week with the “This Quarter” report from the Editors of the journal, but am starting with the first poem of the issue, a “Pastoral for Poland” by Clark Mills.

PASTORAL FOR POLAND
Now have the cries of bombed and drowned
a gentle, elegiac sound;
rumour of grief and news of pain
drench the drunk mind like autumn rain.
And now the innocent and wise
crouch from the menace of blue skies
till they lie broken, or in flight
towards the ignorant shield of night.
The burning forest of the nations
wheels under the constellations;
the iron birds roar the bomb-routes; deep
in the explosions children sleep.
Together in the cold of day
the placid, great-limbed beasts of prey,
strong at the twilight hour, and feeding,
rend the sweet flash before them bleeding,
and formless forms in slippers and cowl
watch with the still, round eyes of the owl,
soar from the tree of faith to bless
the perfect act of ruthlessness,
and crickets ring the leafing fire
chirping with terror and desire,
and the rest, under the shadowed hill,
rustle and scurry and are still.
–In the exhausted hour of peace
whom shall we honour among these?
The martyrs bleeding by the wall,
the humble, who cry out and fall,
and these are all, and these are all..

So, who was Clark Mills? Its hard to find an image of him on the internet — here is the best I found — Clark Mills –and there hasn’t been much written about him to my knowledge, but if you know different, please let me know.clark-mills.jpg

Born Clark Mills McBurney in 1913, he became friends with Tennessee Williams, when Williams, then Tom, and a group of fairly like-minded young writers became a group hanging around The Old Courthouse near Washington University in St. Louis, and much of what I learned about him comes from books that are about Tennessee Williams. Clark Mills was pointed out to Williams as that student who writes “crazy modern verse nobody understands but God and himself!” Tom, who had just had his own verse published in four literary magazines, was instantly attracted. Mills would become a prime influence for his next few years, introducing him to the poetry of Rilke, Rimbaud, and Hart Crane, who became Williams’ idol.

This poem is littered with Audenesque phrases and it sounds Blakean as well. There is nothing particularly innovative about it, but it figures as a type for an anti-war poem written by a 26-year-old poet who is a Leftist without being a Stalinist, and so capable of judging the ‘placid beasts of prey’ who devour the ‘martyrs’ and the ‘humble’ — beasts of prey who include fascists and liberals alike.

 

next week “This Quarter” Editors, Partisan Review

 

 

The Situation in American Writing, Partisan Review, Vol.6, No.4, Summer,1939, No. 3 Harold Rosenberg

Today I am posting one more of the writers who answered the 7 questions set by the editors of Partisan Review: these are Harold Rosenberg’s responses, the art critic and art historian who for many years engaged in a critical debate with Clement Greenberg in the pages of Partisan Review, and later in The New Yorker. Rosenberg was the art critic for The New Yorker from 1967 until his death in 1978. Rosenberg is famous for coining the term, ‘Action Painting” to describe the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic.

  1.  Are you conscious, in your own writing, of the existence of a ‘usable past’? Is this mostly American? What figures would you designate as elements in it? Would you say, for example, that Henry James’s work is more relevant to the present and future of American writing than Walt Whitman’s?
  2. Do you think of yourself as writing for a definite audience? If so how would you describe this audience? Would you say that the audience for serious American writing has grown or contracted in the last ten years?
  3. Do you place much value on the criticism your work has received? Would you agree that the corruption of the literary supplements by advertising — in the case of the newspapers — and political pressures — in the case of the liberal weeklies — has made has made serious literary criticism an isolated cult?
  4. Have you found it possible to make a living by writing the sort of thing you want     to,  and without the aid of such crutches as teaching and editorial work? Do you think   there is any place in the present economic system for literature  as a profession?

5.   DO you feel, in retrospect, that your writing reveals any allegiance to any group, class, organisation, region, religion, or system of thought, or do you conceive of it as mainly the expression of yourself as an individual?

6.   How would you describe the political tendency of  American writing as a whole since 1930?  How do you feel about it yourself? Are you sympathetic to the current tendency toward what may be called “literary nationalism” — a renewed emphasis, largely uncritical, on the specifically “American” elements in our culture?

7. Have you considered the question of your attitude towards the possible entry of the United States into the next world war? What do you think the responsibilities in general are when and if war comes?.

Harold Rosenberg’s Replies:
  1. What is a ‘usable past’? The phrase seems to me most intelligible if it is taken to mean a literary tendency to which a writer deliberately attaches his own work in order to modify it, Thus Thomas Mann consciously uses the romantic movement of the 19th century, and Eliot French symbolism and English metaphysical poetry. For an original artist this is a very peculiar orientation, not far removed from that of the academicians.  The writer stands outside his work and builds it up from carefully selected materials. His posture implies a readiness to regard himself as a representative figure, a literary landmark. It implies also that the professional literary practice  has been raised to the level of a philosophy — a philosophy of the practical value of Art. One sets out to use (and change) the art of literature in the interests of its future; and through this one hopes to change the world. Merely to imitate, even to imitate persistently certain selected models is not to ‘use’ the past in this sense. Imitation is more naive than such using, has a closer resemblance to life itself. Long before we have culture or even conscious aims, we imitate.  And the writer who does not seek primarily to affect the history of literature tends to live in his work rather than use it. Baudelaire establishes himself inside of Poe as a base of operations; he apes him but does not use him.Through Poe he achieves a heightened sense of himself, whereas the ‘users’ are always talking of the ‘self-abnegation of the Artist.’  I still find much human appeal in the writer who is conscious by means of the past though not of the past as a means.  Another distinction is that imitation is always of individuals, while to elect a section of the past as usable indicates an intent to capture and exploit, for the sake of special interests, a specific historical area. In short, the whole idea of “usable past” is shot through with the politics of art. The American cultural past consists of the total results of a combined official using, and inspired individual aping of the European past. Beginning with Independence, American writers and artists have behaved in the native tradition by exchanging in rotation the following masters: British and French classicism, Rhenish romanticism, the Great of All Ages (Transcendentalism), Italian classicism (mainly in sculpture) French realism (social and psychological), French symbolic, etcetera. In America, though not in Europe, to be an American has always meant to be a properly dated European. Today, for instance, some people believe it means to be a Russian or German patriot. Outside this American culture — always under two or more flags — have lived the millions of native and immigrant americans who missed the chance to study with Thorwaldsen or at the Ecole des Beaux Arts or to enjoy the regulation Wanderjahe at Gottingen and Montmartre. These frontiersmen, tillers of soil, and builders of towns have been for the main part neither Americans or non-Americans in the  cultural sense — because their culture has been a homemade, transitional folk customs, without national scope, or they have had no culture at all, except for racial or sectarian remnants (Pennsylvania Germans, Huguenots, Mexicans, Scandinavian, Negro, Mormon, Quaker). These lower case Americans have been and remain ‘aliens.’ Their culture lies in the future not in the past.

Because the cultured Americans have been, almost exclusively, members of the upper class, while the americans are workers and farmers, storekeepers and country doctors, many writers today believe that the ‘soil’ and the folk is more Revolutionary,  as well as more American, than the library, the museum, and the idea. This is a very serious mistake. The most brutal and philistine american executive-type is also opposed instinctively to European art and literature, and likes to stage himself as a plain guy, a member of the cultural rank and file. And in literature itself the ‘people’s writers, from Mark Twain to Sinclair Lewis, merely start with the soil; they climb in the direction of the Academy, of which, as the antithesis of the real but uncultured folk, is also neither American nor European but merely an upper class sublimation of unreality.

On the other hand, writers like Poe, Whitman, or James, who take off from the contrast and tension between Europe and America, remains equally relevant, whether they move East, West, or up and down. America can be known only through the perspective of international culture. Conversely, it can only understand world ideas only if it applies them to itself.

Every writer today who is worth anything shows in some way the influence of the overturn that took place in American prose and poetry via Gertrude Stein and others. I wish to characterise this movement as essentially aristocratic (European-minded American) aping of american proletarian speech. (Examples:Stein, Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Moore, Cummings). This writing, which at its best goes much farther in the direction of both aural accuracy and literary associations than Whitman’s private lingo, represents a synthesis, a new era in American consciousness and consciousness of the world. Our living language is brought into focus with the living language of the past: it need not fear that looking back to the masterpieces of Europe and antiquity will turn it into a pillar of salt. On the other hand, American letters need strive no longer to shape every experience into a plaster of Paris model of a European original. Through bringing its major social element into play, American culture has begun to develop an identity of its own.

Already, however, in novels, Hollywood, Broadway, this experimental ‘cultural-proletarian’ language is being academicised, cleaned up, made “natural” (example: Abe Lincoln in Illinois),  made 100% American, i.e. zero.

2. A writer remains alive so long as he postulates the existence of a section of the population whose cultural dynamism is at least equal to his own, and whose influence is or will become dominant. Into this lively soluble mass he drops his own work, with the hope that it will cause a coagulation of taste and thought. . .The number of people who understand the International -American rhetoric is definitely growing, This, as noted above, also increases the rewards for, and consequently the chances of vulgarisation, which has started to drain the meaning out of the movement.

3. The newspapers and liberal weeklies have never been serious about literature; seriousness has been confined to the reviews and ‘little magazines’.  It is easy to see why: these publications, orienting themselves on ‘American interests,’ have assumed a smug proprietorial defense of ‘our literature’; while all serious efforts in American letters have been directed more or less humbly towards the European-American equation. More directly, however, liberalism assumes that all questions can be solved through ‘moderation’ — even lies and vulgarity must be treated moderately; and there is here a definite hatred and fear of ideas and acts carried through to their conclusion.  Whereas literature tends, especially in modern times, towards exaggeration and finality (its moderation, too, is exaggerated) , and this has been congenitally distasteful to the liberals. In addition, there is outright individual dishonesty and log-rolling constantly at work in that ‘social-minded’ atmosphere.  When the liberal weeklies are moderately hospitable to experimental critics like Burke or Schapiro or to poets like WIliams or Fearing, at the same time surrounding their contributions with those of all sorts of publishers’s bootlickers and editors’ boys, they show even less concern for values that the reactionary supplements who attack a thing merely because it is new. Thus, whatever is good in The Nation or The New Republic, and there have been many good pieces and excellent writers presented there, has been forced to cling with its teeth to a slippery intellectual surface.

4. Sure there’s a place for literature as a profession. In fact, it’s one of the few professions that has a future — along with military aviation, demagogy, patriotic preaching, spying, etc. The worse society gets the more professional it becomes, and the greater the demand for this type of intimate service.

5. See my review elsewhere in this issue of  Democracy and Socialism. Arthur Rosenberg, Knopf.

6.See above.

7. In time of war the writer has at least the obligation not to find the ‘good side’ of it.

 

Next Week: Desmond Hawkins, London Letter

 

The Situation in American Writing, Partisan Review, Vol.6, No.4, Summer,1939, 2. John Dos Passos.

2. John Dos Passos

The 7 set of questions listed below were those that the Editors of  Philip Rahv’s piece on “This Quarter” sent out  to various US writers about the state of writing in the nation.  There were 7 questions:

  1. Are you conscious, in your own writing, of the existence of a ‘usable past’? Is this mostly American? What figures would you designate as elements in it? Would you say, for example, that Henry James’s work is more relevant to the present and future of American writing than Walt Whitman’s?
  2. Do you think of yourself as writing for a definite audience? If so how would you describe this audience? Would you say that the audience for serious American writing has grown or contracted in the last ten years?
  3. Do you place much value on the criticism your work has received? Would you agree that the corruption of the literary supplements by advertising — in the case of the newspapers — and political pressures — in the case of the liberal weeklies — has made has made serous literary criticism an isolated cult?

4.  Have you found it possible to make a living by writing the sort of thing you want     to,  and without the aid of such crutches as teaching and editorial work? Do you think   there is any place in the present economic system for literature  as a profession?

5.   DO you feel, in retrospect, that your writing reveals any allegiance to any group, class, organisation, region, religion, or system of thought, or do you conceive of it as mainly the expression of yourself as an individual?

6.   How would you describe the political tendency of  American writing as a whole since 1930?  How do you feel about it yourself? Are you sympathetic to the current tendency toward what may be called “literary nationalism” — a renewed emphasis, largely uncritical, on the specifically “American” elements in our culture?

7. Have you considered the question of your attitude towards the possible entry of the United States into the next world war? What do you think the responsibilities in general are when and if war comes?

Last week I posted Gertrude Stein’s rather barbed answers. Here are the answers given by John Dos Passos:

Dos Passos John Dos Passos

  1. In relation to style and methods of writing, I hardly think of the past in chronological order. Once on the library shelf Juvenal and Dreiser are equally “usable.” The best immediate ancestor (in Auden’s sense)for today’s American writing is I think a  dark star somewhere in the constellation containing Mark Twain, Melville, Thoreau and Whitman.
  2. The audience is probably the people who read books other than best sellers. I doubt if it has expanded much in the last ten years, though in the preceding  five years it certainly expanded. It may very well be shrinking now.
  3. The critics for the daily press, and all the newspaper writers live in a very special world. I think they are more influenced by the ebb and flow of headlined fashions, and by the varying standards in social prestige of the world than by any direct advertising pressure. Advertising probably determines the space given a book, and in the long run, I think it will be found that various publishers’ lists get respectful attention in direct relation to the financial positions of the concerns. After all, what do you want for three cents? Current newspaper criticisms are interesting to the social historians just as fashion notes are interesting. I doubt very much if they will take their place in the “usable” past. There’s not enough, but there is some first rate literary criticism around that, naturally, is very useful to a writer.
  4. I’ve managed to do it so far but its nip and tuck.
  5. isn’t an individual just a variant in a group? The equipment belongs to the society you were brought up by. The individuality lies I how you use it. My sympathies, for some reason, lie with the private in the front line again the brass hat; with the hod carrier against the straw boss, or the walking delegate for that matter; with the laboratory worker against the stuffed shirt in a mortarboard.; with the criminal against the cop. When I try to use my head it’s somewhat different. People are you and me. As for allegiance; what I consider the good side of what’s been going on among people on this continent since 1620 or thereabouts, has mine. And isn’t there one of history’s dusty attics called the Republic of Letters.
  6. On the whole I’m all for the trend toward American self-consciousness in current writing. Of course any god thing gets run into the ground. I think there is enough real democracy in the very mixed American tradition to enable us, with courage and luck, to weather the social transformations that are now going on without losing all our liberties or the humane outlook that is the medium in which civilisations grow. The reaction to home-bred ways of thinking is a healthy defence against the total bankruptcy of Europe. As I have come to believe firmly that in politics the means tend to turn out to be more important than the end, I think that the more our latent pragmatism and our cynicism regard to ideas is stimulated the safer we will be.
  7. My attitude towards a war would entirely depend on what I thought its internal results would be, though its hard to conceive of a war that would have good results anywhere. But how would I know when it began? We live in a very odd period in human history and it’s very difficult to make broad generalizations about events or to label them beforehand.  Practically, I’d probably try to get back my old job driving an ambulance.

Next Week: Another Writer Looks at the Situation of American Writing.

 

The Situation in American Writing, Partisan Review, Vol.6, No.4, Summer,1939, Gertrude Stein

The theme of the Summer issue of PR, 1939 was somewhat insular. As Europe became the ground for WWII, American isolationism had its chance to appear again. Philip Rahv’s piece on “This Quarter” was matched by the results of a questionnaire posted to various US writers about the state of writing in the nation.  There were 7 questions:

  1. Are you conscious, in your own writing, of the existence of a ‘usable past’? Is this mostly American? What figures would you designate as elements in it? Would you say, for example, that Henry James’s work is more relevant to the present and future of American writing than Walt Whitman’s?
  2. Do you think of yourself as writing for a definite audience? If so how would you describe this audience? Would you say that the audience for serious American writing has grown or contracted in the last ten years?
  3. Do you place much value on the criticism your work has received? Would you agree that the corruption of the literary supplements be advertising — in the case of the newspapers — and political pressures — in the case of the liberal weeklies — has made has made serous literary criticism an isolated cult?
  4. Have you found it possible to make a living by writing the sort of thing you want to, and without the aid of such crutches as teaching and editorial work? Do you think there is any place in the present economic system for literature  as a profession? 
  5. DO you feel, in retrospect, that your writing reveals any allegiance to any group, class, organisation, region, religion, or system of thought, or do you conceive of it as mainly the expression of yourself as an individual?
  6. How would you describe the political tendency of  American writing as a whole since 1930?  How do you feel about it yourself? Are you sympathetic to the current tendency toward what we may be called “literary nationalism” — a renewed emphasis, largely uncritical, on the specifically “American” elements in our culture?
  7. Have you considered the question of your attitude towards the possible entry of the United States into the next world war? What do you think the responsibilities in general are when and if war comes?  

Many writers replied and I will include the most interesting in the next weeks of Reading Partisan Review. But I thought it might be most amusing to start out with Gertrude Stein’s avant-garde and bleakly comic and caustic replies:

Unknown-5   1. Usable for what, cannot worry about the future of American Writing.  The present is enough, and any American is American.

2. An audience is pleasant if you have it, it is flattering and flattering is agreeable always, but if you have an audience the being an audience is their business, they are the audience, you are the writer, let each attend to their own business.

3. After all, if it is written and presumably what you write is written before it is criticised then criticism is bound to come too late always. To the rest of the question it is the same.

4. I suppose if I had to make a living I should have, I do not know, how can you tell?

5. I am not interested.

6. Writers only think they are interested in politics, they are not really, it gives them a chance to talk and writers like to talk but really no real writer is really interested in politics.

7. It does not seem possible for any of you to realise that  most probably there will not be another general European war, the more Americans thinks there is going to be one, the more suspicious the continent gets and the less likely they are to fight.  Anyway, they are not at all likely to do so but if they were to then the writers would have to fight too like anybody else some will like it and some will not.

31hJTFP06rL._AC_US420_QL65_.jpgReaders might want to read this book by Janet Malcolm, which addresses the reality of the European War to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

 

 

 

“This Quarter” Philip Rahv, Partisan Review, Summer 1939, Vol. 6, No. 4, Pt2.

Part II:
Rahv-Mugshot

Now Rahv turns to the reasons for the decline in American literary success, and begins with the pressure of the Left on contemporary writers:

“For a long time now, it has been held almost as an axiom by left critics that in entering the political world the artist improves both his mind and his art. The reverse of this was held to be true by the conservatives, so that in the controversy about “proletarian literature” that raged in the early ‘thirties they uniformly urged artists to shun politics and retain their aesthetic purity. But no, paradoxically enough, it turns out that it is precisely politics which has become the medium of a new, of an unprecedented affiliation of literature to ideas historically transcended  generations ago and highly congenial to the present order of things.

“Obviously in this era, politics has played a contradictory role on the literary scene. If at first it drew the literary imagination closer to social reality, enabling it to assimilate a series of  fresh phenomena, it is now, conversely, despoiling this imagination and provoking its self-destructive impulses.

Rahv goes on to criticise Hemingway’s ‘silly’ The Fifth Column; Louis Aragon for writing novels about WWI, at the same time as he propagandises  preparedness for the  war that is coming; Aragon is also defending the French Empire as well as Stalin’s ‘totalitarian’ state. Rahv is even more wrought up about Malraux’s Man’s Hope. “It should be recognised, by even the most obtuse for what it is — an invention out of whole cloth. This glamour novel of the People’s Front is a work of empty heroics, devoid of a single real character. A cleverly composed pamphlet in the guise of objective fiction, its consummate rhetoric serves only to sell an illusion. And the lesson of all this is not that people were mistaken to interest themselves in social causes and or that they should stay out of politics. The lesson, rather, is that politics, qua politics, as the ivory tower qua the ivory tower, is neither good nor bad for literature. But they become meaningful insofar as they are modalities that each historic situation fills with its own content, with its own time-spirit. “

Rahv is clear that the politics have a place in the writing, but that, “The real question is  more specific: what is the author actually doing in politics?  What is he doing with it, and what is it doing to him?  How does his political faith affect him as a craftsman, what influence does it exercise on the moral qualities and on the sensibility of his work?”

“Yet in our time, literature, in its characteristic  aspects, is no longer at liberty to decide for itself whether to spurn or to enter politics. For better or worse, politics is shaping its destiny. As the chronic crisis of capitalism extorts from every human being greater and greater sacrifices of the will, consciousness and individuality, depriving people of whatever  independence they may have had and of whatever power was their’s to act upon and determine their own lot the literary themes of private life lose more and more the interest and significance they once possessed.”

And here Rahv’s argument resonates, it seems to me, with the current high-flying genre of memoir and of non-fiction more  generally. A fashion that eschews much of what had been political in the 1960s and post 1968 years for data, factoids, and a miserable picture of the ‘body’ as the substitute for critical thinking.

He goes on to criticise a new ‘gentility’ in American writing, ‘this so-called”rediscovery of our democratic past”, which is, if not a futile effort to solve the problems of today with the solutions of the past?… “We are now entering an epoch in which thought images history in the reverse.  Its most voluble oracles, in art and in politics alike, have forgotten or are unable to learn that the grand and vital truths of of the past are often transformed into the superstitions, into the lemurs and vampires of the present.”

Rahv now rises to the meta-voice of the writer:  “To speak of modern literature is to speak of that peculiar grouping, the intelligentsia, to whom it belongs. The intelligentsia too, is a modern product, created by the drastic division of labor that prevails under capitalism.” The argument Rahv presents here is that the  intelligentsia’s concern with aesthetics, private emotion, even “the bent towards the obscure and the morbid,” — these qualities are not derived from a limitless  confidence that the artist has in himself, but from the group-ethos, from the proud self-imposed exile isolation of a cultivated minority. And these French writers created a whole range of what might be called idealised negations of the society they scorned.”

Rahv is really good at showing a genealogy of why and how the situation in writing is, in the summer of 1939, without any truly revolutionary tendency in writing. Yet….

“The dissident artist, if he understands the extremity of the age and the voices what it tries to stifle, will thus be saved from the sterility and delivered from its corruption. Instead of deceiving himself and others by playing with the bureaucratised visions of the shining cities of the future or else by turning his  art into a shrine for things that are dead and gone, he would be faithful to the metamorphosis of the present. And every metamorphosis, it has been said, “Is partly a swan song and partly a prelude to a great new poem.”

Next Week: Writers on Their Situation.

 

 

 

 

“This Quarter” Philip Rahv, Partisan Review, Summer 1939, Vol. 6, No. 4, Pt1

Like other posts about the “This Quarter” essays, this one will be in two parts.  Part I:

The quarterly reports on the state of literature and politics served to orientate the reader to the pieces that shape the issue at hand. This issue’s central topic is the state of American writing as the summer of 1939 demands an editorial reckoning with the tensions of 1939. This time it falls to Philip Rahv to make the case for the issue, and he does it with his usual fierce analysis. I have discussed Rahv in a number of other posts, and you can find them in the archive of this blog.

philip Rahv-16 Philip Rahv

His name for the essay is “Twilight of the Thirties,” echoing Nietzsche and Wagner and the Germanic voice.
Rahv begins by describing the way in which the current literary situation reflects the rise of the ‘democratic’ at the cost of the ‘revolutionary’ current in literature. He takes the example of Anton Zweig, whose The Case of Sergeant Grischa, narrated the trauma and losses of the First World War. But in an interview in the New York Post, Zweig ‘repudiated’ his novel and declared in favour of ‘democratic’ literature.  Rahv sees this as a function of Zweig being drawn into a general tendency to turn down the burner on revolutionary polemical satiric and anti-popular front works.

th.arnold Zweig Anton Zweig

“Only a few years ago such a revolting about face by a writer of Zweig’s stature would have been universally cited as a piece of  demented reaction. In this retrograde period, however, the majority of writers who formerly  would have challenged Zweig are actually of one mind with him. For aren’t they all, nowadays, true-blue democrats together?  Don’t they assemble at literary congresses — such as the recent PEN Congress and American Writers Congress — where the war drive is spiritually organized, where celebrities of such diverse and unequal talents as Thomas Mann and Dorothy Parker, Jules Romains, and Dorothy Thompson, parading their loyalty to the status quo, solemnly engage themselves to provide the coming world-conflict with the required cultural unction and humanity appeal.”

SO, Rahv goes on to say, that Zweig’s remark is one of the symptoms of the “expression of the present demoralised condition of letters.”

“As the tide of patriotism and democratic eloquence rises, one observes an ebb of creative energy and a rapid decline of standards in all spheres of the intellect and of the imagination.”  The depictions of WWI were indeed more powerful because they showed the terror and horror and senselessness of it. Now, it seems that everything is coated with a kind of cowardly irreality.

And the ‘younger generation’ has ceased to produce exciting new things. “no avant-garde movement exists any longer, and he goes on,

“For more than a hundred years literature , on a world scale, was in the throes of a constant inner revolution, was the arena of uninterrupted rebellions and counter-rebellions, was incessantly reviewing itself both in substance and in form. But at present it seems as if this magnificent process is drawing to a close.”

The world that Rahv had thought would result from the knowledge gained from WWI, and from the Russian Revolution, would be made with fewer costs, until the Moscow Trials, the Popular Front, and Fascism twisted it all into errors and lies.

“Only one idea promised to re-vitalise literary expression is this decade. It was the idea  of the social revolution in its specific application to culture, and it gave rise to a radical school of creative writing and to a Marxist literary criticism. This movement, however, turned into its very opposite after a brief span of life that was as blundering as it was exciting. From the start it was held in pawn by the Stalinists. AT first devised for revolutionary ends, it has now been converted into a means of forcing literature into the harness of the old society. This movement has pulled a great many writers into the orbit of politics. But this only means that a great many writers who were previously politically indifferent, and hence relatively immune to certain rabid notions, have been led to accept and even to idealise bourgeois values at the same time as catchwords of “progress ” and “democracy” delude them into imagining themselves to be still radicals. Yet having dedicated themselves to society, society rededicates itself to them. Never have the literary lions of the “left-wing” enjoyed such lavish hospitality from the world at large as at present, never have they received such bounties, such whole-hearted recognition, from the very powers they profess to abhor. As for those writers who refuse to accompany the Comintern on its travels from one pole of the class struggle to the other, their works are placed on the expurgatory index and their persons committed to Satan. And The New Masses these days denounces John Dos Passos and Edmund Wilson as “enemies of the people” in the same issue in which Hollywood is saluted as a centre of culture.

Rahv has set the scene now for what will have to be his “lesson about politics to literature to be from this experience.”

come back next week to read  part II.

 

 

 

 

Sean Niall’s “Letter from Paris,” PR, Spring 1939, Vol.6, No.3

sherry-magnan

It’s Spring 1939 and Sean Niall, the brilliant Paris correspondent of Partisan Review begins his ironic and depressing report from Paris with a take-no-prisoners opening:

“The last Paris Letter’s gloomy prognosis of the season has proved only too correct. Indeed, it is so bad that Parisians pretty much accept Virgil Thomson’s melancholy crack that ‘this is just a winter dropped out of everybody’s life; and the sooner we forget it, the better.’ “
{If you want to read about the ‘last letter’s gloomy prognosis, go back in this blog to: Paris Letter: Sian Niall,PR Vol. 6,No. 2, Winter 1939, which is in two parts.}On 30 November, 1938, a General Strike in Paris was defeated, and,  at present, Niall writes, “The literary left roughly reflects the discouragement and disarray of the French workers and peasants.”

Niall brings together the central themes of the moment at hand: what the Left is doing, what the Literary Left literature is writing, and what we should be doing about the Nazism and the mess in Europe. By March, Hitler was in Prague, and the same month, the Spanish Civil War was over with the defeat of the Republicans and the fall of Madrid.

“Artistic Paris, like the rest of France, is oppressed as by the lowering atmospheric depression before a crashing thunderstorm…[and] if there is peace, it is the peace of despair. “

Niall is on the side of the anti-Stalinist Communists and Trotskyists: “Never have the Second and the Third Internationals fallen to such depths of discredit. Their effect has been to turn the French proletariat,not to revolution but to inactivity and despair and the almost jemenfoutisme  (trans. “I could give a F*ck”) of the feeling that, “If you don’t lift your head, nobody will club it.”

Niall turns to the places of hope; to him, it lies in the 4th International (the Trotskyists), the P.S.O.P. (Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan, PSOP), and the P.O.I, (The Workers’ International Party), both of which had dissolved by the end of 1939. And I think he was right about that – except that the hope never materialised into action or socialism. But then and there, the Trots were the closest to what PR could endorse, and their writing showed how the importance of Modernism could be understood within a revolutionary cultural framework.

SO he takes a number of books which people are reading in Paris and submits them to his literary-political verdicts:

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE-31973

 

1. First is the newcomer to the field of literature, a man called Jean-Paul Sartre, and his collection of short stories, The Wall (Le Mur) are pretty good, but not great. He is about 34 and is too cautious and too committed to already worked tradition of narrative in literature to produce the astonishment that this moment requires:
“With all their excellent qualities, they somehow disappoint. Certainly – to take an American example—they are far superior to those of, say, Hemingway. But they have the faults of their qualities – a cautiousness, a sense of prose tradition, a tendency to choose the sure-fire effect – that render them, despite their youthful richness, a little literary, a little thin. Sartre, a very young writer, may well go on to greater self-confidence in and self-abandonment to his own art; yet he may equally well….degenerate into a mere “Man of Letters” homme-de-lettres.

Among the other books he has chosen are a few whose topic is more political, but also influenced by, and hoping for a synthesis of Marxism and Psychoanalysis.  I find this interesting because in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a strong push by left wing writers and political writers to advance the link between these two methodologies through the category of the ‘subject.’ I recall the line in Coward and Ellis’s Language  and Materialism,  where they proclaim that the great project facing the left is the the question of ‘the subject’ in history.

UnknoCoward and Ellis n-1 1977. But Niall is sceptical of a unification of two such disciplines-in-formation.

One of the more surprising discussions, perhaps, to readers of today is about Gaston Bachelard, the phenomenologist of the forces of nature. His The Psychoanalysis of Fire, a haunting and poetic phenomenological mapping of fire’s meanings over the centuries, was, for many of my generation, a gentle way into what became the dominant literary-theoretical persuasion of the late 20th century. He was, as well,  was a central influence on philosophers such as Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, and Jacques Derrida.

Gaston Bachelard. 440px-Gaston_Bachelard_1965

But Niall reduces him to the size of a pretentious bug: calling him a “pretentious literary gent.”“ Bachelard, who apparently fancies himself as a rebel, often distinguishes himself carefully in this book from “classic psychoanalysis,” but the real distinction is that he has introduced psychoanalysis into belles-lettres. This fancy little volume strikes one as the Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler of psychiatry, and, if translated, should most correctly be published with prodigious margins on hand-chewed paper by some Nonesuch Press for the delectation of psychoanalytic bibliophiles.”

SO we could say that Niall gets it wrong often, but with brio and lashings of bile. If you want to read more of this piece, go to

http://hgar-srv3.bu.edu/collections/partisan-review/

then find Partisan Review, 1939, Vol.6. No. 3.

As for me, I agree… 1939 has been one hell of a year for us.

Rimbaud’s “The Hands of Jean-Marie,”translated by Lionel Abel

image

“Women arrested as Arsonists/’pétroleuses’ in massacres of  the Paris Commune

‘Sartre says Abel is the most intelligent man in New York City. Kenneth Rexroth, the poet-critic, says Abel is the most intelligent man in New York City. Abel himself will not say that he is the most intelligent man in New York City. But he will say that Sartre and Rexroth are both magnificent judges of intellect’. Dick Schaap, The New York Herald Tribune,

Those of you who have been  reading this blog for two years or more may recognise the quotation from Dick Schaap from a post on Abel and the Italian novelist, Silone. {Lionel Abel on Silone, October 15, 2016} Its the sort of thing people circulate about whiz-kids within the conventions of a coterie of like-minded  intellectuals. And of course, the quotation is scratchy around its edges… but now that I am back in London, after 10 days in New York and then a week of the flu, its a pleasure to be reminded of the bon-mots of the later 1930s.

We are still in 1939, still waiting, as it were, for the Second World War to begin, and our next item in the Spring issue is a translation of Rimbaud’s poem “Les Mains de Jean-Marie,”  Rimbaud’s poem of solidarity with the Paris Commune of 1871, when from March 18 -May 28, 1871, Paris’s workers established a proto-socialist city within Paris. After the siege of Paris that ended the Franco-Prussian War, and before the French regular army massacred over 25,000 Parisians in the streets around the Commune, the ideas and debates about how to live were as alive as they had been in the Revolution of 1789, and women figured prominently in the legends of the Paris Commune, as the myth of female arsonists at the end of the Commune were circulated and many were arrested.

Lionel Abel translated a volume of Rimbaud’s poems Some Poems by Rimbaud, Exiles Press, 1939. And the same year, Delmore Schwartz translated A Season In Hell.  With the March of Hitler, the Moscow Trials, and the debates around Communism and Fascism, it is not surprising that the Paris Commune would be a common reference point for anti-Fascists and anti-Stalinists.

Wallace Fowlie has written of “The Hands of Jeanne-Marie,”:
“Of all the Rimbaud poems directly inspired by the Commune, Les Mains de Jeanne-Marie is perhaps the most successful and the most moving. In it Rimbaud describes the struggle of the communards with the Versaillais, and recalls the action of women from the working class who literally fought in the streets during the terrible week of May 21-28, when they
helped defend the barracks on the Place Blanche, the Place Pigalle and the Batignolles. The poet contrasts the beautiful delicate hands of women in love, as celebrated by various parnassian poets (cf. Etudes de mains by Theophile Gautier) with the rough hands of women who fought in the streets of Paris. Rimbaud is intent upon exalting revolutionary violence and he does it by pointing out this contrast between the white hands of
noble ladies and the dark hands of the typical communarde women.
The last three stanzas of Les Mains de Jeanne-Marie contain very precise allusions to the Commune and especially to the repression that followed the “bloody” week of May 21-28. The hands of the communards are apostrophized as being sacred: o Mains sacres. The “chain” named in the next-to-last stanza is undoubtedly a reference to the long line of communard prisoners who were sent to Versailles, and who numbered from one hundred and fifty to two hundred each day. They were bound hand to hand, in ranks of four. On the way they were insulted and derided by the crowds watching them.”

Here follows Abel’s translation:

IMG_0509  IMG_0510IMG_0511