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” 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.

 

 

 

 

Desmond Hawkins, “London Letter” Partisan Review, Vol.6, No. 4, Summer, 1939.

images-12 Desmond Hawkins, London Letter.

 

The summer of 1939 was tense and by September, the British had begun conscription of men who were 20 and 21,  Hitler had decided against negotiations with Poland, and the British began to evacuate families to the countryside.  SO, we begin our look at Vol.6, No.4, Summer, 1939 with a “London Letter,” by Desmond Hawkins, a London journalist and broadcaster for the BBC, who went on to create the BBC Natural History Unit.

Hawkins’s voice is very different from Sean Niall’s in his periodic “Paris Letters” — Hawkins has that thin ribbon of fury in it that carries his disdain of the irresolution of the government and the armchair politics of the Bloomsberries:

“To say what is happening in England at the present time is no easy task…The opaque and unruffled surface of public affairs suggest indeed that nothing is happening at all. We are all anti-fascist. We are all devoted to peace and convinced of our superior solicitude in its preservation. … But in spite of our one-way enthusiasm – or perhaps because of it, the air is peculiarly enervating.”

Hawkins argues that there was a kind of intellectual optimism in the years after WWI which ensured that the youth of England grew up imagining that War on that grand scale would never occur again. The result — complacency coupled with a skin of progressive polemicising.  It was the crisis of Czecho-Slovakia that “carried with it the dawning May Day, the revolution painlessly directed from Bloomsbury armchairs. All that experimental theorising presupposed that the British Empire would lie in supine glory on the operating-table while the delectable surgery was performed by Fabian thinkers and planners and Audenesque healers.”

His polemic against the Bloomsbury coterie is amusing, dry, and to the point:

“The prevailing mood, then, in sloganese is an intensified resistance to fascist aggression, for the sake of democracy. To find anything happening one must go behind the scenes. Chamberlain’s real danger is from within his party, and the next months will show whether the Tory right wing – those who oppose Hitler most militantly in terms of imperialist rivalry – can capture the Cabinet. The apparently certain thing is that Bloomsbury influence on political thought will diminish. The daring revolutionary bravado of this decade may even return to the bourgeois womb and be re-born as a Popular Front, Left in its slogans and Right in its motives. Champions of the status quo are naturally delighted to take over a highly moral propaganda which suits their policy. Bloomsbury is putting its left foot forward in order to march backwards, and the playing fields of Eton are about to resume their former strategic importance.”

bloomsbury group Bloomsbury Group

From here, Hawkins turns to the literary scene — principally the ‘little magazines,”the most important one, T.S. Eliot’s The Criterion. “Its cessation was wholly unexpected. In his last editorial, T.S. Eliot wrote:

“Perhaps for a long way ahead, the continuity of culture may have to be maintained by a very small number of people, indeed. It will not be the large organs  of opinions or the old periodicals; it must be the small and obscure papers and reviews, those which are hardly read by anyone but their own contributors, that will keep critical thought alive,and encourage authors of original talent.”

Unknown-18.jpegHawkins goes on: ” Feeling that changed circumstances require changed new energies, Eliot stated that after sixteen years no longer had sufficient enthusiasm for the job. The European mind, which The Criterion existed to mirror, is fragmented. The most powerful group of younger writers have not much in common with Eliot, and there is little public support for any literary review which is not at least nominally anti-fascist. I think it would be true to say that latterly The Criterion commanded respect but not enthusiasm. Its main energy was drawn increasingly from Eliot himself; and the more personal it became, the more freely might its editor consider employing his time in other ways. It is, of course a serious loss to be deprived of what was the only substantial and authoritative review in England, and — as with Yeats’s death — there is a certain sadness in the disappearance of an intellectual landmark which had acquired a very great prestige.”

Unknown-17.jpeg

Hawkins goes on, and circles back to the Bloomsbury intellectuals and artists. “The revolutions of the ‘twenties have been dexterously absorbed and Bloomsbury in the bigness of its heart is writing passionate slogans for the War Office.”  

Next. Week: More from the Summer Issue, 1939. “This Quarter: Twilight of the Thirties,” by Philip Rahv..

 

 

 

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

“American Artists Congress, 1939,” George L.K. Morris, PR, Spring 1939.

AAC1939 As you may recall from earlier posts, the artists’  group that reflected the aesthetic/political taste of the Popular Front was the American Artists’ Congress, sponsored by the Communist Party, USA, and aimed to contribute to the campaign against fascism. We have looked at many critiques of the Popular Front from the positions of writers for Partisan Review, which began with the Moscow Trials of 1936-38, and the development of the Trotskyist movement within and then exiled from, the Stalinist betrayal of the Russian Revolution. One of the features of Partisan Review’s stance was it’s advocacy of new forms of art, and in particular the modernist movements in painting and sculpture.  Morris’s short reviews of two sponsored events, the 3rd annual AAC of 1939, held in a sixth-floor gallery at 444 Madison Avenue, and the show held by American Abstract Painters Association that same year in March, at the Riverside Museum. Morris’s approach to each of these events is, for the most part, consistent with the splits between Stalinists and Trotskyists on the style of abstraction.

“The Artists’ Congress offers perhaps the broadest opportunity for appraising various influences that are now shaping the more popular courses of American art. And there are indications of greater promise in this 1939 Exhibition than one is accustomed to discover from large-scale displays at the present time. The native selections at the Metropolitan and Whitney Museums have long created a suspicion that American bourgeois art was fated to become permanently stuck in a lifeless morass of expanding vulgarity, and most local exhibitions have merely added to this unpalatable picture. At the Artists Congress, however, there is an absence of impressionist trickery, and a refreshing directness which might conceivably vitalize a genuine tradition. There is often a surprising technical freedom as well, and a pleasure in the manipulation of direct impasto. No quality is more readily communicated than that of drudgery, and it is perhaps significant that in this show the leading exponents of drudgery are usually those artists whom we encounter most often in the public galleries.

“The favourable impression would have been more successfully sustained if the galleries had been less generously provided with chairs. One must pause at length before a picture, and unfortunately there was little here that could stand a very intimate acquaintance. Many works disclosed the striking transcription of a momentary image, but that real distinction between which our century seems so rarely capable of of realising,was singularly absent. There was little to suggest the stirring of an esthetic impulse; the political earnestness had obviously thrown its weight in the opposite direction. {AJ: I find it strange that though Picasso’s Guernica arrived as an addition to the show, Morris doesn’t give it a mention}

3154201312860029“Works of every genre were in evidence, but the Congress exhibitions derive their special character from a preponderance of paintings that might be loosely classified as  “social satires.” Here, at any rate, they tended to eclipse all other types of work; at the same time they were to demonstrate the unavoidable effect of violent subject matter upon artists who have never been grounded on an authentic tradition of their own.The very language of painting, by which  literary ideas can be made plastically credible, has been laid aside; therefore, the more intense the illustrative emotion, the more it has appeared to stick through the structural fabric, until often the connection between title and expressive means would become quite arbitrary. A painting here entitled Refugees {AJ: William Gropper} could have passed many years ago for a peculiarly romantic Madonna and Child. And one particular work, Flight from Fascism, went so far as to take its pose and composition quite blatantly from Delacroix’s Flight of Medea. –{AJ: this comparison doesn’t make any sense — can anyone help?! and I can’t find the image of the “Flight from Fascism, either. }. 

But Morris isn’t actually interested in Popular Front political art; what he is interested in is the work of the American Abstract Artists group, of which he had been a founding member.

““An Exhibition of almost equal proportions, although in complete opposition to that of the Congress, was held in March by the American Abstract Artists, and the resultant impressions are interesting to compare. The slogan of the Congress is For Peace, For Democracy, For Cultural Progress, and obvious comments upon these phrases echo resoundingly from every wall. The Abstract Artists share these convictions, but they also believe that the esthetic impulse cannot become a tool for concrete political or philosophical dissemination,– at this stage of our cultural metamorphosis at least. In their galleries the emphasis  contracts upon rudimentary encounters with pattern and design; there is a consistent searching after such shapes and linear combinations as can hold those conceptions of individuality which they feel to be evolving anew. The present decade may have publicized at last the cracks in the old social order. The Congress illustrates the crevices. The abstract artists, on the other hand, attempt to re-order their plastic instincts; they attack the established conceptions of art itself.

“The emergence of a sudden and intense restriction has often in the past accompanied the painful process of cultural reorientation. It can hardly have been by accident that another age of chaos, which saw the disintegration of the Roman Empire, should have left the Ravenna mosaics as its purest heritage. Possibly it requires an impasse comparable to that in which the world finds itself today to give courage to that complete restriction which has made possible the work of many abstract artists. The pitfalls are many which await the processes of consciously attempted simplification. Particularly in an age of science and mechanism the artist can be lured into reproducing no more than the purely static technique of the manufactured object. . Such painters as Shaw, Gallatin, and Greene have concentrated upon every direction that their flattened forms can follow, every linear juncture, every weight of tone and colour, without relinquishing personal stylistic over meaning. Their works are reticent, for their expressive ends have purposely been carried no farther than their simplified fabric will allow. Yet through such limited means they have destroyed the old conception of the ‘picture’; each has substituted a thing, — an object that is at rest completely, — and thus can a way some day be cleared for a new reality.

images-10

Unknown-13
Charles G. Shaw

Gallatin  A.E. Gallatin.  images-11

Balcombe Green Balcombe Green Unknown-15

I will be in New York for the next two Saturdays, but will be back after that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Poet as Poet,” Delmore Schwartz, Partisan Review, vol.6, No. 3,Spring 1939.

imageWe haven’t seen much  Delmore Schwartz in  Partisan Review for a while, but his companion piece to Auden’s “trial” of W.B. Yeats, “The Poet as Poet”, also takes on the issue of  how Yeats’ poetry changed over his long career. This was good news for poets in general, Schwartz wryly suggests: “The process of a bad poet of the ‘Nineties becoming a great poet in middle age. Henceforth no poet can be regarded as utterly hopeless: the possibility of a Yeatsian miracle will always present itself.” 

Schwartz describes Yeats’s youthful experiments in poetry as part the fin-de-siecle “mellifluous speech”– inherited from Shelley,  the Pre-Raphelites, and Swinburne.Yeats would go on to follow, the Indian thread of Mme. Blavatsky’s theosophical ‘researches’  along with the “cultic twaddle” of the Celtic Twilight.

From beginning to end, Yeats was evidently prepared to try anything. Socialism or hashish, once or twice. The idiom in which he wrote, however, was the period style, based upon a misunderstanding of Baudelaire and Mallarme by an emphasis on their superficial qualities.”

Schwartz next takes two stanzas from Yeats’s various imagining of his image of beauty and love, Maud Gonne; one from “The Wind Among the Reeds”; the other from “Among School Children.”

Dim Powers of drowsy thought, let her no longer be

Like the pale cup of the sea.

When the winds  have gathered and sun and moon burned dim

Above its cloudy rim;

But let a gentle silence wrought with music flow

Whither her footsteps go.

 

With respect to the earlier stanza, Schwartz explains,  the poetic voice creates a ‘general’ and vague atmospheric “of dim images musically sounded,” while in the stanza from “Among School Children,” that generality is replaced by “the precise  word and the precise observation are used to get a specific emotion on the page.

Her present image floats into the mind —

Did Quattrocento finger fashion it

Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind

And took a mess of shadows for its meat?

And I, though never of Ledean kind

Had pretty plumage once –enough of that,

Better to smile on all that smile, and show

There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.

“It is this ability to represent emotion with the greatest vividness, directness, and dramatic justification which constitutes Yeats’s peculiar gift, rather than the understanding and insight   or the brilliance of observation or the freshness of attitudes and values which are the more usual marks of the great poet.”

Schwartz now turns to explain the ‘factors’ if not the reasons, that altered Yeats’s poetic:

During the years in which the change began to show itself, Yeats was faced with failures of various sorts. His early fame had begun to wane, his long courtship of one woman [Maud Gonne] had ended in emptiness. The Abbey Theatre, on which his hopes for a poetic theatre rested, had received little but abuse and misunderstanding, the whole Irish literary renaissance had faded, and many of his most gifted friends, Wilde, Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and Synge, had died in misery and degradation. This would be enough to make most men forget about the land of dreams and the Irish fairyland of the early poems.” 

But Yeats didn’t simply forget what he had written. “He seized upon the opposition between the land of dreams and the actuality about him, and engaged in a continual see-saw between the two. The structure, so to speak, of thought and of feeling became what Yeats came to call antithetical.”

The fundamental opposition was between what Yeats called subjectivity and objectivity; or less ambiguously, introversion and extroversion.”  And from there everything in Yeats’s poetic was about the shifting from the one to the other. First was that between ART and Life; “which was sordid , sodden, and soiled,” or, as Lionel Johnson said, constituted by “a London Fog, the blurred tawny lamplight, the red omnibus, the glaring gin shop, the slatternly shivering women.”

Schwartz describes Yeats’s youth as one in which he “literally inhaled the doctrine of Art for Art’s Sake, and learned from his father that only that sort was genuine.” Yet Yeats’s work was always divided by his steady allegiance to ART and his various ones to politics. In

AN Irish Airman Forsees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Schwartz writes:  “The lonely impulse of delight, the rejection of law, duty, public men, and cheering crowds, betrays the voice as that of the poet of the ‘Nineties’ who has lived into the next generation. Yeats has transformed his hypothetical airman into a romantic poet, or we may say, if we consider this poem in relation to his work as a whole, that when confronted with the World War, the poet succeeds in sustaining the romantic attitude with which he began; but not however, without being perfectly aware of the difficult circumstances in which he is sustaining it.”

Schwartz goes on to look at the states of permanence that attract Yeats in his later poems. From this time onwards, the poet of ART sees that only those things can be rejected for the permanence of ART, or of timelessness, or of beautiful  stasis will be what lasts, while the ruins of human lives — the engagements with war and ambition and politics — must fall away in human time, leaving only the work of the Poet, out of time, the romantic poet,  to commemorate and tell what is past or passing or to come.

After reading the pieces by Auden and Schwartz on Yeats…I  see that  Auden and Schwartz are direct inheritors of Yeats; Auden perfecting the poetic language of the world of apparatuses and structures and objectivity; Schwartz elaborating the romanticism of the Poetic vocation.

Louis Macniece, from “Autumn Journal”, Partisan Review, Vol.6, No.4, Spring, 1939

Dear Readers, I am, as we used to say at Madison Square Garden, “down for the count,” — insensate, fluish, knee-wrecked.    SO, here, now that WWII is waiting in the wings for September 3, 1939, is the premonitory voice of Louis Macniece looking at what’s to come.  SO what if he sounds a bit too Audenesque..”Good-bye the Platonic sieve of the Carnal Man”.. that’s the voice of 1937-1939, and it works.

Spider, spider, twisting tight —

But the watch is wary beneath the pillow —

I am afraid in the web of night

When the window is fingered by the shadows of
branches,

When the lions roar beneath the hill

And the meter clicks and the cistern bubbles
And the gods are absent and the men are still—

Noli me tangere, my soul is forfeit.

Some now are happy in the hive of home,

Thigh over thigh and a light in the night nursery,
And some are hungry under the starry dome
And some sit turning handles.

Glory to God in the Lowest, peace beneath the earth,
Dumb and deaf at the nadir;

I wonder now whether anything is worth
The eyelid opening and the mind recalling.

And I think of Persephone gone down to dark,

No more a virgin, gone the garish meadow,

But why must she come back, why must the snowdrop
mark

That life goes on for ever?

There are nights when I am lonely and long for love
But to-night is quintessential dark forbidding
Anyone beside or below me; only above

Pile high the tumulus, good-bye to starlight.
Good-bye the Platonic sieve of the Carnal Man
But good-bye also Plato’s philosophising;

I have a better plan

To hit the target straight without circumlocution.

If you can equate Being in its purest form
With denial of all appearance,

Then let me disappear — the scent grows warm
For pure Not-Being, Nirvana.

Only the spider spinning out his reams

Of colourless thread says Only there are always
Interlopers, dreams,

Who let no dead dog lie nor death be final;
Suggesting, while he spins, that to-morrow will out-
weigh

To-night, that Becoming is a match for Being,

That to-morrow is also a day,

That I must leave my bed and face the music.

As all the others do who with a grin

Shake off sleep like a dog and hurry to desk or engine
And the fear of life goes out as they clock in
And history is reasserted.

Spider, spider, your irony is true;

Who am I — or I — to demand oblivion?

I must go out to-morrow as the others do
And build the falling castle;

Which has never fallen, thanks

Not to any formula, red tape or institution,

Not to any creeds or banks,

But to the human animal’s endless courage.

Spider, spider, spin

Your register and let me sleep a little,
Not now in order to end but to begin
The task begun so often.

 

“The Public v. the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats,” by W.H. Auden. PR. Vol.6, No.3, Spring 1939.

images-8     W.B. Yeats                        images-9.jpeg   W.H. Auden

In this ‘trial’ of W.B. Yeats as a political poet and as a “great” poet, tout court,  Auden first presents the Prosecution’s case in the voice of an orthodox communist party member, and then the case for the Defense in something that comes from what we assume is Auden’s true position. But if the reader is committed both to revolutionary politics and to the regime of poetics, they will be left with a more perplexing and complex view: namely, that Yeats was both the ‘ great poet’ and a man of political contradictions.  The text of the ‘case’ follows here:

The Public v. the Late Mr William Butler Yeats
the public prosecutor.
Gentlemen of the Jury. Let us be quite clear in our minds as to the nature
of this case. We are here to judge, not a man, but his work. Upon the char- acter of the deceased, therefore, his affectations of dress and manner, his in- ordinate personal vanity, traits which caused a fellow countryman and former friend to refer to him as “the greatest literary fop in history”, I do not intend to dwell. I must only remind you that there is usually a close connection be- tween the personal character of a poet and his work, and that the deceased was no exception.
Again I must draw your attention to the exact nature of the charge. That the deceased had talent is not for a moment in dispute; so much is freely ad- mitted by the prosecution. What the defence are asking you to believe, how- ever, is that he was a great poet, the greatest of this century writing in English. That is their case, and it is that which the prosecution feels bound most em- phatically to deny.
A great poet. To deserve such an epithet, a poet is commonly required to convince us of three things: firstly a gift of a very high order for memorable language, secondly a profound understanding of the age in which he lives, and thirdly a working knowledge of and sympathetic attitude towards the most progressive thought of his time.
Did the deceased possess these? I am afraid, gentlemen, that the answer is, no.
On the first point I shall be brief. My learned friend, the counsel for the defence, will, I have no doubt, do his best to convince you that I am wrong. And he has a case, gentlemen. O yes, a very fine case. I shall only ask you to apply to the work of the deceased a very simple test. How many of his lines can you remember?
Further, it is not unreasonable to suppose that a poet who has a gift for lan- guage will recognize that gift in others. I have here a copy of an anthology edited by the deceased entitled The Oxford Book of Modern Verse. I challenge anyone in this court to deny that it is the most deplorable volume ever issued under the imprint of that highly respected firm which has done so much for the cause of poetry in this country, the Clarendon Press.
But in any case you and I are educated modern men. Our fathers imagined that poetry existed in some private garden of its own, totally unrelated to the workaday world, and to be judged by pure aesthetic standards alone. We know that now to be an illusion. Let me pass then, to my second point. Did the de- ceased understand his age?
4 ESSAYS AND REVIEWS 1939
What did he admire? What did he condemn? Well, he extolled the virtues of the peasant. Excellent. But should that peasant learn to read and write, should he save enough money to buy a shop, attempt by honest trading to raise himself above the level of the beasts, and O, what a sorry change is there. Now he is the enemy, the hateful huxter whose blood, according to the un- seemly boast of the deceased, never flowed through his loins. Had the poet chosen to live in a mud cabin in Galway among swine and superstition, we might think him mistaken, but we should admire his integrity. But did he do this? O dear no. For there was another world which seemed to him not only equally admirable, but a deal more agreeable to live in, the world of noble houses, of large drawing rooms inhabited by the rich and the decorative, most of them of the female sex. We do not have to think very hard or very long, before we shall see a connection between these facts. The deceased had the feudal mentality. He was prepared to admire the poor just as long as they remained poor and deferential, accepting without protest the burden of maintaining a little athenian band of literary landowners, who without their toil could not exist for five minutes.
For the great struggle of our time to create a juster social order, he felt nothing but the hatred which is born of fear. It is true that he played a cer- tain part in the movement for Irish Independence, but I hardly think my learned friend will draw your attention to that. Of all the modes of self- evasion open to the well-to-do, Nationalism is the easiest and most dishonest. It allows to the unjust all the luxury of righteous indignation against in- justice. Still, it has often inspired men and women to acts of heroism and self-sacrifice. For the sake of a free Ireland the poet Pearse and the count- ess Markiewicz gave their all. But if the deceased did give himself to this movement, he did so with singular moderation. After the rebellion of Easter Sunday 1916, he wrote a poem on the subject which has been called a mas- terpiece. It is. To succeed at such a time in writing a poem which could of- fend neither the Irish Republican nor the British army was indeed a mas- terly achievement.
And so we come to our third and last point. The most superficial glance at the last fifty years is enough to tell us that the social struggle towards greater equality has been accompanied by a growing intellectual acceptance of the scientific method and the steady conquest of irrational superstition. What was the attitude of the deceased towards this? Gentlemen, words fail me. What are we to say of a man whose earliest writings attempted to revive a belief in fairies and whose favourite themes were legends of barbaric heroes with un- pronounceable names, work which has been aptly and wittily described as Chaff about Bran?
But you may say, he was young; youth is always romantic; its silliness is part of its charm. Perhaps it is. Let us forgive the youth, then, and consider the mature man, from whom we have a right to expect wisdom and common

ESSAYS AND REVIEWS 1939 5
sense. Gentlemen, it is hard to be charitable when we find that the deceased, far from outgrowing his folly, has plunged even deeper. In 1900 he believed in fairies; that was bad enough; but in 1930 we are confronted with the piti- ful, the deplorable spectacle of a grown man occupied with the mumbo- jumbo of magic and the nonsense of India. Whether he seriously believed such stuff to be true, or merely thought it pretty, or imagined it would im- press the public, is immaterial. The plain fact remains that he made it the centre of his work. Gentlemen, I need say no more. In the last poem he wrote, the deceased rejects social justice and reason, and prays for war. Am I mis- taken in imagining that somewhat similar sentiments are expressed by a cer- tain foreign political movement which every lover of literature and liberty ac- knowledges to be the enemy of mankind?
the counsel for the defence.
Gentlemen of the Jury. I am sure you have listened with as much enjoyment
as I to the eloquence of the prosecution. I say enjoyment because the spec- tacle of anything well-done, whether it be a feat of engineering, a poem, or even an outburst of impassioned oratory, must always give pleasure.
We have been treated to an analysis of the character of the deceased which, for all I know, may be as true as it is destructive. Whether it proves anything about the value of his poetry is another matter. If I may be allowed to quote my learned friend: “We are here to judge, not a man, but his work.” We have been told that the deceased was conceited, that he was a snob, that he was a physical coward, that his taste in contemporary poetry was uncertain, that he could not understand physics and chemistry. If this is not an invitation to judge the man, I do not know what is. Does it not bear an extraordinary re- semblance to the belief of an earlier age that a great artist must be chaste? Take away the frills, and the argument of the prosecution is reduced to this: “A great poet must give the right answers to the problems which perplex his generation. The deceased gave the wrong answers. Therefore the deceased was not a great poet.” Poetry in such a view is the filling up of a social quiz; to pass with honours the poet must score not less than 75%. With all due re- spect to my learned friend, this is nonsense. We are tempted so to judge con- temporary poets because we really do have problems which we really do want solved, so that we are inclined to expect everyone, politicians, scientists, poets, clergymen, to give us the answers, and to blame them indiscriminately when they do not. But who reads the poetry of the past in this way? In an age of rising nationalism, Dante looked back with envy to the Roman Empire. Was this socially progressive? Will only a Catholic admit that Dryden’s “The Hind and the Panther” is a good poem? Do we condemn Blake because he rejected Newton’s Theory of Light, or rank Wordsworth lower than Baker, because the latter had a deeper appreciation of the steam engine?
Can such a viewpoint explain why

6 ESSAYS AND REVIEWS 1939
Mock Emmet, Mock Parnell All the renown that fell
is good; and bad, such a line as
Somehow I think that you are rather like a tree.
In pointing out that this is absurd, I am not trying to suggest that art exists independently of society. The relation between the two is just as intimate and important as the prosecution asserts.
Every individual is from time to time excited emotionally and intellectually by his social and material environment. In certain individuals this excitement produces verbal structures which we call poems; if such a verbal structure cre- ates an excitement in the reader, we call it a good poem; poetic talent, in fact, is the power to make personal excitement socially available. Poets, i.e. per- sons with poetic talent, stop writing good poetry when they stop reacting to the world they live in. The nature of that reaction, whether it be positive or negative, morally admirable or morally disgraceful, matters very little; what is essential is that the reaction should genuinely exist. The later Wordsworth is not inferior to the earlier because the poet had altered his political opin- ions, but because he had ceased to feel and think so strongly, a change which happens, alas, to most of us as we grow older. Now, when we turn to the de- ceased, we are confronted by the amazing spectacle of a man of great poetic talent, whose capacity for excitement not only remained with him to the end, but actually increased. In two hundred years when our children have made a different and, I hope, better social order, and when our science has devel- oped out of all recognition, who but a historian will care a button whether the deceased was right about the Irish Question or wrong about the trans- migration of souls? But because the excitement out of which his poems arose was genuine, they will still, unless I am very much mistaken, be capable of exciting others, different though their circumstances and beliefs may be from his.
However since we are not living two hundred years hence, let us play the schoolteacher a moment, and examine the poetry of the deceased with ref- erence to the history of our time.
The most obvious social fact of the last forty years is the failure of liberal capitalist democracy, based on the premises that every individual is born free and equal, each an absolute entity independent of all others; and that a for- mal political equality, the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, the right of free speech, is enough to guarantee his freedom of action in his relations with his fellow men. The results are only too familiar to us all. By denying the so- cial nature of personality, and by ignoring the social power of money, it has created the most impersonal, the most mechanical and the most unequal civilisation the world has ever seen, a civilisation in which the only emotion
common to all classes is a feeling of individual isolation from everyone else, a civilisation torn apart by the opposing emotions born of economic injus- tice, the just envy of the poor and the selfish terror of the rich.
If these latter emotions meant little to the deceased, it was partly because Ireland, compared with the rest of western Europe, was economically back- ward, and the class struggle was less conscious there. My learned friend has sneered at Irish Nationalism, but he knows as well as I that Nationalism is a necessary stage towards Socialism. He has sneered at the deceased for not taking arms, as if shooting were the only honourable and useful form of so- cial action. Has the Abbey Theatre done nothing for Ireland?
But to return to the poems. From first to last they express a sustained protest against the social atomisation caused by industrialism, and both in their ideas and their language a constant struggle to overcome it. The fairies and heroes of the early work were an attempt to find through folk tradition a binding force for society; and the doctrine of Anima Mundi found in the later poems is the same thing in a more developed form, which has left purely local peculiarities behind, in favour of something that the deceased hoped was universal; in other words, he was looking for a world religion. A purely religious solution may be unworkable, but the search for it is, at least, the re- sult of a true perception of a social evil. Again, the virtues that the deceased praised in the peasantry and aristocracy, and the vices he blamed in the com- mercial classes, were real virtues and vices. To create a united and just soci- ety where the former are fostered and the latter cured is the task of the politi- cian, not the poet.
For art is a product of history, not a cause. Unlike some other products, technical inventions for example, it does not re-enter history as an effective agent, so that the question whether art should or should not be propaganda is unreal. The case for the prosecution rests on the fallacious belief that art ever makes anything happen, whereas the honest truth, gentlemen, is that, if not a poem had been written, not a picture painted, not a bar of music com- posed, the history of man would be materially unchanged.
But there is one field in which the poet is a man of action, the field of lan- guage, and it is precisely in this that the greatness of the deceased is most ob- viously shown. However false or undemocratic his ideas, his diction shows a continuous evolution towards what one might call the true democratic style. The social virtues of a real democracy are brotherhood and intelligence, and the parallel linguistic virtues are strength and clarity, virtues which appear ever more clearly through successive volumes by the deceased.
The diction of The Winding Stair is the diction of a just man, and it is for this reason that just men will always recognize its author as a master.
Partisan Review, Spring 1939

 

The voice of the ‘just man,’ is then heard in Auden’s 1940 elegy for Yeats:

“IN MEMORY OF W.B.YEATS,”   W.H. Auden,

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the
Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly
accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his
freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

1940.

For Auden in 1940, “When intellectual disgrace,/Stares from every human face,” the poet may be the only one who can, “With your unconstraining voice,/ Still persuade us to rejoice.” Poetry may be able to heal the catastrophes of war: and Auden, having just arrived in New York, is ready to take on the poet’s work:

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

 

Next week: Delmore Schwartz on W.B. Yeats.

 

Anatomy of the Popular Front. Sidney Hook. PR, vol. 6, no.3, Spring 1939. Part 3.

Part 3: The distinction between united and popular fronts specified.

Popular Fr.jpeg                                                 oyflat550x550,075,f.u6.jpg

In the next section of his essay, Hook looks at the critical differences between a “United Front” and a “Popular Front.”  He writes that there is a ‘basic theoretical confusion’ that goes along with discussions of the Popular Front.  This confusion,

Consists in an identification of two propositions: (1) The working class and its mass organisations must be the basis of the socialist movement; and (2) the working class and its mass organisations can by themselves win power and achieve socialism.The falsity of the second proposition is obvious, especially when it is doubtful that the working class constitutes a majority of the population. But the falsity of the second proposition does not imply the falsity of the first. The socialist movement must be based upon the working class, to mention only one of many reasons,  because in virtue of its situation in contemporary society there can be no solution of its problems. or even the plausible appearance of a solution, short of the abolition of the profit system. …The program of socialism can no more be taken away from the workers than capitalism can be taken away from the capitalists.

Despite this,  it remains true that without allies from the farmers and the lower middle classes the workers can never enjoy socialism in our time,… To state it positively, the problem is to make their potential allies see that that the  socialist solution proposed by the working class parties is ultimately the only solution possible for all producers and consumers.

Hook looks to the techniques of  persuasion, organisation, and militant struggle for continuous improvements in living conditions.

It is simply not the case, as Max Lerner imagines, that it is impossible for a program which expresses the immediate interests of a class to receive the support of the majority of the population.  It is precisely for this reason, i.e.,because it does want to win over sympathisers from all other classes, that the working class should not join the Popular Front of political parties representing different classes, not to speak of a National Front of all parties. For if it does, it thereby accepts and publicises a program of stabilising capitalism which, on its own economic theory, is doomed to fail, leaving its credulous followers easy picking for Fascism.. 

A United Front is an agreement between different political organisations with different political programs for joint action of a specific issue for a limited period of time. It is NOT an agreement of a common political program.

The moral of the whole discussion may now be drawn. A Socialist who calls for the formation of a Popular Front cannot do so without surrendering his socialism — no matter what he says in his heart. 

You may have, as readers, become a bit weary of Hook’s argument. However, even now when we look at the history of the revolutionary movements of the first decades of the 20th century, it is easy to get mixed up about what the Popular Front strategy meant as a structure.  But the precision of Hook’s discussion should, I think, make the liabilities of a Popular Front much easier to understand.

Unknown-9

Next Week: W.H. Auden on W.B. Yeats