The first issue of the repurposed Partisan Review would set the agenda for the journal’s life. The design of the journal was created by Theodore Roszak (1907-1981), a painter and sculptor and lithographer who went on to make the Eagle on the top of the American Embassy in London, and who later made eerily surrealistic lithographs (one of which was on the wall of my parents’ living room — a flaccid penis floating above a woman’s body in some kind of expressionist space-time continuum). Roszak was the child of Polish parents, and lived much of his life in the Village with his wife, Florence, and their daughter.
His design for the journal is a model of Modernist style: sans serif modern and blocky primitivism.
“In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”
The opening pages of PR sets offers the polemical bravado of its “Editorial Statement” against the poignant scene of first generation Jews,narrated by a Modernist but sentimental young man, Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966).
The story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” features themes that remained central to Schwartz’s writings. At its centre was the situation of the immigrant Jew in New York, and the mis-matched marriage of young people who didn’t know much about themselves, each other, or America.
The narrator, who is the son of this couple, reconstructs his parents’ courtship in the idiom of Freudian psychoanalysis and through its most popularized analytical object: the dream. Old Country anxieties filter into the New World of New York while the translucence of the narrator’s dream is perforated by modern technology, the movie projector. It is a movie that the narrator watches within his dream within his sleep. The narrator/son/moviegoer is the keeper of knowledge. As the couple’s first American-born son, he knows more than his parents about what will happen to their lives, their marriage, and the world into he, the narrator, will be born. He stands up in the cinema of his dream and tries to stop the film and redirect the courting couple, to change the future. The futility of his efforts becomes clear, and he wakes, facing the burden now of being an adult:
“I woke up into the bleak winter morning of my twenty-first birthday, the window-sill shining with its lip of snow, and the morning already begun” (PR, VOL.IV. NO.1 p.11.)
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
Now it is September and the web is woven.
The web is woven and you have to wear it.
The winter is made and you have to bear it,
The winter web, the winter woven, wind and wind,
For all the thoughts of summer that go with it,
In the mind, pupa of straw, moppet of rags.
It is the mind that was woven, the mind that was jerked
And tufted in straggling thunder and shattered sun.
It is all you are, the final dwarf of you,
That is woven and woven and waiting to be worn,
Neither as mask nor as garment but as a being,
Torn from insipid summer, for the mirror of cold,
Sitting beside your lamp, for the citron to nibble
And coffee dribble . . . Frost is in the stubble.
What better start to the PR programme than to publish a poet whose work embodied the Modernist contradiction (a few years later explained by Clement Greenberg in an issue of PR in 1939), as the dislocation of the advant-garde from social engagement to the realm of abstraction. Stevens had won an award from the left journal ‘The Nation,’ in 1936. But Stevens was not a Leftist. He was a conservative man who happened to be one of the most original American Modernist poets.The ‘independence’ of the Journal is guaranteed by ‘The Dwarf.’
Vol 4, No.1 is a December issue and the bleak winter of Schwartz’s story is mirrored by Wallace Steven’s poem, ‘The Dwarf,’ which recuperates the wintry death into the figure that has emerged from the ‘pupa’– the mind as the final metamorphosis but perhaps the of forms of of ‘being.’ But like much of Modernism, it is also an unacknowledged romantic poem as well — taking Wordsworth’s theory of the liberation of thought from body as the road to permanence, with its ‘vacillating calculus of loss and gain,’ (Geoffrey Hartmann) and showing its more frightening form.
[Pupa of the rose chafer beetle, Cetonia aurata]
It is all you are, the final dwarf of you,
That is woven and woven and waiting to be worn
NEXT POST: Edmund Wilson on Flaubert’s Politics.
Want to read the articles and poems and stories?
Reminder: all issues of Partisan Review are available online :
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center
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