You will recall that Partisan Review’s chief art-critic since its rebirth in 1937 was George L.K. Morris (you might have a look at an earlier blog post from January 7, 2017, “The forms arrive pleasant, or strange, hostile, inexplicable, mute, or drowsy….”that is mostly about Arp, but in which I also try to give a flavour of Morris’s place in the geography of PR.) In ISSUE 3,1938, Morris writes about the Hindu “founder of India’s modern dance”, Uday Shankar (1900-1977).
Shankar was born in a distinguished Bengali family: his father was a sanskrit scholar and a barrister who came often to England for his work,and his son Uday, older brother of Ravi Shankar, had studied art in Mumbai, but when his father moved to London and began to introduce Indian dance troupes to the UK, Uday moved as well, studying first at the Royal College of Art, and then dancing. Shankar met Anna Pavlova, and she encouraged his dancing and worked with him on a number of pieces; her approval was very important to his commitment to dance.
Shankar’s achievement, exciting to Morris and to the developing aesthetics of Partisan Review, was that he was able to integrate aspects of European and Modernist dance technique into traditional Hindu dancing. So Modernism shows its respect for the past and the past benefits from the inventions of Modernism.
Shankar’s troupe was in England in 1937, and Morris, snob that we have seen him to be (see earlier blog entry, cited above), names him as “one of the great aristocratic personalities of our time.” So Morris manages to soften the dancer’s actual class position while alluding to the Noble Savage, Natural Aristocrat theme of much Western Orientalism.Morris also says how “sophisticated” Shankar’s “intelligence,” ignoring both how the term sophistication might be understood here, as ‘corrupted from simplicity. But the evidence for this intelligence is that he studied painting in Paris (bien sur) .. I know that last sentence sounded sort schoolmarmish…..So, it must also be said that Morris’s careful delineation of Shankar’s choreography: “The mere turn of a finger, the bending of a wrist, will lead the line back from infinity to the centre of the radiating masses. The conscious harmonizing of every anatomical segment right out to the tips of the fingers, the facial expression, the glances, the weird neck motion that apes the striking cobra, combine with a controlled coordination that is tellingly abstract.” Its an important point. What the ancient and the modernist dances teach is not so much narrative as it the geometry of abstraction. It makes me think of the ways in which Balanchine did something similar with his post-human abstractions in the ballet.
Morris concludes: “And finally, in the Shiva-Parvati NrittyaDwandva, we are confronted with the awful illusion of six-armed Shiva dancing:
NEXT: MIRO…. THIS POST is PUBLISHED THURSDAY,FEB 23,2017, BECAUSE I AM GOING AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND. NEXT WEEK WILL BE BACK ON SATURDAY SCHEDULE.
Issue No.3, February 1938 reproduces the pattern of the first two numbers of Partisan Review: high lit crit by Edmund Wilson on High Lit– Henry James; poems by contemporaries, disclosing the Modernism of the moment; “Art” and “Theatre” Chronicles by Morris and by McCarthy, and much to my joy, a piece by Philip Rahv, who I cherish in my intellectual romanticism as the bear-hero of the group, and Mary McCarthy’s only true love (even if she forgot that fact for all the decades before his death in 1974).
Philip Rahv and Dwight McDonald (in glasses)leaning forward, next to each other. 1937
At Partisan Review, Rahv was the chief Thinker or perhaps, chief Humanist, and his passionate intellectual presence was quite different from the ad hoc and sparky brilliance of Dwight McDonald.
In “Two Years of Progress — from Waldo Frank to Donald Ogden Stewart– Rahv returns us to the Burke-Hook issue, the Moscow Trials, and Stalinism. (see below, Burke-Hook). Rahv discusses the Communist Party’s attempt to promote Stalinist politics through the encouragement of “revolutionary writing.”
“In organising gatherings of writers this party cleverly transforms its barracks ideology into the angelic diction of culture-yearning and humanist largesse. Its representatives are skilled in palming off administrative notions as principles of criticism and suppressing intellectual freedom in the name of the defence of culture.”
Rahv distinguishes the Conference of 1935 from that of 1937 by its call for the fight against fascism as part of the fight against capitalism, and recognising that “imperialist FASCIST wars [are different] from imperialist DEMOCRATIC wars.” Rahv goes on:”[the Stalinists] These people have never learned to distinguish between the living world and the mechanised dreams of their party-apparatus.” This is a small space in which Rahv allows the revolutionary dream to announce itself just as it is being mechanised into what Rahv calls ‘the mechanism of political seduction.’
Rahv goes on to tell the story of Kenneth Burke’s speech at the 1935 Conference, where he used the term ‘people’ rather than ‘workers,’ and was criticised for using a term that obfuscated the distinction between explicit classes — But in August that year the Comintern decided to make the switch from ‘workers’ to ‘people’ as a Party revision. “Within the space of two years the “revolutionaries” of 1935 had substituted the stars and stripes of New Deal Marxism for [what Louis Aragon had called in his letter of support to the 1935 Conference]“the red flag of the new materialism.”
One more point about the 1935 Conference. It was there that Waldo Frank became a CP ‘hero’ . He had been a radical youth, rebellious at school, and an eager convert to Communism, and then to the CPUSA. He was given the privileged task of making the opening saddress at the 1935 Conference, held at the MECCA TEMPLE on W. 55th Street, NYC: Frank gave a rousing speech, at the end of which “he concluded with the cry: “Everything remains to be done. Let us get to work! “‘ Frank was elected President of the League of American Writers, which he remained until the second Conference in 1937.
So it was then that the CP took on the campaign as the People’s Front, and with it the focus of the struggle turned to Spain. And there it was seen purely as the battle between fascism and democracy, and in the USA, to “defend our bountiful bourgeois democracy.” As the popular front became the password for the War, the elements of socialist revolutionary thought eroded, and at the Second Conference, Earl Browder “called for the denial of free speech and the democratic rights of public controversy to all political opinion to the left of the Communist Party.”
When Frank was replaced by Donald Ogden Stewart as President of the League of American Writers’, it was because Frank had met Trotsky in the 1937, and had encouraged Dewey to set up the International Tribune to investigate Stalin’s charges against Trotsky. Earl Browder condemned Frank’s position, and Frank left the Party in 1937.
Donald Ogden Stewart, on the other hand, was a Hollywood screen-writer, and a solid member of the CP. Stewart fits Rah’s definition of a ‘stooge’ :’a necessary lubricant’ in the CP practice of ‘political seduction.’ Stewart with his Oscar
Rahv draws his piece to a close by returning to the literary itself. In contrast to what CP writers say of the greatness of contemporary literature, “an imaginary crop of masterpieces was invoked to give the Congress its literary raison d’être. Actually, of course, literature in America has seldom been so stagnant as at present.”
But as a man interested in the truth, Rahv was ready to praise the early years of the CPUSA.“The Stalinists, despite their insane sectarianism played an advanced role in the early 1930s. They popularised some of the fundamental ideas of Marxism among American intellectuals, no matter how much they themselves misapplied these ideas in practice. Their literary policy was a reflection of a narrow and factional Party Line, but since the Party based itself on revolutionary principles, it was possible for them to release certain revolutionary forces. But the point about the Stalinists now is that they not only stand between the writer and Marxism but between him and the elementary kind of integrity. The tradition of individual judgement, of skepticism, of scientific verification is inherent in the very terms and conditions of knowledge. The collectivity of the Marxist movement aims to raise this tradition to a level of material consistency and conscious political direction.”
Appendix — personal note. Rahv was also very interested in James, and though he roasted my mother when she applied the principles of cultic piety to the Master, Rahv belongs in my Tintner-James karass (see Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle). He dismissed my sister and myself when my mother declared that her children were readers of James, but had little time for Proust. As if Rahv could care about what College Students thought?! Finally, Rahv was a member of the faculty at Brandeis University from 1957 until he died, which is where I had my necessary and exhilarating hazing as an Assistant Professor in the 1980s, and my education as a combatant against the anodyne with the help of Allen Grossman and Timo Gilmore.
Before we go on to Philip Rahv’s excoriation of the American Writers’ Conferences of 1935 and 1937, I want to pause for the 12 page section in PR. Vol4, No.3, “A Little Anthology.” Many of the poems are by important Modernist writers, including Wallace Stevens, the NY beat-ish poet, Kenneth Patchen, and two by PR regulars, Lionel Abel and Delmore Schwartz. They are all there for you to read at the Partisan Review on-line website. I don’t know what discussion among the editors resulted in the Little Anthology, but I was struck by reading one by Parker Tyler (1904-1974) , who I know of from his life with film, and his association with poets and filmmakers such as Myra Dehren and later, Andy Warhol. The poem is about epigones of T.S. Eliot, and it hits the mark. The poem juxtaposes what the actor does with what the poet does. It is a bit mysterious and a bit funny and something entirely different from the polished Stevens and the faux-Spoon River “Autobiographical Blues,” by Winfield Townley Scott. It is as precise as Delmore’s poem that closes the Anthology section of the issue.
Parker Tyler became a great critic of hollywood and avant-garde film, and he lived for close to 30 years with his partner Charles Boultenhouse, who worked with him and Charles Henri Ford on the journal View. They met in 1945, and the couple became friends with experimental film makers Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas.
Parker Tyler had started out as a young poet of 20 in New York; having already become friends by correspondence with Ford, who at that time ran a literary journal called Blues. Elisa Rolle tells us in her blog that“He was soon known as a poet and book reviewer who assumed the selfstylized persona of The Beautiful Poet Parker Tyler; meanwhile he earned his living at a monotonous editorial position. Tyler read his modern poetry—his influences were Stein, Pound, Moore, Cummings, and Mallarmé —at Greenwich Village clubs like the Sam Johnson, and his poems were published in national periodicals alongside such poets as William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky.” (credit to elisa-rolle.livejournal.com). Tyler died at 70, in 1974. Its is exciting when people you know for one reason disclose themselves floating through a host of other groups and reasons. Tyler as a poet was friendly withPhilip Lamantia, surrealist poet, and North Beach denizen, and I keep a photo of him taken by Kamera Zie, photographer of 70s/80s, San Francisco post-punk fanzine, Search and Destroy, in our little studio in the Barbican. It makes my heart stand up and pump. What did Mary McCarthy and/or Philip Rahv think of him? If you know, please write a reply below. SO: here is the poem: any thoughts? I will update this post when I learn more.
“Testament from the Inheritors of the Waste Land”
While we drop our consonants,
The actor remembers and rehearses his lines
He remembers to remember the emphasis
We remember the emphasis
We forget to remember the rehearsal
The actor must remember the hour
Of the rehearsal, he must be
In an Eliot-hurry. We
Must not be in an Eliot-hurry.
We must remember our dignity.
Our dignity is not the actor’s dignity
The saving of us from embarrassment
The triumph of the learned syllable
Echoing like a bell;
This is not the breath of our satisfaction
The uptake of our pleasure
We are dwellers in leisure.
Our word is Mallarme’s Swan
Undivided in feather and
Unrehearsed in movement
We do not remove our feathers
After the performance. We keep them.
We do not go to the Night Club
After the performance
In order to relax after our triumph
Or to listen to the rehearsals
Of our triumph. We do
Not go to the bar of drinking
Except to drink, nor go to the bar
Of thinking, except to think.
The actor arrives at his pay-check
And the Elusive Thing called Fame
And he rehearses the fame every morning
That we rehearse the blame
We rehearse the blame yet we seize the lights
We rehearse the phosphene -spots, and
On the inside of the fallen lids
Of our expert-dreamer’s eyes,
None is that hero that dies
In the violet spot.
There is something we do
That is called Nothing that the actor
Does not do. Something that within the Plot
Of Time we do not plot. We are the unplotters
Unstringers. We grasp the scissors
From the palsied hand and we unscissor
And we deflower the dropped forgotten flower
That the stagehand fingers for a moment, then puts back.
The third issue of Partisan Review, Vol 4, No.3, February, 1938 brings back Edmund Wilson. As an elder literary statesman, Wilson had agreed, urged by Dwight Mcdonald, to contribute an article to the first issue, and in it (Flaubert’s Politics –see discussion of it on this blog) he proved that Flaubert was an anti-Stalinist Marxist avant la lettre and of Marx’s party without knowing it. Wilson had published a version of it in 1932 in the Herald Tribune Book Review, and for PR No.3, he offered “The Last Phase of Henry James,” also noted as “from a longer study of Henry James.”
Mary McCarthy and Edmund Wilson
As you may remember from the earlier post, Mary McCarthy broke with Philip Rahv, and married Wilson 10 February, 1938. Wilson’s Henry James piece was, as I see it, a way of addressing some of the concerns of PR — recent history in the Soviet Union, the stance of the journal’s regard for High Culture Modernism– and of the American situation in the Depression.
Wilson had been a thorough reader and advocate of Marxism for some time, and Louis Menand, in his 2005 New Yorker essay, “MISSIONARY: Edmund Wilson and American culture,” quotes from Wilson’s historicist/Marxist dedication to his Princeton mentor,Christian Gauss, on the publication of Axel’s Castle in 1931:that book would be “A history of man’s ideas and imaginings in the setting of the conditions which have shaped them.”
To readers today, Wilson’s claims about James’s Americans may appear obvious, but they were the seed-ground for the importance of James to Partisan Review over the next three decades. Some of the most prominent literary critics of the twentieth century wrote essays about James that appeared in PR and other liberal literary journals: Lionel Trilling, Alfred Kazin, Irving Howe, and Philip Rahv coaxed from James’s works a combination of insight and blindness that characterised much of the work of historical and New Critical work in the 1940s and 1950s.
Wilson argues that “the Americans in James’s last novels bring something to Europe that it didn’t have” in many of the earlier novels: “It has always been the American characters who who have gotten the better of it from the moral point of view.” Of the sad and marvellous The Ambassadors, “What if Lambert Strether had missed in Woolett, Mass., many things that he would have enjoyed in Paris: he brought to Paris something it did not have.” So, he writes, ” It is the American who finally dominates in Henry James”.
Wilson establishes James’s credentials as an American, rather than an expatriate, pointing to James’s praise of Lincoln, and quoting Edith Wharton’s having said “that James used to read Walt Whitman aloud ‘in a mood of subdued ecstasy’ and with tremendous effect on his hearers“. Wilson divides up the cultural terrain of America between the end of the Civil War and its very late 19th century situation. Wilson compares the first part of the period with recent history of the Soviet Union, America now presenting the world with a “new humanity, set free from the caste-barriers and overtones of Europe, which should return to the mother-country only to plunder her for elements of culture which might contribute to the movement at home; and how, with the triumph of the industrial system, the persons who were occupied with art and thought became gradually ashamed of the United States and tended to take refuge in Europe. Henry James belonged to this second phase, but he had a good deal of the idealism of the first one. ”
Wilson then turns the argument towards the complexity that James captures at the start of the 20th century. “James shows us all that was magnanimous, reviving, and human in the Americans at the beginning of the new century along with all that was frustrated, sterile, excessively refined, depressing.” He uses the example of Milly Theale as this kind of character: “The rich New Yorker.” He next compares James’s style with John Singer Sargent’s” It is the great period of Sargent; but compare these figures of Henry James’s with Sargent’s and see what profounder insight with what profounder insight as well as with what superior delicacy James has caught the rich Americans of this race.”
I wouldn’t have said that of “Madame X”
But Wilson’s point is by this time “The Americans have become very rich, and in becoming that, they have starved themselves spiritually.” Thus we find ourselves in a novel that reports instead of analysing the troubled riches of capitalist America. As Wilson writes: “James is a reporter, not a seer.” This is a marxist, but not Marx’s, analysis. ” It seems foolish to me to reproach James for neglecting the industrial background.”
Wilson suggests that James changes with the times, and in response to what he has shown about the wealthy Americans. “The old Balzac in James revives.” and James enters into “a new kind of realism.The fiction of his latest period is preoccupied in a curious way with the ugly,the poor and the old . It is perhaps the reflection of his own old age, his own lack of worldly success, the strange creature that he himself has become” His last stories are about “the sordid lives of journalists in London,” the last piece of fiction he published, “The Bench of Desolation,” “is a sort of poem of loneliness and poverty among the nondescript small shopkeepers and former governessess of an English seaside resort.”
James finds himself facing the corruption and vulgarity of the newly rich in Newport Rhode Island, and he returns to England and becomes an English Citizen, appalled by the lack of support in the United States for the British War effort.
Wilson ends with the case of Hyacinth Robinson, the anti-hero of The Princess Cassimassima who kills himself just when he is about to take on a dangerous assignment for the revolutionaries. “But as Hyacinth Robinson died of the class struggle, Henry James died of the War.”
There will be more James in Partisan Review over many decades. And I may have a few things to say about growing up in a household in which we said, “Henry James saved our Mother’s Life,” and where messages and invitations and photos of ‘The Master’ and so many of his books from Lamb House provided the magic medicine that brought my mother out of the darkened bedroom into the light of the life of the mind. If you go to the Berg Collection in the NY Public Library, you can order up volumes of novels that James owned and was influenced by and borrowed from to make his modern structures, and find her donation of volumes of James’s personal library, with her name on the bookplate. She was a proper New Yorker, Our Ma.