Dear Readers: After writing this post, I discovered, to my dismay, that I had started with Vol.6.No.2,and utterly missed Vol. 6.No 1, which was Autumn, 1938. SO please forgive me and just tuck this away until I have discussed the correct issue…which also begins with an Editorial “Our Quarter”. So… that’s what you’ll get next Saturday. Ave atque Vale. AJ
Partisan Review, Vol. 6, No. 2. Winter, 1939
The Summer of regret, nostalgia, fear with and without objects, has turned into a Winter of confusion, anger, and debate. The issue is out in late November, 1938.
The Editors introduce the issue collectively with a survey of the state of politics, ideas, fascism, and the problems rising in the wake of the Moscow Trials and the ‘Popular Front.”
Partisan Review Editors in 1939: F.W. Dupee, Dwight Macdonald, George L.K.Morris, William Phillips, Philip Rahv.
- The piece begins with “The Crisis in Paris,” which narrates a history of the West through the fortunes of Paris. Although Hitler’s entry into Paris wouldn’t occur until 14 June, 1940, the editorial piece gives us the fate of the West as the collapse of Paris: and it is not only political arrangements but the cultural life of the avant-garde, “the best integrated culture of modern times — the avant-garde — the very term is French — in art, literature, has found it least impossible to survive.” The authors go on to draw the link between France and the Communist Party of the “People’s Front,” the developing positions within the Stalinist movement across Europe and the United States that a war against Hitler requires a coalition of social-democrats, liberals, and communist parties in order to break fascism. The editorial ends with a call for Revolution:
“The French masses still have a respite left them — several months, a year, even two, perhaps — in which to set in motion the only kind of anti-fascist struggle that can succeed: a revolutionary struggle against the whole of the capitalist order. The nucleus of such a movement already exists: in such militant left-wing oranizations as the Lutte de Classe, a semi-syndicalist trade union group, the Pivert Group (PSOP)…..and the International Workers’ Group, affiliated with the Fourth International…” In this sentence, the editors appear to be in agreement about not only the struggle against fascism, but about the importance of the Trotskyist movement, the FI.
2.The second part of “Our Quarter” must be by Dwight Macdonald — just his kind of word, but correct me if I am wrong. Its titled, “Anti-Fascist Jitterbug” and its a trouncing of Lewis Mumford’s ignorant version of a “man of good will.” Its got that acerbic wit that Macdonald was known for, and he makes a comic hash of Mumford’s irrational idea that there is something about the ‘German Mind’ that has produced fascism….
“Once an anti-fascist is far gone into jitterbuggery, he suffers a total loss of memory. But Mr. Mumford improves upon most of the jitterbugs by raising amnesia to the level of a principle, He is simply oblivious to the fact that besides poets and philosophers of imperialist conquest, German culture also nurtured the socialist humanism of Marx and Engels.”
“Mr. Mumford and his friends cannot assail fascism for what it is but must picture it as something vast and mysteriously irrational, or as the dreadful aberation of a particular national mentality. This has become all the more necessary now, as the New Deal government — of which the anti-fascist jitter-bugs are enthusiastic partisans — is scuttling its domestic program of mild social reforms and moving into the war zone”.
You might want to look back at this blog for September 17, 2017, which is about Meyer Shapiro’s essay on Lewis Mumford.
3.The third contribution to “Our Quarter” is about T.S. Eliot, ‘T.S. Eliot’s Last Words.’ I think this is a really wonderful one, becase it is so stuck in the problem of what do you do with Modernism’s bad attitude. Eliot is a great writer; Eliot tried to place London on the metropolitan cultural map alongside Berlin, Paris, Madrid. It didn’t work. Eliot’s journal, The Criterion, lost its drive as a social crisis emerged….the magazine became ecletic…and Eliot ..”became more and more the grave apostle of detachment. In other countries the literary humanists have been forced into exile. [aj: think of that discussion of Thomas Mann by William Troy and James Burnham earlier in 1938.] In England,if Eliot’s decision is a symptom, they are preparing to retire into voluntary seclusion.” The problem of the reactionary stance of a significant strand of modernism, with its conservativism, racism, anti-semitism, and among some, its fascism… is simply moderated by the writer into stances of passivity, but, you gotta admit, not seriously engaged.
4. “Hello Reform”, the fourth piece in “Our Quarter” is about John Chamberlain, a jobbing reviewer, and a man who began on the left and moved to the right, including but not limited to a strong individualism, along the lines of Ayn Rand, and other libertarian thinkers and writers. His first book, “Farewell to Reform,” published in 1931, was an analysis of the failure of reformism to challenge fundamentals in American society. He attacked the ‘trust-busting’ of Teddy Roosevelt, the populism of William Jennings Bryan, and the ‘New Freedom’ of Woodrow Wilson;he became a supporter of FDR’s ‘New Deal’ later in the 1930s, and was one of the those who organised the campaign to support Trotsky after the Moscow Trials, and contributed to the report written by John Dewey: Not Guilty: the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made Against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials (1938). He wrote for Buckley’s National Review later on. Chamberlain’s impact hasn’t survived into the revivals of either liberalism or parties further to the left. So the energy with which the piece ends, doesn’t possess the driving polemical edge that both Rhav and Macdonald were able to provide when they were seriously provoked.
5.“Dictatorship at Cooper Union” is the last of the short editorial essays. It begins with the state of this Arts and Sciences college, and its faculty.,
“Cooper Union is familiar to most New Yorkers as an antiquate caravanserai on lower Fourth Avenue, huge, dingy, and hideous. Actually it is a large school of Art and Science, handsomely endowed by the Coopers and the Hewitts, which offers completely free tuition to hundreds of acceptable students.” But something wasn’t right with the school. Even though the students were eager to learn and they invited Gropius down from Harvard to lecture and Leger as well, and both men enjoyed teaching the Cooper Union students, the administration and directors of the school couldn’t see the importance of these creative ventures.
After winning a law case against the city of New York, which gave a large new tranch of money to the school, and unfolding a new plan of redecoration, the new Director, Burell, was not convinced of the need to bring the avant garde into the curriculum.
” It is disheartening to come upon the losing battle by the students for the preservation of these courses in modern and abstract painting”
And so, the piece concludes, “And thus ends the history of modern painting at Cooper Union,” another example of the crisis of Western Culture.