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.

Partisan Review Editors in 1939: F.W. Dupee, Dwight Macdonald, George L.K.Morris, William Phillips, Philip Rahv.

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back: Morris, Rahv, McDonald, sitting:  Dupee, Phillip

The second part of “Our Quarter” must be by Dwight Macdonald — just his kind of word,  Titled, “Anti-Fascist Jitterbug,” it trounces Lewis  Mumford’s ignorant version of a “man of good will.” It has 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 like  this one in particular,  because it is so stuck in the problem of what do you do with Modernism’s bad attitude. The pith of the squib is that Eliot is a great writer; that Eliot tried to place London on the metropolitan cultural map alongside Berlin, Paris, Madrid; that it didn’t work:  Eliot’s journal, The Criterion, lost its drive as a social crisis emerged….the magazine became eclectic…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 conservatism, racism, anti-semitism, and among some, its fascism… is simply presented by the writer as quicksand into which Eliot and others are slipping.

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 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 William 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 antiquated 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.

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