In Memoriam: Philip Roth — 1933-2018


One of the great New York Intellectuals and its greatest Novelist.  Why not read something by him today…

“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.”

Gertrude Stein: The Autobiography of Rose, PR, Vol 6, No. 2

This week we have Gertrude Stein’s short piece, “The Autobiography of Rose”, and whoever it was who chose to put it right after Trilling’s  consideration of Hemingway, made a smart decision, for as Adam Gopnik succinctly wrote in a New Yorker article from  (24 June, 2013),

It isn’t the least of Stein’s virtues, or importance, that Hemingway was in many ways the popularizer of a style that she had invented. One could even say, to borrow Picasso’s famous disparaging remark about his imitators, that Stein did it first and Hemingway did it pretty. But, prettified or not, Hemingway’s style was the most influential in American prose for more than fifty years, and this makes Stein’s style less an outcropping than a bedrock of modern American writing.”  

But as for me, alas, I don’t like Gertrude Stein, and I didn’t like her even more when I read the book about her relationship of accommodation with the Vichy government, as retold by Janet Malcolm in Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice…it is a good read, if you want to read about them instead of reading Stein herself.

SO here is the text from Partisan Review: `You should be able to vary the size of the page on your computer..




SO…you can see how many of the marks of Modernism and post-modernism were invented here.  Gopnik notices:  “All marked styles—and any style that isn’t marked isn’t a style; what we call a “mannered” style is simply a marked style on a bad morning—hold their authors hostage just a bit. Stein’s style makes subtle thoughts sound flat and straightforward, and it also lets straightforward, flat thoughts sound subtle. Above all, its lack of the ordinary half-tints and protective shadings of adjectives and semicolons—the Jamesian fog of implication—lends itself to generalizations, sometimes profound, often idiosyncratic, always startling. It is the most deliberately naïve style in which any good writer has ever worked, and it is also the most “faux-naïf,” the most willed instance of simplicity rising from someone in no way simple.  

What differentiates this kind of writing from someone like Hemingway, I would say, is that, whatever you think of Trilling’s critique of him, Stein’s repetitions and possible permutations through the power of absent punctuation sounds like the disease of  intentional echolalia: to drain sentences of meaning altogether. In this way, its intention is the opposite of the estrangement/ Verfremdungseffekt. Instead of asking the audience to refuse to identify with the action of a play in order to make viewers process it intellectually, Stein’s style of writing evacuates its sentences of their referentiality in a world of concepts and idea and reduces it to the almost meaningless echolalia of children.

Unknown-5  Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso

Next week: William Gruen begins to answer the question, “What is logical empiricism”?

Lionel Trilling on Hemingway the Man and Hemingway the Artist.


Lionel Trilling

Lionel Trilling (1905-1975) was one of the contributors to Partisan Review who maintained his reputation as a brilliant critic and teacher throughout his life.  But he was also often suspected of being too stylish, elegant, and at ease in the world to be a true radical. And he wasn’t a radical in the sense of a poet maudit and writer like Delmore Schwartz or a maverick polemicist like Dwight McDonald.  He was cautious and somewhat aloof from the more tendentious positions and persons of the PR group. William Barrett, in his memoir of the Partisan Review clan, praises Lionel Trilling for his elegance of manners, of writing, and of demeanour.  But he also suggests that Trilling may have been the first of the PR writers to move towards a developing conservative strand in American intellectual life.

And he was a life-time Columbia academic.  Many of his colleagues and friends were Columbia graduates, and some had shorter term academic jobs at a number of prestigious universities, but Trilling was the model of a Modernist New York Intellectual Professor.  He was always an anti-Stalinist, and continued as Liberal Leftist during the Cold War, and afterwards, when his very influential book, The Liberal Imagination was taken as a medicine to help the dilemma of middle-class liberal indecision about the Cold War itself.

Hemingway the Artist

Hemingway the artistIn his essay on Hemingway, Trilling makes a political argument into an aesthetic one by differentiating between Hemingway ‘the artist’ and Hemingway ‘the man’, suggesting that the early Hemingway’s work was of high literary value, while his later works, contradictory in their focus on the “man” as the bearer of socialist politics, now have gravitated towards a ‘liberalism’ of ‘good behaviour.’

Hemingway the  Man.

Hemingway the man.

Trilling begins with two recent works by Hemingway: The Fifth Column and  The First Forty-Nine Stories:  “Hemingway the ‘artist’ is conscious; Hemingway the ‘man’ is self-conscious; the ‘artist’ has a kind of innocence; the ‘man’ a kind of naivety; the ‘artist’ is disinterested; the ‘man’ has a dull personal axe to grind; the ‘artist’ has a perfect medium, and tells the truth even if it is only his truth. But the ‘man’ fumbles at communication and falsifies.” He goes on, “Insofar as we can ever blame a critical tradition for a writer’s failures, we must, I believe, blame American criticism for the illegitimate emergence of Hemingway the  ‘man’ and the resulting inferiority of his two recent major works.”

Hemingway was greeted with two competing interpretations: on one side, he was thought of as a brilliant new style maker in fiction, on the other, that he was a writer of   “cruelty, religion, anti-intellectualism,” and these reactions in turn had a strong impact on Hemingway’s ideas about what kind of writer he wanted to be:“For upon Hemingway were turned all the fine social feelings of the now passing decade, all the noble sentiments, all the desperate optimism, all the extreme rationalism, all the contempt of irony and indirection– all the attitudes which, in the full tide of the liberal-radical movement, became dominant in our thought about literature.” 

So half the audience adored and imitated him, and the other half reviled him as a border-Nazi. But a third other idea was that he attacked ‘good human values.’ He tried to put in the ‘correct social feelings.’ in the ‘required social way.’   So he brought in Hemingway ‘the Man.’ Trilling cites Edmund Wilson’s argument  that Hemingway’s “ideas about life or rather, his sense of what happens and the way it happens, is in his stories sunk deep below the surface and is not conveyed by arguments or preaching but by directly transmitted emotion it is turned into something hard as crystal and as disturbing as a great lyric. When he expounds his sense of life, however, in his character of Ernest Hemingway, the Old Master of Key West, he has a way of sounding silly.”

At this point, Trilling slides into his political point about Hemingway’s deterioration: “If , however, Hemingway ‘in his own character,’ were apparent to the practitioners of this  critical tradition, they did not want Hemingway’s virtues – the something ‘hard’ and ‘disturbing.’ Indeed they were in a critical tradition that did not want artists at all–it wanted ‘men,’ recruits, and its apologists were delighted to enlist Hemingway in his own character, with all his confusions and naivety, simply because Hemingway had now declared himself on the right side.”

In that way critics on the left could forgive the ‘silliness’ or immaturity of the Hemingway ‘man’ writings, because that was the mark of their political commitment: of showing that Hemingway was “on the right side.”

“For what should have always been obvious is that Hemingway is a writer who, when he writes as an ‘artist,’ is passionately and aggressively concerned with truth and even with social truth.”

Trilling moves to the politics of America in and after  WWI: Trilling approves of Hemingway’s claim that the strength of  American prose originated in Huckleberry Finn’s trip down the Mississippi; Trilling adds to the horror of death and destruction:

“TO the sensitive men who went to war, it was not, perhaps death and destruction that made the disorganising shock. It was perhaps rather that death and destruction went on at the instance and to the accompaniment of the fine grave words, of which Woodrow Wilson’s were the finest and gravest: Here was the issue of liberal theory; here in the bloated or piecemeal corpse was the outcome of the words of humanitarianism and of ideals… Words were trundled smoothly o’er the tongue — Coleridge had said it long ago:

“Like mere abstractions, empty sounds to which/ We join no feeling and attach no form/ As if the soldier died without a wound. . ./Passed off to heaven, translated and not killed”.
SO it is, Trillling argues, against that language of complacent Liberalism that Hemingway’s search for the truth must be placed.

Trilling then adds a third category to ‘artist,’and ‘man’; contemporary politics. While arguing that the ‘artist’ seeks truth, he implies that Stalinist Popular Frontism and American Liberalism obfuscate the actuality of revolutionary possibility woven into the best works of the ‘artist.’  So, while elevating the ‘artist,’ Trilling also elevates the work of the artist by finding in it the contemporary questions and in places, possible answers to political as well as artistic problems.

Trilling never did become one of the Partisan Review writers who slid into conservatism over the years. He remained an anti-Stalinist Socialist throughout his life.

To read the whole of the essay, cut and paste the link below.

NEXT WEEK; Gertrude Stein






Allen Tate and his modern eclogue, Vol. 6,No.2. Winter

Tate Portrait-5

The next piece in this Winter, 1939 volume of Partisan Review is a poem in the form of an eclogue by the American poet, Allen Tate.  You might begin with the idea of an eclogue:it is a kind of pastoral poem, set in the countryside, and in the form of a dialogue between two shepherds –understood to be pastoral poets– as well as being rural farmers. Virgil invented the form, and it is associated with philosophical reflection in a place out of the way of the worldly concerns of politics and money and war.  Tate was a member of a group of writers who called themselves the “Southern Agrarians,” who were a group of twelve American writers, poets, essayists, and novelists, all with roots in the Southern United States and who united to write a pro–Southern pastoral manifesto, published as the essay collection I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930).I’ll Take My Stand was attacked at the time, and since, as a reactionary and romanticized defense of the Old South and the lost cause of the Confederacy.  So, I am asking myself, why is Tate being published in Partisan Review?!?! 

The answer, I suppose is that Modernism and Socialism crossed paths and shared ideas along the way to WWII.  The religiosity, the conservatism, and the racism of the Agrarians ran alongside Modernism and its advocates.  Certainly T.S. Eliot’s and Pound’s Modernisms can be considered congenial companions to Tate’s poetic voice. But the reasons may be more haphazard, having to do with connections made in the period when Tate was living in New York in the 1920s,  or through Tate’s work at The Nation.  

Frankly, I don’t understand the poem…. and I wholeheartedly invite readers to tell me what you think is going on in it, how it might have found a place in Partisan Review, and what its intention is beyond the sardonic critique of the Modern by one of its practitioners….

Thank goodness we have Hemingway and Trilling next week. See you then!


Eclogue Of The Liberal And The  Liberal Poet – 

In that place, shepherd, all the men are dead.

Yes, look at the water grim and black
Where immense Europa rears her head,
Her face pinched and her breasts slack.

I said, shepherd, all the men are dead.

Shall I turn to the road that goes America?
Is that a place for men to be dead
Or living? If you don’t mind being asked.

Try it and see. It’s a pretty good way
To skim three thousand miles in a day
And none of them America.

But what about her face and the tasked
Wonders of her air and soil, her big belly
That Putnam writes about under the sun?

I don’t know Put, I don’t know his Nelly-
To name her that if she’d name it fun
But you know she hasn’t any name,
Nowhere you touch her she’s the same,

What, shepherd, are we talking about?

You started it, shepherd.

Shepherd, I didn’t.

You did; you saw the poetical face of Europe.

You said it was no place for men to be.

I meant seawater; you thought I meant hope.

Hell, I reckon you think I am a dope.

I didn’t say that; I said there was no place.

If not in a place, where are the People weeping?

They creep weeping in the lace, not place.

Is it something with which we may cope-
The weeping, the creeping, the peepee-ing, the

Hanging is something which I will do with this

Alas, for us who peep, weeping.
Alas, for us you see but little hope.

Alas, I didn’t say that; you rhymed hope with rope.
I meant I was going to hang us both for creeping.

Afterwards they could process us into soap;
Afterwards they would rhyme soap with hope.

What a cheerful rhyme! Clean not mean!
Been not seenNot tired expired!
We must now decide about place.
We decide that place is the big weeping face
And the other abstract lace of the race.

Shepherd, what are we talking about?

Oh, why, shepherd, are we stalking about?