Wednesday, 20 June 2012

PR Arguing the World- “You shall not lie!”—that is the formula of salvation.

ew York Intellectual Lionel Abel wrote that New York City in the 1930s was "the most interesting part of the Soviet Union." Radicalism was on the rise and the American Communist Party,. after years spent in obscurity, was drawing many leading intellectuals like Malcolm Cowley and Edmund Wilson into its orbit.
As the Great Depression hit in the early part of the decade, everyone seemed to be looking for an answer to the sudden collapse of the economy.. The city blossomed with radical groups. Among their strongest adherents were the East European Jews who had immigrated to America in the years before and after the turn of the century.
Among many of the New York Intellectuals, radicalism had been a family tradition. Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell all had parents who belonged to the International Ladies Garment Workers and voted for the Socialist party, while Irving Kristol's father was a member of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. While still in their teens both Irving Howe and Daniel Bell joined the Young People's Socialist League.
Socialism promised more than a better economic future; it held out the hope that they might move beyond the narrow confines of their immigrant world and the stigma of being Jewish. Alexander Bloom, author of Prodigal Sons, The New York Intellectuals and Their World, writes that, "The cosmopolitan philosophy of the radical causes offered the hope of a world where being Jewish would not make any difference." he writes. At the same time, "Rather than forcing a total break with their parents, [socialism] allowed a degree of continuity with their own past and traditions and served as part of a transition from the ghetto margins to the larger society."
Radical political life was played out in parks like Union Square or on neighborhood street corners where speakers would seduce passersby to gather around them. Nathan Glazer and Irving Kristol both remember stopping to hear these speakers, while Irving Howe and Daniel Bell actually mustered the courage to mount the street speaker's ladder themselves.


he greatest intellectual influence on the boys of alcove one was a young journal called Partisan Review, dedicated to joining Marxist radicalism with the modernist literary sensibility. PR had originally begun life in 1934 under the auspices of the Communist Party But its two chief editors Phillip Rahv, a Party member and William Phillips, a fellow traveler of the Party, soon found themselves chafing under the Party's dogmatic political and cultural dictates and its strident attack on modernism.
By 1937, Rahv and Phillips had broken from the Communist Party and begun to publish Partisan Review as an independent journal. The magazine's early board of editors and writer, all in their twenties and thirties, would become the core of the group that Howe would later christen "The New York Intellectuals." It included literary critics, F.W. Dupee and Lionel Abel; novelists, Mary McCarthy and Saul Bellow; political essayist Dwight McDonald; and Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, art critics who would, in a few years time, champion Abstract Expressionism.
Partisan Review and its essays ultimately came to define the New York Intellectual style: a self-consciously brilliant intellectual journalism that was unafraid to tackle almost any issue, cultural or political. The articles inPartisan Review were both densely written and wide-ranging in their scope. More than anything, they exhibited a sense of intellectual engagement that would become the hallmark of the group.
As Marxists, the PR writers were committed to changing the world, not merely writing about it. Though this attitude was, in part, a mark of the naivete of a group of young writers bent on political revolution, it left a lasting imprint on the group which led to a life-long political engagement with the central issues of their day.
Intellectual historian Terry Cooney, author of The Rise of the New York Intellectuals, Partisan Review and its circle 1934-1945, explains that, "Marxism and modernism came together for the new Partisan Reviewthrough the [Hegelian] ideal of synthesis. If it was to move forward [these individuals felt] literature must preserve the sophistication and boldness of modernist writing; yet it must combine with that the analysis of society inherent in Marxism, the whole package being held together by a positive sense of historical direction and purpose." The two movements were, however, often politically at odds: many of the modernists like Eliot were conservative and some like Ezra Pound were even reactionary. Yet they seemed also to share important concerns. Modernism, like Marxism, was preoccupied with the alienation and the moral squalor of the moment. Modernist literature offered, as did Marxism, strong attacks on industrial society. Modernist authors, like these young immigrant intellectuals, felt themselves to be at odds with middle class society and prevailing social values. World War One had confirmed for the modernists the moral and social breakdown of the West
The two movements' emphasis on an international vision appealed to these children of immigrants attempting to transcend the parochialism of their own lives. The Partisan Review writers and their City College acolytes fused these two tremendous energies into a radical critique of an American capitalist society in crisis, hoping to provide a path out of the darkness of the Depression.
Ultimately the two movements were, in many ways, politically at odds; many key modernists like T.S. Eliot were politically conservative and others were simply apolitical. Though Eliot chose to attack what he perceived as the West's crisis of values through a radically experimental technique, he meant to recapture a lost past, not usher in a never-before-seen future. Beyond this lay another issue that would only begin to haunt the New Yorkers in later years. The subversive nature of modernism – its critique of middle class values – initially so appealing to them when they felt no economic or social stake in their society grew problematic as they matured and came to appreciate American society.

A Letter From Coyoacan, 1938

 This letter appeared in Partisan Review, Winter 1939. 

Leon Trotsky to André Breton
My Dear Breton:
With all my heart I congratulate Diego Rivera and yourself on the creation of the FIARI—an international federation of truly revolutionary and truly independent artists. And why not add—of true artists. It is time, it is high time! The entire globe is becoming a dirty and reeking imperialist barracks. The heroes of democracy, with the inimitable Daladier at their head, make every effort to ape the heroes of fascism (which will not prevent them from landing in a fascist concentration camp). The duller and more ignorant the dictator, the more he feels called upon to prescribe the development of science, philosophy and art. The sheep like servility of the intelligentsia is, in turn, a not unimportant sign of the rottenness of contemporary society. France is no exception.
Why speak of the Aragons, the Ehrenburgs and other petites canailles? Why name those gentlemen (death has not absolved them) who compose, with equal enthusiasm, biographies of Christ and Stalin. Let us also pass over the pitiful, not to say ignoble, decline of Romain Rolland…. But one feels too strongly to ignore the case of Malraux. I followed his first literary steps with much interest. At that time there was already a strong element of pose and affectation in him. His pretentiously cold studies of heroism in other lands often made one uneasy. But it was impossible to deny him talent. With undeniable power he aimed at the very peak of human emotion—of heroic struggle, self-sacrifice, extreme anguish. One might expect—and I, for one, earnestly hoped—that the sense of revolutionary heroism would enter more profoundly into his being, would purify him of pose and make him the major poet of an epoch of disasters. But what in fact happened? The artist became a reporter for the GPU, a purveyor of bureaucratic heroism in prudently proportioned slices, just so long and so wide. (They have no third dimension).
During the Civil War I was obliged to fight stubbornly against the vague or lying military reports submitted by officers who tried to hide their errors, failures and defeats in a torrent of generalities.
The present productions of Malraux are just such lying reports from the fields of battle (Germany,Spain, etc). However, the lie is more repugnant dressed up in artistic form. The fate of Malraux is symbolic for a whole stratum of writers, almost for a whole generation. It is the generation of those who lie from pretended “friendship” for the October revolution.
The unhappy Soviet press, evidently on orders from above, complains bitterly in these latter days of the “impoverishment” of scientific and artistic production in the USSR and reproaches Soviet artists and writers with lack of sincerity, courage and vitality. One can’t believe one’s eyes: the boa constrictor delivers to the rabbit a homily on independence and personal dignity. Hideous and ignoble picture, but how worthy of our time!
The struggle for revolutionary ideas in art must begin once again with the struggle for artistic truth, not in terms of any single school, but in terms of the immutable faith of the artist in his own inner self. Without this there is no art. “You shall not lie!”—that is the formula of salvation.
Properly understood, the FIARI is not an aesthetic or political school and cannot become one. But FIARI can oxidize the atmosphere in which artists breath and create. In our epoch of the convulsive reaction, of cultural decline and return to savagery, truly independent creation cannot but be revolutionary by its very nature, for it cannot but seek an outlet from intolerable social suffocation.
But art as a whole, and each artist in particular, seeks this outlet in ways proper to himself—not relying upon orders from outside, but rejecting such orders and heaping scorn upon all who submit to them. To encourage such attitudes among the best circles of artists—this is the task of the FIARI.
I firmly believe that its name will enter history.
Coyoacan, D.F.,Mexico
December 22, 1938

Ode to Stalin

“Does he shit then, the beloved Gobalmightyarsehole? Does he really shit?”
“Yes, HE does shit.”
“No, I refuse to believe it! Something like that could change the face of the earth! Surely it cannot be real shit that HE shits, our brilliantfatherofthepeople, the Beloved Gobalmightyarsehole? No it must be real Russian leather he shits! Tell a white lie! Have pity on we of little faith!”
“No, HE really does shit shit.”
“But it’s not possible! Surely his arsehole is made of platinum? Isn’t his arsehole bunged up with a finely cut emerald as big as my head?”
“No, HE has a greenish arsehole in fact, around which extend divine haemorroids that hang down in latrine juice and sway back and forth when HE makes the effort to force HIS dung as he growls and grimaces and ooh, ooh, ooh!”
“But still HE must have a golden prick, our Beloved sixthhighestoftheglobe? You can’t say he does it like every­one else! The Olympian Zeus had one but it was not functional, like a poetic image of the moon in the style of Aragon. But HE, the Grandbrilliantbeloved Gobalmight­yarsehole, HE! He has to inseminate the Party’s hysterical women every morning over breakfast.”
“No, HE always gets hoodwinked, Alleluia!”
“Liar! Scumbag! Our need to believe is so great that in that case everything would have to be started all over again!”
“Not at all, you just need to eat it, HIS shit!”
Maurice Blanchard, 1947