1950s

Needless iconoclasm

Notes on an anthology of contemporary American poets in 1957

Ray B. West, editor of The Western Review (published for years out of the University of Iowa), went on a rare leave of absence and left things to an acting editor, Richard Freedman. (Paul Engle, faculty director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, served as the magazine’s advisory editor.) While Freedman was minding the editorial store, the magazine published as its Spring 1957 issue a selection of twenty-one poets who had come of age in the late 1940s and early 1950s – “essentially,” Freedman noted, “the generation which has developed since the Second World War.” Richard Stern chose the poets and poems.

Command creativity, 1951

From the "Also Remember" section of the Saturday Review of Literature, June 23, 1951, p. 14. The caption reads: "Due to hundreds of requests the General has added a creative writing course to the curriculum . . ."

From the annals of 1950s psychoanalysis

To be mentally healthy, don't worry about current events.

I own a battered paperback copy of an unusual book: The Story of my Psychoanalysis, published in 1950 and authored by "John Knight," a pseudonym. (Published in New York by McGraw-Hill, and was 225 pages in hardcover.)

The jacket is dramatic. There's John, arm crossed helplessly across forehead, lying down, apparently on his shrink's couch.

It's a tell-all book, and the mode of confession is the revelation of actual psychoanalysis. The work purports to reveal all the dark secrets of the sessions--and, thus, of course, this man's sins and desires. Here are a few choice excerpts:

I'm envious of my father...I also have a vivid image in my mind of my boss's beautiful estate...I visited it last fall...he even has an artificial lake for his private fishing parties...I dreamed last night about an invention...I invented the zipper but someone stole it from me...I sued for ten million dollars...

Doctor Maxwell discouraged too much concentration on current events. He would not discuss politics or world affairs, and encouraged me to disregard current issues unless they caused fairly intense emotional reactions. As he pointed out, it is very easy to try to escape the unpleasant, buried, ancient memories by discussing everyday matters....

There's something here I don't like...the color of your walls annoys me...I'm tense...I'd like to get out of here...Where was Moses when the lights went out?...I'm a Jew...

A longer excerpt from the book is part of my 1950s web site.

John's problems seem to have much to do with politics and culture--especially careerism in the context of social conformity and consensus--but it seems to be the job of the shrink, and of the book (John comes round to seeing that the shrink is right), to dissuade us from concluding that national issues, e.g. cold-war tensions, are helping to cause his ulcers (his original reason for seeking help) in any way.

With soul so dead, HUAC quotes Walter Scott

Quotation from a poem by Sir Walter Scott printed on the final page of a report published by the Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), Review of the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace, arranged by the National Council of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions, and held in New York City, March 25, 26, and 27, 1949 (Washington, D.C.: Committee on Un-American Activities, U.S. House of Representatives, 1950 [originally released, April 19, 1949]), p. [62]:

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd,
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,--
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.
--Scott

New Review of "Counter-Revolution of the Word"

In "Modernism/Modernity"

Adam Piette of the University of Sheffield has published a review of my Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry in the recent issue of Modernism/Modernity. Here is a PDF copy of the review.

New Review of "Counter-Revolution of the Word"

I'm delighted by a review of my book, Counter-Revolution of the Word, which has just now come to my attention. Here [PDF] is a link. The relevant pages begin on page 922.

Irving Howe's review of Ralph Ellison

"too feverish...almost hysterical"

From Irving Howe's negative review of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man:

Though immensely gifted, Ellison is not a finished craftsman. The tempo of his book is too feverish, and at times almost hysterical. Too often he tries to overwhelm the reader; but when he should be doing something other then overwhelm, when he should be persuading or suggesting or simply telling, he forces and tears. Because the book is written in the first person singular, Ellison cannot establish ironic distance between his hero and himself, or between the matured "I" telling the story and the "I" who is its victim. And because the experience is so apocalyptic and magnified, it absorbs and then dissolves the hero; every minor character comes through brilliantly, but the seeing "I" is seldom seen.

Published in The Nation May 10, 1952. Here's the whole review.

W.E.B. DuBois on why he won't vote in 1956


In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no "two evils" exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say....

Bill of Rights in the 1950s

It's some kind of communist plot

"No doubt all of you recall the incident in Madison, Wisconsin, last Fourth of July, when American citizens were afraid to say they believed in the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. One hundred and twelve people were asked to sign a petition that contained nothing except quotations from these two immortal documents, and one hundred and eleven refused to sign the paper. Most refused because they were afraid it was some kind of subversive document and thought that if they signed it they would be called Communists." - JAZZES H.

goodbye Arlen, hello Ike

You like Ike. I like Ike. Everybody likes Ike. Ike for President, Ike for President. We'll take Ike to Washington. Hang out the banners, beat the drum, we'll take Ike to Washington. You like Ike. I like Ike. Now is the time for all good Americans to come to the aid of their country. Ike for President, Ike for President, Ike for President, Ike for President....

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