American Quarterly, which at the time was the true home in print of the surging postwar “American Studies” (or: “American Civilization”) movement in academe, sought out poet Louise Bogan to write a short summary of “Modernism in American Literature.” It was published in the Summer 1950 issue. Bogan (1897-1970) was very loosely associated with Euro-American poetic modernism of the 1920s, and perhaps it helped that her first book was published in 1923, the time of Harmonium. Her particular Eliot was the writer who’d discovered a modern mode as part of a “personal point of departure [from] Elizabeth drama and the irony of Jules Laforgue.” She admired the way Yeats and Pound “achieved modernity” yet happily distinguished them from the real thing: “Eliot,” on the other hand, “was modern from the start.”
Bogan, in my view, was essentially done as a poet of significance in 1941, by which time, in any case, most of her poems had been published. She stayed with us a long time, though, and that’s because she’d been hired by the New Yorker to be their main poetry reviewer, holding that powerful position for 38 years, until 1969. I suspect most poetry people would thus know her from the byline on all those short New Yorker notices. (There is, to be sure, a corridor in the house of poetry along which Bogan is said to be “the most accomplished woman poet of the twentieth century.” So begins the introductory note on her at the Poetry Foundation web site.)
Here's my introduction to a session featuring readings for the Rothenberg/Joris Poems for the Millenium back in 1998. In my 11-minute intro I tried to do something a little more than my usual brief, get-out-of-the-way segue to the main presenters. I wanted to say something in particular about Jerome Rothenberg's passage (as a young poet) through the cultural cold war. I make reference, for instance, to his discovery at the University of Michigan that in the 1950s Whitman was definitely on the outs — that Whitmanism in the 1950s was academically (if not also otherwise) dangerous. (To get to my comments about Rothenberg in the 50s, you can go immediately to a point halfway through the recording.)
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. :
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
I've recently published a long essay on the poetry of Bob Perelman. It's called "The President of This Sentence." It's about the convergence in Perelman's writing of two parallel and also, at times, convergent analyses--one of modernism's rise and fall; the other of the state of Cold War at the point of giving way to New Left and countercultural skepticism. Here is a link to the whole essay, and here is the opening paragraph:
Donald Davidson, from "Grammar and Rhetoric: The Teacher's Problem" (1953):
In our time, the conjunction and has too often been the mark of a timid evasiveness in which I do not mean to indulge: "He was an old man who fished alone...," writes Ernest Hemingway, "and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." The philosophy of Hemingway, as man and writer, is latent in that characteristic conjunction and. It bothers Mr. Hemingway to think that there may be some relationship between objects other than a simple coupling. "A" and "B" are there. The inescapable act of vision tells him so. But Hemingway rarely ventures, through grammar and rhetoric, to go beyond saying that "A" and "B" are just there, together. Similiarly, our diplomats and Far Eastern Experts long had a habit of declaring that there was a Red Russia and a Red China, with the tender implication that such a conjunction was entirely innocent. Political theories for nearly two centuries have coordinated liberty and equality, but have too often failed to tell us, as history clearly shows, that liberty and equality are much more hostile than they are mutually friendly; that the prevalence of liberty may very well require some subordination of the principle of equality; or, on the other hand, that enforcement of equality by legal and governmental devices may be quite destuctive to the principle of liberty.[Source: The Quarterly Journal of Speech 39, 4 (December 1953), p. 425.]
Back in the late '80s I used the opportunity to write a review of two books about the Smith Act prosecutions of American communists to put together an essay on First Amendment theory, literary intention and the political interpretation of speech. It's called "Words with 'All the Effects of Force': Cold-War Interpretation" and was published in American Quarterly (volume 39, issue 2 - Summer 1987). Here is the essay as a PDF.
In March of 1957, the Nation magazine ran a feature called "The Careful Young Men," with this subtitle: "Tomorrow's Leaders Analyzed by Today's Teachers." They sought contributions from English professors--all men as it turned out, not surprisingly--at mostly elite universities, soliciting comments on what students were thinking, writing and reading. These students, "tomorrow's leaders" per the subtitle, and the "careful young men" per the title, befit--lo and behold!--the general notion of Nation articles and editorials of this period: the Fifties were pretty much uniformly a time of quietude, caution and rising orthodoxy. That the late fifties was a time of extraordinary experimentation is nowhere indicated, not even marginally, not even in one sentence in one of the entries--not even as a hint or premonition. Of course I see the names of the contributors (Carlos Baker at Princeton, Stanley Kunitz of Queens College, Wallace Stegner at Stanford) and understand that a major problem here is the narrow choice of respondents. The obvious irony is that these male literary academics, for the most part lamenting the aesthetic conservatism of their students, evince no sense of the intellectual diversity--to mention only one form of diversity--that might be required to see the resistance and experimentation at the edges of their classrooms or perhaps outside their office windows or at the fringes of campus (or indeed far down the academic road, at places like Black Mountain). It may be that these gentlemen are writing in 1957 but thinking of their students of 1950-1954, the cowed McCarthyite generation recently graduated. Or it may be that the freer spirits on campus had stopped taking lit courses, or kept quiet whilst Stegner and Baker were lecturing at them, or saved their heterodoxy for the sloppy garrett and cheap coffee shop six blocks from campus.
Anyway, Kunitz notes that the students don't seem to have culture heroes who are themselves young, and seem to be stuck with Jung, Mann, Yeats and Eliot. Stegner claims that "only Eliot seems to arouse enthusiasm in students." (He's talking about a San Francisco-area campus in 1957! Can that generalization really hold even for students on the conservative Stanford campus of that time? I doubt it, but of course I'll need to do a little digging to confirm my hunch that he's wrong.) J. A. Bryant of the University of the South notes that the Hemingway these young men love is not the unallegiant expatriate Hem but the Hem who "symbolizes the virility and essential goodness of the American male and is identifiable with the warrior [and] the athlete." R. J. Kaufmann says that his students "like Joyce's Portrait very well up to the point in which he works out his elaborate aesthetic." John Willingham of Centenary College says there's no rebellion in these students at all--that they "envy the undergraduate of the twenties" [sic - not "the thirties"].
I should note that Leo Marx (then at Minnesota) wrote an exceptional piece for this feature, and so, to some degree, did Alan Swallow, whom we think of now as primarily a great publisher but who had then recently left the University of Denver but was in any case never really comfortable in the academy the way Stegner, Baker and Kunitz were.
I've been re-reading Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and co-leading a month-long discussion online with a few dozen adults. We discuss every aspect of the play by email. Lots of fun. As anyone who knows the play will remember, George and Martha play a series of always slightly varied games with each other. These are games played to vary the relationship (in part to create sexual excitement through, for instance, role-changing) but also as a means of altering the power dynamic between them. (George married Martha in part because her father is the president of the college where he is a not very successful history professor. So she's got the power but he shifts rules of the games they play in order to challenge those positions; she often likes the rule-shifting because it shows some evidence that George is not entirely flaccid.
So our group was talking about the elaborate games in this play, and I decided to explore the possible connection between what Albee is doing here in this 1962 work and the Cold War rage for game theory. Here is what I wrote to the group this morning:
- - -
Game theory developed rapidly and quite publicly in the period when Albee was first writing plays - in the late 60s. It reached its peak in the early 50s. Gamesmanship, following from militarily-applied gaming scenarios, is largely credited for the White House strategy in dealing with the Cuban missile crisis in the fall of 1962. (Our play was written earlier and produced before the crisis in October that year, but audiences throughout that period would have been quite aware of cold-war versions of gaming as Martha and George engaged in their personal power struggles through ever-varying game scenarios.)
The way George and Martha interact - stepped up, psychological 'warfare'-style games whose rules shift ever more at the brink of danger - has always reminded me of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). This balance required open acknowledgment of each side's strengths and vulnerabilities. However, as "prisoner's dilemma" showed us, both players must assume the other is only concerned with self-interest; therefore, each must limit risk by adopting a dominant strategy.
Homosexuals in government, 1950 Congressional Record, volume 96, part 4, 81st Congress 2nd Session March 29 -- April 24, 1950
ON THE FLOOR OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
Mr. MILLER of Nebraska. Mr. Chairman, I realize that I am discussing a very delicate subject I cannot lay the bones bare like I could before medical colleagues. I would like to strip the fetid, stinking flesh off of this skeleton of homosexuality and tell my colleagues of the House some of the facts of nature. I cannot expose all the putrid facts as it would offend the sensibilities of some of you. It will be necessary to skirt some of the edges, and I use certain Latin terms to describe some of these individuals. Make no mistake several thousand, according to police records, are now employed by the Federal Government.
I offer this amendment to the Vorys amendment in good faith. Recently the spotlight of publicity has been focused not only upon the State Department but upon the Department of Commerce because of homosexuals being employed in these and other departments of Government. Recently Mr. Peurifoy, of the State Department, said he had allowed 91 individuals in the State Department to resign because they were homosexuals. Now they are like birds of a feather, they flock together. Where did they go?
You must know what a homosexual is. It is amazing that in the Capital City of Washington we are plagued with such a large group of those individuals. Washington attracts many lovely folks. The sex crimes in the city are many.
In the Eightieth Congress I was the author of the sex pervert bill that passed this Congress and is now a law in the District of Columbia. It can confine some of these people in St. Elizabeths Hospital for treatment. They are the sex perverts. Some of them are more to be pitied than condemned, because in many it is a pathological condition, very much like the kleptomaniac who must go out and steal, he has that urge; or like the pyromaniac, who goes to bed and wakes up in the middle of the night with an urge to go out and set a fire. He does that. Some of these homosexuals are in that class. Remember there were 91 of them dismissed in the State Department. That is a small percentage of those employed in Government. We learned 2 years ago that there were around 4,000 homosexuals in the District. The Police Department the other day said there were between five and six thousand in Washington who are active and that 75 percent were in Government employment. There are places in Washington where they gather for the purpose of sex orgies, where they worship at the cesspool and flesh pots of iniquity. There is a restaurant downtown where you will find male prostitutes. They solicit business for other male customers. They are pimps and undesirable characters. You will find odd words in the vocabulary of the homosexual. There are many types such as the necrophalia, fettichism, pygmalionism, fellatios, cunnilinguist, sodomatic, pederasty, saphism, sadism, and masochist. Indeed, there are many methods of practices among the homosexuals. You will find those people using the words as, "He is a fish. He is a bull-dicker. He is mamma and he is papa, and punk, and pimp." Yes; in one of our prominent restaurants rug parties and sex orgies go on. Some of those people have been in the State Department, and I understand some of them are now in the other departments. The 91 who were permitted to resign have gone some place, and, like birds of a feather, they flock together. Those people like to be known to each other. They have signs used on streetcars and in public places to call attention to others of like mind. Their rug and fairy parties are elaborate.
So I offer this amendment, and when the time comes for voting upon it, I hope that no one will object. I sometimes wonder how many of these homosexuals have had a part in shaping our foreign policy. How many have been in sensitive positions and subject to blackmail. It is a known fact that homosexuality goes back to the Orientals, lone before the time of Confucius; that the Russians are strong believers in homosexuality, and that those same people are able to get into the State Department and get somebody in their embrace, and once they are in their embrace, fearing blackmail, will make them go to any extent. Perhaps if all the facts were known these same homosexuals have been used by the Communists.
I realize that there is some physical danger to anyone exposing all of the details and nastiness of homosexuality, because some of these people are dangerous. They will go to any limit. These homosexuals have strong emotions. They are not to be trusted and when blackmail threatens they are a dangerous group.
The Army at one time gave these individuals a dishonorable discharge and later changed the type of discharge. They are not knowingly kept in Army service. They should not be employed in Government. I trust both sides of the aisle will support the amendment.
Photo: George A. Dondero
Mr. DONDERO. Was there any evidence or testimony before the gentleman's committee with respect to the number of people who were separated from the service in the Department of State who had later acquired positions in other departments of Government? I refer to those whose employment was considered a security risk. Was anything said before your committee on that subject?
Mr. CLEVENGER. I will say to the gentleman, I brought that question up a year ago, as to whether the other departments would be alerted so that they might not hire these--we can name them now--these homosexuals. Until the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Peurifoy, made that word public over in the other body, we had insufficient information so far as the committee was concerned and could not tell you. In reply to my question we were informed they were not, and unofficially we were told, or at least I was told, that they have been employed in other sections of the Government, at least most of them were.
Mr. DONDERO. The reason I asked that question is that I made inquiry by letter to find out where these people went and whether they are now employed by our Government and I have not yet received a reply giving me any information on the subject.