Monday, September 22, 2014

Little Magazines after the First Month of War: The Egoist, The Little Review, Poetry and Drama, and (a little) Poetry

This post will cut across several magazines. I've already written a bit about The New Age and The Masses and their reaction to the beginning of World War One. I was interested in the different perceptions of the reasons for the war that they each had. After reading the second Egoist of the month, as well as The Little Review and Poetry, I thought I would do a cross-journal posting surveying this issue.

To recap: The New Age tends towards talk of national and racial struggles, painting the war as the result of macrohistorical cultural struggle. Depending on when you caught them, this was either between the West and the East or between Civilisation and the Barbarians.

The Masses provides a socioeconomic account, blaming international trade, in particular maneuverings that deprived Germany of its share of the spoils of global imperialism, which forced the Germans to look for a military solution.

Moving forward to The Egoist and The Little Review:

"The Illusion of Anarchism" by Dora Marsden

Dora Marsden is The Egoist's spokesperson on this. I sense a calcification of her term "Archist," which was introduced as a playful opposite to anarchist some months ago: now she's using it seriously (not archly), dropping the pun to make a philosophical point. This shift in her philosophy is an important step, and an important step backwards in my view: she used to insist on defining her philosophy entirely in the negative, only as a rejoinder, response. Now she's building a self-supporting platform able to support theories on why the war has begun. Her anti-humanist and rationalist approach to politics has led her to believe that the war happened because Germany sensed an opportunity to seize wealth and power. Nothing more or less--and no judgement on her part, as she explains that Germany will ultimately be judged only on its success or failure (using George Washington as an example: he would have been a traitorous secessionist had he failed, etc.). Let me try to sketch the logical chain she constructs. Public opinion is illusory, and most people just follow it because they have weak personalities. A strong personality (Napoleon ex.) can sway public opinion, and even make people (generally greedy) act selflessly (because that is too a kind of greed). Germany's opinion-makers and industrialists had created an atmosphere of confidence that could only be fully-fulfilled by attacking an England they saw as decadent. And it is/was: but the war will wake up England and then England will be awesome and there will be great art! Here's the optimistic note she strikes:

"And the result immediately to follow, one can safely trust, will be equally in her favour: that is, the brilliant vindication of British spirit on the seas and the battlefields will speedily have a counterpart in British laboratories: in renewed and confident strength of spirit in English philosophy, literature and art (where it is needed, God wot!). Confidence, which dare look at plain fact without latent undermining fear, confidence and deeply stirred emotions are the materials which inspire a new spirit in the Arts. After the war, because of the war—the Renascence!" (343).

The next piece in The Egoist is also by Marsden, also concerning the war and the State, but I will quickly skip to the end to point out an interesting reply to correspondence in which Marsden explains how classifications work--might be useful for any work on Marsden's semiotics.

Beyond Marsden, this issue includes an article in the series "Fighting Paris" by Mdme Ciolkowska, printing her daily war diary. I think she keeps this up throughout the war, so it will be a way to live it vicariously.

Before leaving, Aldington contributes an essay on free verse, declaring its independence from vers libre. A teachable, useful, brief manifesto that slots into the contemporary discussions of prosody very nicely.

The Little Review, "Armageddon."

TLR is suitably impressed by the war opening across the Atlantic. The short editorial piece "Armageddon" makes the case that the war is foolish, and civilization is directly responsible:

"Twenty-odd million men flying at each other's throats and destroying the bitterly won triumphs of years of peace, without any good reason. We hear phrases like "balance of power," "dynastic supremacy," "the life of our country," "patriotism," "racial prejudice," "difference of religion," Each individual nation is praying to God with profound sincerity for its own success. Priests bless the arms. There is no denying the reality of all this in the consciousness of Europe. Such things do lead men to battle with the fire of conviction.

"Well, the brutal fact stands out like a giant against the sky, that if such motives can produce such a result, they are working only for their own destruction. Not a single nation, whether conqueror or victim, can come out of the struggle as strong or as great as it went in. All alike must be swept into destitution of all the things civilization has taught us to value. And this is the result of civilization ! It is a spectacle or demoniac laughter. And shall the United States stand aloof with a feeling of pitying super­ iority, thinking that, because we happen to have a president instead of a king, and inhabit a different continent, such motives are foreign to us? What folly of conceit ! As long as we cultivate the ideal of patriotism, as long as we put economic value above spiritual and human value, as long as in our borders there exist dogmatic religions, as long as we consider desirable the private ownership and exploitation of property for private profit-—whether by nations or by individuals-—we maintain those elements of civilization which have led Europe to the present crisis." (3-4)

This prescience, that America will be swept into the war in the same ideological tide as Europe, is not without an optimistic final sentence: "Nineteenth-century civilization has overwhelmingly and dramatically failed. What shall we build now?"

The Little Review, then, blames the war on ideology. The sheer stupidity of that offers an opportunity, as something new may emerge from this destruction. Alas.

I've also been reading the quarterly Poetry and Drama in a bound volume I got from the UW library: not nearly as satisfying as the .pdfs on the MJP, but a little easier on the eyes. Poetry and Drama is completely shocked by the war, more than The Little Review or any of the other journals I have read. Harold Monro's opening article explains that wartime is not a time for good writing--patriotic writing will drown out art, with a few exceptions (one in this issue is Frost's "Home Burial"). One gets a sense of depression and desperation: Monro calls for the formation of a "Literary Emergency Fund" to support people of letters who have been made unemployed by the war, for one example.

Perhaps the most telling article, though, is "French Chronicle" by F.S. Flint. He meditates, sitting at the English Channel, on the dangers being faced by his French poet-friends. One, Charles Peguy, has already been killed. Flint is furious at the Germans, angry at being rejected for military service, wishing England had conscription. He, too, though, is hopeful that France will defeat the barbarous Germans and that literature will emerge from the war stronger than it was at the outset.

Poetry's September issue doesn't mention the war, but it includes an essay by Joyce Kilmer on Gerard Manley Hopkins, who he "gets." This is cool but sad, because Kilmer will be killed in the war. Also features a plea for funds to support the magazine. Sorry to be so lazy about Poetry, but perhaps my readers will understand.

To overgeneralize horribly, here's a quick and silly and probably useless summary of the journals' opinions on the war and its causes:

The New Age: civilization vs. barbarians (categories permeable).
The Masses: traders vs. traders, with the rest of us caught in a web of lies.
The Egoist: vigorous German people vs. almost-awakened soon-to-be vigorous English people.
The Little Review: the war is the outcome of a bankrupt system of civilization.
Poetry and Drama: this is no time for literature.
Poetry: please donate money to Poetry magazine!

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