Saturday, May 31, 2008

ideas one thing, acts another

In a summer 1951 editorial, Ray B. West argued against political writers - writesr who chose the active life. "What...has happened to the artist who has blushed into the open?" He mentions Picasso (joined the Communist Party and ipso facto, says West, botched both the politics and the art), and Malraux (foolishly attaching himself to a political leader). His examples are all on the left.

But then the clincher. "Would the cause of art or our political causes be better served if T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Faulkner were to be forced into immediate political activity?" I do know what West, who was a sympathetic liberal, was trying to do here: he wanted to give us three reactionary writers and make us thank our lucky stars that they didn't get involved in politics.

But, wait! It's 1951 and he's asking us to be happy Ezra Pound never engaged in immediate political activity? Had he forgotten or suppressed the fact that Pound had gone on fascist radio in Italy, bespoken Mussolini's cause and railed against Roosevelt and the Jews? Or is possible West didn't count this as immediate political activity?

"The fact is," West's "The Act versus the Idea"* concludes, "most intellectuals have little talent or taste for action."

* in the magazine he edited, the Western Review, published in Iowa City.