Sunday, November 29, 2020

'To Hell with the Crowd'

“What we suffer, what we endure, what we muff, what we kill, what we miss, what we are guilty of, is done by us, as individuals, in private.” 

The anti-collective, non-aligned impulse runs deep. Demographics mean nothing. We recognize one data set, one focus group, one party: Homo sapiens. The rest is lazy pigeonholing. The wonderful poet Louise Bogan is writing in a December 23, 1936 letter to the poet-translator and longtime friend Rolfe Humphries. He had joined the League of American Writers, a Communist Front group organized the previous year. Bogan calls him “one of the Comrades” when Humphries bloviates about the Spanish Civil War. She continues:


“I still hate your way of doing things. To hell with the crowd. To hell with the meetings, and the public speeches. Life and death occur, as they must, but they are all bound up with love and hatred, in the individual bosom, and it is a sin and a shame to try to organize or dictate them.”


To her credit, Bogan remained loyal to Humphries as a friend despite his ridiculous politics, until his death in 1969. More recently, we’ve seen politics grow increasingly corrosive of relationships among family members and friends. That human bonds should be severed by something as trivial and childish as politics hardly flatters our species. In a July 8, 1938, letter to Humphries, Bogan writes:


“You can easily see that I’m terribly mad, at the moment, about the C.P. [Communist Party], and all its works. The girls at the subway entrance saying, in soft tones, ‘Stop the mad dogs of Fascism; help our boys dodging Franco’s bombs,’ frankly make me sick. If the C.P. doesn’t stop all this ‘mad dogs’ ‘depraved’ stuff it will lose—well, I was going to say the respect of all intelligent people. But I take that back. There aren’t, as far as I can see, any intelligent people left.” 


[All quoted passages are from A Poet’s Prose: Selected Writings of Louise Bogan, ed. Mary Kinzie, 2005.]

1 comment:

-Z. said...

Yeaterday I spoke with a massage therapist who told me that, this fall, several of his clients interrogated him about his politics and threatened to sever their custom if his didn't align with theirs. There's a tincture of the Wars of Religion in the political derangement of the times. Such stories always bring Montaigne to my mind, who lived through worse madness and kept a cool head (even a mischevious sense of humor) through it all. I think it was he who wondered what it mattered that his doctor held to a different religion if he did his job well (was it is his doctor?).