Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The politically unfortunate e.e. cummings


A great and prolific American writer, and in my view one of the 20th century's greatest poets, was e.e. cummings. Not in the turn of the century's age, but certainly in the transcendent respect of Walt Whitman or Gertrude Stein, he pioneered the bohemianism, living of nature and the city exemplified by Jack Kerouac. He stood for free expression and non-conformity in appreciation and catharsis of the artistic mind.

In 1931, Cummings traveled to the Soviet Union, and published the account titled Eimi ("I am") in 1933. He rightfully condemned the indoctrinated and brutally enforced suppression of freethought and individual expression by its totalitarian government. Upon returning however, compared to George Orwell standing against authoritarian Stalinism as a democratic socialist freedom fighter, Cummings did nothing more than flagellate his humanitarian principles into completely reactionary conservatism. This came to the point of total inconsolableness when he supported the hysterical and bigoted propaganda campaign of the eponymous Senator Joesph McCarthy.

It gives me a particular sorrow to consider. For a remarkable mind upon witnessing the absolutist depersonalization Stalinist dictatorship, to do nothing but stand beside the Red Scare personality cult of hatred and bigotry fundamentally the same in its nature. Perhaps we can empathize with Cummings's determination. Maybe he viewed Soviet society as so harrowing of a possible threat, he supported McCarthyism in relative attempt to prevent it. But surely, when the ideals of human freedom are even passively undermined, it will ultimately destroy the timelessness that e.e. cummings personified.