Rant: Great Writers with Bad Politics

A few days ago, I reblogged a post about Adrienne Rich and her contributions to trans-misogyny. That got me thinking about all the times I have been really disappointed by the politics of writers I really admire. Sometimes, it’s flat-out horrifying views, and other times, it’s bad choices in an otherwise solid individual. The following are just a few of the times I recall having a bad reaction to the lousy political views of great writers.

e.e. cummings

Okay, maybe I should have been tipped off by the poem “she being brand new” in which you can’t tell whether cummings is talking about a car or a woman he’s screwing, but it still shocked me to learn that this “i thank you God for most this amazing” author was a rampant conservative. The jury seems a bit out on whether or not he had liberal leanings early on, but it is clear that later in his life, cummings was a bitter old reactionary. He actually supported Senator Joe McCarthy and his communist witch-hunts. How can you write lines like “(i do not know what it is about you that closes/and opens; only something in me understands/ the voice of your eyes is deeper than all the roses)/nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands” and be a miserable old conservative? I’m not sure. Maybe the lesson is that even right-wingers have hearts? Mmmmm, somehow I doubt it.

Jorge Luis Borges

Borges’ writings completely twisted around my mind when I first read them. They made me think in new ways, they changed the way I wrote and saw the world around me. Labyrinths creates entire worlds with their own rules and boundaries, ones in which the use of the intellect is essential. It damn near broke my heart to find out how right-wing he was. In addition to his anti-Marxists views, he was essential a libertarian (and not the good, anarchisty kind, the bad fuck-everyone-but-me kind) who believed in rampant individualism. While you can’t exactly claim that the once head-of-state of Borges’ home country, Peron, was a saint (he protected Nazi war criminals, after all), Borges seemed to oppose him more for his social policies, which included heavy aid to the poor and support of the workers. What’s more, Borges also supported Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who took over Chile after the 1973 coup and violated human rights left and right. Oh, Borges. No use creating amazing worlds if you can’t have the responsibility to better the one you’re actually in.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman? you say. Really? Big ol’ queer, lefty, humanist Walt Whitman? Well, yes, Whitman was largely incredible as a writer AND a human being. But even the best of people have black marks on their record, and Whitman is no exception. And just because this Leaves of Grass genius poet who contained multitudes was generally awesome, we can’t let him off the hook. He spent a lot of time banging the drum in support of the expansionist Mexican-American War. Sweet, gentle Grandpa Walt wrote of the war that it “should be avenged more signally that ever outrage was avenged before.” Yikes, Walt. Guess you weren’t at the bedsides of the Mexican soldiers who were being slaughtered.

Okay,  I will end on a happy note. I read somewhere while researching for this post that J.R.R. Tolkien was a supporter of fascism. Not only does that not appear to be true, but it looks from his letters that he was actually an anarchist (the most superior kind of political ideology!). “My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy …I would arrest anybody who uses the word State… and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offense to write it with a capital G or so to refer to people.” Thank, Tolkien! At least somebody’s thinking in the world of letters.


About thebaffledkingcomposing

Pamela DiFrancesco is a writer with a community college degree in journalism, a fancy art school degree in fiction and a penchant for community organizing. A native of Pennsylvania coal country, Pamela lives in Astoria, Queens, writes, and does whatever else it takes to pay the bills. In the past, Pamela has worked for newspapers and taught children journalism in an after-school program. Pamela's fiction can be found on the web at Cezanne's Carrot and Monkeybicycle, in print in The Carolina Quarterly (who nominated "The Chuck Berry Tape Massacre" for the Best American Mystery Writing anthology) and forthcoming in The New Ohio Review. When not writing, Pamela practices acts of love and kindness in hopes of a radically different world, and is preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse through acts of badassery.
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