Chapter VII : Waldo Frank


For a brief period in the early 1920’s, some critics in the United States and Europe compared Waldo Frank to D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce. Frank did too. But after about 1924 his reputation declined swiftly. His ambitious book of 1929, The Re-Discovery of America, was, as Lewis Mumford later recalled, “a challenge that met no response from the generation it addressed.” 1 Frank wrote many books after that—he wrote over thirty in all—but fewer and fewer people read them, and by the time of his death in 1967 he had been forgotten by all but a few literary historians. 2

Frank’s character was composed of elements in conflict. He was a mystic who believed that humility and a passive yielding of the self to experience were essential to the attainment of truth; he was also an egoist, and greedy for fame. He possessed impressive intellectual gifts, but associated intellect with emotional barrenness. Wisdom, he thought, was intuitive. He believed in love, but his life was strewn with broken relationships, for he required of friends an intensity of commitment that left no room for differences, a demand for an uncritical admiration that was often impossible to sustain.

It is difficult to come to terms with a career like Frank’s. From the beginning, his work was vitiated by vanity and solemnity, and his flaws soon proved larger than his talent. His compulsive self-promotion led him repeatedly into falseness. In his posthumously published memoirs, for example, he tells us that in the early 1920’s he made a list in his notebook of the writers who had meant the most to him. They included Aeschylus, Plato, Lucretius, Dante, Shakespeare, Rabelais, Cervantes, Spinoza, Goethe, Stendahl, Balzac, Dostoevski and Whitman. “Let a man know these,” he had written,, “and win within himself response to these, and he is a man indeed .... nor need he then read any other book.” The list, the older Frank comments, was “careless and conventional.” In fact, he admits, Goethe and Plato had meant little to him and he had not been able to finish Lucretius.3 Here then was a successful writer of thirty-five, no callow youth, who in his notebook lied to himself about a subject of great importance, and lied pompously. Even his memoirs, written after the age of seventy and at the end of a cruelly disappointed career. memoirs in which Frank conscientiously strove to understand the causes of his failure, are riddled with pathetic self-deceptions, rave press notices from old scrapbooks, and grossly inflated claims of personal significance. To the end, “greatness” was Frank’s terrible narcotic.3a

Yet much of worth and interest has been buried with Frank’s reputation. Although the demands of his ego often led him into posing, into seeming a self-enraptured mystagogue, Frank was in some respects the true visionary he so badly wanted to be. He wrote seriously, with originality and penetration, on the state of American industrial culture in the twentieth century. He was capable of remarkable prescience, and was an authentic forerunner of such later critics of industrial culture as Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, Jacques Ellul, Philip Slater and William Irwin Thompson. 4 Much of what they would write about the aberrations and compulsions of that culture in the 1960’s and Seventies is to be found in Frank’s books and essays of the 1920’s and Thirties. Frank had a sympathy for and knowledge of other cultures, particularly those of Spain and Latin America, such as few North American writers have possessed. 5 In addition to being an often trenchant critic of industrial society and its shibboleths, Frank was, during those stretches when he did not whip his prose into a froth, an impressive stylist. He was insatiably curious, and had, as Edmund Wilson observed, a truly astonishing vitality. 6 He persisted in his work and had his say despite personal crises and an unfruitful reputation.

Frank was by turns a novelist, playwright, biographer, essayist, philosopher, journalist, poet, historian, critic, travel writer and, briefly, in the Thirties, a political agitator—too curious, too impatient, too driven by his personal daemon to settle in any one vocation and make his mark in it. But for all his range, there is a thematic unity to his work, and one tenaciously held conviction. “The machine,” he wrote, “in psychological content, is closer to magic than to science. A society whose faith is in machines is one which obeys shamans, however disguised, and turns the scientist into magician.” 7

America, Frank thought, had been bewitched by the machine, and was in thraldom to the many forms of self-delusion which result from such idolatry: the lie of the conquest of nature, the lie of success, the lie of pragmatism, of progress, and of the self-sufficiency of the isolated ego. Frank appealed to America to recognize this machine magic for what it was. a debased form of supernaturalism that reduced the universe to an object of blind will.

Early in his career, Frank used the word magic in a contrary sense. This magic was “cosmic consciousness,” the result of a transcendental perception, at once humbling and inspiring, of a holy relationship to one’s fellow men, to nature, and to God’s universe.8 Magic of this kind, if permitted to do its work, would bring into being the religious democracy of which Whitman had dreamed—not a body politic, and still less a joint stock company for the promotion of material well-being, but a national community of souls within a world community of souls. And the application of this magic would result, in some sense Frank was not able to define, in the transcendence of the machine.9 There were, then, two kinds of magic, white and black, divine and base, and all tendencies might be referred ultimately to one or the other. They were the antipodes of Frank’s world.

Like Whitman, whom he claimed as a master, Frank strove to reconcile a sense of individual potentiality and worth with a sense of community. His method of reconciliation he called “unanism,” a term he appropriated from an early favorite, the French writer Jules Romains. 10 All of Frank’s works, whether “history” or “story”—that is, cultural criticism or fiction—were meant to convey an image of a culture as a “living organism,” a “collective living being.” 11 Frank suggested that individual human beings were not “isolate [sic] manifestations,” but “acts of a single spiritual Organism.” 12 In his novels of the early 1920’s, Frank attempted to dramatize the spiritual interdependence of human beings. The unanismic novel, as he conceived it, would be idealistic and prophetic, “lyrical,” and although individuals would be portrayed in their isolation, the emphasis would be on their potential for mutual recognition. Frank, like Whitman before him, would affirm.

Frank’s philosophy-cum-aesthetic might have been suited to the writing of prophetic verse, but applied to the novel it could only result—as indeed it did—in the production of a series of philosophically dubious potboilers. If large groups are the “organisms” of life, then the individuals who compose these organisms are reduced to the status of attributes, or “acts” as Frank put it, and are drained thereby of volition and dramatic interest. While the unanismic aesthetic proclaimed its confidence in the capacity of people at some time in the future to become “true persons,” it denied them that capacity in the here-and-now. It was, then, double-edged, claiming for itself an affirmative attitude toward life while simultaneously denying full humanity to human beings as it found them. The unanismic aesthetic perfectly reflected Frank’s ambivalence toward American life, his dissatisfaction with himself, and his unhappy tendency to “symbolize” people. 13

All of this is clearly seen in his 1920 novel The Dark Mother. The story concerns the spiritual trials of David Markand, a youth from a Connecticut village who upon the death of his mother moves to New York to take a position in an uncle’s tobacco business. On the train David encounters Tom Rennard, a Midwestern lawyer in his late twenties who is determined to forge ahead in the great city. Tom, a repressed homosexual, is drawn to David’s “terrible strength,” and feels a need to dominate the youth intellectually and to be dominated by him emotionally. David is a saintly naif, the possessor of a “native tongue that was rounded, poetic, simple.” 14

Rennard makes repeated forays on Markand’s innocence, striving to make the boy see the world as he sees it, a place in which creative and intelligent people differ from the common herd as “gods from maggots.” David can only protest, “I am certain you are wrong. I feel these things—the love and brotherhood—the many people creating and creating .... They are not so very different from poets and inventors. I feel that.” 15 At the end of the novel David finally breaks with Tom, and the lawyer, a perfect match to the soulless city, becomes a success. David’s terrible strength, we now see, consists in his stolid refusal of negative suggestion, in his very immobility.

Mark and Rennard are two opposed states of mind fleshed out as human beings. Frank was himself both hopeful and despairing about the possibility of genuine brotherhood in a society devoted to industrial production. Markand, with his “deep, mute sense of life,” blessedly free of doubt, was in part an idealization of Sherwood Anderson, but he was also Frank as Frank wished to be, a mystic and an affirmer of life. Rennard, the intellectual driven to cynicism out of despair, was Frank the harsh analyst of society, whom      the novelist regarded as his worse self. Frank’ a imputation of evil to Rennard is an indication of the discomfort which his own pessimism caused him.

          One of Frank’s deepest concerns was with the change which the machine had brought about in the relationship of the worker to the artifact he produced. Tom says to David at one point, “could your ideal artisan work in a factory? He worked with his soul and his hands, the artisan you admire .... There is no place in labor [now] for the man who wants to love while he works.” 16 In the novel, such sentiments are expressed as petulant outbursts. We are to think of them as rationalizations of Rennard’s impotence, overborne without serious difficulty by the strength of David’s faith. But the arrogant Rennard, scornful of the industrial masses and convinced that the “swarm” are fools, is not very different from the Frank who in one essay snarled at Hollywood for catering to the appetites of “one hundred million morons.” 17

The culmination of the aesthetic of oneness was the 1922 “experimental” novel City Block. 18 As Frank wrote in a terse note to the reader, the block was to be conceived of as a “single organism.” City Block is composed of a series of episodic short stories, each of which forms a chapter in the spiritual life of one of thirty or more characters. The novel is a sort of urban Winesberg, Ohio. The subject of both novels is loneliness—the loneliness and frustration people feel behind their public masks but dare not express. One of the tragedies of Winesberg is that its inhabitants lack a language that truly communicates. In their inability to give expression to the needs and aspirations of the soul, they are as mutes. The inhabitants of Frank’s city block would seem to be in an even more unfortunate situation than Anderson’s Ohio villagers, for, boarders and transients that they are, they hardly know one another even superficially.

But in City Block, in compliance with the requirements of the unanismic aesthetic, characters are at crucial moments released from their prisons of silence to soar to speech. When they do give utterance to their yearnings it is in a startling transcendental patois, fervent and mystical, which we recognize immediately to be the author’s own. A writer less determined to affirm than Frank might have made City Block into a fine novel. In its evocation of the dread and mystery of the city, Frank’s novel resembled Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, and there are interesting similarities, too, between City Block and Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, both of which depict the life of the alienated and crippled spirits of the great city. But Frank would have found West’s comic pessimism unhealthy if not corrupt, for comedy to Frank was not a necessary component of a balanced view of life but an indulgence, an abdication of moral responsibility.

Frank’s novels were, as Paul Rosenfeld delicately put it, the unhappy result of a man seeking “to function in a direction contrary to the one naturally his own.” 19 Frank’s inability to create a believable character, his lack of a saving sense of the comic, and the tendency of his imagination to run to platonic forms, were limitations which would be least evident in a genre he would his own, the discursive “history,” which combined speculation, history, literary and cultural criticism, reportage and prophecy. In such “histories” as Our America (1919), Virgin Spain (1926), The Re-Discovery of America (1929), and America Hispana (1931) Frank did his best work. Some of these books were once highly admired. While Hemingway loathed Virgin Spain, the book met with wide approval in Spain and was endorsed as a penetrating study by Miguel de Unamuno. 20 America Hispana made Frank for some years the most widely known and appreciated North American writer in Latin America.

In all of these “histories,” even in Virgin Spain, Frank’s central preoccupation was with the question of whether America—first North America, later the entire Western Hemisphere—was to be the theater of man’s transcendence of the burdens and divisions of history. In being drawn to so large and even grandiose a theme, Frank was, of course, hardly alone among American writers. His concern with an American destiny conceived in these terms unites him most obviously with Whitman, and with Hart Crane, to whom for a time Frank served as mentor; but it also places him in the company of a long line of writers in the American prophetic tradition. Frank’s contribution to that tradition consisted in placing the machine at center stage in the drama, and in enlarging the stage to include Latin America.

In all of Frank’s “histories,” the physical place of the drama is no mere setting. It is more important than the nominal actors,for it is the Whole of which they are parts. An important step in Frank’s procedure in any work was a poetic-intuitive examination of the landscape’s details, a hunting out of significant metaphysical clues. “Spirit of place” is a phrase to be taken literally when reading Frank.

Beginning with Our America, the physical hugeness of the American continent was for Frank a source of both hope and disquiet. There was something alienating and inhuman about such dimensions. Small places had obvious advantages. “At almost every point of a small and narrow space,” Frank would write of the Holy Land in a late book, Bridgehead, a report on Israel published in 1957, “height and depth, desert and garden, salt sea, dead sea and sweet water meet and become accessible together.” Wherever one looked, the forms of earth were “geared to man’s measure—and yet make that measure cosmic.” 21 A people living in such a place, he thought, would be reminded constantly, as the ancient Jews had been, of its unity with both the earth and with God.

But it would be different in lands enclosing great distances. In such vast geographical units as Mexico and Egypt, “the equally varied whole—and the sense of it—exceeds the eye; or, if glimpsed, appears to exclude and to overwhelm the human, making man small.” 22 Palestine, or any land so varied, elemental, and yet small, would provide the optimum conditions for that simultaneous cognition of the unity of man, nature, and God which Frank called cosmic consciousness. And yet, if such a transformation of consciousness were to be historically significant, a theater of nothing less than continental dimensions would suffice.

Thus, it would seem, Frank’s unease with America. The continent, he said at the outset of Our America, was all turbulence and contrast, hinting at meanings beyond an observer’s grasp. It was all “frenzy” and “chaos”—here he made much of the variety to be found in the American West—and “the behavior of our men and women [is] inseparable from it.” Just as the landscape was both sublime and terrible, so the future might hold disaster or greatness. America, Frank concluded, “is yet in the inchoate state where it has subjective meaning only.” 23

Frank’s version of the American past was similar to Van Wyck Brooks’ in America’s. Coming-of-Age, but whereas Brooks had seen idealism and materialism in stalemate, Frank in Our America saw only rapacious materialism. Protestantism in all its forms, he thought, was pinched and starved religion. By placing the ultimate responsibility for salvation with the individual soul, Protestantism had committed “the error of the absolute person,” had enshrined the will, and reduced man to the dimensions of his alienated ego. The result in America had been tremendous material accomplishment but inner deprivation. If American Puritanism had produced a resolute will, the pioneer experience had made that will harsh. “Every narrowing instinct of self-preservation and acquisition,” Frank said, “tended to make the pioneer intolerant, materialistic, unaesthetic.” 24 In creating a civilization, the pioneer had done great violence to himself. The outcome of all this was the machine, at once the product and symbol of materialistic asceticism.

Up to this point, the view of the American experience sketched by Frank in 1919 is a remarkable anticipation of that which D. H. Lawrence would adopt in the 1920’s in his Studies in Classic American Literature and elsewhere. 25 But Frank’s purpose was prophetic and patriotic, and much of Our America was taken up with a search for omens of change. Perhaps industrialism simply represented the completion of the three-century-long American pioneering project; perhaps a new epoch still lay ahead. But at the end of Our America Frank predicted nothing. What finally moved Frank toward affirmation—for in spite of his doubts, he did affirm—was not hope, but an imperative: another thirty years like the thirty that had just passed, he said, would kill any chance for the necessary miracle. 26

There were likely to be moments in the life of the modern man, Walter Lippmann wrote in 1929, “in which he finds that the civilization of which he is a part leaves a dusty taste in his mouth.” 27 In Waldo Frank’s case, this sensation was not limited to moments; there were long intervals during the 1920’s when his mouth was a dust bowl. America by the mid-Twenties seemed to him simply a bad farce, a “comedy of commerce,” as he called it in one essay, that did not quite succeed in masking the continuing and deepening tragedy of industrial domination. Increasingly, Frank favored the word “jungle” to describe the American situation instead of “chaos.” Whereas “chaos” implied unpredictability and at least the possibility of imminent change, “jungle” spoke of primeval beginnings, and eons of painful development ahead. America was a jungle of machines beating to inexorable rhythms Frank discerned the spirit of the machine lurking behind everything in American culture. Baseball manifested the machine spirit in the “mechanical perfection” of its “coldly-trained” performers; jazz was the syncopation “of the lathe-lunge,” its loudness a “mimicry          of our industrial havoc.” In fact jazz was “the Machine itself!” 28

His essays of the decade were flagrantly inconsistent. Like a man obsessed with a game of solitaire , the rules of which are such that the right cards will never come up, Frank tried again and again to formulate a believable scenario for escape from the industrial jungle. He might decide that the machine was a remnant of a dying cultural order, thus rejecting a miraculous transcendence in favour of a more probable process of evolution. Sometimes he would concede the machine’s almost certain place in any imaginable future order, but would hypothesis  the existence of a future race of mechanics, each in possession of “the consciousness of a Spinoza.” He would momentarily decide that the machine was actually European, not genuinely American at all, in fact alien to the national temper. At other times, with a complacent realism, he would embrace the machine, see it as the sine qua non of future American development, and chide those sentimentalists who would evade the machine’s reality by retreating to a bucolic past. 29

Such anguished confusion was the result of an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile two tendencies in himself, already noted: one toward the world and into engagement with it, and the other, usually dominant, away from the world and into a realm of spirit. Frank would sometimes insist that he was no mechanophobe who would wish the machine out of existence. But he often intimated its demise. In an imaginary dialogue between the shades of Cervantes and Columbus at the end of his Virgin Spain, Frank portrayed the two men looking across the waters to “iron-towered America.” This America of skyscrapers, Columbus says, is but the “Grave of Europe.” The mighty towers, the “gold lust,” the “marvelous machines,” all these, the wise Columbus says, are European, not American. Even as the two ghosts watch, the Iron Towers begin to crumble and fall. “Now,” says Columbus after the skyscrapers have collapsed in their own rubble, “shall be the birth of the World which I discovered.” 30

Increasingly, Frank’s criticisms of contemporary American society were accompanied by Delphic utterances of this kind. The future, he had maintained in Our America, belonged to the poets, not the politicians and engineers. Frank’s task, then, was to etherealize a history that had so far run relentlessly to the material, to suggest an American myth which would be the direct opposite in its meanings and implications of the commercial myth of the 1920’s. Thus, as one skyscraper after another was topped off, Frank envisioned their destruction.

Frank’s myth would first of all reassert the relevance of the American Indian experience and culture to the present day. Something of this sort had occurred to him in Our America, but he then rejected the idea. The pioneer, he said in that book, had never really been in a position to avail himself of the, Indian culture, for although he had in some respects reverted to a primitive condition in the West, he could not “become once more a primitive man.” 31 In The Re-Discovery of America, published ten years later, this clear statement was obscured by ambiguity. The American West at the time of Andrew Jackson had been “in touch with aboriginal America;” democratic egalitarianism had come into contact “with the reserve of the Red Man.” 32 But that was as far as Frank could go without obvious distortion: the past was not susceptible to the mythic reordering that Frank’s purposes required. He needed to step outside of history into a realm from which sequence had been abolished and which might thus partake of both the aboriginal past and the transcendent future. If the whole of the American experience, including the Indian experience, were perceived as a series of reactions and adaptations to one constant, the continent itself, to the land’s mystic essence no less than to its topography and climate, then seemingly unrelated events and cultural characteristics could be brought into new relationships with one another and be made to reveal uncontemplated truths.

“What is the meaning,” he asked in one essay, “of our cities of rectangular streets? What is their effect on our souls?” At the outset, the essay seemed to promise no more than the common lament that despite man’s innate love of curves, “the American urbanite has elected to spend his days in a grid-iron.” But straight streets were a good sign after all, for they expressed no more than a necessary resistance to the “geological tempo” of America, a tempo far more intense than that of Europe. (Thomas Jefferson was a member of the 1784 committee that started the gridiron survey in America.) The Indian culture of the past, a culture “prophetic of what our culture must be,” had in its beginnings resisted this tempo too, but before long had learned to respond to the spirit of the place, had embraced it, and then there had come the “subtle and fertile curve of the Indian music, the symbolic gesture of his dance, the exquisite reticence of his demeanor.” In time, the modern resistance would soften in turn, the rigid angles would “take on the curves of life” and become the forms of our American culture.” 33 The spirit of the land, Frank thought, was already “inscrutably at work within us and without... transfiguring our unconscious spirit.” When one contemplated this truth, one was “almost ready to believe in an Atlantis.” 34

All of these hopes for an American regeneration and a re-emergence of the Indian spirit are present in Hart Crane’s The Bridge (and “Atlantis” is the title of Part VIII, the last part, of the poem). The two men discussed these ideas often, each amending and adding to the other’s. Crane intended, as he wrote in one letter, to bring about a “mystical synthesis of ‘America’,” including the Indian’s America. 35 In eschewing a temporal ordering of his material, Crane was able to move continuously from past to present and back again, much as Frank did in his essays, so that the past, including the aboriginal past in the “Powhattan’s Daughter” sequence is made to impinge directly on the present as myth, memory, consciousness, and almost as future. Both men sought a way out of the industrial impasse by way of Indian myth. Nor we re they unique in this. William Carlos Williams hinted at much the same thing in his In the American Grain, and so would the American poet Charles Olson many years later in his Mayan Letters. By the 1960’s, when the assault on technological rationality and the values of industrial society became a widespread movement, a number of poets and novelists would “rediscover” aboriginal culture and reassert its relevance. 36 Here too, Frank was a forgotten precursor.

But in Frank’s own career, this spiritual flirtation with Indian culture was only a phase, a first step toward a far more ambitious attempt at cultural synthesis. In America Hispana he indicated the direction in which this quest would lead him—southward. For the most part, however, he was content in that book to limit himself to cultural reportage and interpretation; it was the least prophetic of his histories, and perhaps for that reason his most solid performance.

The 1930’s were for Frank a long digression from the American cultural themes that had occupied him in the Twenties and would again. He plunged into the literary-left politics of the popular front, visited Russia and wrote about it in Dawn in Russia, a book which was much more tentative in its contents than in its title, extended the Markand saga of The Dark Mother in a dreadful novel called The Death and Birth of David Markand, and went on the stump to speak for Earl Browder, the American Communist Party presidential candidate in 1936. Frank’s literary reputation, which had dropped precipitously in the late Twenties, was by the late Thirties almost nonexistent in the United States, although his fame in Latin America continued to grow.

Even that fame, poor consolation for a man who had been neglected by his own country, had waned by the time Frank made his last attempt at synthesis in The Rediscovery of Man in 1957. Here the metaphysical psychology which had been present in his work from the beginning received its fullest treatment. Frank held that the triumph of the scientific world-view after the seventeenth century had not expunged the cosmos-oriented faculty in man, but had only driven it into the unconscious to be explained away as “subjective illusion.” 38 But it was still there, and its greatest achievements, he asserted, lay in the future. While cosmic consciousness had been achieved only fitfully in the past, and then at the cost of denying the self-consciousness of the ego, as in the Eastern religions, the two might in the future be fused, with cosmic consciousness in the ascendancy.

But this would be possible—and here was Frank’s ultimate solution—only after the completion of the technological project, for only then would the limitations of the scientific world-view become apparent. Only when man had succeeded in mastering the production and distribution of goods, in controlling population and regulating the earth’s resources, would the “mystic sense of the Whole,” the “latest and least developed sense of man,” at last flower. And because the technological project was furthest along in America, Americans might he expected to pass beyond “function relations” more quickly than other peoples. There was reason to hope for that flowering of consciousness in America, the land of the machine. 39

Frank’s scenario conformed to the prophetic scheme of Whitman in Democratic Vistas, with the religious democracy succeeding the materialist democracy. It also paralleled the line of speculation which in the 1960’s Herbert Marcuse would briefly pursue in One-Dimensional Man. In that work, Marcuse recalled the general acceptance in Western thought of Saint-Simon’s Law of the Three Stages, to the effect that the metaphysical stage of civilization follows upon the religious stage and precedes the scientific. “But,” Marcuse asked, “is this sequence a final one? Or does the scientific transformation of the world contain its own metaphysical transcendence?” It might be that scientific rationalism, at the completion of its world-historical task, would “tend toward its own negation.” The completion of the technological project would not only be the “prerequisite but also the rationale for transcending the technological rationality.” 40

Marcuse the pessimistic Hegelian rejected this possibility after entertaining it; such a dialectic pronounced its own hopelessness on both theoretical and empirical grounds, chiefly because of its inability to demonstrate “the liberating tendencies within the established society.” Frank the American transcendentalist insisted with more faith than logic that growth was always a “positive response to multiple negations,” and so, in a sense, the more negations the better. But Frank added another element. The Anglo-Saxon civilization of North America did not by itself possess a capacity for renewal. But this North American “half-world” had its complement and opposite in the half-world of Latin America, which in the twentieth century still retained its roots “deep in the intuitive knowledge of pre-Columbian America, Africa, and Christian Europe.” Latin America was deficient in those very aspects of consciousness which North America had developed. “The faults of Hispanic America,” Frank observed, “dovetail nicely with our own.” 41

The concept of a hemispheric destiny was an old one for Frank. It might be glimpsed in Our America, in passages contrasting the ethos of the Anglo-Saxon pioneers with that of the Mexicans of the American Southwest. It was there in shadowy form in Virgin Spain and America Hispana. When it finally received full treatment in The Rediscovery of Man in 1957, however, there seemed nothing in the current situation to which Frank could point as a sign of future possibility. The Cuban Revolution, the most significant event in Latin America since the Mexican revolt of 1910, altered that.

Frank went to Cuba, talked to campesinos, workers and students, and accompanied Fidel Castro on his restless rounds of the island (Castro had read and admired Frank’s study, of Simon Bolivar, published some years before). 42 In 1961, Frank published Cuba: Prophetic Island, his last book. 43 It was published by a Marxist press, for no other would touch it. It was a fine book, free of the affectations and turgid improvisations of his early works. In America Hispana, Frank had written with bitter eloquence of the Cuba of 1930. The people of Havana, he had written then, moved through their city with the spirit of discards, sensing that they had been disowned. In the banks, the committee rooms, the hotel lobbies and brothels of Havana moved the new masters of the island, the American businessmen. 44 Cuba in 1930 was the most depressing of all countries in Latin America, a symbol of the defeat of the Latin revolutionary spirit by the forces of American babbitry. The Cuba of 1960 seemed to hold out the promise of a restoration of balance in the relations between North and South, an end to oppression and disgrace, and the beginnings of a democratic dignity securely rooted in peasant life. In his generous hope, Frank represented the Whitman strain at its best. He identified his democratic aspirations with the hopes of Cuba’s peasants as Whitman had identified his with the communards of Paris.

Frank did not welcome the Cuban revolution naively. He was fully aware of how an autocratic revolutionary leadership, initially defended as a temporary necessity, might develop into a permanent instrument of oppression. But he thought that there was at least a chance that the revolution would bring to realization on one small island Bolivar’s vision of the New World “as the lay ‘city of God,’ whose justice and peace would be in global contrast to the old world of misery.”45 The Bay, of Pigs invasion occurred just as Frank was completing the book. In a postscript written after the invasion, Frank warned that a Cuba perpetually pressed by a hostile United States must inevitably take on the traits of totalitarian regimentation. Cuba’s only hope, he concluded, was also America’s hope: “a change of attitude and course by the United States , based on the true nature of the American people, which is generous, expressed by a new leadership.” 46 These were the last words of Waldo Frank’s last book.