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July 24, 1987 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-07-24

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FRIDAY, JULY 24, 1987

`New York Intellectuals'
Views Three Generations


Special to The Jewish News


he Story of that re-
markable "herd of in-
dependent minds," the
famed group of writers and
thinkers known as New York
Intellectuals (with a capital I)
has now been told, in all of its
ramifications, diversities and
complexities by Alexander
Bloom in his compelling,
highly readable social history
Prodigal Sons: The New York
Intellectuals and Their World
(Oxford University Press). • A
large cast of characters, Bloom
introduces them in sequence,
describing the immigrant
socialist Jewish milieu from
which they came. Among those
of the first generation were
Philip Rahv (died 1973),
William Phillips (the family
name was Litvinsky), Sidney
Hook, Mary McCarthy (no
Brownsville immigrant
daughter, she), Lionel Trilling
(one of the two great American
literary critics of our time, died
1975), his wife, Diana (nee Ru-
bin), Meyer Schapiro, Clement
Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg
(died 1978), Dwight Mac-
donald (died 1982) and Elliot
Cohen (curiously from Mobile,
Ala., a Yale graduate, he was
the brilliant first editor of
Commentary, died by his own
hand in 1959).
The second generation con-
sisted of Irving Howe, Irving
Kristol, Daniel Bell, Delmore
Schwartz (died 1956), Leslie
Fiedler, Seymour Martin Lip-
set, Nathan Glazer, Alfred Ka-
zin, Robert Warshow (died
1955), Melvin Lasky, Isaac
Rosenfeld (died 1956) and Saul
Bellow. A third generation in-
cludes Lionel Trilling's stu-
dent, Norman Podhoretz, his
wife, Midge Decter, and Steven
To follow the progress of the
New York Intellectuals in poli-
tics and literature is to retrace
American history from the
19'30s to the present. Though
they began as Marxists, they
ran the gamut in their political
persuasions, moving from a
pro-Stalinist position to an
anti-Stalinist one, comment-
ing on Roosevelt's New Deal
policies, playing footsie for a
time with Trotsky, endorsing
proletarian literature, then
turning from it to modernism, -
essaying the roles of Eliot,
Pound, Kafka and Joyce, weld-
ing connections between poli-
tics and literature, arguing
that the goals of the political
polemicist and the literary cri-
tic were parallel in shaping the
thinking of both the masses
and the elite. Through the Par-
tisan Review, and, sub-
sequently, Commentary, Dis-


Norman Podhoretz: Heading to
the right.

sent — one can't help being re-
minded of Woody Allen's wag-
gish observation that if those
two journals merged they could
call the successor "Dysentery"
— and the New York Review of
Books, they did indeed mold
public opinion to the extent
that by the 1950's the pages of
the New York Times, the
Washington Post and other
prestigious papers and jour-
nals were open to them.
Rarely in agreement and
frequently at war with one an-
other, they had something co-
gent to say about every impor-
tant issue and event of our
times, the Second World War,
the Cold War, the McCarthy
investigations, Jewish identity
and alienation, the Jewish
literary renaissance, making it
in America, postwar
liberalism, the civil disorders
of the 1960's and the counter-
culture, Allen Ginsberg and
the Beats, the "New Left,"
Hannah Arendt's theories of
totalitarianism, Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg and the Alger
Hiss Case, and the emergence
of neo-conservatism with its
swing in recent years to the
Reagan right. In this latter
context, Bloom explores at
length the emergence of Nor-
man Podhoretz as the controv-
ersial King of the Mountain,
recalling the dismay with
which his friends and associ-
ates tried to dissuade him from
publishing Making It (1968),
the first volume of his auto-
biography which announced
with consummate bad taste his

capitualtion to fame.

In retrospect, Making It
merely confirms that
Podhoretz was headed toward
the right all along. That's
okay, but the fact that he has
moved Commentary com-
pletely into his own corner has
incensed so many contempor-
ary American intellectuals
they have now established a
new liberal journal, entitled
Tikkun, to replace the now lost
formally broad-visioned recep-
tivity of Commentary.

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