PRODIGAL SONS: The New York Intellectuals and Their World by Alexander Bloom

PRODIGAL SONS: The New York Intellectuals and Their World

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If you want the inside story of what Norman Mailer said to Lillian Hellman one boozy night in Brooklyn, don't bother with this. Bloom isn't interested in cultural chitchat; he's on the track of bigger game. He is, in fact, attempting nothing less than to trace what the New York intellectuals of the past three-and-a-half decades had in common (Jewish immigrant parentage, confidence in their own powers, a drive for prominence and influence), what divided them (Trotskyism, the Stalin Trials of the 30's, liberalism, HUAC) and what eventually drove them irretrievably apart (ancient frictions, age, security, success). It's a mind-boggling task Bloom and by and large, Bloom's handled it admirably. The roster of ""prodigal sons"" is impressive: Lionel Trilling, Philip Rahv, Saul Bellow, Sidney Hook, Clement Greenberg, Leslie Fiedler, Norman Podhoretz--all those shovers and makers at The Partisan Review, Dissent. Commentary, et al. As Bloom points out, these ""intellectuals"" moved at various times from radicalism to liberalism and some, most recently, to neoconservatism. When he states that their drift to the right coincided with their movement toward the centers of power, Bloom is merely reiterating a dogeared truism: ""Have-not's are against the statusquo; have's defend it rigorously."" Not all Bloom's insights are quite this obvious. When he discusses the impact of the Holocaust disclosures, for example, the author is perceptive. When the horrifying details of the ""Final Solution"" became clear, the intellectuals began emphasizing their Jewishness for the first time. Soon, they came to the conclusion that the Jewish ""sense of isolation"" typified the human condition in the 20th century, thus positioning themselves as advisors to the world at large. For readers interested in New York intellectual life since the Depression, Prodigal Sons is a concise and highly readable guidebook to what was obviously very exotic and frequently very perilous territory to traverse.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1985
ISBN: 019503662X
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press