"RENEWING THE LEFT: Politics, Imagination, and the New York Intellectuals" by Harvey M. Teres

"RENEWING THE LEFT: Politics, Imagination, and the New York Intellectuals"

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An illuminating study of New York radical culture from the 1930s to the 1960s. The enduring accomplishment of that culture's leading organ, the Partisan Review, was to have reestablished ""a productive relationship between politics and intellectual life,"" or as Lionel Trilling put it, ""a new union between our political ideas and our imagination."" So argues literary historian Teres (English/Syracuse Univ.), who goes on to examine some of those ideas and their development. One, heretical among radicals of the day, was that literature and criticism could be both catholic and autonomous, rather than serve the propagandistic aims of the workers' revolution; another was that the literary ""sensibility"" that conservative critic T.S. Eliot was then canonizing could have a place in progressive letters; still another was that modernist literature could renew the culture and politics of the American left, even though some of its exponents were rightists like Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. While Partisan Review was never wholly successful in accomplishing these lofty goals, Teres notes, its contributors were able to formulate a powerful critique of the ""marginalization of mind that the materialism of American capitalism had produced."" One of the writers he studies is the poet Wallace Stevens, who here receives his due as a subtly subversive foe of the 1930s status quo. Although some of the Partisan Review's founders would drift rightward during the Cold War, Teres notes that the New York intellectuals were prescient in realizing that it was possible to criticize Marxism without betraying the working class or the leftist tradition of dissent, a point often lost on both the right and doctrinaire Marxists. For Teres, a 1970s radical who embraced doctrinaire Marxism in all its ""dismal failure,"" the New York intellectuals represent something of a golden age. His enthusiasm for their work is evident everywhere throughout this lively book.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 316pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.