CELEBRATIONS AND ATTACKS: Thirty Years of Literary and Cultural Commentary by Irving Howe

CELEBRATIONS AND ATTACKS: Thirty Years of Literary and Cultural Commentary

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Selected short subjects,"" as he neatly puts it, by the author of such feature attractions as Politics and the Novel (1957) and World of Our Fathers (1977). The introductory essay (worth the collection, if that were at issue) takes up what it meant to be ""a would-be American Jewish writer"" growing up, like Howe, in the Twenties and Thirties--uneasy with American literature (""each man is captain of his soul""? ""God made his cabin in the woods""?) and deprived of the Jewish past. But he and his contemporaries discovered other ""strangers"" like themselves in first Whitman and then Melville, and seizing the possibilities, developed new styles; they would leave their mark foremost on language, in ""the yoking of street raciness and high-culture mandarin which we associate with American-Jewish culture."" Not surprisingly, then, Howe writes feelingly on Delmore Schwartz, weighs the pros and cons of Malamud, grapples with the ""ferociously exact"" young (Goodbye, Columbus) Philip Roth. Other native aliens interest him (Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright), and other natural strangers: see his valedictory on the dimming, self-falsifying Faulkner (of The Town and The Mansion), his astute welcome to Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook--whose heroine ""will not compromise with the idea of compromise."" But this critic, explorer-emeritus of the relation between art and idea, exemplar of moral rigor, is nowhere more to be prized than when he separates the high art and noxious ideas of a Celine, or--reviewing Lucy Davidowicz's The War Against the Jews--speaks of the immorality of condemning the ""passivity"" of the condemned who lacked ""the minimal fragment of freedom which is surely a precondition for moral conduct.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1978
Publisher: Horizon