A REBEL IN DEFENSE OF TRADITION: The Life and Politics of Dwight Macdonald by Michael Wreszin

A REBEL IN DEFENSE OF TRADITION: The Life and Politics of Dwight Macdonald

Email this review


Chummily calling his subject ""Dwight"" throughout, Wreszin (History/Queens College/CUNY) roots for Macdonald like a Cubs fan roots for the Cubs -- knowing that he will be disappointed, heartbroken. Macdonald was just spiky enough of a character to make a special mark as a political and cultural critic in the 1950s and '60s. A WASP among Jews, a Trotskyite among Stalinists, a blaster of what he called ""midcult"" Book-of-the-Month-Club pieties, a stern keeper of linguistic norms, a happy dabbler in Vietnam War-era student-protest movements, Macdonald seemed to keep himself always a step away, to either the right or the left, from prevailing intellectual trends. Examined in more detail, though, Macdonald presents a muzzier picture. Personally, he was an innocent: sexually awkward, a rotten family man, almost unconsciously alcoholic. He would write for the Lute magazines, and later the New Yorker and Esquire, about topics and people and movies he cared not terribly much about -- an almost eerie separation of energies from those he expended on his own iconoclastic writings for his magazine, Politics. What Wreszin wants to do -- make Macdonald somehow coherent -- he finally can't; and it's to his book's credit that he lets no flaw or eccentricity pass unnoticed, however diminishing it might be of Macdonald's ultimate stature. And diminishing it is, as Macdonald here emerges, ultimately, not only as a man depressed over his own unmet goals, but also as an inattentive thinker who depended more on panache and contrariness than on intellectual rigor to make points that, by the time he made them, had already been eclipsed. ""Radical humanism"" is the best term Wreszin can recommend to describe Macdonald's faith and mark -- but this biography comes no closer to defining whatever that is than did ""Dwight.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1994
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Basic Books