THE BLOODY CROSSROADS: Where Literature and Politics Meet by Norman Podhoretz

THE BLOODY CROSSROADS: Where Literature and Politics Meet

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A collection of recent essays on politics and literature, ranging from books about politics (The God That Failed) to the political implications of literary reputations (essays on Camus and Solzhenitsyn). Although thus more unified than most journalistic miscellanies, Podhoretz's principle often boils down to mere redbaiting; so the collection is unlikely to appeal much beyond the original audiences of the magazines in which they first appeared: Commentary, The New Criterion, Harper's. Podhoretz has a complicated and potentially justifiable quarrel with contemporary criticism and with liberal politics--for their refusing to engage with moral issues and for fostering the kind of detente made possible only by indifference to genuine ""difference."" But, as the circular glibness of such famous essays as ""If Orwell Were Alive Today"" (reprinted here) shows, the journalistic essay is far too slippery and rhetoric-prone a form--at least in Podhoretz's hands--for the responsible exposition of real ideas. Picking out of the context of Orwell's life a few things that Podhoretz admires (his patriotism, his ""streak of populism,"" his criticism of British socialism and of wartime pacifists), Podhoretz lays claim to Orwell as a misfit among socialists who would eventually have seen the light of neoconservatism. In other words, if Orwell were alive today, he would be Norman Podhoretz. The argument for a ""conservative"" Orwell ignores historical context and many statements by Orwell himself; and Podhoretz's disregard for individual context, or for any obstacles in the way of his generalizations, is what drains these essays of power, leaving them only as slogan-filled sermons for the already converted. (The book is an alternate selection of the Conservative Book Club.) The best essay here focuses more specifically, and has real charm. It's an acidulous portrait of the dictatorial F.R. Leavis, with whom Podhoretz studied for several years at Cambridge University during the early 1950's, when Leavis' reputation was at its height. This excellent pastiche of reminiscence and evaluation marks a high point in a volume otherwise notable only for what looks like a desperate search for allies--from the improbable (Camus) to the even-more-improbable (post-detente Kissinger).

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster