ESSAYS ON LITERATURE AND POLITICS, 1932-1972 by Philip Rahv

ESSAYS ON LITERATURE AND POLITICS, 1932-1972

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Founding co-editor of the Partisan Review from 1934 to 1970--thus, as they say, a force--Rahv had a hand in shaping the alignment of our literary society that still obtains today. His own criticism, here collected in one volume, gives clear access to his strengths and deficiencies, usually two sides of the same coin: an absolute, European-tradition fealty to Ideas and political un-illusion, as well as a quasi-Marxist dogmatism and agnosticism sourly contemptuous of other modes of thought. The famous dichotomy between ""palefaces"" and ""redskins"" in American literature is here; also well-written arguments for the belief that American writing is too in love with the texture of the real and not enough with ""life's intrinsic worth and destiny"" (""The intellectual is the only character missing in the American novel""). Dostoevsky is more to Rahv's taste--four long pensive, occasionally boggy essays on the brooding Russian are included; and one on Tolstoy that's pellucid. Rahv's political excursions range from a puerile Bolshevist attack on Tender Is the Night done in 1934, to a later, judicious assessment of Whittaker Chambers; a clear-eyed, sympathetic discussion of Trotsky; a denunciation of ex-Marxist McCarthyites; and a rather flea-bitten mutter about the New Left. The political pieces, resolutely anti-Stalinist after an early naivetÉ, remain perhaps more his lasting testament than the literary criticism; fashions in history never obscure his revulsion to state terror. The volume, of manifest documentary value, is outfitted with an introduction, brief and fond, by Mary McCarthy.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin