The New York Public Intellectuals and Beyond
Exploring Liberal Humanism, Jewish Identity, and the American Protest Tradition
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Purdue University Press
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Special thanks to Susanne Klingenstein for her many useful suggestions and extensive editing help. It is doubtful that this volume would have been completed without her. Thanks also to Morris Dickstein, Ilan Stavans, and John Rodden for their commitment to and help with this project ...
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Matthew Abraham is an assistant professor of writing, rhetoric, and discourse at DePaul University in Chicago. His work has appeared in Cultural Critique, the Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, the Journal of Advanced Composition, College Composition and Communication, Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, and Postmodern Culture. He is currently completing a book ...
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In 1992, with dictatorships of the left and right crumbling worldwide, Francis Fukuyama suggested the end of history as it had been known. In a unipolar world, with no countervailing ideology, liberal democracy would continue its spread. Contradicting the pessimism derived from hot and cold wars earlier in the century, and contradicting relativist views of history, Fukuyama claimed that ...
A Note on Organization
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The book is organized into two sections. The first, “Th e New York Intellectuals,” is a reflection upon, and a reconsideration of, many of the core Jewish public intellectuals from the 1920s through the 1950s. Written by intellectuals involved with this group, their students, and major scholars of the New York Intellectuals, this section also includes some discussion of their direct influences....
The New York Intellectuals
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“A Profoundly Hegemonic Moment”: Demythologizing the Cold War New York Jewish Intellectuals
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Historians of intellectual life in twentieth-century America have largely been content to write within the constraints imposed by the New York Jewish intellectuals’ memories of their own lives. In recent decades, most notably the 1980s, autobiographies and memoirs proliferated, forming what Richard King called a “flood,” as those Jewish intellectuals who came to prominence during the for-...
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This essay is an off shoot of a memoir I recently published with the title Confessions of a Secular Jew. Here is a confession that I did not make in the memoir: the title was an afterthought. I did not set out to write about being a secular Jew—as if it were a phenomenon as definable as being an Orthodox or Conservative or even Reform Jew. We know what a secular Jew is not, a religious Jew. We might ...
Eating Kosher Ivy: Jews as Literary Intellectuals
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In this essay I shall consider the place of the Jewish literary intellectual, the diaspora of Jewish public intellectuals from New York urban culture to the American universities, and the consequent transformation of public intellectuals into literary intellectuals. Writing from a personal perspective and suspecting that some of my memories—like the memories of all of us—are distorted by time and by ...
Jewish Intellectuals and the “Deep Place of the Imagination”
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Have American Jewish intellectuals penetrated to the “deep places of imagination”? What? What kind of question is that? What are these “deep places,” and why should intellectuals, Jewish or otherwise, wish to get to them? The terms I use are in quotation marks. Who first used them and in what connection? Why deep places rather than high places? After all, Shelley, a great intellectual as well ...
Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey and the Complicated Origins of the Neoconservative Movement
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Elliot Cohen’s mission statement for Commentary, published in the magazine’s first issue, was titled “An Act of Affirmation.” Writing in November 1945, Cohen betrayed an acute consciousness of the Holocaust and an attendant optimism about America, the best hope for a Jewish people devastated by European carnage. He betrayed as well a longing for an end to diaspora. Cohen celebrated ...
Memorial for a Revolutionist: Dwight Macdonald, “A Critical American”
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Unlike his friend and intellectual contemporary Lionel Trilling, whose centenary in 2005 was commemorated widely in the U.S.—via national academic conferences as well as articles in the New York Times and the leading intellectual magazines—Dwight Macdonald’s centennial went largely unnoticed.¹ Nonetheless, Macdonald was during the middle decades of the twentieth century “Our ...
Irving Howe Triple Thinker
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Irving Howe (1920–1993) was a vocal radical humanist and the most influential American socialist intellectual of his generation. Howe was also, in my view, the last major American public intellectual—certainly the last of the Old Left . Not only was he prolific—he wrote eighteen books, edited twenty-five more, penned dozens of articles and reviews, and edited Dissent for forty years—but he was ...
Mark Krupnick and Lionel Trilling: Anxiety and Influence
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Mark Krupnick was sixty-four years old when he died of ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in March 2003. Popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a neuro-degenerative illness that attacks the voluntary muscles and is always fatal. Mark had known that he was fatally ill for two years, and during that time, under the increasing difficulty of declining physical powers, he had devoted himself to ...
Introduction to the Forum
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For this forum, we invited leading public intellectuals to share their answers to four key questions about the history, influence, and current status of Jewish American public intellectuals. We were pleased when Morris Dickstein, Nathan Glazer, Peter Novick, and Alan Wolfe agreed to participate. We gave participants considerable latitude in their answers; they could choose to answer each question ...
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What (Do?) a Transcendentalist, an Abolitionist-Women’s Rights Activist,and a Race Man Have to Do with the New York Intellectuals?
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Like many of the thinkers and writers featured in the Beyond section of this volume, the three figures whose work I address here—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frances E.W. Harper, and W.E.B. Du Bois—may not seem directly relevant to study of the New York Intellectuals. Indeed, all the essays in this section offer some response, direct or indirect, to the perception of such a disconnect. Yet ...
The Coming of Age of a Jewish Female Intellectual: Anzia Yezierska’s Red Ribbon on a White Horse
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At first glance, 1920s Jewish American writer Anzia Yezierska hardly seems to fit the category of the “public intellectual,” a term often used today to refer to the New York Intellectual coterie of the early to mid-twentieth century. Although like the older generation of the New York Intellectuals who came of age during the 1920s and 1930s Yezierska was a Jewish American of immigrant origins, her ...
The (Not So) New Black Public Intellectuals,from the Nineties to the Oughts
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In the fin de siecle of the 1990s, which now seems a strange and naïve interlude between violent global struggles, questions of ethnic, racial, and national status dominated. In American academia, the culture wars—insignificant as they might seem against the cold war and the war on terror—continued a long drama still undecided. Two of the key groups in this drama—blacks and Jews—found them-...
Simply Said: Edward Said and the New York Intellectual Tradition
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In an interview in the summer of 2000, where they were discussing the 1947– 1948 Palestinian dispossession at the hands of the yet-to-be-formed Israeli Defense Forces of the Haganah and the IZL (Irgun), Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit and the famed cultural critic Edward Said reflected on the possibilities of an Israeli- Palestinian binational state, something Said had advocated on behalf of for quite ...
Feminist (and “Womanist”) as Public Intellectuals?
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Creative writers have functioned as public intellectuals at least since the Bible or, less controversially, since Euripedes’ Lysistrata featured women’s first sex strike for peace. Fiction is among the most effective whistle-blowers, drawing society’s attention to its evils in the hope of effecting tikkun olam, or “healing the world.” Indeed, Toni Morrison, discussing the aptitude of the imagination to elucidate ...
Town Whores into Warmongers: The Ascent of the Neoconservatives and the Revival of Anti-Jewish Rhetoric in American Public Discourse, 1986–2006
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In October 1988, a short month before the election that would transfer power from an ever-optimistic Ronald Reagan to a thin-lipped, parsimonious George Herbert Walker Bush and bring about the neoconservatives’ first fall from grace, Russell Kirk, author of The Conservative Mind (1953),¹ a founding text of postwar American conservatism, gave a lecture at the Heritage Foundation, a ...
Nostalgia and Recognition: Ilan Stavans and Morris Dickstein in Conversation
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The setting for the following conversation was the Eldridge Street Synagogue in Lower Manhattan, the first great house of worship built by Eastern European Jews in the United States. This National Historic Landmark has become a cornerstone of Jewish renewal. As Jews moved out to the suburbs and beyond, Asians and Latinos settled into the Lower East Side neighborhood. The synagogue was forgotten for ...
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The New York Intellectuals were one institution emblematic of what we can call the modern public intellectual. Not quite global, their diasporic, urban status certainly made them cosmopolitan and international in outlook. As Percival Good-man put it, “the Jew is not somebody from Judea, not anymore. Two thousand years have made the Jew an international being. That’s what he must realize.”¹ ...
Questions for Discussion
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What distinguishes a public intellectual from other kinds of intellectuals? What distinguishes a public intellectual from a journalist or pundit? Who are some of today’s public intellectuals? Who are merely television and/or What are some different kinds of public intellectuals? What social and political functions do they perform? Why were the New York Intellectuals a predominantly Jewish group? Is it some-...
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Page Count: 350
Publication Year: 2009
Series Title: Shofar Supplements in Jewish Studies
Series Editor Byline: Zev Garber