Politics and the Intellectual
Conversations with Irving Howe
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Purdue University Press
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This book brings to life Irving Howe (1920-93), the indefatigable radical intellectual and editor of Dissent who helped shape the history of the postwar American Left. Focusing on his evolving thought around his trio of loves—Socialism, literature, and Judaica—during his late career, this collection of interviews spans the last seventeen years of Howe’s life. The volume addresses ...
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The impetus for this book emerged more than a quarter century ago, when I first met and interviewed Irving Howe. My first thanks thus go to him, an exemplary elder representing so much of the best from the ever receding world of my intellectual fathers. More immediately, I am grateful to Nina Howe, who not only wrote the Afterword but also gave me photos of her father and the Howe family ...
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1920 Irving Arthur Horenstein, who later adopted the name Irving Howe (IH) is born on June 11, at 139th Street in the Bronx, New York City, a Yiddish-speaking 1922 IH’s father and mother, both of whom were born in Russia, are naturalized 1930 The family’s grocery store in the West Bronx goes bankrupt. David Horenstein works as a peddler and later as a presser in a dress factory....
Introduction: Affirming Dissent, or Irving Howe in His Interviews
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Irving Howe’s intellectual autobiography, A Margin of Hope (1982), closes as the 1980s open, the so-called dawn of Reaganism and the political ascendancy of the American Right, an era in which U.S. radicalism arguably reached its nadir. Despite Howe’s success as an author, editor, literary critic, social commentator, public intellectual, and radical activist, his political life as a Socialist tribune was ...
1: William Novak, “The Lost Worlds of Our Fathers and of Yiddish Literature,” Moment, March 1976, 24-27.
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World of Our Fathers (1976) marked the culmination of a long evolution in Howe’s career, from a Trotskyist who fervently supported an international Socialism that eclipsed his own Jewish background to a literary intellectual and pioneering scholar of Yiddishkeit, the culture of Yiddish-speaking East European Jews, whose upbringing and history were integral to Howe’s identity. Although...
2: Sol Stern, “Israel, American Jews, and the Peace Now Camp,” Jerusalem Post Weekly, 24 August 1976.
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Of all the interviews in this volume, this one most prominently addresses Howe’s relationship to the Jewish community. It occurred at the pinnacle of Howe’s popularity, due to the success of World of Our Fathers. The book had actually reached number seven on The New York Times bestseller list and earned Howe a 1977 National Book Award. Yet Howe’s support for the Israeli Left, particularly...
3: Sandra Greenberg, “Fiction, Society, and the Literary Critic," Book Forum: An International Transdisciplinary Quarterly, 1981, 534-40.
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The interviews in this volume showcase Irving Howe as a “triple thinker” devoted to the three “loves” of his intellectual life—Socialism, literary criticism, and Yiddish culture—a triad captured in the title of Edward Alexander’s biography, Irving Howe: Socialist, Critic, Jew (1998).1 Unlike the political bent of the first two interviews in this book, this interview with Sandra Greenberg, at the...
4: Maurice Isserman. “Dissent in the Fifties and Sixties,” 24 January 1982;21 October 1982.
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Maurice Isserman, noted for his revisionist views of the Communist Party, conducted this pair of unpublished interviews to collect material for an intellectual history of twentieth-century American radicalism, If I Had a Hammer . . . The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (1987). Born in 1951, Isserman’s formative years coincided with the radicalism of the Civil Rights Movement and...
5: Grace Schulman “A Margin of Hope at the 92nd Street Y,” 7 November1983.
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In this sprawling, previously unpublished interview, conducted by the poet Grace Schulman at New York’s 92nd Street YMCA, Howe gets to play before a homecourt crowd, for whom he is reading and commenting on his intellectual autobiography, A Margin of Hope, published in November 1982. In 1983, although still riding the wave of bestseller success with World of Our Fathers, Howe was...
6: Stephen Lewis, “From the Thirties to the Rise of Neoconservatism:Politics and Intellectual Life Across a Half-Century,” Radio Interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, December 1983.
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Conducted under the auspices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, this previously unpublished interview evinces Howe’s prominence outside the U.S., showing how the writing of a public intellectual exerts influence in unexpected places and ways. Howe might have seemed an unlikely subject for a lengthy broadcast in Toronto for an audience presumably unfamiliar with the Jewish...
7: Editorial Board of The New York Times, “Howe and Harrington on the Future of Democratic Socialism Beyond the Reagan Era,” New York Times Magazine, 17 June 1984, 24.
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In this dialogue, America’s two preeminent Socialists of what could be called the “post-Socialist era” discuss the prospects of a radical rebirth in the late twentieth century. Although Howe was the more prolific and visible public intellectual, Michael Harrington (1928-1989) was far more influential as an organizer and lecturer, doing the hands-on work of keeping American Socialism alive...
8: John Rodden, “A ‘Partisan’ View of Orwell,” October 1983 and April 1987.
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This hitherto unpublished interview highlights Howe’s relationship with the writer who probably meant most to him both as a literary model and a political guide, George Orwell (1903-1950). John Rodden, who has written extensively on both Orwell and Howe, conducted this interview in preparation for The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Making and Claiming of “St. George” Orwell, a chapter...
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Irving and Nina, Greece, ca. 1958, Irving, Nick, and Nina, New England seaport, ca. 1957, Irving and Nick playing baseball, Belmont, ca. 1959, Irving, Belmont, ca. 1959, Irving in his office in the English Department, Stanford University, ca. 1962. Irving, visiting the home of his daughter Nina and son-in-law Bill Bukowski, ...
9: Todd Gitlin, “Looking Back on the New Left and the Counterculture,” 15 April 1985.
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Todd Gitlin was one of the New Left leaders with whom Howe and the rest of the Dissent circle tangled in a contentious 1963 meeting with the leaders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Intended to promote a dialogue between the Old Left and New Left, the meeting quickly degenerated into a confrontation...
10: Neil Jumonville, “Socialism, Communism, and the New York Intellectuals,” 6 June 1985.
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This unpublished interview was conducted by Neil Jumonville while he was still a graduate student gathering material for his dissertation, which would become his first book, Critical Crossings: The New York Intellectuals in Postwar America (1991). Jumonville had taken an indirect route toward his academic career, working a series of manual jobs and traveling around the U.S. and Europe...
11: Susanne Klingenstein, “Thoughts on Jewish Intellectual Life and the American Academy,” 12 December 1988.
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Susanne Klingenstein came to America from Germany in the fall of 1987 to do graduate work in American studies at Harvard University. Observing that in contrast to most European countries, where the academic teaching of the national literatures had been and continued to be the domain of a fairly homogenous group of native-born (usually male) scholars, the faculty in America teaching the
12: Irving Howe, “The First 35 Years Were the Hardest: Interview with Myself,” Dissent, Spring 1989.
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Howe is pensive in this interview with his toughest critic, an alter ego who homes in on his anxieties, albeit in a way that allows him to explain himself. The conversation is in the form of an “auto-critique,” the only such chapter in the book. It sums up the history of thirty-five years of work on a magazine to which Howe devoted at least two days per week throughout those decades...
13: William Cain, “The Making of a Modern Critic,” American Literary History, Fall 1989.
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Although Irving Howe’s first love was the European novel, he wrote pioneering works on Anderson, Faulkner, and Emerson, among others. Through these major works and numerous essays devoted to American authors or literary themes, Howe exerted significant influence on the emergence and shape of the field of American Studies across four decades, from the 1950s until his death in 1993...
14: Jim Holt, “‘Howe Now’ on Politics, Art, and the Critic,” Thesis: The Magazine of the Graduate School and University Center, Fall 1990.
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This is the most theoretically oriented interview in the book, reflected in its appearance in an academic journal concerned with conceptual issues that bear on politics and economics. Howe uses the historical moment to congratulate the anti-Stalinist Left, which he believed had been vindicated for decades of fierce and unrelenting opposition to Stalinism and Communism. Yet he also worries...
15: Robert Negin, “Fraternal Dissents on Max Shachtman and American Trotskyism,” November 1990.
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Doubtless because he and Negin shared a similar trajectory, Howe felt comfortable in this previously unpublished interview discussing both Socialism’s erratic, problematic history and his own complicated relationship with Max Shachtman. Like Howe, who became a Socialist at age fourteen, Negin joined the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) in 1938, at the age of eighteen...
16: Maurice Isserman, “’My Recollections of Mike’: Harrington the Thinker and Socialist Activist,” 26 March 1991.
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Maurice Isserman conducted this previously unpublished interview in the course of his research for The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington (2000). Howe reprises here the recent history of American radicalism, with a different emphasis from that in Robert Negin’s interview; largely ignoring Shachtman, he concentrates on the most significant leaders of a wider American Socialist...
17: Joseph Dorman, “Irving Howe, New York Intellectual,” Selections from interview conducted in 1993 and published in Arguing the World (New York: The Free Press, 2000).
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This interview, compiled from Joseph Dorman’s 1998 documentary film, Arguing the World (and reprinted in the 2000 book of the same name), contextualizes Howe’s thought among and in opposition to certain prominent fellow New York Intellectuals of his generation and subsequently. Dorman, who was born in a Detroit suburb in 1958, had been senior producer for the Public Broadcasting...
Postscript: Interview with Robert Silvers on the Death of Irving Howe, CBC Radio,“As It Happens,” May 5, 1993.
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Irving Howe died on the morning of May 5, 1993, at Mount Sinai Hospital, at the age of 72. The death, of cardiovascular disease, came after a sudden collapse at home. Ironically, this occurred during the early days of the Clinton administration, a time of new hope for a qualified form of liberalism, although not for democratic Socialism...
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Reading this set of interviews with my father, Irving Howe, which have been so kindly and thoughtfully collected and organized by John Rodden and Ethan Goffman, gave me much happiness and, inevitably, some sadness. Hearing my father’s voice again, especially the cadence and tone of his public voice as he spoke with such strength and clarity on the wide range of topics that interested him...
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Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: Shofar Supplements in Jewish Studies
Series Editor Byline: Zev Garber