Irving Howe and the Critics: Celebrations and Attacks

Irving Howe and the Critics: Celebrations and Attacks

Irving Howe and the Critics: Celebrations and Attacks

Irving Howe and the Critics: Celebrations and Attacks

Synopsis

Irving Howe and the Criticsis a selection of essays and reviews about the work of Irving Howe (1920–93), a vocal radical humanist and the most influential American socialist intellectual of his generation. Howe authored eighteen books, edited twenty-five more, wrote dozens of articles and reviews, and edited the magazineDissentfor forty years after founding it. His writings cover subjects ranging from U. S. labor to the vicissitudes of American communism and socialism to Yiddishkeit and contemporary politics. His bookWorld of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Madereceived the National Book Award for Nonfiction. John Rodden has chosen essays and reviews that focus on Howe's major works and on the disputes they generated. He features both Dissent contributors and those who have dissented from the Dissenters- on the Right as well as the Left. Rodden includes a few stern assessments of Howe from his less sympathetic critics, testifying not only to the range of response- from admiration to hostility- that his work received but also to his stature on the Left as a prime intellectual target of neoconservative fire.

Excerpt

In critical reviews and essays about my father, Irving Howe, one frequently encounters a certain neat formulation that declares he was a man who wrote about what he lived and knew. He grew up with Yiddish as his first language, so inevitably he edited many volumes of translations from that language and then wrote World of Our Fathers; he grew up as a teenage socialist in the Bronx, so inevitably he edited Dissent and wrote books on the American Communist Party, Trotsky, and socialism in America; he entered into a world of ideas about literature around Partisan Review that was more European than American in taste, so inevitably he wrote about Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Stendhal.

For all the truth in these claims, they seem too retrospectively clever, if not indeed too convenient, in reducing the intellectual work of almost fifty years to covert autobiography. Faced with the range and quantity of his life's work, writers have tried to make sense of it all through claims of the inevitable. and there was a great deal of that work. the books alone make a considerable pile when stacked together on a desk, and there was much that he chose never to reprint in a book: reviews, political articles, op-ed pieces, letters to the editor, all of them part of a writer's daily life.

There was one aspect of the writer's life my father did not understand and could be harshly dismissive about. At the mention of “writer's block” he would scoff and say simply that writers were writers because they sat down each day and wrote just as other people went to work each day. That routine was how one learned to write well. Certainly not every piece was for the ages, nor was everything even to be published, and anything (he would always add) could be improved if it were run through another draft and cut by at least 10 percent. But the act of writing, day in and day out, mattered to him in ways that breathing and eating matter to other people. That . . .

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