The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s

The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s

The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s

The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s

Synopsis

For a generation, Alan M. Wald's The New York Intellectuals has stood as the authoritative account of an often misunderstood chapter in the history of a celebrated tradition among literary radicals in the United States. His passionate investigation of over half a century of dissident Marxist thought, Jewish internationalism, fervent political activism, and the complex art of the literary imagination is enriched by more than one hundred personal interviews, unparalleled primary research, and critical interpretations of novels and short stories depicting the inner lives of committed writers and thinkers. Wald's commanding biographical portraits of rebel outsiders who mostly became insiders retains its resonance today and includes commentary on Max Eastman, Elliot Cohen, Lionel Trilling, Sidney Hook, Tess Slesinger, Philip Rahv, Mary McCarthy, James T. Farrell, Irving Kristol, Irving Howe, Hannah Arendt, and more. With a new preface by the author that tracks the rebounding influence of these intellectuals in the era of Occupy and Bernie Sanders, this anniversary edition shows that the trajectory and ideological ordeals of the New York intellectual Left still matters today.

Excerpt

After thirty years, the history of the New York intellectuals has come back to visit in a curiously unforeseen manner. Our contemporary cultural landscape has become a magnet for refracted and contradictory appropriations of ideas and experiences from this older politicocultural tradition. the events of the past feel as if they have been shot forward, bounced off accounts written up in later decades, and then seized by writers and intellectuals of the present as pertinent to our own time. Inexplicably, the emerging America of terror, tweets, and Trump has become a strange new homeland for the famous circle that began as old-fashioned “committed writers,” one that evolved from the Great Depression to the New Left, blew apart during the backlash against the 1960s, and finally attained an afterlife in which assorted narratives were assembled. What is the reason for our choosing to absorb elements of this considerably concocted past in the various ways that we are?

Even more startling, these incoming references and invocations are embraced by intellectuals who crisscross the political, cultural, and generational spectrum of the present. the New Yorker and the New York Review Books, periodicals of the mainstream liberal intelligentsia, serve as the primary memory industry for the fabled group. in their pages, Louis Menand and Edward Mendelson have produced a steady stream of retrospectives about canonical figures such as Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, and Edmund Wilson. Reprints of collections of their classic essays and books have appeared in tandem with these publications.

Yet the topic is equally the obsession of deradicalized or deradicalizing literati of the moment, several of whom are chastened veterans of the 1960s student Left, such as Paul Berman and Mitchell Cohen. They uphold aspects of this earlier political history, some-

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