Literary Integrity and Political Action: The Public Argument of James T. Farrell

Literary Integrity and Political Action: The Public Argument of James T. Farrell

Literary Integrity and Political Action: The Public Argument of James T. Farrell

Literary Integrity and Political Action: The Public Argument of James T. Farrell

Excerpt

This is the story of James T. Farrell's role in the debate over the relationship between literature and politics during the 1930s, an important chapter in the story of the American Left. I have tried to write this story with three very different audiences in mind: scholars of American literary and intellectual history, scholars of the American Left, and scholars of rhetoric and communication interested in political controversy.

As we struggle to understand engaged intellectual practice at the dawn of a new century, Farrell's story has real currency. The debate and the crisis of the 1930s in which it occurred were of tremendous importance. Writers and their fellow intellectuals were forced to ask whether capitalism and the American way of life was on the verge of collapse; and whether the Bolshevik experiment offered the possibility that a workers' revolution could shape a better world. Farrell's evolution from a champion of the working class and a contributor to various Communist Party causes to a champion of literary and political independence, is not only the story of an extraordinary individual, but a window into this important and complicated intellectual moment.

I began this study from a privileged position as the wife of James T. Farrell's son. I was a student of rhetoric and public argument. I had always been interested in the history of the American Left and the debates in the 1930s over the relationship between the Communist Party and cultural practice. But my encounter with Farrell transformed my intellectual interests. He introduced me to a world where ideas really mattered, where intellectuals entered the world of practical politics because the stakes were too high to stay above the fray. His intellectual courage, his perseverance in the face of four decades of attacks on his professional reputation, and his dogged determination to retain his independence as a creative artist were remarkable. In the current academic climate where one's work is dictated by academic fashion, available grant support, or simple narcissistic careerism, Farrell's path is almost unrecognizable. As Russell Jacoby has reminded academics, we are all house intellectuals, conducting our life's work to gain tenure and . . .

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