Our Decentralized Literature: Cultural Mediations in Selected Jewish and Southern Writers

By Jules Chametzky | Go to book overview

Five
Edward Dahlberg: The Jewish Orphan in America

Perhaps it is time to stop thinking of Edward Dahlberg as the sport of American letters, whose principal achievement would appear to be his unique style. When critics today talk about Dahlberg's style, they are usually referring to his late work, his early work more often than not being regarded as a phase he had to outgrow in order to achieve his maturity. This mature style reveals itself to best effect in Because I Was Flesh (New Directions, 1964) in a prose that is a-dazzle with rich metaphor, erudite allusions to religious and pagan mythologies, and passionate attention to the rhythms and music of his periods. To his admirers, such as Allen Tate, Dahlberg's "formal elegance" is a vital part of his achievement (I quote from the dust jacket); to others, less enchanted, this style can often seem pretentious, arbitrary, freakish--especially when it is in the service of dubious prophecy (as in Reasons of the Heart, Horizon Press, 1966) and not, as in Because I Was Flesh, a necessary illumination of a vividly concrete center.1 What I am concerned to state, or at least to suggest, in the short compass of this essay is that Dahlberg's mature style is a strategy for distancing himself from, and yet paradoxically possessing, the myth of his life, and that this

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1
Dennis Donaghue, New York Review of Books 7, 6 ( 20 October 1966): 26-27. (Review of Reasons of the Heart.)

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