Never have the New York intellectuals received a full-scale, critical history. Now Harvey Teres brings to life this vibrant world from the 1930s to the present, drawing pointed lessons for progressive politics today. From Morris Dickstein to Norman Podhoretz, from Irving Howe to Jack Kerouac (whose protagonist in On the Road, Sal Paradise, flees "the tedious intellectualness" of the city), writers of all varieties have blossomed under or strained against New York's left-wing intellectual culture. Teres is the first to bring scrutiny to this hothouse of intellectual controversy.
In Renewing the Left, Teres illuminates the work and legacy of New York's leading intellectuals, beginning with the founding of the influential Partisan Review before World War II. He first looks at William Phillips and Philip Rahv, the founders and chief editors of the Review, and shows how they laid the groundwork for a revitalized Marxist criticism, one that rejected the dogmatism of the Communist Party, stressing instead the freedom of the intellectual and the
"“An astonishing achievement. Teres is adept at writing literary criticism, telling the stories of literary history, negotiating the thickets of literary theory, and—most rare—keeping in mind the actual lives of working men and women. This is one of the few books that everyone who cares about the fate of American culture should read.”
-James Longenbach, University of Rochester"
importance of literary criticism. In so doing, they transformed radical left-wing criticism into a new approach to literary texts and culture, appropriating much of the early criticism of T.S. Eliot. Teres carries the discussion from the late 1930s through the 1940s, as such critics as Rahv, Lionel Trilling, and F.W. Dupee absorbed modernism to renew the American left on both cultural and political fronts. From poet Wallace Stevens to critic Dwight Macdonald, New York intellectuals led an almost prescient critique of doctrinaire Marxism, stressing the essential role of the imagination. But Renewing the Left is no paean to radical champions of the past: Teres explores the inability of these critics to keep up with changes in popular culture. New York radical circles, moreover, failed to recognize postwar writing by women and African Americans, and they launched defensive attacks on the Beats and the counterculture of the 1960s. The author also offers a revealing look at the strengths and weaknesses of the New Yorkers' hostile reception of postmodernism--a term they themselves invented. He winds up with a challenging new assessment of Lionel Trilling, often considered a conservative critic, who strove nonetheless to humanize radical politics.
New York intellectuals have transformed progressive politics and American culture in general--though they have often been depoliticized by their conservative admirers. In this seminal work, Teres returns these writers and critics to their radical context, drawing lessons on the role intellectuals can play in renewing the leftist movement. Renewing the Left is both a scholar's scrutiny of history and a radical's call to action.