Thursday, April 17, 2003

There's no hint of it yet at the magazine's website, but the Partisan Review has announced this week that its current issue will be the last--see stories in the NY Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, & Slate ("it is either a supreme irony or a hilarious coincidence that the greatest of all Trotskyist publications should have announced its demise at the very moment that a belated species of Trotskyism has at last established itself in the White House"!).

(Partisan's heyday is long past, but the U.W.I. library still subscribed to it while I was an undergraduate at St. Augustine some years ago, & there were bound volumes of back issues sitting in the stacks. My university education consisted primarily of reading a great many books not on my course reading-lists, to which end I spent the better part of my campus career holed up on the third floor of the main library. I read every new issue of the Partisan Review almost cover to cover in those days, which perhaps gave me a skewed idea of its continuing cultural relevance. Of course, by then it was already a relic of what seemed a more vital, more serious, more bracing time. Its private significance to me was that it seemed to provide a tangible connection to that time.)


By coincidence, I have just this evening been reading Heidi Julavits's essay on book-reviewing in the first issue of the new Believer (the latest product of the Eggers publishing empire), which in this passage nicely summarises one aspect of the significance of the Partisan Review back in the 1940s & 50s:

Yes, we've had our Vendlers, our Sontags, our Updikes, and our Ozicks, but no one critical group is as mythically representative of a golden age as the "New York Intellectuals", among whom the most famous was probably Lionel Trilling and the most infamous Norman Podhoretz. During the WWII era in which most of these writers emerged, literary criticism was inextricable from cultural criticism, and thus reviews functioned as moral, philosophical and political explorations for society at large, inspired by this or that book. Trilling, by far the most mannerly member of the NYI, was the first to coin the term "cultural criticism", and he believed--it sounds adorably giddy nowadays, or reprehensibly bourgeois ... that "intelligence was connected with literature, and that it was advanced by literature."

(The Partisan Review of course was the chief house-organ of the so-called New York Intellectuals.)

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