Speaking Across Generations

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					   Speaking                                         With a passion for knowledge as if it
                                                 were a substitute for religious redemp-
                                                                                                  An acute political sensitivity endows
                                                                                              Rosenfeld’s literary criticism with a re-
                                                 tion, with an exuberant flair for cultivat-  verberating power that can still be felt.
    Across                                       ing ideas as though nothing else mattered
                                                 more, with an obvious dose of feckless-
                                                                                              But a fascination with the crackpot
                                                                                              theories of Wilhelm Reich, as well as a
  Generations                                    ness in dealing with the practicalities
                                                 of ordinary life, and with a pathetic
                                                                                              compelling need to reconcile the ten-
                                                                                              sions between mind and body, may have
      Rosenfeld’s Lives:                         underestimation of the treachery and         distracted him from exploring connec-
    Fame, Oblivion, and the                      complexity of the emotions that love         tions between politics and aesthetics.
       Furies of Writing                         and lust and friendship can generate, Ro-    Whatever the case, just a decade af-
        By Steven J. Zipperstein                 senfeld might have stepped out of the        ter the publication of his only novel he
                 Yale.                           pages of Fyodor Dostoyevsky or off           was dead.
                                                 the stages of Anton Chekhov. In Tsarist            ERE IS A TALLY of Rosenfeld’s oeu-
           274 pp. $27.50.
             Reviewed by
                                                 Russia, with its corrosive constraints
                                                 upon any effort to make something of
                                                                                               H    vre: One sustained work of fiction,
                                                                                              Passage from Home (1946), devoted to
       Stephen J. Whitfield                      oneself, the stunted promise of Rosen-       the poignancy of growing up and the
   Professor of American Studies,                feld’s career would have been pretty close   urgency of getting out (which in the opin-
        Brandeis University                      to normal. In America, so fragile and        ion of this reviewer is inert). One posthu-
                                                 elusive a literary achievement consti-       mous collection of essays and reviews,
    AILURE is not an option. The Ameri-          tutes the mystery Zipperstein’s book         An Age of Enormity (1962), that is of a
F     can ethos is geared toward celebrat-
ing winners rather than pitying losers.
                                                 seeks to clarify.
                                                    Being born in Chicago did not dis-
                                                                                              very high order of cultural and moral
                                                                                              illumination and argumentative force.
The nation defines itself as a success story,    qualify Rosenfeld from membership            In addition, Mark Shechner has conve-
with millions of immigrants and refu-            in the cohort of New York intellectu-        niently put together Preserving the Hun-
gees clamoring to get in, to join the de-        als. At the age of 14 his first short story, ger: An Isaac Rosenfeld Reader (1988),
scendants of those who fled poverty and          “A Rich Boy’s Autobiography,” written        where you can get a fair sampling of
misery and persecution in earlier cen-           in Yiddish, was published in the year-       his output.
turies.                                          book of his graduating class at a                 Two short stories included in Pre-
    Several of our greatest novelists have       Sholom Aleichem school. The                               serving the Hunger deserve
punctured the myth of success by hav-            Great Depression ensured that                               special praise. One, “The
ing protagonists rise to the top, only to        he would become a man of                                     Misfortunes of the Flap-
taste moral defeat and even violent death        the Left who fiercely adopt-                                  jacks” (1947), portrays
(F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gats-           ed stances of dissidence                                       an exceptionally hapless
by, William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absa-            he would never abandon.                                         baseball team made up
lom!). Even when the price of upward             The extermination of                                             of “a bunch of stum-
mobility is merely loneliness (Abraham           European Jewry made      
				
DOCUMENT INFO
Description: With a passion for knowledge as if it were a substitute for religious redemption, with an exuberant flair for cultivating ideas as though nothing else mattered more, with an obvious dose of fecklessness in dealing with the practicalities of ordinary life, and with a pathetic underestimation of the treachery and complexity of the emotions that love and lust and friendship can generate, Rosenfeld might have stepped out of the pages of Fyodor Dostoyevsky or off the stages of Anton Chekhov. [...] if this book is not 100 per cent satisfactory, the reason is the impossibility of knowing exactly what caused Rosenfeld's flame-out, what doomed him to so brief a moment of literary fame.
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