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.
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