riage was stormy and painful, with
ing with Rosenfeld’s boyhood friend
and rival writer, Saul Bellow, though considerable infidelity on the part of Academic
both spouses that Zipperstein has un-
very little in “King Solomon” justifies
such an interpretation beyond a slight covered. As a portrait of an intellectual Jargon and
driven by passions and ideas, Rosen-
similarity in given names. There was,
after all, a Biblical King Saul, who might feld’s Lives is as complete as anyone Neologisms
have inspired a more direct link had Ro- could demand.
senfeld chosen to make it. In fact, if this book is not 100 per cent Nice Work If You Can
Given the skeletal character of his satisfactory, the reason is the impossibil- Get It: Life and Labor
achievement and the consequent effect ity of knowing exactly what caused Ro- in Precarious Times
upon his reputation, it is not surpris- senfeld’s flame-out, what doomed him to By Andrew Ross
ing that the Rosenfeld work some ad- so brief a moment of literary fame. He New York University.
mirers know best was never published was a bohemian as well as a professor, an 264 pp. $27.95.
but circulated as if it were samizdat. “underground man” as well as an editor.
Around 1937 he and Bellow produced Yet the heart attack that felled him at the
a parody, in Yiddish, of T.S. Eliot’s age of 38 was not evidently due to bad
Distinguished professor emeritus
canonical poem, The Love Song of J. choices of lifestyle.
of history and sociology,
Alfred Prufrock. It is very doubtful Unlike so many major American
that the collaborators who devised Der writers (from Edgar Allan Poe down
shir hashirim fun Mendl Pumshtok to Eugene O’Neill, Fitzgerald, Sinclair T IS ODD that Andrew Ross, who chairs
were animated by a need to deflate a
poet accused of anti-Semitism (which
Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, and Faulk-
ner), Rosenfeld was not a heavy drinker.
I the Department of Social and Cultural
Analysis at New York University, chose
is entirely absent in Prufrock). Zipper- Unlike the poet Delmore Schwartz, a as the title of his new book virtually the
stein notes that the Yiddish language contemporary and friend who similar- same one that a fellow Brit, novelist and
is famous for its mockery of man- ly displayed and then betrayed a spec- literary critic David Lodge, used two dec-
darin gentility. But equally salient is tacular promise, there was no descent ades earlier for a satire of the links be-
the marginality and obscurity (except into mental illness. The writer’s block tween industry and academia in Margaret
as an inside joke) of the parody it- Rosenfeld suffered seems not to have Thatcher’s Great Britain. Odder yet is
self. Rosenfeld would not live to wit- been caused by the shock of bad notic- Ross’ examining the same aspects of late
ness—much less contribute to—Jewish es or the pressure of grinding poverty. modern capitalism that Lodge had dis-
literature as deeply entwined in Amer- He lived for writing. And though in- sected with a lighter touch and a finer
ican culture. It would take another spiration never entirely failed him (as it sense of the English language.
half century of an evolving Ameri- did for Henry Roth for close to half Regular readers are likely to be put off
can philo-Semitism before a title like a century), Rosenfeld’s muse came in by this book’s academic jargon and neol-
Chutzpah (1991) could top the best- spurts, leaving behind plenty of unfin- ogisms common to cultural studies. So-
seller lists. ished drafts and tantalizingly short- cial scientists are bound to object to its
NEVITABLY one wonders whether so analyzing the contradictions of contem-
I thin a legacy merits the attention Zip-
perstein has lavished upon his subject.