Educated at Columbia University, where he was a pupil of Lionel Trilling, Dickstein was bred on the humanistic idea that literature is a criticism of life: important works of the imagination must report on the complexity of social experience and transcend the mere preaching of propaganda. [...] unlike his Columbia teachers and the intellectuals associated with the Partisan Review in the 1930s and '40s, including Dwight Macdonald and Clement Greenberg, Dickstein refuses to dismiss populist works that depend on broad-brush technique and heavy doses of Popular Front rhetoric about the People, Progress, and Equality.
tapositions. Still, the internal battles that David Castronovo have rocked the Catholic Church since Vatican II are not likely to vanish, even as the church’s population and attention Facing the Music shift southward. As the South becomes more influential, it will face the same hopes of his own parents. In Dancing in vexing questions bedeviling the North Dancing in the Dark the Dark, he examines some of the artistic A Cultural History of the Great and the West: How to understand the and cultural expressions of those hopes Depression human person in an increasingly diverse, and fears, and does so with compassion, Morris Dickstein materialistic, and scientifically geared W. W. Norton, $29.95, 624 pp. gusto, and fine scholarship. world? How to heed and interpret Scrip- The title of the book comes from the ture in the light of new historical under- Arthur Schwartz–Howard Dietz song of M standings, particularly concerning issues any a baby boomer was raised 1931, a lush, moody composition about not addressed in biblical times? How to on tales of the Great Depres- a couple in a ballroom—“waltzing in the incorporate the experiences and insights sion, tales of sharecroppers, wonder of why we’re here,” “looking for of women as full partners in both church breadlines, NRA parades, and sparing a the light,” and determined to “face the and society? And how to convey God’s dime for a brother in need. These often music together.” The lyric serves as a dis- gracious, salvific presence in the midst of played a bigger part in our lives than Dr. tillation of several themes in the volume: environmental, economic, intellectual, Spock. My mother, who learned about yearning and wondering about our na- political, and religious upheaval? John Steinbeck’s work from a savvy nun tional condition, being afraid of what’s Having arrived at the final chap- at a Brooklyn high school, regarded the next, keeping going. Dickstein has au- ter of this long book, some readers will depiction of the Joad family’s struggle in thored two other “decade” books—one be surprised when Allen raises an “in- The Grapes of Wrath as a moral touch- on the 1950s, another on the ’60s. He is dustrial-size caution” about all that has stone, a must-know story of human used to making big generalizations and gone before. Suddenly sounding less like dignity imperiled. Morris Dickstein, managing a large cast. Educated at Co- Thomas Friedman than like Warren Buf- Distinguished Professor of English at the lumbia University, where he was a pupil fett, Allen warns readers that “strategies CUNY Graduate Center, grew up hear- of Lionel Trilling, Dickstein was bred on premised on the assumption that the fu- ing about the Depression-era fears and the humanistic idea that literature is a ture will be like the past, only more so, generally turn out to be wrong,” and ad- mits that “the presumption that these megatrends necessarily will turn the Catholic Church upside down rests on a potentially shaky premise.” Despite that concession, one would be wrong to think the author might revise his forecasts, if
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