19 may. 2011

Beats or New York Intellectuals?

The New York intellectuals were disillusioned leftists, mostly. They liked modernism in literature and Trotsky in politics, and founded the Partisan Review and later The New York Review of Books. A lot of American intellectual life stems from them, and when many turned rightward they became the neocons. Saul Bellow and other University of Chicago people were like the Chicago branch New York Intellectuals. Bellow wrote a novel about Delmore Schwartz, for example, a poet associated with the New York I's.

The Beats and New York poets, along with the Black Mountain poets like Olson and Creeley, came up in the 1950s and were largely at odds with the NY Intellectuals. Think of what Lionel Trilling thought about Allen Ginsberg and you get an idea of what I mean.

The New York Intellectuals weren't really down with the 60s, the new left and the drug / rock and roll / identity politics / alternate spirituality / antiwar culture. History really left them behind in some ways. The 60s, culturally, was the sociological explosion of what had been a minority culture in the 1950s. Young hipsters or hepcats who dug jazz and got high. That's why they called them "hippies" in the 60s.

These two sides still exist on the left. In this comment thread we see Michael Berubé arguing for the cultural side against George Scialabba. I'm not saying that the debate now is about the same thing, exactly, but it is really a conflict, not between culture and economics, but between two cultures. One rooted in the 60s and all of that, and another in a more European, ascetic tradition.

2 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

Scialabba is a favorite at Crooked Timber -- they did a book event on his collection. I read it too (though my copy came too late for me to comment on that "seminar"), and found it stuffy and dour. Not that I recall serious substantive disagreements, but he doesn't write with the fluency of the New York I's (not to speak of the energy of the Beats). The genealogy seems apt enough, though.

Jonathan dijo...

I remember that book event. I like George S.'s wriiting, but he is not an intellectual heavyweight, and I tend to agree more with Bérubé.