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This review is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

IDENTITY QUARRELS Arthur Edelstein (ed.), Images and Ideas in American Culture: Functions of Criticism: Essays in Memory of Philip Rahv (Brandeis University Press) np
Frank Bidart, The Book of the Body (Faber) £4.50


-A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.
-By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that's so I'm a nation for I'm living in the same place for the past five years.


Philip Rahv, who came to the United States via Palestine from the Ukraine, believed that the virtue of literature was to develop 'a great quarrel within the national consciousness', a quarrel concerning the relation of individuals to their national and international destiny. Rahv's formulations of this idea in the magazine that he edited (Partisan Review) changed over the years from 1934 to his death in 1973 as his allegiance gradually shifted from communism to Zionism. However, he was always cosmopolitan in outlook, writing as well on Gogol and Kafka as on the American novel, the major theme of which in this century had been, he thought, 'the discrepancy between the high promise of the American dream and what history has made of it'. While one may query his very high estimates of Malamud and Bellow, it is easy to sympathize with his distaste for kitsch and his feeling (in 1966) that 'the true function of criticism is more frequently to resist the Zeitgeist rather than acquiesce in its now rampant aberrations'. Criticism should, he believed, be politically and intellectually responsible since 'what the critic needs above all is to recover the role of participant in the literary event', to work towards the creation ...


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