The age of the dilemm of Man: Thought and also Fiction in America, 1933-1973 BY note Greif. Princeton college Press. Hardcover, 448 pages. $29.

Long before Feminism, or Theory, or the an excellent Recession, the group of “Man” to be a problem. In fact, the production of the classification in the late eighteenth century currently signified an ideology system crisis, since to assert the “Rights the Man” thus was to justification rebellion against all existing creates of rule, consisting of slavery. Every generation since that age of transformation has well-known its own time as yet an additional age of the dilemm of man, for words itself is both infinitely plural and narrowly singular, and the idea it conjures is at once universal and also particular.

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So what might be new or different, or even interesting, about the mid-twentieth-century moment note Greif names as The period of the crisis of Man?

Above all, the extensive sense of an ending—of History, Progress, Society, and also even the the “objective correlative” of those enlightenment categories, the Novel itself. Before the twenty century, most arguments around “man” were fierce debates about what the category contained and also permitted: that belonged, what followed? Greif mirrors that American pundits at mid-century addressed a more apocalyptic possibility: the end of man, which they shown as the technological erasure of human being thus under the supervision the expert, pragmatic, bureaucratic states of mental that can organize death camps and drop atomic bombs.

But Greif is much less interested in the discourse of situation than in what novelists do of it. He argues that the remarkable literary achievements of that moment—the preliminary redefinition that the canon, because that example, in the works of Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, cutting board Pynchon, Flannery O’Connor—were assets of direct engagement with the nonfictional discourse of the “crisis that man.” In the sense, he demonstrates the the novelists were intellectuals in their very own right: their novels, stories, and essays addressed, corrected, and redeemed the non-narrative discourse of male by rendering crisis as opportunity, together comedy, in effect by returning the contents of the repressed—what the idea of male left out—to consciousness.

So Greif is interested in just how “high ideas” gotten in the vernacular expression obtainable to novelists, and this is a matter, together he frames it, of exactly how one kind or level of discourse “weighs upon” others: He’s writing what that calls “philosophical history,” without apology. His studied indifference to Marxist questions for literary criticism—what social forces does this fiction condense and represent?—is refreshing, because, together a result, the messages he reinterprets don’t need to stand in for any type of external reality. Still, he is able to present that by dealing with the “crisis that man” together an issue best addressed in fictitious settings, the novelists themselves were deeply concerned with the political ramifications of what they wrote.

German emigres in flight from the Nazis—mostly members of the Frankfurt School—were the course vital figures in imagining the “crisis of man” together an apocalyptic ending. However Greif shows that the discourse the the “crisis the man” was a homegrown product, not very early imposition the exotic European theory on the innocents end here. Among the American inventors of the discourse he cites are the middle-to-highbrow intellectuals Reinhold Niebuhr, Dwight Macdonald, Norman Cousins, Lionel Trilling, and Lewis Mumford, who—like Leon Wieseltier or Lewis Lapham in our own time—fervently sermonized on the “crisis the man” together an imminent ending for magazines favor The brand-new Republic, Saturday Review, Commentary, and Partisan Review. In component I the this book, Greif areas Mumford’s condition of male alongside Max Horkheimer and also Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic that Enlightenment, 2 scabrous indictments the modern-industrial culture published in 1944, to prove the the aboriginal son and also the alienated exiles to be on the same page.

By this accounting, Lionel Trilling, the leading figure of Greif’s component II, was the middlebrow mole—“the voice of low seriousness,” as Bellow placed it in 1957—who burrowed in between every kind and also level that discourse. It was Trilling, ~ all, who interviewed Nabokov for tv audiences, pass high to low in Leonard Bernstein style, and also who meanwhile came to be the “forceful and also enterprising critic who transposed the intellectuals’ argument about the “crisis the man” into the terms of the novel.” This form of fiction was in reality dying, the argued, because “humanness” itself had degenerated in the twentieth century. But there to be light in ~ the end of the tunnels Trilling dug. At any kind of rate his diagnosis of near fatality was taken seriously, Greif insists, “in the quarter whereby it most mattered—among novelists.”

How so? how did Bellow and also Ellison respond to Trilling’s proleptic mourning? exactly how did castle reinvent the novel, and make means for O’Connor and also Pynchon—also the 1960s, add to Philip Roth—by appropriating and also transforming the discourse the the “crisis the man”? Greif claims that lock did for this reason by providing us a “new analysis of history.”

Ellison, because that instance, rewrote the master-slave dialectic at the love of Hegel’s Phenomenology to cast his black protagonist as the omni-American, the guy whose life consisted of all the multitudes and movements and also contradictions that the most modern-day of societies. Bellow amendment the curriculum the the bildungsroman—in various other words, the dropped the end of the institution of the european novel—to actors the wandering Jew as Emerson’s representative man, the Wilhelm Meister of the brand-new world, wherein education way having a job, acquiring a living, and also climbing the ladder, not staging Hamlet.

These authors rebuked Trilling and resurrected the novel by proving the the ending he regret hadn’t also begun—except because that the privileged few who can smugly assume the they belonged in that hallowed classification of Man. By explicitly acknowledging, addressing, and also refusing the exclusions the discourse the the “crisis the Man” had developed into its extraordinary pundit mass, castle escaped that is gravitational pull.

So they, too, were creating “philosophical history.” Bellow and Ellison designed a future because that the American Novel by developing what the Young intellectuals of the 1920s—particularly valve Wyck Brooks and Lewis Mumford, the starting fathers of American literature criticism—called a “usable past.” by this they supposed a story of cultural origins analogous come the story the political origins in the Revolution, an occasion that every generation can renew by retelling it. Prefer the Agrarians, they uncovered that founding moment—an American literary canon—in what Mumford called the golden Day that the 1850s, in what F. O. Matthiessen later named the “American Renaissance” (the antebellum minute of Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Hawthorne, and also Whitman). The Young intellectuals didn’t try to go back to this past due to the fact that for them that wasn’t even past: They thought they were just catching up come its attitudes and also achievements.

Mark Grief has complied with their example: He’s produced a “usable past” the we’re simply now catching up to. Yet the “philosophical history” that has offered us is probably not philosophical enough.

As Greif displayed in part I, the discourse of the “crisis of man” was built on the damages of pragmatism, whereby John Dewey and also Sidney Hook fought a losing battle versus Lewis Mumford, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Mortimer Adler, and also many others, all of them sworn enemies of the viewpoint William James presented to the world in 1898. However the American literature canon was built in the 1920s and consolidated in the 1940s on these exact same ruins. Mumford, who motivated Matthiessen to create American Renaissance (1941)—“very most likely the many influential book of literature criticism that America, ever,” as Greif correct characterizes it—was also the many eloquent, angry, and consistent critic of pragmatism after Randolph Bourne. The golden Day, the masterpiece the 1926 that first installed Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Whitman, and Melville as the stars in a new literary firmament, was, not incidentally, Mumford’s furious polemic versus what he called the “pragmatic acquiescence.” His condition of guy was no less furious in defining pragmatism together an permitting condition the fascism.

Bellow and also Ellison, an excellent friends and also for a short while upstate roommates, created an additional literary constellation, and also a brand-new gravitational ar for authors of fiction, by restoring pragmatism to its formative, insurrectionary ar in twentieth-century American—and European—thought. Greif knows this, and also he demonstrates it, however he never quite claims it.

Bellow completed that reconstruction by reclaiming Dewey and George Herbert Mead, an additional pragmatist, writing out their idea of vocation in Augie in march after experiencing through Adler’s an excellent Books, which had actually an exalted co-sponsor in the college of Chicago (literally: Bellow was a copy editor on that monumental project). Augie’s education and learning is his employed record: that learns by doing, not reading. Ellison make the same pragmatic relocate by listening come Kenneth Burke and Albert Murray, Mumford’s opposites amongst literary critics, inventing an itinerary that refused every nostalgia for any type of moment, antebellum or not, that rejected modern-industrial society. When the nameless narrator the Invisible male decides the Mr. Norton’s need for a drink should be met, for example, he cd driver to the local brothel. It’s dubbed The golden Day. There he finds enough rural idiocy to suggest him North, away from home, toward a brand-new understanding of Enlightenment.

He never quite it s okay there, no matter how well-lighted a location that last underground refuge in Harlem could be: the task of “re-enlightenment,” as Greif calls the finest of the discourse the the “crisis that man,” ends here, out of sight. Bellow slipped the yoke: In fiction, anyway, Jews became characters in the white mainstream, while african Americans “stayed black.” Ellison couldn’t adjust the joke.

But through this brilliant publication Greif is restarting the job of “re-enlightenment,” pointing us toward what Hegel referred to as the spiritual daylight of the present—where literary purposes and also political agendas are moments ~ above an pundit continuum, no the terms of an either/or choice.

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James Livingston teaches history at Rutgers. He"s finishing a book called crap Work, or, Why complete Employment is a bad Idea.