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Irving Howe (1920 1993)

Lifespan: 1920 - 1993

Related: cultural pessimism - New York intellectuals - Partisan Review - literary criticism - American literature

Key texts: Mass Society and Postmodern Fiction (Partisan Review XXVI, 1959, pp. 420-36)

In the essay "Mass Society and Postmodern Fiction," Irving Howe, writing on the emergence of postmodernism in American fiction during the 1950s, states that postmodern novels gain from their critique of American life their "true subject: the recurrent search—in America, almost a national obsession—for personal identity and freedom" (29). Howe's remark is admittedly a gross generalization about the nature of postmodern fiction. To speak of the "true subject" of even a single novel, much less a whole genre, is highly problematic, for it implies a singularity and totality of meaning. However, his comment, made some thirty-five years ago, is also rather prescient, for today we can retrospectively see that a great deal of the literature that has emerged in America since 1960 is indeed deeply involved with what Howe calls an "obsession" with personal identity and freedom. --http://www.rlc.dcccd.edu/annex/comm/english/mah8420/GoingNative.htm [Aug 2006]


Irving Howe (1920 1993), was born Irving Horenstein in New York, the son of immigrants who ran a small grocery store that went out of business during the Great Depression.

Howe graduated from City College in 1940. He entered radical politics as a member of the Young People's Socialist League and through it graduated to Max Shachtman's Workers Party and after 1948 the Independent Socialist League of which he was a central leader. He then left the ISL to become the founding editor of Dissent magazine. He also co-founded the Democratic Socialists of America. He was the Distinguished Professor of Literature, City University of New York (CUNY) and a noted editor of Yiddish literature who discovered the author Isaac Bashevis Singer for an English-speaking audience. Howe is regarded as one of the "New York Intellectuals". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irving_Howe [Aug 2006]

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