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Alfred Kazin's Journals

Alfred Kazin's Journals

Selected and Edited by Richard M. Cook
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 632
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  • Book Info
    Alfred Kazin's Journals
    Book Description:

    At the time of his death in 1998, Alfred Kazin was considered one of the most influential intellectuals of postwar America. What is less well known is that Kazin had been contributing almost daily to an extensive private journal, which arguably contains some of his best writing. These journals collectively tell the story of his journey from Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood to his position as a dominant figure in twentieth-century cultural life. To Kazin, the daily entry was a psychological and spiritual act. To read through these entries is to reexperience history as a series of daily discoveries by an alert, adventurous, if often mercurial intelligence. It is also to encounter an array of interesting and notable personalities. Sketches of friends, mistresses, family figures, and other intellectuals are woven in with commentary on Kazin's childhood, early religious interests, problems with parents, bouts of loneliness, dealings with publishers, and thoughts on the Holocaust. The journals also highlight his engagement with the political and cultural debates of the decades through which he lived. He wrestles with communism, cultural nationalism, liberalism, existentialism, Israel, modernism, and much more.

    Judiciously selected and edited by acclaimed Kazin biographer Richard Cook, this collection provides the public with access to these previously unavailable writings and, in doing so, offers a fascinating social, historical, literary, and cultural record.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17165-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    (pp. x-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxiv)

    At the time of his death in June 1998, Alfred Kazin was remembered as one of the two or three most influential writer-intellectuals of postwar America, author of more than a thousand reviews and essays, several books of criticism and literary history, and three highly regarded autobiographies, including the canonicalA Walker in the City. What was less well known is that in addition to his published writing, he had been contributing for more than half a century to a personal journal of seven thousand pages now held in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.

    Writing in...

  7. 1 Starting Out: 1933–1942
    (pp. 1-38)

    The earliest surviving journal entries were written in May 1933, when Kazin was a sophomore at City College. His years at City were not happy ones. Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, and other notable alumni would look back fondly on City College in the thirties as a “wonderful place” (Howe), where one made friends through political association while sharpening one’s polemical skills through vigorous political debate in the college’s famous alcoves. Kazin did not participate. He detested the “fanatical” political atmosphere, stayed away from the “odorously male” alcoves, and chose to study by himself in the Great Hall, where...

  8. 2 The Break: 1942–1945
    (pp. 39-86)

    Looking back years later, kazin would describe the period between the completion ofOn Native Groundsand the end of the war as “the break”—a break in history, a break in belief, and a break in his personal life. After four years of disciplined routine on a project that had become his “living design of existence,” he found himself released into “the whirl of New York” and a brilliant new life (January 27, 1942; October 27, 1942). He was just twenty-seven and exhilarated by his prospects—“open, disrupted, ready for anything,” as he later put it inNew York...

  9. 3 A New Time: 1945–1950
    (pp. 87-148)

    “Is it going to be a new time—is it really going to be a new time?” Kazin asked himself some months after returning from England after war. “How wonderful it would be not to look back anymore, not to have the familiar, stabbing regrets about Asya” (March 22, 1946). It would be a new time. In his last weeks in England, he had met Caroline Bookman, a New Yorker working in London who had returned with him on the Queen Mary. When he learned that Natasha was unwilling to patch up relations, he began seeing Carol regularly. The daughter...

  10. 4 The Fifties: 1951–1957
    (pp. 149-226)

    On january 18, 1951, alfred and carol divorced. By then, he had persuaded himself that the marriage was a mistake. For three years he had stifled “the doubts and protests in my heart,” he wrote in a July 15, 1950, note to his new friend Josephine Herbst. “I was living a lie.” He was less successful adjusting to the separation from his son. Thinking about a future without “normal” relations with Michael, he felt “a tight band of ice” forming around his heart and “a kind of fatality” (June 20, 1951). There were compensations, however. Except for minor revisions he...

  11. 5 Return to the City: 1958–1963
    (pp. 227-306)

    “October 13, 1956–october 13, 1961, greatest period of my life,” Kazin wrote in a moment of exultation four years after his return to New York City from Amherst. He had reason to be happy. Leaving the security of an academic income he had plunged into the New York cultural milieu and succeeded in making a living as a freelance literary critic and essayist—assisted by the occasional visiting professorship. By the early sixties Kazin was arguably the most sought-after and widely published critic in the country, with essays and reviews appearing in theAtlantic, Harper’s, American Scholar, theNew...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 6 The Sixties: 1963–1969
    (pp. 307-400)

    In early 1963 kazin accepted a position as Distinguished Professor in the English Department at the recently opened Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York. On September 27 he met his first class, initiating a weekly commute from Manhattan (spending two days and one night on campus) that would conclude in 1973 when he accepted a position at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of CUNY. After five years of freelancing and visiting professorships, he was relieved to have a permanent position. But he worried about the effects of his new security. Would he lose the edge...

  14. 7 New York Jew: 1970–1977
    (pp. 401-454)

    “The death god suddenly walks into the distracted, sodden New York Party!” Kazin wrote in an October 17, 1975, journal entry. “And suddenly life becomes abook.” On December 27, 1969, his close friend Josephine Herbst had died in a New York hospital, her “hot dying hands, just like the hands of BB [Berel Birstein, Ann’s father] and GK [Alfred’s mother] ten years ago this year.” On September 23, 1970, Alfred’s father died in a Brooklyn nursing home. A month later, he learned of the death of Richard Hofstadter and Ben Seligman, two friends from the thirties and forties, followed...

  15. 8 Love and Politics: 1977–1984
    (pp. 455-514)

    In a may 13, 1978, entry kazin marveled at the changes that had recently occurred in his life. “I feel like Ulysses transported in his sleep. Something mysterious happened this year; something decisive beyond words, clearing up my life, putting familiar things in unfamiliar places and making the unfamiliar more and moreintimate.” He was right about the changes, and right that they would be decisive for his future. While completingNew York Jew, Kazin had applied for and received a fellowship at the Center for Advance Studies in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University for the 1977–1978 school year,...

  16. 9 Last Years: 1985–1998
    (pp. 515-580)

    On june 5, 1985, alfred kazin turned seventy, the mandatory retirement age at City University. He had begun regular teaching late in life, and he worried about his limited pension. Living in New York was expensive; he had a mortgage on his Connecticut house; and he paid Ann $17,000 dollars a month alimony. Anticipating financial difficulties, he began seeking additional sources of income—teaching courses at NYU and Drew University, conducting occasional seminars at the Graduate Center, applying for grants. He would sign up for semester stints at George Mason, Cornell, Barnard, and Brown; and he would continue to write...

  17. INDEX
    (pp. 581-598)