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Rosenfeld's Lives

Rosenfeld's Lives: Fame, Oblivion, and the Furies of Writing

Steven J. Zipperstein
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Rosenfeld's Lives
    Book Description:

    Born in Chicago in 1918, the prodigiously gifted and erudite Isaac Rosenfeld was anointed a "genius" upon the publication of his "luminescent" novel,Passage from Homeand was expected to surpass even his closest friend and rival, Saul Bellow. Yet when felled by a heart attack at the age of thirty-eight, Rosenfeld had published relatively little, his life reduced to a metaphor for literary failure.

    In this deeply contemplative book, Steven J. Zipperstein seeks to reclaim Rosenfeld's legacy by "opening up" his work. Zipperstein examines for the first time the "small mountain" of unfinished manuscripts the writer left behind, as well as his fiercely candid journals and letters. In the process, Zipperstein unearths a turbulent life that was obsessively grounded in a profound commitment to the ideals of the writing life.

    Rosenfeld's Livesis a fascinating exploration of literary genius and aspiration and the paradoxical power of literature to elevate and to enslave. It illuminates the cultural and political tensions of post-war America, Jewish intellectual life of the era, and-most poignantly-the struggle at the heart of any writer's life.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15628-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    “Taking a good look” is how he described reading.¹ Isaac Rosenfeld chewed at ideas, clawing at them with commodious learning and childlike wonder. He admitted, often desperately, that the world around him was chaotic and dark, but also found it more mysterious, more splendid, than the cooler heads around him believed it to be. As a writer he was loving and fierce, thoroughly committed to the indispensability of books and distrustful of the mind itself. He knew how excruciating it was to get things right on the page, and despite mostly joyless detours that led him elsewhere, he remained convinced...

    (pp. 20-100)

    Rosenfeld’s was a miserable childhood. As a writer he saw childhood as containing life’s best moments, yet his own memories were mostly dark, cramped, and unhappy. His father, Sam, was a closed man, easily bruised, with a vast capacity for recollecting hurts and slights. Hungry for love, he married three times (the third time to the younger sister of his second wife). Sam spoke English fluently and was well-off working as a buyer for a downtown fancy food store, but money he guarded. The Rosenfeld household was full of both the intrusions and the assurances of family. In the same...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Terrors
    (pp. 101-152)

    When rosenfeld resigned in the spring of 1944 as assistant literary editor ofThe New Republicand gave up a weekly salary of fifty dollars to work on a barge as a “captain” (everyone who worked on these boats, he admitted, was called “captain”), it seemed to his friends a colorful decision, offbeat, unexpected, but not bizarre. Wartime conditions meant much was unpredictable (Rosenfeld was excused from service because of bad eyesight), and the group’s engagement in left-wing politics, as well as the Depression, cut asunder their assumptions about conventional employment. Later, Rosenfeld would again hold down jobs at universities...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Paradise
    (pp. 153-215)

    “Being a jew is like walking in the wind or swimming. You are touched at all points and conscious everywhere,” wrote the young Lionel Trilling. The patrician Trilling, doyen of literary studies at Columbia University, winced at such statements. In her memoir, his wife, Diana, admitted that she was forever puzzled by his Jewish autobiographical stories, written in his twenties and published in theMenorah Journal. She speculated that the only explanation was that he was pushed into writing them by his mentor at the time, Elliot Cohen, later the founding editor ofCommentary, whose influence on the young, impressionable...

  8. Postscript
    (pp. 216-240)

    Rosenfeld published the story “the misfortune of the Flapjacks” in 1947, a slapdash tale, brief and hilarious—in the way a Yiddish joke about piles and heaps of misfortune is hilarious—about a hapless baseball farm team. The Flapjacks’ manager is crazy, the players can’t win a single game (even a pickup game against a small-town high school team), and they haven’t the money to finish out the season. But they possess a grace, a poignant nobility, that misfortune can’t erase. Their once splendid hitter, Eglantine, steps up to the plate: He “draws back his shoulders and sticks out his...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 241-260)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-265)
  11. Index
    (pp. 266-274)