Edward Dahlberg Essay - Critical Essays

Dahlberg, Edward (Vol. 1)

Dahlberg, Edward 1900–

An American novelist, poet, and essayist, Dahlberg is the author of a notable autobiography, Because I Was Flesh. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-10.)

Dahlberg does not employ the saturation technique of the Naturalists, the relentless accumulation of tiny detail, but is much more impressionistic…. Dahlberg's vernacular is the language of city streets. It is in itself debased, so that it can express only the debased…. It still transmits to the reader shocks of crude sensation, for instance, of jumping a freight train, of sleeping for the first time in a flop-house, or of not having eaten for two days. And above all it communicates hopelessness, the hopelessness of the … lives of the bottom dogs, men and women who can sink no lower in the social and economic system….

Walter Allen, in his The Modern Novel (© 1964 by Walter Allen; published by E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. and used with their permission), Dutton, 1964, pp. 153-54.

Dahlberg's poems have something in common with Whitman's, but the range of subjects is less wide than that of Song of Myself; instead, they aim for the kind of immediacy achieved in William Carlos Williams' In the American Grain, a book much admired by Dahlberg….

Wholly unconcerned with the topical and trivial, [Dahlberg] is interested only in the fundamentals of human life. Of these he speaks with an openness that recalls the work of Whitman, Dreiser, and Lawrence. He writes from the inside with the conviction that a man's writing must be consistent with his nature. This moral attitude might seem to limit Dahlberg as a writer, for there is always something harsh and disagreeable in the prophet with glittering eyes. Yet his best work is always sympathetic: his first-rate literary intelligence, which is his gift and achievement, redeems him…. With Dostoyevsky Dahlberg acknowledges that whereas in morals two plus two equals four, in art, they always total five. In part, Dahlberg's significance derives from his attempt to reconcile the two, knowing all along that his task is impossible.

Frank MacShane, "Alms for Oblivion and Others," in The Southern Review, Vol. III, No. 3, Summer, 1967, pp. 788-95.

Dahlberg [in The Carnal Myth] is closer to Sir Thomas Browne, both in style and in many aspects of content: his pervasive use of recondite learning, his concrete embodiment of abstract wisdom; his wonder at ancient prodigies; his juxtaposition of present and past; his sense of human life as a wonder, a sorrow, and an irony, and his knowledge of how human hopes cruelly outrun their realization.

Melvin Lyon, "Man and His Sources" (© 1970 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), in Prairie Schooner, Spring, 1970, pp. 81-3.