The Intellectual Follies Critical Context - Essay

Lionel Abel

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Most people associate the 1930’s with the Great Depression, with great suffering and privation. Yet during the 1930’s, the United States experienced a social and cultural phenomenon the likes of which (despite Abel’s hopes to the contrary) may never be seen again. The rise of the New York intellectuals helped make New York City an internationally renowned cultural center. As one critic noted, “It would be hard to find a more authentic specimen of the New York literary-political-Jewish intellectual than Lionel Abel.” Abel’s memoir, then, is important as a record of cultural history, a record of who was who in the internationalization of American art and politics, a record of the exciting world of ideas and ideologists in the early twentieth century.

In a sense, Abel’s approach to life in The Intellectual Follies is defined in his renowned book Metatheatre. There, Abel notes that what he calls the “metaplay” is defined by two ideas: “the world is a stage” and “life is a dream.” From these ideas, he concludes that “the world is a projection of human consciousness” and that “there is no world except that created by human striving, human imagination.” Seen in this context, the word “follies” in The Intellectual Follies connotes a kind of theatrical production in which the author and the characters self-consciously create their own roles. That is Abel’s subject, a world of ideas in which people...

(The entire section is 415 words.)