Philip Rahv Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Philip Rahv 1908–1973

(Born Ivan Greenberg) Russian-born American critic and editor.

Rahv symbolizes for many readers the Marxist critical movement that was prominent in American letters during the 1930s and 1940s. As a member of the John Reed Club (the Communist party affiliate in New York), Rahv contributed literary essays and reviews to its magazine, New Masses. In 1934 Rahv and William Phillips founded Partisan Review as the literary companion to New Masses. Within ten years, T. S. Eliot was to describe Partisan Review as "America's leading literary magazine."

The essay "Paleface and Redskin" brought Rahv his greatest critical attention. In it, he described the "palefaces" as members of "the thin, solemn, semi-clerical culture of Boston and Concord," and the "redskins" as members of "the lowlife world of the frontier and big cities." Citing Henry James and Walt Whitman as examples of these two trends in writing, Rahv discussed this dichotomy in the American experience and traced its influence on modern writers. Most of his later essays, including "The Myth and the Powerhouse," also stress the importance of history in the creation and appreciation of art.

Throughout his career, Rahv was characteristically opposed to contemporary trends in literature and critical theory. Consequently, his writings had an anachronistic tone, but as Mary McCarthy wrote: "His resistance to swimming with the tide, his mistrust of currents, were his strength."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)