Philip Rahv Julian Moynahan - Essay

Julian Moynahan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "The Myth and the Powerhouse," Rahv is too often] found fighting a species of rear-guard action against troops who have long since retired from the field or may never have left the barracks in the first place. For instance, he looks with suspicion upon a religious revival "current" among intellectuals in the early 1950's, yet from the perspective of the present the only real question is whether such a revival ever occurred. Similarly, he views with alarm the illiberal and anti-historical assumptions of "myth" critics—people who come up with archetypal and symbolic readings of novels and poems while ignoring or hypostasizing personal and historical dimensions of meaning in literary works. But who nowadays pays any serious attention to myth critics, or to New Critics, or to psychoanalytic critics, or to Camp critics, or to you-name-it critics?…

Mr. Rahv is out of step with the new tendencies and as a critic has really nothing to recommend him except taste, experience, honesty, humaneness, knowledge of several foreign tongues and literatures, and a rather single-minded devotion to the idea that the theme of human history is freedom. He is attracted to the novel as the dominant modern literary form because in its conquest of historical actuality, in its "realism," the novel spotlights the social arena in which the issues of freedom are to be fought out. It therefore becomes important to him to emphasize Gogol's social realism in...

(The entire section is 534 words.)