What one admires most in Philip Rahv's essays [in "Image and Idea"] is the determination to search among our modern cultural closures and total ideologies for "the cultural forms of dissidence and experiment." And what one admires about Rahv's critical method is his abundant ability to use such techniques as Marxism, Freudian psychology, anthropology, and existentialism toward his critical ends without shackling himself to any of them…. The characteristic success of these essays is a success of reclamation: the appropriation toward humanist ends and by methodical means of the irrationality, apocalypticism, and chaos of the modern mind.
Mr. Rahv affirms that modern literature "bristles with anxiety and ideas of alienation," that its frequent informing image is the depersonalized, homeless man of the city, and that the proper task of modern creative writers has been to give the quality of "felt life" to the inner tensions and contradictions imposed by contemporary existence. He tends to regard the devices of the imaginative writer—naturalism, the subtle refinement of Joyce and Proust, the use of symbol and myth—as stratagems employed by the writer for circumventing his personal and cultural plight.
For the contemporary critic Mr. Rahv suggests an "ideal aloofness from abstract systems" and exhorts him to remember that in respect to metaphysics "the art-object is first to last the one certain datum at his disposal." This is a healthily pragmatic attitude, the more so because Rahv is on the whole anything but aloof from the moral and historical meanings of the art-object. Rahv is above all a political critic, in the sense that his...
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