Alfred Kazin's Journals

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Overview

At the time of his death in 1998, Alfred Kazin was considered one of the most influential intellectuals of postwar America. What is less well known is that Kazin had been contributing almost daily to an extensive private journal, which arguably contains some of his best writing. These journals collectively tell the story of his journey from Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood to his position as a dominant figure in twentieth-century cultural life.
To Kazin, the daily entry was a...

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Overview

At the time of his death in 1998, Alfred Kazin was considered one of the most influential intellectuals of postwar America. What is less well known is that Kazin had been contributing almost daily to an extensive private journal, which arguably contains some of his best writing. These journals collectively tell the story of his journey from Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood to his position as a dominant figure in twentieth-century cultural life.
To Kazin, the daily entry was a psychological and spiritual act. To read through these entries is to reexperience history as a series of daily discoveries by an alert, adventurous, if often mercurial intelligence. It is also to encounter an array of interesting and notable personalities. Sketches of friends, mistresses, family figures, and other intellectuals are woven in with commentary on Kazin's childhood, early religious interests, problems with parents, bouts of loneliness, dealings with publishers, and thoughts on the Holocaust. The journals also highlight his engagement with the political and cultural debates of the decades through which he lived. He wrestles with communism, cultural nationalism, liberalism, existentialism, Israel, modernism, and much more.
Judiciously selected and edited by acclaimed Kazin biographer Richard Cook, this collection provides the public with access to these previously unavailable writings and, in doing so, offers a fascinating social, historical, literary, and cultural record.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times - Dwight Garner
"This is a remarkable book, easily one of the great diaries and moral documents of the past American century."—Dwight Garner, New York Times
New York Review of Books - Edward Mendelson
"Alfred Kazin's Journals is a profound and exciting book, more so even than the best of the dozen works of criticism and autobiography that he published during his lifetime. . . . Some of Kazin's journals reveal only their author's private darkness, but far more of them open onto vistas of literature and history illuminated by his intelligent excitement."—Edward Mendelson, The New York Review of Books
Boston Review - Vivian Gornick
“Richly unmediated expressiveness . . . a remarkable demonstration of how good writing struggles to emerge from the inner chaos with which we all live and that only a writer as talented as Alfred Kazin can bring to its knees.”—Vivian Gornick, Boston Review
Slate - William Deresiewicz
“[Kazin’s] deepest work . . . The journals' overwhelming note is passion. Kazin wrote with his whole being, from a ferocious intensity of hunger and joy.”—William Deresiewicz, Slate
Eugene Goodheart
“‘Of all his writing, the journal was most dear to Kazin, whose suffering is palpable and authentic throughout. The journal represents with merciless self-honesty an almost manic-depressive oscillation between self-affirmation and self-loathing and an insurmountable loneliness with a keen desire for sociability.”—Eugene Goodheart, Professor Emeritus of English, Brandeis University
Mark Schechner
“There is a jagged magnificence to these journals. Kazin’s journal is a profound, almost pendular, oscillation between his stunning portraits of others and his ruthless investigations of himself, of his strangeness, his engorged sexual appetites, his lack of social grace, his refusal to ease graciously into his success. There is nothing placidly retrospective about them. He can be bitter, lyrical, musical, rapturous, acerbic – sometimes all in one glorious sentence. They are a fire fueled by intimations of immortality, a rapture laced with resentment. The journals are a gold mine for future critical thinkers and a treasure house of English writing.”—Mark Shechner, Professor of English, University at Buffalo
Sean Wilentz
“The extraordinary, often anguished journals of Alfred Kazin, like those of Edmund Wilson though different in tone, throw valuable light on American writing and writers in the 20th century, and rank among the few indispensable documents of their kind.”—Sean Wilentz, Professor of History, Princeton University
William E. Cain
“Kazin’s journal entries are often keenly, piercingly, sometimes painfully, personal. Kazin emerges as a very complicated, brilliant, exasperating character — incisive, unsparing in his judgments of himself as well as others, moody, funny, harsh, lyrical, and poignant. An edition of Kazin's journals is a major literary and cultural event”—William E. Cain, Professor of English, Wellesley College
Booklist - Donna Seaman
“[A] robust and enveloping selected volume, from which the intensity of Kazin’s engagement with life beams forth . . . . Frank about sex, scathing in his portrayal of his peers, prescient about world events, and passionate about literature.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist
Tablet Magazine - Mark Shechner
"Kazin’s [journals], just now published by Yale University Press, may well turn out to be his greatest work."—Mark Shechner, Tablet Magazine
New Orleans Times-Picayune - Chris Waddington
“With the publication of Alfred Kazin’s Journals, this Brooklyn-born son of Jewish immigrants is poised to join the literary giants who inspired him. . . . Kazin comes vibrantly alive in the journals.”—Chris Waddington, New Orleans Times-Picayune
Buffalo News - Jeff Simon
“A monumental offering from one of the greatest and most challenging—and often underrated—literary minds of the 20th century . . . As essential as it is, perhaps, overdue.”—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
The Daily Telegraph - Phillip Horne
“Richard Cook has done a grand job of editing….handsome, fascinating……unignorable slice of 20th century life.”—Phillip Horne, The Daily Telegraph
Haaretz - Gerald Sorin
“The selections Cook provides are a marvel to read”—Gerald Sorin, Haaretz
Washington Times - Martin Rubin
“Valuable glimpses into the man behind the intellectual warrior.”—Martin Rubin, Washington Times
Choice - S.L. Kremer
"The book's informative scholarly apparatus—particularly the explanatory footnotes—provides excellent guidance to Kazin's references and relationships. This noteworthy book is vital for understanding this eminent literary critic. Highly recommended."—S.L. Kremer, Choice
Jewish Book World - Esther Nussbaum
“[F]illed with expression of direct experience of life by a keen observer of much of the twentieth century.”—Esther Nussbaum, Jewish Book World
Times Literary Supplement - Zachary Leader
"It [Kazin's diary] makes for a fascinating book. Richard M. Cook has done an admirable job editing and selecting the journals. Given the frankness of what he includes, it is hard to imagine that he censored much...the balance between things seen and the speculations they give rise to is nicely struck. That the book is such a pleasure to read is due in part to its editor."
Publishers Weekly
This generous selection from Alfred Kazin's (1915–1998) voluminous journals (7,000 pages in all), covering some 65 years, showcases two aspects of this cranky intellectual's mind and critical art. First, there is the unqualified gift for literary portraits. Second, there is a consciousness of Jewishness, class, and culture that has all but disappeared from intellectual discourse since the 1980s. (Kazin's attacks on the neocons are from the gut.) The publication of these journals, ably edited and annotated by Kazin's biographer, display all his passions. When Kazin liked an author, there was no stopping him, whether Dylan Thomas ("How much light goes out of this world with the passing of our wizard, our beautiful careless singer?") or his Smith student Plath ("the girl whose talent was so fully formed that when I met her, it was already outside her"). And when Kazin hates, he also goes equally all out, whether against Cynthia Ozick or Mark Van Doren ("inspires me with contempt and disgust"). Kazin wanted to publish his blunt, self-revelatory and often self-corrosive musings before he died, but the world had to wait. "What happened to the good old term, ‘man-of-letters?'" he asks rhetorically. These journals give us an intimate look at one of the great ones. (June)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300187953
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2012
  • Pages: 632
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard M. Cook is chair of the English department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Chronology x

Books Alfred Kazin xiv

Introduction xv

1 Starting Out: 1933-1942 1

2 The Break: 1942-1945 39

3 A New Time: 1945-1950 87

4 The Fifties: 1951-1957 149

5 Return to the City: 1958-1963 227

6 The Sixties: 1963-1969 307

7 New York Jew: 1970-1977 401

8 Love and Politics: 1977-1984 455

9 Last Years: 1985-1998 515

Index 581

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