Berman, Marshall 1940–
BERMAN, Marshall 1940–
PERSONAL: Born November 24, 1940, in New York, NY; son of Murray (a journalist) and Betty (Shur) Berman; married Carole Greenman, May 18, 1969 (marriage ended); married Meredith Tax, 1982 (divorced, 1990); married Shellie Sclan; children: (first marriage) Marc Joseph (deceased); (second marriage) Eli; (third marriage) Danny. Education: Columbia University, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1961; Oxford University, B.Litt., 1963; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1967. Politics: "Radical." Religion: Jewish.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Humanities senior fellowship, 1974.
The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1970.
All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982, revised edition, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
(With others) El Debate modernidad-posmodernidad, Puntosur Editores (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1989.
(Author of text) Atlante metropolitano, Electa (Milan, Italy), 1991.
Adventures in Marxism, Verso (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor to The Jew in the Text, edited by Linda Nochlin and Tamar Grab, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1996. Contributor of numerous articles to journals and magazines.
SIDELIGHTS: Marshall Berman's insights into modernism and Marxism have earned him a place among the most respected of contemporary intellectuals. No matter what his subject, personal experience always adds a unique slant to Berman's work. As Steven A. Nardi commented in Dictionary of Literary Biography: "Throughout his career, he has used his own experiences as evidence with which to comprehend the tilt and whirl of the economy, modern art, and modern culture. His vision of the world is one in which the human is the fundamental measurement of any idea. Every great idea, for Berman, must prove itself in the final analysis in the realm of individual experience."
Berman was born in 1940 to a working-class Jewish family living in the Bronx section of New York, NY. His parents were intellectually-minded, and his father, a journalist, founded his own magazine, which he published briefly before his premature death. In his book All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, the author reminisces fondly about his years of growing up in New York. His old neighborhood was destroyed in the late 1950s and early 1960s to make way for a crosstown expressway. The pain of seeing this happen is pivotal to Berman's vision, according to Nardi, who asserted that "the paradox of the Cross-Bronx Expressway—that a project ostensibly built for the good of society wreaks havoc on individual citizens—lies at the heart of Berman's work." Much of Berman's writing has concerned his native New York, NY, and the ways in which modernity has affected the urban landscape. In a long-term project involving many essays, he wrote an interpretation of the development of Times Square. "Authenticity" is an important word to Berman, and he has repeatedly decried the modern trend of making cityscapes into places that seem to repel citizens. According to Nardi, All That Is Solid Melts into Air is "recognized as an important and enduring work in literary studies and Marxist circles as well as in political science. Berman's emphasis on the lived experience of the modern individual, as opposed solely to the theoretical understanding of the phenomenon, fundamentally changed the scope of the debate around modernism."
During the 1960s, Berman became active in leftist politics, taking part in civil rights demonstrations and anti-war activities. He discusses his attraction to the political left in one of his most popular books, Adventures in Marxism, a collection of thirteen short pieces that were published in periodicals such as Nation, Dissent, and New York Times Book Review between the years 1963 to 1998. Taken together, they express Berman's interpretation of the vision of Karl Marx, a system in which he finds both flaws and good points. As a reviewer for Ethics put it, "Berman is optimistic about human nature but also realistic." Berman shows "an exuberant account of human possibilities" revealed in the Communist Manifesto, and discusses not only Marx but later thinkers such as George Lukacs, Meyer Schapiro, and Studs Terkel. While Berman's essays "are not heavily analytical or theoretical," and they do not "work out knotty issues" inherent in Marxism, they do express the "continuing power" of Marx's ideas, according to the Ethics reviewer. A Publishers Weekly reviewer was enthusiastic about the way Berman "joyfully" leads readers through Marxist literature, and recommended the book as "a rich inquiry into the ambiguities of Marxist thought."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 246: Twentieth-Century American Cultural Theorists, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Atlantic, January, 1982, Gerald Graff, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, p. 84.
Commentary, April, 1982, Hilton Kramer, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 74.
Commonweal, November 19, 1982, Peter W. Williams, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 636.
Ethics, April, 2001, review of Adventures in Marxism, p. 661.
Library Journal, April 1, 1982, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 734.
Nation, January 30, 1982, Eric Homberger, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 118; November 22, 1999, Andy Merrifield, review of Adventures in Marxism, p. 23.
New Republic, January 6, 1982, Jack Beatty, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 37.
New Statesman, December 30, 1983, Mervyn Jones, review of All That is Solid Melts into Air, p. 20.
Newsweek, January 25, 1982, Walter Clemons, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 78.
New York Review of Books, March, 1982, Robert M. Adams, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 27.
New York Times, January 8, 1982, John Leonard, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 18; January 30, 2002, Karen W. Arenson, "A Professor Who Never Fought That Old Ennui," p. B8.
New York Times Book Review, February 14, 1982, Leo Bersani, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 9; December 5, 1982, review of All That is Solid Melts into Air, p. 30; September 26, 1999, Douglas A. Sylva, review of Adventures in Marxism, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, December 4, 1981, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air, p. 45; September 27, 1999, review of Adventures in Marxism, p. 81.
Cultural Logic: An Electronic Journal of Marxist Theory and Practice, http://eserver.org/clogic/ (December 12, 2002), Tony Monchinski, "Interview with Marshall Berman."