Dickstein, Morris 1940-

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DICKSTEIN, Morris 1940-

PERSONAL: Born February 23, 1940, in New York, NY; son of Abraham and Anne (Reitman) Dickstein; married Lore Willner (a writer), January 3, 1965; children: Jeremy, Rachel. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1961; Yale University, M.A., 1963, Ph.D., 1967; attended Clare College, Cambridge, 1963-64.

ADDRESSES: Home—230 West 105th St., New York, NY 10025. Office—Ph.D. Program in English, Graduate Center, City University of New York, Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Agent—Georges Borchardt, Inc., 136 East 57th St., New York, NY 10022. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Educator and writer. Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor, 1966-67, assistant professor of English, 1967-71; Queens College of the City University of New York, Flushing, associate professor, 1971-75, professor of English, 1976-94, Distinguished Professor of English, 1994-2002; Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Distinguished Professor of English, 2002—. Vice chair of New York Council for the Humanities, 1993-2001.

MEMBER: International PEN, Modern Language Association of America, National Book Critics Circle (member of board, 1983-89), American Studies Associatio, Association of Literary Scholars and Critics.

AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1961; Guggenheim fellowship, 1973; American Council of Learned Societies fellowship, 1977; National Book Critics Circle nomination in criticism, 1977, for Gates of Eden; Rockefeller humanities fellowship, 1981; National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, 1986; Mellon fellowship, National Humanities Center, 1989; residency, Bellagio Study Center, 1994.

WRITINGS:

Keats and His Poetry, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1971.

Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1977, with a new introduction, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.

(Editor, with Leo Braudy) Great Film Directors, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1978.

(Author of introduction and bibliography) Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1981.

Double Agent: The Critic and Society, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.

(Author of introduction and bibliography) Sinclair Lewis, Main Street, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor) The Revival of Pragmatism: New Essays on Social Thought, Law, and Culture, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1998.

(Author of foreword) Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves, edited by John Rodden, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1999.

Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

(Author of afterword) Peter B. Herman, Historicizing Theory, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2003.

Contributing editor, Partisan Review, 1972—; consultant, Basic Books, 1972—. Contributor to periodicals, including Partisan Review and Culturefront.

SIDELIGHTS: In Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties, literary critic Morris Dickstein offers a view of the 1960s as a "search for personal authenticity" that was combined with "the quest for social justice." The decade's cultural life was a reflection of this, Dickstein contends, as politics and culture were entwined. Most reviewers found the book to contain valuable insights into the culture of the 1960s although several disagreed with either Dickstein's choice of format or with some of his conclusions. The author concentrates on the major literary figures of the decade, and includes discussions of Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as of such influential cultural critics as Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. Brown, and Paul Goodman. The 1960s was a decidedly anti-reflective era and Dickstein proclaims that "the line between high culture and popular culture gave way in the 60's and on some fronts was erased entirely." Nonetheless he chooses to analyze the few writers who did contribute to the intellectual framework of the decade.

"Dickstein makes two arresting general claims for the culture of the '60s," Walter Clemons declared in his Newsweek review of Gates of Eden. "The first is that the 'sexual revolution' is the most misleading of the simplistic labels attached to it; the deeper insurgency, he agrees with [Paul] Goodman, was spiritual and religious. The second is that the radical activism of the period did not entirely disintegrate its violent final phase but 'made available to us not only critical habits of mind but strategies of direct action that continue to be used on particular issues and local encounters.' His book, with its combination of fresh cultural commentary and personal testimony, justifies Dickstein's hope that 'criticism, which is often tempted to be hermetic, can tell us something about the real world.'"

Dickstein's discussion of the relationship between the culture of the 1950s and that of the 1960s also raised controversy among critics. "What probably has marked me more than anything," Dickstein writes in the book's epilogue, "was that I came to consciousness between the generations; my formative experiences bridged both the fifties and the sixties, and I never felt wholly comfortable in either world, though both were passionately important to me in their turn."

New York Times contributor Christopher Lehmann-Haupt maintained that Dickstein is "at his best when identifying the 'new shoots' among the 'old roots' of the 50's, and merely very good when it comes to explaining the breakthrough of new forms in the 60's." However, the critic realized that "it's simply too soon to tell what was of lasting importance about the 60's." As Lehmann-Haupt concluded: "Even [Dickstein's] intelligence can't describe what hasn't yet come into perspective. Even he can't see what isn't yet there."

Double Agent: The Critic and Society takes a view of the role of the literary critic in the modern age. In this book Dickstein celebrates the Victorian-era critic Matthew Arnold, whose goal "was not to create a timeless canon, but a perfect society, or an absolute set of values, but to find whatever was needful for a given age." Arnold was the forebear of the modern "double agent," who incorporates criticism and social thought; George Orwell, Edmund Wilson, and Alfred Kazin are examples of this type. They flourished in what the author labeled "the heroic period" of twentieth-century criticism, spanning 1920-1960. In his book Dickstein writes of "a world where newspapermen could be more literate than most academics."

Double Agent takes aim at what Irving Malin called "our current concern with theory, with our attempts to question the foundations of history, society, language itself." The author asserts, Malin continued in Review of Contemporary Fiction, "that criticism at this time is obscure, sterile, 'professional.'" Though some reviewers felt Dickstein doesn't go far enough in his approach—"all too polite," noted John Sutherland in his New York Times Book Review assessment—others thought the author makes a convincing case. "Amen," concluded Lehmann-Haupt in a New York Times review. Dickstein, the critic added, "strives to be the exemplar of his ideal, the balanced observer who strides multiple worlds and can discriminate between writers, their work and the implications of their utterances."

In 2002 Dickstein saw the publication of another literary study, Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970. The title of this book comes from a Franz Kafka parable, in which wild animals storm a temple night after night, disrupting services, until worshippers change their rituals to accommodate the regular rampages. Dickstein's "leopards," noted Jenny Turner in a New York Times Book Review assessment, are the "black, beatnik, Jewish, homosexual" writers who shook up American fiction in the postwar period. Far from the placid decade of stereotype, Dickstein asserts, the 1950s were a time of seething rebellion. Indeed, "much of what we associate with the 1960s originated in the '50s," the author told New York Times interviewer Daphne Eviatar. The "outsiders" of the Eisenhower era opened the door to the countercultural, multicultural environment that would follow. "Road novels like On the Road and Invisible Man not only created a loose-jointed plot, but reflected a looser attitude toward morality and society," Dickstein added in the interview.

Leopards in the Temple examines the influence of the "Beats," the freewheeling novelists and poets whose ranks include Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Dickstein acknowledges how a groundbreaking work like Kerouac's On the Road "is a great book without being a really good novel." Ginsberg and Burroughs, Dickstein told Eviatar, "also had a huge influence on non-Beats, particularly on writers like Norman Mailer or Robert Lowell, when they turned toward more open, confessional writing." As for the rise of African-American writers of the fifties, Ralph Ellison's 1952 release Invisible Man, said Dickstein, is a notable work. In illustrating how one young black man faces and overcomes societal traps, this book serves as a reaction "against Richard Wright's emphasis on racial victimization," Dickstein noted in the New York Times interview.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dickstein, Morris, Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1977.

Leitch, Vincent B., American Literary Criticism from the Thirties to the Eighties, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1988.

PERIODICALS

American Historical Review, December, 1993, Robert Westbrook, review of Double Agent: The Critic and Society, p. 1695.

American Literature, June, 1993, William Cain, review of Double Agent, p. 394; June, 1998, review of The Revival of Pragmatism: New Essays on Social Thought, Law, and Culture, p. 436.

American Studies International, June, 1999, Richard Denning, review of The Revival of Pragmatism, p. 90.

Atlantic, June, 1977.

Choice, April, 1988, review of Gates of Eden, p. 1212; May, 1993, R. L. Brooks, review of Double Agent, p. 1458.

Commentary, July, 1977.

Commonweal, April 9, 1993, Lee Siegel, review of Double Agent, p. 30.

Dissent, spring, 1993, Robert Boyers, review of Double Agent, p. 75.

Encounter, June, 1978.

English Literature in Transition, number one, 1994, review of Double Agent, p. 99.

Journal of American History, December, 1993, Gregory Jay, review of Double Agent, p. 1127.

Journal of American Studies, August, 1994, Ann Massa, review of Double Agent, p. 292; April, 2001, Martin Halliwell, review of The Revival of Pragmatism, p. 142.

Journal of Economic Issues, December, 1999, Thomas Degregori, review of The Revival of Pragmatism, p. 1053.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1992, review of Double Agent, p. 959.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, April, 1989, review of Gates of Eden, p. 53.

Library Journal, June 15, 1992, Gene Shaw, review of Double Agent, p. 75.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 16, 1992, review of Double Agent, p. 6; July 21, 2002, Lee Siegel, review of Leopards in the Temple.

Minnesota Review, fall, 1993, review of Double Agent, p. 328; number 53-55, 2002, Robert S. Boynton, "Between Generations: An Interview with Morris Dickstein."

Nation, April 23, 1977; February 8, 1993, Paul Levine, review of Double Agent, p. 170.

New Republic, May 21, 1977.

Newsweek, March 28, 1977, Walter Clemons, review of Gates of Eden.

New Times, May 13, 1977.

New Yorker, May 13, 2002, review of Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970, p. 95.

New York Review of Books, August 4, 1977; March 25, 1993, Denis Donoghue, review of Double Agent, p. 46.

New York Times, March 9, 1977, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Gates of Eden; October 15, 1992, Lehmann-Haupt, review of Double Agent, p. B2; June 22, 2002, Daphne Eviatar, "A Delayed Perception of the Rebellion in the Conservative 1950s" (author interview), p. A15.

New York Times Book Review, March 13, 1977; March 26, 1989, review of Gates of Eden, p. 22; February 7, 1993, John Sutherland, review of Double Agent, p. 23; March 30, 1997, review of Double Agent, p. 24; November 16, 1997, review of Gates of Eden, p. 76; April 4, 1999, Alan Ryan, review of The Revival of Pragmatism, p. 10; May 19, 2002, Jenny Turner, "When the Outs Got In," p. 49.

Philosophy and Literature, October, 1999, review of The Revival of Pragmatism, p. 424.

Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1992, review of Double Agent, p. 63.

Religious Studies Review, January, 1981, review of Gates of Eden, p. 60.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1993, Irving Malin, review of Double Agent, p. 284.

School Library Journal, December, 1992, Shira Schwam-Baird, review of Double Agent, p. 29.

Science and Society, spring, 1980, review of Gates of Eden, p. 94.

Sewanee Review, summer, 1993, J. A. Bryant, Jr., review of Double Agent, p. 433.

Shofar, spring, 2003, "Nostalgia and Recognition: Ilan Stavans and Morris Dickstein in Conversation."

Spectator (London, England), July 6, 2002, Philip Hensher, "Groping for the Great American Novel," p. 30.

Tikkun, November-December, 2002, Mark Shechner, review of Leopards in the Temple.

Times Higher Education Supplement, April 23, 1993, John Lyon, review of Double Agent, p. 21.

Times Literary Supplement, February 26, 1993, Arthur Krystal, review of Double Agent, p. 25; November 15, 2002, Zachary Leader, review of Leopards in the Temple.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 10, 1993, review of Double Agent, p. 4.

U.S. Society and Values, June, 1988, Michael J. Bandler, "A Meeting at the Crossroads."

Village Voice, April 25, 1977.

Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 2003, Steven Kellman, review of Leopards in the Temple.

Wall Street Journal, December 22, 1992, review of Double Agent, p. A9.

Washington Post Book World, May 1, 1977; January 15, 1989, review of Gates of Eden, p. 13; October 11, 1992, review of Double Agent, p. 8.

World & I, January, 1993, review of Double Agent, p. 367; July 28, 2002, Marshall Boswell, review of Leopards in the Temple.

OTHER

Arguing the World (documentary film), Riverside Film Productions, 1998.