THE PARTISAN REVIEW

JANUARY 1949 ISSUE

reviewed by Robin Hemley
  • APPEARED HOW OFTEN: Quarterly
  • FOUNDING EDITORS: William Phillips and Philip Rahv
  • FIRST ISSUE: February—March 1934
  • ENVISIONED AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO: The New Masses, a Communist Party monthly
  • POLITICALLY AGAINST: Stalinism
  • AESTHETICALLY AGAINST: Art as proletarian propaganda
  • CIRCULATION AT HEYDAY: 15,000
  • NOTABLE CONTRIBUTORS: Dwight MacDonald, Robert Lowell, Hannah Arendt, George Orwell, Lionel Trilling, Mary McCarthy
  • AMONG THE INFLUENTIAL ESSAYS PUBLISHED: Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp”
  • LAST ISSUE PUBLISHED: April 12, 2003

Hardly anything in the January 1949 issue of the Partisan Review feels dated. At the remove of nearly sixty years, it still carries the punch of revelation. This particular copy sat unobtrusively in my family library for more than fifty years, and until recently I never felt the need to read it because, well, it was an old issue of a defunct literary magazine. I’m not sure who bought it—my father and mother were both writers, and they spoke reverently of the PR, which was more a literary event than a literary magazine. The magazine was aimed unabashedly at intellectuals. The word intellectual has fallen on hard times and is too often seen as synonymous with elitist, academic, or dry. If you want dryness, you can find it in the January 1949 issue of the PR—Clement Greenberg writing about the role of nature in abstract art, or art historian Meyer Schapiro writing about a travel book by the nineteenth-century French artist-writer Eugène Fromentin. (I personally like a smidgen of dryness, even if my chugging brain ultimately reduces Greenberg’s essay into a fortune cookie’s worth of wisdom: “Although It Might Not Seem So at First Glance, Abstract Art Is Concerned with a Replication of Natural Laws.” Good. That’s all I needed to know to get on with my life.) And I never would have heard of Fromentin or concerned myself with his struggle to appreciate Rembrandt, if not for Schapiro.

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Robin Hemley is the author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction. His popular craft book, Turning Life into Fiction, will be reissued in an expanded verison in April 2006 from Graywolf Press, and his book Invented Eden will appear in paperback in fall 2006 from University of Nebraska Press. He is the director of the nonfiction writing program at the University of Iowa.

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