THE MEMOIRS OF A REVOLUTIONIST, by Dwight Macdonald. Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy
This book, as a book, doesn’t add much to the wealth of nations. It is foolishly inconsistent, not often thought-provoking, not informative (except perhaps to the young who have never heard of these goings-on), and hardly even entertaining. Yet most of the pieces collected here were —I do not mean “seemed”—very good when they appeared. There is no paradox; Dwight is an excellent journalist—I am not well-informed, but I cant think of any better. He thinks with his typewriter about the current material and in the melee of opinions of the readers he hopes to reach. He raises that kind of conversation to a better level, with broader perspective, better words; he gives information they would have overlooked. He never fails to be fair to the immediate facts and at least decent in his sentiments. He is never revolting and not very often stupid. He is fearless and independent. Reflect a moment and make comparisons among the journalists and you will see how excellent is Dwight. Such journalists are indispensable in our conversation-groups; and and I am not especially depressed to find him, who started with Luce, now with The New Yorker; for Dwight’s job or connection-tenure averages, let us say, five years, which is not above par for an honest man who is adaptable and really aims to please.
But of course such thinking with the typewriter, instead of the head, heart, and hand, cannot rise above its source in the headlines and the mixture of polemical opinions. Dwight says he is “unable to write a book in cold blood,” implying, I think, both that he needs the heat of involvement and that there is something clammy about the development of a thesis in “isolation.” I am not so sure, however, that he can write a book at all. His involvement is that of a welcome kibitzer rather than of a man determined to a goal of action or truth; and he seems to have no experience of the passion of the intellect, of learning and adding to learning, of catching a definition and exhausting the consequences, of affirming a conclusion because it follows. Whence would he get the plot, the inner motion, of a book? Or how could he become absorbed enough to write a book? As a journalist-critic, coping with opinions and headline-facts his organization of the material is clear and telling, but it reveals nothing of the essence of the subject; whereas the organization of a book is the essence of the subject.
Then let me here, since we have before us such a remarkably fine specimen, look for a few properties of the Journalist. In the nature of the case, since I am writing in cold blood, all my sentences will seem cold-blooded. I am looking at something reproduced in a book which had its proper life for us as we read on the run. Thus, I say this book is not informative; it is not; yet the pieces, in their matrix of heated talk, gave ...
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