“Partial, Passionate, and Political”

“Partial, Passionate, and Political”

The Anxious Object: Art Today and Its Audience
by Harold Rosenberg
Horizon Press, 270 pp., $7.50


I praised Harold Rosenberg’s first volume of criticism (The Tradition of the New) for its variety: this new volume must be praised for its steady concentration on one subject, the crisis of society and of art. The crisis is not a new one—it has been with us for more than a hundred years and Baudelaire was its anxious prognosticator. Baudelaire is barely mentioned in The Anxious Object, but I think of him as I read this new book: it makes the same demand for a criticism that should be “partial, passionate and political”— and, to make the comparison still more exact, “amusing and poetic.”

The new note introduced into art criticism by Mr. Rosenberg might be called a relevant wit—not satire, much less irony (always a rare commodity in the literature of the United States), but an aptness of phrasing, if necessary of neologizing (“globalism,” “gag-art,” “the art of ice-cream sodas, seven-foot toothpaste tubes, movie marquees”) that give a consistent liveliness to a text that is nevertheless quite savagely serious. Mr. Rosenberg’s intention is to restore objectivity to “the only remaining intellectual activity, not excluding theology, in which pre-Darwinian minds continue to affirm value systems dissociated from any observable phenomena.”


Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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