Remembering Irving Howe

Remembering Irving Howe

Lucidity may have been Irving Howe’s favorite word, as much in prose as in politics. In a preface to the republication of Politics and the Novel, written shortly before his death, he remarked that nowadays, “when critical writing is marked by obscurantism and jargon,” he aspired to prose “so direct, so clear, so transparent that the act of reading comes to seem like looking through a glass.”

Not that the world was so direct, so clear, so transparent. He knew too well its murkiness, but rebelled against internalizing it. He wasn’t “post- modern.” He scorned turbidity parading as profun- dity no less than false lucidity—the reduction of complications to simplistic schemes. But he believed that the effort had to be made, even if one failed, to see and think and write straight. And to be politically straight. He knew that nowadays all glasses have fissures. His own lucidity came, partly, of refusal—refusal to turn his eyes away, refusal to find refuge in obscurantism or jargon, refusal to conceal what ought not to be concealed or to hide or to fudge what had not been thought through.

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