To destroy beauty

Alvin Lustig's cover design for a New Directions edition of Lawrence

As you may have seen looking at the recommended readings on Abstract Expressionism, the painter Barnett Newman described “the impulse of modern art” as the effort “to destroy beauty.”

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Hot and Cold

She was beautiful and I was terrified of her.

Nancy Macdonald’s memory of the young Mary McCarthy


So far as I know, the lives of Mary McCarthy and Otto Preminger did not overlap in any significant way. They worked in different art forms, moved in very different circles, and had quite disparate interests. But they had one important quality in common. At the center of both The Company She Keeps and Laura lies a distinctive and powerful conjunction. In each we see a fascination with the sexual freedom experienced by well-educated, career women living in New York City. And in both texts, the glamorous and possibly disturbing implications of that freedom are viewed from a narrative perspective that is striking for the analytic distance and emotional neutrality it maintains toward its subject matter. In short, passion viewed dispassionately. Hot and cold.

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A character out of Dostoevsky

Whittaker Chambers testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948

One of the interesting historical curiosities of Lionel Trilling’s Middle of the Journey is the fact that the novel depends heavily on the figure of Gifford Maxim–a barely fictionalized representation of Trilling’s sometime associate Whittaker Chambers. Chambers was little known in 1947, when Trilling’s book was published. But in the following year he would become a figure of national controversy when he publicly accused State Department official Alger Hiss, among others, of having spied for the Soviet Union. That accusation resulted in a political firestorm and became a central episode of postwar American political history.

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An American Orwell?

Dwight Macdonald and friends at Mary McCarthy's 57th St. apt in the 1940s; Macdonald is at lower left, on his right the actor Kevin McCarthy (of Invasion of the Body Snatchers fame, brother of Mary); top row, l to r, Miriam Chiaromonte, Nicola Chiaromonte, Mary McCarthy, John Berryman

The great conservative historian John Lukacs is said to have asked in 1957 whether Dwight Macdonald would not soon be recognized as the American Orwell. The answer turned out to be “probably not.” Macdonald never achieved anything like Orwell’s stature or influence. But the question was a measure of Macdonald’s once great prominence in the American intellectual scene.

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The “Hiroshima” New Yorker

Cover of the August 31, 1946 New Yorker, whose entire editorial content was given over to Hersey's Hiroshima


TO OUR READERS The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. The Editors


The notice with which The New Yorker prefaced the special issue containing “Hiroshima”

John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” was initially published in the August 31, 1946 issue of The New Yorker. In a number of respects, the publication was unprecedented for the magazine, and it created a local and national sensation.

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