Clem who?

[Posted 2:18 PM by James Panero]

Clement Greenberg wrote for an educated audience outside of the universities. His ideas on art reverberated through literature, philosophy, and politics. But if there was a time when the name of Clement Greenberg meant something to more than art critics, artists, and academics, that time is no more. This is sad to say, because his criticism and personality were at the center of twentieth-century modernism, and he came to define the way we think about American art. This is something even his detractors will agree upon.

It is a pleasure then to recommend what will be considered the first serious biography of Greenberg called "Art Czar: The Rise and Fall of Clement Greenberg" by Alice Goldfarb Marquis (MFA Books), due out now in mid-May.

My review of the book appeared over last weekend in the Wall Street Journal, and last time I checked this link gets you the full text of the article. Here is what I wrote about one of the notable features of Marquis’s biography:

A new element in the Greenberg story -- notably absent from Florence Rubenfeld’s "Clement Greenberg: A Life" (1997), a chatty biography that referred to its subject as "Clem" -- is a collection of letters from Greenberg to Harold Lazarus, a friend since childhood. Ms. Marquis has read the letters closely and woven them into a rich, if chilling, narrative of Greenberg’s intellectual development.

In Ms. Marquis’s presentation, one element predominates: Greenberg’s lifelong contempt for his Jewishness. Writing from a camp in the Pocono Mountains, where he was a counselor one summer during college, Greenberg complained of "squalling Jew bastards from the very best homes in Long Island." Of his Jewish editors at the influential journal Partisan Review (which first published "Avant-Garde and Kitsch"), he wrote: "[They] make me sick. Preserve culture from the Jews. Hitler’s almost right."

Again, here is the link to the review. And here is the book on Amazon. From those of you who have never heard of Greenberg to those who wrestle with his ideas on a daily basis, this long-awaited biography gets my equally high recommendation.
in the precincts where art -- and thinking about art -- still matters, Greenberg is "indispensable," as Ms. Marquis notes. In an age when much art criticism is "conducted in a self-referential mumble," she says, "his rhetoric remains a benchmark for persuasive prose in the field of aesthetics." Her biography is a benchmark as well, for discussions of the life and legacy of Clement Greenberg.

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