Irving Howe A Margin of Hope.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 352 pages, $14.95

The memoirs of certain ex-radicals tend, with good reason, to be written in the elegiac mode. Yet it is a very odd mode of elegy that such memoirs offer us. For what is mourned, more often than not, is not so much an actuality that has perished as a conception of the world that proved to be untenable. This gives to memoirs of this sort a curious air of unreality. Their manifest subject isn’t really life, either the writer’s or anyone else’s; it is dialectic. These memoirs tend, therefore, to be abstract and analytical rather than descriptive or evocative. Just as in life the idea dominated experience, so in writing about life must experience be subordinated to the idea. The pivotal events of life are treated less as occasions for recollection and re-examination than as issues to be debated and battles to be...

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