Brief Mentions: The Sixties

The disappointing qualities of this final volume of Edmund Wilson's diaries, due partially to surfeit (over 2,000 pages of The Twenties, The Thirties, The Forties, and The Fifties precede these almost 1,000), have finally to do with the limitations of the modern secular intellectual mind as it wrestles with the perceived insufficiency, tawdriness, and dishonesty of the contemporary world. Viewed from this perspective, even Wilson's enormous intellectual curiosity seems less an inspiration and more a source of frustration and depression for the reader who has devotedly kept company with the critic and author from his youthful days as a New York bohemian to his finish as the fearsome Old Man of Talcottville. As a writer and as a human being, Wilson was in his own way a great man and a great American, at once an original and a type that is, alas, now nearly extinct. The scion of an established Middle Atlantic family, he inherited the positivism of the 19th-century American upper-middle class, as well as the strong-mindedness that never feared to be mistaken for simple eccentricity; the first led him into a flirtation with communism, the second rescued him from his interest in Marxist theory and practice and caused him finally to renounce the liberal bureaucratic statism that his former ideals had produced in postwar America. ("Whether I stay or leave," he wrote in the 1960's, "this...

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