The Public Interest

The American Intellectual Vocation

H. J. Kaplan

Summer 1982

WHILE waiting to serve as a juror at the New York County Court, I have been reading and rereading William Barrett’s The Truants, a book about the old Partisan Review circle: Philip Rahv, William Phillips, et al., their ideas, their personalities, and what became of them over the years. This was the crucial period just before and after World War II when America ceased to play the role of a deus ex machina in Europe’s agony and became a major protagonist in the drama of the West. I find the book admirable and curiously moving. Barrett’s generation was my own, give or take a few years, and the courthouse is an ironically appropriate setting for his reminiscences because they remind me that I too was once a “truant” in the sense that Barrett gives the word, although he never suggests that this was or is an indictable offense.  I keep looking around at the marble columns and pale murals wondering at the enormous changes that have brought us, those who survived, from that point to this.

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