Making it

James Wolcott writes:

In December 1963, the literary critic, essayist and lyrical memoirist Alfred Kazin filed a field report from an after party for a Commentary magazine symposium ‘on the Negro’. (Symposia on the Negro were popular in the 1960s, helping to keep white liberal panellists occupied and furrowed until the ferocious later phase of Black Power made them all squirm.) Kazin had been unable to attend the symposium itself but, never one to miss a party, popped into the reception being thrown by Commentary’s editor-in-chief Norman Podhoretz and his wife, the writer and editor Midge Decter, one of the power couples of the Upper West Side intelligentsia – the junior version of Lionel and Diana Trilling. Kazin, a Commentary contributor going back to 1945, found himself in a bobbing sea of familiar faces but left in a sour funk, fed up with that old gang of his, the unseemliness of it all:

The party is deductible, it is given by the corporation for the customers, and the ‘host’ and ‘hostess’ act as if the chief end of the party were to give themselves a kick. Struck by the oafishness of Norman Pod. drunkenly clowning in the entrance to the elevator. That lovely, blond girl (wife of the publisher of the NY Review?) looked really offended, and I couldn’t blame her.

It should be noted that the party was held two weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy, such boozy antics somewhat dissonant in what was for most Americans a joyless holiday season. Yet what appears to have peeved Kazin was something closer to home: the crass spectacle of chums and colleagues gloating over their ascendant glory. ‘Basically, the Commentary party is a collection of Jewish intellectuals who have made it,’ he wrote. And no one was busting his buttons more than the man at the top of Commentary’s masthead. That evening proved to be a preview of coming attractions, an ethos in embryo.

(LRB 18 May 2017)