Thursday, June 10, 2021

Marjorie Perloff on Menand's The Free World

 I just read the review in the TLS by Marjorie Perloff of Louis Manand's The Free World, Art and Thought in the Cold War. 

Perloff begins her review with a quote from the beginning of Manand's book:  "This book is about a time when the United States was actively engaged with the rest of the world.  In the twenty years after the end of the Second World War, the United States invested in the economy of Japan and Western Europe and extended loans to other countries around the world.  With the United Kingdom, it created the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to support global political stability and International trade.  It hosted the new United Nations.  Through its government, its philanthropic foundations, its universities, and its cultural institutions, it established exchange programs for writers and scholars, distributed literature around the globe, and sent art from American collections and music by American composers and performers abroad. . . . Works of literature and philosophy from all over the world were published in affordable translations.  Foreign movies were imported and distributed across the country. . . ."

I thought of Clive Bell's Civilization.  Surely the United States doing the things Manand describes is deserving of some slight bit of the classification "Civilized."  But that thought begins to crumble as one gets past this first section, as I have, having bought the book.  The U.S. becomes embroiled in the world's shadier activities and doesn't manage nearly as well as it did during the first period.  But this is not, apparently, a point Menand wants to emphasize.  He wants to show how the U.S. has been changed, how its art has grown and improved, how in fact the U.S. has become more cultured and perhaps (I am hopeful) civilized.  The news is full of our shortcomings, but something dramatic and even revolutionary has happened in art, in culture, in understanding if not in politics during the period Menand discusses . . . at least it would seem so from Perloff's review and in the few pages I've thus far read. 

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