Robert Minto at Open Letters Monthly:
In addition to being dead, Irving Howe might seem irrelevant to 21st century culture because he was dedicated to causes few take seriously anymore – at least in Howe’s country, the United States – causes such as socialism and aesthetic modernism. Consequently the title of the new collection of his shorter works – A Voice Still Heard – has polemical overtones: it stakes a claim for what it contains that is not immediately obviously true. Howe’s daughter, Nina Howe, has chosen for the volume a representative selection of her father’s shorter work, organized by decade, spanning the full course of his career from the 1950s to the 1990s. Why should we listen to a voice that seemingly wasted itself in the fight for lost causes through the medium of essays about books and politics? Foremost, perhaps, because Howe belonged to a group of thinkers and writers who perfected a certain kind of essay.
For the New York intellectuals, among whom Howe belonged by a bare margin, the purpose of the essay was aesthetic and political at the same time. The New York intellectuals published in the mid-20th century journals Commentary and Partisan Review. Dickstein notes of Howe that, “more than a decade younger than Trilling, Rahv, and their generation, he always felt like a latecomer.” Summing up the movement in retrospect, Howe said they combined “anti-Stalinist leftism and the defense of cultural and literary modernism. Two avant-gardes.”