In The Nation, Vivian Gornick has a piece on the New York Jewish intellectual poet Delmore Schwartz (who happened to also be a mentor to Lou Reed.) She starts the piece with a reminiscence by Alfred Kazin:
In New York Jew, published in 1978, Alfred Kazin recalled that the “twin reading rooms” of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street “gave me a sense of the powerful amenity that I craved for my own life, a world of power in which my own people had moved about as strangers…. I was hungry for it all, hungry all the time. I was made so restless by the many minds within my reach that no matter how often I rushed across to the Automat for another bun and coffee…I could never get back to my books and notes…without the same hunger pains tearing me inside.”…
“There are times in history,” Kazin wrote of the Depression, “when a group feels that it is at the center of events…. It seemed to me obvious that everywhere, even in Hitler’s Germany, to be outside of society and to be Jewish was to be at the heart of things…. I hugged my aloneness, our apartness…as a sign of our call to create the future.”
There’s that ‘ole Jewish separatism and messianism again.
Of Schwartz himself:
An epitome of this arriviste generation of Jewish intellectuals, Schwartz was both precocious and reverential, an original and a keeper of the culture. His personality, like that of Bellow’s—shaped by an amalgam of immigrant culture, urban street smarts, and a besotted adoration of European modernism—was marked by a mesmerizing torrent of words that poured incessantly from him. At one and the same time that he was this brilliant, fast-talking New York Jew he was yet imprinted with the conviction that to serve the literary culture formed by modernism was his vocation. Talking with friends in a Greenwich Village cafe, he was where he came from; on the page, he was where he wanted to go.