The archives of Partisan Review, the totemic 20th-century journal of politics and the arts, have finally been fully digitized. Hosted at Boston University, which kept the magazine afloat in its last two decades, Partisan Review‘s complete digitization was recently announced by the university’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, under whose auspices the project was undertaken. (Before the move to BU in 1978, the publication was based at Rutgers, where editor William Phillips took up shop as faculty in 1963.)
In art, Partisan Review is perhaps best known as the publisher of Clement Greenberg, who contributed over 30 articles from 1939 to 1981, most notably his Summer 1939 essay entitled “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” (Greenberg even made a posthumous appearance in the Spring 1999 issue.) Beyond Greenberg’s voluble legacy we encounter such landmark texts as Dwight Macdonald’s “Masscult and Midcult,” from the Spring 1960 issue, and Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” from Winter 1964, as well as the seminal popular-culture criticism of Robert Warshow (his essay on the Krazy Kat comic strip in the November-December 1946 issue is especially great) and the work of Hilton Kramer, the conservative iconoclast who went on to found The New Criterion.
Over the years, several issues of Partisan Review were given over to questions of art and criticism, among them Summer 1972‘s Art, Culture and Conservatism, which featured essays by such diverse figures as Allen Ginsberg, Ihab Hassan, Mary McCarthy, and Harold Rosenberg. The State of Criticism, in Winter 1981, included contributions by Greenberg, Rosalind Krauss, and Alfred Kazin, among many others.
The whole archive is a treasure trove of worthwhile and interesting texts, so one stumbles upon gems throughout — the small magazine’s vivacious contributions to art criticism are too many to enumerate here. (Even in the journal’s waning years one encounters Helen Frankenthaler on Clement Greenberg’s letters, in the Fall 2000 issue.) In eulogizing the Review — whose circulation, it should be noted, never exceeded 15,000 — when it ceased publication in 2003, the New York Times wrote that “the magazine is unlikely to be forgotten … For many Americans, Partisan Review was their introduction to Abstract Expressionism, existentialism, New Criticism and the voices of talented young writers like Robert Lowell, Normal Mailer, Elizabeth Hardwick and Susan Sontag.”