The Individual Nuisance

A single sentence sufficed to seal my veneration for Harold Rosenberg. It comes in the midst of the bravura conclusion of “The Intellectual and His Future,” an essay from 1965. “One does not possess mental freedom and detachment,” it reads, “one participates in them.” Here was a dictum worthy of adoption as a creed. “Intellectual” is not a title, an honorific, or a job description. It is a daily aspiration. Rosenberg is remembered, if he is remembered at all, as one of the leading American art critics of the twentieth century, the coiner of the term “action painting” to describe the work of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and other Abstract Expressionists, and it was for that reason, several years ago, that I turned to his work. What I discovered was not an art critic but a full-spectrum intellectual who thought about art. He also thought about poetry, politics, theater, fiction,

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