Philip Rahv (March 10, 1908 in Kupin, Ukraine – December 22, 1973 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American literary critic and essayist. In 1933 he and William Phillips co-founded Partisan Review, one of the most influential literary periodicals in the first half of the twentieth century. Initially affiliated with the Communist Party and adhering to their agenda of proletarian literature, Rahv went on to publish a broad spectrum of modern writers in the pages of his magazine. He was one of the first to introduce Kafka to American readers.
He was born to a Jewish family in Kupin, Ukraine, part of the Russian-occupied region of Galicia. The family escaped and spent two years in Vienna, where Philip attended the gymnasium. He was born under the name Fevel Greenberg. He made his way to Providence, Rhode Island, with his father and two brothers, Selig and David. He lived for a time in Palestine where his mother chose to live, and worked as a teacher of Hebrew, in Portland, Oregon from 1928 to 1931. He wrote at first under the name Philip Rann. Then came the modification to "Rahv," which appeared in an essay he published in 1932.
In 1933 Rahv joined the American Communist Party. Partisan Review broke with the Soviet line in 1937 in the wake of the Moscow Trials and maintained an ongoing feud with Stalinist Popular Front advocates such as Granville Hicks of New Masses. He was officially expelled as a Trotzkyite by the American Communist Party on October 1, 1937. Rahv taught at Brandeis University in his later years and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1973.
Philip Rahv's writing career began during the Depression. It reflected the prevailing literary currents of Marxism and the rise of proletarian literature. In search of a collective ideology, he and others of his generation rejected the formalism and social disengagement of the great writers of the twenties. An exception was T. S. Eliot, whose intellectual depth and historic sense Rahv continued to admire, Eliot's increasingly reactionary politics and traditional religiosity notwithstanding. Because Rahv believed the creative contradictions within a writer are the greatest measure of his achievement, he welcomed the opportunity to reconcile Eliot's conservative views with revolutionary ones that his writing also contained.
Rahv's literary influence arose from his role as editor, author, and reviewer for Partisan Review and other magazines including The New York Review of Books. From the start of his writing career he articulated his key literary values: the need for a synthesis between European and American artistic traditions and between literary modernism and radicalism; the importance of the Marxist dialectic to effectuate such syntheses; the value of cosmopolitanism to promote a broad understanding of the world and the leading ideas of the writer's times; the rejection of parochial ideas based on region, nation, or ethnicity. In one of his most often quoted essays, "Paleface and Redskin," he identified two opposing currents: upper-class palefaces such as Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne and uncultured redfaces such as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. The result was a dichotomy between consciousness and experience and between symbolism and naturalism. Rahv deplored the dichotomy, looking to the future for the kind of synthesis achieved by such European writers as Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann.
Rahv reached the height of his literary influence editing and writing for Partisan Review in the late 1930s. His influence continued through the 1940s with his writings on a wide range of European and American authors, most notably Henry James, whose reputation he contributed to reviving. With the rightward turn of politics in the 1950s, however, he retreated from his earlier literary and political prominence. He played little role in Partisan Review in this era, publishing essays in other publications, most notably The New York Review of Books. In the 1960s his brief enthusiasm for the New Left was followed by disillusionment. He never finished his final project, a book on Dostoyevsky.