A theme of The Culture of Critique is that Jewish intellectual movements created a fundamentally Jewish intellectual and social world whose members promoted each other and socialized with each other. People outside that world didn’t matter. They could be subject to mobbing-type attacks or simply ignored.
The New York Intellectuals spent their careers entirely within a Jewish social and intellectual milieu. When Rubenfeld (1997, 97) lists people [Clement] Greenberg invited to social occasions at his apartment in New York, the only gentile mentioned is artist William de Kooning. Revealingly, Michael Wrezin (1994, 33) refers to Dwight Macdonald, another Trotskyist contributor to [Partisan Review, the flagship journal of the New York Intellectuals], as “a distinguished goy among the Partisanskies.” Another non-Jew was writer James T. Farrell, but his diary records a virtually all-Jewish social milieu in which a large part of his life was spent in virtual non-stop social interaction with other New York Intellectuals (Cooney 1986, 248). Indeed, [Norman] Podhoretz (1967, 246–248) refers to the New York Intellectuals as a “family” who, when they attended a party, arrived at the same time and socialized among their ingroup. (CoC, Chapter 6, pp. 220-221)
A discussion in the Forward of a recent biography of Susan Sontag is a nice illustration of this phenomenon (Susan Sontag’s Not-So-Secret and Not-Always-So-Jewish History: Biographer Demonstrates Author’s Persistent Charms).
Very soon, Sontag would draw inspiration from a series of Jewish mentors and friends, or as Schreiber puts it, the “dominant, exotic European-Jewish father figure to whom Sontag was attracted throughout her career.” These include the political philosopher and classicist Leo Strauss and the sociologist Philip Rieff with whom she studied at the University of Chicago— she married Rieff at age 17. At Harvard, Sontag was taught by another sociologist, Jacob Taubes; his wife Susan’s fascination with the French Jewish philosopher Simone Weil inspired one of Sontag’s ardent campaigns to get the American reading public to heed hitherto overlooked writers and thinkers. Her publicization of “the achievements of such authors as Walter Benjamin [of the Frankfurt School], Elias Canetti, Paul Goodman, and Leonid Tsypkin, who wrote the novel “Summer in Baden Baden,” are among Sontag’s most sympathetic labors.
While respectful of literary elders, Sontag had an ironic attitude toward a few “dominant, exotic European-Jewish father figures” such as French Jewish philosopher Jean Wahl, whom she met in Paris in 1958. The septuagenarian Wahl, who had escaped from Drancy internment camp during the Nazi occupation, was mocked by Sontag for having “three holes in his pants through which his underpants were visible.” By the time she moved to New York in 1959, her Jewish influences were her contemporaries, often gay writers including the novelist Alfred Chester, poet Richard Howard and film critic Elliott Stein. The last-mentioned apparently inspired Sontag to write her 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp,’” which, if necessarily of its time, still has value as a cultural artefact today.