Morris Dickstein, a literary critic, cultural historian and City University of New York professor who was among the last of the first generation of Jewish public intellectuals reared on the Lower East Side, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 81.
His daughter, Rachel Dickstein, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.
A baby-faced scholar who studied at Columbia, Yale and the University of Cambridge, Professor Dickstein could ruminate on Keats and Allen Ginsberg as well his recollections of his immigrant parents and the campus upheaval at Columbia University when he taught there in the late 1960s (“pot, but no LSD, protest but no ‘days of rage’”) — all in a single paragraph — and still seem completely syllogistic.
His books often challenged conventional wisdom and were sometimes prescient. He argued in “Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties” (1977) that the political turmoil of the decade, as Christopher Lasch wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “tended to undermine the distinction between high culture and popular culture and to make popular culture an object of serious discussion.”
“Gates of Eden” was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. His “Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression” (2009) was a finalist for that award.