Martin S. Dworkin His Life And Work


Martin Dworkin was born in 1921 in New York City. Dworkin grew up in The Bronx and began attending The College of the City of New York in 1938. It was while at the College that he developed his interest in both writing and photography as fine art. Some of his early photographs can be found in the 1942 Microcosm, City College's yearbook, of which he was the Photography Editor. He was also writing short stories and poetry and graduated from the College with a degree in the social sciences

Although he had bad eyesight, Dworkin still chose to be in the army during World War II. Sent to the European theater, he became head of the camera section of the 664th Engineering Topographical Company, third Army Corps, serving in that capacity with distinction. After the war, Dworkin became a student at the New School in New York City, and took courses in philosophy, history and sociology with some of the outstanding professors from European universities, who had fled the Nazis and were teaching there. It was at the suggestion of Professor Felix Kaufmann, for whom he had the highest regard, and with whom he might have taken the doctorate had the latter lived, that Dworkin went uptown to Teachers College, Columbia University. There he met Lawrence Cremin, then a doctoral student at T.C., who was later to become President of Teachers College. Dworkin and Cremin became friends and were eventually closely associated at the College in a number of undertakings that helped build Cremin's reputation and advance his career.

While still a student, Dworkin, who was already a writer, editor and photographer of considerable ability in each of these fields, continued the practice he had carried on while still in the army of publishing his poems, short stories, articles and photographs as a free lance. In 1950, while working as a writer and editor of Amerika Illustrated, a publication in Russian of the United States Information Service, Dworkin met William Gaddis, who was already a writer and was later to distinguish himself as a novelist. Their close friendship, which was to last until shortly before Dworkin's death from leukemia in 1996, began with that meeting. It was during these years as a student and writer that Dworkin hammered out the approach (best shown in his essay, "Disagreement: the Situation of Reason," published in 1952) that was to inform his criticism throughout the fifties and beyond.

As a successful and widely published critic of film during the fifties and early sixties, Dworkin broke new ground in maintaining that everything we do in society has an educational aspect. He rejected the traditional idea of education as centered exclusively in the school and considered popular culture, and in particular, film, to be one of the most significant elements in the educational process. It was also during the fifties that the friendship between Dworkin and Gaddis became very close. As many as thirty-eight of their conversations found their way into Gaddis's first novel, The Recognitions.

Dworkin continued his association with academe, and in particular, with Lawrence Cremin and Teachers College. By the close of the decade of the fifties, he was writing film criticism of high caliber on a regular basis for such journals as The New Republic, The New Leader, The Progressive and Canadian Commentator. At the urging of his friend and colleague, Lawrence Cremin, Dworkin decided to give up writing film criticism regularly and form a close association with Teachers College. There, throughout the sixties and into the late seventies, Dworkin was recognized as a great teacher and developed two original, highly praised courses. He was also a research associate at the Institute of Philosophy and Politics of Education at Teachers College and General Editor of his own series, published by Teachers College Press, which gave him the opportunity to write the kinds of essays he was rarely permitted to write as a contributor to the various journals in the fifties. Among the books included in this series were a number of important works on cinema for which Dworkin wrote forewords. Rising to the level of social philosophy, these forewords may be considered to be among the most profound commentaries on film and society written in this country since the end of World War II.

As he became known in the academic world during the sixties and into the early seventies, Dworkin was often invited to lecture at universities on such diverse subjects as photographic education, cinema, film study in higher education and radio. In addition, he acted as keynote speaker, panelist, consultant, part of visiting faculty and discussion leader in a wide variety of programs, debates, conferences and discussions, all of which served to enhance a growing reputation in the fields of education, aesthetics, film, television and media studies, popular culture and mass communication.

During the seventies, however, Dworkin's activity in these fields diminished sharply, and his association with Lawrence Cremin and Teachers College ended in acrimony in 1978. Without the doctorate, he was vulnerable when retrenchment set in and cutbacks became the order of the day.

Martin Dworkin was married once. His wife, Miki, a prominent fashion designer, died in 1984. There were no children.


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Failed Friendships
New Title: Triumph Through Adversity

A Memoir of Martin S. Dworkin: His Life and Work

Last modified: July 14, 2013

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