Sociologist who introduced French Structuralism to the United States
Edith Kurzweil was born Edith Weisz in Vienna in 1926 into an assimilated Jewish family. After the national socialists’ annexation of Austria in 1938, she left Austria in 1939 on a children’s transport. After spending time in Belgium and France, she arrived in the United States in 1940.
Kurzweil spent her first years in the United States supporting herself and her family working a variety of jobs, such as painting beads or polishing diamonds. In the evenings, she attended high school and, starting in 1944, she took classes at the City College of New York. In 1958, Edith married Robert Kurzweil, who worked as a machine tool designer in Italy, where she lived for eight years. After the death of her husband in 1965, she went back to the United States and decided to go back to school, driven by her need to understand the social and political dynamics that had interfered with her life. At Queens College, she completed her B.A. (1967), and she subsequently received her Ph.D. in sociology from the Graduate Faculty of the New School of Social Research in 1973.
While following an academic path (holding professorships at Rutgers University and Adelphi University), she joined the editing staff of the Partisan Review, a political and literary journal. There she met her future husband, William Phillips, who was the co-founder and co-editor of the journal. Kurzweil’s frequent travels between the United States and various European countries and her cooperation with European research institutions allowed her to revisit the changing intellectual, political, and economic developments in Europe. Being part of the literary circles in New York as well as in Europe, she used the Partisan Review as a vehicle to communicate European social, intellectual, and political developments to an American audience, thus influencing the perception of Europe among Americans as well as other émigrés. She also played a crucial role in introducing French Structuralism to an American audience, and she wrote a comparative study on German, French, English, Austrian and American traditions in psychoanalysis. Thus, Edith Kurzweil has been an important node in international and transatlantic exchange over several decades.