WHY TRILLING MATTERS.
By Adam Kirsch.
Yale Univ. Press. 185 pp. $24
Twenty years ago, asking why Lionel Trilling mattered would not have seemed necessary. Trilling (1905–75) was a professor at Columbia University for four decades, author of The Liberal Imagination (1950) and other essential works of 20th-century criticism, and an editor—along with poet W. H. Auden and historian and critic Jacques Barzun—of the popular Reader’s Subscription Book Club series in the 1950s. His influence was palpable. Although he left no disciples behind, critics such as Cynthia Ozick and neoconservatives including Irving Kristol show his influence.
Yet, as Adam Kirsch notes in this concise study, Trilling is in danger of being dismissed or, worse, mocked. His emphasis on the canonical texts of English literature doesn’t jibe with our multicultural sentiments, and his conviction about the autonomy and privileged place of literature (specifically, the long-form novel) has struck many contemporary critics as schoolmarmish and passé. Books are dead; who needs literary critics, especially those who (in the view of Trilling critic Louis Menand) “worried too much about culture” and were raised in an environment permeated by Modernism and Marxism, neither of which has the cultural weight it once did?
To read the rest of this article, please consider becoming a WQ subscriber, which allows online access to the current WQ issue as well as archive content. Other access options are below.
Research, browse, and discover more than 35 years of articles, essays, and reviews by preeminent scholars and writers. Our searchable archive of back issues is free for WQ subscribers.
Gerald J. Russello is the editor of The University Bookman.more from this author >>
Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today
By Rob Dunn.
290 pp. $26.99 THE ANOINTED:Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.
By Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson.
356 pp. $29.95 LITERARY BROOKLYN: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life.
By Evan Hughes.
Holt. 337 pp. $17