My work on Lionel Trilling emerged by way of my twin interests in the intellectual quarterly Partisan Review, for which Trilling long served as advisory editor, and the life and times of George Orwell, about whose reputation and legacy I wrote a critical study, The Politics of Literary Reputation (Oxford, 1989). Originally I intended to devote a similar book to Trilling and his reputation and influence, but I have limited myself to a less ambitious undertaking: a study of the key moments and stages in the reception history of Trilling’s criticism and fiction, Lionel Trilling and the Critics (Nebraska, 1999).
Nonetheless, to honor a contemporary critic in this way is an unusual gesture, one that testifies to the significance and impact of his work. Indeed, in Trilling’s case, not just the writer’s work but the man’s life have exerted strong, if fluctuating, influence on several generations of intellectuals. It seemed to me appropriate, therefore, to survey the history of critical response to Lionel Trilling (1905-75), whose literary reception constitutes a sharply focused lens through which readers can view the main issues of twentieth-century Anglo-American cultural and intellectual history.
This essay explores these issues in the spirit of what C. Wright Mills, Trilling’s combative Columbia colleague, termed (in an implied radical alternative to Trilling’s untheorized liberalism) “the sociological imagination.”1 My intention is to illuminate Trilling’s critical heritage via a sociology of reputation; the intellectual and reception history of Trilling presented here has four broad aims: first, to draw attention to how personal relationships and interpersonal networks—i.e., nonliterary factors—played a crucial role in the reception of Trilling’s work and the formation of his reputation; secondly, to spotlight the decisive, seldom-studied role of “authoritative” critics (and publications) and their “landmark” statements in the crystallizing of a writer’s reputation2; thirdly, to illuminate the intellectual legacy of one of the twentieth century’s three or four most influential American literary academics; and fourth, to recapture the lively debates in American cultural politics to which Trilling’s writings contributed (and continue to stimulate in our own day).
Networks and Circles
Given their preoccupation with literary matters, literary critics and historians have given scarce attention to the significance of the interpersonal networks that assisted Trilling’s rise to a position of national eminence. As an English professor at Columbia University, Trilling mentored numerous gifted and soon-to-be influential students in American culture, and as a lifetime New Yorker he developed close relationships with various prominent circles of opinion makers—among them scholar-intellectuals, academic critics, social scientists, psychoanalysts, and publishers. And these diverse coalitions interacted in subtle ways to disseminate Trilling’s name and ideas. In no small measure, Trilling’s prestige was attributable to this combination of influences and coalitions, i.e., to sociological factors. His high standing in American intellectual life by mid-century, and indeed his special status within the New York intellectuals until his death, is not explainable solely, indeed perhaps even primarily, by his writings or personal character. Hence I emphasize that proper valuation of Trilling’s achievement and legacy necessitates attention to the “sociological imagination” (the title of an influential 1958 work by C. Wright Mills).
For instance, most of Trilling’s books were reviewed by friends and associates, many of the reviews appearing in publications for which Trilling himself regularly wrote or served as a contributing editor. Among the publications crucial to the formation of Trilling’s early reputation were The New Republic and The Nation, for which he regularly reviewed in the 1930s and 1940s; and Partisan Review and Kenyon Review, on whose editorial boards he served for decades. The “Columbia connection” was especially important throughout Trilling’s lifetime: those notable acquaintances who promoted Trilling’s work included Columbia classmate Clifton Fadiman, book editor of The New Yorker, and former Columbia student Norman Podhoretz, editor-in-chief of Commentary.
Indeed, although Trilling neither founded any school nor directly cultivated any disciples, some of his students became well-known poets (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, John Hollander, Richard Howard, Gerald Stern, Louis Simpson), academic and/or intellectual authorities (Podhoretz, Steven Marcus, Quentin Anderson, Morris Dickstein, Charles Peters, Jeffrey Hart, Marshall Berman, Fritz Stern, Charles Kadushin, Dan Wakefield, Joseph Kraft, Philip Lopate), and prominent men in the publishing world (Jason Epstein, Robert Gottlieb, Sol Stein, Gilman Kraft). Their successes raised Trilling’s own reputation and made easy his smooth traversing of academic, intellectual, and publishing circles (e.g., his supervisory roles in the Reader’s Subscription and Mid-Century book clubs, the latter of which was managed by Sol Stein and Gilman Kraft; and his elevated status within the American Psychoanalytical Association, marked by his 1955 selection to be the first lay speaker to deliver the Freud Anniversary Lecture at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute).
Trilling’s prominent positions in these overlapping circles were mutually reinforcing. Their interaction, along with the face-to-face advantages and access to the media afforded by his location in New York City, transformed him by the mid-1950s into America’s first academic celebrity in the humanities. The decisive role of this complex dynamic—what might
be termed “overlapping spheres of cross-influences” that generated and secured Trilling’s reputation—cannot be overemphasized.
This is not to say that Trilling orchestrated the interactions of these overlapping spheres—the size of the task alone defies such close management. Rather, Trilling was aware of his multiple roles and how they cut across political lines and ideological positions, and both his institutional locations and his carefully composed persona (of “moderation,” reflected both in his writings and personal life) established his position at the center of New York intellectual conversation about psychoanalysis, mass vs. elite culture, the social role of art and literature, and the counterculture.
As we shall see, all these factors have also been at work in the posthumous debates about Trilling’s views and the rival struggles to claim his political and intellectual legacy, including the (partly) socially and self-constructed myth of Trilling as a model of grace, elegance, subtlety, civility, gentility, urbanity, poise, and serenity.
Indeed the contribution of Trilling’s public image to these debates is crucial yet impossible to calculate. That he was perceived to be such a cultural “figure” is without doubt.3 Even his name, which Clifton Fadiman called “the most aggressively euphonious name of any writer since Edna St. Vincent Millay,” seemed crafted for the part. Or as one wag pronounced, in an early postwar rejoinder to Franklin P. Adams’s famous couplet poking fun at the English by lambasting the name of the British poet Basil Bunting: “To admit defeat we are not willing, / We have one called Lionel Trilling.”
Reception and Historiography
Trilling’s reception history is codifiable into four
stages. It moves from the young academic intellectual’s successful first book and tenure, to the established
critic-sage’s ascendancy in New York circles and beyond, to the pronouncements of the elder statesman of letters. A posthumous stage is also discernible in the attempts by
Right- and Left-oriented writers to burnish their intellectual genealogies by claiming Trilling as a forebear. Each of these stages is specifically shaped in reply to different social and historical events: World War II, the Cold War, the New Left and counterculture, and the rise of neoconservatism and academic literary theory.
The overall trajectory is identifiable from the landmarks in Trilling’s oeuvre, ranging from his published dissertation on Matthew Arnold to the posthumous Uniform Edition, edited by his late wife Diana. In the early phase, from Matthew Arnold (1939) to The Middle of the Journey (1947), Trilling was widely and well-received, and his reputation grew so quickly that he had already achieved national stature as a critic by the early 1940s, when he was still an assistant professor. During this first period he established himself as a major critic, became a highly respected professor (in 1945 he became the first tenured Jew in a major American English department), and penned several excellent short stories and a generally well-regarded first novel.
Trilling’s reputation ascended and expanded to international dimensions in the second phase, from The Liberal Imagination (1950) through the period of his book club editorships of the Mid-Century (1951-59) and the Reader’s Subscription (1959-63). His work was reviewed by the most distinguished critics of the day, received appreciative notices in the major literary periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic, and positioned him to become a cultural spokesman through his book clubs. In the third, closing phase of his lifetime, Trilling’s reputation altered dramatically again, from Beyond Culture (1965) to Sincerity and Authenticity (1972) and Mind in the Modern World (1973). He continued to be widely reviewed, but now much more critically, especially by the younger generation.
The last, posthumous phase of Trilling’s reputation (after 1975), distinguished by the publication of a twelve-volume Uniform Edition, has witnessed a steady upswing in Trilling’s reputation in recent years. It is clear that Trilling’s reputation was in eclipse when he died at the age of 70 in 1975, especially in the literary academy, as many readers wondered if Trilling—who never developed a critical “method” or represented a “school” or “theory”—was relevant to the cultural issues and philosophical orientation of younger literary scholars. But Trilling’s academic reputation has risen in the last decade and is probably now at the highest point of any time since the early 1960s. Indeed, it is probably now more firmly established—as the Uniform Edition attests—than that of any other American literary academic. Trilling has acquired the status of America’s leading postwar cultural critic and become “a writer well worth stealing” (in a phrase of Orwell about Dickens that soon applied to himself) by intellectuals of all political stripes.
Trilling has undergone the same posthumous fate as both of these English writers (if on a much smaller scale, confined to the American intelligentsia), and for similar reasons connected with the subtly ambidextrous quality of his work and the powerful appeal of his public persona and literary personality. Claims to Trilling’s legacy have formed the center of posthumous intellectual debates about him and his work (under the theme, “If Trilling Were Alive Today…”). The result has been that the clear images of Trilling during his lifetime— the distinguished British scholar-critic and emerging fiction writer of the 1940s, the internationally renowned liberal intellectual and cultural “sage” of the 1950s and early ‘60s, the senior “man of letters” and Establishment “voice” of his last years—have given way in the last quarter century to a multifaceted, controversial reputation, split ideologically and generationally by critics claiming (and disclaiming) him.
Scholar-Critic and Fiction Writer, 1939-47
After a stint in mid-1920s as managing editor of The Menorah Journal, a Jewish cultural magazine in New York, and his long struggle to complete his Columbia dissertation, Trilling published Matthew Arnold to glowing notices both in the U.S. and Britain. The book immediately made Trilling’s name as a scholar of Victorian and modern British literature.
Matthew Arnold was a fortunate first book for Trilling in that dark year of 1939, not just because it suited the temper of a chastened Left reeling from the shock of the Nazi-Soviet pact and horrified at the prospect of a European war, but because it so perfectly embodied the themes of ambivalence and critical humanism that would occupy Trilling for the remainder of his life. Moreover, it is sometimes not well understood that writers’ debuts often buoy or burden them for years to come. Because critics’ first impressions tend to bear heavily in subsequent evaluations of writers, the “moment of entrance” weighs decisively in charting the future course of literary reputations. This has been especially true of Trilling and Matthew Arnold, which was received by critics with lavish praise and repeatedly cited in later years as a touchstone of Trilling’s criticism.
Reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic acclaimed the Arnold biography, registering scarcely a dissenting note. The lead voice in the chorus was Edmund Wilson, and his March 1939 review in The New Republic set the tone for other reviews and for the upward course of Trilling’s reputation during the next decade. Already recognized as an important literary/cultural critic on the strength of Axel’s Castle (1931), a brilliant study of the previous six decades of American literature, Wilson lauded Trilling for producing “one of the first critical studies of any solidity and scope by an American of his generation.”
Wilson and Trilling were slightly acquainted; Trilling wrote reviews for The New Republic during the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Wilson served as literary editor; and Wilson was also in contact with members of the circle around Partisan Review, eventually marrying Mary McCarthy, an associate editor at Partisan Review before and during the war. (With sardonic humor and perhaps also with a slight touch of anti-Semitism—even though the majority of its editors were non-Jewish—Wilson referred to the magazine as “Partisansky Review.”) After the war, Trilling testified for the defense at the obscenity trial of Wilson’s controversial story collection, Memoirs of Hecate Country (1946).
Trilling, who moved to a Greenwich Village apartment located just across the street from Wilson in 1929, received encouragement in the early 1930s from him about the value of writing a book about Matthew Arnold. The vote of confidence from Wilson, whom Trilling then admired as a model of the radical intellectual whom he sought to become, helped Trilling complete his Arnold dissertation and reaffirm his commitment to scholarship.
The support of the editors of The New Republic, the leading intellectual weekly of the liberal-Left, proved decisive for catapulting Trilling’s reputation beyond narrowly academic or radical circles. In addition to Wilson, Robert Morss Lovett, former New Republic editor-in-chief (1921-29) and an influential figure in the political world, endorsed Matthew Arnold enthusiastically. Formerly a British literature scholar and Christian socialist, and by 1939 serving as Governor of the Virgin Islands in the Roosevelt Administration, Lovett commended Trilling for highlighting those aspects of Arnold that cast him as a “socialist precursor.”
Partisan Review, founded in 1934 yet already regarded by the late 1930s as the cultural voice of modernism and the anti-Stalinist Left, also gave Trilling its imprimatur. William Phillips, co-editor of Partisan Review and a friendly acquaintance of Trilling, touted the Arnold biography as “one of the best works of historical criticism produced in this country.”
Trilling was already writing reviews for Partisan Review in 1939; several important essays, along with his celebrated stories “Of This Time, Of That Place” (1943) and “The Other Margaret” (1945), appeared in its pages during the war. These contributions induced Phillips and co-editor Philip Rahv to tap Trilling to introduce The Partisan Reader, 1934-44 (1946), a role that served as a formal anointing of his leading status within the group as the postwar era dawned.
In light of all this, the unusual circumstances surrounding Phillips’ personal endorsement of Matthew Arnold appear, in hindsight, an early sign that Trilling was already regarded in 1939 as a rising star within the New York intellectuals. According to John Peale Bishop, Phillips’ positive review appeared after the editors of Partisan Review declined to print Bishop’s commissioned review, a rather harsh assessment of Trilling’s book that did not appear in print until 1948. (Bishop bemoaned that Matthew Arnold constitutes “an example of contemporary scholastic criticism”: “Of quotations there is no end…. Mr. Trilling seems to prefer any opinion to his own.”)
In England, Matthew Arnold won equally loud applause, beginning with glowing tributes in two of Britain’s chief literary organs by prominent cultural voices. John Middleton Murry opened his Times Literary Supplement review with a confession of surprised, even humbled, admiration: “Mr. Trilling, who is an American professor, has written the best—the most comprehensive and critical—book on Matthew Arnold that exists. It is a little saddening to us that this particular glory should fall to the United States. . . .” Edward Sackville-West told Spectator readers that he had “no hesitation in acclaiming it as the most brilliant piece of biographical criticism issued in English during the last ten years.”
These kudos paved the way for the welcome reception accorded E.M. Forster (1943), a short monograph that otherwise might have received only modest attention. Instead, headlines in The New Republic and The Nation proclaimed a “Forster revival” (In his autobiography, Alfred Kazin recalls Forster’s own remark on their meeting in the 1950s in New York: “Your countryman Trilling has made me famous!”). Indeed The Nation—for which Trilling also regularly wrote reviews at the time—rhapsodized that the appearance of the little Forster book, “at this particular moment of literary and intellectual crisis, becomes more than a literary occasion: it takes on the force of a public service.”
Such praise had the ultimate effect of winning even the admiration of conservative Establishment figures such as Henry Luce. Time Magazine devoted a six-page essay-review to Trilling and Forster in August 1943. The assignment of the Time review may have been linked to the magazine’s interest in hiring Trilling. Several months earlier, Trilling had received an offer to work as a full-time house reviewer for Time, with the special honor of penning signed reviews. The offer came from Whittaker Chambers, then a regular Time reviewer, and was still outstanding when the review appeared. (Trilling ultimately declined.)
Trilling’s status as a literary critic continued to rise in the early postwar wars, but the critical response to Trilling the novelist and The Middle of the Journey was not uniformly appreciative. Several American and British literary publications welcomed Trilling’s first novel; the New Republic’s literary editor and the New York-Partisan Review intellectuals, however, chided it as derivative Forster. Mark Schorer, a friendly colleague of Trilling due to their regular stints at the Kenyon Summer School of Letters, lauded it in the New York Times Book Review. But Robert Warshow lambasted it in the December 1947 Commentary, the major Jewish quarterly and the other magazine prominently associated with the New York intellectuals.
Delivered from the associate editor of Commentary, the harsh review had the effect of an official repudiation from Trilling’s New York peers. Warshow compared Trilling unfavorably with Forster, arguing that Trilling was not really “a novelist at all” and had inadvertently become a prisoner of his earlier success with E. M. Forster. Warshow’s review makes clear that some observers had begun to identify Trilling so closely with Forster that they saw him as a disciple of Forster. Trilling’s achievement in his Forster study induced Warshow to measure Trilling by the standard of Forster—and to find the former wanting.
The negative verdict on Trilling’s novel from the 34-year-old Warshow marked the first influential dissent from the rounds of encomia accorded Trilling by the New York intellectuals. Like Phillips’ review of Matthew Arnold, it too had a subtext, which in coming years was to move into the foreground and to make problematic Trilling’s relationship to the New York intellectuals.
Tensions had already existed between Commentary and Trilling, who had declined an invitation to join the magazine’s advisory board or to allow his name to be put on the masthead in 1945 (when Commentary was re-founded by the American Jewish Committee as the official successor to the Jewish Contemporary Record). Protective of his Left-liberal credentials amid the complicated politicking within the New York intellectuals as the Cold War opened, Trilling did not want to be associated with the Jewish focus and conservative anti-Stalinist stance of Commentary; he did not begin to write for the magazine until the 1960s. (Moreover, like most of the other Partisan Review intellectuals of his generation, Trilling seldom discussed his Jewishness in print and maintained, even in the wake of the Holocaust, what was perceived by Commentary’s editors as a deliberate aloofness toward Jewish questions.)
These conflicts lay just beneath the surface of Warshow’s notice of The Middle of the Journey, which was a novel of ideas about the soul-searching and personal compromises undergone by Left intellectuals of the 1930s. Warshow was also well aware of the autobiographical background of the book, i.e., that Trilling had fictionalized his relationship with Whittaker Chambers and his use of Chambers as a model for the character of Gifford Maxim, a repentant Comintern spy and zealous convert to muscular, fundamentalist Christianity and right-wing ideology. Titled “The Legacy of the Thirties,” that review argued that the burdensome inheritance of the 1930s for intellectuals such as Trilling was a disabling preoccupation with Stalinism, which left him “unable to realize and respond to his experience.”
Warshow’s review may have affected Trilling more deeply than any other ever written. Intellectual New York has long speculated that Warshow’s criticism damaged Trilling’s confidence in his capacities as a fiction writer, indeed that it may have so deeply wounded him that he stopped writing fiction altogether. (Trilling never completed a projected second novel. Nor, after The Middle of the Journey, did Trilling ever publish even another short story.) Some Trilling acquaintances have told me privately that Warshow’s review amounted to a punishment for Trilling’s unwillingness to lend his prestige to Commentary in its early years—which is not to say, regardless of his motives, that Warshow’s catalogue of Trilling’s deficiencies as a fiction writer may not have been accurate. (The Middle of the Journey was republished shortly before Trilling’s death, and some critics commended it warmly. But its phenomenal sales in 1975-1976—50,000 copies in the United States alone within the first six months of its reissue—did not alter the downward overall revaluation of Trilling’s critical reputation.)
Social Critic and Cultural Sage, 1950-65
Warshow’s statements did not slow Trilling’s growing renown as a critic, which culminated in the near-universal acclaim received by The Liberal Imagination from both the New York intelligentsia and literary academe. Clifton Fadiman’s plaudits in The New Yorker spoke for the former; R.P. Blackmur’s approbation in The Kenyon Review shaped the latter.
Fadiman, who had already touted E.M.Forster—and compared Trilling favorably with a “family” tradition ranging from Jonson and Dryden to Emerson, Arnold and Eliot—now highlighted Trilling’s political virtues. Fadiman lauded him in April 1950—just two months after controversy broke about Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Red scare” claims—as a visionary spokesman not of the illiberal, narrowly ideological “Party of the Party” but of the liberal, nonpartisan “Party of the Imagination.”
A classmate of Trilling at Columbia College and a fellow student in John Erskine’s famous General Honors course, Fadiman had been a close friend of Trilling for three decades. Like Trilling, Fadiman was devoted to general education and participated in “middlebrow” cultural institutions committed to art and cultural appreciation (e.g., Fadiman was an editorial board member of the Book-of-the-Month Club and Encyclopedia Britannica, a host of educational radio and TV programs such as Information, Please! and Quiz Kids, and a board of directors member of the Council for Basic Education). And as the influential book editor of The New Yorker, Fadiman was well-positioned to promote Trilling’s books beyond the worlds of both the New York intellectuals and the literary scholars.
The main sign of Trilling’s high stature within academe at mid-century was the appearance of long essay-review of The Liberal Imagination in The Kenyon Review by R. P. Blackmur, also a close Trilling acquaintance due to their joint participation on the magazine’s editorial board and in their summer school program. Blackmur also valued Trilling’s nonsectarian politics, casting him as a regal “administrator of the affairs of the mind.” Titled “The Politics of Human Power,” Blackmur’s essay applauded Trilling for “cultivat[ing] a mind not entirely his own,” i.e., for his self-questioning and dialectical sensibility, his resistance to ossified ideological “thought,” and his commitment to flexible “thinking” and to “experience.” Trilling’s subject was the condition of the public mind and “the politics of human power,” and his critical humanist “platform” was the independent, non-doctrinaire liberal imagination, insofar as it “survives in him and us.”
The endorsements of Fadiman and Blackmur helped establish both Trilling’s public and critical reputations. The Liberal Imagination achieved sales of more than 70,000 (in hardback) by 1953; it also sold more than 100,000 copies in its Doubleday Anchor paperback edition, an imprint introduced by Trilling’s former student Jason Epstein. Even more important to Trilling was the approval from his peers for the subtle, distinctive, attractive “metapolitical” Cold War role that he was carving out for himself. Trilling seemed both to stand above the fray and yet to reaffirm his liberal commitment. Whereas fellow New Yorker Sidney Hook, known and feared as a pugnacious, combative polemicist, traveled what seemed the low road of cold-war liberalism, Trilling took the high road. The feisty Hook bashed Stalinists openly in one polemic after another; the urbane Trilling furnished just the right tone of culture and class to lend glamour to liberal anti-Communism and make an overtly progressive politics look shabby.
In practical terms, this meant that Trilling could affiliate with and even represent the Establishment and American government in the early 1950s—and yet retain his standing within the liberal-Left. For instance, Trilling headed the 1953 faculty commission that supervised a review of Communists at Columbia, wrote for and guest-edited Perspectives USA (launched by the Ford Foundation in 1952 as part of an American cold-war cultural offensive to win European respect for American high culture), and toured Europe as an American cultural ambassador sponsored by the State Department.
Nonetheless, as the essays and reviews that would form The Opposing Self and A Gathering of Fugitives started to appear, so too did the rumors rumble louder, first from within the Partisan Review crowd and soon beyond that circle, that Trilling was veering rightward. Critics charged that he was adopting an increasingly aestheticized, conservative liberalism; his embrace of the role of “public educator” of taste and values— in his positions at the Reader’s Subscription and Mid-Century book clubs—was also criticized as pandering to “mid-cult.” Delmore Schwartz was the main skeptic within the New York intellectuals; Joseph Frank, another Princeton English department member and an occasional contributor to Partisan Review and Commentary, expressed similar reservations about Trilling to a wider intellectual and academic audience. Their criticisms also represented the first salvoes of a younger intellectual generation against Trilling’s politics.
Writing in 1953 in Partisan Review, Schwartz criticized Trilling’s attention to manners in literary fiction as a veiled, elitist defense of the manners of the middle class. Schwartz specifically castigated Trilling’s snobbish overattention to manners in an essay on Proust, arguing that Trilling’s class biases would obviously be regarded as “reprehensible” were they not couched in literary criticism.
Schwartz’s essay was the first severe treatment of Trilling’s criticism by a prominent New York intellectual. As in the case of several other examples we have cited, Schwartz’s essay was, in part, personally motivated. A distinguished poet-critic and a former associate editor of Partisan Review (1943-47), Schwartz had been closely acquainted with Trilling for years, often meeting him when Trilling visited Princeton during Schwartz’s years as a Princeton lecturer. The philosopher William Barrett, a close friend of Schwartz, has written in The Truants: Adventures Among the Intellectuals (1982) that Schwartz’s sharply dismissive essay stemmed from his anger toward Trilling for allegedly scuttling Schwartz’s chance to gain an appointment in Columbia’s English Department.
Frank’s essay, published in The Sewanee Review in 1956 and titled “Lionel Trilling and the Conservative Imagination,” posited that The Opposing Self represented a step away
from the “liberal” imagination toward “the conservative imagination.” In The Opposing Self, Trilling developed his notion of the “figure” and concentrated on the psychology of heroic writers’ lives. His leitmotifs were the dynamics of character, identity, and the formation of self. Trilling’s models—most of them nineteenth-century English men of letters—were those who managed to integrate the drive to self-creation with a mature recognition of tragedy, that is, of the “conditioned” nature of life. Freud and Arnold reign supreme in the Trilling canon, flanked by Forster, Keats, Wordsworth, James, and Austen. In Frank’s view, Trilling’s new biographical-psychological criticism “rejects the political imagination” by “endow[ing] social passivity and quietism as such with the halo of aesthetic transcendence.”
Frank’s otherwise respectful revaluation criticized Trilling for judging politics from the perspectives of art and psychology, charging that the key to Trilling’s imagination was his politics of disillusionment, which accepted biological and political givens and thus issued forth in passivity and social quietism. Frank attributed Trilling’s rightward shift to the conservative influence of the late Freud, whose cultural criticism (especially Civilization and Its Discontents and The Future of an Illusion) Trilling highly respected. Frank’s essay soon gained classic status: it originated the view, widespread by the late 1960s, that Trilling had become a cultural conservative, setting the stage for the neoconservative claims to his mantle in the 1970s.
Elder Statesman of Letters, 1965-75
Although no one could have predicted the ferocity of the assault, the stage was now set for a revisionist offensive and a downturn in Trilling’s reputation, at least among the younger generation of liberal-Left critics. Trilling’s next essay collection, Beyond Culture, triggered an open generational and political attack.
The lengthy review by Robert Mazzocco, 32, in the recently founded yet already prestigious New York Review of Books, then just beginning its radical, pro-counterculture and anti-war phase, assailed Trilling in explicit terms as a “wearily genteel” conservative. Writing in December 1965, Mazzocco criticized Trilling as “a complex but thoroughly conservative spirit” beloved of “evasive effusions” and “heavy with humanist and/or Hebraic ‘conduct and obedience’ out of Arnold and ‘night side’ exposure out of Freud, both employed in problematic or disingenuous fashion….” Mazzocco’s no-holds-barred review was the talk of literary New York: it was an unvarnished attempt to demote Trilling and render him irrelevant to the New Left. Mazzocco’s review provoked two sharply worded letters in defense of Trilling from senior members of the Partisan Review circle of intellectuals. Fred Dupee, who was also a English department colleague of Trilling at Columbia, railed against Mazzocco’s “monstrous injustice” to Trilling; Martin Greenberg, a former Commentary editor, condemned Mazzocco for “the brutality of his callousness.”
But the damage was done: similar reappraisals followed in 1966 in Commentary (by then under the editorship of Trilling’s former student, Norman Podhoretz, not yet fully beyond his temporary radical phase) and elsewhere. And yet, because Trilling had never been an academic or intellectual celebrity outside the United States, no sharp revisionism occurred in Britain to match Mazzocco’s attack. Some younger reviewers did express stronger reservations about his work than had occurred in Britain previously, usually for the same reasons as did younger American critics. But neither a strong generational reaction against Trilling nor a wholesale devaluation of his oeuvre ensued. Indeed, writing in the New Statesman, D. J. Enright, one of the young Movement poets in the 1950s, even found Trilling’s “magisterial manner” “attractive.”In the London Magazine, Laurence Lerner rated Trilling above Arnold and pronounced him “probably the finest critic we have today.”
The divided estimates on Trilling reflected not only the generational and political divisions of the 1960s, but also the diversity of roles that he had assumed. Indeed, during these years Trilling did fully embrace the role of cultural mentor to the young and to the wider public. He edited three readers (The Experience of Literature , Literary Criticism: An Introductory Reader , and The Oxford Anthology of English Literature ), shifting the focus of his role as public educator from the book club to the classroom. Trilling’s main critical works of this period were Sincerity and Authenticity (1972), a revision of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures delivered at Harvard in 1970, and a slight book, Mind in the Modern World (1972), a lecture delivered on his reception of the first Thomas Jefferson Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In this last decade of Trilling’s life, generational and Anglo-American estimates of his work widened further. Numerous academic distinctions (a visiting year at All Souls College, honorary degrees from Durham and Leicester) and respectful notices for Sincerity and Authenticity from British critics testified to his eminence abroad. As Philip French noted, Trilling in Britain was “never the controversial, emblematic, or charismatic figure he became—and continues to be—in America.”Unlike the case in New York, British intellectuals never saw Trilling as a political, let alone ideological, writer; they simply appreciated him as a thoughtful, serious literary man.
Older American critics, some of them disappointed in Trilling’s work during the previous decade, treated Sincerity and Authenticity as a great comeback, indeed as just what the liberal academy required to put the “student barbarians” in their proper places, along with their radical mentors such as R.D. Laing and Norman O. Brown. Unsurprisingly, Trilling’s criticism of the counterculture was attractive to the Right: Sincerity and Authenticity marked the first time that the American Right openly welcomed Trilling to join their ranks. In The National Review, D.K. Mano embraced Trilling, “a traditional and now superannuated liberal.” “Hesitant, polite, but finally defiant of the New Left—how very profoundly the experience of spring ‘68 at Columbia must have hurt this shy and gentle man.” Trilling had criticized the student disturbances at Columbia in 1968, especially the strong campus presence of the Weathermen, a terrorist group that grew out of the radical wing of Students for a Democratic Society. Trilling saw the Weathermen as little more than an a updated version of 1930s Stalinism.
The majority of younger American critics, both within the academy and outside, treated the praise of National Review conservatives as the final evidence of Trilling’s liberal apostasy. Sincerity and Authenticity and Mind in the Modern World were reviewed critically on the front page of the New York Times Book Review by Geoffrey Hartman, a distinguished scholar of English Romanticism and a Yale professor, who bemoaned Trilling’s “lay sermons” for their “unremitting solemnity.” His language was mild compared to that of Mark Krupnick and Roger Sale. Writing in Philip Rahv’s newly founded, short-lived, radical journal, Modern Occasions, Krupnickderided Trilling’s “implicit snobbishness,” his “mandarin exclusiveness,” and his “enervating over-refinement and precocity . . . in which literary criticism is conceived as a kind of connoisseurship, involving acts of assessment no different fundamentally than in the case of Japanese swords or Greek and Chinese urns.” Trilling’s lamentable opposition to radicals such as Laing, charged Krupnick, emerged from his politics of “premature resignation, social passivity, and relentless privatism.” Roger Sale, in a widely quoted review of Sincerity and Authenticity in the Hudson Review in 1973, charged that Trilling “treats himself like an institution” and that reading his high-flown, abstract prose possessed “certain affinities with eating a meal consisting entirely of Thousand Island dressing.” Sale found Trilling’s stylistic throat-clearing to be mere equivocation, his tendency to address issues by using large generalities mere pomposity.
The reviews by Krupnick and Sale reflected both a younger generation’s fascination with Trilling’s cultural significance and a denial of his entitlement to such status. As had Delmore Schwartz a decade earlier, younger critics saw Trilling as a cultural gatekeeper—and resented his (imputed) power to reward or punish them. For instance, in a display of bare-knuckled criticism, Richard Kostelanetz pronounced Trilling the “chief” of the New York literary “mob” associated with Partisan Review and derided him as “an elder statesman before his years.”
Older antagonists of the New Left, however, even formerly severe critics, discovered amid the cultural swing to the Left something new to admire in Trilling’s moderation and Arnoldian sensibility. Having sought to dismantle the Trilling statue in the 1950s, they now reassembled it, complete with pedestal. The key example of this newfound esteem was the Commentary review of Sincerity and Authenticity by Irving Howe, a vocal democratic socialist and key member of the generation of New York intellectuals that followed Trilling. Like so many other reviews of Trilling by the New York intellectuals, there was much more to Howe’s upward reappraisal of Trilling than met the eye. Political disagreements had caused a rift in their relationship during the 1950s and ’60s, specifically occasioned by Howe’s sharp 1954 criticism in Partisan Review of Trilling’s “conformist” liberal anti-Communism—an assault that Trilling especially resented because he had just intervened to assist Howe in publishing his first book. Howe’s warm appreciation of Sincerity and Authenticity reflected the reconciliation that occurred between the two men in the early 1970s, largely due to recognition of their common ground: their aesthetic judgments and fundamentally liberal, anti-Movement convictions.
Liberal or Neoconservative—or Irrelevant? 1975-
In the years immediately following Trilling’s death in November 1975, critics debated whether the decline in Trilling’s standing was merited. Jacques Barzun lamented his friend’s “unwarrantably subdued reputation” during his later years; Jay Martin, however, found “Trilling’s reputation immensely greater than his achievement.” The absorption of intellectual life by the literary academy and the growing dominance of European theory among American scholars had much to do with the fall in Trilling’s reputation after 1965, and especially after his death. Gregory S. Jay argued persuasively in 1987 that Trilling’s reputation suffered because of his relative lack of interest in questions of language during the ascendancy of linguistic methods in American literary criticism.
Indeed, one could say that time—or literary fashion—passed Trilling by. Whereas in the 1940s and ‘50s Trilling’s non-Marxist cultural criticism had seemed an attractive alternative to the near-total dominance of the New Criticism—whose exegetical approach seemed by contrast narrow, limited, too immersed in textual details, and distant from big ideas and from cultural politics—Trilling’s work seemed impressionistic and unsophisticated by the 1970s and ‘80s. During those decades, the combined force of the rise of structuralism and post-structuralism, the availability of Marxist and other critical alternatives to Trilling’s liberalism and cultural criticism, and the (temporary) near-disappearance of the public intellectual gave Trilling’s work the appearance of being dated and irrelevant. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Trilling’s affirmation of the shaped or unified self seemed naïve and unrigorous to theory-minded literary academics; post-structuralism, with its conception of fragmented, decentered selves, held sway.
But beginning with the new interest in cultural criticism in the late 1980s, exemplified by the rise of movements in literary academe such as cultural materialism and cultural studies, Trilling’s own cultural criticism—despite his relative uninterest in problems of race, class, gender, language, and literary form—has become more appealing, as many literary academics have recoiled from neo-Marxist and post-structuralist theoreticism.
So how “relevant” is Trilling to the current academic scene? For many literary academics, Trilling’s inattention to the issues that dominate the American literary academy today—most of them having to do with race, class, and gender—makes him little more than a curiosity of literary history, a period piece, a dated figure of historical yet not contemporary significance.
As I have discovered in the classroom, it is not easy to teach Trilling’s work to today’s students. It is less accessible to the generation of readers born since his death precisely because Trilling was so immersed in the major cultural, political, and social topics of his day. The complex historical contexts in which Trilling wrote—from the Popular Front and fellow-traveling to the Cold War and liberal anti-Communism—are not easy to establish for younger readers. And because the literary academy has turned toward theory and postmodern modes of criticism since the 1980s, college students rarely encounter Trilling in their literature courses. Nevertheless, I believe that Trilling’s work remains pertinent and valuable today for the ongoing tasks of reinvigorating liberalism, questioning ascending or reigning orthodoxies, resisting the seductions of ideology, and remaining intensely engaged in contemporary cultural politics.
And I would hold that the same is true of his life: it, too, remains valuable and relevant, now as much as ever, especially as the definition and role of the public intellectual undergo massive change. For Trilling stands as one of the few instances of a figure who connected the academic and public spheres and yet did not succumb to the trivializing aspects of academic “celebrity,” but rather remained seriously engaged with the fundamental political and social questions of his time. In all these respects, Trilling strikes me as not merely an historical subject for scholars, but someone whose work and example are still vital and important.
Beyond the literary academy, however, Trilling’s importance and pertinence remains apparent: seldom does a month go by in the major U.S. intellectual periodicals without respectful references to him. Most writers express admiration for Trilling’s humanism and rationalism, citing his reservations about the social alienation and political irresponsibility of the great modernist writers and his dismissal of the Sixties counterculture (“modernism in the streets,” in Trilling’s widely quoted phrase) as applicable to current campus debates, especially against the perceived irrationalist excesses of American postmodernism and multiculturalism.
Such allusions make clear that the posthumous Trilling has become a favorite of conservative and neoconservative critics. As a result, especially in New York intellectual circles and among Trilling’s former colleagues, the question has raged: Was the author of The Liberal Imagination, in his last years, still a liberal or an emerging neoconservative?
Although prominent Left-liberals such Robert Boyers and Mark Krupnick (in an about-face on Trilling) have strongly identified with Trilling, virtually all the leading neoconservatives—among them Norman Podhoretz, William Barrett, and Irving Kristol—have argued the case for his neoconservative leanings. At least implicitly, they claim him as one of their own (though Podhoretz has criticized Trilling’s “muffled” and “convoluted” response to the counterculture and his unwillingness to go public about his rightward shift). Their memoirs have done much to solidify the widespread perception of the late Trilling as a foot-dragging neoconservative fellow-traveler, a reluctant tribune of the “neoconservative imagination.” Their arguments from implied authority—based on their personal acquaintance with the man—weigh heavily in their claims about the writer’s political legacy. Here again, it is worth examining their views in light of their personal relationship to Trilling.
Podhoretz, former editor-in-chief of Commentary, was a Columbia undergraduate student of Trilling and the first acquaintance to write at length about Trilling’s late years. He has acknowledged Trilling as his “intellectual father,” and he has been both an admiring and a severely critical son. Although in Making It (1967), Podhoretz had characterized Trilling as “the single most influential” member of the Partisan Review writers during the 1950s—an intellectual “exactly in tune with the temper” of the decade—their relationship cooled after Podhoretz’s radical turn upon assuming the editorship of Commentary in 1960. When Podhoretz adopted a neoconservative politics in the early 1970s, he and Trilling—who held, however ambivalently, to his liberal anti-Communist stance throughout the postwar era—argued again over their political differences, now from opposite positions on the ideological spectrum.
Podhoretz explained his differences with Trilling after his mentor’s death, first in Breaking Ranks (1979) and more recently in his chapter “Going Too Far for the Trillings” (in Ex-Friends ). Podhoretz remained on friendly terms with Lionel Trilling until his death in 1975 (though not after 1979 with Diana; disgusted with Breaking Ranks, she ended her relationship with Podhoretz). In both books, however, Podhoretz castigated Trilling’s “failure of nerve” for refusing to join Podhoretz’s neoconservative campaign against the New Left, which Podhoretz regarded as the ideological equivalent of the Stalinism that Trilling had criticized in the pages of Partisan Review in the 1930s.
William Barrett, onetime associate editor of Partisan Review (1945-53), argued in his memoir of his Partisan Review years, The Truants (1982), that Trilling’s cultural positions had become the cornerstone of neoconservative doctrine. Through his appreciation of the “value of class distinctions for the writer,” his sympathy for the middle class, and his esteem for “conventional novelists like E.M. Forster and Jane Austen,” wrote Barrett, Trilling challenged the New York intellectuals’ commitment to “Marxism and modernism,” thereby preparing the way for the rise of neoconservatism in the late 1970s and ’80s. Barrett’s chapter is titled “Beginnings of Conservative Thought.” In its original appearance in Commentary, the article appeared as “The Authentic Lionel Trilling”; Barrett makes clear that he considers his view “authentic,” though he stops just short of claiming Trilling as an erstwhile neoconservative. Although Trilling’s conservative shift was “ahead of his time,” he remained “a thoroughgoing liberal to the end.”
Frequently regarded as the intellectual leader (or “godfather”) of the neoconservative movement that arose in the US in the 1970s, Irving Kristol became acquainted with the Partisan Review circle of intellectuals during his tenure as managing editor of Commentary (1947-52). Kristol has often expressed admiration for Trilling; Kristol’s 1980 essay, “The Adversary Culture of Intellectuals,” reinterpreted Trilling’s concept from a neoconservative perspective. In Neoconservatism (1995), Kristol calls Trilling one of the “two thinkers who had the greatest subsequent impact on my thinking” in the early postwar era (along with Leo Strauss); later Kristol adds that Trilling was one of the “two intellectual godfathers of my neo-ism” (along with Reinhold Niebuhr). Placing Trilling in the context of the ideological debates of the mid-1990s, Kristol writes in Neoconservatism: “The one certain thing about Lionel Trilling was that he was not a politically correct ‘progressive’—not in politics, not in education, not in cultural matters, not in manners and morals.”
That is doubtless so—and it has never been at issue. But is Trilling a father—or “godfather”—of neoconservatism? (The radical critic Cornel West has also called him the “godfather of neoconservatism”—but in a sharply negative indictment that dismisses Trilling as “an intellectual dead end.”)
Trilling left no political testament. Indeed, he died just before debates between the neocons and liberal-Left heated up in the mid-1970s. And whatever his sentiments in his private conversations, he never publicly sided with emergent neocons such as Podhoretz. In an odd way, he died at precisely the “right time” to become an object of contention between the Right and Left. If he had lived even until 1980, it probably would have been impossible both for Left-liberals and neoconservatives to stake a claim to him. As an intellectual leader, he would have been forced to take positions on a range of issues—Reaganism, Nicaragua, affirmative action, and more—that inevitably would have compromised him in the eyes of some partisans who now claim his mantle.
Such are the accidents of history and the contingencies of reputation-building. Today, most Left-liberals—if not radicals such as Cornel West—deny the neoconservative claims to Trilling’s legacy. But for some of them, such as Morris Dickstein, a former student of Trilling from the 1960s and currently an associate editor of Partisan Review, the issue is not so simple as “neocon or liberal.” In a sense, argues Dickstein, Trilling was both—though neither one for very long.
I am sympathetic to this view myself. For Trilling possessed an antinomian sensibility that oscillated in a subtle, dialectical movement. As Dickstein has reminded me in a personal letter, Trilling’s mind veered not simply between liberalism and conservatism (actually a version of Burkean or Arnoldian liberalism in his case), but between
…the Enlightenment and Romanticism, between civility and incremental rationality on the one hand and the irrational and apocalyptic on the other. . . . He claimed [in Matthew Arnold] that he was first drawn to Arnold not by his prose but by the brooding sense of personal and cultural crisis in his poetry . . . ; his literary interests were anchored in the Romantics and modernists, with their profound explorations of the irrational; his major essay on Freud anticipates Marcuse and N. O. Brown in its emphasis on Freud’s biologism; he introduced radical Freudians like [Philip] Rieff and Brown to educational readers through his book club sponsorship; [Allen] Ginsberg and [Jack] Kerouac were his students; and his journals show how much (and how ambivalently) he was drawn to a sense of criminality and adventure that he associates with Hemingway, Kerouac, and indeed with art in general. It is also true that he turns against some of these things—like modernism, the counterculture, and radical Freudianism (in R. D. Laing)—when he finds them unexpectedly carrying the day. But he never turns against them completely, and never buys fully into the neoconservatism already in the air when he died. . . . Had he lived, the pendulum would no doubt have shifted yet again.
Di vs. Li, or Authenticity vs. Sincerity?
Indeed the “afterlife” of Lionel Trilling is witnessing another pendulum shift. And the key figure speaking out to contest the neoconservative claim to Trilling—and much else about his reputation—was none other than Diana Trilling, in her memoir, The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling (1993), her last substantial statement about her husband before her death in 1996. Like the neoconservatives, she did not flinch from taking sides in the ideological battles for Trilling’s legacy.
Although Mrs. Trilling’s memoir was treated skeptically by reviewers on both the Left (Mark Krupnick) and Right (Midge Decter, Hilton Kramer), it arrived with the force of a shock to many readers.The memoir renders more complex and poignant the widely held admiring images of Trilling that I have discussed here—and that I myself have held. (Some reviewers of the memoir suggested, however, that esteem for Trilling would eventually rise again, this time because of his achievement—despite the private demons against which he struggled.)
In her memoir, Mrs. Trilling does not dispute her husband’s standing as an excellent writer and caring teacher, but rather what she considers the idealizations of him by his personal acquaintances as well as his readers. She contends that Lionel Trilling deeply regretted becoming a “figure” himself, perceiving that his high status had cut him off from his students and colleagues. She considers the notion of Trilling as a “virtuous man” or cultural “hero” confining, stereotypical, one-dimensional, and misleading.
“All the critics have misunderstood Lionel,” Mrs. Trilling told me in our January 1990 interview. She declined to elaborate, stating only that she would discuss “the tragic Trilling” in her forthcoming memoir.
It is now clear what she meant. Her verdict on the sharp discrepancy between the public and private Trilling is severe. Determined to protect his reputation, she maintains, Trilling “conspired” in his acquaintances’ idealizations of him and took pains to conceal his weaknesses even from his closest friends. Caught between the hungers for social respectability and for creative identity, he abandoned his dream of becoming a novelist to become a distinguished professor-critic, thereafter both promoting and despising his image of academic gentility. Mrs. Trilling holds that her husband’s soul paid the price of his devil’s bargain with intellectual fame: “It was to decency that Lionel felt that he had sacrificed his hope of being a writer of fiction. . . . [D]id his friends and colleagues have no hint of how deeply he scorned the very qualities of character—his quiet, his moderation, his gentle reasonableness—for which he was most admired in his lifetime and which have been most celebrated since his death?”
Among Mrs. Trilling’s most surprising—and unsettling—revelations about her husband are that he suffered from bouts of depression and rage, had a drinking problem, and sometimes engaged in vehement verbal abuse of her. As she maintains, it is hardly consistent with Lionel Trilling’s public image that, at least every other month over a period of many years, “this most peaceable of men and most devoted of husbands indulge[d] in annihilating verbal assaults,” accusing her of “being the worst person he had ever met in his life.”
“The need not to deviate from truth,” writes Mrs. Trilling, “drags like an anchor on this book.” Indeed, Mrs. Trilling’s deflationary memoir turns out to be perhaps the most powerful challenge to her husband’s carefully crafted public image: Diana casts herself as the shocking truth-teller, the figure of Authenticity appointed to unmask Lionel’s sham life of Sincerity.4
Mrs. Trilling also does not flinch from challenging the most prominent of Lionel’s posthumous “opposing selves”: his reputation as a forerunner of neoconservatism. She points out that, on two occasions, the Trillings declined opportunities to side with the nascent neoconservatism: in 1965, they declined the request of Irving Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Public Interest, to join the new magazine as its literary editors; and in 1972, they resisted the entreaties of the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb (to whom Kristol is married) to sign a petition supporting Richard Nixon’s re-election, even though the Trillings had sharp reservations about McGovern’s liberalism.
Nor does Mrs. Trilling cringe from entering the fray on the topic, “If Lionel Were Alive Today.” Her response categorically rejects the neoconservative claim to his mantle: “Lionel did not live long enough to witness the rise of the neoconservative movement, but I have little question that if he had been alive and working in the eighties, he would have been highly critical of this swing to the right by our old friends.”
Mrs. Trilling maintained this view right up to her death in October 1996, at the age of 91. In his obituary of Diana, Hilton Kramer made clear that he considered Diana’s own writings about her husband to constitute a form of political grave-robbing. (Kramer approvingly quoted a mutual acquaintance who remarked that, [after her husband’s death], Diana had engaged in a project of “moving Lionel’s coffin to the left” to prevent the neoconservatives from snatching it.)
But Kramer’s view of Diana Trilling’s leftward leanings elided her sharp reservations toward contemporary
radical movements. For instance, Mrs. Trilling assailed multiculturalism and left-wing political correctness as “a continuation of Stalinist culture” and pondered writing a book (what she called her “last political will and testament”) that would trace the development of twentieth-century liberalism from the communism of the 1920s and ‘30s to the rise of political correctness.
Mrs. Trilling never wrote that book. Unfortunately, she died before she had the opportunity to tell her version of the rest of the journey of Diana and Lionel Trilling—and contribute further to reshaping his multifaceted reputation.
But their son, James Trilling, has taken up where his mother left off, and his contribution has turned what had been the political controversy about his father’s life and legacy into the psychological “case” of Lionel Trilling. (Or, rather, the historical case about Trilling became the psychotherapeutic “case” of Trilling, at least in the eyes of some harsh critics.)
In a memoir in the Spring 1999 issue of The American Scholar, James proposed an understanding of Lionel’s suffering that differs from Lionel’s own self-understanding. “My father’s worst problem was not neurosis, it was a neurological condition, attention deficit disorder,” James Trilling writes. He is not a medically trained diagnostician — he is an independent scholar specializing in Byzantine art and the history of ornament. But he seeks to make a case by drawing on his own experience as someone who suffers from A.D.D., a cognitive disorder affecting the mind’s ability to focus.
Some of the conduct that James mentions — most notably, Lionel’s periodic rages against his wife, Diana — were described by Diana in her own memoir, The Beginning of the Journey. But James also mentions Lionel’s “near-total obliviousness to his surroundings,” which James sees as the empty reality behind his father’s social “mask.” That word comes from a 1952 journal entry of his father in which Lionel confessed that his exalted status “really needs a mask.” And Trilling evidently accepted this fact—and donned it, at the price of masking himself even to himself.
Lionel’s self-alienation allegedly reflected fear of his own rage and “his struggle for self-control.” James Trilling writes: “All my father’s personality flaws, which continued to haunt my mother almost 20 years after his death, were symptoms of attention deficit disorder.” He blames his father’s absent-mindedness, secretiveness, anger, impatience, indecisiveness, bad driving, bad swimming, and bad tennis on the disorder.
Then he lays out the diagnoses of the rest of his family. His mother’s affliction was “panic disorder with agoraphobia, which made her an emotional cripple for many years.” His aunt had Tourette’s syndrome. His grandfather suffered from attention deficit disorder. And so does he. Attention deficit disorder, he emphasizes, is “the most insidious culprit in my family.” The son has few doubts about his diagnosis. “I have it, my father almost certainly had it, and in all likelihood his father had it too.” Its main feature is “the inability to maintain a productive level of concentration (‘focus’) through the normal range of daily activities.” (On hearing this, one admirer of Trilling wrote jeeringly to the New York Times: “Gee, I wish I could have Lionel Trilling’s disorder, the kind that is so crippling that you are forced to write important books, become a judicious critic, teach at a major university, and have a family too.”
Titled “My Father and the Weak-Eyed Devils” (the latter phrase alludes to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness), James Trilling’s essay concludes that Trilling Sr. was so blinded by his love of Freud and psychoanalysis that he missed his real disease and suffered unknowingly from attention deficit disorder. The most reductive charge the son levels against his father is the idea that Lionel Trilling’s very thinking — not only his love of Freud, but his whole moral universe — was determined by attention deficit disorder: “He saw the world as a practical and moral obstacle course, but it was the obstacles that fascinated him, not the ways around them. He loved to follow the path of most resistance, and where obstacles were lacking he turned all his ingenuity to inventing them.”
James Trilling then challenges his father’s literary judgment, particularly his attention to “complexity”: “During his entire career as an interpreter of literature, I doubt my father ever solved a problem, in the sense of marshaling evidence to prove or disprove a theory. On the contrary, he built his career on the mistrust of certainties and was rarely content with a simple answer when a complex one could be found. . . . Of all ‘simple’ solutions he mistrusted happiness the most. The idea of living happily ever after must have seemed almost crass to him. Certainly it left him all dressed up with no place to go.”
Even before its publication, James Trilling’s essay triggered a firestorm of controversy in intellectual circles. Paul R. McHugh, the director of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, resigned from the editorial board of The American Scholar, calling the essay “abominable” and “mean-spirited.” “It is a clumsily written, meanly written article about a defenseless father,” Dr. McHugh said in an interview in The New York Times, adding that the diagnosis the son offers “is so palpably unwarranted that it hardly needs extensive criticism” and is indeed “not given anything [in James’s essay] like the foundation a psychiatrist would give.” (It should also be noted—which James Trilling does mention — that the symptoms attributed to A.D.D. are manifold and sometimes contradictory and that educators and psychologists still argue about its validity as a diagnostic category.)
Dr. McHugh viewed James Trilling’s essay as a case of psychiatric malpractice potentially damaging to the entire field. Dr. McHugh warns that the essay takes the field back to a time when it was used “to get at people who were defenseless.” “Here is a person who knows little or nothing about psychiatry using psychological terms and ideas to settle scores,” he said.
Furthermore, Dr. McHugh asserted, A.D.D. is a childhood disorder that may reach into adulthood but that cannot be diagnosed without a childhood history.
While expressing regard for Anne Fadiman, the editor of The American Scholar, Dr. McHugh added that she treated him as mere “window-dressing” by publishing the article without consulting him, the only psychiatrist on the editorial board. “I didn’t feel it was written in a spirit of vengeance,” Fadiman replied in her defense. “I felt it was written in a tenacious desire to get at the truth. James Trilling has spent his life bending over backward to avoid trading on his parents’ names.”5
The accusations of exploitation, Oedipal revenge, and psycho-autopsy were not slow in coming. “A Son’s Simple Diagnosis of His Father’s Complexities: Critic on the Couch,” headlined the New York Times in a pre-publication advance report on James Trilling’s article. Days later, writing in the “Think Tank” column of the New York Times (April 24 and May 29), Sarah Boxer accused the son of betraying his father’s life and work by reducing them to symptoms of A.D.D. Since Lionel was an orthodox Freudian and James proposed another way of looking at Lionel’s life, she argued, the son’s aim must be to usurp the father’s place. Boxer asked, rhetorically, “Why does an article about attention deficit disorder sound so Oedipal?”
Three weeks later in The New Republic (May 17), Leon Wieseltier, the magazine’s literary editor and a former Trilling student, took the attack a step further, charging that James Trilling sought to “relieve himself” of the pressure of a vocation demanding high aspirations. His memoir is “banal and low,” an exercise in “filio-porn.”
Wieseltier emphasized the bigger “stakes in James Trilling’s exhibitionism.” As an intellectual son of Lionel Trilling, Wieseltier was challenging James Trilling’s filial prerogative and asserting his own claim to the Trilling legacy. (Wieseltier and James Trilling are generational coevals, both in their mid-50s.)6
By implication, Wieseltier was asking: What does it mean to be an intellectual today? Is it all just a “mask”? Here we return again to Trilling’s “example” and to his status as a “figure.”
For Wieseltier, James Trilling’s essay was a social case of intellectual pseudo-toughness: a case of disillusion with the intellectual calling, vindictively expressed via a skewering of the major postwar American intellectual who had seemed to embody that calling. The “aim” of the son’s essay “is to relieve himself, and us, of a certainly lofty notion of Lionel Trilling and thereby to relieve us, of a certain lofty notion of the intellectual calling. . . . His diminishment of his father’s view of life into a clinical condition is designed to bring us all the gift of relaxation.” That intellectual slackness leads the son to “degrade precious things” by degrading nuance and promoting oversimplification. Wieseltier’s indignation led him to a moving peroration in defense of Trilling’s exalted conception of “Mind”:
The idea of living happily ever after is crass, but still there is happiness. Complexity is the destiny of thoughtful individuals, from which they will never be rescued, but still there is love.
The intellectuals’ outrage culminated in July 1999 with Gertrude Himmelfarb’s Commentary essay, “A Man’s Own Household His Enemies.” Deriving her title from Rabbi Eliezer’s prophecy in the Talmud (in Micah) on the coming of family betrayals and fraternal corruption, Himmelfarb took James Trilling’s analysis as a historical case of confessional literature, representing its newest stage, whereby the revelations bare not just one’s own private life but that of helpless family members. (Himmelfarb included John Bayley’s recent memoir of his wife, the philosopher Iris Murdoch, and Diana Trilling’s The Beginning of the Journey in her indictment.)
Unlike other commentators on James Trilling’s analysis, Himmmelfarb wrote with special authority both as a scholar-critic of Trilling’s work and as a long-time acquaintance of Lionel and Diana Trilling. She had much contact with them throughout the postwar era (until the couples fell out in
the early 1970s over whether to support Richard Nixon’s
re-election bid for president). Much of Himmelfarb’s scholarship has focused on the rise and fall of cultural fashions, especially the historical development of “the moral imagination” (a phrase of Trilling, whom she keenly admires). An historian with a strong, conservatively toned revisionist sensibility, Himmelfarb is an outspoken defender of the leading values of Victorian morality. She is also opposed to the dominance within academic historiography of left-oriented social history (which she criticizes as a form of covert radical propaganda), preferring instead traditional historical approaches that emphasize politics and “high” culture.7
Himmelfarb drew on her considerable authority as a scholar-intellectual and a former friend of the Trillings in her Commentary essay. She was able to meet James Trilling on his own ground as someone who could draw on personal experience of Trilling the man. “To those who knew Lionel Trilling,” she writes, “nothing could resemble the man less than this listing of his incapacities.” She speculates that James Trilling waited so long to publish his essay because he “did not have the means at hand for the task” until gaining access to Diana’s tapes about her marriage (after her 1996 death) and until A.D.D. became a fashionable medical (“or pseudo-medical”) diagnosis. (Indeed, James admits that his father rarely had a personal conversation with him, and that most of the son’s information is gleaned from his mother’s tapes, which she made in preparation for writing The Beginning of the Journey.)
Himmelfarb deplores what she sees as the indulgence and arrogance of the son’s confessional mode of analysis. “What is striking about this memoir is the way its author implicitly places himself on a par with his subject, indeed, puts himself at the center of the stage.” To James’s claim that he and his father were “in the same boat” as A.D.D. sufferers, Himmelfarb retorts: “To the reader, it may seem more remarkable that at no point does the adult son acknowledge that, in terms of accomplishments, they are hardly ‘in the same boat.’”8 In direct opposition to Anne Fadiman’s view, Himmelfarb sees James as trading on his famous father’s life in order to claim victim status and gain national attention—and that both James and Diana invaded Lionel’s privacy posthumously. Indeed Himmelfarb does not confine her critique to the son’s essay. Writing about Diana’s lengthy discussion of Lionel’s depression in The Beginning of the Journey, Himmelfarb adds: “He was at pains not to disclose it even to his closest friends—whereupon she proceeds to disclose it to the world.”
James Trilling’s lone vocal defender was Mark Krupnick, the onetime harsh critic of Lionel Trilling who had become an ardent admirer by the 1980s. In “Diagnosing Trilling: Why the Critics Are Wrong,” Krupnick adopted a sympathetic stance toward James Trilling’s analysis and motives. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (June 4, 1999), Krupnick valued “the sensitivity, generosity, and empathy that seem to me to inform [James Trilling’s] understanding of his father”—qualities that Krupnick had not thought characteristic of Diana Trilling’s memoir. Unlike readers who interpreted the son’s essay as a form of Oedipal revenge, Krupnick judged it to be an act of compassion and reconciliation: “Despite Lionel Trilling’s incapacity to see his own weaknesses in his son, the son shows himself able to forgive the father and wish that the father could have been helped to know and accept himself as the son has. James seems to be performing an act of reparation, not an act of parricide.”
Did Lionel Trilling suffer from A.D.D.? If so, did it limit his life and work?
Krupnick argues, not implausibly, that Trilling’s nuanced literary style and wise appeal to the “complexity” and “variousness” of life represented a positive adjustment “to neurological problems involving attention and focus.” Whatever critical consensus ultimately emerges, Krupnick’s concluding statement about the newest turn in Trilling’s reception is astute as an historical judgment about Trilling’s “complex” reputation and heritage:
His essays and lectures remain models for today’s public intellectuals who aim, as Trilling did, to challenge the literary and cultural orthodoxies of our age. Now his son, James Trilling, an art historian, has dared to reinterpret his father’s life, and critics have responded angrily to what they see as a challenge to the purity of his father’s legacy.
Indeed I would go so far as to speculate that, quite ironically, it may well turn out that this newest controversy about Trilling ultimately elevates his standing even further—precisely by reinforcing the image that readers such as myself have long held of him: the writer engaged in the arduous struggle of shaping a self, the thinker who prized the life of the “Mind,” the man who pursued a lofty vision of the intellectual vocation.
And those perceptions are, above all, why Lionel Trilling invites such an intensely personal response in his readers. By his example, he implicitly challenges and inspires us to conceive our lives similarly—and thus heroically. He challenges and inspires us to enter what Diana Trilling once called, in a high-toned phrase describing the vocation of their New York intellectual circle, “the life of significant contention.”
And so, Trilling’s considerable weaknesses — whether in his personal or intellectual life — notwithstanding, I still find it inspiring that he made so much of his abilities and preoccupations. His arguably coterie stance, his predominant focus on nineteenth-century Britain, his near-exclusive interest in cultural criticism—and now his family conflicts and alleged psychological disorder — all issued forth in rich insight, and finally lend him even the appearance of rare openness and breadth. For me, an awareness of his limitations somehow humanizes him. I think of Trilling’s own exhilarating perception of George Orwell’s severe limitations as a writer and man: “He is not a genius—what a relief! What an encouragement. For he communicates the sense to us that what he has done, anyone of us could do.”
And yet, my “speculation” about Trilling’s standing in the future represents much more a hope than a prophecy. It is, moreover, contingent upon a possibility fast receding: that he will be thoughtfully read and pondered by future intellectuals. Perhaps he will not be.
That sad possibility suggests the existence of other parallels to George Orwell that are less comforting: the intellectual battles over their mantles, the absorbing interest with their personalities, the obsessive interest in their private lives—all of this at the expense of attention to their serious work. Little of it has to do with higher ideas; almost all of it reflects (and spices) the higher gossip. The ravenous maw of intellectual celebrity devours everything and exists only to engorge more; the personality cult controversies and grave-robbing disputes do not return readers to the artists’ writings: they displace them.
Like Orwell, Lionel Trilling is now honored in the breach: cited yet often unread, brandished yet seldom engaged. Like Orwell too, Trilling has now become more important to many intellectuals for his iconic status than for his literary achievement. Their inflation into icons results in their deflation as thinkers and writers.
Indeed, even the openly admiring attitudes toward Trilling held by Wieseltier and Himmelfarb may inadvertently contribute to such a deflation. For they speak of him in religious language — Wieseltier’s “lofty” mystical-spiritual conception of the intellectual vocation, Himmelfarb’s allusion to Rabbi Eliezar in Micah (one notes that Trilling is often cast as a secular rabbi) — demonstrate that the secular intellectual world possesses an unacknowledged religious sensibility. And just as in formal religions, the intellectual community has its icons. Trilling, if on a lower altar than Orwell, has become one of them.
So the last decade has opened another new stage in Lionel Trilling’s reputation. Following upon Mrs. Trilling’s sharp criticism of her husband, James Trilling’s American Scholar essay has focused attention on his father’s family life and personality. Does Trilling’s posthumous “case” history of intellectual mantle-snatching and familial psychologizing merely define the present moment? Or represent his future significance?9
It is still too early to say. And yet, given two decades of posthumous controversies about Trilling’s legacy and the recent turn of critical attention inward toward the private man, it seems sadly possible that his legacy will chiefly exemplify what might be ironically termed “the afterlife of significant contention.”
Selected passages from this article have appeared inModern Age.
1. C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York, 1958).
2. I discuss these issues at greater length, as they apply to the reception of George Orwell’s work, in The Politics of Literary
Reputation (New York, 1989). A new edition was issued by Transaction Publishers in 2002.
3. Trilling was much preoccupied with the notion of the “figure,” as I have discussed at length in The Politics of Literary Reputation, chapter 2.
4. Tom Samet argues similarly that Trilling “willed himself into sincerity while hankering after authenticity.” Contrary to Diana Trilling, Samet did not consider Trilling’s public persona a conscious deception, but rather as an unconscious act of “reaction-formation.” He explained:
My sense [is] that Trilling’s civility and decorum are. . . a willed renunciation of the indignation and contempt with which he often viewed middle-class life. . . . [H]e thought it irresponsible to repudiate what he frequently despised. . . he willed himself into sincerity while hankering after authenticity. And this plays itself out at the level of style, in a prose at once mandarin, sinuous, and pressured – a prose that now and again explodes into anger, as in his comments on Parrington or Dreiser.
Letter to the author, 4 August 1997.
5. Interestingly, Anne Fadiman is the daughter of Trilling’s friend, former Columbia classmate Clifton Fadiman; she and James Trilling are personally acquainted. Moreover, James Trilling’s piece appeared not long after he declined a request to contribute to my essay collection devoted to Trilling’s intellectual heritage, Lionel Trilling and the Critics (1999), on the ground of his “long-standing policy” of never writing about his parents.
6. Wieseltier was not the only intellectual son of Trilling to feel some ambivalence toward James. In his story in Ex-Friends about coaching James to recite the Kaddish, the prayer that a Jewish son pronounces at his father’s funeral service, Podhoretz acknowledges that Lionel was indeed his “surrogate father” in the course of lamenting that James did not have “any form of Jewish education” and could not even “read the Hebrew alphabet.” For reasons Podhoretz never discovered, Diana changed her mind about a religious service: Lionel neither received a Jewish funeral nor did James ever recite the Kaddish. (Ex-Friends appeared just weeks after the publication of James Trilling’s American Scholar essay and does not discuss it.)
7. A well-known neoconservative critic, Himmelfarb views Lionel Trilling as an intellectual model and neoconservative forebear. Indeed On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Cultureand Society (1994) is dedicated “to the memory of Lionel Trilling.” Himmelfarb adds in the preface: “the spirit of Lionel Trilling hovers over the book as a whole.” Titled “The Abyss Revisited,” the opening chapter returns to Trilling’s famous essay “On the Modern Element in Modern Literature” (1961), arguing its significance and relevance to Right-Left academic debates of the 1990s.
8. A friend of the Trillings informs me that Diana once said to him (about James) that “life is about accomplishment, not contentment” — and she added that James was failing in life “because he has accomplished relatively little.” Diana did not hide her disappointment that her son had become a homemaker who reared the children and did not pursue his art history scholarship full-time. (He became an independent scholar after being denied tenure at Brown University in the 1970s.) The language of “accomplishment” may mark a generational divide between the outlooks of James, born in 1946, and of both the Trillings and the Kristols.
9. Intellectuals are supposedly concerned with ideas. But perhaps this preoccupation with personality rather than ideas is more characteristic of most intellectual circles—and most especially of the New York intellectuals. Alfred Kazin once wrote that the New York intellectuals “were interested in the people around them to the point of ecstasy; in this world nothing interested them so much as the personalities of their friends.”
For Further Reading
An excellent, comprehensive research tool for students of Lionel Trilling’s work and life is Thomas Leitch, Lionel Trilling: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1993). Leitch’s bibliography includes items through 1990 on Trilling, the New York intellectuals, and related topics. Accordingly, with the exception of citing the major books devoted to Trilling, this annotated selection of articles emphasizes sources either unaccountably omitted from Leitch’s volume or published since 1991.
bc Beyond Culture
bj The Beginning of the Journey
dt Diana Trilling
fcc Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture
ld The Last Decade
li The Liberal Imagination
lt Lionel Trilling
ma Matthew Arnold
os The Opposing Self
Birnbaum, Milton. “Trilling’s Reception.” Modern Age, winter 2000, 84-90. Essay-review of Lionel Trilling and the Critics, edited by John Rodden.
Boyers, Robert. Lionel Trilling: Negative Capability and the Wisdom of Avoidance (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1977). This perceptive short monograph, which focuses on lt’s short stories and his 1948 essay on James’s Princess Casamassima (collected in li), is the first substantial critical study of lt’s work.
Budick, Emily Miller. “Lionel Trilling and the ‘Being’ of Culture.” Massachusetts Review: A Quarterly of Literature, the Arts, and Public Affairs 35, no. 1 (spring 1994): 63-82. In lt’s essay, “Wordsworth and the Rabbis” (collected in os), both lt and Wordsworth sympathize with rabbinic Judaism. lt’s approach to Wordsworth was influenced by ideas at mid-century of American exceptionalism and high culture; his dialectical sensibility treats Wordsworth via a series of mediations between Jewish and Christian differences, secular and religious oppositions, and American and British cultures.
Chace, William M. Lionel Trilling: Criticism and Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980). A valuable close reading of lt’s major works.
DeMott, Benjamin. “Rediscovering Complexity.” The Atlantic, September 1988, 67-75. DeMott suggests that a renewed appreciation of lt’s work, especially li, is crucial to the task of revitalizing political liberalism in the 1980s. DeMott compares and contrasts lt’s philosophy of liberalism with that of current figures such as Charles Murray, and with lt’s contemporaries such as Richard Hofstadter and Robert Merton.
Freedman, Jonathan. “Trilling, James, and the Uses of Cultural Criticism.” The Henry James Review 14, no. 2 (spring 1993): 141-50. Assesses lt’s debts to James and compares Lt and James as critics and imaginative writers.
Glaberson, Eric. “The Literary Criticism of the New York Intellectuals: A Defense and Appreciation.” American Studies 29, no. 1 (spring 1989): 71-95. Assesses lt and other leading New York intellectuals as writers who disdained theory and method for practical criticism.
Glick, Nathan. “Lionel Trilling.” The Atlantic, July 2000, 36-47. Essay-review of Lionel Trilling and the Critics, edited by John Rodden.
Hart, Jeffrey. “Reality in America: Yet Once More.” Sewanee Review 102, no. 4 (fall 1994): 631-41. The tendency of progressive literary academe to use race, gender, and class criteria — rather than literary merit — to judge literature calls for another book such as li, which defended literary values against progressivist ideology at mid-century.
Kriegel, Leonard. “Partisan Review and the New York Intellectuals: A Personal View.” The Gettysburg Review 2, no. 2 (spring 1989): 227-37.
Krupnick, Mark. Lionel Trilling and the Fate of Cultural Criticism (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1986). The best study of lt’s work and life, showing his evolution and the enduring value of his cultural criticism and life as a public intellectual.
Matthews, Fred. “Role Models? The Continuing Relevance of the ‘New York Intellectuals.’” Canadian Review of American Studies 19, no. 1 (spring 1989): 69-99.
Nowlin, Michael E. “Lionel Trilling and the Institutionalization of Humanism.” Journal of American Studies 25, no. 1 (April 1991): 23-38.
Drawing primarily on a new analysis of bc, ld, and ma, Nowlin defends lt against charges from Cornel West and others that he was “a mandarin apologist for ‘high culture.’” Nowlin regards one of lt’s “great insights” to be his judgment that “the ‘adversary’ culture” is “essentially the dark mirror image of a frustrated humanistic enterprise” and suggests that lt’s example shows how, even if one is “compromised” by “complicity with the established social order,” this “complicity may be unavoidably the price one pays for ‘speaking.’”
Nowlin, Michael E. “‘Reality in America’ Revisited: Modernism, the Liberal Imagination and the Revival of Henry James.” Canadian Review of American Studies 23, no. 3 (spring 1993): 1-29.
O’Hara, Dan. Lionel Trilling: The Work of Liberation (Madison
and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988). lt is a “magnanimous” critic capable of “imaginative sympathy” with minds radically different from his own. Despite his conservatism and his status as a leading intellectual, this ability marks him as a “subversive patriarch” who undermined established ideological and literary orthodoxies.
Reising, Russell J. “Lionel Trilling, ‘The Liberal Imagination,’ and the Emergence of the Cultural Discourse of Anti-Stalinism.” Boundary 2, 10, no. 1 (spring 1993): 94-125. The literary criticism of lt written between the 1940s and 1960s served as a critique of Stalinism and Soviet communism.
Rose, Jacqueline. “Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture.” Critical Quarterly 37, no. 1 (spring 1995): 3-20. Rose contrasts lt in fcc with Freud himself and with views of the relation between self and culture offered by novelists such as Dorothy Richardson and Henry
James. Rose suggests that these inadequate views of the relation between self and society can be enriched by the acceptance of multiculturalism.
Ross, T. J. “The Trillings and the Consolation of Criticism: The Beginning of the Journey.” The Literary Review 37, no. 4 (summer 1994): 724-25. Ross considers dt’s efforts in bj to portray the wilder side of lt’s personality — to “rescue her husband from the goody-goody image of perfect gentle knight often laid on him” — not wholly successful, and that the familiar image of the liberal, decent lt emerges from the memoir nonetheless.
Seed, David. “The Style of Politics in Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey.” Durham University Journal 86, no. 55 (January 1994): 119-28.
Shapiro, Edward S. “Jewishness and the New York Intellectuals.” Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought 39, no. 3 (summer 1989): 282-92.
Shoben, Edward Joseph, Jr. Lionel Trilling: Mind and Character (New York: Ungar, 1981). A perceptive study by a clinical psychologist of the relation between lt’s work and character, including discussion about the role of teaching and fiction-writing for lt’s criticism.
Stade, George. “Trilling and Ulysses.” Partisan Review 59, no. 2 (spring 1992): 275-82. Drawing on lt’s correspondence, Stade argues that lt regarded the portrayal of the uncensored human body and of bodily functions in Ulysses as Joyce’s great achievement.
Strout, Cushing. “A Dark Wood in the Middle of the Journey: Willa Cather and Lionel Trilling.” Sewanee Review 105, no. 3 (summer 1997): 381-395. Cather (1883-1947) and lt were ill-disposed toward each other. In a 1936 story, Cather described a hypothetical Jewish journalist who is not capable of appreciating a popular book. lt believed she meant him and criticized her understanding of the narrow, excessively spiritualized modern world. But Cather’s The Professor’s House (1925) and lt’s The Middle of the Journey bear striking similarities in their attitudes toward the American academy.
Tanner, Stephen L. Lionel Trilling (Boston: Twayne, 1988). An illuminating chronological study of lt’s career and his major and minor writings.
Weiland, Steven. “Looking for Lionel Trilling in all the Wrong Places, or Becoming a Land-Grant Jew.” The Antioch Review 52, no. 3 (summer 1994): 416-32. Weiland, a Jewish professor at Michigan State University, discusses the disparity between his youth and educational environment and his teaching at a Midwest land-grant institution. Weiland reflects on his presence in an institution very different from the intellectual culture of Columbia and New York, where lt spent his adult life, and on his learning from his undergraduate teachers, who were students of lt, to read li as “the model of adult and academic discourse.”
Weissman, Judith. “A Straight Back and an Arrogant Head.” The Georgia Review 48, no. 1 (spring 1994), 1-8. dt’s bj defends liberalism, which is anathema to the contemporary literary academy, since literary theorists celebrate repressed voices and sexual/social perversions. By defending traditional liberalism, bj champions “bourgeois” values that current literary theory opposes.