- Series: New York Review Books Classics
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics; Main edition (September 23, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1590172833
- ISBN-13: 978-1590172834
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Liberal Imagination (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – September 23, 2008
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“The Liberal Imagination (1950) applied the dialectical method to cultural themes by exploring the ways in which literary masterworks deflated the pieties of trendy left-wing politics. Trilling, who identified himself as a liberal, called for a new kind of criticism that 'might find its most useful work not in confirming liberalism in its sense of general rightness but rather in putting under some degree of pressure the liberal ideas and assumptions of the present time.' That statement was almost a blueprint, or prophecy, of the neoconservative creed.” –The New York Times
“Trilling’s best and most influential collection of essays shows how criticism, written with grace, style, and a self-questioning cast of mind, can itself become a form of literature, as well as a valuable contribution to how we think about society.” –Morris Dickstein
“A literary critic of major stature.” –The Times (London)
“The essays in [The Liberal Imagination] are remarkable for persuasiveness with which they draw attention to the importance for much, if not all great literature, of the tragic, the ironic, and the basically unjust elements in life.” –The Times (London)
"The Liberal Imagination, [is] a book that sold more than seventy thousand copies in hardcover and more than a hundred thousand in paperback, and that made Trilling a figure, a model of the intellectual in Cold War America... The argument of The Liberal Imagination is that literature teaches that life is not so simple for unfairness, snobbery, resentment, prejudice, neurosis, and tragedy happen to be literature's particular subject matter." --Lewis Menand, The New Yorker
“Lionel Trilling...is undergoing a slow but effective resurgence...everything suggest that both his persona and oeuvre are attracting a young generation of scholars eager to understand his echoes, present and future.” –Forward
“One felt that the essays of The Liberal Imagination were helping to generate a new kind of discourse; in them the traditional disparities between English and American ways of discussing both literature and society were being transcended. The specific means of this transcendence had largely to do with the intensity and luminosity of Trilling’s mind...” –The New York Times Book Review
The author "shows that literature is relevant to politics not because it affirms any political doctrine but because it provides a corrective to any political ideology whatsoever." –Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI)
“Lionel Trilling was so compelling that he mesmerized many of his Columbia students for life, away from what he regarded as the illusions about progress fostered by the liberal imagination.” –Los Angeles Times
“One of the most important literary critics of mid-20th century America.” –The Wall Street Journal
“This liberal critic of liberalism was revered for his reasonableness, the elegance of his dialectical style, the refinement of his ideas.” –The New York Times
“After his death, Lionel Trilling still exerts great influence on the landscape of American culture.” –The New York Times
“‘The Function of the Little Magazine’ is as enchanting as when it first appeared in 1946 and remains a superior lesson on the juxtaposition of the highbrow intellectual elite and a democratic mass audience.” –Foreword
“The dialectical method at its peak, honed to revelatory art.” –Sam Tanenhaus
About the Author
Lionel Trilling (1905–1975) was born in New York and educated at Columbia University, to which he returned as an instructor in 1932, and where he continued to teach in the English Department throughout his long and highly distinguished career as a literary critic. Among the most influential of his many works are three collections of essays, The Liberal Imagination, The Opposing Self, and Beyond Culture; a collection of lectures, Sincerity and Authenticity; a critical study of E.M. Forster; and one novel, The Middle of the Journey (available as an NYRB Classic). The Journey Abandoned, an unfinished novel, was published posthumously in 2008. Lionel Trilling was married to the writer and critic Diana Trilling.
Louis Menand is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard University, and a staff writer at The New Yorker. He is the author of Discovering Modernism, The Metaphysical Club and American Studies.
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Lionel Trilling was a professor at Columbia, and the familiarity with the "Great Books" engendered by teaching the Common Core is evident on nearly every page. Thus he invokes Stendhal in an essay on Sherwood Anderson, and, in an essay on Huckleberry Finn, he brings up Moliere:
"... In form and style Huckleberry Finn is an almost perfect work. Only one mistake has ever been charged against it, that it concludes with Tom Sawyer’s elaborate, too elaborate, game of Jim’s escape. Certainly this episode is too long—in the original draft it was much longer—and certainly it is a falling off, as almost anything would have to be, from the incidents of the river. Yet it has a certain formal aptness— like, say, that of the Turkish initiation which brings Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme to its close."
... which has always struck me as somewhat far-fetched, although it has stuck in my mind for more than twenty years.
The essay on The Kinsey Report, which certainly contributed to the surprise best-sellerdom of this uncompromisingly highbrow book, has some of Trilling's funniest remarks, and shows that with a little common sense, an intelligent layman can prick holes in the methodology of 'social science,' and that literary criticism need not feel subservient to anyone in a lab coat.
Here is the opening of the magnificent "Tacitus Now":
The histories of Tacitus have been put to strange uses. The princelings of Renaissance Italy consulted the Annals on how to behave with the duplicity of Tiberius. The German racists overlooked all the disagreeable things which Tacitus observed of their ancestors, took note only of his praise of the ancient chastity and independence, and thus made of the Germania their anthropological primer. But these are the aberrations; the influence of Tacitus in Europe has been mainly in the service of liberty, as he intended it to be. Perhaps this influence has been most fully felt in France, where, under the dictatorships both of the Jacobins and of Napoleon, Tacitus was regarded as a dangerously subversive writer. In America, however, he has never meant a great deal. James Fenimore Cooper is an impressive exception to our general indifference, but Cooper was temperamentally attracted by the very one of all the qualities of Tacitus which is likely to alienate most American liberals, the aristocratic color of his libertarian ideas.
In a sense, this book is almost too rich. Many times I have put this book aside, and turned to more immediately lovable critics of this era, like Leslie Fiedler or Randall Jarrell. Ultimately, however, it is Trilling who looms largest:
"... We are creatures of time, we are creatures of the historical sense, not only as men have always been but in a new way since the time of Walter Scott. Possibly this may be for the worse; we would perhaps be stronger if we believed that Now contained all things, and that we in our barbarian moment were all that had ever been. Without the sense of the past we might be more certain, less weighted down and apprehensive. We might also be less generous, and certainly we would be less aware. In any case, we have the sense of the past and must live with it, and by it."
Any argument made that demeans the study of literature? Trilling beats them senseless in this volume.