Lionel Trilling

Critic, Author

1905 – 1975

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Who was Lionel Trilling?

Lionel Mordecai Trilling was an American literary critic, author, and teacher. With wife Diana Trilling, he was a member of the New York Intellectuals and contributor to the Partisan Review. Although he did not establish a school of literary criticism, he is one of the leading U.S. critics of the twentieth century who traced the contemporary cultural, social, and political implications of literature. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he has been a subject of continued interest.

Famous Quotes:

  • In the American metaphysic, reality is always material reality, hard, resistant, unformed, impenetrable, and unpleasant.
  • Literature is the human activity that make the fullest and most precise account of variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty.
  • Any historian of the literature of the modern age will take virtually for granted the adversary intention, the actually subversive intention, that characterizes modern writing -- he will perceive its clear purpose of detaching the reader from the habits of thought and feeling that the larger culture imposes, of giving him a ground and a vantage point from which to judge and condemn, and perhaps revise, the culture that produces him.
  • Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.
  • A theory of the middle class: that it is not to be determined by its financial situation but rather by its relation to government. That is, one could shade down from an actual ruling or governing class to a class hopelessly out of relation to government, thinking of government as beyond its control, of itself as wholly controlled by government. Somewhere in between and In gradations is the group that has the sense that gov't exists for it, and shapes its consciousness accordingly.
  • The immature artist imitates. The mature artist steals.
  • We are at heart so profoundly anarchistic that the only form of state we can imagine living in is Utopian; and so cynical that the only Utopia we can believe in is authoritarian.
  • Educating a son I should allow him no fairy tales and only a very few novels. This is to prevent him from having 1. the sense of romantic solitude (if he is worth anything he will develop a proper and useful solitude) which identification with the hero gives. 2. cant ideas of right and wrong, absurd systems of honor and morality which never will he be able completely to get rid of, 3. the attainment of ideals, of a priori desires, of a priori emotions. He should amuse himself with fact only: he will then not learn that if the weak younger son do or do not the magical honorable thing he will win the princess with hair like flax.
  • A primary function of art and thought is to liberate the individual from the tyranny of his culture in the environmental sense and to permit him to stand beyond it in an autonomy of perception and judgment.
  • Being a Jew is like walking in the wind or swimming: you are touched at all points and conscious everywhere.

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Born
Jul 4, 1905
Queens
Also known as
  • Lionel Mordecai Trilling
Spouses
Nationality
  • United States of America
Profession
Education
  • Columbia University
  • DeWitt Clinton High School
Employment
  • Columbia University
Died
Nov 5, 1975
New York City

Submitted
on July 23, 2013

Citation

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