The Liberal Imagination Essays On Literature And Society

But it was the negative ones, particularly the surprisingly harsh portrait of the recently deceased (1975) Lionel Trilling that received the most attention, raised the most questions, and provoked the most consternation.Why would Alfred Kazin, one of the country’s best known and respected public intellectuals feel the need to create such a scathing portrait of a revered cultural figure with whom he apparently had no on-going public quarrel?

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Trilling’s counter-progressive arguments and his critique of the American novel would prove extraordinarily influential leading to what has been called a “paradigm revolution” in the critical-scholarly assessment of American literature (Wise that he feared would make him appear “ridiculous,” they confirmed his sense of being stranded in an alien zeitgeist, and his growing conviction that there was an “irremediable opposition” between himself and Trilling and that “nothing whatever can be done about this” (, 11/8/51).

In a later chapter, “The Times Being What They Are,” describing life during the Mc Carthy years, the portrait shifts to Trilling’s role in the Cold War—“Trilling’s high moment” (191).

A one-time radical, who in the 1930s had been fiercely critical of America, Trilling became “the most successful leader of deradicalization” in the post war years” and an enthusiastic “convert [to]America as an ideology” versus the Soviet Union (190–1).

But they mark significant differences that extend beyond personal disputes into the post -war culture.

Kazin may have opted for “character” over argument, but character can serve the purposes of argument.


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