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Trilling argues that because his contemporary America is predominantly tending to an intellectually liberal tradition, the lack of a robust conservative intellectual tradition causes the lack of a cultural dialectic, making liberal ideas also weak.
Trilling argues that Parrington believed in a reality that is "immutable; it is wholly external, it is irreducible," and that Parrington believed the job of a literary writer to be the transmission of this reality by loyal reproduction.
This conception of reality can turn Americans toward an unwarranted "sympathetic indulgence" of writers, such as Dreiser, who claim to represent material reality "hard, resistant, unformed, impenetrable, and unpleasant. It also informs a disavowal of writers, such as Henry Jamesthat engage in the "electrical qualities of the mind," and are not easily conformed to a social mission or politic.
He assesses Anderson as victim to the fate "of the writer who at one short past moment has had a success with a simple idea which he allowed to remain simple and fixed. In so doing, Trilling argues, Kipling did damage to the very national values he cared so much about.
Trilling also argues that literary artists are both effects and causes of culture, and that historical criticism which treats a literary movement as something that can fail or succeed incorrectly supposes ideas are autonomous "generators of human events," that literature is meant to settle the problems of life "for good," and that the will plays little part in human life.
Trilling concludes that the novel of manners has never been "established" in America because of a conception of reality as the "hard, brute facts of existence. Scott Fitzgerald"[ edit ] Trilling examines the life and literary career of American novelist F.
Trilling calls Fitzgerald "a moralist to the core," because Fitzgerald was able to transcend the historical moment to "seize the moment as a moral fact. He sees the declining perception of the novel as reflective of a weakness in the "general intellectual life" and a passivity in the political mind.
Trilling argues that the novel, as a "celebration and investigation of the human will," can reconstitute the will by teaching it to refuse the temptation of the ideologies of the social world.
Trilling predicts that the novels of the future will "deal very explicitly with ideas," and that they should criticize ideas by attaching them to their "appropriately actuality," instead of allowing ideas to be systematized thoughtlessly through ideology.
Trilling wants novelists to realize their ability "to maintain ambivalence toward their society," and wants a general understanding of the "fortuitous and gratuitous nature of art" that makes an intellectual atmosphere where novels are possible.
He sees the anxiety about ideas in literature as actually an anxiety that ideology, a "respect for certain formulas" whose "meaning and consequence we have no clear understanding," will intellectualize the power and spontaneity out of life.
Poets, Trilling argues, can be attracted to ideas without being "violated" by them, and poets often try to develop consistent intellectual positions along with their poetry. Trilling elevates the importance of "activity" in literary thinking that keeps ideas constantly at play with one another.
Trilling concludes by advocating that we think of ideas as "living things, inescapably connected with our wills and desires," in order to facilitate a more active literature. Howe describes Trilling as an ideologue whose work is "excessively dependent on that mere will whose danger he has so often observed.
Blackmur, in his review of the book in the Kenyon Reviewwrites that the core questions of The Liberal Imagination are what the American mind is to do with "mass urban society," and what is to be done to surmount a pervasive distrust of the intellect.
Blackmur posits that the literature Trilling supports never existed. The true subject Trilling addresses, Blackmur suggests, is the "politics of human power," and the place literature has in creating "turbulence" in ordering principles of societal living.
The Viking Press,pp. Yale University Press,pp. Oxford University Press,pp. Criticism and Politics Stanford: Stanford University Press,pp. Northwestern University Press,pp. Opposing Selves Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press,pp. The Johns Hopkins University Press,pp.The liberal imagination essays on literature and society.
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Jul 08, · But in the consideration of children's literature in the nineteenth century, we face the prospect of a society where child labor was actually a fact of life.
e are familiar with the stereotypes that still linger on in the collective imagination, of young boys forced to work as chimney-sweeps or girls forced to labor in textile factories.
The Liberal Imagination is one of the most admired and influential works of criticism of the last century, a work that is not only a masterpiece of literary criticism but an important statement about politics and society/5.
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