Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

31
“The Politics of Human Power,” in The Lion and the
Honeycomb {originally published in Kenyon Review}
1955 {autumn 1950}

R. P. Blackmur

R. P. Blackmur (1904–65) was a poet-critic and essayist. He wrote three books of lyrical poetry and thought of himself chiefly as a poet, but he was also a brilliant textual critic and influential literary theorist. Among his main works of criticism are Double Agent: Essays in Craft and Elucidation (1935), The Expense of Greatness (1940), and The Lion and the Honeycomb: Essays in Solicitude and Critique (1955), which includes the essay below.

A member of the English department at Princeton University for a quarter century, Blackmur was known as one of the prominent members of the New Critics, though by the time of the review of The Liberal Imagination in 1950, he had distanced himself from the movement and indeed from practical criticism altogether, turning instead toward literary theory and aesthetics (though he continued to write criticism about the novel).

Blackmur and Trilling were personally acquainted and taught as visiting faculty members in the summer school of the Kenyon School of Letters. In the positive review below, Blackmur praises Trilling for “cultivating} a mind not entirely his own,” that is, 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 is the condition of the public mind and “the politics of human power,” and his critical humanist “platform” is the independent, non-doctrinaire liberal imagination, insofar as it “survives in him and us.”

Part of the pleasure of seeing Mr. Trilling’s essays brought together surely consists in finding what he has been up to all along. As they came out in

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