Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

36
“The Voice beyond Ideology,” Commentary
April 1955

Paul Pickrel

Paul Pickrel (1917-) taught English at Lafayette College, Yale University, and then Smith College, where he taught for more than two decades and has been professor emeritus since 1987. During 1949–66 he worked full time as managing editor and book review editor of the Yale Review, while also serving during the mid-1950s as the chief book reviewer at Harper’s.

Like Trilling, Pickrel was especially interested in nineteenth-century British literature and also wrote one novel (The Moving Stairs, 1949).

‘The vigor of Lionel Trilling’s criticism arises from the fact that he has been forced to work out an intellectual position that goes against the grain of his own mind. He is the most metropolitan of our critics—only a great city like New York could have produced him—yet the direction of his thought becomes increasingly anti-metropolitan. He has brilliant powers of analysis, yet more and more the object of his analysis is the vindication of the imagemaking faculty of the human mind against the analytical faculty. He is a true son of the age of ideology, feeling fully the appeal of the intellectual aggression we call ideology, the determination to make reality conform to the mind’s reading of reality; yet the essence of what he has to say is that the universe speaks in a voice beyond ideology, and that man can realize the fullness of his being only by listening to that voice.

Trilling’s criticism appeals to his contemporaries (his earlier book of essays, The Liberal Imagination, is said to have sold 70, 000 copies in the inexpensive reprint) because he faces, with learning and intelligence, the problem every intellectual is up against in one form or another. Since, for the last century and a half, ideology has been the chief content of intellectual life,

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