Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

39
“The Critic in Reaction,” Twentieth Century
October 1933

Denis Donoghue

Denis Donoghue (1928—), professor of English at New York University and at Trinity College in Dublin, was born and educated in Ireland. Donoghue is the author of The Third Voice (1959), Ferocious Alphabets (1981), The Arts Without Mystery (1984), and We Irish (1990), among more than fifteen other works of literary criticism. His autobiographical memoir, Warrenpoint (1990), discusses his youth as an Irish nationalist and traditional Roman Catholic in Protestant Ulster.

A high modernist who is conservative in his aesthetic tastes and sharply skeptical of literary theory, Donoghue is a prolific, sensitive literary essayist and reviewer, a working critic who writes for American and British publications on a wide range of literary figures and topics.

In the following review, the twenty-seven-year-old Donoghue chides Trilling for his “pet sociological tangents” in The Opposing Self, claiming that Trilling is more a sociologist than a literary critic. Trilling is happiest “when roaming about the large triangle whose sides are Sociology, Politics, and Literature (in that order).”

if one had the time and the energy to examine the British reviews of two recent American books (R. P. Blackmur’s Language as Gesture and Randall Jarrell’s Poetry and the Age) one would find a remarkable amount of agreement on the kind of literary criticism currently in favour. In general, the British critics have rushed to show their impatience with any criticism that smells even faintly of formalism; we are encouraged to regard wit and enthusiasm as infinitely more important than analytical skill; the New Criticism, for instance, is to be used only as a swear-word. These notions were very largely responsible for the welcome which Mr Jarrell’s book received in this

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