Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

41
“The Mind of Lionel Trilling: An Appraisal,” Commentary
July 1957

David Daiches

(See no. 10 for biographical information about Daiches.)

Daiches’ Two Worlds: An Edinburgh Jewish Childhood (1956), published shortly before the appearance of the following review, echoes the experience of the Jewish members of the New York intellectuals. Son of an orthodox rabbi who was the accepted head of Scottish Jewry, Daiches traveled between the world of his orthodox family and that of the secular world of Edinburgh and modern British culture. In a sense, he was the assimilated British intellectual that some part of the Anglophile Trilling yearned to become.

Daiches was acquainted with the New York intellectuals in the 1940s and ’50s as an occasional contributor to Commentary and participant in its symposia. In the review below, Daiches sees Trilling as “the perfect New York intellectual”—“intelligent, curious, humane, well-read, interested in ideas, fascinated by other times and places, immensely knowledgeable about European culture”—yet strangely uninformed about American life outside his circle.

Lionel Trilling is in many respects my idea of the perfect New York intellectual. Intelligent, curious, humane, well read, interested in ideas, fascinated by other times and places, and immensely knowledgeable about European culture, he is at the same time metropolitan (with the provincialism that goes with true metropolitanism), self-conscious and professional in the practice of literary criticism, very much the observer of the great stream of American life that goes on around him, the sophisticated urban observer who is proud of the fact that his observation is undoctrinaire and untainted with snobbism. He castigates his fellow intellectuals for their complacent sense of

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