Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

44
“Beyond Criticism,” The New York Review of Books
December 1965

Robert Mazzocco

Robert Mazzocco (1933—) is a poet and reviewer. He has published Trader: Poems (1979). Mazzocco became well known in literary New York during the 1960s and early 1970s for his pungent essay-reviews in the pages of The New York Review of Books, for which he began reviewing in 1965.

The following harsh review of Beyond Culture was one of Mazzocco’s first contributions to The New York Review of Books. The review provoked two sharply worded letters in defense of Trilling from senior members of the Partisan Review circle of intellectuals. Fred Dupee, who was also an English department colleague of Trilling at Columbia, criticized Mazzocco’s review as a “monstrous injustice” to Trilling; Martin Greenberg, a former Commentary editor, condemned Mazzocco for “the brutality of his callousness.”

Beyond Culture is Lionel Trilling’s first collection of essays in ten years. Three of these essays were published in the mid or the late 1950s, the remaining five date from the present period. A number have appeared in Partisan Review and the concluding one, “The Two Environments,” recently printed in Encounter, created something of a stir. All are carefully composed, or overcomposed, depending on how you view Professor Trilling’s later prose style. I view it, unhappily, as a good deal more attenuated than what one found in The Liberal Imagination or The Opposing Self. Aside from an acute and amiable assessment of Babel’s short stories, the usual impression is that of trudging uphill, scanning hazy vistas martyred with abstractions, pestered by fuddyduddy phrases: “for such it can be called,” “if we consent to call it that,” “in the degree that,” and so on.

Plain speech, of course, has never been one of Professor Trilling’s nu-

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