Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

45
“Beyond Liberalism,” The Manchester Guardian
April 1966

Raymond Williams

Raymond Williams (1921–88) was the leading Marxist literary and cultural critic-theorist in Britain of his generation. An important innovator in the socialist intellectual tradition, Williams was one of the first British critics to scrutinize television and other forms of popular art, approaching them as artifacts of “cultural materialism,” whereby Williams examined them in the context of their social production and reception.

Williams’s major works of nonfiction included Culture and Society, 1780— 1950 (1958), The Long Revolution (1966), The Country and the City (1974), and Marxism and Literature (1977). A lecturer in English and later a professor of drama at Cambridge University for more than two decades, Williams also wrote seven novels, the best known of which is his trilogy of Welsh border novels, Border Country (1961), Second Generation (1964), and The Fight for Manod (1979).

Although Williams and Trilling were both cultural critics of the first order, Williams’s view of criticism was much more systematic and politically committed. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Williams lamented Trilling’s impressionistic approach to literature and allegiance to the allegedly bourgeois liberal imagination. Before this time, Trilling and Williams had had a warm relationship, viewing each other with esteem as a senior and junior man of letters, respectively. Indeed, Trilling played a crucial role in persuading Columbia University Press to bring out Culture and Society and The Long Revolution in the United States, Williams’s first book-length American publications.

In the following review, Williams argues that Trilling’s criticism of the “adversary culture” of the 1960s from a liberal standpoint is insufficiently radical.

The essays collected in this book do not compose an argument, but most of

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