Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

51
Excerpt from review of Sincerity and Authenticity and Mind
in the Modern World, The New York Times Book Review
February 1973

Geoffrey H. Hartman

Geoffrey H. Hartman (1929—), Karl Young Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Yale University, is the author of The Fate of Reading (1975), Criticism in the Wilderness (1980), Saving the Text: Literature/Derridal Philosophy (1981), and Minor Prophecies: The Literary Essay in the Culture Wars (1991), among other books.

A leading American exponent of phenomenological criticism and, during a brief period in the 1970s and 1980s, deconstruction, Hartman began his career in literary criticism as a specialist in English Romanticism, an interest that he and Trilling share. And like Trilling in his later work, Hartman has frequently been criticized for his opaque style and mandarin assumptions.

In the following front-page New York Times Book Review notice (later collected in The Fate of Reading), Hartman criticizes Trilling’s “unremitting solemnity” and his theoretical inadequacies (his lack of “grand philosophy”) as a historian of ideas.

Trilling’s aim has been to acknowledge the discontents or psychic difficulties of modern life yet to prevent their becoming a blind—that is, a politically reckless—ideology….

Trilling is especially wary of ideological criticism (be it religious, feminist, Marxist or whatever) and its willful bending of works of art to its own purpose. His urbane and crafted essays—so casual yet so woven, digressive yet powerfully recursive—have a decided touch of Arnoldian “sweetness” or

-307-

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