Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

53
“Lionel Trilling: Sincerity and Authenticity,” in Celebrations
and Attacks {originally published as “Reading Lionel Trilling”
in Commentary}
1979 {August 1973}

Irving Howe

(See no. 29 for biographical information about Howe.)

The following selection, which is a warm appreciation of Sincerity and Authenticity, reflects the reconciliation that occurred between Howe and Trilling in the early 1970s. Putting political differences aside, the two men began to meet for lunch and to find common ground in each other’s aesthetic judgments and fundamentally liberal, anti-Movement convictions. The review also marks one of the last times in which Howe appeared in the pages of Commentary, which had become, since the mid-1960s, increasingly conservative. Howe and Commentary had agreed during the late 1960s on the need to fight the New Left and the excesses of the counterculture; by the early 1970s, the need had passed. Evidence of Howe’s gradually widening distance from Commentary and its emergent neoconservative direction became clear with the 1974 publication of The New Conservatives (which Howe coedited with Lewis Coser).

The Italian novelist Ignazio Silone once remarked that most writers keep telling the same story over and over again: it is the story that releases their controlling sense of existence, their springs of anxiety and dilemma. Critics may seem to enjoy greater possibilities for dispersing or disguising their deepest interests, but that is probably a mere illusion. Those who are truly engaged with the movements of their own minds also keep telling the same “story,” returning to a single question or group of questions.

-318-

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