Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

62
“The Critics Who Made Us: Lionel Trilling and The Liberal
Imagination,” Sewanee Review
spring 1986

Morris Dickstein

Morris Dickstein (1940—), professor of English at Queen’s College of the City University of New York, is widely known as the author of Keats and His Poetry (1971) and Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties (1977), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Dickstein, who received his B.A. from Columbia in 1961 and taught in its English department during 1966–71, was acquainted with Trilling as a student and junior faculty member and has also served as a contributing editor to Partisan Review. A member of the younger generation of New York intellectuals, Dickstein has been hailed by Mark Krupnick for his “attempt [in Gates of Eden] to revive the old New York intellectual style in criticism.”

Although Dickstein’s sympathy for the cultural radicalism of the ’60s contrasts with Trilling’s ambivalence toward it, Gates of Eden does indeed bear the imprint of Trilling’s sensibility and interest in cultural politics. Dickstein both criticizes Trilling’s defense of “bourgeois values” and acknowledges his debt to Trilling in Gates of Eden, noting that “when the new consciousness” of the 1960s emerged, “Trilling’s work helped me to receive it.”

Still, as Dickstein rightly observes in the following essay, Trilling did not cultivate disciples, for he was “a sorcerer who took no apprentices.” The essay was part of the Sewanee series entitled The Critics Who Made Us, and it was also included in Dickstein’s book Double Agent: The Critic and Society (1992).

When it was first published in April 1950, The Liberal Imagination constituted far more than a collection of Lionel Trilling’s best literary essays of

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