Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

67
“Notes on Lionel Trilling: Literature and Psychoanalysis,” in
Explorations: The Twentieth Century
1989

Bruno Bettelheim

Bruno Bettelheim (1903–90), Viennese-born psychotherapist and educator, was professor of educational psychology at the University of Chicago and the author of Love Is Not EnoughThe Treatment of Emotionally Disturbed Children (1950), The Informed Heart (1960), and The Uses of Enchantment (1982), among other books.

Both Bettelheim and Trilling were deeply influenced by and championed the work of Sigmund Freud, serving as important cultural mediators who introduced Freud’s work beyond the specialist academy to American intellectuals. In the essay below, Bettelheim praises Trilling for explaining Freud to the American literary public and for defending him against psychoanalytic revisionists such as R. D. Laing and Norman O. Brown.

The work of Lionel Trilling, the great literary critic, was much influenced by Freud and psychoanalysis. But psychoanalysis also owes a great debt to Trilling because his writings brought Freud’s true thoughts to the attention of American intellectuals, particularly during the 1950s when many misapprehensions about Freud and psychoanalysis abounded. Trilling promoted a correct view of Freud in many of his writings, but his book The Liberal Imagination, which appeared in 1950, was especially important. It was the book which firmly established him as the foremost literary critic of his generation.

Not only was Trilling’s literary criticism informed by the thoughts of Freud, Trilling was also very impressed by Freud the person. And this long before he wrote in his 1962 introduction to the shortened version of Jones’

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