Lionel Trilling (1905-1975) was one of the most important literary critics of the mid-twentieth century. He was a public intellectual interested in shaping the tastes of educated readers, yet also an intensely local figure identified with New York City, where he was born and raised, and with Columbia University, where he received his degrees and taught for most of his distinguished career.
The publication in 2008 of Trilling’s unfinished novel, called The Journey Abandoned, and the reissue of The Liberal Imagination, his best-known collection of essays, provide an opportunity to reflect on Trilling’s legacy—or ponder its absence. His influence as a literary critic is difficult to trace because Trilling did not articulate a method or approach but rather modeled a disposition: the disinterested, discriminating intelligence confronting the cultural text. Two developments that further widened the gap between Trilling and would-be followers were the arrival in the 1970s of continental theory and its impact on literary study and the coming-of-age of the New Left generation of Americanist historians. Still, Trilling is a provocative figure for many scholars, and his work and example raise issues that are relevant once again: the role of the public intellectual; the relationship between creative and critical writing; identity politics and the academy; and the definition and role of liberalism in contemporary American life.
Participants in the conference include Jonathan Arac, Steven Marcus, Louis Menand, Geraldine Murphy, John Rosenberg, George Stade, Fritz Stern, Michael Wood, and others. For more information regarding this event, please see the website at www.columbia.edu/cu/english/Trilling. To attend the event, please respond to email@example.com. To view a listing of events, visit www.alumni.libraries.columbia.edu.
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