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The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  318 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
The Liberal Imagination is one of the most admired and influential works of criticism of the last century, a work that is not only a masterpiece of literary criticism but an important statement about politics and society. Published in 1950, one of the chillier moments of the Cold War, Trilling's essays examine the promise—and limits—of liberalism, challenging the complacen ...more
Hardcover, 284 pages
Published April 1st 1979 by Harcourt (first published 1950)
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Trilling is a remarkable literary critic who has sustained continued interest when many of his contemporaries have vanished. Though he has the quaint habit of taking Freud literally, he is a nuanced literary analyst. He does not resort to jargon, and produces clear and definite portraits of the works he studies.

His reviews of the foundations of American literature are compelling. His background is clearly influenced by the realist fiction of the 19th century (Stendhal and Flaubert) and the earl
Jan 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a subtle and scrupulous intellect! I love that Trilling insists on the social, political and moral mission of literature out of a love for art, out of a feel for its centrality, and without ever scolding writers, as is the tic of too many social-minded critics, for disdaining bald polemic and the other artless travesties of true engagement. On the contrary, the idiosyncratic perceptual sophistication of the Jamesian novel, its "moral realism" about the cost and complexity of any action, are ...more
Roy Lotz
Jan 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
To read Lionel Trilling is to confront the mysterious gulf that separates intellectuals from academics. Of course, Trilling taught under the auspices of Columbia University; but how little a mark his professorial career left on him. When one opens this book, one will find no trace of jargon, no name-dropping or ‘plugs’ of his colleagues, and scant reference to the then trendy Freudianism and existentialism. (In the heat of Freud's influence, Trilling's essay on his work is cool and critical.) On ...more
No one reads Lionel Trilling anymore. For someone as massively important to American intellectual history, he seems to have largely been forgotten, especially as his compadres drifted rightwards and started rubbing shoulders with Wolfowitz and his merry gang of motherfuckers. These are the sorts of detailed studies, ranging from views on classics like Fitzgerald and Henry James up through the Kinsey Report that bespeak a wide-ranging, analytical intelligence (although he falls for a few more Fre ...more
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Знаменитая книга литературного критика Лайонела Триллинга "Либеральное воображение: эссе о литературе и обществе" проясняет связь между общественной жизнью и литературой, причем скорее "показывает", чем объясняет ее.

Воображение для Триллинга -- совместный проект эмоций и разума, подпитываемый эмоциями и мертвый без разума. "Что если..." в литературном воображении представляется вещью не столь уж далекой от "что если..." научного эксперимента.

Тем, кому из двух заявленных тем, точнее целей, в кот
Justin Evans
Do I agree with everything Trilling says? Of course not: he's disturbingly keen on a very orthodox Freud, and he's not immune to the old 'the cure for the problems of democracy is more democracy line;' and I'm not sure how those two tendencies mesh. Also, early 21st century America is a very different place than mid 20th century America. It's hard to imagine a moment in history when the rationalists were on the offensive and everything was being quantified. Today I would say the irrationalists a ...more
Dec 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Have been savoring each essay as I worked my way through this book. I'm surprised that I've never read it before. Anyone seriously interested in writing should have a copy so it can be reread from time to time. Sample essays are "The Meaning of a Literary Idea", "Freud and Literature", "Manners, Morals, and the Novel", "A Sense of the Past", "The Function of the Little Magazine". I can't say enough about all of them.
Jul 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: critical nostalgists
This book is very much of its time, a great illustration of New Criticism or whatever, the last bastion of American critical thought unsullied by the dread French invasion of the 1960s. It's almost quaint. Nevertheless, Trilling was a wonderfully perceptive reader, and this volume of essays contains several real gems.
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, essays, classics
Explores the relationship between emotions, ideas, and ideology and how fiction acts as a vehicle for their communication. More or less, fiction in service of ideology remains thin, but when able to confront complex ideas based on conflicting emotions, the novel can still achieve an active relevance.

“A culture is not a flow, nor even a confluence; the form of its existence is struggle, or at least debate”

“There is no single meaning to any work of art; this is not true merely because it is better
J. Alfred
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well, this guy is brilliant. His essays are investigations into the political ramifications of our literature: not in any foolish way either, but talking about the deep assumptions of the culture and how the stories we tell and the way that we tell them interacts with those assumptions. He is learned and wry. His raised-eyebrow regard is winning and makes an absolute pleasure to read another essay: Henry James, Freud, Fitzgerald--heck--Tacitus and the Kinsey Report (this one is fascinating) all ...more
Jeff Keehr
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't recall the book. I think Trilling was such a stylist that I didn't get much out of it.
Andrew Fairweather
Not every single essay in Lionel Trilling's collection of 'The Liberal Imagination' was relevant to my limited interests. Nevertheless I was able to find some really good bits and pieces here and there...

In order to understand Trilling's approach to evaluating literature, it must be first said that he sees literature as more than something to be enjoyed 'at leisure' or whenever someone finds time. To Trilling, there must be something much more vital than that to truly great cultural exploits. He
Seward Park Branch Library, NYPL
Not every single essay in Lionel Trilling's collection of 'The Liberal Imagination' was relevant to my limited interests. Nevertheless I was able to find some really good bits and pieces here and there...

In order to understand Trilling's approach to evaluating literature, it must be first said that he sees literature as more than something to be enjoyed 'at leisure' or whenever someone finds time. To Trilling, there must be something much more vital than that to truly great cultural exploits. He
Ben Loory
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i did more thinking in the course of reading this book than i've done in the last three years. which is not exactly to say that i learned anything or indeed understood a word of it, as my brain is like a lump of clay. and yet still i felt a certain stirring inside, and my dreams have become startling and strange. entirely worth it just for the final essay, "the meaning of a literary idea." i went to find a quote from it, but found that every sentence of it was inextricably bound to the ones that ...more
Oliver Wood
Dec 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Written in a time when most people had an ideology, and Marxism was still a tenable counter-theory, this compendium of literary criticism will probably serve only as a sociological curiosity to most now. There are some interesting – if underdeveloped - ideas about the uses and relevance of the novel (that novels might have lost their power to challenge public sensibility, much less command the power to shake the foundations of society, was evidently a concern even before the advent of the DH Law ...more
John Keats
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Inspiring, still, to me; it seems like no matter how much you read, or how much you love reading, the hardest thing to do is to tell someone why. Trilling gives you a possible response, but the problem, of course, is justifications get dated, and they can only be partial, and all theories are doomed by necessary competition. Trilling remains a relevant endorser, though, of appreciating a true, complicated vision of life.
Matt Comito
Mar 06, 2009 rated it liked it
the idea that politics and literature should seem so closely intertwined to Trilling seems now a quaint reminder of a time when books and ideas mattered in mainstream culture in a way they dont anymore. His prose is eloquent, his views occasionally hard to swallow can seem dated but more often as when he discusses Fitzgerald the reader finds himself excited about going back to the source material with new insight.
Aug 31, 2007 marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: people who hate literary criticism
When my housemaster caught me reading this in college, she giggled and called it "quaint." That was pretty awesome. This book is a true pleasure, however, for defending Mansfield Park, for "Art and Neurosis," and for making literature seem relevant (even if it's not).
Aug 15, 2009 is currently reading it
Is dense; I stupid.
Grant Custer
Sep 26, 2009 marked it as abandoned
Quit at 34.
May 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Trilling, so reading this book is my only means of imagining what it must have been like to have been in one of his seminars.
Challenging....but, like most challenges, rewarding. Love the sly, sarcastic humor and his gift for damning with faint praise.
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Ian Wold
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Mar 30, 2009
Timothy McCluskey
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NYRB Classics: The Liberal Imagination, by Lionel Trilling 1 8 Oct 24, 2013 12:33PM  
  • The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition
  • Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War
  • Selected Essays
  • Samuel Johnson
  • The Proper Study of Mankind
  • Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts
  • An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy Vol. 1
  • The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays
  • Vermeer
  • A Preface to Morals
  • The Promise of American Life
  • Selected Writings
  • The Contours of American History
  • The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution 1895-1980
  • In the American Grain
  • The Taming Of Chance (Ideas in Context)
  • Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
  • The American Language
Lionel Trilling was an American literary critic, author and teacher who, with wife Diana, was a member of the New York Intellectuals and a contributor to the Partisan Review. He was one of the leading U.S. critics of the 20th century who focused on the contemporary cultural, social and political implications of literature.
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“We live, understandably enough, with the sense of urgency; our clock, like Baudelaire’s, has had the hands removed and bears the legend, “It is later than you think.” But with us it is always a little too late for mind, yet never too late for honest stupidity; always a little too late for understanding, never too late for righteous, bewildered wrath; always too late for thought, never too late for naïve moralizing. We seem to like to condemn our finest but not our worst qualities by pitting them against the exigency of time.” 2 likes
“Man… is an inextricable tangle of culture and biology. And not being simple, he is not simply good; he has… a kind of hell within him from which rise everlastingly the impulses which threaten his civilization. He has the faculty of imagining for himself more in the way of pleasure and satisfaction than he can possibly achieve. Everything that he gains he pays for in more than equal coin; compromise and the compounding with defeat constitute his best way of getting through the world. His best qualities are the result of a struggle whose outcome is tragic. Yet he is a creature of love…” 2 likes
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