The Liberal Imagination

The Liberal Imagination

Essays on Literature and Society

Book - 2008
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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 complacency of a na#65533;ve liberal belief in rationality, progress, and the panaceas of economics and other social sciences, and asserting in their stead the irreducible complexity of human motivation and the tragic inevitability of tragedy. Only the imagination, Trilling argues, can give us access and insight into these realms and only the imagination can ground a reflective and considered, rather than programmatic and dogmatic, liberalism.

Writing with acute intelligence about classics like Huckleberry Finn and the novels of Henry James and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but also on such varied matters as the Kinsey Report and money in the American imagination, Trilling presents a model of the critic as both part of and apart from his society, a defender of the reflective life that, in our ever more rationalized world, seems ever more necessary--and ever more remote.
Publisher: New York : New York Review Books, c2008, 1955.
ISBN: 9781590172834
Branch Call Number: 814 TRI
Characteristics: xxii, 303 p.

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dennismmiller
Mar 19, 2018

The Liberal Imagination is Lionel Trilling's seminal collection of essays, not originally connected but here identified as more or less strongly expressing a common theme, tracing the shape of the liberal approach to literature. Trilling's "liberalism" is the American variety of the '40s and '50s, which he minimally defines as "a ready if mild suspiciousness of the profit motive, a belief in progress, science, social legislation, planning, and international cooperation". The literature he considers is dominated by the form of the novel, which he considers as fundamentally an exploration of social class conflict.

It is interesting how much of the book involves Trilling wrestling with his touchstones, especially Freud, struggling to find a way to reconcile their influence with the value he places on humanism and the imagination. Although he is firm in his refusal to subordinate literature to philosophy, however, he sometimes seems close to considering it a mere lagniappe to the right politics. Balanced against this temptation are his active intellect and his always evident love for literature.

pperlo Feb 06, 2015

Amazing. A very tough read and clearly not for everyone.

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