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lionel trilling Quotes

Lionel Trilling Quotes

Date of Death: 1975-11-05 (Wednesday, November 5th, 1975)



    • At the bottom of at least popular Marxism there has always been a kind of disgust with humanity as it is and a perfect faith in humanity as it is to be.
    • It is now life and not art that requires the willing suspension of disbelief.
    • A real book reads us. I have been read by Eliot's poems and by Ulysses and by Remembrance of Things Past and by The Castle for a good many years now, since early youth. Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better, they came to have more sympathy with me and to understand my hidden meanings. Their nature is such that our relationship has been very intimate. No literature has ever been so shockingly personal as that of our time - it asks every question that is forbidden by polite society.
    • Somewhere in the child, somewhere in the adult, there is a hard, irreducible, stubborn core of biological urgency, and biological necessity, and biological reason that culture cannot reach and that reserves the right, which sooner or later it will exercise, to judge the culture and resist and revise it.
    • Every neurosis is a primitive form of legal proceeding in which the accused carries on the prosecution, imposes judgment and executes the sentence: all to the end that someone else should not perform the same process.
    • We are at heart so profoundly anarchistic that the only form of state we can imagine living in is Utopian; and so cynical that the only Utopia we can believe in is authoritarian.
    • If one defends the bourgeois, philistine virtues, one does not defend them merely from the demonism or bohemianism of the artist but from the present bourgeoisie itself.
    • Economic man and the Calvinist Christian sing to each other like voices in a fugue. The Calvinist stands alone before an almost merciless God; no human agency can help him; his church is a means to political and social organization rather than a bridge to deity, for no priest can have greater knowledge of the divine way than he himself; no friend can console him - in fact, he should distrust all men; in the same fashion, Economic Man faces a merciless world alone and unaided, his hand against every other's.
    • The doctrines of Calvinism involved a reversal of values with which Arnold became increasingly concerned. Work had always been a curse and a means, but it had now turned into a blessing and an end. The production of goods had become an end in itself and the consumption of goods only the means to further production. The factory was not made for man but man for the factory.
    • It is one thing, then, to say, 'The Bible contains the religion revealed by God,' and quite another to say, 'Whatever is contained in the Bible is religion, and was revealed by God.' If the latter be accepted, metaphor and allegory become literal statements and the errors and absurdities of bibliolatry follow.
    • After all, no one is ever taken in by the happy ending, but we are often divinely fuddled by the tragic curtain.
    • The definitions of humanism are many, but let us here take it to be the attitude of those men who think it an advantage to live in society, and, at that, in a complex and highly developed society, and who believe that man fulfills his nature and reaches his proper stature in this circumstance. The personal virtues which humanism cherishes are intelligence, amenity, and tolerance; the particular courage it asks for is that which is exercised in the support of these virtues. The qualities of intelligence which it chiefly prizes are modulation and flexibility.
    • The aspects of society that humanism most exalts are justice and continuity. That is why humanism is always being presented with a contradiction. For when it speaks of justice it holds that the human condition is absolute; yet when it speaks of continuity it implies that society is not absolute but pragmatic and even anomalous. Its intelligence dictates the removal of all that is anomalous; yet its ideal of social continuity is validated by by its perception that the effort to destroy anomaly out of hand will probably bring new and even worse anomalies, the nature of man being what it is. 'Let justice be done though the heavens fall' is balanced by awareness that after the heavens fall justice will not ever be done again.
    • Arnold must have for us the something of the character of what we nowadays have taken to calling a 'culture hero': that is, a man who gives himself in full submission and sacrifice to his historical moment in order to comprehend and control the elements which that moment brings.
    • We have all in some degree become anarchistic.
    • Disgust is expressed by violence, and it is to be noted of our intellectual temper that violence is a quality which is felt to have a peculiarly intellectual sanction. Our preference, even as articulated by those who are most mild in their persons, is increasingly for the absolute and extreme, of which we feel violence to be the true sign. The gentlest of us will know that the tigers of wrath are to be preferred to the horses of instruction and will consider it intellectual cowardice to take into account what happens to those who ride tigers.
    • Even the nonreligious may exercise aesthetic judgment in matters of religion, and indeed our age has given the unbelieving a sophisticated taste in religious literature.
    • We properly judge a critic's virtue not by his freedom from error but by the nature of the mistakes he does make, for he makes them, if he is worth reading, because he has in mind something besides his perceptions about art in itself - he has in mind the demands that he makes upon life.
    • We are all ill; but even a universal sickness implies an idea of health.
    • The poet is in command of his fantasy, while it is exactly the mark of the neurotic that he is possessed by his fantasy.
    • Some paradox of our natures leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.
    • Our culture peculiarly honors the act of blaming, which it takes as the sign of virtue and intellect.
    • There is no connection between the political ideas of our educated class and the deep places of the imagination.
    • The writer must define his audience by its abilities, by its perfections, so far as he is gifted to conceive them. He does well, if he cannot see his right audience within immediate reach of his voice, to direct his words to his spiritual ancestors, or to posterity, or even, if need be, to a coterie. The writer serves his daemon and his subject. And the democracy that does not know that the daemon and the subject must be served is not, in any ideal sense of the word, a democracy at all.
    • lionel trilling

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