Tuesday, June 19, 2012

L.T. on Liberalism and Literature

"A liberal is a person who believes that the right economic system, the right political reforms, the right undergraduate curriculum, and the right psychotherapy will do away with unfairness, snobbery, resentment, prejudice, neurosis, and tragedy. The argument of “The Liberal Imagination” is that literature teaches that life is not so simple—for unfairness, snobbery, resentment, prejudice, neurosis, and tragedy happen to be literature’s particular subject matter. In Trilling’s celebrated statement: “To the carrying out of the job of criticizing the liberal imagination, literature has a unique relevance . . . because literature is the human activity that takes the fullest and most precise account of variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty.” This is why literary criticism has something to say about politics." ... "But now he seemed convinced that every social and personal pathology, from revolutionary violence to narcissism, comes from the refusal to accept that life is conditioned—by the capacities we inherit, by the circumstances we are born into, by the people whose desires conflict with ours, by death." -from Louis Menand's 2008 New Yorker essay on Lionel Trilling

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