A lost culture

Lionel Trilling

Lionel Trilling

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

For a trip through literary, political and academic worlds from the 1920s to the 1970s, you’d do well to read Life in Culture: Selected Letters of Lionel Trilling, edited by Adam Kirsch and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Mr. Trilling (1905-1975) was for decades of America’s one or two most respected and famous literary critics (e.g., his essay collection The Liberal Imagination) as well as a distinguished writer of fiction (e.g., his novel, The Middle of the Journey, as well as short fiction, e.g., his collection Of This Time, of That Place, and Other Stories).

His career spanned what was probably the golden age of American criticism. His formidable wife, Diana, was also a distinguished member of the famous collection of writers, most of whom lived in New York and whose heyday was the ‘30s through the ‘70s, and at the center of which was Lionel Trilling.

Professor Trilling was a very sharp and subtle social observer as well as a legendary teacher at Columbia University. (Among his famous students were Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.) He mined literature, politics, history and the wider society to find and explain cultural connections and causes and effects.

Some of these “public intellectuals’’ became famous enough, in less crass times, to be invited to appear on late night commercial television. This book walks you through what seems a lost world of great intellectual excitement.