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.There were no other novels.By 1945 the stories, and the ideas for stories, had trickled to a stop.That stricken cry of his middle age, mourning the death of Hemingway, was also a lamentation for the death of another novelist—himself.In his study of Matthew Arnold—a majestic work begun at twenty-three and submitted as his doctoral dissertation a decade later—Trilling spoke of a "feeling of intimacy" with his subject.The attachment was lifelong.He described Arnold's style as "subtle critical dialectic" and his method as requiring "that we suspend our absolute standards and look at events and ideas, past or present, in the light of their historical determinants." These Arnoldian leitmotifs became Trilling's own critical instruments, reflecting the veiled melancholia and austerity of Arnold's famed "high seriousness." But there was something else the young Trilling took from Arnold—a strangely predictive force embedded in a single poem.Twice in the course of his biography of a mind, as he called it, Trilling quotes phrases—the same phrases—from "The Buried Life," Arnold's dejected stanzas on the diminution of his poetic stream:And we have been on many thousand lines,And we have shown, on each, spirit and power,But hardly have we, for one little hour,Been on our own line, have we been ourselves.And long we try in vain to speak and actOur hidden self, and what we say and doIs eloquent, is well—but 'tis not true!"The Muse has gone away," Trilling comments."Men feel, as they leave youth, that they have more or less consciously assumed a role by excluding some of the once-present elements from themselves.But ever after they are haunted by the fear that they might have selected another, better, role, that perhaps they have made the wrong choice." Even as Trilling was penning these relentless words, he was howling in his journal their anguished echo: how far-far-far I am going from being a writer.A few—very few—more years and the last chance will be gone.Before he was thirty, he was already seeing Arnold as the prophet of his own buried life.The public character he would acquire, his status as a figure, was eloquent, was well; but the Muse who lights the hidden self had gone away.***Since Trilling's death in 1975, the literary culture he espoused and embodied has itself gone away.English departments today harbor few defenders of literary high seriousness as Trilling conceived and felt it.In an unfinished essay truncated by his final illness—"Why We Read Jane Austen"—Trilling set out to explain "the aim of traditional humanistic education." Its purpose, he said, was to read "about the conduct of other people as presented by a writer highly endowed with moral imagination" and "to see this conduct as relevant to [our] own.in that it redeems the individual from moral torpor; its communal effect," he concluded, "is often said to be decisive in human existence." He went on to modify and modulate and reconsider, bringing in contradictory examples from history and ethnology, and offering "at least a little complication to humanism's rather simple view of the relation in which our moral lives stood to other cultures"—but the argument against moral torpor held.Twenty years earlier, musing on Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, he had written, "Never before had the moral life been shown as she shows it to be, never before had it been conceived to be so complex and difficult and exhausting," and, shockingly, he announced, "She is the first to be aware of the Terror which rules our moral situation, the ubiquitous anonymous judgment to which we respond.She herself is an agent of the Terror." He said the same of Robert Frost, in a notoriously revisionist speech at a dinner honoring Frost's eighty-fifth birthday.Almost no one nowadays comes to literary criticism with these premises and intonations.Little of Trilling's intellectual cosmos survives, having been displaced by a perfervid and constantly evanescing succession of rapidly outmoded theoretical movements: structuralism, deconstruction, cultural studies, gender studies, queer studies, postcolonialism.It is Trilling himself who represents the buried life of American literary culture—the brooding body of his essays, their opalescent crisscross of clauses, the minute waverings of his oscilloscopic mind, above all his now nearly incomprehensible influence.His name has dimmed.In the graduate schools his work is mostly unread, and his ideas undiscussed.His ideas were large and cumulative and, knot by knot, unnerving: his method was not to knit up but to unravel.Rather than zero in on a single aspect of human life and examine it as if it were an entire civilization (a current academic tendency), he did the opposite.In the broad imprint of any social period he read something of exigent present need or taste, enacted against the hot concerns of the past, but nearly always with contemporary habits of thought at the forefront.In pondering the place of "duty" in the Victorian novel, for instance, and more generally in the England of the nineteenth century, he set out to counter the cant of the middle of the twentieth:Such figures as the engineer Daniel Doyce of Little Dorrit or Dr.Lydgate of Middlemarch represent the developing belief that a man's moral life is bound up with his loyalty to the discipline of his calling.The Church, in its dominant form and characteristic virtue, was here quite at one with the tendency of secular feeling; its preoccupation may be said to have been less with the achievement of salvation than with the performance of duty.The word grates upon our moral ear.We do what we should do, but we shrink from giving it the name of duty."Cooperation," "social-mindedness," the "sense of the group," "class solidarity"—these locutions do not mean what duty means.They have been invented precisely for the purpose of describing right conduct in such a way as not to imply what duty implies—a self whose impulses and desires are very strong, and a willingness to subordinate those impulses and desires to the claim of some external nonpersonal good.The new locutions are meant to suggest that right action is typically to be performed without any pain to the self [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]