The Trilling Imagination

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. "The Trilling Imagination." The Weekly Standard, February 14, 2005


A Recent casual, dismissive reference to Lionel Trilling recalled to me the man who was the most eminent intellectual figure of his time–certainly in New York intellectual circles, but also beyond that, in the country as a whole.

So, at any rate, he appeared to me many years ago. And so he appeared to his contemporaries, who thought it entirely fitting he should have received (a few years before his death) the first of the Thomas Jefferson Awards bestowed by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is typical of the man that the lecture he delivered on the occasion, “Mind in the Modern World,” was exhortatory rather than celebratory, cautioning us about tendencies in our culture that diminished the force and legitimacy of the mind, tendencies that were to become obvious to others only many years later. Here in 2005–on the centenary of his birth in 1905–it is interesting to reflect upon the quality of Lionel Trilling’s mind, a quality rare in his time and rarer, I suspect, in ours.


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