Beyond Liberalism

Williams, Raymond. "Beyond Liberalism." The Manchester Guardian," April 1966. Reprinted in Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves. 


I had been puzzled for many years to know the source of a particular North Atlantic definition and structure of “the modern.” I had met it repeatedly, at my end of the large-scale commuter traffic of literary academics. Just who, I continually asked, had so curiously selected and so powerfully cemented that particular genealogy: a tradition already, but with the hard confident buzz of modernity about it—a modernity, however, that seemed curiously dated and fixed. Frazer’s “The Golden Bough.” Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy” and “The Genealogy of Morals.” Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents,” and then arranged through and around them Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” Mann’s “Death in Venice,” Dostoevsky’s “Notes From Underground,” Tolstoy’s “Death of Ivan Ilyich.” I had been fighting that structure for many years: the structure, with its built-in connections and its built-in implacable conclusions, but by no means necessarily the particular works, which could lead in many directions, especially if other works, as indisputably modern, were put into evidence beside them. It was then something of a relief but also, in view of his eminence and his friendliness, something disturbing, to discover from this essay that for all those years I had been fighting Professor Trilling and his course in modern literature at Columbia College, New York.

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