Lionel Trilling’s Life of the Mind

Kimmage, Michael. “Lionel Trilling’s Life of the Mind.” New York Times, November 3, 2011.


As Kirsch writes, paraphrasing Trilling’s perspective, “Art is the form in which the writer, and through him the reader, can face down the intolerable contradictions of history.” The Russian short-story writer Isaac Babel was a case in point. In “Red Cavalry,” Babel anatomized the appeal of the Bolshevik Revolution, its cleansing aggression and ruthless ideals. Babel wrote as a Russian Jew conditioned to disavow violence yet enamored of the revolutionary struggle he witnessed. By pondering Babel’s stories, Trilling avowed, the reader builds an inner political decency. The calculated ambiguities of literature, rather than the false certainties of ideology, are its raw material.

New York Times