by carl wilson

Reading, Required or Not

Louis Menand's essay on Lionel Trilling's life and work in this week's New Yorker is a great pleasure, a circumnavigation 'round the great liberal critic through his neuroses to his fiction to his shifting relation to "Hebraism" to his disappointments to the fine balance act of his prose and of course to his politics (late-life neocon, or no?). Apparently Trilling had as many modes of feeling guilty as the Hold Steady has ways of describing driving round getting drunk on a Saturday night - or more, including his guilt about having once said Jack Kerouac could not write a great novel given his accessory role in the David Kammerer murder (!): a silly claim, sure, but I was surprised Trilling gained enough respect for Kerouac to bother regretting it. As always with Menand (cf. The Metaphysical Club) it's not so much the storytelling as the afterglow - a great appreciator of sentences, Menand always tries to return the favour:

For books, including the Great ones, are social products "all the way down." They do not come from some place outside the system, and they do not represent an independent alternative to the way things are. They are among the things that are, even when they belong to what Trilling called "the adversary culture" - even when they reject conventional ways of thinking and behaving. The adversarial is part of the system; it helps to hold the other parts in place. Responsible liberal people feel better adjusted for having an appreciation of art and ideas that are contemptuous of the values of responsible liberal people. It helps the world seem round.

(Menand is off though in his claim that taste disputes no longer come with moral stakes - it didn't end in the Sixties, Louis. And I don't just mean those Sixties-by-other means, the "Culture Wars." Sure, no one sane today feels so invested in pitting Theodore Dreiser against Henry James, but that is mainly due to - even aside from revisionist views of both writers, from their long-deadness, from et cetera - the conflict many people who read anything remotely like Dreiser or James assume they have with people who play Halo. It's a false opposition in many ways but still. And then what about clashes in gaming culture between shooters and role-players and Sims-fans, let alone music-fan disputes? Menand may be too generationally removed to credit that these too come with underlying philosophical conflicts, however much they go unarticulated - they lack only their Trillings.)

Meanwhile, for fun and catch-up, there's Canuckistan's Michael Barclay's thorough and thoughtful multipart punter's guide, continuing to Friday, to the nominated albums for the Polaris Prize, which will be awarded Monday, complete with handicapping and shoulda-beens. (He kindly cites yesterday's Zoilus post while touting Veda Hille's longlisted but not shortlisted This Riot Life.)

I'd second most of his calls even though we often get there by different ear-ways. (I'd be less generous with some nominees). Have any bets? I'm guessing a Caribou-Weakerthans split, with a possible election-season run up the yardline by Holy Fuck. Though I don't have much more than an idle interest.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, September 24 at 9:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)



It unfortunately leaves pop culture out of it, but Trilling's "Sincerity and Authenticity" has bearing on the great Rockism debates anyway. Without mentioning Marlon Brando, it points to Marlon Brando ('s classic roles), probably without meaning to -- inarticulateness as sign of authenticity.

Thanks for the tip -- I'll look for the Menand essay.

Posted by john on September 25, 2008 8:51 AM



And for a Can-con Trilling bit o' history, the following neat clip:

Pierre Berton, Trilling and Vladimir Nabokov discussing LOLITA on the CBC.

Posted by stanley on September 25, 2008 8:26 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson