being trilling


Lionel Trilling was not completely happy about being Lionel Trilling. “I have one of the great reputations in the academic world,” he wrote in his journal after being promoted to full professor in the Columbia English Department, in 1948. “This thought makes me retch.” Two years later, he published “The Liberal Imagination,” a book that sold more than seventy thousand copies in hardcover and more than a hundred thousand in paperback, and that made Trilling a figure, a model of the intellectual in Cold War America. He represented, for many people, the life of the mind. Trilling was baffled by the attention. “I hear on all sides of the extent of my reputation—which some even call ‘fame,’ ” he wrote in the journal. “It is the thing I have most wanted from childhood—although of course in much greater degree—and now that I seem to have it I have no understanding whatever of its basis—of what it is that makes people respond to what I say, for I think of it as of a simplicity and of a naivety almost extreme.”

He hated being regarded as a paragon of anything.

more from The New Yorker here.