Arnold wrote at what he perceived to be a time of crisis, and Trilling transposed his thoughts on nineteenthcentury Britain into an American context. These themes also map the schema that Trilling would apply in his own readings of literature and culture: rarely a close-reader of specific texts, Trilling transformed reading into a process of ethical and political reflection. Trilling followed Matthew Arnold with E. Forster , a study of the British author whose reputation soared throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, especially in relation to his novels Howards End and A Passage to India. Trilling worked through many of his ethical, existential and political positions in his novel of ideas, The Middle of the Journey , which was well received; however, it was his collection of essays that were initially published between and — called The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society — that essentially made his name.
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Lionel Trilling S. Sreekumar Trilling was an American literary critic and teacher who brought psychological, sociological, and philosophical methods and insights into criticism. His critical writings include studies of Matthew Arnold and E. Trilling maintained an interest in Freud and psychoanalysis throughout his career. However he never based his criticism on any one system of thought. He always remained loyal, like E.
Forster, to the tradition of humanistic thought. His goal was to educate and stimulate the enlightened middle classes. He also believed that the great modern writers -- D. Lawrence and Franz Kafka, Yeats and Eliot, Joyce and Proust, Mann and Conrad —offered a subversive attitude towards the basic tenets of liberal democracy. In their works he found the abyss of terrors and mysteries. Trilling believes that Freudian psychology offers a systematic account of the human mind.
Psychoanalytical theory had a great impact on literature. Next Trilling speaks about the influences on Freud— Schopenhauer and Nietzsche anticipated his ideas. But Freud did not read their works. It is nothing but the zeitgeist the direction of thought of that era. Psycho- analysis is the culmination of the spirit of the Romantics. The Romantics thought that science is standing on the shoulders of literature. They believed that literature itself is a scientific search into the self.
The Romantics believed in the hidden thing in the human soul. Blake, Wordsworth and Burke did not believe in the wisdom of mere analytical reason. Kafka explored Freudian concepts of guilt and punishment. It is to make the ego more independent of the superego, to widen its field of vision and so to extend the field of vision and to extend the organization of the id. It is reclamation work, like the draining of the Zyder Zee. Freud considered art as one of the charms of life.
He speaks with admiration about the artists. Writers understood the motives of men. Yet sometimes he speaks with contempt about art. Art is substitute gratification — an illusion in contrast to reality.
Art serves as a narcotic. Freud thinks that artist is in the same category as the neurotic. Freud believed that there are two ways of dealing with reality.
The practical and effective way of the conscious self. His subject does not possess him but he has dominion over it. The poet is in command of his fantasy.
The neurotic has very little command over it. The artist is not like the neurotic. Art has a therapeutic function in releasing mental tension. It promotes the social sharing of highly valued emotional experience. It recalls men to their cultural ideals. Freud has no desire to encroach upon the autonomy of the artist. The psychiatrist cannot yield to the author.
The author cannot yield to the psychiatrist. Laymen may expect too much from psychoanalysis. But it must be remembered that it does not throw light on the two problems that bother him most. It can do nothing towards elucidating the artistic gift.
It cannot explain the way in which the artist works. Analytical method can do two things. It can explain the inner meanings of the work of art. It can explain the temperament of the artist. Ernest Jones and the mystery of Hamlet Dr. Jones tried to clear the mystery of Hamlet. Mystery in the play Why Hamlet did not avenge the murder of his father? What is the secret of the magical appeal of the play?
Jones believes that it is not solely on the impressive thoughts and the splendor of the language. It is something beyond this. According to Jones the play is wrapped in a dream like quality. We have no quarrel with the assumptions of Jones. But it must be remembered that there is no single meaning to any work of art. Changes in the historical mood and changes in the personal mood change the meaning of a work of art. It makes art a richer thing. It also does not lie in the effect of the work.
The audience partly determines the value of a work. The mystery of Hamlet is not uniform. More over the elements of art are not limited to art. They reach into life.
To find out the mind of the artist is not practical. Franz Alexander analyses the drama Henry IV. But his attempt is not to solve the problems in the drama but only to illumine it.
Hal is the ego and Hotspur is the superego. Alexander is not looking for hidden motives in the drama. He simply tries to explain it. Mind is seen as a poetry-making organ. Poetry is seen as a method of thought though unreliable and ineffective for conquering reality.
The mind in one of its parts could work without logic. The unconscious mind works without any logic. This point is very important — S. The pleasure principle worked in dreams. He feels that in cases of war neurosis — shell shock- the patient recollects the experience with utmost anguish. Freud says that in psychic life there is a repetition compulsion that goes beyond the pleasure principle. This traumatic neurosis is an attempt to mythridatize another term from medical science, where a patient is administered small doses of poison.
Ultimately, the dosage is increased and he becomes immune to poison. The nightmare that a person sees is an attempt to overcome a bad situation. By repeating it he is making a new effort to control it.
In his theory of the effect of tragedy, Aristotle glossed over this function. The terror we experience when we see the bleeding sightless eyes of Oedipus has little cathartic function. Seeing this painful sight of the blind Oedipus, we become immune to the greater pain that life may inflict on us. Freud says that in human pride is the ultimate cause of human wretchedness. He is an inextricable tangle of culture and biology. He is not simply good; there is a hell within him that is waiting to engulf the whole civilization.
For everything he gains, he pays in equal coin.
Freud and Literature
What was his motive in pressing upon us the ineluctability of the pain and frustration of human existence? Freud, in insisting upon the essential immitigability of the human condition as determined by the nature of the mind, had the intention of sustaining the authenticity of human existence that formerly had been ratified by God. Like the Book of Job, it propounds and accepts the mystery and the naturalness of suffering…It is this authenticating imperative, irrational and beyond the reach of reason, that Freud wishes to preserve. Arnold exalted an elitist culture, and Trilling appears to pursue the same end through the route of psychodynamics: the rational and measured examination of the irrational structure of the mind, before which we stand in awe. Not coincidentally, literature comes out as the ideal way to do so. Thus, one who only holds an appeal for the most refined of intellects.
In , he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School , and, at age 16, entered Columbia University , thus beginning a lifelong association with the university. In he married Diana Rubin, and the two began a lifelong literary partnership. In he returned to Columbia to pursue his doctoral degree in English literature and to teach literature. He earned his doctorate in with a dissertation about Matthew Arnold that he later published. He was promoted to full professor in In , he was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the first Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, described as "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. In his preface to the essays collection, Beyond Culture , Trilling defended the New York Intellectuals: "As a group, it is busy and vivacious about ideas, and, even more, about attitudes.
Key Theories of Lionel Trilling