I fear I might be misreading Trilling. It has been so long since I actually read his book, I can't even find it now. All that remains is the quote below, which obviously stuck in my head a bit, almost as a judgment.
Hope you are well!
Above my desk I used to have a quote from the final lines of Lionel Trilling’s Sincerity and Authenticity:
The falsities of an alienated social reality are rejected in favor of an upward psychopathic mobility to the point of divinity, each one of us a Christ—but with none of the inconveniences of undertaking to intercede, of being a sacrifice, of reasoning with rabbis, or making sermons, of having disciples, of going to weddings and funerals, of being something and at a certain point remarking that it is finished.
He sounds so noble. As if with a flourish of his pen, he could discredit the halo-seeking poet of alienation—the postmodern artist who sees himself or herself as apart from the culture, perhaps helplessly at odds with it.
But lately I’ve been wondering, what if it is only natural to feel alienated, disillusioned, abstracted? Is it possible not to feel like a cultural anomaly as a poet in this country? Especially if you are a poet in Poland, Ohio, or a living oxymoron? Especially when you meet your yoga teacher at the local vegetarian deli, only to have her ask you if you have any poems she could read for sivasana ( the relaxation meditation at the end of class), poems like Rod McKuen’s or maybe Mary Oliver’s?
I don’t think of myself as a snob, but I do feel disgruntled at times like that.
Of course, my poet friends have argued that James Wright did okay in Martins Ferry, Ohio. To which I respond: Is there a place for a contemporary James Wright?
Don’t get me wrong. I used to love James Wright. I’m just not such a huge fan these days. Maybe I am just too grumpy. Maybe I’ve grown too cynical to think I could break into blossom. I’ve started to doubt the poets of transformation, poets who can see a chicken hawk and conclude they have wasted their life. Poets who see a torso of Apollo and conclude you must change your life. Poets who hear wild geese and preach that “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Really? Is that all?
These days when I see a hawk flying overhead, or geese, or when I see a torso of Apollo, I can conclude only that I have become a bitchy poet. I find myself making up alternative pronouncements to replace the famous: You must change your life. After all, changing one’s life seems a bit daunting. How about: You must wash the sheets. You must brew the coffee. You must cut the dog’s toenails. Or how about the via negative: You must not floss your teeth in public. You must not mistake the word, clock, for cock or vice versa. You must not overuse syllepis. Or mistake them for zeugmas.