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« "Big Tool" [by Allison Contey] | Main | Terence Winch, Guest Blogger July 5-11 »

July 04, 2009


David, you were very fortunate as far as teachers go. You say the competition was stiff; maybe a few others, in reminiscence? Jacques Barzun, I'd love to hear about. Mark Van Doren was a little older than Trilling and would have been retired a while before you started at Columbia; was there any resonance of that presence, so powerful in the minds of the generation ahead of you (Berryman, et al), still echoing when you were there?

DL, I really enjoyed this. Trilling is such a larger-than-life character in the literary world; it's nice to hear about him from someone who actually knew him as a person, not just an icon.

I'm glad he was nice to your mom, too.

Trilling had great admiration for Ernest Hemingway, which I'm not sure he was very public about. It wasn't only Hemingway's work but also his ability to fully live the life of a writer. And Trilling specifically mentioned Hemingway's willingness (or helplessness) in making a fool out of himself. I was interested to learn this from a review of Trilling's letters (or journals?) that were published a few years ago.

Thank you all for the comments. I neglected to mention that I got to know LT when I worked as his graduate assistant in 1973-74. (I had soured on graduate school and was on the verge of leaving the fold when a letter from the Columbia English Department informed me of the appointment.) Through Trilling I got to meet Barzun, who was (and remains: at age 100) incredibly erudite and generous with his knowledge; whatever it is you are working on, from murder mysteries to classic rhetoric to pedagogical theory to Berlioz and the spirit of Romanticism, chances are he'll prove a major resource. Other Columbia professors esteemed to the point of imitation in my time included Kenneth Koch, Edward Said, and Edward Tayler. Maybe I will blog some about them -- and about Van Doren, whom I never met: he had retired but remained a presence nevertheless on Morningside Heights. I found out much more about him in the course of bringing his book "Shakespeare" back into print (New York Review Classics, 2005). Mitch is right about Trilling's admiration for Hemingway. In his journals Trilling airs his self-doubt; for all his fame and influence, he was anything but smug. But what came as a surprise was that he considered the writer's vocation, as specifically exemplified by Hemingway, to be the road not taken, the road he regrets not having taken. In his heart of hearts he wanted to be a writer, not a professor, and to lead a writer's life. Trilling was a handsome man, but there was gloom in his eyes. The state of the world almost always justifies gloom, and the mid-century intellectuals in their element of ambiguity and uncertainty were a gloomy-looking lot. (Think of romantic Camus in action trenchcoat.) Yes, but I think Trilling knew exactly who he was and who he wasn't.

Lionel Trilling's charm and intelligence are so movingly presented here. He represents more than his own enormous talent and contributions; he is a symbol of the sort of critic who lived and died for literature and whose life was itself a work of art.

I especially loved the Hopkins "Margaret" reference. I have attended two Hopkins international conferences (one at Oxford, the second in Denver) and the most recent one at Regis University in Denver.

I still can't explain inscape and sprung rhyme, but ...

I encountered Barzun in my twenties, when I studied with Guy Davenport. Perhaps I could understand him now, but not then.

Great hearing from you, Judy -- it's been too long. Are you still in Tampa?

DL: I'm in tears, dangit--catching up on the site in the early L..A. a.m. Trilling--your subject--yes, of course. And you've turned me back to the work (I just jotted a note for myself). But you as a writer, well that's the other subject of this for me. A brilliant thinker yourself, a *subtle* thinker yourself, and in the golden shining zenith of your form.

umm...did I really? golden AND shining? sorry, D.L.! Can admiration from a tin can still prove gold?

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

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