Lionel Trilling

United States literary critic (1905-1975)

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A primary function of art and thought is to liberate the individual from the tyranny of his culture in the environmental sense and to permit him to stand beyond it in an autonomy of perception and judgment.
A theory of the middle class: that it is not to be determined by its financial situation but rather by its relation to government. That is, one could shade down from an actual ruling or governing class to a class hopelessly out of relation to government, thinking of government as beyond its control, of itself as wholly controlled by government. Somewhere in between and In gradations is the group that has the sense that gov't exists for it, and shapes its consciousness accordingly.
Any historian of the literature of the modern age will take virtually for granted the adversary intention, the actually subversive intention, that characterizes modern writing -- he will perceive its clear purpose of detaching the reader from the habits of thought and feeling that the larger culture imposes, of giving him a ground and a vantage point from which to judge and condemn, and perhaps revise, the culture that produces him.
Being a Jew is like walking in the wind or swimming: you are touched at all points and conscious everywhere.
Educating a son I should allow him no fairy tales and only a very few novels. This is to prevent him from having 1. the sense of romantic solitude (if he is worth anything he will develop a proper and useful solitude) which identification with the hero gives. 2. cant ideas of right and wrong, absurd systems of honor and morality which never will he be able completely to get rid of, 3. the attainment of ideals, of a priori desires, of a priori emotions. He should amuse himself with fact only: he will then not learn that if the weak younger son do or do not the magical honorable thing he will win the princess with hair like flax.
Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.
In the American metaphysic, reality is always material reality, hard, resistant, unformed, impenetrable, and unpleasant.
Literature is the human activity that make the fullest and most precise account of variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty.
Literature is the human activity that takes the fullest and most precise account of variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty.
The immature artist imitates. The mature artist steals.
We are at heart so profoundly anarchistic that the only form of state we can imagine living in is Utopian; and so cynical that the only Utopia we can believe in is authoritarian.
We who are liberal and progressive know that the poor are our equals in every sense except that of being equal to us.

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