¿Aún importa Lionel Trilling?

¿Importa Lionel Trilling?, se pregunta Allan Massie al reseñar en The Times Literary Supplement el libro de Adam Kirsch Why Trilling Matters (Yale University Press). En un clima antiliterario como el de hoy (agregaría yo: tan poco intelectual) cualquiera que insista y persista en la seriedad e importancia de la literatura, y la responsabilidad de la lectura profunda que ello requiere, los Lionel Trilling importan más que nunca. Cuando más irrelevante y anticuada parece la figura del crítico literario, pues aparentemente se ha democratizado el acceso a la cultura y la información fluye a raudales, es cuando más necesitamos de su sabiduría literaria, su juicio y su cultura. Es necesario volver a leer y pensar a la sociedad desde la literatura.

Escribe Allan Massie:

…Local bookstores are closing; book reviews are disappearing from newspapers, or the space allotted to them is shrinking. There is, according to Cynthia Ozick, “no undercurrent or . . . infrastructure of literary criticism”. In university English departments, lectures on such topics as “the evolution of Batman” are advertised “alongside posters for a Shakespeare conference”. A survey by the National Endowment for the Arts says reading is “in dramatic decline”. Even the book itself, the physical object, is an endangered species. “History”, Margaret Atwood tells us, “depends on the written word – electrons are as evanescent as thoughts.”

At this point, having apparently set out in the manner of the Fat Boy in The Pickwick Papers to make our flesh creep, Kirsch springs his surprise. His opening sentence doesn’t come from one of today’s prophets of doom. It was written in 1952 by Lionel Trilling, the high priest of the American literary Establishment, the man “who stood for the principle that society and politics cannot be understood without the literary imagination”. If Trilling remarked in an essay entitled “The Function of the Little Magazine” (1946) that it was “a notable achievement” if a magazine devoted to the publication of good writing could attract a readership of 6,000, then perhaps the state of literature today is not so dire, or at least not much worse than it used to be. Nevertheless, Kirsch is sure that the standards Trilling set himself and demanded of others – his students and his readers – are out of fashion, though he argues that this does not mean they are also out of date. On the contrary. He quotes with apparent dismay a New Yorker article on Trilling by Louis Menand:

“But the idea that people have some sort of moral obligation to match up their taste in art and literature with their political opinions exercised a much more powerful appeal in Trilling’s time than it does now . . . . Since the 1960s, cultural taste has largely been liberated from politics . . . educated people tend to be culturally promiscuous and permissive. They don’t use the language of approval and disapproval in their aesthetic responses; they simply like some experiences and dislike others.”

In setting out to demonstrate that Trilling still matters, Kirsch is asserting the value of literature and a literary culture. If Trilling thought and wrote, frequently, about the relation of literature to society, it was because, like Matthew Arnold on whom he “modelled himself in certain ways”, he saw in literature the necessary and most penetrating criticism of society, of “the way we live now”. Kirsch has written a book best described as a defence and elucidation of Trilling. The title expresses his position. Trilling matters because literature matters. It offers our best means of coming to an understanding of ourselves and of society

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