The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent: Selected Essays

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9780810124882: The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent: Selected Essays

Bringing together the thoughts of one of American literature’s sharpest cultural critics, this compendium will open the eyes of a whole new audience to the work of Lionel Trilling.  Trilling was a strenuous thinker who was proud to think too much.”  As an intellectual he did not spare his own kind, and though he did not consider himself a rationalist, he was grounded in the world.

This collection features 32 of Trilling’s essays on a range of topics, from Jane Austen to George Orwell and from the Kinsey Report to Lolita.  Also included are Trilling’s seminal essays Art and Neurosis” and Manners, Morals, and the Novel.”  Many of the pieces made their initial appearances in periodicals such as The Partisan Review and Commentary; most were later reprinted in essay collections.  This new gathering of his writings demonstrates again Trilling’s patient, thorough style.  Considering the problems of life” in art, literature, culture, and intellectual life was, to him, a vital occupation, even if he did not expect to get anything as simple or encouraging as answers.”  The intellectual journey was the true goal.

No matter the subject, Trilling’s arguments come together easily, as if constructing complicated defenses and attacks were singularly simple for his well-honed mind.  The more he wrote on a subject and the more intricate his reasoning, the more clear that subject became; his elaboration is all function and no filler.  Wrestling with Trilling’s challenging work still yields rewards today, his ideas speaking to issues that transcend decades and even centuries.

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About the Author:

Lionel Trilling (1905–75) is the author of the collections Beyond Culture, The Liberal Imagination, and the posthumously published Speaking of Literature and Society. He was a professor at Columbia University.


Leon Wieseltier is the editor of The New Republic and lives in New York City.

From Booklist:

Trilling (1905^-74) was an enormously influential critic who vehemently eschewed simplistic or emotional responses to art or morality. The author of many works, he was especially exigent, to use one of his favorite words, in his essays, most of which have long been out of print. Republished now in this substantial volume edited and vividly introduced by Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor for the New Republic and author of Kaddish (1998), these essays and lectures, still fresh and provocative, cover topics ranging from Austen, James, and Frost to the connections between art, neurosis, and politics. Distrustful of rapture and keen on reading literature as, in Wieseltier's words, "documents for a moral history of culture," Trilling embraced complexity and nuance and held critical integrity in the highest esteem. His essays possess great intellectual weight, and their richness, deep seriousness of thought, and sonorous vocabulary and syntax are balanced by a lashing wit and remarkable energy. Donna Seaman
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