The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More on Trilling and the little magazine

Back to Trilling, the little magazine, and blogs:

Where Schlesinger was sanguine about how modernist art could coexist happily with liberal democracy, Trilling looked at the actual situation of the times and saw potential contradictions. Modernist art, he perceptively argued, was “indifferent” to “the liberal ideology,” which Trilling identified as “a ready if mild suspiciousness of the profit motive, a belief in progress, science, social legislation, planning, and international cooperation.” Liberals—to Trilling the term encompassed most on the left in the 1920s through the 1940s—valued literature that had a social conscience, that explicitly examined social and political problems. (The overvaluation of the naturalist Theodore Dreiser and the reluctance to discuss the conservative, formalist Henry James, whom Trilling felt was far superior a writer, was a symptom of this.) Modernists—“those writers who, by the general consent of the most serious criticism, by consent too of the very class of educated people of which we speak, are to be thought of as the monumental figures of our time”—avoided what Trilling saw as the simplistic practices of literary realism, and because of this, the political importance of the best works of the imagination of the time was not recognized:

"Proust, Joyce, Lawrence, Eliot, Yeats, Mann (in his creative work), Kafka, Rilke, Gide—all have their own love of justice and the good life, but in not one of them does it take the form of a love of the ideas and emotions which liberal democracy, as known by our educated class, has declared respectable. So that we can say that no connection exists between our liberal educated class and the best of the literary minds of our time. And this is to say that there is no connection between the political ideas of our time and the deep places of the imagination."

The solution, as Trilling saw it, was the little magazine—by which he specifically meant Partisan Review. Little magazines, descendants of the publications of the 1910s and 1920s that initially pioneered modernism, were, by virtue of their interests in both politics and serious art, an important counteragent to what Trilling saw as liberalism’s failure to appreciate the political power of great art. Partisan Review “has devoted itself… to organize a new union between our political ideas and our imagination” and it would, moreover, be a fallacy to think that a magazine with a circulation of 6000 cannot be “powerful.”

Here is where I think the blog and the little magazine DO have important similarities. Blogs don't even need to have a "circulation" (hit count?) of 6000 to have an enormous effect, simply due to the power of links and cut-and-paste. Hell, Dan Rather lost his job because of one!


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