Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Lionel Trilling

American Literary Critic, Short-Story Writer, Educator, Novelist

"Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have every strong ties of whose meaning and consequences in actuality we have no clear understanding."

"The diminution of the reality of class, however socially desirable, in many respects seems to have the practical effect of diminishing our ability to see people in their differences and specialness."

"The hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all vices except this one."

"Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal."

"The poet is in command of his fantasy, while it is the mark of the neurotic that he is possessed by his fantasy."

"The poet may be used as a barometer, but let us not forget that he is also a part of the weather."

"This is the great vice of academicism that it is concerned with ideas rather than with thinking."

"Unless we insist that politics is imagination and mind, we will learn that imagination and mind are politics, and of a kind we will not like."

"What marks the artist is his power to shape the material of pain we all have."

"Where misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood."

"It is now life and not art that requires the willing suspension of disbelief."

"Being a Jew is like walking in the wind or swimming: you are touched at all points and conscious everywhere."

"In the American metaphysic, reality is always material reality, hard, resistant, unformed, impenetrable, and unpleasant."

"It is possible that the contemplation of cruelty will not make us humane but cruel; that the reiteration of the badness of our spiritual condition will make us consent to it."

"Our culture peculiarly honors the act of blaming, which it takes as the sign of virtue and intellect."

"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 government exists for it, and shapes its consciousness accordingly."

"There is no connection between the political ideas of our educated class and the deep places of the imagination."

"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."

"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."

"It is told of Faraday that he refused to be called a physicist; he very much disliked the new name as being too special and particular and insisted on the old one, philosopher, in all its spacious generality: we may suppose that this was his way of saying that he had not over-ridden the limiting conditions of class only to submit to the limitation of a profession. "