Sunday, October 21, 2007

From "Is Literature Possible?" by Lionel Trilling

In The Nation, October 15, 1930:
if there is one class of modern man that may be held accountable for its acts, it is the artist class. Nothing could more surely hasten the extinction of the artist than to convince him that he is a mere creature of his immediate environment.
This being the case, the function of the American critic becomes clear. He must cease making obeisance to "environment" and teach the artist that he too must heed his own god. He must make clear to the artist what the function of the artist is—which is not to be a mere literal expression of the life of his race but the imaginative understander, the wise investigator, the angry revolutionist. In short, the critic must help to restore to the artist something of his old function of seer and teacher. It does not much matter if the seer's vision or the teacher's precept be disregarded at the time of its utterance. It is a fate in which history will provide a fine array of colleagues&hellips; Two great tasks confront the American writer—the acquisition of considerable knowledge and the construction of a completely efficient style. One thinks of men—Mr. Dos Passos comes to mind, Mr. Edward Dahlberg—who understand the problem in large part and who are attempting, with a very fair measure of success, to solve it. They perceive the madness and hysteria in our life and they are rendering it admirably. Such writers should not be badgered with the insistence that their work is of no avail.

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