Trilling's failure to go beneath the surface level of the phenomena she describes seems to come in large part from her conviction that the function of the social commentator is primarily as a moral guide. The critic, she argues, should insure that we do not lose sight of "the continuing dynamics of culture," that we will remember that "codes for the guidance of our moral lives are constantly being proposed for us by the culture even where the social standards which are being invoked seem most precisely to prohibit recourse to moral criteria.
Which explains, of course, her willingness to make moral judgments about anything in her essays without really explaining how she reaches her conclusions; she feels fully justified in offering unsubstantiated opinion. The superficiality of Trilling's essays may also be the result of her insistance that cultural phenomena are separable from political and economic trends. Her major complaint against what she refers to as "the murderous Soviet regime," for instance, is that it stultifies culture.
She finds the Columbia students much worse than the society that engendered their alienation because they threaten an institution of culture; she ignores the war that their society was involved in at the time. By looking at cultural phenomena in a vacuum, she can ignore the outside events that shaped them--the flaws in her institutions and social structure. Trilling was a literary critic two essays in this volume are intelligent book reviews , and she, apparently, does not realize that literary and social criticism differ in both subject and method.
Oddly enough, in her essays about a visit to Radcliffe--from which she graduated 50 years before--Trilling abandons her view of culture as discrete from the rest of society. Here, her main point is that despite the anti-establishment stance of many middle-class students, they are unlikely to initiate any real social change because they are unaware of the existence of less privileged groups.
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