Winter 1989 • Vol. XI No. 1 Special Anniversary Feature: Excerpts from the War YearsJanuary 1, 1989 |

Literature and Power

From the Autumn 1940 issue. Sometimes we of the English-teaching profession must wonder whether our social function is anything more than pious—whether we are expected to do more than perform levitical chores in the temple of the respected forgotten dead. We begin to suspect, a little neurotically, that all practical men regard us with contempt and tolerate us only because they believe we pick up certain secret magics in the course of our mortuary duties. We can make no claim to the certainties of the physical sciences, cannot share in the explanation of the universe or in the creation of material goods. Nor can we, on the other hand, claim the immediacy and utility of the social sciences and say that we teach the arts of social organization or what is becoming to the good citizen. If we are proud and honest, we retire to an animal faith in our enterprise. But it is hard to keep silent when all around us we hear society requiring that, in its hour of crisis, all its eleme

Already have an account? Login

Join KR for even more to read.

Register for a free account to read five free pieces a month from our current issue and digital archive.
Register for Free and Read This Piece



Or become a subscriber today and get complete, immediate access to our digital archives at every subscription level.
Lionel Trilling (1905-1975) was an American literary critic, author, and University Professor at Columbia University. Among the most influential of his many works are two collections of essays, The Liberal Imagination and The Opposing Self; a critical study of E. M. Forster; and one novel, The Middle of the Journey.

Read More

Little Dorrit

By Lionel Trilling

From the Autumn 1940 issue. Sometimes we of the English-teaching profession must wonder whether our social function is anything more than pious—whether we are expected to do more than perform […]

Subscribe

Your free registration with Kenyon review incudes access to exclusive content, early access to program registration, and more.

Donate

With your support, we’ll continue 
to cultivate talent and publish extraordinary literature from diverse voices around the world.