Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Lionel Trilling
Lionel Trilling "Youth is a time when we find the books we give up but do not get over."

Lionel Trilling (1905–1975)
Columbia College 1925, PhD 1938
Faculty 1927–74

One of the most public of the twentieth century's public intellectuals, Lionel Trilling became nationally known for both his scholarship and his literary criticism, which appealed to a wide audience. At Columbia, Trilling was also recognized as a gifted and dedicated teacher with a special commitment to undergraduate education.

Such was Trilling's reputation that students of all kinds were known to come to the College expressly to "take Trilling." A native of Queens, he entered Columbia in 1921, when the College was beginning to experiment with general education courses. When he began teaching, he was quickly recognized as one of the school's most acute minds, though also something of an iconoclast. He began teaching general education courses in the 1930s, when he co-taught a section of the Colloquium on Important Books with Jacques Barzun. Later, Trilling became a mainstay of Humanities A.

Although Trilling wrote a well-received novel and short stories, his national reputation was built on his many critical essays. A regular contributor to the Partisan Review and other national journals from the 1940s, he appealed both to the scholar and the general reader. His best-known volume may be The Liberal Imagination (1950), which seemed to capture the political outlook of an entire era, but such later works as The Opposing Self (1955), Beyond Culture (1965), and Sincerity and Authenticity (1972) also made enduring contributions. Trilling's dispassionate commitment to the life of the mind fell out of favor with some students in the hectic days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but at the time of his death in 1975, there was no mistaking his importance in the life of Columbia College. "He was one of the people who created the intellectual climate in which we moved," said his longtime colleague, Steven Marcus (Columbia College 1948). "He made the intellectual weather seem a part of nature rather than culture."
Adapted from Timothy P. Cross, An Oasis of Order: The Core Curriculum at Columbia College (New York: Columbia College, Office of the Dean, 1995).

Read more about Lionel Trilling in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

Lionel Trilling at Columbia

Diana Trilling's famous 1979 essay on her husband.

Mark Van Doren

Columbia seminar focuses on reading, ethics, and the literary imagination.

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Columbians Ahead of Their Time

Columbians have changed the world and how we see it.

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