“What, Ultimately, for?” Trilling, Leavis, and the Limits of Cultural Criticism

The Lionel Trilling Seminar

  • Free and open to the public
  • First come, first seated
  • Photo ID required for entry

It is often observed that although cultural critics may be good at denouncing the instrumentalism and reductivism they identify as corroding the public discourse of their time, they fail to articulate any persuasive statement of a positive ideal. Through a re-consideration of several classic instances, this lecture explores some of the ways in which the very excesses of polemical or satirical contributions to public debate may themselves be the main bearer of more adequate conceptions of human life. It asks the unsettling question: might the outrageous offensiveness of F.R. Leavis's notorious attack on C.P. Snow actually provide a better model than contributions that are normally regarded as more 'constructive' and 'helpful?'