CLAREMONT ESSAYS by Diana Trilling


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Mrs. Trilling's first collection of essays, culled primarily from Partisan Review and Encounter. So much sense; but, so much intellectual kaffeeklatsching. Her two best sections deal with Hiss and Oppenheimer; there we have the shrewdness of a Hannah Arendt and the satisfying style of her husband Lionel. Important period-pieces, they sum up the anti-Communist liberal's stance vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, treating that regime as a totalitarian threat and not, as some liberals then thought and even more now think, a social revolution-in-transition. Not to mince words but to mix metaphors, she shakes a lot of wool out of the eggheads. Her other abler articles concern Margaret Mead, James, Wharton, Twain and Mrs. Woolf- not medal winners in textual criticism, but judicious, spirited, interesting. Lesser contributions come last: an account of Beat Poets reading at Columbia, surely one of the silliest highbrow confections and one duly parodied elsewhere (the parody has evidently not caught Mrs. Trilling's ye or like Queen Victoria she refuses ""to take notice""); a languishing hymn to the late Marilyn (Mrs. Trilling can't have read fan magazines or she'd realize how unchic her ideas are); and two appraisals of Mailer and Albee which though manifestly sophisticated are latently humdrum, rather like the parlor talk of the Right People, e.g. that our instincts are misshapen, our alienation's enormous, our art's so modern it breeds not out of life but out of itself, and that the culture climbers are the new status seekers. But then Mrs. Trilling has always been one of the Right People. And that is both the glory and the burden of her book. She has a certain critical-coterie audience.

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World