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The internecine warfare on the Left rekindled last year by publication of Lillian Hellman's Scoundrel Time has already brought notoriety to Diana Trilling's views of a disorderly decade, 1966-1976. Her original publisher, which inconveniently publishes Hellman too, requested cuts in her counterattack on Hellman--who disparaged the response of Diana and Lionel Trilling to McCarthyism--and so (as a multi-layered footnote explains), the book is appearing under different auspices. Trilling attributes her pursuit of Hellman to ""the almost universally uncritical reception [Scoundrel Time] has received as a historical document,"" an assertion contradicted not only by her own citation of Hilton Kramer's New York Times protest, but by other critiques which she does not cite--including, prominently, Murray Kempton's deflationary review in the New York Review of Books. But then a prime target of Trilling's, in the old piece now expanded to rebut Hellman, is a 1967 article critical of anti-Communist/CIA affiliation by Jason Epstein in the New York Review of Books, with which (it is important for the sideliner to know) he is closely connected. There is in Trilling, however, something of the smug parial' With unflinching zeal she defends her ""liberal anti-Communism"" and where it led her: to a meeting at which Norman Thomas phoned ""Alien"" Dulles for extra CIA money for the American Committee for Cultural Freedom (""What kind of war, I would now ask Mr. Epstein and others of his political view, does he, do they, think we should have waged in 1950 against the destruction of freedom in Europe and the Far East?""); to a rejection of opinion-forming responsibility for the Vietnam War (forced upon us, she contends, by Soviet-backed Communist aggression) or of responsibility to demonstrate against it. A second preoccupation-prefaced by a paean to Kennedy as the last-best-hope cut down-is distaste for the cultural upheavals of the late Sixties, expressed at greatest length in a testy account of the student uprising at Columbia, her home ground. Women's liberation finds her refusing to give comfort to either side (in effect: women can never win), today's students at Radcliffe, her alma mater, she deems free-to-drift, empty, lonely. Almost the only thing she speaks of approvingly--it's a third refrain--is the Englishman's continued resistance to social and sexual determinism: ""a definition of self, which Americans do not readily come by."" Narrow in their sympathies, shapeless, devoid of expressive power--these pieces, undistinguished on first publication, come to us today like faded bills for outworn garments.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1977
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich