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Bleak Liberalism$
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Amanda Anderson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226923512

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226923536.001.0001

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The Liberal Aesthetic in the Postwar Era: The Case of Trilling and Adorno

The Liberal Aesthetic in the Postwar Era: The Case of Trilling and Adorno

(p.99) Chapter Four The Liberal Aesthetic in the Postwar Era: The Case of Trilling and Adorno
Bleak Liberalism

Amanda Anderson

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores the relation between politics and aesthetics in the war and post-war era through a comparison of liberal and radical responses to the catastrophes of the twentieth century. Post-war liberalism is compared to the thought of the Marxist-oriented Frankfurt School, and more particularly, the writings of the liberal Lionel Trilling are elucidated by means of contrast with Theodor Adorno. The aim of this chapter is to expose the striking similarities in attitude and intellectual orientation that characterize these contrasting thinkers and schools of thought, while at the same time identifying the instructive divergences in their aesthetic and political valuations. This comparison ultimately allows for a fuller understanding of the liberalism of this era, and discloses the importance of existential realism to the bleak liberal tradition, its strong interest in capturing through literary art the lived commitment to ideas. The chapter concludes with a reading of Trilling’s novel The Middle of the Journey, which represents a new subgenre of the political novel, the ideological novel of manners, a literary form which aims to capture the sociological and psychological dimensions of ideological commitment in the context of twentieth-century political life.

Keywords:   politics, aesthetics, liberalism, Frankfurt School, Lionel Trilling, Theodor Adorno, commitment, political novel, novel of manners

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