What does this Lionel Trilling Quote mean in relation to the novel 1984?“Any historian of the literature of the modern age will take virtually for granted the adversary intention, the actually...

What does this Lionel Trilling Quote mean in relation to the novel 1984?

“Any historian of the literature of the modern age will take virtually for granted the adversary intention, the actually subversive intention, that characterizes modern writing -- he will perceive its clear purpose of detaching the reader from the habits of thought and feeling that the larger culture imposes, of giving him a ground and a vantage point from which to judge and condemn, and perhaps revise, the culture that produces him.”

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Lionel Trilling, the influential intellectual, wrote in the preface to his 1965 book Beyond Culture that

Any historian of the literature of the modern age will take virtually for granted the adversary intention, the actually subversive intention, that characterizes modern writing -- he will perceive its clear purpose of detaching the reader from the habits of thought and feeling that the larger culture imposes, of giving him a ground and a vantage point from which to judge and condemn, and perhaps revise, the culture that produces him.

In other words, according to Trilling, modern writers tend to oppose and undermine conventional ways of thinking and feeling. They tend to write in ways that encourage people to think for themselves rather than merely accepting what they have been taught to think.

Trilling’s comment is obviously relevant to George Orwell’s novel 1984. Orwell’s book describes a dystopian society in which people are not at all encouraged to think for themselves. Instead, they are expected to follow a rigid “Party line” – a brutally enforced way of looking at the world. Orwell shows the horrors that can result when individual thought is suppressed. Although Orwell was clearly using his book to mock the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, his novel is actually a timeless warning about the dangers that result when individual, skeptical, free thought is suppressed anywhere and at any time. Orwell’s novel is a work of modern writing in precisely the way Trilling describes. It challenges unoriginal thinking by showing the terrible results of such closed and inhibited habits of mind.

 

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