Diana Trilling with Bruce Cook (interview date 28 May 1977)
SOURCE: “When Giants Walked the Land,” in Saturday Review, Vol. 4, No. 17, May 28, 1977, pp. 22-23.
[In the following interview, Trilling discusses her disappointment in the intellectual community of the 1970s.]
Since the recent death of her husband, Lionel, Diana Trilling has continued to live in the spacious, comfortable apartment just around the corner from Columbia University, where at one terrible time, as she recounts in We Must March My Darlings, she anxiously awaited an onslaught from neighboring Harlem that would never come. But as she freely admits, “I've never been in the business of prophecy,” and at the time of the event, the student take-over of Columbia in the spring of 1968, it seemed certain that the center could not hold, and that the world of liberal culture must be coming apart.
Mrs. Trilling's latest collection of essays We Must March My Darlings—ranging as they do from a panegyric to Kennedy (“It's always astonishing to me how abruptly the attitudes in the intellectual community change; one minute The New York Review of Books was devoting a memorial issue to him, a year later he was anathema”) to the social and sexual adjustments of the students at Radcliffe, her alma mater, at the beginning of the 1970s—spans a decade of bewildering transformations. It was a time, she says, when what she calls “the movements of the culture” were so rapid and fleeting that they seemed to far outpace the normal progression by which a society grows and changes. And although the campuses, and the American political scene in general, seem now to have settled into a mood of deep quietism, “it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to hear this minute that a new large-scale anarchic sit-in was under way around the corner.” Contemporary historical developments, as she stresses in the introduction to her book, “don't last for two minutes,” nor do human attitudes. “In my long lifetime I've been fascinated by the process by which people seem able to completely alter their political views overnight, from left-wing radical to Republican, say, without ever seeming to feel called upon to explain the process by which they got from point A to point B.” As a prime example she cites Garry Wills, a former writer for the National Review, who more recently wrote an introduction to Lillian Hellman's Scoundrel Time in which, she says, he castigated the very positions he had once stoutly maintained.
Mrs. Trilling is still faintly bemused by the extent of the brouhaha set off when Little, Brown, the original publishers of We Must March My...
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