Lionel Trilling and Allen Ginsberg: Liberal Father, Radical Son

Lionel Trilling (1905-1975)

Lionel Trilling and Allen Ginsberg:
Liberal Father, Radical Son
by Adam Kirsch

from Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2009

“In the spring of 1944, as the Second World War neared its turning point, the first skirmishes of the generational battle that would define postwar America were taking place in a lecture hall at Columbia University. When Allen Ginsberg, then a seventeen-year-old freshman, signed up to study the Great Books with Lionel Trilling, neither one of them could have suspected that they were about to begin a lifelong friendship that was also a mortal combat—over literature and politics, morality and maturity, liberalism and radicalism. The Sixties, historians have variously said, started with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or Elvis Presley’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. But a good case can be made that the Sixties really began when Ginsberg walked into Trilling’s classroom.Years later, Ginsberg recalled that Trilling took a special interest in him…”

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