In a comment thread down below somewhere, my Spanish e-pal, Ortega, obviously an Orwell admirer, offered some terrific links to the Orwellian ouevre and I encouraged him to come back with his own thoughts on this idiosyncratic (I choose the word carefully) intellectual whose influence, or at least, whose repuatation, still stands tall today. Obviously a busy man, Ortega sent instead a translation of an essay on the subject of Lionel Trilling's Introduction to Homage to Catalonia by a friend of his, Gregorio Luri. I thought it was worth reprinting it as a guest post. I have taken some liberties by correcting it for English usage and clarifying (I hope!) certain passages. Ortega you must feel free to come back and correct me if I have changed anything into a different meaning. You can see Ortega's original comment here without changes.
Well, as in answer to your request I had translated something that Gregorio Luri, a friend of mine and a much more clever thinker than I ever will be (what? what do you mean it is easy?), wrote about Trilling and Orwell, I copy it anyway. Maybe it will interest you anyway. Of corse, you may also simply delete it!
Please note that any silly point comes from my poor translation:
"Just start reading 'The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent', a selection of essays by Lionel Trilling. Those who have read Orwell in catalan may recall that he is the author of the introduction of Homage to Catalonia, also in the first American edition of this book.
Trilling interest me so much, for different reasons. He belongs to that generation of leftist intellectuals who appeared in New York in the first decades of the twentieth century (the New York intellectuals), which has had a so important impact on the subsequent development of the intellectual history of the United States. He was one of its most representative and influential members and certainly one of the most determined to pawn our intelligence in a critique of totalitarianism, without much regard for those who considered him an enemy in his time for this. Unable to have more faith in history than in intelligence, he had no qualms about openly dissent from the Orthodox dissent. The collection of essays published in 1950 under the title of 'The Liberal Imagination' is a great example of this.
The book 'The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent' takes its title from an essay by John Erskine (1914) and it is a declaration of faith in the intelligence. An intelligence, it must be added, freed from the bonds that usually hold it to utilitarian ends, let's say, to happiness. Innocence and purity bored him as much as he hated bigotry. He knew that things are always more complex than what those in need of comfort at all costs want to imagine. In that sense, he was very much a Nietzschian and was profoundly suspicious of the dangers lurking surreptitiously after our best intentions. His ultimate goal: not to disappoint himself.
Trilling was, before anything else, a literary critic. It is no exaggeration to add that he was one of the fathers of modern American literary criticism, as clearly illustrated in 'The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent'. He was convinced that contemporary moral imagination had been shaped by the novel of the last three centuries that had managed to shroud the reader in a moral atmosphere and to further encourage his critical eye into an examination of the underlying reasons for his actions, beyond what conventional education had taught him. In this sense, the history of the modern novel would be the history of contemporary moral sense and a competent literary critic could not be anything but a historian of morality. The novel would have been the great educator of the present.
Death caught him writing an essay on Jane Austen, representative, in my view, of that fraction of literarature morally defeated by the apologists of nihilism, led by Tolstoy, who reveals to us the trivial fall of Ivan Ilyich into an unremarkable death.
About Lionel Trilling on Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. I've just re-read it and I think it is still in full force, for its ability to continue to illuminate the problems of today.
Trilling, who read with great interest Ortega's 'Rebellion of the Masses', knew that Europe had relinquished command in the world. But he also knew that in politics there is no vacuum. Abstention is also a form of political activity and, therefore, it does not relieve us from responsibility in the progress of the world. This is one of the ideas that 'Homage to Catalonia' points out.
Orwell was highly critical of what he called "the English left-wing intelligentsia". He satirized them with some ruthlessness, stating that their entire ideology could fit in half a dozen newspaper articles and they showed a striking inability to offer any real alternatives to the real problems. "There is little substance in it, except for the irresponsible criticism from people who has never been and never will be in a position of government."
Finally, Orwell was particularly interested in preserving the commonsense of ordinary people from the erosion of the apostolic enlighteners of the masses. Moreover, he was convinced that the ingenuity with which ordinary people cling to their values is a real vaccine against the influence of abstract ideas and their potential nihilism. In everyday prejudices, he could sense an unconscious (and no less natural) will for healthy society. If this is so, if political life on its surface shows a profound truth, intellectuals bent on liberating the people no matter what, may be less lovers of the truth than what they proudly and enthusiastically assume."