Lionel Trilling’s story “Of This Time, Of That Place” begins with a young English professor assigning to his freshman class as their first theme the writing of an essay on “Who I am and Why I came to Dwight College.” The first of the student papers the professor examines is that of a tall, gawky, badly-dressed but passionately if confusedly eloquent boy who has previously caught his attention. It begins: “I think, therefore I am, but who am I? Tertan I am, but what is Tertan? Of this time, of that place, of some parentage, what does it matter?” After puzzling a few minutes over the strange mixture of fractured syntax and verbal richness of Tertan’s essay, Professor Howe picks up a second student paper and proceeds to read: “I am Arthur J. Casebeer, Jr. My father is Arthur J. Casebeer and my grandfather was Arthur J. Casebeer before him. My mother is Nina Wimble Casebeer. Both of them are college graduates and my father is in insurance. I was born in St. Louis eighteen years ago and we still make our residence there.”
Trilling’s story was published in 1943 before the terms “identity” and “identity crisis” had joined “neurosis,” “alienation,” and “mass society” as semantic beacons of our time, verbal emblems expressing our discontent with modem life and modem society. In his latest book, Erik H. Erikson, the creator of “identity” a...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $35 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.