Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brow beaten

"The middlebrow rarely consider themselves as such and, the mediocre, almost never..."
Whereas, presumably, the highbrow have attained such clarity of perception that not only can they assess themselves as being above the herd, they can also access the thoughts of the cretinous middlebrow masses: "...quite a few of John Irving's, or Toni Morrison's, fans probably think of themselves as highbrow readers; I'm willing to bet a night with William Robins that the authors themselves would agree."

Look, you'll get no argument from me about the existence of a middlebrow "literary fiction" mainstream supported by a well-lubed marketing and media machine. You'll also get no argument from me that this entrenched system results in a lot of bad art, non-art, and Ian McEwan profile pieces. I do however tire of the middlebrow-baiting in which some of our more venerated lit bloggers consistently indulge.

I'll win no friends by saying this, but the constant reiteration of highbrow gripes against the middlebrow mainstream is redundant and often overlaid with a generous glaze of self-congratulatory smugness. It stuns me that Dan Green, who has been blogging at The Reading Experience since January 2004, thinks it worthwhile to once more point out that mainstream "literary" culture is lazy, lacking critical judgment, driven by marketing, and little concerned with formal experimentation. Is this really news to anybody? It can't possibly be news to Green as he has been riding this hobby horse for years.

Green's post does not build upon previous arguments, it merely restates them. Green's position has become a pose and his commenters are ready to vogue to his rhythm: "The mediocre is the medium in which a lot of people live. They don't know how literature is more interesting; they've never experienced it"; "always slam the mediocrity that capitalism continually elevates and valorizes--its part of any intellectual's duty"; "Why do we continually find it shocking that most people are mediocre and like mediocre works? That's the very essence of mediocrity!". Here we see the same blithe, breathtaking arrogance and certainty that one often finds in the middlebrow criticism Green disdains.

4 comments:

Richard said...

I agree, though I have to admit that parts of my current ramshackle post may appear as if I'm piling on as well. I was intensely irritated by some of the comments to Dan's post, and, as a reader, sometimes wish he would move on, and spend more time demonstrating by example the kind of thing he'd like to see. You're never going to run out of examples of the kinds of thing you don't like.

Stephen Mitchelmore said...

So, my blog search reveals six uses of the term spread over three years. Twice a year is, I suppose, consistent. You're consistently using it too: three times in as many years!

I wish there was more middlebrow baiting, not less.

Tim said...

Richard, I generally find your posts to be exploratory (often revelatory) rather than axe-grinding. I admire your blog immensely.

as a reader, sometimes wish he would move on, and spend more time demonstrating by example the kind of thing he'd like to see.

That's what I ought to have said. I was riled by the comments.

Stephen:

You're consistently using it too: three times in as many years!

Got me there.

Mrs Slocombe said...

I am an intellectual, you are middlebrow, they read books about pancakes