Now are our brows bound…

More terms to use in our discussions on art.  I’ve been reading a book by Susan Jacoby called The Age of American Unreason.  It’s an extended and Jeremiad written with a nod to Hofstader’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death.  As a personal and autobiographical reflection, the book devotes some elegiac passages to the passing of what Jacoby sees as an important aspect of American life during the twentieth century, certainly one that shaped her own perspective and that of her generation:  middlebrow culture.C4090-452

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    Definition?  I want to keep it short and not seek out relevant passages to quote.  Let me offer what I hope is one vivid illustration instead.  Perhaps if you are over forty you will remember a family that invested in the series Great Books of the Western World.  No?  How about Encyclopaedia Britannica?  American middlebrow culture in a nutshell.  Not a pejorative, clearly.  But a characterization–the middlebrow–that conjures up a complex network of associations, some making us smile, some making us wince.  Jacoby does a nice job of setting up a useful context for experiencing a wide spectrum of connections and implications.


    Cannot help but raise the question of how we define highbrow and lowbrow, then, I suppose.  But I don’t want to take time to do that either.  Maybe you could offer something relevant in your comments.  I’m writing this post because I wonder if, now, there is such a thing as no-brow culture.  Perhaps we could say that this is part of the postmodern condition.  No longer is there a sense of hierarchy in how we distribute our appreciations or exercise our competencies or apply our creativity.  Is this development (if we’re willing to go with it) an illustration of democratization in action or something not remotely idealistic, utopian or welcome?  I would like to unpack further my thoughts about this by engaging comments.C4090-451



    55 Thoughts on “Now are our brows bound…

    1. I find the refrain that you cannot contain the Real utterly boring. I crave conversation and am repeatedly assaulted with sermons. It’s like trying to have a philosophical exchange with a fundamentalist. Why step away from truth by writing poetry? The Is is the only true poem that is. Let us not speak of the Is for then it no longer is. I try to be as critical of the Derridean infinite play of the signifier as I am of other things, wanting to locate some solid ground, but good grief, this is making me want to embrace infinte play whole heartedly just to get the party going again.

      The real is big, man, really big.
      How big?
      I’d say it’s as big as the ocean, but that’s just a drop in the bucket. And now we’ve chopped off our fingers just attempting a sad illustration.
      But it’s big.
      Oh yeah, it’s big, but don’t waste your time asking me how big. In fact, I shouldn’t even say “big.”
      Beyond big?
      Big is not even on the same planet, or on the same quark or anything. Stop asking. I shouldn’t even be talking to you.
      Do you want me to leave?
      You may sit in silence and watch me nod in contentment. It might help you get closer to what’s real.

    2. Dale’s post is utterly beautiful. The stream/ocean metaphor is perfect. And Whitman seems to always hit the nail on the head.

      As for marc, dude, I can sympathize. Sorry to be your brick wall. But sorry MOST OF ALL for boring you. Not my intention, of course.

      I don’t think anyone has EVER described me as “fundamentalist.” So two points for originality. And, actually, I’ve probably earned the moniker.

      At least I’m consistent. (And consistency, I fully realize, is the hobgoblin of little minds.)

      So … if I find “hand-wringing” and wallowing in the Anxiety of Man a less than engaging topic, and you find “the fundamentalism of WHAT IS” to be (understandably) dull and repetitive, where is the engaging conversation THAT WE ALL DESIRE to be had? Where is the meeting place? I look forward to seeing you beside that stream, under that tree. I will try not to offend with the Trite.

    3. Another lucky happenstance. I learn another presupposition of my presuppositions: “‘hand-wringing’ and wallowing in the Anxiety of Man.” I am grateful for what I assume is an honest appraisal of where you think I’m coming from. Is it worth it to plead my case and convince you to change your judgement? Would it be an enjoyable exercise in rhetoric to put down for the record where I stand with respect to your summation? I don’t know. I could make sarcastic comments about how I envy your transcendence. Clearly, I’m using this speculation to have it all ways and no ways at once. What more might I say? My use of “boredom” was as peremptory in its own way as that which I’m objecting to. Sorry. Bit dramatic, that. I do, however, enjoy us coughing up a tiny bit of truth now and then to keep things bubbling along. The “‘hand-wringing’ and wallowing in the Anxiety of Man” is a precious jewel, comparable in value certainly to my “boredom.” I think we made a fair exchange.

      My fantasy is that there is some Other reading our blog who derives great pleasure from our exchanges. I feel an obligation to that Other. On days when I feel I’m lacking in depth, insight and originality, I try to compensate by writing more out of what Lacan would call my “sinthome.” My hope is that some bit my enjoyment (might as well enjoy your sinthome) gets transmitted to that Other. Maybe the Other needs a little lift. So that’s the psychoanalytic ethics of my stance. How noble of me. See, I stated it even after telling myself I wasn’t going to. Just couldn’t resist. Trying to keep the Other intrigued. With me as much as with our conversation.

    4. jeff on June 23, 2008 at 1:08 pm said:

      I’m not sure that anyone else is reading, but even so, I find all of this great fun. Even the occasional bout of name-calling. (I know I’ve earned it, so it therefore does not bother me. Anger, after all, comes in two parts. The first part is: SOMETHING IS WRONG. The second part is: THE SOMETHING THAT IS WRONG IS IN NO WAY MY FAULT.)

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my five kids, it’s that EVERYTHING is my fault. I have slowly come to accept the truth of this. And so, therefore, it has become nearly impossible to provoke me (at least in the usual way).

      So, yes. Let us entertain “The Other.” I am waving. I am putting rabbit ears behind Marc’s head. I am sticking out my tongue. Improv Everywhere. Coriolanus, I am ready!

    5. marc on June 24, 2008 at 8:23 am said:

      Hear, hear. And yes, sometimes I try to entertain the Other by being an asshole. As my children will eagerly confirm given the least opportunity.

      No-brows and what is worth knowing. is there more to be said?

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