Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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kevin holtsberry

I am not really interested in the culture wars so much as the battle of ideas. Perhaps that is just semantics, but what I am talking about isn't really connected to mainstream conservative politics so much as the underlying ideas.

I think my terms are perhaps too loose and undefined. Do you really think that at no part in our history did the middle and lower classes aspire to the tastes and style of the upper class? In terms of art and culture, was there not a time when those who lacked a formal education might look to a recognized cannon or standard by which to better themnselves? Was there never a time of some sense of consensus of the difference between literary classics and mere entertainment?

What was the role of the counter-culture movement if not to knock down the percieved consensus about cultural and moral issues?


Thank you for the sensible words. The Crooked Timber gallery has also kicked this one around a bit:

One hidden assumption you didn't get to is the notion that all arts share the same histories. The "highness" of static visual media is generally determined by investment value whereas the "highness" of literary works is generally determined by academia. That is, as many a twentieth-century bohemian group discovered, some of the painters get rich while all of the poets stay poor. (Newspapers, magazines, and talk shows are where everything becomes "middle," of course.)

Indeed, acknowledgment of any historical process at all is lacking: no acknowledgment, for example, that today's "high art" is usually yesterday's "popular art" -- comically, in the case of opera; tragically, in the case of Melville.

And so on. But it hardly matters how many holes we point out and how many times we do it: these pieces will continue to be published in the future as they have ever since academia, investors, newspapers, magazines, or talk shows began adjudicating. Judges must pretend detachment and authority, and yet they must also sometimes recognize that only ambiguities keep them viable. To us, it's meaningless confusion because it has nothing to do with the works themselves; to them, it's an endlessly fascinating paradox because it has everything to do with how they present the work.

A True-Life Example: The one friend I have who could truly be said to have achieved success in the literary mainstream wanted to write an essay about a brilliant and under-publicized writer associated with small and genre presses. He couldn't find a taker, but while pitching it, a major venue asked him to instead write an essay about (see if this sounds familiar) the conflicts between literary fiction and genre fiction. And because he *is* the friend who has truly achieved success in the literary mainstream, he wrote that essay instead, and it was unnecessary, and it got attention.

There is illustrated the real difference between the "mainstream" and the "genre," between "high" and "low." Because a century from now, no reader who read his novels and her novels without benefit of newspaper archives could possibly find a generic difference between them.

Dan Green


If by "upper class" we mean "rich," of course everyone else has aspired to this class. But the upper classes in American have never had much to do with art and culture except in the most superficial way. "Uneducated" people have wanted to better themselves, but few want to participate in "high culture." There may been temporary agreement about what's literature and what's entertainment, but then again how many writers over time have jumped from one to the other in readers' estimation? Twain for example. (See also Ray's remarks.)

As I understand it, the "counterculture" was a revolt against middle-class values, not high culture.


My only possible disagreement is that some "low" culture is so low it will never rise again. And unfortunatly a disproportionate amount of attention is sometimes paid precisely to this kind of dreck.


I am probably not smart enough to follow these high/low culture debates and thus I only read that piece of Swiss cheese by Anne Applebaum as a metajournalistic excercise (meaning, I wondered how and why it made it into print)

But help me out y'all with a concrete example , does Donald Trump and his, uh, whatever ( I am told that is in a category called "reality TV"') even rise to the level of low culture?


There's high culture, low culture, and bottom-feeder culture. I vaguely aspire to the first, hang around a lot in the second, and try my hardest to avoid the third except where it amuses me.

The one thing that I will say is different today than in yesteryear is that culture as a whole has become far more fragmented. I won't chalk it up exclusively to the Internet, but there is a large role that plays in it--that people with latent interests could suddenly find a common interest or Special Interest Group (the SIGS of freenet days of yore) and meet with other likeminded souls. Meanwhile, media becomes more obsessed with things of lesser importance, and now it seems that what's deemed "important" applies only to a select few, but far more overtly than ever before.

Think of it this way: a show like "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" was deemed of cultural importance and was all over the media--but it was on a two-bit network and barely got 10 million viewers. But it always seemed more prevalent. Same with "Sex and the City" or "The Sopranos." Really, the vast majority of persons don't watch or don't pay attention to the show itself, but have awareness or knowledge and know the talking points to bring up. I think literature works the same way but obviously, on a much smaller scale.

Ultimately I think society and culture will become more fragmented. No more "upper/middle/lower" classes, just a whole host of overlapping interests, or lack thereof.

dylan kinnett

this site doesn't have trackback capabilities :(

in the way of a comment, then, i would like to point to some of my thesis work, particularly the second chapter of the academic portion (i did a creative undergraduate thesis)

I am particularly interested in the high/low art distinction, particularly as it pertains to literature.

read here:

and here: (scroll down to chapter 2)

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The Art of Disturbance--Available as Pdf and Kindle Ebook
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