Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Struggle Over Middlebrow

I JUST finished a very intriguing Louis Menand piece on culture critic Dwight Macdonald and the notion of middlebrow. (For those Easterners snorting that I am getting to the story so tardily, let me quote my friend and fellow Angeleno Manohla Dargis, who says that most weeks we get the New Yorker so late it seems to've been delivered by pony express.)

The notion of cultural hierarchy -- which works are good, which are "good for" us, and so on -- has fascinated me for a long time and had shaped a lot of my cultural journalism. I engaged with the highbrow-middlebow-lowbrow question in a reported essay for the LA Times that I expected no one would read. Instead, I heard more from it than almost anything I've written.

HERE is the piece, which begins in a discussion of Macdonald's writings on middlebrow and Clement Greenberg's "Avant Garde and Kitsch." (The pugnacious but also supportive relationship between the Ivy League-ish anarchist Macdonald and Jewish art critic Greenberg is a big part of Menand's piece.)

This is the kind of piece that I consider the beginning (or continuation) of the discussion -- it's hard to have the last word on anything as complex and ever changing as culture and what it does to us.

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