The Raised Binding Gives It Away: Thirty Dollars!

|

New at Reason: Fake erudition just hasn't been the same since Americans stopped caring that the lovely melody "Strangers In Paradise" is based on Borodin's Polovtsian Dances. Charles Paul Freund gobbles up the latest Greatest Books List from the UK, and shows how the mighty have fallen.

NEXT: Cats and Dogs Living Together

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I hadn’t realized the profound cultural truth that I am a “nobrow.” At least I guess I’m one, as are so many other readers, because we no longer have much use for the gatekeepers. Why? Perhaps because we’ve grown up. Young people have to pay strict attention to their teachers. Similarly, people who aspire to “culture” – rather than merely enjoy reading, music, performance, etc. – need their “betters” to tell them what to read. But once you’ve matured a bit, you can read or listen to, or think. If we still read Clifton Fadiman, it is with more than one grain of salt, and feel compelled by no one thing he says. Nobrows have taken control of their own aesthetic standards.

    Still, the standard of “hotness,” which John Seabrook says was Tina Brown’s contribution to the New Yorker, is an absurd one, more absurd than older highbrow aethetic standards, or even the moralistic stance of middlebrow critics. If to be “nobrow” is to be a slave to (or pimp of) fashion, then I’d rather be something else. Sidebrow? Arched brow? I’ll have to go read Mencken’s American Language and see which makes more sense.

    I was amused by Mr. Freund’s argument. But I have to admit: I was more amused by the quotation from Terry Teachout. He’s a highbrow? How droll.

  2. I’m not convinced that culture has gone entirely into the home. It seems to me that there are an awful lot of live concerts and live theatrical productions still going on in this country. In Charleston, there is a lot more theater going on now than when I moved here 17 years ago. I’ve done a lot of traveling in this country, and I’ve seen many surprisingly small towns with active community theater groups. So some people must still like to get out of the house for their entertainment.

  3. speaking as a sometime community theater-ite, I’ll point out to Fred that community theater exists almost entirely for the enjoyment of the players. What audience there is is there out of duty, sometimes masochism.

  4. The equation of highbrow with difficult to enjoy
    and lowbrow with easy to enjoy seems simplistic
    to me. I enjoy reading some (but not all) of
    the articles in Econometrica – most people would
    not. Does that make the low brow for me and
    high brow for someone else? I could not have
    understood many of the articles that I now
    enjoy before I went to graduate school. During
    that time, did they change from high brow to
    low brow, or did I?

    I generally like Reason’s gatekeeper bashing
    because most gatekeepers – especially the folks
    at big east coast cultural institutions – are
    pompous blowhards who do not realize how little
    they know about issues upon which they often
    feel compelled to opine. At the same time,
    experts do play an important role in sorting
    wheat from chaff – that is why I read Hit and
    Run instead of searching the web for myself –
    I find good stuff much quicker. They also
    play a role in educating me about why some
    things are enjoyable and others are not. So
    it is not as simple as the simple bashing
    makes it out to be.

    Jeff

  5. Is “The Fountainhead” os “Atlas Shrugged” on the list?

    Just curious…

  6. The Observer list that Freund comments on is by no means a pure product of nobrow culture (if that can be said to mean all that much). Many of the inclusions on the list are sops to highbrow obsessions of the past, others to the interests of historical scholarship and most definitely not chosen for their enduring aesthetic values.

    In my haste in the earlier post, above, I made hash of one sentence, which should read: “But once you’ve matured a bit, you can decide for yourself what to read or listen to, or think.” Or the reader can go to http://www.wirkman.com and read more carefully chosen words yet.

    The point of the “nobrow” distinction is not that aesthetic culture has gone entirely into the home or that gatekeepers are useless, but that the old hierarchy of gatekeepers and their herds have transformed into a new hierarchy, new herds.

    Though we’ve gained by this transformation, we’ve certainly lost, too. If hordes of writers now think that pop music and Hollywood films are worth continual and careful encomia, well, that’s a loss.

  7. Seriously, though: no “Crime and Punishment?” No “War and Peace?” No “Tale of Two Cities?” What about Vonnegut and Anthony Burgess? They’re certainly more worthy of inclusion than, say, Norman Mailer…

  8. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon was missing, too, which proves the worthlessness of the list to me….

  9. Fake erudition for today:

    “Footloose” was based on “Funk 49” by the James Gang. The Flintstones were based on the Honeymooners.

  10. Seriously, though, Dwight MacDonald’s essay in mockery of the Great Books is hilarious. And his “Midcult” is one of the best critiques of pseudo-intellectualism I’ve ever seen.

  11. What? No Ted Geisel? Some list

  12. J. Goard,

    That sounds good too, but I think having Shakespeare shown in the original dialog motivates
    people,young and old, to read the plays.

  13. “Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon was missing, too, which proves the worthlessness of the list to me….”

    I have never been able to decide if Pynchon is brilliant or if he just tries to be sufficiently oblique that he has the air of brilliance. I loved “Lot 49”, but I have found full novels of his, and especially “Gravity’s Rainbow”, too tiring to read. I always feel like there is something I’m not quite getting, and it makes me go back and re read previous chapters. I never made it more than halfway through it.

    “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco is one of the better books I have ever read. It is structured to frustrate until the end, but it has a big payoff.

  14. Kevin Carson,

    “Funk 49” — that’s a tune I haven’t heard in a long time. I kept thinking of “Walk Away” and trying to figure out how “Footloose” could be construed that way. When I finally thought of the right tune, it was obvious the riff from “Funk 49” is the melody of “Footloose”. Did Joe Walsh sue Kenny Loggins for copyright infringement? I bet you would have loved that! 🙂

    The guitar solo from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” is based on the melody from “Blue Moon”, too!

  15. Some time during the early to mid-nineteenth century a discussion went on among English and continental soclal critics concerning the, at the time, unprecedented standard of living of new mass middle class that was that was burgeoning
    in America. Though most of the commentary was appreciative, some even awe struck, there was also criticism, icluding the worry that these Americans with this high standard of living had a lot of time on their hands, and what were they doing with this time? Why, they were reading. Reading the classics no less. Note was made of the great export of books to America. The concern? Well; were the classics supposed to be read by folks with out proper breeding? Could they understand the classics? Did these people even deserve to read the classics? If farmers, craftsman and small merchants were going to be fluent in the words of Homer, Gibbon and Chaucer they might start writing about them too. Well, there you have it. The stream of commentary on these great works will be polluted by this mass of unbred upstart riffraff.

    It goes on. A few years ago “Romeo and Juliet” with original dialog was made into a smash hit movie. This engendered hundreds of thousands of kids, world wide, to read Shakespeare. But, I remember, the phenomenon was met with some concern in addition to the welcome. The concern was that these kids were getting into Shakespere with out the proper instruction and guidence. Amazing. Some people, throughout history, seem to have viewed fine learning as their own. Oh well, at least they revere it.

  16. Rick Barton:

    Leo’s Romeo turning kids to Shakespeare? Probably, then, for the same reason many highly (over-?)educated adults have been drawn to Him: more vague pomp than curiosity or real emotion. IMHO, the more recent “O”, a modern Othello in modern language, for the screen rather than the stage, is a far, far, superior film, and more likely to make a truly intelligent young person take Shakespeare’s story seriously.

  17. I’m disturbed lately by a tendency of free-market advocates (which I am). This tendency is to characterize literally popular art, i.e. art that is successful in the marketplace, as more virtuous, valid or relevant than artsy art, or middlebrow or longhair or whatever one likes to call it. Artistic excellence is not a matter decided in the marketplace. The only thing that is decided by the market in the realm of the creative arts is market demand.

    Refinement of artistic technique and aesthetic sense is a matter of human excellence, which in itself is underappreciated these days. Extreme creativity in concert with artful execution is largely vilified. The market clout of artistic excellence (as characterized by technical refinement, aesthetic sensitivity and creative daring) would seem to have some proportionality to the interest individuals in the marketplace have in human excellence.

    None of us can get a full picture of what makes the mechanics of every art great. Nobody wants to watch a football game play-by-played by somebody who doesn’t know anything about football. A gatekeeper who really knows his subject can lead us to better appreciation of artistic excellence, sometimes shining a light in the less fashionable corners of artistic endeavor. It’s even more important as connoisseurship of the arts isn’t likely to be cool again. We’re turning into a world of random samplers.

    I suppose this will bring up another question for many here – who will gatekeep the gatekeepers?

  18. I’m disturbed lately by a tendency of free-market advocates (which I am). This tendency is to characterize literally popular art, i.e. art that is successful in the marketplace, as more virtuous, valid or relevant than artsy art, or middlebrow or longhair or whatever one likes to call it. Artistic excellence is not a matter decided in the marketplace. The only thing that is decided by the market in the realm of the creative arts is market demand.

    Refinement of artistic technique and aesthetic sense is a matter of human excellence, which in itself is underappreciated these days. Extreme creativity in concert with artful execution is largely vilified. The market clout of artistic excellence (as characterized by technical refinement, aesthetic sensitivity and creative daring) would seem to have some proportionality to the interest individuals in the marketplace have in human excellence.

    None of us can get a full picture of what makes the mechanics of every art great. Nobody wants to watch a football game play-by-played by somebody who doesn’t know anything about football. A gatekeeper who really knows his subject can lead us to better appreciation of artistic excellence, sometimes shining a light in the less fashionable corners of artistic endeavor. It’s even more important as connoisseurship of the arts isn’t likely to be cool again. We’re turning into a world of random samplers.

    I suppose this will bring up another question for many here – who will gatekeep the gatekeepers?

  19. EMAIL: krokodilgena1@yahoo.com
    IP: 62.213.67.122
    URL: http://www.PENIS-ENLARGEMENT-SAFE.NET

    DATE: 12/10/2003 08:30:28
    ‘Of course’ is cyanide of the mind.

  20. EMAIL: krokodilgena1@yahoo.com
    IP: 62.213.67.122
    URL: http://penis.nonstopsex.org
    DATE: 12/20/2003 11:13:09
    Good people strengthen themselves ceaselessly.

  21. EMAIL: pamela_woodlake@yahoo.com
    IP: 68.173.7.113
    URL: http://low-fat.drugsexperts.com
    DATE: 01/09/2004 09:24:18
    Keep the good work.

  22. EMAIL: nospam@nospampreteen-sex.info
    IP: 200.171.74.207
    URL: http://preteen-sex.info
    DATE: 05/20/2004 12:42:05
    I dont know what to say, but i likeed it.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.