Sunday, September 06, 2009

High and Lowbrow: Co-Dependent

Been doing some research on the web, figuring out a bit of this and a bit of that. I sure am glad we have the internet and people are allowed to share their research and creativity and so forth. In years past it would have taken me weeks to accomplish what I've been able to assemble in mere hours.

Love that.

One of the recent finds is this, an article by Peter Swirski of the University of Alberta regarding Popular and High Brow Literature: A Comparative View. You can download a PDF of the article from the page. While the article compares and destroys the myths of the literary forms of "popular literature" (read: pulp) and more "pure art" projects, he notes many similarities and more importantly needs between the two. In other words, you can't have successful "high art" without a populist counterpart(ner).

Take a moment to read it and wherever it says "Book, novel or work" feel free to insert "Movie, comic, TV or web series" and you begin to see the broader implications of Swirski's analysis. An excerpt below:

The Pure Art myth wants us to believe that high art abides in the realm of creation untainted by the cupidity of its lower caste cousins. Like Disney's Seven Dwarves, who typically hang out in a troop, this myth does not dwell alone in the forest of literary and cultural misconceptions. On most days it can be seen having cocktails atop the Ivory Tower with a small but influential coterie: the myth that the Novel Is Dead, the myth that People Don't Read Books Anymore, the myth that the Paperback Is a New Kid on the Block, the myth thatReading Pulp Fiction Is Bad For You, and the grand myth that We Can Ignore Popular Literature.

In what follows I would like to take a closer look at some of the ways in which highbrow literature and popular fiction relate to each other. My aim is to take stock of select sociological data and aesthetic arguments that have accrued between the birth of popular literature -- the term I will use interchangeably with fiction -- in the eighteenth century and its drosophila-like explosion in the twentieth century. Its career may be all the more remarkable in that, for the most part, it has taken place without the sanction of the "eliterati" or literary scholarship in general.

Like a backyard fungus, mass fiction conquered the world without the benefit of a gardener's pruning knife (in the shape of systematic criticism) or clods of fertilizer (art grants, writer in residence funds, poet laureate stipends, government subsidies, etc.) which midwife the efforts of highbrow littérateurs. More than two hundred years of fruition in all corners of the world warrants the examination of popular literature as a literary phenomenon, rather than as a mere cultural nuisance.

Give it a read.

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