I’m reading John Carey’s book, The Intellectual and the Masses, and enjoying it. I came across this awful review of the book by Roger Kimball, the cultural conservative, who completely fails to see the book’s merits. In it, he quotes Hannah Arendt approvingly:
When books or pictures in reproduction are thrown on the market cheaply and attain huge sales [Arendt writes] this does not affect the nature of the objects in question. But their nature is affected when these objects themselves are changed-rewritten, condensed, digested, reduced to kitsch in reproduction, or in preparation for the movies. This does not mean that culture spreads to the masses, but that culture is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment. The result of this is not disintegration but decay, and those who promote it are not the Tin Pan Alley composers but a special kind of intellectual, often well read and well informed, whose sole function is to organize, disseminate, and change cultural objects in order to persuade the masses that Hamlet can be as entertaining as My Fair Lady, and perhaps educational as well. There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect, but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.
I just find this to be complete bollocks. Shakespeare fully understood that art should entertain as well as move us, frighten us, educate us and so forth. Half his audience were illiterate! His plays beautifully combined the high and the low. Well..if that sort of cultural snobbery annoys you, you’ll enjoy Carey’s book. It’s full of moments of staggering snobbery and elitism among the Modernists, and has made me re-evaluate some of the heroes of my youth, like Eliot, Yeats, Lawrence and Woolf. I still love these writers, but my God they expressed some hateful and inhumane opinions.