The Unbearable Banality of Being

Je-zeus. I made the mistake (why? I don’t know) of browsing the Guardian’s book review section.

I cannot stand newspaper culture reviews. Biggest wonder is, who the fuck reads them? As an Eng lit PhD who can’t stand them, I presume it’s not academics. And, since I find these reviews not only incredibly boring, but incredibly esoteric, I presume it goes right over Joe Blog’s head. Perhaps it appeals to a narrow-band of cultural elites – a literary intelligencia formed of book publishers, literary agents, literary award givers and newspaper reviewers.

Having said this, is it really esoteric? That presumes someone may be “in” on this… But, it seems in reality to be far more fragmentary. Perhaps it is only the image of esotericism-as-cultural-capital that remains.

A case in point: a list of the most underrated writers in the Guardian (Don’t look, but here it is: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/aug/11/underrated-writers-fiction-books). Now, what can this be but an excercise in displaying to oneself one’s own erudition? Because, as the title suggests, who is going to have a clue who you’re referencing, given that these are the most arcane and serially unread authors you can think of?! The result is obvious: a masturbatory excercise in banality.

(The only mystery is, why did I bother to look at it in the first place???)

The culture section is presumably meant to demonstrate to us the diversity and value of contemporary cultural activity – to judge, evaluate and encourage its growth. Instead, the only thing it is likely to encourage is the observation that contemporary “culture” is well and truly dead.

Yesterday I was reading Adorno’s “The Culture Industry Reconsidered” with a critical eye but, even though I disagreed with much, time and time again his judgments rang true. So, a few good quotes to close:

Adorno on the Culture Industry

“The culture industry intentionally integrates its consumers from above [i.e. aficionados of high art]. To the detriment of both it forces together the spheres of high and low art.”

“The customer is not king, as the culture industry would like us to believe, not its subject but its object.”

“Cultural entities typical of the culture industry are no longer also commodities, they are commodities through and through.”

“What parades as progress in the culture industry, as the incessantly new which it offers up, remains the disguise for an eternal sameness; everywhere the changes mask a skeleton which has changed just as little as the profit motive itself since the time it first gained its predominance over culture.”

“The more dehumanized its methods of operation and content, the more diligently and sucessfully the culture industry propagates supposedly great personalities and operates with heart-throbs.”

“The most ambitious defense of the culture industry today celebrates its spirit, which might safely be called ideology, as an ordering factor. In a supposedly chaotic world it provides human beings with something like standards for orientation, and that alone seems worthy of approval. However, what its defenders imagine is preserved by the culture industry is in fact all the more thoroughly destroyed by it.”

“While it claims to lead the perplexed, it deludes them with false conflicts which they are to exchange for their own.”

This last, of course, resonates strongly not only with “our” forms of pseudo-culture, but also with “our” forms of pseudo-politics.

Wit

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~ by Wit on August 12, 2010.

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