Sunday, August 30, 2015

There's Gold in Them Far-Out Hills

I've begun reading Gerald Graff's Literature Against Itself, originally published in 1979 but reprinted in 1995 with a new preface by Graff that I'm saving until I've read the rest of the book.  I like Graff, and have read several of his other books, but this is the first of his scholarly books I've gotten into.  It's dense, and will take me a while to read, but it's also very entertaining and quotable, including when Graff is quoting someone else.

For example, early on he quotes the critic Harold Rosenberg, who wrote in 1972:
Social and/or aesthetic far-outness is a public relations technique aimed at the presumed indignation of a stable middle class that ceased to exist four decades ago [2, footnote].
Graff also cites evidence that outraging the middle class was exhausted at least as far back as the 1920s.

I mostly agree with this, though immediately after I read it with approval, it occurred to me that there is still an American middle class, ready and eager to be indignant at the performance art of various political and media celebrities.  Ironically, given, the traditional association with this indignation with conservative and reactionary sectors of the population, today's cultivators of the ragegasm are mostly liberal, while those who feed their indignation are on the Right.  This was true even when Literature Against Itself was originally published; it hasn't become less true in the years since then.

A page or so later, Graff himself remarks:
Some scholars in this group [those who feel little affiliation with the literary or critical "vanguard"] applaud attacks on deconstructionism and other fashions as proofs that they need not bother to read the critics in question.  It would be self-deluding to pretend that in attacking "fashionable" ideas, one is not oneself doing something fashionable [3-4].
Of course this cuts both ways and up and down, as Graff goes on to note:
Both the "conservative" and the "vanguard" factions in current cultural quarrels use the word "fashionable" as a stick with which to beat the other side, yet both sides can substantiate their usage convincingly enough [4].
And that's just in the first few pages.  I'll be taking a lot of notes as I proceed.