[ilds] Wordspinners

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Thu Mar 24 16:59:03 PDT 2016


Hi Bruce,

On 2016-03-24 10:34 AM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> he was probably ahead of
> his time when he talks about giving equal
> weight to the popular literature of the time.
> My sense is that academics are currently mining
> that very topic, if in somewhat abstruse
> fashion, that is, buttressed by a lot of
> Continental “theory.”

Indeed, Durrell was ahead of his time, but he's not alone in it, and 
some of the "big" movements precede his essay (Adorno & Horkheimer, 
Löwnthal, etc and the "critical theory" group meaning Frankfurt School). 
  Even Oxford UP's venerable /Year's Work in English Studies/ now has a 
section devoted to comics scholarship, which has been a strong area of 
work in Europe for some time now.  I, for one, think some of it is 
excellent.

One of the fascinating tensions, for me at least, is that so much of the 
foundational work on popular culture was Marxist in orientation (coming 
from the Frankfurt School and Birmingham School), which means it tends 
to look at cultural products as symptomatic of the material 
circumstances or the organization of a society.  This means that the 
genuine aesthetic of much pop culture is left out, which is precisely 
what fan cultures are often looking for.  The third area is identity 
politics or the politics of representation -- three areas with competing 
interests shaping how folks talk about this field, and none of it really 
overlaps with Old D.

I think of it sometimes like 3 groups in a classroom: (1) a fuzzy prof 
(or maybe a fuzzy student) interested largely in how the historical 
tensions of a particular moment are manifested in the mainstream 
cultural artefacts, (2) a large group of students interested in book 
/XYZ/ because it's just so incredibly cool, and then (3) that small 
group there because the text spoke them in their often marginalized 
position in society...  Durrell strikes me as looking for a fourth to 
add -- how does the popular appeal explain something about the 
operations of the individual mind, hence his references to Jung and 
archetypes.

As for the academic work on popular culture, it tends to follow those 3 
groupings: the "somewhat abstruse" materialist group, the fan-culture 
crossover works, and investigations of representation.  Three 
representative works might be (1) Fredric Jameson on science fiction, 
(2) almost anything from McFarland & Co. publishers, and (3) Constance 
Penley on the Kirk/Spock phenomenon (about which I'm sure Durrell would 
have been delighted).

All best,
James


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