[ilds] Lit. of Pop Culture

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 24 19:40:06 PDT 2016


James,

Most interesting.  Thanks for the philosophical background on the treatment of popular culture in today’s academy.  Re Durrell (whose preferred term was probably “metaphysics”), he was eager to experiment and dabble, especially in esoterica and the “operations of the individual mind,” as you say.  Ken Gammage likes to bring in science fiction, and that’s surely relevant to Durrell’s interests.  I’ll repeat that I see Durrell as a novelist in the tradition of the European “novel of ideas.” Which means, of course, that we as readers should discuss “ideas,” Durrell’s ideas, overt or latent, and not something as nebulous as feelings about the “pleasure of the text,” however that’s done.  How do we discuss Durrell’s ideas?  Well, Beatrice Skordili in her excellent article, “The Author and the Demiurge:  Gnostic Dualism and The Alexandria Quartet” (2004), does a good job at just that.

Bruce





> On Mar 24, 2016, at 4:59 PM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> 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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