Yet in many cultural loci these days we are asked to read and write easier, more naively, less rigorously. We are asked to understand by not taking the time and energy to understand. One difference between art and entertainment has to do with the speed of perception. Art deliberately slows and complicates reading, hearing, and/or viewing so that we are challenged to re-think and re-feel form and experience. Entertainment deliberately accelerates and simplifies them so we don’t have to think about or feel very much of anything at all, except, maybe, the adrenalin rush before spectacle.
Lance Olsen, Architectures of Possibility. Guide Dog Books, 2012
Doesn’t this reflect two nations? One of them has little education, works on a low wage, gets home exhausted, and flops in front of the TV; the other has the luxuries that give access to high arts and their critiques of the former. It’s strange, because although Olsen’s oppositionalism sounds rather 1950s – missing out on a rise in the middle-classes and its accompanying blurring of high and low – that 1950s view would seem to fit a new economic divergence that’s coming about, post-recession, now that the middle-classes are being hollowed out.
I just reviewed a theory book that, if I’m honest, I only read so much of because its essays have a density and opacity that borders on mysticism. If Olsen’s right, then maybe there’ll be more stuff published like this? It could be called The New Distinction literature!
Does it? I didn’t read it as TS Eliot’s snobbish high brow-low brow argument. I can see the two nations argument but I don’t think it divides so neatly.
In the UK it seems the majority of people, regardless of education, class, income have succumbed to the lure of easy entertainment. Tackling a difficult book or film or show is definitely a fringe past-time. I suspect culture in the rest of Europe is not in such an advanced state of decay, but the UK has for fifty years at least, if not longer, been fiercely anti-intellectual. Whatever the origins of this trend, I think much of it is ideologically driven.