15 April 2013

On the Trifling of Clerks

On the culture of the Accultured Industry, via the editors of n+1:

"These would be footnotes, but what happens at the university doesn't stay in the university. The generation taught by these sociologist-citing literature scholars has now graduated and is attempting to make a place for itself in the arenas — once blandly uncontested 'areas' or vague 'spheres' — of cultural commentary, formerly known as “criticism,” and cultural production, formerly known as 'the arts.' Not everyone can be a professor. But without thinking too much about it, most of us, especially on the left, would agree that our cultural preferences (what used to be called “judgments”) are fundamentally influenced, or even determined, by a number of external factors,... The sociological view that both the production and consumption of culture originate in institutional environments, subject to power but also subject to changing powers, offers its own deterministic counterweight to the trending, neurology-based literary studies of 'cognitive literary criticism' and other evolutionary psych–based attempts to argue that humanity is hardwired to enjoy marriage plots.

"With the generalization of cultural sociology, however, the critical impact has vanished. Sociology has ceased to be demystifying because it has become the way everyone thinks. Discussions about the arts now have an awkward, paralyzed quality: few judgments about the independent excellences of works are offered, but everyone wants to know who sat on the jury that gave out the award. It’s become natural to imagine that networks of power are responsible for the success or failure of works of art, rather than any creative power of the artist herself."

Right -- nowadays it's all just Customer Service, really. And in the end everyone can lay claim to being a "cultural worker," if they aren't already doing so. Even (or especially) those who consume and collect or promote and discuss such stuff, because it all works in favor of a particular political economy. Supply, demand, and in the current marketplace of the middle-class, it's all only so much stuff. But don't go blaming it on Bourdieu.

The part covering the arguments of John Guilroy and Shamus Khan reminds me of an old Alexander Cockburn piece -- one of his food columns, actually, dating from the mid-1980s. In which Cockburn and a carload of friend drive a good distance along the California coast for the sake of trying some new and much-talked-about fusion restaurant. During the journey, they all discuss the various ethnic and national cuisines they've sampled. And eventually this discussion drifts into a debate about whether the emergent yuppie trend for transglobal foodyism constituted a form of gastronomic neo-colonial conquest.

And in other elsewhere reading: Giovanni at Bat, Beam, Bean with some thoughts on Evgeny Morozov's To Save Everything, Click Here.

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