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Sitting Forward or Sitting Back: Highbrow v. Middlebrow Reading

Sitting Forward or Sitting Back: Highbrow v. Middlebrow Reading <jats:p> This article begins by asserting that the distinction between high and middlebrow literary texts rests fundamentally not on literary merit or cultural hierarchies but on the culture and practices of reading as they changed and developed in the first half of the twentieth century. It explores the difficulties of drawing a firm dividing line between high and middlebrow experienced by contemporary critical and cultural commentators such as Cyril Connolly, Q. D. Leavis and George Orwell, and argues that what was crucial for these commentators was not so much the precise boundaries they drew as the fact of drawing them. It suggests that we need to find new ways of thinking about the literature of the first half of the twentieth century that avoid simply replicating the snobberies and anxieties of that period. Following a suggestion in Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, it examines the reading bodies implied by the highbrow and the middlebrow in order to tease out some of the wider cultural implications of the battle of the brows. Firstly, it suggests that the difference between high and middlebrow texts, at its most basic, might simply be simply a matter of sitting forward or sitting back: of those texts that are read at a desk and those read while relaxing. It proposes an ethnography of the two groups of readers, and considers the culture of leisure that shapes middlebrow reading practices, and the institution of university English Literature that shapes those of the highbrow. Finally, it looks at the places and times where these distinctions start to break down, examining the reading surveys conducted by Mass Observation, and considering the phenomenon of Penguin Books and suggesting that an examination of the lived experience of readers presents a picture that is more various, complicated and resistant than neat theorising would allow. </jats:p> http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Modernist Cultures Edinburgh University Press

Sitting Forward or Sitting Back: Highbrow v. Middlebrow Reading

Modernist Cultures , Volume 6 (1): 41 – May 1, 2011

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Publisher
Edinburgh University Press
Copyright
© Edinburgh University Press 2011
Subject
Articles; Film, Media & Cultural Studies
ISSN
2041-1022
eISSN
1753-8629
DOI
10.3366/mod.2011.0004
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

<jats:p> This article begins by asserting that the distinction between high and middlebrow literary texts rests fundamentally not on literary merit or cultural hierarchies but on the culture and practices of reading as they changed and developed in the first half of the twentieth century. It explores the difficulties of drawing a firm dividing line between high and middlebrow experienced by contemporary critical and cultural commentators such as Cyril Connolly, Q. D. Leavis and George Orwell, and argues that what was crucial for these commentators was not so much the precise boundaries they drew as the fact of drawing them. It suggests that we need to find new ways of thinking about the literature of the first half of the twentieth century that avoid simply replicating the snobberies and anxieties of that period. Following a suggestion in Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, it examines the reading bodies implied by the highbrow and the middlebrow in order to tease out some of the wider cultural implications of the battle of the brows. Firstly, it suggests that the difference between high and middlebrow texts, at its most basic, might simply be simply a matter of sitting forward or sitting back: of those texts that are read at a desk and those read while relaxing. It proposes an ethnography of the two groups of readers, and considers the culture of leisure that shapes middlebrow reading practices, and the institution of university English Literature that shapes those of the highbrow. Finally, it looks at the places and times where these distinctions start to break down, examining the reading surveys conducted by Mass Observation, and considering the phenomenon of Penguin Books and suggesting that an examination of the lived experience of readers presents a picture that is more various, complicated and resistant than neat theorising would allow. </jats:p>

Journal

Modernist CulturesEdinburgh University Press

Published: May 1, 2011

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