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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Mass Culture and Minority Civilization

I have to admit that this whole Joint Second Best Academic ranking is pretty useless to me as I struggle to write my final assignment of my first year, an assignment that I originally thought would be a snip. The gist of the thing is a critical appraisal of the innocent enough remark by FR Leavis that in any culture, there are only a few of us who are clever enough to understand the really important stuff. Therefore, QED, et al, we shoud proceed by having universities stuffed to the gills with bright sparks and the masses can just all get lost, and wallow around in their own ignorance.

"Easy" thought I, a few quick searches on Wikipedia for factual background, a bit of a quick Google so I can copy some original thought into my essay and the thing is done. Except that was nearly four hours ago, and I still have'nt finished the damn thing. The history of the essay started off easily enough - a quick skim of the title and it was clear that Leavis was an elitist. Next a check on Google to see if being an elitist is a good thing or a bad thing these days, as you never can tell. I would always advise academics who are lower down the pecking order than me, to check the Internet before expressing an original opinion. If, on doing so, you find that your passionately held belief is not actually fashionable in the better colleges, then you should immediately change your beliefs to better increase your chances of getting published. In Science, this method of modifying theories as new facts become known is called experimentation, but I am a firm believer that by keeping up with the latest trends, the amount of experimentation you might have to do will be kept to the minimum. You can then get on with your real job as an academic which, of course consists of writing ground breaking new research papers, or "paraphrasing" as I call it.

The trouble with this essay is that the picture is not straightforward. At first, it was clear that Leavis was an elistist of the worst kind, (which is apparently a bad thing) mostly because he kept repeating his opinion that most of the public were too dumn to understand literature. One spin put by others on Leavis' views is that as the plebs were too stupid to read DH Lawrence's books properly the country should immediately become a totalitarian Fascist state. This was, in fact, nothing like anything that Leavis actually said, and in some ways proved some of the points he was making about the dumbing down of mass media, but it has been a long time since anything anyone ever said has been reported accurately by anyone else, because as humans, we all have agendas that mean we interpret everything. Nevertheless, the characterisation of Leavis as a proto fascist accompanied by a big gang of black shirted thugs gave me a nice dramatic edge to my essay.

On the good side, I had a Brazilian Marxist Theorist called Paulo Freire, who was obsessed with geography, it seems, as he kept going on about where the learner was situated. Freire, was my obvious good guy, and I had my essay plan all nice and neat. I had to make up a few details, such as how Friere had gone back in time to save the planet and had ended up in Cambridge (Leavis' 'hood) in the 1930's and had then kicked Leavis' butt using the Brazilian Martial Art of Capoiera. As with all First Class Honours Essays, the thing was a guaranteed First.

Then, unfortunately, I started reading a bit more. Seems the picture isnt quite as black and white as I'd first imagined - for a start, Leavis was a concientious objector, and therefore a good guy. Or a coward. ANd an ace critic to boot - everyone agrees. Secondly some of Freire's work bears a spooky resemblance to some Hungarian guy who's name temporarily escapes me.. Now, while I see no problem with paraphrasing the odd idea here and there when writing original stuff, I do draw the line at outright copying of Hungarians. That's how wars get started. And then there's the post-structuralist revisionist view of Leavis attempted by ol Gazzer Day. This thing is getting complicated.

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