Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Notes on Bourdieu’s The Rules of Art

These notes are part of an ongoing, under construction project. Responses are welcome.

“Is it true that scientific analysis is doomed to destroy that which makes for the specificity of the literary work and of reading, beginning with aesthetic pleasure? And that the sociologist is wedded to relativism, to the leveling of values, the lowering of greatness... And all because the sociologist is thought to stand on the side of the greatest number, the average, the mean, and thus of the mediocre...” (Preface, xvi)

Intriguing to read Bordieu’s critique of these typical assumptions that the defender of art is the (usually elitist) defender of the exceptional case of the literary object and author, whereas the scientist sociologist is seen as a crude, knee-jerk democratic relativist. His comments are clearly marked by their French context. What to make of them here in the U.S., where in the cultural imagination literature is considered irrelevant unless it reaches a broad audience and therefore “stands on the side of the greatest number”? Similarly, the scientist is often imaged as the pale weirdo of genius (usually male but not inevitably) pursuing a valuable esoterica that might someday “save the world” while being incomprehensible to the masses. The artist irrelevant, the scientist an artist.

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