In battling “high art” and promoting pop culture, progressive academics became apostles of free-market capitalism
By Doug Neiss, Published December 25, 2021 12:44PM (EST)
Reciting what was even by 1990 a familiar litany, a Princeton professor, in a book called “The Death of Literature,” accused advanced writers of the past 200 years of wanting nothing to do with bourgeois industrialized society except to attack it: Generations of authors have lived out the poet’s role that Wordsworth created, in life and poem, withdrawing from industrialized society and rejecting its materialist values.
Sometimes they took up their stance on the left, like Blake and Shelley, sometimes on the right like Yeats and Pound, but always, like Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, they refused to bow — non serviam — to the bourgeois family, religion, nation, and language that they felt cast nets over their souls.
To the writer of those words, the apparent triumph of bourgeois (capitalist) democracy over fascist and communist rivals signaled what was soon to be called “the end of history.” By opting out, advanced writers had succeeded only in marginalizing themselves. Their marginalization had little to do with rejecting bourgeois democracy, however. Rather, bourgeois democracy had marginalized them for failing to measure up economically.
The same fate has befallen classical music, absent any explicit rejection of bourgeois democracy, though other face-saving excuses have been invented. On the other hand, marginalization has not befallen the most successful visual artists (whatever their politics), whose work can garner exorbitant prices and therefore respect for the vocation.