U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Brow-Beaten, or The Heimlich Maneuver

There’s an interesting conversation afoot in two threads over on Crooked Timber about highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow (first post here, second here), which keeps leaping back and forth between intellectual history (the conversation begins with the 1949 Life magazine chart of highbrow, upper middlebrow, lower middlebrow, and lowbrow taste) and contemporary cultural analysis. In short, our kind of thing (or at least, my kind of thing….no need to unnecessarily implicate my fellow USIHers!).

Along the way we get some Lawrence Levine, a dash of Christopher Lasch, references to a couple recent books that I didn’t know but really should have (just what I need….additions to the reading list), and, of course, Bourdieu sauvé des eaux.

Perhaps inevitably, it turns out there’s an (actually interesting looking) blog devoted to this pursuit: Hilobrow. In the second Crooked Timber thread, Josh Glenn, one of the Hilorophants, complicates things:

Over at Hilobrow.com … we agree with Bourdieu that aesthetics and lifestyle choices aren’t entirely independent of social class. Though (along with Carl Wilson) we reject the reductionism of his Distinction, we do rely on Bourdieu’s notion of the “disposition” (a tendency to act in a specified way, to take on a certain position in any field) and the “habitus” (the choice of positions in a field, according to one’s disposition). We’ve named and located 10 bourdieuian dispositions — 4 heimlich (Highbrow, Lowbrow, Neo-Aristocratic (Anti-Lowbrow), Quasi-Populist (Anti-Highbrow)); 2 gemütlich (High Middlebrow, or what Dwight Macdonald called Midcult; and Low Middlebrow, which Macdonald, following Adorno, called Masscult); 2 unheimlich (Nobrow, not to be confused with John Seabrook’s confused use of the term; and Hilobrow, our own coinage); and then there’s Unbrow, which Van Wyck Brooks confusingly called Lowbrow. There are various habituses possible within each of these dispositions, but since the mid-17th-century, these dispositions have formed into an invisible matrix of influence.

Who says intellectual history is dead?

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Thanks for the link — I didn’t know about your blog before, but I’m going to check it out thoroughly. I used to publish a zine called Hermenaut that was, in a way, an excuse for me to keep reading (and writing) intellectual history after leaving academe. Josh Glenn

  2. And Ben, I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself about the books. *The Road From Mont Pelerin* was just published this year. It looks like a nice addition to my inquiry about neoliberalism last month. – TL

  3. Thanks for dropping by, Josh! I look forward to exploring Hilobrow, which really does look fascinating.

    And, Tim, asking me not to be too hard on myself (esp. regarding anything work-related) is something of a losing cause ;-).

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