Saturday, September 19, 2009

Irving's Review

From a 1991 lecture by Irving Kristol on "The Capitalist Future":

From a dissenting culture, to a counterculture, we have finally arrived at a nihilistic anti-culture. This anti-culture permits the post-modernists to abolish the distinction between what used to be called "highbrow" art—it also used to be called "culture" without equivocation—and "popular" culture. The modern movement in the arts, from 1850 to 1950, was distinctly "highbrow." It was "difficult" and it took decades for even our educated classes to feel comfortable with its works, in literature and art. A whole new generation had to be trained to understand and appreciate T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce in literature, Picasso, Miró, and Klee in painting. Today, in contrast, at some of our best universities, you can take a course, for credit, in the meaning of a popular comic strip which explores the ways in which American society and Western civilization in general is infested with race, sex, and class antagonism. Indeed, many students in literature, the arts, and the humanities today, in pursuit of self-expression, reveal an extraordinary ignorance of, and lack of interest in, their avant-garde, modernist forebears. So anti-traditional are they that they happily dispose themselves of their own formative, anti-bourgeois traditions. This explains why the mission of an institution such as the National Endowment for the Arts has become a mission impossible. The so-called "arts" it was founded to support have become enmeshed with "arts" that were unimaginable a few decades ago—indeed, that would never have been designated as "arts."

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