thoughts of a middlebrow


I’m hitting the home stretch in the ballet camp. Three classes today. Also meeting with my boss at church, Reverend Jen. Three classes tomorrow. Four on Thursday. Two on Friday. I feel like I’m starting the countdown.

Yesterday I could see the fatigue in the students and the teachers.  My first class (which began at 10:30) was particularly brutal. The students did not seem to be able to concentrate. The teacher pushed them and teased them and wheedled them. At the end of the class there was a bit more concentration than at the beginning. But it was still not up to what is needed.

Learning to dance, learning one’s body and how to move it, is a very  involved intellectual endeavor. Good dancers have to have brains. This may seem contradictory, but it’s also true of good athletes for similar reasons.

Mozart vs. the Beatles –

I read this article this morning. It’s written by Gary Gutting, a Notre Dame philosophy teacher. In it, I think he attempts to make an argument for high art. I think he pretty much fails. He links in Virginia Woolf’s chapter in her book The Death of the Moth called “Middlebrow.”

Gutting dances around in a way familiar to me from having listened to many profs and students. He has a conviction and is seeking a way to prove it. The conviction seems to be that “high” art is superior to “popular” art.

This stuff never fails to amaze me.  I think the conversation begins from a confused point of view. Namely that art is a thing not a process.

Woolf on the other hand has written a piece of humor. “Middlebrow” is an unpublished letter in response to a review of her work. She objects to not being explicitly called a “highbrow” by the reviewer. The essay is a bundle of silliness around class and learning.

This articles sent me to the OED to find out more about the “brow” words. Interestingly enough they are first found in the United States.

Woolf defines highbrow as someone who is chasing ideas, lowbrow as someone who is chasing life. “Middlebrow” is sort of a despicable lukewarm person in between who also seems to be in the “middle class” economically.

As I read her chapter this morning, I kept thinking that she is obviously not entirely serious, but doesn’t avoid a condescending tone.

I have been reading about her peripherally in the biographies of T. S. Eliot. She doesn’t come off very well in those either.

Oh well.

I think these two articles and their arugments would benefit from Christopher Small’s insight that art is a social dance and not a thing in and of itself. Both thinkers seem to presume a canon of art that is sort of eternal and sitting somewhere in Plato’s cave.

This kind of thinking is in such contrast to sitting in a room with people dancing, improvising music.


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