In one place in Berubé’s “What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?” he says that he wants students to consider the question “Does the United States have an institutional ‘high’ culture as well as an energetic ‘mass’ culture?” (113). Aside from being interesting, the question summons up a faint regret that I don’t live in New York and associate with the soon-to-be-members of that high culture. It’s faint regret, since if you know me you’ll know that I am entirely the wrong type of person to associate with such people (see my chilly reaction to New York’s self-absorption in the previous post). My life would have to have been unrecognizably different to have gone that way. Nonetheless, I feel bad that I’m almost totally cut off from people who are involved in artistic work, and that I’m so unaware of what’s going on in our culture.
I can pick out reasonably ‘good’ contemporary literature, but I don’t think I could sort the ‘highbrow’ from the ‘middlebrow.’ With music it’s worse–I don’t even know if there still is highbrow music. I know that there’s music which is heir to the traditions of historically highbrow music, and which would desperately like to be highbrow, but I’m not sure if the set of cultural attitudes are still shared which would support that music having a privileged place. As for the visual arts, I just like it when an artist takes a canvas and paints it one color. That’s pretty, and a few people have done it.
Part of the problem is my intrinsic lameness, part of the problem is that graduate school sets you down in a new city, tells you to think about nothing but philosophy, and arranges it so that you will only socialize with people who themselves think about philosophy. A final factor is that my current philosophical interests intersect more with the scientific study of humanity than the humanistic study.