C. S. Lewis on the lowbrow/highbrow distinction

A wise man wrote:

At present the distinction [between highbrow and lowbrow books] is certainly used to allow us the satisfaction of despising certain authors and readers without imposing on us the labour of showing that they are bad.

— C. S. Lewis, High and Low Brows.

Let the record show that Lewis, a man of classical tastes if ever there was one, was also a big fan of the ostensibly trashy novels of H. Rider Haggard.

Next time: I will reveal what Lewis decided was the true distinction between these two types of art.  (For those who can’t wait, the answer is to be found at the end of the very essay that I just quoted.)  [Update: it turned out that “next time“, while relevant, did not reveal the punchline.  But the next post will.]

4 responses to “C. S. Lewis on the lowbrow/highbrow distinction

  1. You are pretty committed to this high/low brow thing ;). I hope you understand what I was getting at when I commented on your last post- I dislike the distinction, basically.

    I don’t think that there are a lot of examples of great art (or at least examples I would consider great art) that are not low brow in places. I’m also not sure that I can find a lot of great art in which I sense a worry about appearing low-brow in the author.

    I am afraid that in making a strong distinction between popular art and sophisticated art we might make the latter anemic, and the former unsophisticated.

    I am afraid that this has already happened, and that we are poorer for it.

  2. I should add that I think Buffy was a move toward greater sophistication in popular art, though I am not as fond of Buffy as you are. If I had to pick a television show I thought most so, I would pick “The Wire.” But I think we are living in a golden age of television, and it might be that Whedon made that possible.

  3. I agree.

    According to the Jargon File, Theodore Sturgeon once said “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That’s because 90% of everything is crud.”

    And it’s true and stuff. I mean, it’s glib and vague, and the specific percentages are made up, and a bit tounge-and-cheek, but it has wisdom too. Basically, what happens is one of those straw-man argument things.

    If SomePerson has the already formed opinion that TV Shows or Books or Stories or Philosophies or Religions of CategoryX are cruddy, then SomePerson will cherry pick the worst examples of CategoryX and say, “See? All of CategoryX is crap.” But by doing so SomePerson has done the lazy thinking straw-man fallacy thing and done a dis-service to the non-crap 10%. :-)

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  4. Heh, Sturgeon’s law. Sturgeon and my grandfather (who was at one point a great admirer of Sturgeon) had an odd relationship. Mainly because Sturgeon had a serious thing for my grandmother, and she flirted a lot with him. This was back in the day, when everyone used to get tremendously drunk at SF parties as a matter of course. Feelings got hurt ;).

    I guess my grandmother was considered very beautiful at one time- by the time I met her she was pretty old, and a bitch among bitches. But I like to think about the days when she beguiled Ted Sturgeon. She must have been something else.

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