Entry from July 22, 2011

Blogging novelist Walter Kirn has an entertaining rant today saying what I have often said and oftener thought but in a more, er, colorful way than it has ever occurred to me to say it:

Hey, intellectuals! My fellow weenies! Our culture totally, world-historically, down-to-the-sub-atomic-level sucks — even our low culture sucks now, despite all our self-important ingenious attempts to elevate it or make it seem more complicated or subversive or internally self-critiquing or whatever than it really is; I mean Harry Potter, come on, it wasn’t just the biggest children’s movie ever, it was the biggest everyone-including-adults-including-ones-who-went-to-“good”- colleges adults movie ever — and it’s all our f***ing fault! Time for us to face it, my loser friends: By finding a million brilliant ways to destabilize what we should have been defending (and by that I mean, especially, great art — excuse me, “great” “art” — oh, excuse me, “”” “””) and ennoble what we should have been dismissing (comic books, let’s start there; anything having to do with comic books. Period. Including the Dark Knight), WE LITERALLY BULL*****ED OURSELVES OUT OF A JOB, AND PRACTICALLY RIGHT OUT OF EXISTENCE! That whole postmodern high-low maneuver that was supposed to show how broad-minded and paradigm-interrogating we were? Well, the low won. In every f***ing respect. And the high was shockingly better than the low, that’s what’s so sad about it. And now the Huffington Post is our major motion newspaper. And Twilight Potter Vs. The Hunger Games is a publishing event is a motion picture event is a defining generational event. . .

There’s more, but you get the idea — and can doubtless supply sics as necessary. Rejecting, as I do, inclusion with him in the category either of intellectuals or of bulls, I haven’t read any of Mr Kirn’s novels (though I didn’t think much of the 2009 movie version of his Up in the Air), but I did once write critically about a disgraceful review he wrote for The New York Times Book Review of Harvey Mansfield’s Manliness when it came out in 2006. I’m not saying he wrote the review without reading Professor Mansfield’s fascinating book, but he could have done so. This was because his principal critique was that the book’s subject, whatever the professor had said about it, was not “hip.” Now, it seems, “hip” proves to have been a cruel intellectual mistress.

Or not. For le style Krin remains hipper than hip even when he is writing critically about high culture’s love affair with the hip. Maybe especially then, for what can be hipper than criticizing the hip? You must have to be pretty gol-durned hip to do that! And that’s also what tells us that he’s not serious in his criticism, however lively and passionate it may sound. As with Bob Seger’s “Katmandu,” — a reference designed with the hip in mind, by the way — whose refrain tells us that the singer is “goin’” to that Nepalese city (more often spelled “Kathmandu”) if he ever gets out of here, but whose driving rock’n’roll beat tells us that he is never getting out of here and is forever America-bound, wherever he goes, the style of the communication undermines its subject. It’s outrageous, sure enough, that we treat the likes of Harry Potter and the Dark Knight as if they were serious works of art. But in the culture they and Mr Krin come out of, “outrageous” is a term of the highest approval. Still, one can’t help thinking that one is glad to have their acknowledgment, however ironical, that one has been right about this.

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