28 August 2007

The Intellectuals and the Masses

This book has been around for a while now. I read it on the strength of having enjoyed John Carey's more recent What Good Are The Arts?. His basic argument is that with the rise of mass democracy and universal education at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, artists and intellectuals reacted with fear to this phenomenon and both denigrated the ordinary person and at the same time deliberately made their art more difficult to understand. None of the major figure of literary modernism escapes his charge: D.H. Lawrence, W.B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and T.S. Eliot are all quoted making remarks which are undemocratic, elitist, racist, and tainted with a supremacism which Carey traces back to Nietzsche. These attitudes are then extended to an intellectually snobbish dislike of the 'suburbs' which were built to house the ... Read more >>

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skipper said...

Good post Roy. Carey was recently on the telly and pointed up Lawrence's ideas whereby the working classes, from which he sprung, should be humanely exterminated in concentration camps. Also that Virginia Woolf, while ostensibly for the working classes, in reality despised her servants and could not stop ridiculing and criticising them. Something in what he says, certainly but I'm not sure of the Neitsche connection...

Roy said...

Nietzsche is the main starting point for the ideas of 'transcendent values', the 'natural aristocrat', and 'Art as God' that many of these people espoused.

And I think we need to keep in mind that not only UK arty intellectuals embraced these notions: lots of ordinary folk supported right-wing views in 1900-1950, from Austria, to Spain, Hungary, Portugal, Italy, and beyond.