Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Culture, democracy, tyranny ...

... and more: At Length With . . : John Freeman. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Culture needs authority. Sure, there is an enormous conversation occurring, but the purpose of book reviews is to present readers with the collision of sense and sensibility. The sense coming from an expert, someone who has devoted his or her entire life to reading and mastering this literary form, and the sensibility of a writer. This can be duplicated on lit blogs and in online reviews, but it can’t be replaced by democracy. That’s the tricky thing about culture. It’s not a democratic enterprise, and it’s antithetical to talk about that because democracy has infiltrated into American consciousness and into our emotional life. So it’s easy to confuse culture and democracy, but they’re not the same. Just as democracy is also often confused with capitalism.

But the authority would seem to come from familiarity with the material. And anybody can read, and read a lot, either broadly or narrowly, and on the basis of that familiarity form judgments grounded in the material.
I would not myself draw a comparison between culture and democracy. I think the comparison is with the free market. It is out of a free interplay that the spontaneous hierarchialization that we call culture emerges. As for democracy and capitalism, once you get past barter, you need to use capital - a medium of exhange - in order to make economic transactions. The issue has nothing to do with the nature of the media of exchange, but rather with who or what controls the media of exchange. As with everything else - nature, for instance - the wider the distribution the better. So I don't think any of this has much to do with democracy or authority or capitalism. It has to do with personal liberty.
Finally, if every newspaper in the country had a book section like the New York Times and made sure to review only books that had not been reviewed by any of the other book sections, you would still not come close to reviewing every thing that is being published and almost certainly many books deserving of attention would be overlooked. The internet makes it possible for more and more books to get more and more attention by more and more people.

1 comment:

  1. Not everybody has access to the conversation? Malarkey. Everyone has access to the conversation on my blog. It's called "comments" and I learn a great deal from my readers, and we have ourselves a dialogue. You won't find that in newspapers, so long as they dictate instead of engage, exclude instead of include.