Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Inside Higher Ed :: Of Blogs and Dialogues

The “vulgarity debate”

In his paper for American Anthropologist, Alireza Doostdar makes a brilliant (and neatly executed) leap from the terms of the vulgarity debate to Pierre Bourdieu’s critique of Kant’s distinction between “pure” and “vulgar” taste. “A vulgar work,” as Doostdar paraphrases the argument, “is that which is facile and fools the senses into submission instead of provoking one to think about deeper meanings.” The ability to “rise” from the sensuous to the conceptual is a function of education. And that, in turn, makes distaste for “the vulgar” one of the automatic dispositions — in Bourdieu’s lingo, the “habitus” — of those who have accumulated a certain degree of economic, social, and cultural power.

I hesitate to provide even this much of a summary of the argument. Not because it’s too complicated, but because it can be too easily — vulgarly, even — converted into an apology for boilerplate populist resentment, whether against “the media elite” or “tenured radicals” or “bourgeois intellectuals” (depending on the ranter’s preferred mode of denunciation).


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