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norwaywolf123

High VS Low Litterature

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There are lots of differences but they are not along only one dimension. Simple rule of thumb is that before the printing press, most what would later be "low literature" was oral and not written down at all. So there was not really such a distinction, but all literature was comparably high (most people could not read anyway). This does not imply that there were no differences, there was fairly low stuff already in antiquity and the middle ages (e.g the songs of students and other party folk collected as "Carmina burana")

Despite books being still quite expensive for a century or three after the printing press there is clearly a development towards literacy (also helped by books printed in the vernacular languages, not only Latin) and a wider spectrum of literature, including more trashy stuff.

Edited by Jo498

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8 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Good isn't the definition of high brow, though.

Especially since the irony was Shakespeare was considered the low brow of his day versus some of his contemporaries.

Ditto Mozart.

Arthur Conan Doyle was the guy who just did weekly stories in The Stand.

Strand.

Mozart was not considered "low brow". He wrote a lot of very different music, including dances for public balls (low to middle brow at the time but not really comparable to modern music for the masses because even the "lower" people admitted to such balls would have been bourgeoisie, roughly comparable to solidly middle or upper middle class of today) but there was no higher brow music at his time than some other music by Mozart (e.g. string quartets and late symphonies).

Conan Doyle was never considered high brow and still is not. He is a classic of a popular low brow genre.

So your only example for something low (or probably rather middle) brow that became a highbrow classic is Shakespeare. I don't dispute this particular case but it is not at all clear if the is typical or just one possibility among many others.

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7 hours ago, Andorion said:

If you define high literature as something that outlives its own time due to certain unique qualities of its own, I doubt if a lot of the "classics" will actually hold up. Several of them come over as being extremely dated. A good example is War and Peace. A good portion of the second portion of the book including the entire second epilogue is basically Tolstoy's meditation on the nature of history and providence. And it is extremely dated. Practically everything he says can be traced back to people like Kant and Hegel who were also vocal about the nature of history during the late 18th - early 19th century. Tolstoy's observations are mostly stale and lack relevance as the scholarly debate has of course moved on. All those sections do is bog down what would otherwise have been a pretty good book. 

I think a lot of the books remain classics due to the innate conservatism of the literary establishment. As many commenters have pointed out, it is the lowbrow "popular" literature that has often withstood the test of time - Shakespeare being the most prominent example. 

Tolstoy is fairly recent in the history of literature. (As the English name of the field indicates until the mid/late 19th century typical "Classics" were usually more than a thousand years old, usually rather 2000...) And nothing about Tolstoy's flawed historical philosophy has really hurt "War and Peace" as a whole, I believe. Obviously it is usually not read as a poor essay on the theory of history but as a great novel with interesting characters and developments. And you have not shown that it has become stale as such a novel and I do not have the impression that this is what most readers and critics think.

Shakespeare is the most prominent example of something that was lowbrow (or often rather middlebrow, I'd guess) at his time and has become a classic. The others are some novels of the 19th century (like Dickens) but most of them were either at least middlebrow in the first place or they (like maybe Dumas) moved from lowbrow to middlebrow. There are plenty of examples for literature that was highbrow from the beginning (e.g. most of Goethe or Byron), became classics fairly soon and remained such until today.

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3 hours ago, Buckwheat said:

My go-to example is Goethe's Werther. It was a very popular novel in his time, and today it is a "classic" to bore high-schoolers with.

But it was not lowbrow magazine stuff like Conan Doyle about 120 years later. I'd say that it was at least middle brow to begin with. Recall Werther's fondness of (Pseudo-)Ossian and Homer (depending on whether he is up or down), so while it was popular it still addressed a highly educated audience that was familiar with these poets.

It's true though, that virtually any novel of the 18th or 19th century was sneered at by contemporaries because they were so stuffy that highbrow/Classic usually referred not to anything contemporary but to stuff that was in Greek and 2000 years old... Or maybe occassionally to more contemporary stuff that still kept to some of the classic forms like maybe Pope in England or the verse epics by Goethe. Mere prose in a vernacular language could never really be highbrow until some later time.

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2 hours ago, mankytoes said:

I don't like these distinctions. Obviously some literature is more intellectual than others, but there's no objective criteria, and just having two catagories is reductive.

People have already mentioned Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes' stories are another. I recently read a short story collection- it's fun and readable, but insanely formulaic. If you came out with a short story collection like that today, you would get absolutely slaughtered.

But the Holmes stories were never ever considered highbrow. They have become classics of a lowbrow genre, partly because they were among the first and most famous ones. (I agree that not all of them hold up so well.)

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28 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

Strand.

Sorry, typo.

:)

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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9 hours ago, polishgenius said:

From a certain linguistic perspective one could make the case that the airport novel is the only true form of 'high literature'.

Well played ser, well played. :D

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51 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

But the Holmes stories were never ever considered highbrow. They have become classics of a lowbrow genre, partly because they were among the first and most famous ones. (I agree that not all of them hold up so well.)

But my point is that people consider them respectable. When I took out that book at work people were like "ooh, Sherlock Holmes", whereas when I read, the Hunger Games, people were all "really, aren't they kids' books"?

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You want high lit you should read neuromancer. Dude was high as fuck when he wrote that.

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9 hours ago, Andorion said:

If you define high literature as something that outlives its own time due to certain unique qualities of its own, I doubt if a lot of the "classics" will actually hold up. Several of them come over as being extremely dated. A good example is War and Peace. A good portion of the second portion of the book including the entire second epilogue is basically Tolstoy's meditation on the nature of history and providence. And it is extremely dated. Practically everything he says can be traced back to people like Kant and Hegel who were also vocal about the nature of history during the late 18th - early 19th century. Tolstoy's observations are mostly stale and lack relevance as the scholarly debate has of course moved on. All those sections do is bog down what would otherwise have been a pretty good book. 

I think a lot of the books remain classics due to the innate conservatism of the literary establishment. As many commenters have pointed out, it is the lowbrow "popular" literature that has often withstood the test of time - Shakespeare being the most prominent example. 

Sure, it goes both ways, I suppose. I'd hazard a guess that War and Peace kind of gains "high" status in part due to its' lack of accessibility. Mine is not an objective opinion here as I've never been able to slog through it.

I suppose that someone like say Dickens might be considered the mirror to that.  

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5 hours ago, Jo498 said:

Tolstoy is fairly recent in the history of literature. (As the English name of the field indicates until the mid/late 19th century typical "Classics" were usually more than a thousand years old, usually rather 2000...) And nothing about Tolstoy's flawed historical philosophy has really hurt "War and Peace" as a whole, I believe. Obviously it is usually not read as a poor essay on the theory of history but as a great novel with interesting characters and developments. And you have not shown that it has become stale as such a novel and I do not have the impression that this is what most readers and critics think.

Shakespeare is the most prominent example of something that was lowbrow (or often rather middlebrow, I'd guess) at his time and has become a classic. The others are some novels of the 19th century (like Dickens) but most of them were either at least middlebrow in the first place or they (like maybe Dumas) moved from lowbrow to middlebrow. There are plenty of examples for literature that was highbrow from the beginning (e.g. most of Goethe or Byron), became classics fairly soon and remained such until today.

I actually found War and Peace quite accessible . It took me a bit of time to read but overall , I enjoyed it and thought it a marvelous book .B)

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13 hours ago, Jo498 said:

It's true though, that virtually any novel of the 18th or 19th century was sneered at by contemporaries because they were so stuffy that highbrow/Classic usually referred not to anything contemporary but to stuff that was in Greek and 2000 years old... Or maybe occassionally to more contemporary stuff that still kept to some of the classic forms like maybe Pope in England or the verse epics by Goethe. Mere prose in a vernacular language could never really be highbrow until some later time.

IIRC, the novel was inherently considered lowbrow for a very long time, with poetry considered the higher form - a reflection of publishing costs and the size of the audience.

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13 hours ago, Jo498 said:

Tolstoy is fairly recent in the history of literature. (As the English name of the field indicates until the mid/late 19th century typical "Classics" were usually more than a thousand years old, usually rather 2000...) And nothing about Tolstoy's flawed historical philosophy has really hurt "War and Peace" as a whole, I believe. Obviously it is usually not read as a poor essay on the theory of history but as a great novel with interesting characters and developments. And you have not shown that it has become stale as such a novel and I do not have the impression that this is what most readers and critics think.

Shakespeare is the most prominent example of something that was lowbrow (or often rather middlebrow, I'd guess) at his time and has become a classic. The others are some novels of the 19th century (like Dickens) but most of them were either at least middlebrow in the first place or they (like maybe Dumas) moved from lowbrow to middlebrow. There are plenty of examples for literature that was highbrow from the beginning (e.g. most of Goethe or Byron), became classics fairly soon and remained such until today.

13 hours ago, Jo498 said:

But it was not lowbrow magazine stuff like Conan Doyle about 120 years later. I'd say that it was at least middle brow to begin with. Recall Werther's fondness of (Pseudo-)Ossian and Homer (depending on whether he is up or down), so while it was popular it still addressed a highly educated audience that was familiar with these poets.

It's true though, that virtually any novel of the 18th or 19th century was sneered at by contemporaries because they were so stuffy that highbrow/Classic usually referred not to anything contemporary but to stuff that was in Greek and 2000 years old... Or maybe occassionally to more contemporary stuff that still kept to some of the classic forms like maybe Pope in England or the verse epics by Goethe. Mere prose in a vernacular language could never really be highbrow until some later time.

I think it can quite safely be asserted that the notion of classics being ancient is now completely outdated. A large amount of 19th and 20th century literature is now being tagged as classic. What I find interesting about such shifting definitions of classic is that it makes problematic the idea of a "timeless" canon of literature. As you have stated, what we call classics today - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and the Russians, Dickens, the Brontes, Hardy, Austen, French authors like Victor Hugo - were often derided by the literary establishment of the time, just like Shakespeare's plays were popular mass productions of the 16th century.  What this points to is that different societies prize different qualities at different times. In the Enlightenment period, still obsessed with Greco-Roman heritage, modern novels were looked down upon. In our current period I think we have a similar problem of an over-glorification of the 18th-19th century literary canon. 

Oh and BTW I disagree with you sharply regarding War and Peace. That novel was such a peculiar reading experience. The first half of the book is brilliant. Biting social satire, beautiful characterization and a magnificent description of the Battle of Austerlitz. Reading that chapter gave me goosebumps. 

But then things start going downhill. On the one hand I think it is because of the increased emphasis on Pierre, and the decreased emphasis on Prince Andre - though this may be a matter of personal preference. But what shines through regularly is Tolstoy's Francophobia and Bonapartephobia, and this results in heavier and heavier doses of philosophy being injected into the text. While the part about Pierre in Moscow was very good, the general tone of the book suffered. And the second epilogue is practically unreadable. 

14 hours ago, Jo498 said:

There are lots of differences but they are not along only one dimension. Simple rule of thumb is that before the printing press, most what would later be "low literature" was oral and not written down at all. So there was not really such a distinction, but all literature was comparably high (most people could not read anyway). This does not imply that there were no differences, there was fairly low stuff already in antiquity and the middle ages (e.g the songs of students and other party folk collected as "Carmina burana")

Despite books being still quite expensive for a century or three after the printing press there is clearly a development towards literacy (also helped by books printed in the vernacular languages, not only Latin) and a wider spectrum of literature, including more trashy stuff.

You do realize that by relegating the oral to low literature, you are also relegating most of the Homeric canon? Before they were written down, they were oral retellings of poetry, often growing organically, performed publicly. 

This "low literature" of the later middle age and the early modern period was often a very intricate and effective way to depict and express the problems of the common people. If you read Robert Darnton and his book The Great Cat Massacre, he comments in detail on the cultural value of the antecedents of modern fairy stories and nursery rhymes. 

 

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5 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

IIRC, the novel was inherently considered lowbrow for a very long time, with poetry considered the higher form - a reflection of publishing costs and the size of the audience.

I think another point is that poetry, including epic poetry had such a huge tradition when the first novels or proto-novels appeared in the 16th century or so (so since Homer more than two millenia dominated by (epic) poetry). All classics and vernacular emulations of classics were in verse, be they epics, tragedies, whatever, any prose was lowbrow per se. To put it bluntry: Everybody could write prose, to be a master of language one had to write verse.

But the early novels often actually were comparably lowbrow. They were usually picaresque, funny and grotesque, or at least had such elements, e.g. Rabelais, Cervantes, Grimmelshausen etc. Even some great 18th century novels like Swift, Fielding, Sterne have them. And the more serious stuff that started at that time was not picaresque but sentimental (like Werther) and frowned upon for that reason. But I think that the prose vs. poetry was still an important factor for the low status.

Edited by Jo498

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On 11.11.2017 at 2:36 PM, mankytoes said:

I don't like these distinctions. Obviously some literature is more intellectual than others, but there's no objective criteria, and just having two catagories is reductive.

https://www.filmweb.no/filmnytt/article889025.ece

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desperado_(film)

This is an article from a norwegian film commentary site. It claims that "desperado" was not high, but the novel "El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba" by author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is. Im not familliar with either "desperado" or "El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba" so i dont know how to contrast them. To decipher the requirements they had to put the two titles into "high" and "low". To me it seems like they are mixing litterature, film and film inspired by litterature. So im not sure about the thought process of filmweb commentator.

On 11.11.2017 at 2:52 PM, Buckwheat said:

Maybe your expression here is not the best, or I do not understand correctly - are you talking about the purpose of an auther while writing a text? Because they might have some great purpose while they write, and then they don't manage to achieve that purpose, and the text is not as good as the author intended it to be. Or, on the other hand, we now see something as classical, great literature, and it was not meant that way by the author.

The purpose the author has when it is produced. The purpose literature receives by its users.

I think the most important aspect of a literary work is the purpose it receives by its users.

What we see as classical literature is only a small collection of literature that were considered worthy of preservation or survived by coincidence. Maybe classical literature is overwhelmingly stemming from the pasts "high literature", while the "popular or low literature" of the past has been forgotten, become untraceble, dissapeared from human memory?

On 11.11.2017 at 2:52 PM, Buckwheat said:

Ancient tragedies were actually parts of rituals and not made for the purpose we see in "literature" today. Shakespeare, as has been mentioned, intended to entertain.

Blue: Intresting!

Green: What purpose do you think present day literature has?

On 11.11.2017 at 2:52 PM, Buckwheat said:

I do not think "purpose" is a good word. The text is the end product and what was intended by it is not relevant (or we might not even know, because the author is dead and we cannot ask him and do not have any direct sources that reveal his purposes).

Maybe effect would be a more appropriate wording? The effect the literature has on its readers.

On 11.11.2017 at 2:52 PM, Buckwheat said:

Yes? Why not? There is no reason why something really interesting to the audience should not stay interesting if it can still be relevant and understandable away from the original context. Jane Austen, for example, is considered classical literature, and I do not think she is unpopular.

So a literary work is dependant on the readers opinon to be classified, it is not a universal way of categorising? A work should be "high" or "low" indepentant of the reception of the work. Just my opinion.

On 11.11.2017 at 2:52 PM, Buckwheat said:

Hmmmm ... IDK if that would be the exact wording I would use. :P

Can i not use the word "manhood" in this context? What word do you think i should used?

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On 11.11.2017 at 5:19 PM, Jo498 said:

Tolstoy is fairly recent in the history of literature. (As the English name of the field indicates until the mid/late 19th century typical "Classics" were usually more than a thousand years old, usually rather 2000...) And nothing about Tolstoy's flawed historical philosophy has really hurt "War and Peace" as a whole, I believe. Obviously it is usually not read as a poor essay on the theory of history but as a great novel with interesting characters and developments. And you have not shown that it has become stale as such a novel and I do not have the impression that this is what most readers and critics think.

Most of the classics used to be greco-roman in origin.

On 11.11.2017 at 5:02 PM, Jo498 said:

There are lots of differences but they are not along only one dimension. Simple rule of thumb is that before the printing press, most what would later be "low literature" was oral and not written down at all. So there was not really such a distinction, but all literature was comparably high (most people could not read anyway). This does not imply that there were no differences, there was fairly low stuff already in antiquity and the middle ages (e.g the songs of students and other party folk collected as "Carmina burana")

Despite books being still quite expensive for a century or three after the printing press there is clearly a development towards literacy (also helped by books printed in the vernacular languages, not only Latin) and a wider spectrum of literature, including more trashy stuff.

Good points! ;) 

For example many greek plays who were not considered worthy of preservation were forgotten, so it is inaccurate to judge the past as being only the preserved works.

On 11.11.2017 at 6:37 PM, Darth Richard II said:

You want high lit you should read neuromancer. Dude was high as fuck when he wrote that.

Høy litteratur
“Trenger kunstnere narkotika mer enn andre? Richard Davenport-Hines undersøker forfatternes vaner. “

Å bestandig være nykter er verken naturlig eller behagelig, og rusmidler er en essensiell del av livet og litteraturen. «Livet er en uhelbredelig sykdom», skrev Abraham Crowley i 1656. Og frem til det 20. århundret var det også uproblematisk å bruke dop som krykke for emosjonelt stress eller for å øke produktiviteten i arbeidet.

Sir Clifford Allbutt, den store victorianske lege som var forbildet for George Eliots karakter Dr. Lydgate i «Middlemarch», mente at alle mennesker trengte dop «for å berolige nervesystemet og overvinne trøtthet.» Selv opium, skrev han, kunne bli brukt «ikke som et tidsfordriv eller ondskapsfull nytelse, men som et meningsfullt hjelpemiddel i livets arbeid.»

Forfattere forstod at noen stoffer hadde rekreasjonsaspekter, mens andre stoffer penslet de dårlige nervene, søvnløsheten og andre lidelser som fulgte med å ha en kreativ karriere. 

Green: "Life is a inncureable condition" Wrote Abraham Crowley in 1656.

You can use google translate for approximate translation.

I will consider your suggestion.

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I choose Reflections of Society in Literature:

The industrial revolution changed the face of the modern novel forever.  Discuss, citing specific examples.

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On 11.11.2017 at 6:59 PM, Manhole Eunuchsbane said:

Sure, it goes both ways, I suppose. I'd hazard a guess that War and Peace kind of gains "high" status in part due to its' lack of accessibility. Mine is not an objective opinion here as I've never been able to slog through it.

War and Peace is fairly accessible. It is mainly very long but otherwise not particularly difficult to read, as far as I recall. And I seriously doubt that something gains high status because it is difficult. This might be one, rather small aspect but not the main one. Something has to become somewhat popular (at least with certain people who decide about publication etc.) in the first place to become disseminated at all (books were not free until very recently) and something also has to become "entrenched" over at least several decades to not only gain but retain the status of a classic. After that their might be a lot of inertia of the establishment. But never forget that trashing classics or praising underdogs is also a very easy way for a critic to become notorious and influential, at least in the last 100 years or so. (Tolstoy with his rejection of many classics of Western culture in favor of his religious pseudo-poverty reformist stance is one example. Or read Nabokov on Dostoevsky...)

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On 12.11.2017 at 7:29 AM, Andorion said:

I think it can quite safely be asserted that the notion of classics being ancient is now completely outdated. A large amount of 19th and 20th century literature is now being tagged as classic. What I find interesting about such shifting definitions of classic is that it makes problematic the idea of a "timeless" canon of literature. As you have stated, what we call classics today - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and the Russians, Dickens, the Brontes, Hardy, Austen, French authors like Victor Hugo - were often derided by the literary establishment of the time, just like Shakespeare's plays were popular mass productions of the 16th century.  What this points to is that different societies prize different qualities at different times. In the Enlightenment period, still obsessed with Greco-Roman heritage, modern novels were looked down upon. In our current period I think we have a similar problem of an over-glorification of the 18th-19th century literary canon.

[...]

You do realize that by relegating the oral to low literature, you are also relegating most of the Homeric canon? Before they were written down, they were oral retellings of poetry, often growing organically, performed publicly.

No, I am not. I did not claim that everything oral was low. I merely said that for a long time everything low was mainly or only oral. The whole distinction is quite recent, probably 19th century. Obviously in a mostly oral culture like 8th century BC Greece even the high epics were oral, so this difference does not help.

Again Shakespeare: There must obviously be a reason why Shakespeare became a classic and Jonson, Marlowe etc. far less so. So maybe at least some of Shakespeare's pieces were not just any "mass production of the 16th century" but extraordinary peaks of that production that had the potential to become "timeless classics".

Why am I always harping about the "real Classics", i.e. Greek and Latin ones? Very simple: Because unlike 19th century novels they have been classics not for 200 years or less but for about two Millenia. They are the classic examples for classics whereas Austen or Dickens are rather dubious examples that should not be taken as typical. The Homerian Epics were classics already in the 4th century BC and have in some way or other had the status continually. This is not true for all of the ancient Classics but for quite a few. (And I believe it was similar with even more conservatism and continuity in the Chinese Empire for >2000 years with their Confucian Classics. I know very little about Chinese history and only second hand so I usually stick to "my" occidental culture and tradition for examples.)

So anyone who believes that because some books from the last 250 years became classics, some did not, some fell out of favor and therefore argues that becoming a classic is a haphazard process and many might cease to be classics quickly whereas others might as easily become canonized is working from a biased sample of classics. Of course the real classics are not timeless either. But they really have withstood millenia and as they used to be what formed the very concept of classics it is not so surprising that people took them to be almost timeless.

Not commenting again on WoP; it's been >20 years that I read it and our personal opinions are irrelevant. It is without a doubt considered a classic now (and has been for 100 years or so) and our opinions are not going to change that status any time soon. This does not mean that it is flawless, I'd probably agree with some of your critical points if I reread it.

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