Some passages from Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

From Twitter/Pinboard:

“If guilty pleasures are out of date, perhaps the time has come to conceive of a guilty displeasure.” (Journey to the End of Taste)

“Schmaltz is an unprivate portrait of how private feeling is currently conceived…” (Journey to the End of Taste) ..which social change can pitilessly revise. And then it becomes shameful…” (Journey to the End of Taste)

“Being uncool has material consequences.” (Journey to the End of Taste)

“Distinctions in a culture that valorizes omnivorism are simply…” (Journey to the End of Taste) …that much more fine-grained, fast-changing, and invidious.” (Journey to the end of Taste)

“Our expertise is usually more self-taught than PhD-certified, a pattern Bourdieu believed would produce…” (Journey to the End of Taste) “…an anxious, fact-hoarding intellectual style in contrast with the relaxed mastery…” (Journey to the end of Taste) “…of a fully legitimated cultural elite.” (Journey to the End of Taste)

“[Celine Dion] aspires to the highbrow culture of a half-century ago.” (Journey to the End of Taste)

“[Dion] stinks of democracy, mingled with the odors of designer perfumes and of dollars, Euros, and yen.” (Journey to the End of Taste)

Longer passages:

As Simon Frith wrote in his book Performing Rites, difficult listening bears in it the traces of a “utopian impulse, the negation of everyday life” — an opening toward “another world in which [the difficult] would be easy.” (p. 20)

Through most of [the 19th century] opera was popular music too, sung on the same programs as parlor songs and beloved among both high and low economic classes in English translation…Operatic songs, full of melodrama and romance, were sung alongside parlor songs at home and parlor songs would be dropped into productions of operas (often when rowdily participatory nineteenth-century audiences yelled out for them). Swedish soprano Jenny Lind’s first mid-century American tour, sponsored by P. T. Barnum, was perhaps the first “blockbuster” event in American pop culture, and Lind would sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” between Mozart and hymns…The same held true for passages of Shakespeare, another popular nineteenth-century commodity. It was only in the later 1800s that a consolidating upper class became wealthy and populous enough to shut out popular treatments of classics in the name of “culture” and “standards,” by building ritzy exclusive opera houses, condemning English translations, and turning against “light” Italian opera in favor of “high” German opera. This brought to an end the mixed programs of Shakespeare, opera, melodrama, parlor song, comedy, freak shows and acrobats typical of the earlier nineteenth-century stage. As Walt Whitman, an enormous Italian-opera fan, put it in 1871’s Democratic Vistas, with “this word Culture, or what it has come to represent, we find ourselves abruptly in close quarters with the enemy,” meaning the snobs and aristocrats of old Europe. (p. 56)

I think this is because schmaltz, as Hamm insinuates in his discussion of parlor songs, is never purely escapist: it is not just cathartic but socially reinforcing, a vicarious exposure to both the grandest rewards of adhering to norms and their necessary price. This makes it especially vulnerable to becoming dated: the outer boundaries of extreme conformity, of uncontroversial public ecstasy and despair, are ever-mobile. Schmaltz is an unprivate portrait of how private feeling is currently conceived, which social change can pitilessly revise. And then it becomes shameful, the way elites of the late nineteenth century felt when they wondered what their poor ignorant forebears ever heard in light Italian opera. Likewise, as a specialization of liminal immigrants in America, it can become a holdover from a time “before we were white,” perhaps dotingly memorialized, but embarrassing head-on. (p. 61)

Certainly, celebrities like Celine can help advertise an American Dream cover story for a destructive hegemony by appealing to widely held desires and aspirations. But the transgressive individualism of modernism’s heirs verges on directly emulating that destructive drive, while jeering at its victims’ aspirations and desires. (p. 128)

…songwriter Stephin Merritt argued that “catharsis in art is always embarrassing.” It’s a common belief, though seldom so drolly expressed. He was partly drawing on Bertolt Brecht, who held that the purgative release of catharsis can defuse social criticism. But like many of us, Merritt transposed that political caveat to a personal one, a matter of style. His enjoyment, he claimed only half-joshingly, depends on having the embarrassment built into the art, as irony, which allows him to register emotion without the shameful loss of self-control involved in feelin it. (p. 130)

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