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F. R. Leavis (1895 - 1978)

Related: cultural elitism - new criticism - literary theory - mass culture

Theorists like Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) or the Leavises regard culture as simply the result of "the best that has been thought and said in the world." In F. R. Leavises view, the mass media arouse 'the cheapest emotional responses,' he warned; "Films, newspapers, publicity in all forms, commercially-catered fiction - all offer satisfaction at the lowest level."[May 2006]


Frank Raymond Leavis (July 14, 1895 - April 14, 1978) was an influential British literary critic of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. He taught and studied for nearly his entire life at Downing College, Cambridge. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.R._Leavis [Mar 2006]

Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1930) - F. R. Leavis

In any period it is upon a very small minority that the discerning appreciation of art and literature depends: it is (apart from cases of the simple and familiar) only a few who are capable of unprompted, first-hand judgment. They are still a small minority, though a larger one, who are capable of endorsing such first-hand judgment by genuine personal response. .. The minority capable not only of appreciating Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Baudelaire, Hardy (to take major instances) but of recognising their latest successors constitute the consciousness of the race (or of a branch of it) at a given time. For such capacity does not belong merely to an isolated aesthetic realm: it implies responisiveness to theory as well as to art, to science and philosophy in so far as these may affect the sense of the human situation and of the nature of life. Upon this minority depends our power of profiting by the finest human experience of the past; they keep alive the subtlest and most perishable parts of tradition. Upon them depend the implicit standards that order the finer living of an age, the sense that this is worth more than that, this rather than that is the direction in which to go, that the centre is here rather than there. In their keeping, to use a metaphor that is metonymy also and will bear a good deal of pondering, is the language, the changing idiom, upon which fine living depends, and without which distinction of spirit is thwarted and incoherent, By culture I mean the use of such a language. (pp. 1-2)

There seems every reason to believe that the average cultivated person of a century ago was a very much more competent reader than his modern representative. Not only does the modern dissipate himself upon so much more reading of all kinds the task of acquiring discrimination is much score difficult, A reader who grew up with Wordsworth moved among a limited set of signals (so to speak): the variety was not overwhelming. So he was able to acquire discrimination as he went along. But the modern is exposed to a concourse of signals so bewildering in their variety and number that, unless he is especially gifted or especially favoured, he can hardly begin to discriminate. Here we have the plight of culture in general. The landmarks have shifted, multiplied and crowded upon one another, the distinctions and dividing lines have blurred away, the boundaries are gone, and the arts and literatures of different countries and periods have flowed together, so that, if we revert to the metaphor of "language" for culture, we way, to describe it, adapt the sentence in which Mr. T. S. Eliot describes the intellectual situation: "When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not." (pp. 18-19) --http://courses.essex.ac.uk/lt/lt204/massciv.htm [Mar 2006]

See also: mass society - minority

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