High and Low Culture Are Discourses in Constant Dynamic Intercourse
Note: In despair about how to inaugurate the Spring 2004 Critical Methods discussion of New Historicism and Cultural Criticism, I happened to read the following letter to the editors of The Times Literary Supplement by the witty and insightful Mary Douglas. I hope the TLS and Ms. Douglas will interpret this web page using "the discourse of scholarship and teaching," treating this scholarly use of her letter as a permissible, not-for-profit contribution to my students' intellectual growth. However, if they choose to interpret it using the discourse of the International Copyright Convention which prohibits complete, non-spontaneous (after today, anyway!) published quotation of a whole document under copyright to another without the copyright-holder's permission, their lawyers may come after me with a big net and order the page's removal. If I persist in treating this exchange under Foucault's "Discourse of Desire" rather than under the "Discourse of the Law," perhaps I shall emerge as an Internet Celebrity in the pages of the TLS, itself, or perhaps I shall be bankrupted by legal fees.
Sir,--With other friends of Michael Thompson I rejoiced to see the title of Bernard O'Donoghue's poem, "Rubbish Theory" (January 2 ). When it first came out, in 1979, we all knew that the book Rubbish Theory: The creation and destruction of value, would have a prestigious career; twenty-five years on, being out of touch with the subject, I didn't know what heights of fame it had reached. It was a study in the theory of value. A philosopher in the University of Maryland hailed Rubbish Theory as the most significant work on aesthetic philosophy in the last decade.
The rubbishing process starts with the valued possessions in use or on display; they later move up to the attic, having become too valuable to be used, and from there they go through various derogatory stages, eventually to be discarded as worthless. Then for some, but not all, there is a sudden transformation from the class of rejects to the class of greatly treasured antiques.
Michael Thompson must surely be pleased that Bernard O'Donoghue borrowed his title. It demonstrates that the book itself has quickly reached the last stages of that process. Like ancient lines from Plato or Shakespeare, it has suddenly become one of the immortal writings that require no bibliographic reference.
22 Hillway, London N6