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    Middlebrow


    • The term middlebrow describes both a certain type of easily accessible art, often literature, as well as (more negatively) the population that uses art to acquire culture and class that is usually unattainable. First used by the British satire magazine Punch in 1925, middlebrow is derived as the intermediary between highbrow and lowbrow, terms derived from phrenology. Middlebrow has famously gained notoriety from derisive attacks by Dwight Macdonald, Virginia Woolf, and (to a certain extent) Russell Lynes – attacks that served the cause of modernist marginalization of the popular in favor of "high art". The middlebrow in this light is classed as a forced and ineffective attempt at cultural and intellectual achievement, as well as characterizing literature that emphasizes emotional and sentimental connections rather than literary quality and innovation; though postmodernism has been more prepared to see the advantages of a middlebrow position aware of high culture but able to balance its claims with those of the everyday world.

      Virginia Woolf explicitly articulated her derision of the middlebrow in an un-posted letter-to-the-editor of the New Statesman & Nation about a radio broadcast attacking Highbrows. That letter was posthumously published in the essay collection The Death of the Moth in 1942.

      Virginia Woolf attacks middlebrows as petty purveyors of highbrow cultures for their own shallow benefit. Rather than selecting books for their intrinsic value, middlebrows select and read what they are told is best. Middlebrows are concerned with how what they do makes them appear, unlike highbrows, the avant-garde men and women who act according to their indelible commitment to beauty, value, art, form, and integrity. Woolf said, “We highbrows read what we like and do what we like and praise what we like”. Likewise, a lowbrow is devoted to a singular interest, a person “of thoroughbred vitality who rides his body in pursuit of a living at a gallop across life”; and, therefore, are equally worthy of reverence, as they, too, are living for what they intrinsically know as valuable.



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