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Cultural Considerations

Cultural Considerations: Essays on Readers, Writers, and Musicians in Postwar America

Joan Shelley Rubin
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Considerations
    Book Description:

    A highly regarded scholar in the fields of American cultural history and print culture, Joan Shelley Rubin is best known for her writings on the values, assumptions, and anxieties that have shaped American life, as reflected in both “high” culture and the experiences of ordinary people. In this volume, she continues that work by exploring processes of mediation that texts undergo as they pass from producers to audiences, while elucidating as well the shifting, contingent nature of cultural hierarchy. Focusing on aspects of American literary and musical culture in the decades after World War II, Rubin examines the contests between critics and their readers over the authority to make aesthetic judgments; the effort of academics to extend the university outward by bringing the humanities to a wide public; the politics of setting poetic texts to music; the role of ideology in the practice of commissioning and performing choral works; and the uses of reading in the service of both individualism and community. Specific topics include the 1957 attack by the critic John Ciardi on the poetry of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in the Saturday Review; the radio broadcasts of the classicist Gilbert Highet; Dwight Macdonald’s vitriolic depiction of the novelist James Gould Cozzens as a pernicious middlebrow; the composition and reception of Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy”; the varied career of musician Gunther Schuller; the liberal humanism of America’s foremost twentiethcentury choral conductor, Robert Shaw; and the place of books in the student and women’s movements of the 1960s. What unites these essays is the author's ongoing concern with cultural boundaries, mediation, and ideologyand the contradictions they frequently entail.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-262-2
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction: Cultural History in Practice
    (pp. 1-8)

    These essays take as their common subject aspects of American literary and musical culture in the decades following the Second World War. They examine the activities of readers, writers, listeners, musicians, and critics in order to contribute to a history that registers the social factors influencing the creation, dissemination, and reception of a variety of cultural artifacts. The essays—some previously published, some appearing for the first time here—are linked not only by chronology but also by their attention to certain questions that I have found compelling over the last decade or so, namely: How do readers make meaning...

  4. Part I: Readers & Critics

    • 1 The Genteel Tradition at Large
      (pp. 11-28)

      In 1937, when Malcolm Cowley, then literary editor of theNew Republic, assembled a collection of essays on American authors of the 1910s and 1920s, he called the bookAfter the Genteel Tradition. The phrase defined Cowley’s own critical stance, allying him with a rebellion of younger writers against the morality and taste of the post–Civil War generations. “Gentility” demanded a literature steeped in optimism and idealism, Cowley explained; it required that novelists and poets segregate “culture” from daily affairs; and it exuded squeamishness about sex, evil, dirt, and the facts of life in modern industrial society. In its...

    • 2 The Scholar and the World Academic Humanists and General Readers in Postwar America
      (pp. 29-58)

      Two scenarios currently dominate historical accounts of American literary and cultural criticism in the decades immediately following the Second World War. Taking off from the position Irving Howe articulated in his 1954 essay “This Age of Conformity,” the first depicts intellectuals abandoning the adversarial politics and aesthetic experimentation of the prewar period for the shelter and safety of the nation’s expanding universities. In their comfortable circumstances, literary scholars increasingly become devoted practitioners of text-bound “New Criticism,” a method of analysis that suits their desire to back away from social issues while enabling them to serve more easily the large numbers...

    • 3 Repossessing the Cozzens-Macdonald Imbroglio Middlebrow Authorship, Critical Authority, and Autonomous Readers in Postwar America
      (pp. 59-84)

      Dwight Macdonald’s trenchant essay “Masscult and Midcult” (1960) is the most sweeping—and the most famous—formulation by an American of the postwar animus against middlebrow culture. Yet “Masscult and Midcult” was not the opening shot in Macdonald’s war against the pernicious products of the entertainment and publishing industries but, rather, the culminating episode in a campaign the writer had been waging for some time. By the early 1950s Macdonald was already condemning particular works that, in his view, represented philistine assaults on art and language:Great Books of the Western World, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Colin...

  5. Part II: Composers, Conductors & Their Audiences

    • 4 The Composer as a Reader Poetry, Music, and the Politics of a Neglected Genre
      (pp. 87-107)

      What happens when a composer transforms a poem into a piece of music? From the musicologist’s usual angle of vision, the answer is that composers “set texts” by endowing words with notes, rhythm, and phrasing appropriate to (although arguably in tension with) the poet’s language. But what if we applied to the practice of text-setting the concepts that scholars of print culture have made familiar? In that light, composers appear, first, as readers, appropriating and remaking texts in the act of reading; they are also mediators, bridging the gap, as the American musician Ned Rorem has observed, between “private conception...

    • 5 Ideology and Practice in the Career of Robert Shaw
      (pp. 108-141)

      When he died in 1999 at the age of eighty-two, Robert Lawson Shaw was the preeminent American choral conductor of the twentieth century. As director in the 1940s and 1950s both of the Collegiate Chorale, whose members were highly skilled amateurs, and of the smaller professional ensemble that bore his name, Shaw brought high seriousness to choral singing through his musical gifts, repertory choices, and ideological commitments. In 1956 he became associate conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and injected new life into the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, which he directed. Subsequently he moved to Atlanta, assumed the role of conductor of...

    • 6 Gunther Schuller The Musician as Mediator
      (pp. 142-149)

      Near the beginning of his landmark studyEarly Jazz(1968), Gunther Schuller describes a chord pattern called “fours” that jazz musicians sometimes introduce into the conventional thirty-two-bar song form. After noting that the pattern can give rise to intriguing sounds when the improvisers play different parts of the whole structure as the piece progresses, he remarks, “The ‘bridge’ produces especially interesting combinations.”¹ It is tempting to apply Schuller’s characterization of a musical device to the man himself. In the course of his career, Schuller bridged Europe and the United States, whites and African Americans, classical and popular musical traditions, professionals...

  6. Conclusion: The Enduring Reader
    (pp. 150-168)

    Among the products of the post–World War II paperback revolution was a volume decidedly different from the racily packaged novels the paper format encouraged: a book issued by Pelican/Penguin titledGood Reading: A Guide to the World’s Best Books(1947). First published in 1932 as a pamphlet assembled by the National Council of Teachers of English,Good Readinghad undergone extensive revision prior to its paperback debut. Eventually it became a sporadic serial publication of the R. R. Bowker Company, which updated it periodically and brought out three editions in hardcover aimed at library sales. The late 1940s versions,...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 169-188)
  8. Index
    (pp. 189-196)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-200)