The Counter-Culture and Its Apologists:3 - Lysergic Gotterdammerung
AS EVERYONE KNOWS, the word “culture” carries with it several possible meanings. On one level it is concerned mainly with taste: a man “has culture” if he prefers the novels of Dostoevsky to The Music Man, and becomes really interesting when he rejects Dostoevsky in favor of Nabokov or Firbank. This sort of concern cannot, however, survive over long periods of time. For if the idea of a private culture is to have any meaning, the class enforcing that idea must be stable and reasonably sure of itself-in a word, complacent. And in the 20th century illusions of that kind have never had much staying power, outside of extremely small groups or “sets.” Instead, we are trained to think in terms of a common culture, a body of communal idees donnees having none of the evil connotations of idees recues. Macy’s department store, jazz music, the respective prose styles of Jefferson, Mencken, and Max Lerner, are all part of this culture, and one needn’t construct a list of Sontagian dimensions to see how far ideas, on this view, overlap with manners. Culture now takes in the whole of the public universe, just as in another version it absorbed the private one; but with this difference, that the public idea of culture must have a political significance. In discussing the process of social disintegration, the perspectives afforded by culture and politics cannot be far apart.
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