Rethinking the Cultural Divide: Walter Pater, Wilkie Collins, and the Legacies of Wordsworthian Aesthetics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology free ebook
In discussions of the division between high art and mass culture, few notions have secured more consensus than that concerning the basis upon which we generally make such distinctions in the first place. In an argument that has proved exceedingly influential for our theoretical understanding of the so-called cultural divide, Pierre Bourdieu in Distinction (1979) described as the defining characteristic of elite aesthetics “a refusal of ‘impure’ taste and of aisthesis (sensation), the simple, primitive form of pleasure reduced to a pleasure of the senses.”1 On this (widely shared) account, the refusal of sensation represents not merely a site but the primary source of the cultural divide, which has both its origin and its strongest basis in the rupture between sensuous and reflective
aesthetic experience.
If the distinction between elite and popular culture is now commonly regarded as having its theoretical basis in the refusal of sensation,
critics are just as united in dating this refusal to the period of European Romanticism. In the widely cited “Postscript” to Distinction, Bourdieu finds the theoretical grounding for “high” literary aesthetics in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790), particularly in Kant’s insistence that the basis for the subjective universal validity of aesthetic experience resides not in bodily sense but rather in the higher cognitive free ebook