Cultural Studies Vol 01-02 (1987-05) by John Fiske

By John Fiske

Contains papers on `The woman: a rhetoric of desire', the language of magic in southern Italy, stardom, consumerism and its contradictions, and gender kin, among others.

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The possession of cultural capital is the accompanying mode of regulation for the post-war European regimes of accumulation, if we are to use Lipietz’s helpful conceptual devices for linking norms, laws, routines, and so on, to capital’s ‘needs’. Aesthetic populism has justly been sceptical of the illusory meritocracy of the educational structure. Secondly, aesthetic populism could also be credited with reminding us of the long history of popular forms which have been recuperated by élite culture, from thirteenth-century stonemasons’ carvings to nineteenth-century popular novelists like Dickens and Wilkie Collins, or Hollywood film directors (such as Douglas Sirk) once disdained by the literati.

A contrasting view would stress the ‘ghostly texts’, the salient absences and the figurative moulding of language to bear a critical discourse. In particular, feminist criticism has convincingly decoded the hidden resentment at women’s oppression and propertylessness in Eliot, THE ‘CANON’ AND MARXIST THEORIES OF LITERATURE 37 Charlotte and Emily Brontë and, less obviously, Mrs Gaskell, and this sense of distance from patriarchal power often struck the women concerned as analogous to the powerlessness of slaves or the proletariat.

Williams is surely right that, despite the origins of ‘literature’ in the restricted eighteenth-century sense, much valuable work was done under that label. Moreover, he has convincingly shown that in the whole body of writing of 1848 it was the now canonical and allegedly ideological works—Dickens’s Hard Times, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Mrs Gaskell’s Mary Barton—that issued much more devastating attacks on industrial capitalism than were contained in the more popular bestsellers. Craig and Egan have recently reiterated this important point, aiming to prise apart the close identification of the novel with the bourgeoisie.

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