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144Philosophy and Literature Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence ofCultural Hierarchy in America, by Lawrence W. Levine; xii & 306 pp. Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1988, $25.00 cloth, $12.95 paper. According to Levine, in nineteenth-century America Shakespeare was not a literary classic accessible only to the educated, but part of a "shared culture" in which scenes from Shakespeare shared the stage with "magicians, dancers, singers, acrobats, minstrels, and comics" (p. 23) in theatres attended by diverse audiences. If Shakespeare was a part of popular culture (so much so that Twain could parody Shakespeare in the Duke and the Dauphin's scams in Huckleberry Finn), Levine questions "our tendency to see culture on a vertical plane, neady divided into a hierarchy of . . . 'high,' 'low,' 'pop,' 'mass,' 'folk,' and the like" (p. 30). To explain Shakespeare's elevation, Levine focuses on the process by which audiences were segregated into separate spaces where they encountered different types of entertainment, a process that during the last decades of the century divorced Shakespeare from everyday culture. No longer did the theatre hold a microcosm of socioeconomic groups sharing a diverse culture. Levine sees this "transformation of Shakespeare" (p. 81) as part of "die sacralization ofculture," whereby opera, symphonic music, and fine arts became "culture" separate from the masses. By the end of the century, one needed to be educated to these higher forms, be taught the rules of polite behavior, and visit special temples to encounter "culture." To demonstrate the emergence of cultural hierarchy, Levine divides his argument into four parts: the example of Shakespeare, the "sacralization of culture" in other arts, an historical explanation ofthe bifurcation, and anepilogueconnectingnineteenth-centuryhistory to contemporary arguments by Bloom and Bennett about the decline ofculture. The strongest part of the book describes the process of bifurcation. Levine's vivid examples of Shakespeare's presence in nineteenth-century American culture remind us that audiences booed, hissed, and assaulted those actors who cut songs or scenes they expected. It's hard to imagine that a riot, with the loss of twenty-two lives, could have been caused by an audience outraged by a Shakespearean actor's style. With varied examples, Levine extends his analysis to other art forms: opera, symphonies (versus bands), museums of sculpture and painting (versus casts, chromolithographs, and photographs), and research libraries (versus public libraries). Levine clearly shows a pattern whereby cultural hierarchies were established. Levine also makes a strong case for rethinking our tendency to see rejection of these hierarchies as anti-intellectualism. He argues that such hierarchies permit the few (the educated) to enter, while excluding the masses. Not surprisingly , the rejected scorn the forms they have been denied. The more difficult Reviews145 task is explaining why the bifurcation occurred. In his third chapter, "Order, Hierarchy, and Culture," he walks a fine line: he shows the elite responding to forces of chaos and fragmentation resulting from rapid immigration and social and economic changes, but insists that the bifurcation did not simply result from a need for social control. Though it is difficult to explain the dramatic shift to cultural hierarchies, he provides valuable possible explanations of some of die reasons. Had the book simply focused on nineteenth-century history, it would have been worth reading, but the "Epilogue" offers additional controversy. Levine suggests that our own time continues to manifest the dynamic process ofculture and the permeable nature of labels. Noting the blurring of genres in contemporary works and the activities ofmuseums and symphonies trying to lure back diverse audiences, he rejects thejeremiads of Bloom and Bennett. He sees the current debate about university curricula and the canon as one between those "who 'know' what culture is and what it is not" and those who "believe that worthy, enduring culture is not the possession of any single group or genre or period" (p. 255). Though brief, his "Epilogue" brings the historical process into present debates about what we "should" know. Whitman CollegeJean Carwile Masteller BlackAthena: TheAfroasiaticRoots ofClassicalCivilization. Volume I: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785—1985, by Martin Bernal; 575 pp. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1987, $45.00 cloth, $15.00 paper. Martin Bernal's thesis is bound to raise a few eyebrows. He...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 144-145
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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