Lebenskünstler

Common Culture – Paul Willis

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/10/2009

From Common Culture: Symbolic work at play in the everyday cultures of the young by Paul Willis:

“In general the arts establishment connives to keep alive the myth of the special, creative individual artist holding out against  passive mass consumerism, so helping to maintain a self-interested view of elite creativity…Against this we insist that there is a vibrant symbolic life and symbolic creativity in everyday life, everyday activity and expression – even if it is sometimes invisible, looked down on or spurned.”

“There can be a final unwillingness and limit even in subversive or alternative movements towards an arts democracy. They may have escaped the physical institutions and academies, but not always their conventions…we don’t want to start where ‘art’ thinks is ‘here’, from within its perspectives, definitions and institutions.[emphasis mine]”

“We argue for symbolic creativity as an integral (‘ordinary’) part of the human condition, not as inanimate peaks (popular or remote) rising above its mists.”

“Art is taken as the only field of qualitative symbolic activity…We insist, against this, that imagination is not extra to daily life, something to be supplied from disembodied art.”

“…young people feel more themselves in leisure than they do at work. Though only ‘fun’ and apparently inconsequential, it’s actually where their creative symbolic abilities are most at play. ”

“The fact that many texts may be classified as intrinsically banal, contrived and formalistic must be put against the possibility that their  living reception [emphasis mine]is the opposite of these things.”

“Why shouldn’t bedroom decoration and personal styles, combinations of others’ ‘productions’, be viewed along with creative writing or song and music composition as fields of aesthetic realization?”

“Ordinary people have not needed an avant-gardism to remind them of rupture. What they have needed but never received is better and freer materials for building security and coherence in their lives.”

“The simple truth is that it must now be recognized that the coming together of coherence and identity in common culture occurs in surprising, blasphemous and alienated ways seen from old-fashioned Marxist rectitudes – in leisure not work [emphasis mine], through commodities not political parties, privately not collectively.”

What is so refreshing about this book is that it is filled with the actual accounts of lived responses to culture rather than the usual empty academic  pronouncements about how culture is processed and taken up. Rather than opine, Willis listens.

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  1. […] See my highlights here. […]

  2. […] return to yet another post for another angle on this – Common Culture – Paul Willis Some key quotes in case you don’t care to follow the […]


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