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The highs and lows of modernism: a cultural deconstruction

West, Emma Genevieve 2017. The highs and lows of modernism: a cultural deconstruction. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Over the past two decades, scholars have shown that the modernist ‘Great Divide’ between high and low culture is culturally-constructed, reductive and oversimplified. Yet, despite these critical disavowals, the field of modernist studies is still informed by the Divide’s binary systems of evaluation and classification. ‘High’ and ‘low’ texts are studied in isolation and modernism is privileged over popular culture. This thesis argues that we must address the Great Divide’s structure if we are to move beyond it. The Divide is underpinned by three structural myths: that of essence (texts are inherently high or low), mutual exclusivity (texts are either high or low) and precedence (high texts come before low ones). Over the course of four chapters, this study seeks to define, challenge and reconfigure the Great Divide, exploring new approaches which allow us to study texts from across the cultural spectrum together. After an initial chapter which maps out the Great Divide in early-twentieth-century Britain, the following three chapters interrogate the structural myths in turn. Chapter 2 disputes the myth of essence, arguing that both ‘little’ and ‘popular’ magazines are shaped by external factors; Chapter 3 considers travel posters, showing that they exhibit apparently mutually-exclusive aesthetic and publicity functions at once; and Chapter 4 examines the extent to which innovations in mass-market fashion predated their modernist counterparts. Informed by theory but rooted in print culture, this thesis combines cultural history and deconstruction to displace the Great Divide as a system of classification and reinstate it as an object of study. Only by viewing high, low and middlebrow texts together can we trace the effects that socio-economic conditions, prevailing aesthetic norms and audience demands had on a text’s production, circulation and reception.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 31 May 2017
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2018 01:30

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