American individualism has come to resemble a kind of hermitism, each artist before his own effulgent machine, without taut lifelines to his fellow strivers and makers. The roiling and reciprocal group, so central to the early achievements of Lowell and Plath and Sexton, has been replaced by synthetic socializing online, or by the cloistered academic department, which is how many artists in America, if they’re the lucky ones, are able to remain in the middle class. But when you’re an artist in academia, you’re only a part-time artist, at best. We’ve fled our public places of reciprocity and dialogue, and jettisoned any commitment to a joint culture. “For culture to work, we need a common language,” Timberg writes, “and it’s impossible to have one when we are becoming more culturally and economically divided every day.”
Category Archives: Book Reviews
The Berkeley Publishing Group
In Radhika Sanghani’s debut novel, Virgin, twenty-one year old Ellie Kostakis obsesses over finding a man to deflower her. Desperation drives her to endure the excruciating pain of a “Playboy Brazilian wax,” attempt several one-night stands, and even make out with a gay man. During her quest to lose her virginity, Ellie muses about the meaning of feminism and the sexual double standard for women. Unfortunately, the novel reads too much like a high-schooler’s whiny diary to manage any intriguing insights.
Ellie, however, isn’t a high schooler. She’s a senior at University College London, and the lone virgin in her social group—a fact she laments constantly. “The majority of university students have had sex, which I’m missing out on with every day that goes by, so for me to be like everyone else and be able to relate to my friends’ stories, I need to have sex and do the [chlamydia] test. It represents the dream,” she tells her best friend.
Sex—or the lack thereof—dominates Ellie’s every thought, action, and conversation. Everyone, from her mother to the beautician who gives her a Brazilian wax, seems fixated on Ellie’s lack of sexual experience. Of her two best friends, one is a self-proclaimed “slut,” and the other sleeps with the man Ellie is interested in…in Ellie’s bathtub. The world, filtered through her warped perspective, is hell-bent on rejecting her unless she can lose her v-card.
To Sanghani’s credit, however, the novel takes up some of the heated issues concerning sex in the twenty-first century, such as body image and the role of the porn industry. In the list of “Great Sexpectations” she compiles for her Vagina Blog (shortened to vlog), Ellie cites the following as modern-day expectations for women: no pubes, loud sex, wild sex, dirty talk, no condoms, blow jobs, and emotional detachment.
Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg. Yale University Press, 320 pages.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” such is Scott Timberg’s diagnosis of the creative professions in the twenty-first century. A variety of social and cultural forces–from industry consolidation to the Internet–have decimated both the diversity and depth of the art produced by the American system of cultural production. For Timberg, cultural progress has led cultural middlemen to disappear almost completely, from booksellers (63-69) to art critics (159). These jobs were more than inefficient purveyors of post-Fordist service goods; for Timberg, these middlemen also serve as a cultural repository, or “infrastructure,” (12) that informs American cultural life and encourages collaboration and the creation of new works. Their disappearance will accordingly retard the growth and quality of American art as a whole for years to come.
Timberg’s definition of the “creative class” improves upon the work of Atlantic editor Richard Florida, whose “creative class” includes 40 million American “knowledge workers” involved in everything from “engineering to theater, biotech to education, [and] architecture to small business.” This overly diffuse definition is certainly stellar for the self-conception of the one in three American workers that can now be labeled “creative.” However, such an inchoate group of workers cannot be said to share many qualities beyond the fact that they avoid manual and clerical labor.
Timberg’s definition, in contrast, focuses on the product rather than the process. “A more useful understanding of the creative class would include anyone who helps create or disseminate culture. So along with sculptors and architects, I mean deejays, bookstore clerks, theater set designers, people who edit books in publishing houses and so on.” (10) This creative class is an ecosystem where artists create and market their works. But recent trends have placed this fragile ecosystem in jeopardy. Timberg argues that the highest echelons of artistic production are somewhat insulated from cultural restructuring (with higher wealth inequality, paradoxically, comes a greater ability to patronize high art; see 224). Truly ‘autonomous’ art made without expectation of commercial gain, too, is insulated from the market through a greater unwillingness to submit to its demands. This leaves the vast middle ground of art that has become ever more commercialized, even as ubiquitous unpaid accessibility to this art means that the benefits of the market accrue to these artists less and less.*