Wednesday, January 25, 2017

An Epitome of Cultural Elitism

In a footnote at the back of his Oxford World's Classics edition of Walter Pater's The Renaissance (one of my personal holy books), Adam Phillips unearths a quote from French Renaissance poet Joachim du Bellay that I consider an epitome of the cultural elitist position. In the preface to his book l'Olive, du Bellay writes:

As for those people who will not welcome this kind of writing, which they call obscure because it is beyond their understanding, I leave them with those who, after the invention of wheat, still want to live on acorns.

Joshua ben Joseph of Nazareth, the Palestinian rabbi vulgarly known as Jesus Christ, expressed a similar sentiment using the cruder imagery of pearls and swine. While I harbor grave reservations about Josh's Mountainous Sermon, I find du Bellay's sentence and sentiment entirely admirable. His staunch refusal to dumb himself down, his requirement that readers rise to his level, his wild, Wildean self-assurance--add to these an aristocratic hauteur that makes Nabokov sound like Dr. Seuss and an enlightened, humanistic freedom from the stink of sanctimony, and we have in these 40 words a near-perfect example of the most valuable and necessary kind of elitism.

1 comment:

George Djuric said...

After reading from Jonathan Jones of The Guardian and Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker, I concluded that whatever else you are doing is a clean waste of time. These two are nowhere near your class, so shame on you.

George Djuric