"Neither highbrows nor lowbrows nor midbrows, but elastic-brows.” — George Orwell
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A multifaceted composer and critic.


He hated middlebrow and appreciated madness.

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The first scholar to take avant-garde film that seriously.


He elevated intertextuality to a literary theology.

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His is an unwieldy and rarely screened oeuvre.


He took down Rick Santorum and started the It Gets Better project.

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For him jazz was never simply music, it was life.

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He made paradoxic human music of despair.


A critic indifferent to current pressures and public opinion


The first man to say “fuck” on the airwaves of the BBC.


Unfairly criticized as a cultural mandarin, he defended joy.

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In American humor, she discerned “a deep-lying mood of dis­severance.”

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He tried to explain both new modes of being and new social structures.


Reason itself becomes the monster.


He began as a critic of Middlebrow, but was suborned by it.

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“Media always offers gains, though offset by losses.”


He wrote poetry of love glimpsed as a mystery from within the teeth of sex.


Strictly speaking it’s Meltzer who’s the hilo hero, who inverted the language of academe in pursuit of the rock thrill, but here’s what puts Lester in the pantheon: he redefined monotony. The vicious monotony of a Stooges chord, the earth-in-her-bonds monotony of a Black Sabbath riff, the mechanical monotony of John Cale repeating a single […]


Even though there’s no shepherd issuing orders, we behave like docile sheep.

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He began his critical career as a Welsh signalman’s son drawn to English literary tradition, and ended it as a Cambridge don extolling the vitality of rural and working-class life. In between, RAYMOND WILLIAMS (1921-88) wrote copiously, for academic and popular audiences, on topics from Orwell and Ibsen to advertising (which he called “the magic […]


Despite her reputation as the witty gal of the Algonquin Round Table, DOROTHY PARKER (1893-1967) dismissed the clique as “just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were.” They did help her gain a national renown, though, by quoting her lunchtime ad libs and verses in their newspaper columns. […]


As a kid, my upbringing pulled me in divergent directions: on my mother’s side, an urban technophile Jewishness (inspired, in part by her own lack of nostalgia for her childhood on a chicken farm) and on my stepfather’s, a hardy German-American naturalism. There were aspects of this I loved (hiking, fishing), hated (gardening), and was […]


“The institution of a leisure class is found in its best development at the higher stages of the barbarian culture….” That first phrase from his 1899 book Theory of the Leisure Class summed up the Gilded Age, as far as academic knockabout THORSTEIN VEBLEN (1857-1929) was concerned. The lifestyle of the leading members of our […]

In his seminal works, The Mechanical Bride (1951) and Understanding Media (1964), the Canadian philosopher MARSHALL MCLUHAN (1911-80) offered astute, didactic examinations of how the public receives and processes media, and what advertising tells us about society. Currently the darling of every Film Theory 101 class, there was a time when McLuhan — whose seminars […]