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What elevated antonyms did Van Wyck Brooks coin to distinguish those interested in the life of the mind from those not?




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Answer: highbrow and lowbrow

What side of American life is not touched by this antithesis? What explanation of American life is more central or more illuminating?

In everything one finds this frank acceptance of twin values which are not expected to have anything in common: on the one hand, a quite unclouded, quite unhypothetical assumption of aesthetic theory ("high ideals"), on the other a simultaneous acceptance of catchpenny realities. Between university ethics and business ethics, between American culture and American humour, between Good Government and Tammany, between academic pedantry and pavement slang, there is no community, no genial middle ground.

The very accent of the words "Highbrow" and "Lowbrow" implies an instinctive perception that this is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. For both are used in a derogatory sense. The "Highbrow" is the superior person whose virtue is admitted but felt to be an inept unpalatable virtue; while the "Lowbrow" is a good fellow one readily takes to, but with a certain scorn for him and all his works.

Source: Van Wyck Brooks (1886-1963), U.S. literary critic. (First published 1915). America's Coming of Age, Three Essays on America, E.P. Dutton (1934).

According to John Seabrook in A Place in the Buzz at http://www.mediachannel.org/views/oped/seabrook.shtml

"For more than a century, the elite in the United States had distinguished themselves from consumers of commercial culture, or mass culture. The pivot on which distinctions of taste became distinctions of caste. The words highbrow and lowbrow are American inventions, devised for a specifically American purpose: to render culture into class. H. L. Mencken discussed the brow system in "The American Language," and the critic and scholar Van Wyck Brooks was among the first to apply the terms to cultural attitudes and practices. "Human nature itself in America exists on two irreconcilable planes," he wrote in "America's Coming-of-Age," "the plane of stark intellectuality and the plane of stark business," planes which Brooks referred to as highbrow and lowbrow respectively."

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