Customer Review

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, professorial, infuriating, take your pick, 6 July 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Polity Short Introductions) (Paperback)
A great, disturbing book, a destroyer of social illusions detached from a programme (though not from political sympathies). It's an attempt by a professor to prove to his fellow professors that he still acknowledges extra-academic reality and Big Issues. Yet it's so brilliant that I will even forgive him his professorial sentences.
The thesis in brief: Aesthetic judgment as such is intended to construct a mystified form of social superiority. High culture defines itself by devising endless baroque unsatisfying "aesthetic" pleasures. Angry professors play the game harder than anyone, and resent the fact that it doesn't make them rich. The workers know they can't really play at all, but must give it a go, and look silly. Even the most angry leftists fail to recognise the cultural machine of their alienation, and find themselves helpless in its grip. The bureaucratic and professional Top Cats (this is France, after all...), the products of the grandes e'coles, know (without realising) that it's all a game for their benefit, and escape the trap by not being serious about what they make everyone else worry over - thereby establishing their "natural" right to inherit everything and rule the world.
The book is nostalgic for "pure" class politics (precisely as a guarantee of Bourdieu's purity of heart, to be proven to a purely academic audience). Thus, we have direct, deeply reverent, appeals to Marx (and hardly anyone else), and gush about the "realism" of the working class, the Worker as Noble Savage, deprived and oppressed and confused but mysteriously In Touch with Really Important Stuff. Mysticism is predictably derided.
The annoying thing is that Bourdieu is very, very penetrating and intelligent. He does his job so well that he manages to corrode the self-confidence of anyone who wants to make even the most modest assertion of cultural autonomy. The notions of critical distance and of disinterested truth are given the same kind of treatment that the USAF gave Laos. That Bourdieu persuaded himself to write it is either proof that he's quite wrong or evidence of how completely right he is. Or both at once?
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