Pretentiousness Paperback – 10 Feb 2016
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'Dan Fox makes a very good case for a re-evaluation of the word "pretentious". The desire to be more than we are shouldn't be belittled. Meticulously researched, persuasively argued- where would we be as a culture if no-one was prepared to risk coming across as pretentious? Absolument nowhere, darling- that's where'- Jarvis Cocker
'Pretentiousness: Why it Matters is more than a smartly counterintuitive encomium: it's a lucid and impassioned defence of thinking, creating and, ultimately, living in a world increasingly dominated by the massed forces of social and intellectual conservatism.' - Tom McCarthy, author of Satin Island --Tom McCarthy, author of Satin Island
'Dan Fox's book celebrates the art in artifice, the let's pretend in pretentiousness, arriving at an eloquent, important understanding of how culture has always provided an escape from the dreariness of routine work and productive life. Exhaustively researched and passionately written, recognizing those who audaciously "pretend" to beauty beyond their present means, Pretentiousness is a deeply optimistic and affirming book.'- Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick
'In tackling so directly a term- "pretentiousness"- that has been thrown around too lightly for too long, Dan Fox has opened a fascinating, illuminating and barely glimpsed before perspective onto both cultureand criticism. With clarity and persuasive argument he proves from an etymological basis that pretentiousness can be both good and bad- necessary even to cultural and artistic good health. This insightful book should be read like a contemporary reprise of an eighteenth-century essay on critical manners, for it shares with such texts the winning combination of wit, good sense and intellectual rigour.' --Michael Bracewell, author of England is Mine
'Epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable,triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, and veritable. Pretentiousness will never look the same.' --Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed
About the Author
Dan Fox is a writer, musician, and co-editor of frieze magazine, Europe's foremost magazine of art and culture. He is based in New York.
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The writing fizzes, notably the sustained riff over the concluding four paragraphs. There follows (as Postscript and in a different register), an engaging 18-page family memoir of how a 13 year-old in 1989 growing up in a middle-class Oxford village became an art critic based in New York. That journey was also one in the imagination, charted in the Appendix’s impressive list of sources and examples. Let me add two books that extend Fox’s theme into other areas. First, on another prejudicial concept, is Willis Goth Regier’s "In Praise of Flattery" (2007) In Praise of Flattery (Stages). Erasmus argued that flattery is “what sweetens and gives savor to every human relationship”. Second, Michael Craig-Martin’s "On Being an Artist" (2015). On Being An Artist
The publishers deserve to be seen as part of the argument. They started in 2014 with good design, including their own eponymous font, as their first priority; their first book was, ambitiously, a French novel, Mathias Enard’s "Zone" Zone, judged “a modern masterpiece” in the TLS; and the 2015 Nobel Literature prize-winner Svetlana Alexievitch's "Second-Hand Time", is on their forthcoming list. Good publishing ferreting out good writing is good news for all contentedly pretentious readers.
Fox writes with deceptive simplicity, ranging widely across "high culture" and "pop culture" and making no value distinction between them. The book is full of insights. Like all the best books (fiction and nonfiction), it makes you rethink your unexamined preconceptions and see the world in a new light.