Inventing High and Low

Literature, Mass Culture, and Uneven Modernity in Spain

Inventing High and Low

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: Published: June 1994

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Dire word of the cultural threat of the lowbrow goes back at least to the ancient Greeks, and yet, Stephanie Sieburth suggests, no division between "high" and "low" culture will stand up to logical scrutiny. Why, then, does the opposition persist? In this book Sieburth questions the terms of this perennial debate and uncovers the deep cultural, economic, and psychological tensions that lead each generation to reinvent the distinction between high and low. She focuses on Spain, where this opposition plays a special role in notions of cultural development and where leading writers have often made the relation of literature to mass culture the theme of their novels.
Choosing two historical moments of sweeping material and cultural change in Spanish history, Sieburth reads two novels from the 1880s (by Benito Pérez Galdós) and two from the 1970s (by Juan Goytisolo and Carmen Martín Gaite) as fictional theories about the impact of modernity on culture and politics. Her analysis reveals that the high/low division in the cultural sphere reinforces other kinds of separations—between social classes or between men and women—dear to the elite but endangered by progress. This tension, she shows, is particularly evident in Spain, where modernization has been a contradictory and uneven process, rarely accompanied by political freedom, and where consumerism and mass culture coexist uneasily with older ways of life.
Weaving together a wide spectrum of diverse material, her work will be of interest to readers concerned with Spanish history and literature, literary theory, popular culture, and the relations between politics, economics, gender, and the novel.


“This is an ambitious and timely study which explores the persistence of the high/low cultural divide in Spain through the analysis of four novels: Galdós’ La desheredadad (1881) and Tormento (1884), Goytisolo’s Reivindicación del conde don Julián (1970), and Martín Gaite’s El cuarto de atrás (1976). . . . This is a thoughtful work, well presented, with quotations translated into English and a synopsis of the novels studied given in the Appendix. Sieburth offers some insightful readings and sharp observations, and her book is a welcome addition to Peninsular cultural studies.” — , Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

"The depth and range of Sieburth’s reinterpreations carry forward in original ways the full spectrum of concerns posed by current scholarship. The book makes a vital contribution to the interrelated areas of feminist criticism, comparative literature, and cultural studies and is indispensable to our understanding of major fiction in modern Spain." — Harriet S. Turner, University of Nebraska, Lincoln


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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1441-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1444-8
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