|I agree that the disparagement of "middle-brow" fiction is probably borne of the disparagement of the middle classes, sadly|
I sadly haven't got the time to read through this long and complicated thread but I really disagree with this. For one this esoteric or "high" art is certainly not the pursuit of the upper classes. Similarly many comedy (low art presumably) greats have been middle-class.
I think I have been guilty of making some cheap comment about middlebrow (blush) for which I apologise. But taking all this Leavis stuff out of it (Emma I have no idea about Queenie Leavis and not sure it is the same as the issues going on now. I want to say first that Emma's aims of interesting ideas in an accessible form is a great thing to aim for in my book. But what I call middlebrow isn't defined as this so maybe we're at total cross-purposes here.
My PERSONAL bugbears are these, and I freely admit that many of these come from theatre rather than novels.
I came at this originally as a defence of "low-art" - comedy mainly. What I dislike about theatre work I would define as "middle-brow" is a sort of smug "we are educated enough to understand some of these things but let's no go into anything too closely or subversively or else it might rock some of our certainties". There are so many pieces that substitute repetitious cod lyricism, superficial analogies with science that mean nothing and reveal nothing about science or art, a sonorous overly earnest serious voice to represent "serious" issues (just in case we snigger at the wrong point? I don't know) and something Emma brought up recently - the idea that dumping in some sort of angsty subject: anorexia, child abuse etc, in the right sonorous way is a substitute for saying anything and - lastly and most importantly - the idea that something is going to be explored in depth and then what we end up with is nothing more that some easy reinforcement of the values of that audience with no questioning. No questioning. That is what gets me. Bland.
Now obviously there are also fantastic plays that are lyrical or have analogies with science or are serious or about child abuse or heartwarming tales that reinforce certainties can be really wonderful too. But those works are emphatically that - true lilting romanticism - not mindless repetition with the idea that that makes your play more profound. Plays that explore child abuse or science with real complexity or reality, not just using them as a weak symbol or analogy to reinforce the "profound" credentials of the play. Why I associate the above bad or superficial usage of those issues and styles with "middlebrow" is because that those are often the ones that are most popular with theatre audiences (who are often pretty middleclass and middleaged to be honest and WANT to feel they are going to something edifying but without much thought or engagement. The whole idea of edifying theatre is another thing that annoys me.)
And I suppose what annoys me is the way people lord these BAD works over BRILLIANT works that are low-brow - that may say more, be more challenging, be funnier, be wilder, be more questioning, be more interesting as a barometer of society...
So I think the term middle-brow is associated with that for me. It is nothing to do with middle-class as such, most people define themselves as middle-class these days, myself included. But I find my irritation with "middle-brow" is because of the thoughtless snobbery it has against wildness, crudeness, rowdiness, bawdiness,obscurity, intellectualness, darkness, experimentalness, clowning, comedy, rudeness - because it is either "above itself" or "bad taste" - and that is the result of simple snobbery in my view. Because it is the pretence of profundity, the pretence at saying something - without doing any of these things in case that is too disturbing or taxing for the audience. It is aware of it's place - and in a very paranoid way.
So that is my experience. And perhaps it is a style thing. I have been to plenty of "high-art" conceptual art shows that are just are nothingy. (Many, in fact). I have seen much crap stand-up about testicles that weren't interesting in any way or funny either. So maybe it is time to throw these concepts away. I think it is perhaps partly a product of the fact that so much of the arts are dependent on government funding rather than Queenie Leavis, to be honest. We're back to the edifying idea again.
What I would like to see is all these things mixed up much more. A bit more boldness altogether. But, I suspect, with all the recent conversations we've been having about marketing and the publishing industry that that a difficult one for writers. I may be wrong. Tell me I'm wrong. I'd like to be wrong, to be honest. Come on. I can take it.<Added>
I just wanted to add that reading that through I realised that my mentioning of science in plays might be misconstrued as some kind of reference to Emma, which I totally didn't mean at all. It is just that plays where a science analogy became very popular a few years back and - although there were some good ones - some were frankly seemed to take some superficial phrase about science and then go aha - it's profound because our emotions could be said to be like that. Da-da. But usually it was just some meaningless linguistic phrase anyway with no real analogy drawn at all. Which seemed doubly irritating to me.<Added>
Err...I do realise I've totally stormed in and done a bit of a Davy there... (no disrespect to Davy.)
I'll get my coat.