Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Warshow - The Immediate Experience

Warshow, Robert. The Immediate Experience; Movies, Comics, Theatre & Other Aspects of Popular Culture. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962. (Essays written between 1946-55)

This is a collection of essays dipping in to various aspects of popular culture in a very plain, Orwell-like (as Lionel Trilling's Intro compares him) style. It's hard to come up with an overall assessment of Warshow, but the preface hints at some ideas...

Popular culture is an "unresolved problem" for critics, in which film stands at the center. Warshow sees two types of film criticism. First, older critics attempted to define an aesthetic for film that placed it equal to older arts (see Arnheim, Kracauer). Second, more recent critics began to minimize or ignore aesthetic questions in favor of exploring films as "indexes to mass psychology." Warshow is unsatisfied with both approaches based on the observations that
  • he enjoys movies,
  • he often enjoys bad movies and is more likely to find a good movie boring,
  • he goes to the movies without the expectation of finding what impulses are moving "the audience" although he may inadvertently discover this
  • The impulse that drives him to go see a "Bogart" film is not the same as the one that drives him to a "Henry James novel" or "TS Eliot poem", yet there is certainly some connection between them. (Artistic difference perhaps hierarchical yet accepts that they are all forms of "art.")
I suppose the title gets at the idea that Warshow is more interested in the enjoyment/experience of popular culture rather than the extended reflection on popular culture that critics engage in long after it has been consumed. Also, the vast majority of his essays do not attempt to address something he has not personally and directly experienced.

Importantly, Warshow was willing to take a broad array of popular culture seriously, thus setting him at the cutting edge of popular culture studies.

Possible Further Reading:
"Pursuing the Popular" by Timothy Gould, 1999. Looks at Warshow and Walter Benjamin among others.

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