Literature, Popular Culture, and Society

By Leo Lowenthal | Go to book overview

Introduction

I

The essays collected in this volume, though written at various times over the last three decades, have an underlying theme closely relating to my long-term intellectual concerns. These concerns are in turn bound up with my background and experience.

During my university training in Germany, immediately after the end of the First World War, I devoted four years to the study of the social sciences and another four years to that of literature and history; throughout this period I was also engaged in the study of philosophy. By now, I have lived for more than a quarter of a century in the United States, and my professional affiliations both here and abroad have been that of a sociologist. These bare facts of my intellectual life may indicate that I can neither confess nor boast adherence to an unequivocally defined specialization. I believe this to be an advantage. Approaching sociological research humanistically while retaining a sociological view of the humanities can lead to a new awareness of the communion of the Western mind. Unfortunately the stubborn claims of privilege made by single academic specialties have all too often obscured this unity.

Obviously, if we except the genius and the charlatan, no one individual can undertake to apply the generalist's mentality to an infinite number of fields and data. My own work--partly by accident, partly by predilectionhas focused over the years on cultural phenomena, particularly on literary productions. In the sociologist's idiom, it is the area of communication; in the parlance of the humanist, it is the area of literature (artistic or otherwise).

The French philosopher and political theorist Charles de Bonald once said:

Were one to see the literature of a people whose history one does not know, one could tell what this people had been, and were one to read the history of a people whose literature one does not know, one could assume with certainty, which one had been the basic trait of its literature.

That is to say, literature is a particularly suitable bearer of the fundamental symbols and values which give cohesion to social groups, ranging from nations and epochs to special social sub-groups and points of time. Con-

-xi-

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