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Leslie Fiedler (1917 - 2003)

Related: death of the avant-garde - nobrow precursor - literary theory - American literature

Influential to: Camille Paglia

Already in 1964 Leslie Fiedler wrote two key articles, "The New Mutants" and "The Death of Avant-Garde Literature" in which he announced the death of the avant-garde and the birth of postmodernism. [May 2006]

The notion of one art for the 'cultural,' i.e., the favored few in any given society and of another subart for the 'uncultered,' i.e., an excluded majority as deficient in Gutenberg skills as they are untutored in 'taste,' in fact represents the last survival in mass industrial societies (capitalist, socialist, communist - it makes no difference in this regard) of an invidious distinction proper only to a class-structured community. Precisely because it carries on, as it has carried on ever since the middle of the eighteenth century, a war against that anachronistic survival, Pop Art is, whatever its overt politics, subversive: a threat to all hierarchies insofar as it is hostile to order and ordering in its own realm. What the final intrusion of Pop into the citadels of High Art provides, therefore, for the critic is the exhilarating new possibility of making judgments about the 'goodness' and 'badness' of art quite separated from distinctions between 'high' and 'low' with their concealed class bias. --Fiedler, 1971


Leslie A. Fiedler (1917–2003) was an American literary critic, known for his interest in mythography and his championing of genre fiction. He was in practical terms one of the early postmodernist critics working across literature in general, from around 1970. His most cited work is probably Love and Death in the American Novel (1960). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Fiedler [Apr 2005]

The Death of Avant-Garde Literature

In 1964, by contrast, Leslie Fiedler wrote two key articles, "The New Mutants" and "The Death of Avant-Garde Literature" (collected in Fiedler, 1971), which celebrated the flowering of a popular culture that was more playful, exuberant, and democratic, challenging the opposition between high and low art and the elitism of academic modernism. In the same vein, Susan Sontag published in 1967 an influential collection of essays entitled Against Interpretation, which attacked the elitism and pretentiousness of modernism and promoted camp, popular culture, new artistic forms, and a new sensibility over the allegedly stale, boring forms of entrenched modernism. Whereas modernism denigrated "kitsch" and "mass culture," those who took the postmodern turn valorized the objects of everyday life and of commercial culture. Moreover, against what Sontag considered an abstract hermeneutics practiced by modernist critics, she affirmed the immediate, visceral experience of art and form over content and interpretation. In 1968, Fiedler made an explicit appeal to "Cross the Border-Close the Gap" (Fiedler, 1971), and this exhortation to break down the boundaries between high art and popular culture became a rallying cry of the new postmodern attitude. --http://www.guilford.com/excerpts/best3EX.html, accessed Apr 2004

The New Mutants (1965) - Leslie Fiedler

In search of the death of the avant-garde

Even more than Sontag, Fiedler applauded the breakdown of the high-low art distinction and the appearance of pop art and mass cultural forms. In his essay ‘The New Mutants’ (1971: pp 379-400; orig. 1964), Fiedler described the emergent culture as a ‘post-’ culture that rejected traditional values of Protestantism, Victorianism, rationalism, and humanism. While in this essay he decries postmodern art and the new youth culture of nihilistic ‘post-modernists’, he later celebrated postmodernism and saw positive value in the breakdown of literary and cultural tradition. He proclaimed the death of the avant-garde and modern novel and the emergence of new postmodern artforms that effected a ‘closing of the gap’ between artist and audience, critic and layperson (Fiedler 1971: pp. 461-85; orig. 1970). Embracing mass culture and decrying modernist elitism, Fiedler called for a new post-modern criticism that abandons formalism, realism, and highbrow pretentiousness, in favour of analysis of the subjective response of the reader within a psychological, social, and historical context. --Douglas Kellner via http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/pomo/ch1.html [May 2006]

Cross the Border-Close the Gap (1972) - Leslie Aron Fiedler

Cross the Border-Close the Gap (1972) - Leslie Aron Fiedler [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

see also: extended review

Freaks: Myths and images of the secret self (1978) - Leslie A Fiedler

Freaks: Myths and images of the secret self (1978) - Leslie A Fiedler [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Leslie Fiedler's Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (1979) is an intelligent and sensitive exploration of the cultural significance and artistic treatments of differentness. Readers may also feel that he valued physically unusual people for their differentness, not for their personhood, when he laments medical treatment for reducing the number of picturesquely different people around. [Apr 2006]

Quote"The true freak, however, stirs both supernatural terror and natural sympathy, since unlike the fabulous monsters, he is one of us, the human child of human parents, however altered by forces we do not quite understand into something mythic and mysterious, as no mere cripple ever is. Passing either on the street, we may be simultaneously tempted to avert our eyes and to stare; but in the latter case we feel no threat to those desperately maintained boundaries on which any definition of sanity ultimately depends. On the true Freak challenges the conventional boundaries between male and female, sexed and sexless, animal and human, large and small, self and other, and consequently between reality and illusion, experience and fantasy, fact and myth."

See also: freak

Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology & Myth (1996) - Leslie Fiedler

  • Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology & Myth (1996) - Leslie Fiedler [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Leslie Fiedler, author of Fiedler on the Roof: Essays on Literature and Jewish Identity and the acclaimed Love and Death in the American Novel, is back with Tyranny of the Normal, a set of nine essays written during the previous quarter century that explore his iconoclastic views on the whole notion of normality--and by extrapolation political correctness--that plagues our modern discourse. This is not your typical view of the world. "Deep within the under-mind of all of us there persists a desire to murder the disabled," he avers in oneessay; in another he argues that the inevitable ambivalence we all feel over the birth of a child (love and hate) but are afraid to own up to, could be mitigated if we "reinstitute some form of permitted ritualized 'abuse' of the young." Still, his goal is less to shock and titillate than it is to point out that by pretending we no longer fear those things that are different, a tendency that is part and parcel of the human condition, we are only making matters worse. --Amazon.com

    What was literature?: Class culture and mass society (1982) - Leslie A Fiedler

    What was literature?: Class culture and mass society (1982) - Leslie A Fiedler [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Fiedler stimulates controversy by contending that academic critics have made too rigid a distinction between "high culture" and "low culture." Works of genius--such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone with the Wind--in Fiedler's view deserve far more recognition. He says literature itself suffers when it is divided into works for the elite and for the masses. --http://www.answers.com/topic/fiedler-leslie [Jan 2006]

    See also: 1982 - Leslie Fiedler - literature - mass society - class - culture

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