10.05.2004

There is a very good essay, well worth reading, in the current edition of The Wilson Quarterly, entiled Do Ideas Matter in America?

I often think about that question when I think about Cupcake -- like, does anyone actually care? Is our central premise for founding the reading series and blogging our hearts out on related topics ever going to be part of the stream of ideas that actually matter, or even the greater cultural conversation?

Given all that, here is the passage that most struck me philosophically (it specifically refers to the 19th century debate over whether European intellectual culture was inherently superior to American native culture):
One of the most influential statements of this theme was made by the Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana in a 1911 lecture titled “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy.” The lecture bequeathed to subsequent observers an indispensable term of analysis—“the genteel tradition”—to describe what was wrong with American art and expression. More than that, it offered a far-reaching diagnosis of a fault line in American culture. American intellectuals responded to Santayana’s critique with what one scholar has called “the rebellion against Victorianism,” a rebellion that would turn out to be one of the organizing principles of 20th-century intellectual activity, particularly in the realms of arts and One-half of the American mind,” he asserted, the part that was “not occupied intensely in practical affairs,” had remained “becalmed,” floating “gently in the backwater” of American life—prim, polite, refined, and irrelevant. Meanwhile, the other half of the mind—the part concerned with material innovation—“was leaping down a sort of Niagara Rapids,” surging ahead of the entire world “in invention and industry and social organization.
That juxtaposition of ideas can also be applied, in a sense, in terms of market-oriented books (e.g. chick lit is worthy because it's popular, mainstream, and saleable) vs. quality fiction in general, and specifically that written by substantive women writers who are concerned with craft first and foremost, and cash in a lesser sense.

I like to think of Cupcake that way - in the "Niagara Rapids" sense -- that we are leaping headlong into something entirely new with this series, this project, this little corner of the world that exists wholly in service to our love of literature, strident feminist politics, and intellectual ideals in general.

-Lauren
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