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The Myth of Popular Culture: From Dante to Dylan

ISBN: 978-1-4051-9933-9
224 pages
December 2009, Wiley-Blackwell
The Myth of Popular Culture: From Dante to Dylan (1405199334) cover image


The Myth of Popular Culture from Dante to Dylan is a fascinating examination of the cultural traditions of the American novel, Hollywood, and British and American rock music which leads us to redefine our concept of the division between "high" and "low" culture.
  • A stimulating history of high and low culture from Dante Alighieri to Bob Dylan, providing a controversial defence of popular culture
  • Seeks to rebut the durable belief that only high culture is ‘dialectical’ and popular culture is not by turning Theodor Adorno’s theories on ‘pop’ against themselves
  • Presents a critical analysis of three popular traditions: the American novel, Hollywood, and British and American rock music
  • Offers an original account of Bob Dylan as an example of how the   distinction between high and low culture is highly problematic
  • A provocative book for any student, scholar or general reader, who is interested in popular culture
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Table of Contents

Preface: The Resistance to Pop


Part I "The Battle of the Brows"

1. A History of High and Low

"Highbrow," "Lowbrow," "Middlebrow"

"Folk" and "Soul"

Dante’s Republic

"General Converse": Johnson and the Long Eighteenth Century

"Similitude in Dissimilitude"

Keats and Mediocrity

Culture and Anarchy in the UK

"The Battle of the Brows"


The Myth of Popular Culture

2. Pop Culture in the Spectator

Poems of the People

Canons and "Camp"

Base and Superstructure, Soma and Psyche

3. Pop and Postmodernism

The Social Self

Andy Warhol

"Hey, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair"

Part II Dialectics of Pop

4. The Death of Kings: American Fiction from Cooper to Chandler

"Paleface" and "Redskin," Cowboy and Dandy

Pathfinding: Cooper and Mark Twain

Labor, Leisure, Love: Melville, James, Hemingway

Transatlantic: Raymond Chandler

5. Knock on Any Door: Three Histories of Hollywood  

Ars Gratia Artis

Benjamin, Bazin, Eisenstein

Dialectics of Directing: Hawks, Welles, Scorsese

Dialectics of Acting: Barrymore, Bogart, Brando

Blonde on Blonde: Harlow and Monroe

Hang ’Em High: Welles, Lewis, Eastwood

6. The Blues Misreading of Gospel: A History of Rock and Roll

A Scandal in Bohemia

Jazz Myth, Jazz Reality

Soul Synthesis

Plugging In

Buddy Holly and the British Invasion

The Body English

Part III The World of Bob Dylan

7. Dylan and the Critics


The Limits of Typology

Dylan as Poet

8. Words and Music


"Slippin’ and Slidin’"

Dylan and Deferred Action

9. Dylan Himself

The Death of the Author

The Grand Tour and the Middle Passage


10. The Three Icons: Sinatra, Presley, Dylan

Iconography and Gender

The Fedora as Phallus

Elvis as Bobbysoxer

"My Darling Young One"

Works Cited


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Author Information

Perry Meisel is Professor of English at New York University. His books include The Myth of the Modern (1987), The Cowboy and the Dandy (1999), and The Literary Freud (2007). He has also written widely for publications that include The Village Voice, The New York Times, Partisan Review, and October.
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“Perry Meisel’s study of popular culture is a surprising enhancement of received opinion and common wisdom on that vexed subject. Moving from Shakespeare through Freud on to Bobby Dylan would seem something of a descent, yet Meisel provides a perspective that has its own descriptive justice. Even if I am not wholly persuaded that Dylan’s ultimate importance is as sublime as Meisel ventures it to be, I am given much here to intrigue me.”
—Harold Bloom

“Perry Meisel has written a boundary-smashing critique of the myth that popular culture is distinct from and inferior to the fine arts.”
—Richard Goldstein, Hunter College of the City University of New York

"... stunning in its originality, breadth, erudition, and in its understanding of the transatlantic evolution of popular culture."
—Josephine G. Hendin, New York University

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