Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Must Read for the Middle Classes


In The Sunday Times I used Joanna Hogg's exceptional film Unrelated as an excuse to meditate on the condition of the middle classes. In fact, I'm slightly less sympathetic to the ol' bourgeoisie today than I was when I wrote the piece. In the interim I have endured one of those all too common conversations with a member of the rural middle class. This involves me being bright, funny, full of anecdote and, above all, profoundly interested in my interlocutor's life, work, family, opinions etc.. I'm good at this, it's a hack thing. He/she talks gaily about him/herself. But, on the matter of me, only one subject comes up - the house where I live. Once it is established that it is not the Great Hall at Little Bastard or Bugger's Manor, Buggerston under Slob, that it is, in fact, merely quite a nice place on the river, and that I am, therefore, emphatically not an occasion for the urgent activity of social climbing, general schmoozing and mutual grooming, I am at once consigned to the file marked 'inessential' and all that remains is for Mr/Mrs Interlocutor to bring this conversation to an end. 
The next time it happens I shall cause a scene.
(The picture shows a member of the English middle class enjoying himself.)

9 comments:

  1. It happens to people when they reach a certain age, too. Suddenly, they stop being interesting, even though what they say is equally as fascinating pre-age-watershed than post.

    The internet is quite a good anecdote to prejudice and snobbery, because you can interact according to interests. But it lacks the witty repartee element of real conversation, such as you have recently had with that charming lord/lady of some local manor.

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  2. anecdote?! What am I on? antidote.

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  3. Thanks for this, a chance now to see something I'd probably have missed or not have heard of. Nick Cohen's article today makes for an interesting counterpoint, too.

    Is it possible to resign from the middle classes or is it a life sentence? I'm thinking a tattoo may be the only answer.

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  4. The local fellow is merely being honest in not asking you about yourself -- he is not interested in anything but your house. But your politeness isn't honest either; as you say, all of your questions are those of "a hack" -- you don't care what this guy has to say about himself, but you've been trained to ask.

    Sad, what's happened to conversation, not to mention community.

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  5. If you think this is a new phenomenon, you can't have read many Penguin classics.

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  6. I think it is very wrong to conflate "middle classes" and "bourgeois." They are categories of different kinds. "Middle classes" is purely an economic category. "Bourgeois" (burgher, borghese, burgess) however, is a social category. A lorry driver may be solidly middle-class, but is not (or unlikely to be) bourgeois. A book editor may make considerably less money than the lorry driver, but is much likelier to be bourgeois. This may not be how Marxists use these words, but I think the distinction is extremely useful.

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  7. It seems to me that Susan comes the closest to getting it right.

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  8. Your article reinforces my theory that the phony humanity of the anti-bourgeois leftist is an aesthetic judgment on humanity. Artists and leftists both share this trait. They worship "people" in the abstract, but despise them in the concrete. They objectify people as objects to fulfill aesthetic projects, be they political, social or artistic. So a class without a "narrative" is an abomination to their aesthetic sensibility.

    If I could waive a magic wand to change humanity for the better, one of my first steps would be to eradicate the noxious notion of "authenticity" from human consciousness. Not many notions have caused more misery than it.

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  9. mary o'donnellOctober 14, 2008 8:45 am

    Really enjoyed your piece on Joanna Hogg and 'Unrelated'. You expose the dilemma which many writers/artists encounter among contemporaries. Critics, time and again, failing to find the necessary grit of the proletarian in a novel/story/poem/film then go on to theorise ad nauseam about the author's treatment of the middle-classes. There is some approval if one can suggest that the middle-classes do, indeed, dream, but their general inauthenticity is still taken for granted. In Ireland where I am based, to be middle-class or to write about middle-class characters is to be consigned to a slightly sniffy level of enquiry by some commentators! You're correct about the French and their patient examination of the lives of that 'tribe in the middle' though. But the French are less afraid of intellectual enquiry than, I reckon, the British or Irish of today.

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