A wide-ranging and and thought-provoking piece on language, and culture generally, by Will Self. I particularly liked:
"Both general readers and specialist critics often complain about my own use of English - not only in my books, but also in my newspaper articles and even in radio talks such as these. "I have to look them up in a dictionary", they complain - as if this were some kind of torture. "
"The problem is that at the same time these [i.e. moral] victories were being won another province was being abandoned without a fight, and this is the realm where films, paintings, novels and even newspaper articles, radio and television programmes are intellectually [my italics] challenging.
"I don't for a moment mean to suggest that no-one produces anymore cultural artefacts that are "difficult" in this sense - of course they do - it's just that these works are no longer regarded as the desiderata that any well-cultivated person aspires to an appreciation of. Rather, "difficult" works are parcelled off, and the great plurality and ubiquity of our media means that their specialist audience can be readily catered to - whether they are foot fetishists, or Fourierists or anything else."
"In the literary world, books intended for child readers are repackaged and sold to kidult ones, while even notionally highbrow arbiters - such as Booker judges - are obsessed by that nauseous confection "a jolly good read"."
"Take the American cultural critic Dwight MacDonald, who coined the expression "midcult" to refer to those works which "pretend to respect the standards of high culture, while in fact (they) water them down and vulgarize them". "
"But the most disturbing result of this retreat from the difficult is to be found in arts and humanities education, where the traditional set texts are now chopped up into boneless nuggets of McKnowledge, and students are encouraged to do their research - such as it is - on the web."
"The contrast with sport is instructive: in both realms of human endeavour, the consumers are largely passive, but at least sports fans - unlike cultural ones - don't protest against elite athletes, or bar them from competing on the grounds that they are too fast, too strong, or too limber.
"On the contrary, we are repeatedly told by the likes of Sebastian Coe that athletes capable of the most difficult feats offer vital inspiration to couch-potato kids.
Let the same be the case for mental athletics, because without the bar to jump over set high, we'll all end up simply playing in the sandpit. "