A requiem for Pulp and High culture


“Any requiem for pulp culture,” Clive Bloom writes, “will inevitably also be the requiem for the old high literary culture that defined itself as its implacable enemy. Both required the conjunction of market forces (that is, commercialism), media cross-fertilization (especially with film and newspapers) and the need for a canon of taste using contemporary literary production as its benchmark. If serious fiction used mimesis for revelatory truth, so pulp used it for entertainment. Indeed, pulp turned information into entertainment for the urban, literate and democratic masses.

In the age of Hollywood, it was the movie that acted as the defining medium for the world of literature (just as much as any tradition of high art), for writers engaged in representing the modern world. The magnetic grip of Hollywood and its inability to accommodate great writers is well documented; what is less obvious is how commercial movie-making influenced writing per se. It was the movies as form that transfixed and fascinated not merely movie audiences but writers of all types and levels. Just as the camera had challenged painting, so Hollywood challenged writing; the advent of television did not affect writing as Hollywood did and continues to do. Indeed, television is a side issue in terms of the formal changes and challenges brought about by the studio system, the moving image and the star system. Moreover, it is instructive to note that during the 1920s that golden age of the pulp magazine as well as the height of modernistic experimentation, Hollywood’s influence can be felt as a guiding principle. By comparing the work of two writers who occupy different and supposedly opposite sides of the cultural divide one can usefully see how movie-making affected literary form.

Both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dashiell Hammett were drawn to Hollywood, could not reconcile their art nor their affections with its culture and suffered as a consequence. Both were involved with and affected by the concept of a script. ….” (221)

Ref: (italics in original) Clive Bloom (1996) Cult Fiction: Popular reading and pulp theory. Macmillan Press Ltd: London


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