File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_1998/bourdieu.9806, message 8

Date: Thu, 11 Jun 1998 12:15:55 +0000
Subject: An interart field?

I am struggling to use Bourdieu's field of cultural production theory to
work out a useful methodology for the analysis of novels and paintings
produced contemporaneously in early Victorian England, and wonder if any
list-members can help me to think it through. 

What I'm trying to do is understand the ways in which the social meanings
of Victorian novels and visual images are conveyed. It is now commonly held
in Victorian studies that Victorian texts are not neutral vehicles for
social meanings, but themselves help to constitute those meanings. It is
also held that these texts help to constitute social meanings through their
formal characteristics (realism etc). Nevertheless, most people would still
look for 'Victorian social ideology' as if it were something that, no
matter how complex it may be, is knowable because it is present across all
cultural forms. Even if we narrow Victorian down to early Victorian or
mid-Victorian or whatever, we still end up with fairly simplistic
observations--for example, that modern-life genre painting and domestic
realism are both evidence of the ascendancy of bourgeois aesthetics and
social values. Or that 'sexual ideology' is apparent in medical discourse,
paintings, novels, treatises etc.

Bourdieu, if I've got this right, enjoins us to look at the particular
structure of the field in which particular cultural forms are produced.
Thus, the literary field, where novels are produced, contains an entirely
different set of positions, and different stakes, to the artistic field.
Presumably, what emerges as social reality in each of these fields is also
affected by the politics of the field.

I can compare the kinds of social meanings generated in fiction and art by
comparing the fields, as B. does in *The Rules of Art*, but how do I use B.
to think about novels and paintings (and their social meanings) together?
What I mean is that Victorian novels drew upon pictorial techniques for
certain effects, and genre paintings assumed a familiarity with multiplot
novels in their pictorial narratives. They exchanged (and transformed)
elements. In some sense they belong in a field together, since they are
engaged in some kind of struggle with each other for the authority to
define legitimate art and even social reality itself, but that is clearly
impossible since the fields are self-evidently distinct, aren't they?

Now I am confused.

Dr Tim Dolin
The Department of English
The University of Newcastle
Callaghan NSW 2308
Ph: 61 2 49 215176
Fax: 61 2 49 216933


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