Belphégor 15-2, Décembre 2017
The term ‘middlebrow’ has a strong negative charge. It suggests middle-of-the-road, compromise and insipidity, middle class in an aspirational and snobbish way. The metaphor on which it is based refers back to the discredited nineteenth-century science of phrenology: a high forehead or brow was believed to denote intelligence, a low one its opposite. The hierarchy of brows, however, is not straightforward, for if the ‘high’ and ‘low’ at least have the dignity of the extreme, ‘middlebrow’ is charged with all the opprobrium that attaches to the norm, the median, the merely average. Recently, however, middlebrow culture in Britain and the United States has become the object of scholarly interest and the term has started to be reclaimed as something more than a dismissive epithet. The English word, with all its derogatory connotations, is – as far as we know – unmatched in any other language hence never quite translatable. Yet the phenomenon of the middlebrow itself surely extends beyond Anglophone cultures, and in this volume our aim is to explore the concept’s wider international relevance to cultural history and to the present. We will begin with an outline history of the term itself and its recent critical renaissance in Anglophone scholarship, then introduce the articles collected here through a brief discussion of the questions they collectively address, and the value of this international perspective for the study of the middlebrow.