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How high is your low brow?

india Updated: Sep 30, 2007 22:20 IST

Bad boy Goebbels had it that every time he would hear the word ‘culture’, he would reach for his gun. Tch, tch. The aesthetics of German National Socialism circa 1930s notwithstanding, we still maintain a battleline that divides the arty-farty from the philistines. Except that, quite of course, this Maginot Line is broken all the time since it is a flimsy divide where kitsch and pretension constantly flit and out each other’s territory. What is semi-true for art, is demi-true for the matters of the mind. Depending upon which part of the country you are from and depending on your age, the word ‘intellectual’ will also elicit specific responses.

One such response comes from none other than the veritable Supreme Court. Reacting to a bold, operatic demand from brainy bigwigs to be sentenced for the same contempt of court charge as the hapless Mid-Day journalists were last week — the apex court judge stated five earth-shattering words: “We do not need intellectuals.” While the context of this statement was that the plea could not be entertained, being died-in-the-wool baiters of intellectuals, we couldn’t help release a collective smirk.

The cafés of the Left Bank or the Coffee Houses of Calcutta may still be sold to tourists as bastions of intellectual richness, but these had long become aquariums of gobbledygook, that strictly followed the rules of the Emperor’s New Clothes (that he’s not naked, he’s wearing an invisible cloak). So to veer even farther away from the Supreme Court context, hurl the word ‘intellectual’ in the same way Baudelaire hurled the word ‘hypocrite’ to his reader.