One Culture and the New Sensibility  

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"One important consequence of the new sensibility [is] that the distinction between "high" and "low" culture seems less and less meaningful."--"One Culture and the New Sensibility" (1965) Susan Sontag

"There is plenty of stupid popular music, as well as inferior and pretentious “avant-garde” paintings, films, and music."--"One Culture and the New Sensibility" (1965) Susan Sontag

"If art is understood as a form of discipline of the feelings and a programming of sensations, then the feeling (or sensation) given off by a Rauschenberg painting might be like that of a song by the Supremes. The brio and elegance of Budd Boetticher’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond or the singing style of Dionne Warwick can be appreciated as a complex and pleasurable event. They are experienced without condescension."--"One Culture and the New Sensibility" (1965) Susan Sontag

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"One Culture and the New Sensibility" is an essay by Susan Sontag first published in Mademoiselle in 1965. It was later collected in an expanded version in Against Interpretation of 1966. The essay is often referenced for noting that the boundaries between low culture and high culture were disappearing, an evolution now known as nobrow.

Nobrow aspects

Many have seen in this essay a "nobrow" defense of popular culture. However, this is not necessarily the case. As noted by Greil Marcus and Camille Paglia who both quote Sontag from a Time interview of October 24, 1988 in which she was rather dismissive of popular culture:

"I made a few jolly references to things in popular culture that I enjoyed. I said, for instance, that one could enjoy both Jasper Johns and the Supremes. It isn’t as if I wrote an essay on the Supremes.”

implying that writing an essay on the Supremes would be beneath her dignity.

Paglia commented in Vamps and Tramps (1994) that "Sontag's calculated veering away from popular culture is my gravest charge against her."

Greil Marcus in The Dustbin of History (1995) in his essay on Susan Sontag titled "Cowboy Boots and Germans" corrects Sontag's supposed "equating high and popular culture" by saying "Sontag is not soft on pop. She doesn't understand it, has little or no real interest in it."


"In the last few years there has been a good deal of discussion of a purported chasm which opened up some two centuries ago, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, between “two cultures,” the literary-artistic and the scientific. According to this diagnosis, any intelligent and articulate modern person is likely to inhabit one culture to the exclusion of the other. "

See also

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