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Popular forms and the new sensibility: the mingling of high and low culture in postmodern performance

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posted on 2023-06-09, 01:11 authored by Jason PriceJason Price
Writing in 1965, Susan Sontag identified what she considered to be the ‘new sensibility’ of modern culture. Rooted in the experiences of contemporary life brought on by new technologies, the accelerated production of commodities, and the speed of everything from travel to image production, she recognized that this sensibility was increasingly rendering the ‘Matthew Arnold idea of culture’ obsolete and weakening the very idea of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art categories (p. 302). Since the 1960s this shift in aesthetic and political perspective has become more pronounced; and the acknowledgement of this shift would, from the 1970s, come to form part of what is understood to be post-modern. While it was once unheard of for artists working in elite aesthetic modes to draw upon popular sources, under the more relaxed cultural attitude of postmodernism, this has become more commonplace and now constitutes a core element of many contemporary performances. In this paper, I consider the uses and influences of popular forms in two examples of postmodern theatre making: the Australian feminist arts collective Brown Council and the British theatre company Forced Entertainment. My argument considers connections to the popular beyond representation, and takes into account risk to the human body, issues of appropriation and human agency, and the ways these practices often elect to distort the popular forms they draw upon as a mode of capitalist critique. As well as demonstrating the fundamental role the popular now plays in such practices, the paper aims to highlight some of the wider possibilities – social, political and aesthetic – of postmodernism’s embracing of popular culture.


Publication status

  • Published

File Version

  • Accepted version

Presentation Type

  • paper

Event name

Theatre and the Popular

Event location

University of Iceland

Event type


Event date

11-13 March 2016

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  • English Publications

Full text available

  • Yes

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  • No

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