Eric Lott

Professor of English, University of Virginia

When Bob Dylan Came Knocking

Lott Poster
Friday, September 4, 2009
Stern Center, Great Room, 4:30 p.m.

Bob Dylan popularized Eric Lott’s book by putting its title on his 2001 album “Love and Theft.” Dylan’s “lift” of the title reflected Lott’s view that appropriations are fundamental to popular culture and that artistic creativity has an important bearing on education and identity formation.

Following Professor Lott’s talk, there will be a barbecue and concerts by Structure of Feeling and Black Landlord, named the “best local band” by Philadelphia Magazine in August 2009. Concerts are co-sponsored by The Division of Student Development, the Office of Campus Life and the Multicultural Organizational Board.

Topical Background
Cultural theorist Raymond Williams claims that culture is “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.” Certainly the meaning of the term is highly contested.

In his book Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction, John Storey identifies six different definitions of the term:

• The “culture which is widely favored or well liked by many people.”
• The culture which is “left over after we have decided what is high culture.”
• “Mass culture,” that is, commercial culture produced for mass consumption.
• “The culture which originates from ‘the people’ for the people.”
• The culture that develops when “dominant groups in society seek to win the consent of
the subordinate groups in society.”
• Postmodern culture, that is, the culture “which no longer recognizes the distinction
between high and popular culture.”

Despite the controversy over the meaning of the term, there is little doubt that “popular culture” is an important dimension of American life. Technological developments in the radio, television, film, and recording industries, along with the growth of the Internet, have expanded and deepened American popular culture. Of course, trends in popular culture have important ramifications for American social, economic, and political institutions and practices.

About the Speaker
Eric Lott is a professor of American and Cultural studies/English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books including “Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class,” “The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual,” and the forthcoming “Tangled Up in Blue: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism.”

Lott received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1991. He earned his M.A. from Columbia in 1984 and his B.A. from the University of Missouri in 1981. Lott has received numerous awards, including the MLA Best First Book Prize and the Myers Center for Human Rights Book Award in 1994.

Common Reading
Jonathan Lethem’s essay “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.”

Video of the Program