Quicksilver: A Hybrid Nature

10 Feb

In today’s world, we experiences many forms of different entertainment. One way to categorize entertainment is by its content, and the “best” content is classified as high culture, and more general entertainment is classified as pop culture. Sometimes it is difficult to define whether or not something is high culture or low culture. For example, what category should Neal Stephenson’s popular novel, Quicksilver, be considered? Quicksilver is a piece of literature that does not fit into either pop culture or high culture, but contains characteristics of both.

Quicksilver can not be considered high culture. Although there is not a concrete definition of high culture, most definitions share the same traits. One main feature of high culture is that it endures through time. For example, Shakespeare and the Mona Lisa are known by almost everybody as examples of the high culture, even though they were made hundreds of years ago. Quicksilver, as a relatively new book, has not had the time to exhibit this important attribute that high culture possesses. Another aspect of high culture is that it is held in the highest esteem of a culture. Our society considers Shakespeare to be among the greatest theatrical productions of all time, and the Mona Lisa as one of the most captivating pieces of artwork ever. So far, Quicksilver has yet to earn this kind of respect from our culture. Because Quicksilver does not possess these two quintessential attributes of high culture, Quicksilver can not be considered an artifact of high culture.

Although Quicksilver can not be considered high culture, Quicksilver does not fit into the category of pop culture either. One of the main characteristics of pop culture is that it is entertaining to a mass amount of people, and its messages are simple and clear. Quicksilver does not fit into this category because of its length and the content of its plot. Quicksilver is a long read, as it is a novel with over 400 pages. In addition, the plot of Quicksilver deals with an incredibly rich historical time period. For example, much of its plot tells stories and has a unique characterization of Isaac Newton. While Quicksilver does distill much of the history down for less knowledgeable readers, it often directly references some historical events and people that most readers would not know about. For example, while most people know about Benjamin Franklin, the typical reader would not know about the scientists Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle. As a result of the content of the plot, the story is fairly complicated. Because of its complicated storyline and its fairly long length, Quicksilver is too literary to be considered pop culture.

Even though Quicksilver does not fit into high culture or pop culture, the book does share some characteristics of both. Quicksilver is an adaptation of a very rich historical and important scientific time period, and much research has been done to make a historical accurate story line. The fact that this book makes a sincere effort to be historically accurate invites the reader to wonder how the characters in the story contrast with the real people. This trait easily lends itself to complex analysis of the plot line and the actual history. These traits suggest that Quicksilver may be described as high culture. However, the goal of the book is to entice readers to want to buy it for entertainment, so the adaptations in the book have been aimed to make the book more accessible to a large reader base. The book has been quite successful as it has sold about 300,000 copies. The target of a large audience is the main characteristic that defines pop culture, which Quicksilver also contains. Quicksilver contains both aspects of high culture and pop culture.  Consequently, although Quicksilver does not fit well into high culture or pop culture yet shares characteristics of both, Quicksilver fits somewhere in between.

Quicksilver fits somewhere in between high culture and low culture. Some of the best examples of high culture today were actually pop culture in its own time period. Some of Mozart’s greatest symphonies were written for the common folk of Vienna as pop culture. But, this comparison of Quicksilver and high culture does not easily match either, as currently Quicksilver can not easily be considered pop culture. Quicksilver is not easily mass consumed for mindless entertainment. Although Quicksilver does have components of both categorizations of entertainment, Quicksilver is neither sophisticated enough nor massively popular to be considered either. As a result, Quicksilver fits in between pop culture and high culture.


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