Cohen Center

Joseph Epstein: The Ideal of Culture

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Location: Madison Union Ballroom


The Ideal of Culture: In a famous article of 1952 the anthropologists Arthur Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn established no fewer than 164 definitions of culture. The culture Joseph Epstein deals with in "The Ideal of Culture" is the high, or highbrow, culture of artistic and intellectual life. In his lecture Epstein attempts to set out the meaning and value of culture. Through autobiography, anecdote, and argument, he establishes what constitutes this culture and what are its ultimate aims. He locates this culture in Europe, and traces its arrival and all too brief sojourn in America. The lecture is studded with quotations on the subject from Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, Willa Cather and others. Epstein takes up the issue of elitism versus democracy in the realm of culture and speculates upon the fate of high culture in our day, both in the university and through the larger society.

Joseph Epstein (B.A. University of Chicago) is Emeritus Lecturer of English at Northwestern University. He edited and introduced Masters: Portraits of Great Teachers. He is author of Divorced in AmericaFamiliar TerritoryAmbitionThe Middle of My Tether, Plausible PrejudicesOnce More Around the BlockPartial Payments, and A Line Out for A Walk (essays), Pertinent Players, and With My Trousers Rolled (1995); he is editor, The Norton Book of Personal Essays (1996); author of The Goldin Boys (stories); Life Sentences (1997) and Narcissus Leaves the Pool (essays-5/1999), Snobbery (essays, 2002) and Fabulous Small Jews (short stories, 7/2003), Essays in Biography (2012),  A Literary Education & Other Essays (2014), Masters of the Games (2015).

From 1975 through 1997 Professor Epstein was editor of the Phi Beta Kappa magazine American Scholar. His work has appeared in The New YorkerHarper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines. (Sources:,, and

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