Calling someone "pretentious" is rarely intended as a statement of admiration. Instead, Dan Fox contends in his book-length essay "Pretentiousness: Why It Matters," it's viewed as a kind of mask worn for less than admirable reasons. Originally from the United Kingdom, Fox now lives in the United States, where he is co-editor of the art magazine frieze.

His perspective on art, society and culture is a multifaceted one, and references in this book are widespread: Epigraphs are drawn from everywhere, from the lyrics of the dance-pop band St. Etienne, the 1983 comedy film "Trading Places," David Bowie, Jay Z and Björk.

All of this is in the service of Fox's central argument, which is that far from being something to oppose, pretentiousness can often serve as a means of creative liberation and social mobility.

"Anti-intellectualism is a snobbery just like anti-pretension," Fox argues. Much of "Pretentiousness: Why It Matters" focuses on issues of class: how it's lived, how it's signified, how it's discussed, how it shapes and affects the creative work that we watch, listen to and read. Throughout the book, Fox finds parallel examples of how class is lived: artists from a middle-class background emulating working-class mannerisms on one hand, and artists from a working-class background using their affinity for the arts as a means to alter their likely social trajectory on the other.

In the book's final section, Fox explores how many of the questions of art, class and social mobility apply to his own life, and that of his family — movingly taking these questions out of the theoretical realm and showing the ways in which they have real-world consequences.

Fox also cites the work of George Orwell and Susan Sontag repeatedly, and in this book he has written an intellectually rigorous study of culture that echoes the scope of their work. His argument is convincing, and it may leave readers with a newfound respect for the term that gives his book its title.

Tobias Carroll is the managing editor of Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

Pretentiousness: Why It Matters
By: Dan Fox.
Publisher: Coffee House Press, 150 pages, $15.95.