The problem with the world today, says Neil Postman, is that we've become so caught up in hurtling towards the future that we've lost our societal "narrative," a humane cultural tradition that creates "a sense of purpose and continuity"--in other words, something to believe in. "In order to have an agreeable encounter with the twenty-first century," he asserts, "we will have to take into it some good ideas. And in order to do that, we need to look back to take stock of the good ideas available to us." He finds rich source material in the Enlightenment, the salad days for philosophers such as Goethe, Voltaire, Diderot, Paine, and Jefferson, "the beginnings of much that is worthwhile about the modern world." Yet Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century is a call for cultural progress, not regression: "I am not suggesting that we become the eighteenth century," Postman notes, "only that we use it for what it is worth and all it is worth."
Chief among the values Postman cites is the development of the intellect; it plays a part in many of his recommendations, from the cultivation of a healthy skepticism towards overhyped technology to sweeping educational reforms that include replacing grammar instruction with logic and rhetoric and introducing courses on comparative religion and the history of science. He also lashes out at postmodernists who start with the premise that language "is a major factor in producing our perceptions, judgments, knowledge, and institutions" and conclude that language is therefore tenuously connected to reality at best. Enlightenment thinkers knew that language molded perception, he notes, but they also believed that "it is possible to use language to say things about the world that are true" and "to communicate ideas to oneself and to others." Postman is excessively curmudgeonly at times, as in his reference to philosopher Jean Baudrillard as "a Frenchman, of all things," or his remarks on the ancient Athenians: "I know they are the classic example of Dead White Males, but we should probably listen to them anyway." But for anybody with a stake in the culture wars, or who wants to apply the lessons of philosophy to the modern world, Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century will make for provocative reading. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"I am not suggesting that we become the eighteenth century, only that we use it for what it is worth and for all it is worth," Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death; Technopoly) argues in this penetrating, extended essay. Though other periods are rich with learning and wisdom, Postman believes the 18th-century Enlightenment is uniquely valuable and relevant to today's world. It gave us the rationalist notion of human progressAexpressed and supported by science and technologyAand the romantic critique, with its idea of inward progress and its suspicion of the machine. It gave us discursive narrative prose as the prototypical model of thought, along with more subtle, less hysterical critiques of language than postmodernists offer today. It gave us floods of new information, yet ridiculed information as an end in itself, urging a healthy respect for context and purpose. It gave us the idea of childhood as a distinct life stage linked to education and nurturance, illuminated by two contrasting visionsALocke's blank slate to be written on and Rousseau's plant to be cultivated. And it gave us representative democracy. All these were expressions of a world in which the dominant media, unlike today, was the printed word. As that environment fades, the complex tensions Postman illuminates are replaced by shallow sloganeering by those who present themselves as the embodiment of novelty and daring. Postman forcefully argues that we can use the complex legacy of the past to resist being swept into a shiny, simpleminded new dark age. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Published in 1999, his bias is outdated and he is speaking as a man from an all-American, white, male, non-disabled, ivory towered point of view. Or as we call it now, privilege. Read morePublished 5 months ago by LA Jones
Not as good as I had hoped. Postman is far enough out of the mainstream now that his prescriptions and/or suggestions for dealing with the nation's current problems are less than... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Christine L. Goble
The author has delved into the notion of not embracing every technology as a panacea for the world's ills. Read morePublished 22 months ago by eastman356
Neil Postman predicted many of the social issues we experience today, before he was even alive to experience the proliferation of the modern internet, mobile and social media... Read morePublished on June 6, 2013 by M. Bailey
Although I don't agree with all of this book's arguments, I found the overview of the 18th century and its role in modern thought quite useful for undergraduate classes.Published on May 28, 2012 by Bubba Souffle
Postman makes an extremely compelling argument that our best source for assistance for moral and intellectual decision-making lies in the 18th century, not the historical... Read morePublished on August 10, 2007 by Wyatt Bingham
Neil Postman, longtime professor and eventual chair of the department of culture and communication at New York University, sadly died in 2003 at the age of 72. Read morePublished on April 6, 2007 by Brian Wright
In _Building a Bridge to the 18th Century_, Postman raises a number of excellent questions about the issues and challenges of the post-modern age. Read morePublished on May 27, 2006 by doc peterson