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Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West Paperback – March 7, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0262523318 ISBN-10: 0262523310 Edition: Reprint

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Buck-Morss (The Dialectics of Seeing, 1989) turns her Benjaminian eye on the often surprising convergence of the Western and Soviet utopian imaginaries, to dazzling effect. Reading this book is like receiving a fascinating annotated scrapbook from your really smart friend in Moscow. From 1988 to 1993, Buck-Morss was a visiting scholar there, at what was first called the Institute of Philosophy of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The fact that, by the end of her tenure, it was known as the Russian Academy of Sciences attests to the ideological turbulence of those years and to the dynamism and relevance of her task. Buck-Morss's previous book was a daring attempt to reverse-engineer Walter Benjamins Paris Arcades Project out of the more than one thousand fragments left behind at his death. If Benjamin's project was, as he put it, ``concerned with awakening from the nineteenth century,'' Buck-Morss's current undertaking is a none-too-gentle attempt to shake us out of the nightmare that has been our 20th. The scope of her research, often breathtaking, more than justifies a certain measure of methodological madness: with an irreverent collagist sensibility worthy of the high modernism at issue here, she nimbly leaps from a blackly hilarious and terrifying chronology of the policy decisions surrounding Lenin's embalming, to a mini-history of the figure of the square in avant-garde art on both sides of the Cold War, to a visual pun that compares the architectural sketch for a never-built ``Palace of the Supreme Soviets,'' topped by a monumental Lenin statue, with a film still of King Kong atop the Empire State Building. There's even an early-1990s attempt at ``hypertext'': scholarly footnotes that threaten to overtake the page. This experiment, however, works less well than those parts of the book that devote themselves to a clear-eyed reading of the visual detritus of mass culture. An ambitious book with the courage to take on the images that complacent post-capitalism might prefer to forget, and the erudition to read them with rigor and wit. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Susan Buck-Morss is Professor of Political Philosophy and Social Theory, Department of Government, and Professor of Visual Culture, Department of Art History, Cornell University.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 386 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (March 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262523310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262523318
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #742,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on September 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Buck-Morss's tale of the sputtering, guttering end of the modern Fordist disciplinary project both in the U.S.A and in the Soviet Union is a stunner. Most compelling are the historical insights -- told with particular elegance through the comparison of patriotic and advertising images -- that show how similar both projects really were! Some of the historical tidbits stick in the mind never to be dislodged: Daddy Stalin asking Henry Ford to come build him a factory to make tractors in the middle of the Depression. Lenin's admiration for Frederick Taylor. Amazing how the salvation for both communists and capitalists was the same industrial regime, the same worker's paradise of factory labor!
The second half of the book, a kind of diary of cross-cultural US/Soviet cultural exchanges prior to and after the Berlin Wall, is interesting but less intellectually energizing. Still, there is a great deal of wit in Ms. Buck-Morss's observation that Western Marxist critics such as Frederick Jameson (who attended some of the same seminars with Soviet intellectuals that Buck-Morss did) seem less willing to give up on the socialist dreamscape than their Soviet counterparts.
A great companion read is Michael Hardt's and Antonio Negri's "Empire" which really has an interesting take on the near simultaneous end of Fordism and the disciplinary state in both the U.S. and Soviet Union. They suggest it was the "multitude" or proletariat in both nations who rebelled against the industrial factory/modern project and destabilized both, an argument which runs counter to the usual top-down explanations for the rise of postmodern economics.
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10 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Sam Vaknin on February 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
'Dreamworld and Catastrophe' is a cry of anguish disguised as the interdisciplinary analyses of a (neo-)Marxist scholar. It is a fragmentary and tortured reaction to the betrayal of history, in the best of Walter Benjamin's tradition, consciously emulated in this tome by this leading authority on the Frankfurt School. It is painful to wade through the convolutions of denial, intellectualization and projection that constitute the first part ('Democracy' - the political framework). The next two sections ('History' and 'Mass Culture')are a joyride of erudition and an intellectual tour de force. The last part - a dry chronicle of the comings and goings of the author's milieu amidst the disintegration of the USSR and the emergence of Russia - is anti-climactic. The opus in its entirety does not fuflil the blurb's somewhat hubristic promise: 'This book offers a revaluation of the twentieth century'. Sam Vaknin, author of 'After the Rain - How the West Lost the East'
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5 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jack R. Curtis on March 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
Having been raised in the ideological wasteland of 20th century America, I found this book an interesting read. It could be seen as a vindication of Chomskii's idea that the Cold War was a fake, in which the 2 sides's respective leaders colluded to pick the pockets of their respective peoples in order to finance the buildup of huge military machines which could be used to suck the blood of the 3rd world. My main disappointment, aside from ocassional annoying forays into psuedo-intellectual gibberish (especially the Soviet "nomenklatura" variety,), was the author's failure to inquire into the cause of the socialistic failure, apparenty assuming the fact that the leaders of neither side actually had any interest in the welfare of their people was sufficient explanation. It seems more likely to me that the collapse of social welfare is an inevitable result of the global population-explosion (i.e. as the population increases & the competition for Earth's resources intensifies & grows increasingly vicious, things are bound to deteriorate). Considering that the Wise Men of yore warned us of this problem long ago (i.e. population-explosion becoming the "Beast of Armagedon" & threatening to drag us to our doom with it's 4 Horsemen of Famine, Plague, War, & Avarice when we had finished the job of replenishing the Earth), it's hard to understand why the global intelligensia don't get it. Perhaps the "dumbing-down of America" has taken it's toll on the rest of the world, as well.
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