"If you have finally had it with CNN and Hollywood and John Grisham and New Age 'spirituality,' then pull up a chair, unplug your phone (beeper, TV, fax machine, computer, etc.), and give me a few hours of your time. I promise to do my best not to entertain you."
A slightly forbidding introduction to a book, but indicative of its author's disgust at the homogenized McWorld in which we live, and an enticing challenge to read on. As the title The Twilight of American Culture suggests, Morris Berman's outlook is somewhat bleak. Analogizing the contemporary United States to the late Roman Empire, Berman sees a nation fat on useless consumption, saturated with corporate ideology, and politically, psychically, and culturally dulled. But he believes that this behemoth--what Thomas Frank called the "multinational entertainment oligopoly"--must buckle under its own weight. His hope for a brighter tomorrow lies in a modern monastic movement, in which keepers of the enlightenment flame resist the constant barrage of "spin and hype." Ironically, despite his disdain for "the fashionable patois of postmodernism," he approvingly quotes poststructuralist theorist Jean-François Lyotard's maxim "elitism for everybody" in describing this cadre of idiosyncratic, literate devotees, these new monks.
Berman is plainspoken and occasionally caustic. The Twilight of American Culture is an informed and thought-provoking book, a wake-up call to a nation whose powerful minority has become increasingly self-satisfied as their stock options ripen, while an underclass that vastly outnumbers the e-generation withers on the vine and cannot locate itself on any map. It is a quick and savage read that aims to get your eyes off this computer, your nose out of that self-help book, and send you back to thought and action. --J.R.
From Publishers Weekly
American culture is in crisis, argues Berman, pointing out that "millions of high school graduates can barely read or write"; "common words are misspelled on public signs"; "most Americans grow old in isolation, zoning out in front of TV screens"; and "40% of American adults [do] not know that Germany was our enemy in World War II"--never mind that most students don't even want to learn Greek or Latin. Berman's lament that "like ancient Rome [American culture] is drifting into an increasingly dysfunctional situation" at first makes his book seem like a neoconservative treatise along the lines of the late Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. But Berman, who teaches in the liberal arts masters program at Johns Hopkins University, doesn't locate the cause of this malaise in multiculturalism or postmodernism, as Bloom did (although he is no fan of either one), but rather in the increasing dominance of corporate culture and the global economy, which he claims creates a homogenous business and consumer culture that disdains art, beauty, literature, critical thinking and the principles of the Enlightenment. Berman's provocative remedy is to urge individuals who are appalled by this "McWorld" to become "sacred/secular humanist" monks who renounce commercial slogans and the "fashionable patois of postmodernism" and pursue Enlightenment values. While Berman's eclectic approach often makes for engaging reading, his quirky and almost completely theoretical solutions are unlikely to galvanize many readers. Agent, Candice Fuhrman. (June)
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