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Within the Context of No Context Paperback – March 26, 1997

3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Long-time New Yorker writer George W. S. Trow first published the long title essay of this book in 1981, and it now appears with a companion piece, "Collapsing Dominant." Taken together, the two essays are a trenchant and often scathing examination of American culture. As Trow surveys the landscape, he observes that television has created a land of "no context," which it then gleefully chronicles. The many examples he cites of things he has witnessed in the mass media are alarming not for what he has seen--for we have all seen this stuff--but for the intense, and at times lacerating, insight with which he views the passing parade of frivolity. Within the Context of No Context is a slim book that does much to explain modern American society, and the thoughts in its pages will resonate for a long time. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

First appearing in The New Yorker in 1978 (Trow wrote the "Talk of the Town" pieces) and published by Little, Brown in 1981, this volume dissects 20th-century American culture and how it had spiraled downward in ever-tightening circles into decay. This edition contains a new introduction by Trow.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; Reprint edition (March 26, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871136740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871136749
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #538,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert B. Rossney on February 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
The New Yorker has turned the entirety of its magazine over to a single work four times. John Hersey's Hiroshima, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth, cautionary and apocalyptic all, were three. The fourth is this book.
Within the Context of No Context went out of print almost instantly after it was published in 1980. Nobody got this book in 1980. It's a difficult read, in a voice that is diffuse, associative, and allusive, and at the same time makes direct assertions about the way things are, which few of us are comfortable reading. It's not a book that people were quite ready to read in 1980.
Except for newsmen. People who made their living by drinking out of the firehose and transforming the experience into column inches understood this book right away. (These are the same people who don't need anyone to explain the first sentence of The White Album to them.)
Trow put their unease into words. And for 15 years Within the Context of No Context existed in a kind of samizdat, a thick sheaf of photocopied pages handed from one reporter or columnist or editor to another.
You shouldn't buy this book, ideally. Someone should give you a copy of it, Xeroxed from The New Yorker, saying "Read this. This makes sense. This makes everything make sense."
22 years later, it's much easier to read and understand, to criticize and quibble with. It's no longer prophecy. Unlike the apocalypses that John Hersey and Rachel Carson and Jonathan Schell were warning us about, the one Trow outlined has already happened. We've even gotten used to it.
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Format: Paperback
I was thrilled to hear that this strange, brilliant book is being reissued. It's one of those books people press on their friends saying, "You should read this -- *really.*" My own copy has long been gone, pocketed by an acquaintance whom I pressed it on in an excess of generosity. The book itself is hard to describe. It's an elegant personal meditation on (among other things) the decline of WASP society, the effects of television and celebrity on American culture, and the author's inability to wear a fedora without crushing embarrassment. If memory serves, there's also a second essay about producer Ahmet Ertegun and his assistant David Geffen -- this was long before David Geffen was *David Geffen* -- that didn't seem as good at the time but may now seem prescient. Trow's elliptical, lapidary style gives you some of the dizzying feeling you get from David Foster Wallace, though his work is a lot shorter and more terse. Terrific stuff
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Format: Hardcover
George Trow's "Within the Context of No Context", an essay originally published in the New Yorker, is a long complaint about the vulgarization of American culture by the mass media interspersed with anecdotes from the author's past. The former is what made the essay's reputation, but it's the latter that is more revealing. Like many hell-in-a-handbasket types, Trow combines a refined sensibility with a profound solipsism, leading him to misdiagnose his personal sadness as a generalized cultural malaise.

As for the malaise, you've heard it all before. According to Trow, in recent decades (meaning the 60s and 70s, since the essay was published in 1981), a tranquil, contemplative, and authentic American cultural scene has been poisoned by a loud, crass, celebrity-worshiping, bauble-shilling rot promulgated by tabloids and television. To his credit, he manages to find a novel way to package this time-worn complaint. Much of the essay consists of brief (ranging from a few sentences to a few pages) aphoristic sections in which Trow's terse newspaper-like diction is put into the service of a weirdly compelling vagueness, a sort of lobotomized New Journalism. His metaphors skitter right up to the edge of making sense, then slink teasingly away, leaving a sympathetic audience plenty of space to read in their own desired meanings.

Of course a lot of American mass culture really is vulgar, so along the way Trow can't help but make some cogent observations. For example, he keeps returning to the idea of a gap between the "grids" of "two-hundred million" and "intimacy". Reading charitably, he seems to be making a valid observation about how strange it is that people gossip about celebrities as if they were acquaintances.
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Format: Paperback
Trow's prose, terse at times, yet nevertheless powerful, offers an extremely insightful critical review of the insidious nature of the media in contemporary american culture. Trow's main focus centers upon the vast distance which television has created between the individual (the grid of intimacy) and society (the grid of two-hundred million). Trow proposes that television has provided individuals with what appears to be a comfortable context in which to organize their lives yet that context is merely a facsimile of life. Trow's discussion is truly eye-opening. As individuals, we are forced to grapple with the force of the media in our own lives. For example, Have we allowed television to form our thoughts and opinions, leading to automaton conformity? Ultimately, in a society in which the media dominates our lives, Trow's work alerts us to the dangers of becoming lost amidst a collective media-- while it may seem alarming, what we perceive as a comforting context may in actuality be the stark reality of nothingness.
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