- Series: Oxford American Lectures
- Hardcover: 210 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 22, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195076761
- ISBN-13: 978-0195076769
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 28 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (Oxford American Lectures) 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Euphemism, evasion and propaganda are woven into the fabric of American public discourse, declares Time art critic Hughes. In a withering, salubrious jeremiad, he lashes our "culture of complaint" in which seemingly everyone claims victim status and a "cult of the abused Inner Child" flourishes. Hughes rebukes anti-abortionists, unmasks Reaganism as a sham, and scores as regressive the politics of Patrick Buchanan and Pat Robertson. He also ridicules "political correctness," pokes fun at nonsexist language and attacks the academic left for its infatuation with jargon and marginal issues and its clinging to Marxist tenets. Multiculturalism, Hughes charges, has turned into a worthless symbolic program that tends toward cultural separatism and reverse racism. He blasts Afrocentrists for their "propagandistic" rewriting of history. Turning to the arts, Hughes argues that the controversy over Robert Mapplethorpe's work indicates the bankruptcy of the view that art should be morally and spiritually uplifting.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Hughes, Time magazine's art critic and author of The Fatal Shore ( LJ 11/1/86) and Barcelona ( LJ 1/92), here takes on three subjects: the current state of American culture and politics; the arguments for and against multiculturalism in schools and colleges; and what he regards as the declining standards of American art and museums. On the first topic, he attacks Americans for having become a culture of complainers, symbolized by their growing claims to be victims of this or that injustice and their demands for the expansion of rights without concern for duties and obligations. On the second issue, he argues for a sound multiculturalism but rejects Afrocentrism and political correctness that rules out dead, white European males such as Plato and Dante. On the third subject, he sees the decline of American art symbolized by the Mapplethorpe controversy, which elevated a minor photographer into the limelight, and politicaly correct art that believes expressiveness, not quality, is enough. Of primary interest to academic and larger public libraries.
- Jeffrey R. Herold, Bucyrus P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
The bottom line is that while Hughes is a political liberal he is an intellectual conservative, with a high regard for history, facts and the search for the truth, all of the things whose importance or very possibility the postmodernists downplay or flatly deny. Thus, he is as harsh with sloppy thinking on the left as on the right and he does not hesitate to take firm stands. His special fortes are history and art and he has fascinating and trenchant things to say about both. Just one sample: on a commentator's explaining away some of the extremes of Robert Mapplethorpe--"This, I would say, is the kind of exhausted and literally de-moralized aestheticism that would find no basic difference between a Nuremberg rally and a Busby Berkeley spectacular, since both, after all, are examples of Art-Deco choreography."
A cognate pop culture analogue to Hughes's posture is the voice of the Eagles' Don Henley (no conservative) in "Get Over It": "I'd like to take your inner child and kick its little ass."
He does not spend a great deal of time on the origins of what Bloom calls the `school of resentment'; his task is more to explain it and talk about key examples. One key source is the `ed school', which has made a point of discouraging what was once called judicial criticism. Northrop Frye, coming from a very different direction, also warned about evaluative judgments, believing that the history of art resembles the stock market. Stocks rise and fall and it is not our principal task to identify what we, at this moment, perceive as excellent. The ed schools see it differently, I think. They conflate discrimination (making distinctions based on professional knowledge) with discrimination (making prejudiced statements or doing prejudiced things based on ignorance). It is related to their instruction of counselors to avoid being too `directive', i.e. to actually counsel.
Hughes sees it quite differently. He believes that it is precisely the historian (and historian of art's) task to make distinctions, to identify purpose, meaning and excellence and expose mediocrity and triviality. The `complaint culture's' response to this is often J. Hillis Miller's--that we should let a thousand flowers bloom (without, presumably, drawing any attention to the flowers' rarity or beauty). The problem is that (in terms of the appearance of books alone) there are about 800,000 flowers each year worldwide and 60,000 or so just in the U.S. The alternative to the sort of discrimination so ably practiced by Hughes is chaos and/or mush (of which he gives some superb examples).
This is a delightful, incisive book that now seems old-fashioned. More's the pity.
I think I always knew the emperor was naked, but I was shouted down like so many of us ... and felt pretty alone at times. No longer so, thanks to R. Hughes.
Fortunately TIME Magazine Art Critic and writer extraordinaire Robert Hughes laces his acid-dripping pen with adroit observations and incredible verbal acrobatics in an all-out attack that provides hints of solutions and actual celebrations of all that is good in America.
Hughes pulls no punches and spares no prisoners as he lambasts (always with great aplomb and wit) extremism from both sides. Liberals and Conservatives receive broadsword swashes and pin-point snipes in equal measures. Hughes calls ultimately calls for true eclectism as opposed to multi-culturalism- a movement in his mind that wrongly excludes other cultures in favor of often fictious historical revisionism.
The rich bounty of American Culture, Hughes claims-the very culture that inspired him to leave Australia and settle in New York- lies in her melting pot of culture. America, in Hughes' expert eye, is a beautiful amalgamation of many cultures: European, Native, African, Spanish, Asian and so forth. He sees history as a complex organism made up of many diverse parts. Effective scholarship, debate and production must incorperate all while eschewing the demagoguery and finger pointing that tragically seems to prevail in so much public discourse.
Make no mistake,like any good critic or thinker, Hughes is out to pick a fight and he certainly challenges all comers. One may not agree with all of his points or supports, but that isn't the point. Hughes' number one objective is to confront American apathy with an electo-shock to the system.
In short, Hughes does indeed call for a certain brand of elitism in both art and public life. An elitism bred not of social class, race or economics but rather an hierarchy based upon skill, intelligence and vision.
THE CULTURE OF COMPLAINT will challenge the reader as well as entertain. A magnificent read.
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