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The Twilight of American Culture Reprint Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393321692
ISBN-10: 039332169X
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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)
Copyright 2000 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: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039332169X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321692
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Charles D. Hayes on June 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If I were to write a short list of contemporary authors who have most affected my thinking during the past two decades, Morris Berman would be at the top. His books "Coming to Our Senses" and "The Reenchantment of the World" not only gave me new insights into the notion of a more embodied existence, they also gave me a lasting epistemological appreciation of the kind of rigor necessary to bring light to any subject that one truly wants to learn more about. My views about the possibilities the future holds for humankind run hot and cold. I'm optimistic one day and pessimistic the next. But I've long held the position that while the mass of American culture seems to be, as Neil Postman observed, "drowning in a sea of amusements," individuals still have an opportunity to live as meaningful a life as is possible to live. Now Berman comes along with "The Twilight of American Culture," which captures this reality not only in a theoretical sense but also in a very practical way. Berman advocates creating "zones of intelligence" both public and private and says, "This is not about `fifty ways to save the earth,' `voluntary simplicity,' or some program of trendy ascetic activities. Nor does it involve anything showy and dramatic, and virtually anyone reading this book is capable of making an effort in this direction." "The Twilight of America Culture" is a rear-guard action for finding an oasis of meaning in an insane world. Highly recommended.
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According to the author, American culture, or American society, is in "shambles." It is a society that has been dumbed down and hollowed out as multinational corporations have virtually penetrated all of society's domains. What does such a society look like? In lieu of Enlightenment reasonableness, American society is kept in a superficial state of busyness by such mechanisms as the constant introduction of technological gadgetry (Internet, DVDs, etc), entertainment spectacles (Super Bowl, Olympics, etc), and sensationalism (Princess Di, OJ, Monica Lewinsky, etc), and infotainment, the dispensing of mountains of disconnected trivia or "information" that is not geared to inform. Kitsch, that is, "something phony, clumsy, witless, untalented, vacant, or boring [which is regarded as] genuine, graceful, bright, or fascinating" pervades the culture. There is a patina of vitality to the culture but it hides a spiritual dying.
A sub-theme of the book is that all civilizations, regardless of how grand, will face a decline, as did Rome's. One can look to such factors as social and economic inequality, declining returns on investment in solving social problems, dropping levels of social intelligence and understanding, and spiritual death as indicators of a civilization in decline. Being that the author holds that American culture is in the midst of such a decline, a purpose of the book is to serve as a guide to those who self-select themselves as "monks" who are willing to preserve non-commercial American culture and reject the global "McWorld" culture of "slogans, spin, and hype.
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Format: Hardcover
In "The Twilight of American Culture," Morris Berman tells his readers that America is like any other civilization and that it will decline. In fact, he writes, American civilization has been in a steady decline for some time now. So what do we do? "If the historical record is clear on this point, there is no way out. We might as well fiddle while New York and Los Angeles burn." But Berman has a better idea. He calls it the monastic option. Here, one gets the sense of a secret order of the enlightened whose members may know of each other, and even be friends but never gather as an order. There are no "membership cards and badges (whether real or metaphorical), avant-garde language and appropriate party line, organization and even visibility," writes Berman Instead, Berman envisions these "monks," men and women, going about their business of preserving bits and pieces of their culture, shunning any inclination or attempt to institutionalize their work, for to do so "would be the kiss of death." In our current situation which Berman highlights with terms like Starbuckized, Coca-colonization and Rambification, any endeavor toward the excellent is likely to be bought out and sold by entrepreneurs ready to market it. Once the excellent has been packaged for sale, it is doomed to join the rest of American culture mashed together in an indistinguishable mess of the good and bad, the excellent and execrable, the elite and the rabble. While this book is an important addition to any thinking person's library, it will have a particular appeal to educators who are well aware "that our entire consciousness, our intellectual-mental life, is being Starbuckized, condensed into a prefabricated designer look...." To know the truth of what Berman has to say and suggest, all educators have to do is remember they work with the understanding that students are their customers.
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I don't want to duplicate what has already been said below, but I think it's important to point out one particularly valid idea in Dr. Berman's book: He debunks the commonly held myth that economic prosperity and intellectual excellence are corollated. So often we hear how American economic prosperity is evidence of our superior intellectual achievement. In fact, according to Dr. Berman, economic prosperity (a myth in itself) is a function of a techno-corporate conformity and mindless consumerism that together stifle the natural intellectual curiosity so important to a healthy and balanced human condition.
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