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At each step of this journey through American cultural history, Louis Menand has an original point to make: he explains the real significance of William James's nervous breakdown, and of the anti-Semitism in T. S. Eliot's writing. He reveals the reasons for the remarkable commercial successes of William Shawn's New Yorker and William Paley's CBS. He uncovers the connection between Larry Flynt's Hustler and Jerry Falwell's evangelism, between the atom bomb and the Scholastic Aptitude Test. He locates the importance of Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, Pauline Kael, Christopher Lasch, and Rolling Stone magazine. And he lends an ear to Al Gore in the White House as the Starr Report is finally presented to the public.
Like his critically acclaimed bestseller, The Metaphysical Club, American Studies is intellectual and cultural history at its best: game and detached, with a strong curiosity about the political underpinnings of ideas and about the reasons successful ideas insinuate themselves into the culture at large. From one of our leading thinkers and critics, known both for his "sly wit and reportorial high-jinks [and] clarity and rigor" (The Nation), these essays are incisive, surprising, and impossible to put down.
beings experience it. The trail of the human serpent (said William James) is over everything, even answering-machine beeps and aircraft safety instructions. Our electronics is no less an expression of ourselves than our poetry is. One of the great evolutionary leaps in the history of modern entertainment was the invention of the microphone. The microphone is more than a convenience, and it is more than a prop; it is an extension of the body. It expands the space the performer can command by
how people would respond to the work. She mailed the application just before the deadline, March 31, 1981. Lin learned during graduation week that her design had been chosen. She was twenty-one. In 1981, Lin wore her hair down to her knees. She was a myopic grind so indifferent to the rest of the world that she often didn’t bother to wear her glasses in class. “I grew up in a college town in the middle of Appalachia,” she explained, “so I’m still wearing Frye boots, and wearing my hair really
Society demands that all works of art shall arouse emotion and sensation,”21 it complained; and it recited the familiar list of Rousseauian toxins: emotionalism, self-indulgence, and the craving for newness and originality. Benda suggested several candidates as possible sources of cultural debility, among them the Jews. There are, he explained, two types: “the severe, moralistic Jew, and the Jew who is always greedy for sensation—speaking symbolically, the Hebrew and the Carthaginian, Jehovah
flat stylizations of city nightlife. (Some were by Rea Irvin, the artist who created both the monocled dandy who appears on the cover of the anniversary issue, and the New Yorker’s signature typeface.) The idea, apparently, was that urbane chat about New York high life was the way to reach the well-to-do, that it flattered those readers’ sense of themselves as chic insiders. It didn’t work. By summertime, circulation, which had started at fifteen thousand, had dropped below four thousand. Ads
people who have only finished high school (19 percent). The belief that education makes people snobbish about moviegoing is the opposite of the case: 20 percent of people who have been to college say they “never” go to movies, but the figure is 39 percent among adults who have only finished high school and 57 percent among adults with even less education than that. Kael didn’t persuade New Yorker readers to go to the movies; they were already going. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was