From charlesreid1

Part 1: Culture as Business

American Advertising

The hyperaesthesia of the ad-men's rhetoric has knocked the public into a kind of groggy, slap-happy condition in which perhaps are cushioned a good many of the brutal shocks felt more keenly by the realistic European. Viewed merely as an interim strategy for maintaining hope, tolerance, and good humor in an irrational world, this orgy or irrationalism may not be without its cathartic function. At any rate, the multi-billion dollar, nation-wide education programmes of the ad-men (dwarfing the outlay on formal education) provide a world of symbols, witticism, and behavior patterns which may or may not be a fatal solvent for the basic political traditions of America, but which certainly do comprise a common experience and a common language for a country whose sectional differences and technological specialisms might easily develop into anarchy.

Criteria of cinema art aside, this kind of action for direct social control is politics. It aims not only at providing more and more sensation, but at the exploitation of all emotional sets and preferences as just so much raw material to be worked up by centralized control for purposes of super-profits. Clearly the manipulators of such controls are irresponsible and will probably so continue as long as the flow of merchandise and profits remains unchecked.

But just how far these billionaire campaigns of systematic sophistry and hallucination contribute to worsening any given state of affairs would be hard to say. Because there is really nothing in these richly efflorescent ads which has not been deeply wished by the population for a long time. They aren't so much phenomena of a Machiavellian tyranny as the poor man's orchids - both a compensation and a promise for beauty denied.

The authors of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution were not obsessed with some compulsive psychological strategy for disguising their own irrational wishes or intentions like a Rousseau or a Nietzsche. And their wisdom is far from extinct in the USA. So that, should the energy which activates the ad-men be transferred to the world of political speculation and creation, America could still fulfill many of its broken Utopian promises, becuse its Jeffersonian tradition is still intact, and likewise its psychological vigour.

The Mechanical Bride

For the satiated, both sex and speed are pretty boring until the element of danger and even death is introduced. Sensation and sadism are near twins. And for those for whom the sex act has come to seem mechanical and merely the meeting and manipulation of body parts, there often remains a hunger which can be called metaphysical but which is not recognized as such, and which seeks satisfaction in physical danger, or sometimes in torture, suicide, or murder. Many of the Frankenstein fantasies depend on the horror of a synthetic robot running amok in revenge for its lack of a "soul." Is this not merely a symbolic way of expressing the actual fact that many people have become so mechanized that they feel a dim resentment at being deprived of full human status?

Joyce, Mallarme, and the Press

Plato foresaw some of them with alarm in the Phaedrus:

The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth bot only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Letter to Harold Adams Innis

Retracing becomes in modern historical scholarship the technique of reconstruction. The technique which Edgar Poe first put to work in his detective stories. In the arts this discovery has had all those astonishing results which have seemed to separate the ordinary public from what it regards as esoteric magic. From the point of view of the artist however the business of art is no longer the communication of thoughts or feelings which are to be conceptually ordered, but a direct participation in an experience. The whole tendency of modern communication whether in the press, in advertizing or in the high arts is towards participation in a process, rather than apprehension of concepts. And this major revolution, intimately linked to technology, is one whose consequences have not begun to be studied although they have begun to be felt.

The present literary epoch has been of exceptional duration - 400 years. There are many symptoms that it is at an end. The comic book for example has been seen as a degenerate literary form instead of as a nascent pictoral and dramatic form which has sprung from the new stress on visual-auditory communication in the magazines, the radio and television. The young today cannot follow narrative but they are alert to drama. They cannot bear description but they love landscape and action.

If literature is to survive as a scholastic discipline except for a very few people, it must be by a transfer of its techniques of perception and judgement to these new media. The new media, which are already much more constitutive educationally than those of the classroom, must be inspected and discussed in the classroom if the classroom is to continue at all except as a place of detention.