Friday, May 9, 2008

Review: The Age of American Unreason, Introduction

Age of American Unreason_small In Susan Jacoby's eighth book, The Age of American Unreason (2008), she explores what Richard Hofstadter had earlier described in his seminal Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) as the cyclical nature of America's passionate anti-intellectualism, positing that this current nadir may be the end of the cycle and the beginning of a cultural infection that will kill finally intellectualism.

Jacoby, a well-credentialed author who has received many prestigious awards for her work, has garnered praise for this new work from Douglas Brinkley to Stephen Colbert (he accepts your apology).

While the book has received glowing reviews, Not Invisible plans to develop an extended analysis of it, moving chapter by chapter with a method somewhat reminiscent of Barthes' S/Z. Somewhat. The actual method will be antidisciplinary, blending reader-response theory, structuralism, deconstruction, ideology theory and cultural criticism as Jacoby's arguments warrant their applications.

Each section of criticism will be written after reading a chapter, so the analysis will work by accumulation—expect misadventure—and will not endeavor to be comprehensive, but it will attempt to be fair. As Jacoby writes in her introduction:

The unwillingness to give a hearing to contradictory viewpoints, or to imagine that one might learn anything from an ideological or cultural opponent, represents a departure from the best side of American popular and elite intellectual traditions. ...In today's America, intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike, whether on the far left or right, tend to tune out any voice that is not an echo. This obduracy is both a manifestation of mental laziness and the essence of anti-intellectualism. (xix-xx)

Jacoby is unafraid to diagnose; one wonders if her book will pass her own examination.

Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.

No comments:

Post a Comment