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“A truly excellent book. It was recommended to me and the least I can do is the same.”see full review » see other reviews »
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“One of the most senile books written in the history of mankind. The books attempt to appear competent is highly entertaining though, if your into that sort of thing. An end product of pure projection me thinks.”see full review » see other reviews »
“A truly excellent book. It was recommended to me and the least I can do is the same. ”Max wrote this review Wednesday, April 24, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” was originally published in 1979, and has been a major cynosure of cultural and social criticism ever since. English literary critic Frank Kermode called it, not inaccurately, a “hellfire sermon.” It is a wholesale indictment of contemporary American culture. It also happens to fall into a group of other books which share the same body of concerns that I have been working my way through, or around, in recent months: Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America,” Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle,” Philip Rieff’s entire corpus (especially “Charisma,” but also his earlier work on Freud), and even the book I’m currently reading, Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land.”
All of these books discuss some aspect of social anomie, loss of community, and subsequent feelings of dissolution. This isn’t by any means a new debate; in the field of sociology, it dates at least as far back as Ferdinand Tonnies’ distinction between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, a distinction that was almost a prerequisite for the invention of modernism.
First, a note on the word “narcissism.” It was formerly a clinical term to diagnose the individual, but has “gone global” - or at least national. Lasch doesn’t really mean for the term to be a diagnosis in the clinical sense, but rather a “metaphor for the human condition” in contemporary times. In his argot, the word means much more than just lack of empathy, a tendency toward manipulative actions and pretentious behavior. “People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security” (p. 7). Lasch is more interested in the dissolution of communities and relationships that makes us feel as if we live highly individualized, atomized lives detached from the concerns of others. The book spells out the ways in which these patterns are positively correlated with the rise of materialism, technologism, “personal liberation” (those bywords of sixties radicalism) and nominal egalitarianism.
His few words on contemporary corporate America will strike anyone who has ever worked in one of these organizational hellscapes: he states that corporate bureaucracies “put a premium on the manipulation of interpersonal relations, discourage the formation of deep personal attachments and at the same time provide the narcissist with the approval he needs in order to validate his self-esteem.”
A la Debord, the politics of narcissism become more about “managing impressions” and “human relations” more than actually solving problems, citing Kennedy’s disaster at the Bay of Pigs as an example. To steal from the language of yet another late French thinker, it’s all about the simulacra. In a chapter called “The Degradation of Sport,” he notes that enormous amounts of corporate money have turned athletes into mere entertainers to be sold to the most prestigious sports syndicate. The central concept of the sporting even – the agon, the contest – has been displaced in order to sell products and personalities who will invariably be with the team for only a short time.
Lasch’s political affiliations are sometimes interestingly and tellingly misconstrued. Though often criticized for being a reactionary conservative simply because he points to the radicalism of the sixties as one of the desiderata under consideration, Lasch’s analysis is self-consciously informed by both Marx and Freud, two figures hardly recognized for being popularly co-opted by various brands of twentieth-century conservatism. Those who believe that Lasch is a blind ideologue on other side of the spectrum need to read him again: he explicitly faults both the right for their veneration of the market’s “invisible hand” and the left for their cultural progressivism. Lasch is in politics, above all else, a democratic humanist.
He writes in the Afterword, “The best defenses against the terrors of existence are the homely comforts of love, work, and family life, which connect us to a world that is independent of our wishes yet responsive to our needs. It is through love and work, as Freud noted … that we exchange crippling emotional conflict for ordinary unhappiness.” It might not sound like a prognosis abounding in optimism, but it drips with the sincerity of an honest, heartfelt critic of American culture.”
“One of the most senile books written in the history of mankind. The books attempt to appear competent is highly entertaining though, if your into that sort of thing. An end product of pure projection me thinks.”Mango Calamari wrote this review Friday, February 5, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“The dispairing Jansenist at his brilliant best. ”C. R. Wiley wrote this review Saturday, May 9, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Brilliant analysis...of all that we are...
Be prepared... It's not the "Sound of Music".”
“I can't believe that I am rating this book with five stars but I am. And not only did I love it, but I recommend that you read it (I did!) with a pencil to underline his language.
That's it! That is why I love it! Lasch was such an expert craftsman of prose that I marvel at his precise insights into American culture, all communicated with sentences that are flawless. He is on par with Jules Henry, Marshall McLuhan, and Neil Postman.
But he is so conservative! That is why I can't believe that I am endorsing this so highly. Well, maybe that is the liberal thing to do here, to nod and tip my hate to well stated thinking.
I read this book a long time ago, yet his teaching has stayed with me a long time and I attribute that to his criticism and keen insights into our "malaise" (a Jimmy Carter term).”
“He was one of my professors in college......he had such an amazing insight into social trends.”Paul N wrote this review Sunday, October 21, 2007. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No