Synopses & Reviews
America's citizens seem plagued by despair and frustration, much deeper today than the “malaise” President Jimmy Carter noted twenty years ago. Our political and social cultures are driven by issues morally complex and yet presented with simple-minded hostility. What's the matter with Kansas? What has happened to the once proud leader of the free world? How secure is our future? Does the republic stand or have we lost it already?
Born in 1941, novelist, critic, and teacher Eric Larsen sees his own lifetime as paralleling the arc of a national dissolution, and in three penetrating essays he describes an increasingly desperate situation. A blindness has set in, he argues, producing writers no longer able to write, professors more harmful than helpful, a replacement virtually nation-wide of "thinking" with "feeling" while the population seems unable to grasp even the remotest outlines of such dangerous, radical change.
In the tradition of George Orwell, Upton Sinclair, Paul Goodman, and Christopher Lasch, Larsen offers an impassioned critique of where we once were, where we are, and where we're very soon going if we don't watch out.
"Here, novelist and former literature professor Larsen has crafted a good old-fashioned argument-the kind that deals in reason, logic and empirical evidence-that takes on virtually everything in the current political, cultural and intellectual landscape of America, in order to figure out how the democratic republic has morphed, before his eyes, into an unthinking, unquestioning Orwellian dystopia. In three lengthy essays, Larsen diagnoses with considerable wit, outrage and tenacity the mass 'blindness' that allows politicians and newsmakers to get away with passing off lies and half-truths as fact, and academia unknowingly to embrace indoctrination over education. For Larsen, the trouble starts with television's explosion in the '50s and the consequent rise of corporate mass media, followed by the steady consolidation of government and corporate interests. While television provides an endless stream of distraction and 'don't worry about the government' platitudes, academics have misdirected their sense of social conscience into replacing traditional, intellectually vigorous studies-such as the study of literature-with an empty discipline that Larsen (among others) has labeled Victim's Studies-Women's Studies, Gay Studies, Black Studies, etc. Examining 'issues' rather than ideas and putting the group before the individual, Larsen argues that these departments teach students not how to think, but how to feel-not to question, but to accept. To be sure, Larsen's position, as well as his loud, self-righteous approach, will anger many in the government, media and university, but his theses are all backed up by clear-eyed observation, copious evidence and meticulous literary commentary. Though Larsen can be terminally repetitive (he'd probably call this 'being thorough'), and his grim prognosis for the country can overwhelm, his book is a rare intellectual page-turner: fascinating, convincing and consciousness-raising. It deserves to be read by anyone who thinks-or thinks they think-for a living." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Eric Larsen is Professor Emeritus of English at John Jay College, CUNY. He is the author of AN AMERICAN MEMORY (1988), I AM ZOE HANDKE (1992), and THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY (2008).