Saturday, April 30, 2011

Harris - Cultural Excursions

Harris, Neil. Cultural Excursions: Marketing Appetites and Cultural Tastes in Modern America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Chapters 1, 8, 9, 13, 14 (Different essays)

Chapter 1
Addresses changing appeal of the city by constructing an overview of urban culture as its institutions developed in America during four periods: 1. coloniol, 2. early republic to 1870s, 3. 1870s to before WWII, 4. Our own times

Concludes that interest in fostering urban public institutions (museums mainly) peaked before World War II and has since declined, reflecting a broader decline in the appeal of the city.

Chapter 8
Utopian Fiction and its Discontents: Rather than examine turn-of-the-century utopian fiction for the way it reveals the classic, broad anxieties about modernization, Harris uses it to explore relatively more mundane "subterranean anxieties" of the age. "Their urge to describe other worlds was rarely based on any need for artistic fulfillment. More often they wrote from a passion to commnicate some secial idea. Their books, in fact, demonstrate the impact of modernization upon American life, presenting worlds ruled by strange machines, crowded with masses of people, and reverent toward scientific truth. The novels' solutions to political and economic problems built on the classic anxieties we associate with this period. But their fictional details answered more intimate and perhaps more fundamental personal fears. These crudely written books offer surprising insights into long-vanished sensibilities." 150-151

"...faced with disorder the utopians sought to structure and even confine life, rather than expand it. The revolutions we have marked, until recently, as milestones of scientific progress sobered them. Their optimism about the future rested on the achievement of an environmental stasis. Unlimited growth seemed as dangerous as decay." 173

Chapter 9
The Drama of Consumer Desire
Exams 1. ideological national problems in 19th century growing consumer nation, 2. reference to age of consumer consciousness in fiction at end of 19th century, 3. description of 20th century trends, particularly 1920s, which intensified American object consciousness, and 4. examples of the way mass distribution affected novelistic sensibilities.

"mass-produced objects and object relationships came increasingly to enter the American novel, both as symbols and as experiences. But the very standardization which produced such triumphs for the manufacturing and distributing systems is here defined as a major problem for the creative imagination. Thus a national style of purchasing began to be adumbrated by our literary figures, and fixed upon as a cultural metaphor."

To sum: novels revealed consumer consciousness of the importance of objects as representing their own identity.

Chapter 13
The changing Landscape of America
Development of shopping centers
Rise and decline of hotel lobbies
Parking garages

Chapter 14
We need to consider the incredible importance of the turn-of-the-century development of the halftone effect as way to cheaply reproduce images in newspapers. Images burst into mass production, for mass consumption.

Definition of Culture
"[The word culture] has had a complex history and is the subject of continuing debate. Until the nineteenth century changed its meaning, culture was more an activity than a state of being; it represented growth or nourishment and could be applied to almost anything. Some years ago Raymond Wlliams showed how Victorians made culture into a noun signifying the highest and most valued human activities, connected particularly with the high arts. People were defined as cultured according to their interest or proficiency in certain traditional areas: music, painting, architecture, belles letters. In the twentiethc century the word culture has been transformed again, made more comprehensive and catholic. We assume that every people, every civilization, and even every subgroup possesses a culture of some kind, that is, a pattern of value structures, mores, and institutions." 14

Jackson - Crabgrass Frontier, Cohen - A Consumer's Republic, Marchand - Advertising the American Dream

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