By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

The Books & Culture Weblog

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  • We think of the 1960s as a turbulent decade, but the shifts of the 70s left the deepest imprint on America; shifts from manufacturing to information trading, from social affinity to self-actualization, from modernism's earnestness to postmodernism's spectacle, writes Vince Carducci in Logos. While these shifts were actually in the making for decades, Carducci says recent scholarship has singled out the 70s as the pivotal moment of their emergence. While Francis Fukuyama has called the transformation of traditional industrial society the "Great Disruption," Carducci says what was happening was more profound—it was the advent of the postmodern notion that the reality of our social, historical, and economic understandings is culturally constructed. Essay Carducci spends too much time summarizing a lot of scholarship in order to make a simple point—the 70s marked the triumph of "the fetish of the commodity"—but he eventually arrives at a succinct conclusion: "The postmodern turn that unfolded over the decade tracked the shift from vertically integrated assembly line to outsourced sweatshop, production to consumption, commodity to brand, equity to debt, concrete to spectacle.
    Television: back to the 90s, from the New York Times
    Merchandise: back to the 80s, third item here
    The birth of semiotics, earlier item
  • "There is such a thing as exhausting the capital of one's health and constitution," President William Howard Taft told the New York Times in a 1910. Tell that to Americans today, one in four of whom doesn't receive—or doesn't use up—paid vacation time, says The Week magazine. The culprit, The Week says, is "the stern Protestants who first settled this country" and their belief that "idleness corrupted the soul." While this scapegoating is dubious (see an essay on the Protestant ethic and capitalism forthcoming from B&C), it is quite a sacrifice that Americans, unique among developed nations, are willing to make: less vacation time in exchange for more profit but also more irritability, insomnia, and heart disease. Article
    German companies extend work week to keep up with world economy, from the Frankfurter Allgemeine
    French government calls 35-hour work week a 'disaster,' from the London Telegraph
    College professors are overworked, says one prof in the London Guardian and another in the Chronicle of Higher Education
  • News reports of this year's emergence of the 17-year cicadas said they came in "biblical proportions," a cliché that was more apt than we realize, writes Jeremy Biles in the Sightings newsletter. Biles says scholarship shows that the plague of locusts recorded in Exodus was actually an appearance of periodical cicadas, and that's just the beginning of "the inadequately studied religious dimensions of the cicada phenomenon." Biles cites the cicadas' "monstrosity"—which evokes in us "a contradictory affectivity characterized by simultaneous fascination and repulsion— 'sacred horror' "—and their "eroticism," with their "amatory life" animated by "imminent death." "What compels our fascination with these insects," he concludes, "is the recognition of a holy desire to be single-minded, devoted, tenacious, and unreservedly loving—to embody the obsessive, religious impulse to love, even unto death." Entry
    Review of Locust, a B&C Book of the Week
  • The New Yorker's view of Christian comedian Brad Stine is probably summed up in the seemingly rhetorical tagline of its profile of him: "How funny can a Christian comedian be?" But the magazine does devote a lengthy story to what makes Stine tick, and finds more than the usual conservative punching bag of secular liberalism (though Stine does lambast that). Calling his standup act "progressive, contemporary-style" (the New Yorker calls it "frantic, aggressive, and caustic"), Stine spoofs certain fatuities of American evangelicals, from "God is my co-pilot" bumper stickers to the assumption that Satan to blame job layoffs. Stine, 44, says his hero is George Carlin, but he substitutes "stinking" for Carlin's favorite adjective, and comes across as nudging, rather than pushing, the envelope. Article
  • Miscellaneous:How the water cycle tinkers with the earth's gravity, and the sociology of beaches, from the New York Times —Robert Kaplan reports from Fallujah in the Atlantic - Nigerian e-mail scammers contested, from the BBC, and arrested, from the Observer - Ten myths about outsourcing, from Reason
    Edward Said's last essay: when artists age, from the Guardian - Would-be Waldener tires of nature, in the Boston Globe - Does BBQ-ing really cause cancer? From the Chicago Reader
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Nathan Bierma is editorial assistant atBooks & Culture. He writes the weekly "On Language" column for the Chicago Tribune.

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