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Metaculture: How Culture Moves through the World

Series: Public Worlds
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    From the Declaration of Independence to the movie Babe, from the Amazon River to the film studio, from microscopic studies of the words making up myths and books to the large-scale forces of conquest, conversion, and globalization that drive history, Urban follows the clues to a startling revelation: "metaculture" makes the modern, entrepreneurial form of culture possible. In Urban’s work we see how metaculture, in its relationship to newness, explains the peculiar shape of modern society and its institutions, from the prevalence of taste and choice to the processes of the public sphere, to the centrality of persuasion and hegemony within the nation._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9304-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Benjamin Lee

    A foreword to a book is not unlike a christening of a ship. It launches the reader into a new text at the same time, one hopes, that it accelerates the book’s circulation among an ever-widening audience. Greg Urban’s new book,Metaculture,not only partakes in these minor rituals of print capitalism, but also explicitly puts them at the heart of the investigation of culture. What are the implications of using the concept of circulation as the framework for looking at cultural processes? What are the issues and methodologies at stake in such a turn?

    The lucky but probably unsuspecting...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. 1 The Once and Future Thing
    (pp. 1-40)

    The answer is culture, but the riddle continues to vex, as if we have not yet gotten it, not seen quite clearly. What moves through space and time, yet has no Newtonian mass? What is communicated from individual to individual, group to group, yet is not a disease?¹ Our sphinx, in vaporous apparition, peers down. Yes, this is the right word, but have we penetrated the veil of mystery? For there is more. The ghost-like journey of our thing (or is it things?) takes place along pathways, social pathways, that it itself lays down. It creates the space that makes...

  6. 2 In Modern Time
    (pp. 41-92)

    The sleek curves and shiny surfaces of stainless steel cooking pots from the 1950s and 1960s—the period of my youth—seemed to me so natural, as if they were an expression of the scientific, rational surface texture of my then lived world, the same kind of smooth curvature found in the close-cropped, oiled hair of men or the bun hairstyle of women or the girdles women wore to smooth out their surface appearance. My memory is jogged by the visual signatures of Hitchcock movies from that period. When did I detect the change? Probably before I went off to...

  7. 3 This Nation Will Rise Up
    (pp. 93-144)

    A pronoun—a single instance of the word “our” written on a page, for example—seems hardly an object in motion, as if it were a particle cutting a trail in a cloud chamber. Yet the cloud chamber analogy is not so farfetched, or so I propose to argue. Even in the microtime of a given stretch of discourse, one instance of “our” looks back to another. A tiny trail leads through the vapors, as the reader’s or listener’s attention engages a present. In the above snippet, the “our” of “ravaged our Coasts” looks back on an earlier “our”—that...

  8. 4 This Is Ridiculous
    (pp. 145-180)

    From an early twentieth-century logical positivist perspective, the imperative was an ugly duckling. It was measured against the yardstick of pure representation, uncontaminated by the observer’s paradox, unproblematized by the motion of language—as part of culture—through the world. And it was found to be . . . well, odd. It didn’t look like the other ducklings that made the custodians of language so proud.¹ Consequently, it languished.

    It later found something of a place in ordinary language philosophy, thanks to John Austin’s (1962) distinction between “constative” and “performative” utterances—that is, between saying something and doing an action...

  9. 5 The Public Eye
    (pp. 181-227)

    Consciousness in motion—what a strange idea!¹ Can consciousness, rather than being an inherent property of us as biological organisms, move through us, as individuals, much the way culture more generally moves through us? This seemingly nonsensical proposition accrues plausibility with the realization that consciousness is, in some measure, at least, lodged in the overt meanings carried by circulating signs—especially publicly occurring discourse. When we are dealing with an awareness inscribed in metaculture, we are dealing with the explicit meanings of circulating talk and writing. The consciousness of motion—cultural motion—is also itself in motion, as if it...

  10. 6 Inability to Foresee
    (pp. 228-270)

    It was Shakespeare who, depicting a dialogue between Brutus and Cassius on the occasion of their assassination of Julius Caesar, wrote: “[T]here is a tide in the affairs of men . . .” (act 4, scene 3, line 218). The words themselves participated in their own tidal swell, augmented in prominence through secondary replications, lapping up onto the shorelines of received culture, reaching people previously untouched by them. To be sure, the imagery contained in the words is that of newness and change: a tide, “which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their...

  11. Conclusion: The Answer and the Question
    (pp. 271-272)

    The riddle has proven subtler than it at first seemed: What moves through space and time, yet has no Newtonian mass? The answer is culture, to be sure. But the riddle turns out to be wrapped inside a mystery: How can something move at all if it has no Newtonian mass? Our initial response: by traditional means, that is, by manifesting itself always in consistent material shapes, so that its sensible form becomes replicable. The abstract idea of the thing approaches, or even merges with, the thing’s perceptible, kinesthetically reproducible outline. Culture moves—like the biological information deposited so delicately...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 273-296)
  13. References
    (pp. 297-306)
  14. Index
    (pp. 307-315)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 316-316)