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Artificial Mythologies: A Guide to Cultural Invention

Foreword by Laura Kipnis
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Artificial Mythologies
    Book Description:

    In this exhilarating guide, Craig J. Saper takes us on an eye-opening tour of the process of cultural invention-willfully entertaining foolish, absurd, even fake, solutions as a way of reaching new perspectives on cultural problems. Saper deploys this method to reveal unsuspected connections among major cultural issues, such as urban decay, the dangers of television’s power, family values, and conservative criticism of higher education.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8773-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xxii)
    Laura Kipnis

    Some significant feat of inventiveness, or a serious intellectual athleticism is required to invent a theory of cultural change in the absence of a future tense — and in the absence of subjects, agency, or intentionality. Artificial Mythologies is not only a tactical intervention into current cultural theory but also aspires to define a new discipline. It wants to escalate the riskiness of cultural analysis, to remind us that reading practices can be radical and audacious enterprises. Set amidst the bombed-out ruins of contemporary critical theory, this book means to break in through the back door of current debates about cultural...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  5. 1 Aritificial Mythologies and Invention
    (pp. 1-38)

    When the mythologies with which we organize our view of the world show signs of wear, when they become dated, cliched, or corny, when we notice them as constructions and arbitrary constraints, then we inevitably yearn to change our view of the world and see more clearly. In looking for a new view, we may revitalize old myths out of nostalgia, find new myths more apt for contemporary cultural problems and contradictions, or masquerade with the trappings of myths-gone-by as retro-irony. Everyone knows this process well. Everyone knows how demythologizing and remythologizing continue everyday. Movies and TV programs vary their...

  6. 2 Mapping Television
    (pp. 39-65)

    In this chapter I examine a peculiar mistake in a network news broadcast on the first night of the Gulf War. Although every major newspaper and television commentary discussed in detail the particularities of that program’s coverage, and in spite of the many scholarly criticisms of the television coverage, not one of the popular or scholarly descriptions to date has discussed the obvious and unfortunate error. Noting the detail in the maps of the broadcast stresses a detail already in the broadcast. The stress changes the broadcast’s suggestiveness forever. In this chapter I use a punctum practice, the punctuating of...

  7. 3 Multiculturalism and Identity Politics in Photography and Film
    (pp. 66-94)

    In this chapter I respond to recent efforts to include multiculturalism in media studies. I examine photographs included in Barthes’s later experimental works and interrogate these photographs in terms of multiculturalism. Barthes’s interest in the interactions among different cultures often depends on his use of artificial mythologies that challenge our conceptions of otherness, and especially Orientalism. His implicit multiculturalism confronts the problems involved in reducing the particular to the universal, the individual to the stereotype, and the singular to the norm. It includes a resistance to the “arrogance of discourse” to systematize the world.In the concrete examples discussed in this...

  8. 4 Urban Decay and the Aesthetics of Social Policy
    (pp. 95-116)

    In this chapter I examine a major social problem, urban decay, using the method of artificial mythology. Contemporary films and media reports picture urban decay as the epitome of a Spenglerian decline of civilization. Drug and psychosis-induced violence, as a symptom of high-density urban spaces and anonymous neighbors, for example, has a visceral impact that helps naturalize the myth of decaying architectural urban spaces as necessarily violent, dangerous, and hopelessly fated for condemnation. Even the tele-urbanity of television brings violence and absurd social decay into the sanctity of the home. Movies‚ especially the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s,...

  9. 5 The Role of the Public Intellectual
    (pp. 117-145)

    With the publication of Barthes’s autobiography, bookstores in Paris filled display windows and catered to the public’s interest in this academic celebrity’s story. In the United States, such fascination with a scholar in the humanities is rare. Scientific experts may appear on news programs or in a PBS series, but news programs rarely discuss issues relevant to the humanities. That situation of benign neglect changed, perhaps for the worse, for a few years during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Right-wing critics of the humanities and higher education jettisoned themselves into the limelight and into the public’s imagination. Surprisingly, questions...

  10. 6 Family Values and Media Technology
    (pp. 146-169)

    In 1989, former President George Bush visited Amish and Mennonite leaders at a schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He extolled the virtues of traditional family values and predictably pointed to the Amish family as a role model. One could easily see through his visit as mere political posturing, especially because the president’s men had the hitching rails for horses moved to the front of the school for a photo opportunity.¹ Besides this easy demythologizing of the political uses of family values and the Amish,1 the question of what family values means if the Amish family functions as a particularly powerful...

  11. 7 Wonder
    (pp. 170-176)

    Students often complain about demystifications of culture and media because these analyses supposedly take the fun and wonder out of spectatorship. Even as they make these claims against demythologies, students and teachers suppose that ironic detachment has won the day from fascination. The more heroic connotations of wonder — awe, amazement, and marveling at the mysterious — seem anachronistic in the current cultural climate infused with suspicions, ironies, exposes, and rapidly shifting distractions. Beyond this resignation, cultural historians also point to fascist propaganda as an exemplary warning about fascination’s dangers. In these contexts, advocating the capacity to wonder will strike some as...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 177-190)
  13. Index
    (pp. 191-196)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-197)