The Cultural Return

The Cultural Return

The Cultural Return

The Cultural Return

Synopsis

This insightful book tracks the concept of culture across a range of scholarly disciplines and much of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries--years that saw the emergence of new fields and subfields (cultural studies, the new cultural history, literary new historicism, as well as ethnic and minority studies) and came to be called "the cultural turn." Since the 1990s, however, the idea of culture has fallen out of scholarly favor. Susan Hegeman engages with a diversity of disciplines, including anthropology, literary studies, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and political science, to historicize the rise and fall of the cultural turn and to propose ways that culture may still be a vital concept in the global present.

Excerpt

In Jonathan Franzen’s best-selling novel The Corrections (2001), one of the plot lines involves the “failure” of an untenured cultural studies professor at a small northeastern college. Chip Lambert’s downfall begins when a bright student sabotages his class-capping exercise in the critical analysis of an advertising campaign by interjecting, “Excuse me, but that is just such bullshit.” the student, Melissa, complains that Chip is trying to unload his own hatred of corporate capitalism on the students, when the ad in fact demonstrates the benefits of corporations; in this case, the campaign for the software company centers on its support of breast cancer research and awareness. Because this criticism strikes Chip as somehow unanswerable, the whole semester’s effort now seems to him lost. Chip even feels compelled to ponder the rightness of his former view that “criticizing a sick culture, even if the criticism accomplished nothing, had always felt like useful work.” Indeed, he begins to wonder if the culture of corporate and consumer capitalism is really so “sick” after all—especially when bright young things like Melissa seem so comfortable with it. Soon, he embarks on a disastrous affair with Melissa, who involves him in plagiarism and illegal drug use. For this, he gets fired from his job. To cover his living expenses while he tries to get his life back together, Chip starts to sell off all his academic books, saving for last his “beloved cultural historians and his complete hardcover Arden Shakespeare.” Things only begin to look up when he meets a shady Lithuanian entrepreneur who entangles him . . .

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