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BLOOM'S MORNING by Arthur Asa Berger


Toothpaste, Toasters, and the Secret Meaning of Everyday Life

by Arthur Asa Berger

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8133-3230-3

An admittedly irreverent stab at leveling the distinction between elite and popular culture by transmogrifying the ho-hum (the master bedroom, the garbage disposal) into the ``mythic'' in the semiological tradition of Roland Barthes. Berger (Communications/San Francisco State Univ.) maintains a decidedly casual posture in his extended introduction (``On the Theory of Everyday Life'') and conclusion, as though to filter out the usual academic snobbery. His case for ``sociosemiotics'' is convincing enough: ``Culture is no longer . . . just frosting on the cake of life''; the activities and artifacts of, say, a representative man's morning (Bloom's, pace Joyce) are the legitimate business of postmodern anthropology and, as such, the new cultural studies. The less convincing centerpiece here—a ``microminimalist'' narrative that takes Bloom from wake-up through ablutions to receipt of his mail, followed by 35 explications de texte—reads too often like an overwrought effort to decode what first must be proved to be in code. The digital clock, which ``atomizes'' time into discrete, unrelated moments, is an emblem of alienation; the down comforter goes beyond man-made science to ``natural technology.'' ``I confess to some tricks—exaggeration, irony, absurdity, wild analogies . . . whatever it takes,'' Berger winks at the end, and while that revelation of a sense of humor about himself vitiates some unwonted solemnity, it doesn't cover all of it, like the notion that breakfast is overarchingly ``a study in transformations'' or the too-serious claim that the king- size bed is an oedipal symbol because king = father and Everyman can make it in (to) the father's bed. Berger can't be taken to account for the whole discipline of belaboring the banal—Barthes found ``signification'' in detergent, to cite just one of his respectable reference points—so to the extent that this reads like a parody of itself, he's only partly responsible. The rest (the theory) is responsible, if cavalier. (40 b&w drawings, not seen)