Sontagian exercises in perceiving, noting, and grumbling.
“The reason to eat food is no longer mainly hunger.” So intones n+1 founder Greif (The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973, 2015) in one of many moments of obviousness. Also, the police “announce eventfulness, and in some way their mere presence stands against danger”; “One thing that can be said for a gym is that an implied contract links everyone who works out in its mirrored and pungent hangar.” As John Berger or Walter Pater might say, such high-minded but soufflé-light observations are too clever by half; does anyone really need to be told that the economic system that governs us puts us in the awful position of hating what we do in order to make the money that we love? Sometimes Greif scores, and nicely, as when he notes that the rights agenda that activists are likely to press today concerns not speech but “rights to the use of your body, rights to babies, rights to sex, rights to health; or battles over the correct boundaries of these things, as in the right to life, the status of fetuses, the line where therapy becomes enhancement.” Yet many of the pieces are of the passing-caravan occasion: will anyone remember the Octomom a decade from now? Does Snooki of Jersey Shore really deserve a moment more of anyone’s time, and, for that matter, does she really have anything in common with Hitler? Does punk rock really begin in fear? The band, maybe, but not the emotion, just as rock music transcended being the property of children half a century ago. It’s enough to make Lester Bangs, or maybe Walter Benjamin, roll in his urn.
Popular culture is hard to pin down because it’s evanescent. Cultural criticism therefore runs the risk of being as ephemeral as a fruit fly. Too much of this collection is a case in point.