Volume 21

Guests on Volume 21: James Twitchell, on ways advertising shapes (and thins out) American culture; Lynne Cheney, on the politics of ideas in higher education; Peter Berkowitz, on how Friedrich Nietzsche was torn between certainty of the “death of God” and belief in the divinity of truth; Ron Hansen, on what makes good fiction; Frederica Mathewes-Green, on “The America We Seek,” an important pro-life manifesto; Robert Higgs, on how professional sports have lost a sense of play; Terry Eastland, on why affirmative action is ending; and Ted Libbey, on Brahms’s German Requiem.

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Part 1

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    James Twitchell on ways advertising shapes (and thins out) American culture

    AdcultUSA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture (Columbia University Press, 1996)

    Alumni professor of English at the University of Florida, James Twitchell thinks that closer and more serious attention should be paid to how advertising works, mainly because advertising defines our culture more than does literature. Advertisements in print, on TV, and in other forms may be cultural junk food, but they are a much more common diet than whatever might be regarded as cultural health food. In his new book, AdCult USA, Twitchell suggests that the style and rhetoric of advertising, the ways of understanding and naming experiences that are made common by commercial speech, are increasingly the only shared ways of communicating in our country. Because we are so at-home with the sophisticatedly winsome sales pitch, the appeal that entertainingly encourages and legitimizes our desires makes other forms of speech sound and feel more like commercials, from political campaigns to classroom presentations to sermons.

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    Lynne Cheney on the politics of ideas in higher education

    Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense, and What We Can Do about It (Simon & Schuster, 1995)

    Lynne Cheney, former chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, asks why universities have lost a concern for truth and civility. Her recent book, Telling the Truth, surveys a number of sites of cultural disorder, from the academy and the courthouse to newspapers, museums, and galleries. She concludes that the underlying crisis in these institutions is a loss of a belief in truth. Her book cites examples of people who continue to take stands on matters of truth and objective standards. She tells, for instance, about three academics in the humanities who have refused to subscribe to the dogma of skepticism and who have paid the price for it.

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    Peter Berkowitz on how Friedrich Nietzsche was torn between certainty of the "death of God" and belief in the divinity of truth

    Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist (Harvard University Press, 1995)

    Harvard political philosopher Peter Berkowitz claims in his controversial book that Friedrich Nietzsche, the man celebrated as the prophet of relativism, was actually a lover of truth. For Nietzsche, art served as a temporary haven for enlightened individuals from the terrors of existence. "We have art," he declared, "in order that we might not perish from the truth." Although he is heralded as the prophet of nihilism, the great witness to the death of God, Nietzsche's declarations about art and meaning, his music, and the very structure of his writings, all testify to a fundamental paradox in his work. Rather than the glib denier of truth that his followers have made him out to be, Nietzsche is actually an agonized lover of truth who understands the devastation which is inevitable if God is dead.

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    Ron Hansen on what makes good fiction

    Atticus (Harper Trade, 1997)

    The principal character in Ron Hansen's novel Atticus is Atticus Cody, a somewhat gruff but ultimately gentle cattleman and oilman from Antelope County, Colorado. At the center of the story is the mysterious death of Atticus Cody's wayward son, Scott, and Atticus's realization that there were mysteries about his son's life that he never imagined. The book is, in the words of one reviewer, "a family drama, novel of manners, detective story, and religious parable all rolled into one." In this interview, Ron Hansen talks about his writing habits, and whether when he writes he concentrates on the story and its own logic and momentum, or if he thinks more about the effect it will have on the reader.

Part 2

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    Frederica Mathewes-Green on "The America We Seek," an important pro-life manifesto

    Frederica Matthewes-Green is author of Real Choices: Listening to Women; Looking for Alternatives to Abortion< (Conciliar Press, 1997)

    A document called "The America We Seek" is an important discussion of the corrosive effects on American society caused by the defense of the abortion license. It asks if American society today is more hospitable, caring, and responsible than it was before Roe vs. Wade. The signers of the document believe that there is a connection between the growing virtue deficit in America and the abortion license. One of the signers of the document was Frederica Mathewes-Green, a syndicated columnist, who is active with the National Women's Coalition for Life. In this interview, she comments on the document and the issue of abortion. She tells the effects that she sees due to the legalization of abortion, putting the abortion issue in the larger context of legal philosophy.

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    Robert Higgs on how professional sports have lost a sense of play

    God in the Stadium: Sports and Religion in America (The University Press of Kentucky, 1995)

    In his provocative book God in the Stadium, Robert Higgs looks at the history of sports in American experience and at how organized religion has interacted with that history. He is worried about the decadence of professional sports and is concerned that sports in America have become more focused on winning prizes than on enjoying play, but he is also skeptical of those who see a fruitful alliance between sports and religion. Higgs cautions against those who want to exploit enthusiasm for sports in the interest of attracting people to the "cosmic coach with the ultimate game plan."

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    Terry Eastland on why affirmative action is ending

    Ending Affirmative Action: The Case for Colorblind Justice (Basic Books, 1996)

    Ending Affirmative Action by Terry Eastland addresses the subject of government-sanctioned, race-based decision making in hiring, admissions, promotions, and other educational and professional matters. He quotes a 1995 Supreme Court decision which insisted that "distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality." He believes we are in the process of ending affirmative action, saying that affirmative action preferences have crested because public sentiment supports the notion that government has a duty to govern impartially without regard to race or ethnicity.

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    Ted Libbey on Brahms's German Requiem

    Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) incorporated mixed chorus, solo voices, and full orchestra in his German Requiem.

    The German Requiem by Johannes Brahms was presented in its final form in 1868. It was his most ambitious work and brought international attention to Brahms, who struggled with the composition of his masterpiece for over a decade. Music critic Ted Libbey explores the dynamics of grief and comfort in the talks about the work, and explains how the care in the assembly of the texts accounts for much of the power of the German Requiem.