MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 48

Guests on Volume 48: Jon Butler, on the United States as a modern society—in 1776; Gary Cross, on An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America; Zygmunt Bauman, on the loss of permanence and solidity; Pico Iyer, on The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home; Richard Stivers, on sex and violence in media and the rule of technology; Larry Woiwode, on stories and giving form to experience; Alan Jacobs, on Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy; and James Trott, on poetry and piety.

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Part 1

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    Jon Butler on the United States as a modern society--in 1776

    Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776 (Harvard University Press, 2000)

    Historian Jon Butler says that America was well on its way to being a modern society by the time of the American Revolution in 1776. Butler says that the rise of imperialism, participatory politics, and religious pluralism helped shape America as a distinctive society from Europe. A diverse religious culture also helped make America a modern society, although Butler claims religion did not play a large role in the development of politics in the eighteenth century.

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    Gary Cross on An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America

    An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America (Columbia University Press, 2000)

    Historian Gary Cross says that as mass-produced products became the primary agents of community building in society (as the values of family and community diminished), areas of life that were previously considered market-free zones such as the home and children suddenly opened up to commercial activity. This erosion of boundaries between the home and the market took place in part, according to Cross, because of the new technologies such as telephones, radio, and television which deliberately eliminated barriers to commerce in the home.

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    Zygmunt Bauman on the loss of permanence and solidity

    Liquid Modernity (Polity Press, 2000)

    "The problem about liquidity of modern times is that we can’t actually stay put, whether we travel or not, whether we try to the best of our ability to stick to what we have, to our place of life, to our community, to our kind of job, to our skills: it all moves anyway... Every success is until further notice. Every achievement is a temporary one, and not a guarantee that it will last for ever, not a guarantee that in the future you will be as successful as you have been so far. You have to constantly brace yourself for a new kind of challenge, unexperienced so far, unfamiliar, and you have to forget old habits as quickly as you learned the new ones."
    --Zygmunt Bauman

    Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who has written extensively on the origins and ephemeral quality of postmodern life, says that liquidity is the metaphor which best characterizes the contemporary world. In a world which is "liquid," everything is short-lived and nothing stands still. Bauman says that while human life expectancy continues to be extended, everything else seems to be short-lived, and anxiety among human beings rises as nothing stands still and people are constantly on alert. The person capable of the most liquidity, according to Bauman, will often come to power in a society.

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    Pico Iyer on The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home

    The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home (Knopf, 2000)

    Pico Iyer, of Indian descent but raised in England and California and now a resident of Japan, asks questions about how we define ourselves in an increasingly global culture. For the first time, according to Iyer, human beings must deliberately fashion an identity. Home has become both invisible and portable, and personally chosen values, loyalties, and allegiances matter more than place. The loyalties of these "global souls" is more tenuous and complicated, Iyer reasons.

Part 2

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    Richard Stivers on sex and violence in media and the rule of technology

    Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational (Continuum Books, 1999)

    Richard Stivers says that while most people assume technology and magic to be opposed to one another, there are in fact affinities between the two. Both are about the power to control, especially the power to control people. Unlike magic, technology in modern society (which has a powerful and central role in our social institutions) connotes that which is abstract, rational, and artificial. According to Stivers, our mass media ritualizes sex and violence as a "carnival" counterpoint to the austerity of technical control.

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    Larry Woiwode on stories and giving form to experience

    What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts (Basic Books, 2000)

    Novelist Larry Woiwode's most recent memoir weaves together the story of survival during the harsh winter of North Dakota in 1996 and Woiwode's experience of survival as a young writer at the beginning of his career. Woiwode discusses the importance of giving a story a form, arranging it in a pattern that makes it recognizable. He also discusses the difference between those who live by arguments, often characterized by a more reactionary sensibility, and those who realize the narrative quality to life, who sense the stories (and Story) that transcends argument.

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    Alan Jacobs on Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy

    Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" Trilogy includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (pictured).

    Literary critic Alan Jacobs says that a disturbing aspect of novelist Philip Pullman's brilliantly written "His Dark Materials" trilogy is that Pullman creates "counterfactual" history of the Church. The idea of the Church and of authority mean tyranny to Pullman, according to Jacobs, and he continually expresses a universal sympathy for the marginal and the oppressed, regardless of other ethical considerations. Jacobs also says that in Pullman's world, everything associated with Christianity and the Church is bad, with no exceptions.

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    James Trott on poetry and piety

    A Sacrifice of Praise: An Anthology of Christian Poetry in English from Caedmon to the Mid-Twentieth Century (Cumberland House, 1999)

    James Trott, whose anthology A Sacrifice of Praise collects Christian poetry from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, sees poetry as the ultimate expression of devotion and piety. He talks about the reflective side of English poetry in the 17th Century religious poetry and about the influence of the Reformation on subsequent devotional poetry.