Future Tense : The Lessons of Culture in an Age of Upheaval

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2012-09-25
  • Publisher: Perseus Distribution Services
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As The New Criterionembarks on its fourth decade of publication, the magazine commemorates its commitment to the civilizing values of informed criticism with the publication of Future Tense: The Lessons of Culture in an Age of Upheaval. Many observers assume that our culture is living through one of those "world historical moments" that Hegel talked about: a plastic moment when many of the traditional assumptions about the shape and future of the culture are suddenly in play. The Pax Americana of the last fifty or sixty years looks oddly fragile, the expectations about the economy and America's role in the world may well be challenged in fundamental ways in the coming decades. In Future Tense, each essay writer steps back to reflect on where we are as a culture: to meditate not only on the many challenges we face but also on some traditional sources of strength that we may have unfairly neglected or underestimated. The book's aim is partly to provide a cultural pathologist's report on America and the West's recent trajectory, but also to provide some tonic admonitory counsel about recapturing the civilizational vitality that seems in many respects to have ebbed away. Future Tenseincludes essays by Michael J. Lewis, Victor Davis Hanson, Andrew Roberts, David Bentley Hart, Kevin D. Williamson, Anthony Daniels, Charles Murray, James Panero, Andrew C. McCarthy, and Roger Kimball. Taken together, they reaffirm The New Criterion's commitment to fostering the enabling resources of tradition, the abiding claims of the "common culture" T. S. Eliot fought resolutely to preserve.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. viii
America Resumed: 9/11 Rememberedp. 1
Is America Periclean?p. 21
A Prometheus Boundp. 41
America & the Angels of Sacré-Caeurp. 61
Everybody Gets Richp. 81
Under the Scientific Bo Treep. 101
What's a Museum?p. 119
Enter Totalitarian Democracyp. 141
Out of the Wildernessp. 161
The Fourth Revolutionp. 181
The Lessons of Culturep. 201
Contributorsp. 219
Indexp. 223
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


America resumed: 9/11 remembered
by Michael J. Lewis

The first entry in our series "Future tense: the lessons of culture in an age of upheaval."

If asked to describe the cultural legacy of World War One, you might cite Hemingway’sA Farewell to Armsor George M. Cohan’s rousing but now forgotten “Over There.” Or perhaps the poignant battle monuments of the American Expeditionary Force, of which Paul Cret’s temple at Chateau Thierry is the loveliest. But these items are tangible, and the most vital cultural legacy of any war—or any great national trauma, for that matter—is intangible. It is the comprehensive way it changes our shared attitudes and assumptions, our collective sensibility.

Changes in the collective sensibility, being invisible, usually do not reveal themselves until they are expressed in action. The whip can crack before anyone realizes that it was coiling, and so it was at the end of World War I with Prohibition. In 1919 two separate forces—a wartime mood of urgency and a newfound bitterness toward America’s brewers, nearly all of them German—fatefully converged, and in a matter of days accomplished what a half century of temperance crusading had failed to do. Any reckoning of the cultural legacy of the war must give Prohibition a central place.

And what of September 11, 2001? Here too one must distinguish between tangible and intangible consequences. The day has already brought forth an enormous trove of cultural artifacts, including skyscrapers and memorials, novels and films, plays and songs. If they do not quite stand comparison with the achievement of Hemingway, Cohan, or Cret, they are notable for a very different reason. Questions of art and culture seldom are directly involved in a national trauma; they belong to the shadow realm in which great events are digested and replayed after the fact, much as a dream imaginatively rehearses the happenings of the day. But on September 11, it happened that a work of art, a modernist landmark known throughout the world, was at the center of events. And so the cultural artifacts created in the wake of its destruction speak with unusual clarity about how the collective sensibility has changed, and how it has not.

What’s a museum?
by James Panero

What’s a museum? Lately, it seems, the answer is whatever we want. Today’s museums can be tourist attractions, department stores, civic centers, town squares, catalysts of urban renewal, food courts, licensing brands, showcases for contemporary architecture, social clubs, LEED-certified environmentally conscious facilities, and franchise opportunities. A “well-run museum is eerily like an upscale suburban shopping mall,” says an article inThe New York Times. A cafe with “art on the side,” advertises London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. “We are in the entertainment business, and competing against other forms of entertainment out there,” says a one-time spokesman for the Guggenheim museum. “Inclusive places that welcome diverse audiences” and “reflect our society’s pluralism in every aspect of their operations and programs,” suggests the American Association of Museums. “We live in a more global, multicultural society that cares about diversity and inclusivity,” so “service to the community” is now among the museum’s à la carte options, says Kaywin Feldman, the latest head of the Association of Art Museum Directors. As reported inThe Wall Street Journal, museums are even about “bringing art to those with Alzheimer’s or post-traumatic stress disorder, and farming crops for donation to local food banks,” initiatives that have been promoted through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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