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SixInterdisciplinary Studies JohnL. Caughey.Imaginary Social Worlds: A Cultural Approach.Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.280pp. Marshall W.Fishwick. Common Culture and the GreatTradition: The Case/or Renewal. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1982.230pp. Winfried Fluck, Jurgen Peper, and WilliPaul Adams,eds.Forms and Functions of History in American Literature.Essaysin Honor of Ursula Brumm. Berlin:Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1981.205 + xiv pp. JohnA. Kouwenhoven.Half a Truth is Better thanNone: Some Unsystematic Conjectures about Art,D1'sorde1~ and American Experience. Chicago: TheUniversityof Chicago Press, 1982.248 + xiiipp. KennethS.Lynn. The Ai~Line to Seattle: Studies in Literaryand Historical Writing about America. Chicago:The University of Chicago Press, 1983.227pp. MichaelSpindler.American Literature and SocialChange: William Dean Howells to Arthur Miller. Bloomington:Indiana University Press, 1983.236 +viiipp. Herbert F.Smith There are two reasons why conservative academics look down on interdisciplinary studies. The first is that they suspect the academic who spans more than one discipline has spread himself too thinly and is not engaged inhard-nosed analysis. This is the "there's physics, and all the rest is stamp collecting" school. It is terribly unfortunate that many promotion advisory committees are packed with academics of this persuasion, denying the interdisciplinary innovator a fair hearing, and punishing instead of rewarding innovative research. Any intellectual with the slightest tint of liberalism must deplore such negative restriction upon freedom of investigation and urge that the academic community give full weight to all interdisciplinary investigation as a responsible academic discipline itself. The second reason is that many interdisciplinary studies are poorly conceived, poorly written, and tend to prove nothing but their authors' ingenuity. These six interdisciplinary works in American culture illustrate both positions. The name of Marshall Fishwick is as closely connected with popular culture as that of the other Marshall, McLuhan. Where McLuhan marshalled hisbattalions in writerly strategies of provocative new insights that lasted at leastfor his owntime, however,Fishwickis afield-marshallofthe commonplace andthe obvious. Common Culture and the Great Tradition is a rehashing of the platitudes and pop slogans of Fishwick's earlier books on the same or Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 16, Number 4, Winter 1985,451-463 452 Herbert F.Smith related subjects. His breezy, offhand style is perfectly appropriate to his casual generalizations from little or no evidence, his simplistic criticisms of all ideas that do not correspond to his jingoistic notion that the way things are is the way they ought to be, and his playing fast and loose with his evidence. Here is a representative sample of all those qualities: In twenty years, television has changed our cosmology. Earth, air, fire and water have lost their place as simple absolutes. Space, time, energy and mass are now basicand all are shaped by videoculture. No one who studies or teaches can ignore this central fact. "Nonsense," you may say. "The boob tube has nothing to offer. All it does is put me to sleep." "Tosleep, perchance to dream; ay, there's the rub." For might not television be a nonlinear collective dream for our whole society? Does not the strangely seductive iconic tube induce a special kind of sleep, one that puts us into a dream world wide awake? (p. 73) Is it the very casualness of Fishwick's regression to belief in Elizabethan natural philosophy that causes him to quote Hamlet as if he just thought up the line himself? Is it that triteness of the quoted line that leads him to the triteness of his "iconic tube" paradox? Can anyone take very much of this kind of thing at a time? There is more than 200 pages of it here. Fortunately, the chapters are all very short and the notes and suggestions for further reading are all unintentionally comical; they read like modern versions of the count's assembled reading for Plotinus Plinlimmon in Melville's Pierre. The study of popular culture will undoubtedly survive Marshall Fishwick, but only because it is a healthy area for interdisciplinary investigation, and can afford to sprout a few tumors here and there. John L. Caughey's Imaginary Social Worlds opens with the retelling of how, on 14June 1949,Ruth Steinhagen invited Eddie Waitkus, first...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 451-463
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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