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Den narcissistiska kulturen (1979)

av Christopher Lasch

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1,131812,544 (3.91)10
The book quickly became a bestseller. This edition includes a new afterword, "The Culture of Narcissism Revisited."

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L'essai de l'historien américain Christopher Lasch -dont la première édition date de 1979- est assez exceptionnel par la densité et le spectre de son analyse, la qualité de pensée de son auteur restituée dans une écriture particulièrement claire et fluide (superbe traduction française de Michel L. Landa).
Avec beaucoup de lucidité et de hauteur, Christopher Lasch scrute et inspecte "l'homme psychologique de notre temps" à travers le prisme d'un développement fulgurant du narcissisme, que ce soit à travers la politique, l'éducation, le travail, le sport, la technologie, la santé et bien sûr la vie personnelle. Il dénonce ainsi de manière assez magistrale l'épuisement du sens de la vie qu'engendre la société de masse et de contrôle et l'illusion d'une contestation permanente des valeurs bourgeoises qui s'adosse en réalité à un nouvel esprit capitaliste.
Bien que la révolution numérique n'avait pas encore sonné à l'heure où Christopher Lasch a écrit son livre, ce dernier n'a rien perdu de sa pertinence et de son actualité à bien des égards, grâce à son intelligence intrinsèque.
De nombreuses phrases claquent et interpellent tout au long de ce livre, notamment dans sa première moitié dédiée à l'invasion de la société par le moi, la réussite sociale et le théâtralisme de la politique.
Le ton est donné dans la préface, dans laquelle on trouve les propos suivants :
"Partout, la société bourgeoise semble avoir épuisé sa réserve d'idées créatrices. Elle a perdu le pouvoir et la volonté de faire face aux difficultés qui menacent de l'engloutir. La crise politique du capitalisme reflète une crise générale de la culture occidentale, se révèle impuissante à comprendre le cours de l'histoire moderne ou à le soumettre à une direction rationnelle. [...] En faillite sur le plan politique, le libéralisme l'est tout autant sur le plan intellectuel."
"... la dépréciation du passé est devenue l'un des symptômes les plus significatifs de la crise cultuelle à laquelle ce livre est consacré. [...] Le refus du passé, attitude superficiellement progressiste et optimiste, se révèle, à l'analyse, la manifestation du désespoir d'une société incapable de faire face à l'avenir."
Sa postface, dans laquelle il décrit les traits de personnalité de l'homme narcissique d'aujourd'hui, est édifiante : "la crainte d'engagements astreignants, l'empressement à oublier ses racines, le désir de garder toutes les options ouvertes, une aversion au fait de dépendre de quelqu'un, l'incapacité à se montrer loyal ou reconnaissant. [...] Les Narcisse contemporains souffrent d'un sentiment d'inauthenticité et de vide intérieur. Ils ont du mal à se connecter au monde."
Qu'aurait-il écrit de notre société hyperconnectée paradoxalement en perte de liens?
Avec ténacité et intelligence, Christopher Lasch fouaille, désosse et autopsie la conscience de l'homme contemporain pour livrer au lecteur des réflexions très stimulantes et de grande qualité. ( )
1 rösta biche1968 | May 17, 2015 |
Chapter on degradation of sports is excellent ( )
  clarkland | Mar 11, 2015 |
Lasch, on the evidence of this book, is the American Adorno. He writes in a similar style; each sentence is perfectly formed, but often not so well connected to the preceding and following sentences. He has no patience for the conservative/progressive distinction, and would rather discuss the effects of an idea or practice rather than immediately laud or damn it (so, for instance, 'feminism' isn't abruptly praised or scornfully ignored; rather, the difficulties of putting feminist doctrine into effect, and the inadequacy of feminism as a theory of society, are outlined... without concluding that women are inferior to men). Finally, this is Major Theory. He is not 'making a space for conversation' or 'analyzing discourses' or adding one brick to the great Academic Wall. He has a theory that late twentieth century life is really messed up, he traces out how we got to be like we are and speculates about how we could stop being that way. And his theory does seem to explain an awful lot.

In short, the conjunction of progressive liberalism and capitalism destroys traditional forms of life without providing any satisfactory replacement. Since people can no longer rely on those traditional forms, we feel a) at a loss, homeless, as if the world is out to crush us, but also, b) we're completely and increasingly dependent on the world. Our psychological defense against this is to become 'narcissistic,' reliant upon others for praise to boost our self-esteem. That praise needn't be genuine, in fact, it's usually better if it's not, since then there's no danger of our becoming dependent upon anyone. Relationships seem to require co-dependence, rather than friendship or love. It's increasingly difficult for us to become mature adults. Nonetheless, Lasch doesn't seem to be advocating a return to feudalism or anything. Socialism - not bureaucracy, but the human control of the economy, state and society - is his chosen solution to these problems.

The big problem with the book is that it's all a little Freudy. If you're allergic to Freud, as many people seem to be, you'll find that pretty off-putting. But there's not a whole lot of the really whacky Oedipus stuff. Lasch relies on the later Freud's theory of the id/ego/super-ego, to suggest that the revolt against authority makes it impossible for us to form an effective ego. Instead, it's all id (uncontrolled instinct) and terrifying super-ego (crushing guilt and self-loathing). You can and should cherry-pick chapters, even if you don't like Freud.

The second problem is that this is not a book for people who don't know about sociology and psychology as traditions of thought. In that way he's like Adorno too- this isn't popular non-fiction, whatever else it is. How it became a best-seller I'll never know. I do think that someone who's done a good job with a core undergraduate education should be able to muddle through and get the point; but how many people have done that? This is frustrating, because I want to recommend it to everyone I know. And if I do that, half of my friends will think I've become a knee-jerk conservative, one quarter will say 'oh Justin, up to his commie tricks again,' and the other quarter will roll their eyes and wish I wasn't such an elitist. Well suck it up, friends- I'm a conservative, socialist, elitist. Maybe I just like this book because I already agreed with it. ( )
2 rösta stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
A withering critique of contemporary society, probably more relevant (and frightening) read today than back in '79. He leans heavily on Freud and mixes in Marxist/Frankfurt school style criticism. More or less his thesis reinforces everything a pessimistic cultural critic already sees/feels in 'late capitalist' society, but here, he persuasively argues that the reader is more than likely a narcissist and probably has never been aware of his condition (which, as Lasch defines, is the new psychological nerusosis of our time: the implication that a narcissist is a narcissist without knowing it). Who, me? ( )
1 rösta pessoanongrata | Apr 1, 2013 |
Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” was originally published in 1979, and has been a major cynosure of cultural and social criticism ever since. English literary critic Frank Kermode called it, not inaccurately, a “hellfire sermon.” It is a wholesale indictment of contemporary American culture. It also happens to fall into a group of other books which share the same body of concerns that I have been working my way through, or around, in recent months: Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America,” Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle,” Philip Rieff’s entire corpus (especially “Charisma,” but also his earlier work on Freud), and even the book I’m currently reading, Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land.”

All of these books discuss some aspect of social anomie, loss of community, and subsequent feelings of dissolution. This isn’t by any means a new debate; in the field of sociology, it dates at least as far back as Ferdinand Tonnies’ distinction between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, a distinction that was almost a prerequisite for the invention of modernism.

First, a note on the word “narcissism.” It was formerly a clinical term to diagnose the individual, but has “gone global” - or at least national. Lasch doesn’t really mean for the term to be a diagnosis in the clinical sense, but rather a “metaphor for the human condition” in contemporary times. In his argot, the word means much more than just lack of empathy, a tendency toward manipulative actions and pretentious behavior. “People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security” (p. 7). Lasch is more interested in the dissolution of communities and relationships that makes us feel as if we live highly individualized, atomized lives detached from the concerns of others. The book spells out the ways in which these patterns are positively correlated with the rise of materialism, technologism, “personal liberation” (those bywords of sixties radicalism) and nominal egalitarianism.

His few words on contemporary corporate America will strike anyone who has ever worked in one of these organizational hellscapes: he states that corporate bureaucracies “put a premium on the manipulation of interpersonal relations, discourage the formation of deep personal attachments and at the same time provide the narcissist with the approval he needs in order to validate his self-esteem.”

A la Debord, the politics of narcissism become more about “managing impressions” and “human relations” more than actually solving problems, citing Kennedy’s disaster at the Bay of Pigs as an example. To steal from the language of yet another late French thinker, it’s all about the simulacra. In a chapter called “The Degradation of Sport,” he notes that enormous amounts of corporate money have turned athletes into mere entertainers to be sold to the most prestigious sports syndicate. The central concept of the sporting even – the agon, the contest – has been displaced in order to sell products and personalities who will invariably be with the team for only a short time.

Lasch’s political affiliations are sometimes interestingly and tellingly misconstrued. Though often criticized for being a reactionary conservative simply because he points to the radicalism of the sixties as one of the desiderata under consideration, Lasch’s analysis is self-consciously informed by both Marx and Freud, two figures hardly recognized for being popularly co-opted by various brands of twentieth-century conservatism. Those who believe that Lasch is a blind ideologue on other side of the spectrum need to read him again: he explicitly faults both the right for their veneration of the market’s “invisible hand” and the left for their cultural progressivism. Lasch is in politics, above all else, a democratic humanist.

He writes in the Afterword, “The best defenses against the terrors of existence are the homely comforts of love, work, and family life, which connect us to a world that is independent of our wishes yet responsive to our needs. It is through love and work, as Freud noted … that we exchange crippling emotional conflict for ordinary unhappiness.” It might not sound like a prognosis abounding in optimism, but it drips with the sincerity of an honest, heartfelt critic of American culture. ( )
6 rösta kant1066 | Feb 15, 2013 |
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The book quickly became a bestseller. This edition includes a new afterword, "The Culture of Narcissism Revisited."

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