In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, acclaimed cultural critic Neil Postman offers a cure for the hysteria and hazy values of the postmodern world.
Postman shows us how to reclaim that balance between mind and machine in a dazzling celebration of the accomplishments of the Enlightenment-from Jefferson's representative democracy to Locke's deductive reasoning to Rousseau's demand that the care and edification of children be considered an investment in our collective future. Here, too, is the bold assertion that Truth is invulnerable to fashion or the passing of time. Provocative and brilliantly argued, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century illuminates a navigable path through the Information Age-a byway whose signposts, it turns out, were there all along.
"I am not suggesting that we become the eighteenth century, only that we use it for what it is worth and for all it is worth," Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death; Technopoly) argues in this penetrating, extended essay. Though other periods are rich with learning and wisdom, Postman believes the 18th-century Enlightenment is uniquely valuable and relevant to today's world. It gave us the rationalist notion of human progress--expressed and supported by science and technology--and the romantic critique, with its idea of inward progress and its suspicion of the machine. It gave us discursive narrative prose as the prototypical model of thought, along with more subtle, less hysterical critiques of language than postmodernists offer today. It gave us floods of new information, yet ridiculed information as an end in itself, urging a healthy respect for context and purpose. It gave us the idea of childhood as a distinct life stage linked to education and nurturance, illuminated by two contrasting visions--Locke's blank slate to be written on and Rousseau's plant to be cultivated. And it gave us representative democracy. All these were expressions of a world in which the dominant media, unlike today, was the printed word. As that environment fades, the complex tensions Postman illuminates are replaced by shallow sloganeering by those who present themselves as the embodiment of novelty and daring. Postman forcefully argues that we can use the complex legacy of the past to resist being swept into a shiny, simpleminded new dark age. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.