We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Jacob Silverman, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is a review of Futility by William Gerhardie.
To read all entries in this series, click here.
The first book by artist Karen Green, who is the widow of David Foster Wallace, took me by surprise. Not because this book of prose poems and small collages is so finely written, but rather because Green manages to talk about what is on everyone’s mind — her husband’s suicide — in ways that are beautiful, allusive, and moving. “I worry I broke your kneecaps when I cut you down. I keep hearing that sound” — lines like these have a special artfulness, a sensory vividness (“that sound”) that will make you cringe even as your heart sinks.
Written by the eminent sociologist in the late seventies, “The Culture of Narcissism” — written in the aftermath of a disastrous war, during an economic malaise when people had little faith in government and when the counterculture had given way to a culture of ironic display and self-celebration — remains remarkably current. Skip the reactionary sections on feminism and family, but stay for the trenchant analysis of media culture, identity-as-performance, and how modernity creates a crisis of self-consciousness.
More than 50 years old, this is another work of social criticism that, if it doesn’t fully explain our current media culture, does a lot to trace its antecedents. Reading Boorstin’s book, you see how the media began to cover events that were increasingly covered in layers of artifice — “pseudo,” in the author’s description — laying the groundwork for our present society, in which invented controversies, fake viral media, press conferences, and other artificial events curry more power and attention than any story of famine, war, or injustice.