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Posted January 17, 2004
Vintage Thompson Mind-Jazz
Reading this book is a bit like watching a Baz Luhrmann film like 'Moulin Rouge' or 'William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.' Although the text, superficially, is the printed record of a 1992-1994 lecture series, the lectures themselves were not designed as a linear narrative exposition, but in Thompson's words, operated as a form of mind-jazz -- an improvisational riff on ancient texts.++++++++++ The texts function in the book very much the way an archetypal storyline does in Luhrmann's films -- as a structural anchor for a great whirl of pop references and images that have no temporal relationship to one another but are perceived to occupy the same ideational space. When this strategy works, the results are exhilarating. ++++++++++ Thompson's focus is the living interaction of consciousness and communicative form -- the way in which a consensual instrument of communication serves as the performance of tacit assumptions about what it means to be human. Influenced in this enterprise by the theories of Marshall McLuhan, Thompson demonstrates in diverse communicative fields -- art, literature, religion, myth, history, archaeology, poetry, pop imagery -- how new possibilities for meaning take hold in a culture, relegating displaced forms to folk art, and setting in motion fundamentalist movements in which the frankly archaic returns nativistically, a vocabulary wielded by those disenfranchised by the process of ideational change. +++++++++ Thompson has been taken to task, in this respect, for the so-called Whig fallacy of history -- that is, for treating past social orders as though they'd been groping along, step by step, to reach our own point of conscious development. But these reviewers are equally irritated by Thompson's multidimensional approach to his subject, regarding it as a rejection of western narrative convention. ++++++++++ It seems to me that the book's structure is more profitably understood as a deliberate reflection of the thesis that Thompson is advancing: that all variants of a conscious perspective exist at once as performances of that perspective, whether or not they served to reflect or influence the society in which they found expression. This thematic consistency both unifies the material and allows for expansive variation, much as an ostinato binds a musical composition while allowing for constantly changing contrapuntal parts. ++++++++++ Although some of his ideas are certainly familiar from post-modern theory, Thompson rejects the nihilism and political utilitarianism that so often attend a deconstructionist perspective on great literature. He appeals, rather, to the reader's imagination, that intermediate psychological ground between matter and spirit, where language serves as a form of currency: a means of exchange between the sensorium and dimensions that lie beyond its direct perceptual acquisition. ++++++++++ This felicitous analogy allows Thompson to introduce the evidence of texts that are not usually understood to have relevance in a technologically oriented society. Like a marriage contract, whose value is not in its material existence as a piece of paper, some texts operate as a 'consensual instrument,' allowing, as Thompson puts it, a domain of meaning to come into play. ++++++++++ Like Thompson's other books, this one is not an easy read. It's in the business of limning texts as performances of the worldview in which they were generated, determined not only by culture but by gender and adaptive context. And it attempts, by its very form, to invoke as well as to describe what Thompson calls a hermeneutic of the imagination. ++++++++++ Understanding our current state of cultural organization as a bifurcation point, a time in which the traditional forms of literate civilization are undergoing an electronic meltdown, Thompson regards the present communicative medium as the concrete performance of a state of consciousness that is collective ratherWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2010
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