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Monday, December 05, 2011

CULTURES MERGING: A HISTORICAL AND ECONOMIC CRITIQUE OF CULTURE

BOOK REVIEW
Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture
by Eric L. Jones
p. 2006
Princeton University Press
The Princeton Economic History of the Western World, Joel Mokyr, Series Editor

  I almost certainly read this book because it references Tyler Cowen's In Praise of Commercial Culture, with the same level of respect & admiration that I feel for the same work.  I ordered it on September 28th of this year, and I already finished it- pretty good turn around time, shows I'm interested in the subject matter which is best described as.... I would say a history of ideas.  A cross-disclipinary work, though it's hard to ignore its inclusion in the Princeton Economic History of the Western World series.

  That series features heavy, heavy titles like, Quarter Notes & Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Ninteenth Century, by F.M. Scherer.  And who could forget the immortal classic by Timothy W. Guinnane, The Vanishing Irish: Households, Migration, and the Rural Economy in Ireland, 1850-1914.   That's SNOOZE CITY, BAYBAY.

  Unlike some of the tedious sounding titles that share the Princeton Economic History of the Western World designation, Cultures Merging is a breezy little book, without so much as end notes (foot notes, often to news publications, dot the text in an unobtrusive fashion.  The fact that the Author, Eric L. Jones, has read Cowen's work is key, key, key to animating Cultures Merging.

  Whereas Cowen is very mild about the implications of his argument in Praise, Jones is less so:

    In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998) came as a shock to conventional anti-market wisdom.  Cowen demonstrates that government agencies and public monies are not essential to creating an active and original world of the arts.
   Some of his most intriguing observations are directed at the way individuals form their taste, devise their judgment, and erect their (mis)perceptions about cultural products.

   However, Jones' restatement of the positive impact the Market has on artistic creativity is worth noting, "Markets relax the constraints on internal creativity.  The great thing is to evade single buyers- patrons or Arts Councils- since these are likely to cramp one's style, like that of poor Velasquez, who had to paint eight-one portraits of Philip IV."  Cultures Merging is appropriately sub-titled as a "Critique" of the meaning & impact of Culture, but it's a sensitive, well-reasoned critique that was obviously to sophisticated for the public to grasp.

  All I'm saying is that you take Cowen's critique and then add Jones' stuff and rename it "The Psychology of Culture" instead of trying to pitch it as history or economics. Truly no one gives a shit about history (unless it's the Civil War or World War II) and truly, truly, no one gives a shit about economics, but psychology books are all over the place, and selling.

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