Robert Grudin is a lyrical philosopher. From Time and the Art of Living (1982) to The Grace of Great Things (1990) and On Dialogue (1996), he has tackled the traditional subjects of classic philosophy with a beautiful prose style in work fueled by American pragmatism and metaphysical exploration.
In his new book, Grudin examines postwar developments in American social consciousness, as we have veered from the nineteenth-century ideal of the commonwealth to the contemporary fixation on the individual—what others have described as the “culture of narcissism.” Grudin identifies how easily misled individuals can be by a class of professional manipulators—politicians, marketers, advertisers, and the like. He demonstrates the calculated effort to diminish and demean broad national awareness, a project of vulgarization. Illustrating its effects in several areas of common daily life, he shows how this dumbing-down of the electorate has bred an epidemic and self-destructive ignorance.
Grudin believes that only a rebirth of individual awareness can repair this damage and in this book sets about to explore the avenues renewed consciousness may take to save individuals from the death of mass vulgarity. American Vulgar paints a distressing portrait, but leaves us with hope, offering several possibilities for repair and salvation.