I just finished Chris Hedges incisive, brilliant, and disturbing analysis of American culture, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. The book is blunt and even graphic in places, so my recommendation that you read it comes with a warning: because Hedges is discussing American culture, and so much of American culture is violent and prurient, his discussion of it is, in places, decidedly “R-rated.” Nonetheless, this is a very important book, one I found hard to read and with which I both agreed and argued. It isn’t hard to read because Hedges is a confusing writer. He is clear, passionate, and, in places, eloquent and elegant in his writing. It is hard because it confronts us with stinging truth.
Here’s a passage from early in the book which gives a sample of Hedges’ style and also fairly summarizes his analysis of our culture:
We are a culture that has been denied, or passively given up, the linguistic and intellectual tools to cope with complexity, to separate illusion from reality. We have traded the printed word for the gleaming image. Public rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a ten-year old child or an adult with a sixth grade reading level. Most of us speak at this level, are entertained and think at this level. We have transformed our culture into a vast replica of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, where boys were lured with the promise of no school and endless fun. They were all, however, turned into donkeys–a symbol, in Italian culture, of ignorance and stupidity.