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This article is taken from PN Review 75, Volume 17 Number 1, September - October 1990.

Post-modernism, Craft, and the Market for Poetry Donald Davie

THE EARLIEST ATTACK on 'consumerism' may have been Ralph Glasser's The New High Priesthood (1967). Certainly its author seems to think so, opining without false modesty that his book was 'probably ahead of its time'.1 In it, Glasser says, he set out to show 'how the persuasion machine - advertising, PR, press and broadcasting, the design of products and their presentation, the 'marketing message' - was now the major influence in moulding people's beliefs, and instilled a shallow, infantile view of life.' An American historian, Jerry Z. Muller, would not be easily persuaded.2 Muller finds 'gloomers and doomers' - as he calls them - as far back in history as Justus Möser of Westphalia (1720-1794). In that perspective Glasser, no less than 'cultural critics from Vance Packard and Herbert Marcuse through Christopher Lasch and Barbara Ehrenreich', can only seem a Johnny-come-lately, rehearsing a time-honoured jeremiad. But of course Muller is making only a debating point when he puts on a level Möser's dislike of door-to-door peddlers in the 18th century with modern apprehensions about 24 hour commercial television. The principle may be the same, but today's peddlers command so much more technology that the difference of the scale must make a qualitative difference. And no one who observes the economic behaviour of his family, his friends and neighbours, indeed his own behaviour in the market-place, will think the question set to rest by Muller's appeal to the Wall Street Journal Centennial Study assuring us that 'the correlation between advertising ...


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