Saturday, December 01, 2007

Worth, Sarah. "Review of William Irwin and Jorge J. E. Gracia, eds. PHILOSOPHY AND THE INTERPRETATION OF POP CULTURE." NDPR November 19, 2007.

Philosophy and the Interpretation of Pop Culture is an edited collection resulting from a conference on the topic held in Buffalo in April, 2004. From the list of contributors alone it is clear that this is an issue that is getting some serious attention by the world of academic philosophy. Heavy hitters such as Noël Carroll, Ted Cohen, Richard Shusterman, Jorge Gracia, and Gareth Matthews are all contributors to the volume. What I think is especially notable about the list of contributors more generally is that they are not all aestheticians, but are well-known philosophers in an array of fields. But this collection is not just another group of essays connecting various aspects of popular culture to philosophical topics. This is meta-philosophy of pop culture -- philosophy about philosophy of pop culture. For this reason, it stands apart from the other books, which examine philosophy through some particular aspect of pop culture. As Irwin says in the introduction, philosophy as a discipline has "had a public relations problem for a couple of centuries now, so engagement with popular culture is not an opportunity we can afford to miss" (3). This collection examines carefully how we might best cultivate this developing relationship between philosophical insight and popular culture in an interesting and effective way. The book is divided into two sections: the first on "Philosophy and Popular Culture," and the second on "Interpretation and Popular Art Forms." The first deals with the theoretical issues, concerns, and limitations of the interaction of the two fields, and the second includes essays in which philosophers deal with a specific artistic medium of popular culture. These media include television, horror films, children's literature, comic books, Rock' n' Roll, and photography. I found the first section considerably more interesting and useful than the second, as it dealt with the meta-issues of what the possibilities are with the courting of philosophy and popular culture in general. The books on the various popular topics "and philosophy" for the most part do not deal with the theoretical issues that concern the limitations of the philosophical use of popular culture, so these essays are particularly helpful in considering the value of doing this kind of philosophy. The second half of the collection focuses less on theoretical issues generally than on issues of interpretation that arise within particular genres of popular art. Although some might assume that popular art might be more transparent than high art and is in no need of interpretation, Irwin suggests in his introduction that this view is mistaken. The hermeneutic issues raised here are not necessarily novel ones, but as they are raised here they give the reader a good sense of how some of the classic problems in philosophy (and in particular in aesthetics) get fleshed out when applied in a new way. These essays are particularly helpful in understanding the unique issues connected with each medium. I will give a short summary of the issues dealt with in each of the essays in what follows. . . . Please read the full review here:

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