Disciplines of Delight: The Psychoanalysis of Popular Culture

Free Association Books (1994)
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Abstract

In recent times it has seemed to many people as if the unifying impact of mass forms of popular culture has been overshadowed by the postmodernism of cultural pluralism, identity politics, niche marketing and lifestyle diversity. Using insights from psychoanalysis, this new book suggests that powerful forces may still be at work extending and deepening their hold on popular experience through the unifying forms of modern culture. The practices and aesthetic codes of popular culture provide ways of confronting and managing the basic psychic tensions and anxieties of modern life, appealing globally across the deep divides of class, gender and ethnicity. In a series of extended illustrations, Barry Richards explores the emotional underpinnings of the rise of football as the 'people's game', the appeal of the motor car and other consumer goods, the strategies of advertising, the cultural predominance of pop music, and popular images of the countryside. While each phenomenon has a range of meanings of its own, the illustrations reveal the common positive side of these cultural forms, which serve as vehicles for psychological integration. At the core of this book is the idea that the pleasures of popular culture are at their strongest and best when they confirm our sense of belonging in the social order. Despite the constraint and disappointment inevitably involved in this, the reconciliation with authority which it brings is vital for the containment of the anxieties with which we all struggle. Disciplines of Delight reveals how psychoanalytic thinking can add to social understanding and is an original contribution to current debates on the nature of contemporary society.

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