Dreams of Millennium: Report from a Culture on the Brink
Contains Bibliography, Index
Elaine Porter is an associate professor of sociology at Laurentian
Millenarian drum-beating is likely to become louder as we march closer
to the year 2000 or 2001, when our thirst for transcendental
understandings will probably have reached a feverish pitch. In
preparation, Mark Kingwell takes us on a meandering course through the
apocalyptic themes that have echoed throughout the centuries. We can, of
course, take heart that, despite all the doomsaying, civilization moved
onward each time and we are still here.
Kingwell’s is a postmodernist account that combines elements of
history, biography, and cultural analysis. He weaves back and forth
between personal experiences and academic reflections. For example, his
chapter on the growing gap between the rich and the poor borrows on his
experience as a student at Yale University as well as on the arguments
of Lasch, Lind, and Galbraith.
Kingwell has made some attempt to determine the prevalence of certain
of the cult behaviors he examines, but many of the trends he analyzes
involve only a small number of people. Body piercers, UFO believers, and
exhibitors at psychic fairs evoke a self-admitted fascination in
Kingwell, who regards them somewhat as cul-tural heroes. They appear to
be engaged, para- doxically, in a rebellion against mass culture (which
Kroker has termed the colonizer of the brain) while at the same time
apparently following the cultural trends.
He briefly reviews the ideas of cultural critics and manages some nice
salvos of his own at the anti-democratic trends in capitalism,
environmental degradation, and the cyberfuture. The danger is, of
course, that we may read the book with the mass-culture consciousness he
critiques and thus too facilely dismiss the possibility of
environmental, cultural, and social destruction.
By the book’s end, the intellectual collage has shifted toward
personal ruminations more than cultural critique. We find Kingwell to be
a skeptic, alienated from the excesses of both capitalist society and
cultist groups but still hoping for salvation from the apocalypse. All
in all, judging from Kingwell’s writings, millenarian soul-searching
is, paradoxically, cultural solipsism.