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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction



The Middle Mind

by
Curtis White


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Middle Mind



Title: The Middle Mind
Author: Curtis White
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2003
Length: 202 pages
Availability: The Middle Mind - US
The Middle Mind - UK
The Middle Mind - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining diatribe, good points -- though some of the critiques too narrowly focussed

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 23/2/2004 George Walden


  From the Reviews:
  • "Like many of a culturally conservative bent, his main problem is democracy. By "middle mind" he means in effect mediocrity, but he cannot say so too loudly without getting into the nature of mass man, a taboo concept. So he goes flat out for the corporate cultural interests, which is fair enough (though without mentioning Murdoch, which is dishonest)." - George Walden, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Middle Mind is a critique of the failure of the imagination in contemporary America. For White: "imagination is not only about creation; it is also about how we see and how we experience", and it is particularly in seeing and experiencing that he finds contemporary American consumer society to have lazily taken the easy, passive (and unimaginative) path that reinforces a status quo the he considers undesirable. White sees imagination as "a social force that allows for both critique and reinvention", and The Middle Mind is a call to embrace and fully use it in this way.
       The 'Middle Mind' White challenges in his book is a "third force" of cultural politics -- not the right or left extremes that dominate the bitter, so-called culture wars, but rather those that take a different, middle approach:

The Middle Mind is pragmatic, plainspoken, populist, contemptuous of the right's narrowness and incredulous before the left's convultions. It is adventuresome, eclectic, spiritual, and in general agreement with liberal political assumptions about race, gender, and class.
       National Public Radio and PBS seem the natural haunts of the Middle Mind; Terry Gross and Charlie Rose among its most public faces. It is not generally considered dangerous or bad -- but White argues that it is no more desirable than the more clearly recognisable extremist positions.
       Most of The Middle Mind offers examples of this force and the fare it uncritically is satisfied with (and by), and why White believes it is so dangerous, from Terry Gross' Fresh Air programmes (he concludes she's a "schlock jock") to Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan to Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. In trying to show that: "Criticism creates the opportunity for creativity", White offers the sort of criticism he believes is needed in close readings of specific works, or at least critical looks at aspects of them. He convincingly shows their limitations -- though his choices tend to be easy targets. Only a few works seem to him commendable -- Radiohead's album Kid A, for example.
       White writes entertainingly and approachably. He is as comfortable bringing in Adorno and Virilio as he is discussing the lightest of pop fare; more importantly, he makes the reader comfortable with it to, the theorizing presented simply enough to be readily followed. There's a lot here, however, and White jumps about a great deal. All sorts of asides help to lighten up the going, but too much is left as yet another unexplored tangent.
       The most contentious aspect of the book is one of White's premises, his definition of "the imagination's most basic social functions: to critique and to imagine alternatives to the social status quo." He correctly points out the undeniable: there's a lot wrong with the world as it is (and with some of the paths down which we're headed). Nevertheless, there's a great deal of support for the status quo (for whatever reasons -- White does not wonder too hard about why this might be) -- and it is not clear that "imagination" as he understands it is something many people could be interested in. America politics -- the most basic level where one would imagine there must be critical engagement with the issues -- has proven itself impervious to any sort of rational or critical examination (which does exist in at least parts of the media, etc.), leading to the election of such ridiculous figures as George Bush jr. and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Schwarzenegger may, in fact, not be a ridiculous figure, but tellingly he avoided making any substantive statements while a candidate for the California governorship: voters were asked to choose based on gut instincts, rather than on actual relevant information.)
       The existence of a 'Middle Mind', as White defines it, is convincingly presented in The Middle Mind -- as is its unimaginative acceptance of the world it lives in. White may be right that this uncritical attitude (or critical impotence) is a bad thing -- but he doesn't wonder enough about why it is that this attitude has been so wholeheartedly and comprehensively embraced. Indeed, even if its eyes are opened -- as White attempts to do with this book -- it seems by no means certain that the Middle Mind would want to approach the world more imaginatively (which would also mean: more critically), preferring instead to remain in the status quo rut that has served it so well.
       This book is subtitled: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves, but, unfortunately, it's not really the why that's explored. Still, White's book is a useful look at how passive and unengaged the American public has become, and demonstrates quite clearly that this impoverishes American society. One hopes some readers will take his anger (and his arguments) to heart and approach art -- and life -- more imaginatively (in the way he means -- i.e. also more critically).

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Links:

The Middle Mind: Reviews: Curtis White: Other books by Curtis White under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Curtis White teaches at Illinois State University and is president of the Center for Book Culture.

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© 2003-2010 the complete review

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