The Fall of Public Man

The Fall of Public Man

By (author) Richard Sennett

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Sennett presses social theory and historical experience to his service in developing a provocative thesis: that the public world stage has been usurped by the private psychic scene to the detriment of both individual and society.--Carl Schorske, Princeton University. Stimulating and challenging.--Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times.

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  • Paperback | 416 pages
  • 139.7 x 208.28 x 30.48mm | 136.08g
  • 17 Jun 1992
  • WW Norton & Co
  • New York
  • English
  • Reissue
  • Ill.
  • 0393308790
  • 9780393308792
  • 376,551

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Author Information

Richard Sennett teaches sociology at the London School of Economics and New York University

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Review quote

"Sennett presses social theory and historical experience to his service in developing a provocative thesis: that the public world stage has been usurped by the private psychic scene to the detriment of both individual and society. Sennett's quest for the causes of the impoverishment of civil life in modern industrial society opens fascinating perspectives into the relationship between theater, politics, urban life, and the changing function of the family." -- Carl Schorske, Princeton University "One of the most stimulating and challenging books to be written in years... A major attempt ... to re-examine the assumptions and objectives of the 1960s and transcend them without compromising their ideals. One admires the breadth of Professor Sennett's erudition, the reach of his historical imagination... By all means buy this book and read it." -- Christopher Lehmann-Haupt "[...] Sennett is at once a historian, sociologist, student of psychoanalytic doctrine ... and celebrant of city life... Seldom have I read a serious work of social theory that explains as much contemporary experience as Sennett's does." -- Robert Lekachman

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Review text

People in glass houses, says Sennett, turn turtle: "people can be sociable only when they have some protection from each other," they require some ritualized modes of behavior in order to interact effectively. In an original and sweeping historical study, the sociologist author of The Uses of Disorder relates society's most prominent ills, from clinical narcissism to political apathy, to the decline of public life and the rise of an arid privatism, exalting intimacy and enshrining personality. His model is the Enlightenment cosmopolis, where "a balance of public and private geography. . . did exist"; his method is to investigate the change in public roles - "the social terms on which human beings are expressive" - from the 1750s to the 1890s in the prototypical urban centers, London and Paris. Clothing and speech, he finds, clearly identified who people were in the 18th century, enabling strangers to mingle confidently and (along with other factors) allowing public life to be conducted with civility. In the 19th century, however, industrial capitalism introduced both homogeneity and mystification in dress, as the mass-produced garment "worn by the Duchesse de X" was invested with individuality; meanwhile its purchase, in a department store at a fixed price, became a silent, passive act. The growing "obsession with persons at the expense of more impersonal public relations" is traced not only in outward forms but in the writings of Rousseau, indicter of the city, and Balzac, who detected and dramatized its social relations "in the details of personal appearance" (the same detail that later told all to Sherlock Holmes). In the Dreyfus Affair, finally, a collective personality takes hostile, unalterable form - which Sennett sees echoed recently in the implacable opposition of the Forest Hills Jewish community to a low-income housing project. An enormously rich, complex, and stimulating book with a clear and present purpose: to free us from our private selves. (Kirkus Reviews)

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