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A READER'S JOURNAL, Volume 1:

Acts of Meaning by Jerome Bruner
Foreword by G. B. Tennyson
Published by Harvard University Press in 1990
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002

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"Books are like mountaintops jutting out of the sea. Self-contained islands though they may seem, they are upthrusts of an underlying geography that is at once local and, for all that, a part of a universal pattern. And so, while they inevitably reflect a time and place, they are part of a more general intellectual geography. This book is no exception."

With these words Bruner starts off the Preface of this book. Bruner's books are also filled with mountaintops of insight that beckon us to visit and sit awhile, reflecting on all the territory we have traversed on the way to the summit. He refers to Gordon Allport's "methodolatry" as a "prevailing ethos of 'neat little studies'", what I would refer to as the idolatry of the method or scientific kitsch, the plastic flowers on the mantlepiece of science. Bruner asks a crucial question in the Preface, "...why is it necessary under all conditions for us to understand in advance of the phenomena to be observed -- which is all prediction is?"

The rest of his book he devotes to answering this question. His answers come in "The Proper Study of Man," "Folk Psychology," "Entry into Meaning," and "Autobiography and Self." The proper study of man is the study of folk psychology, Bruner claims, "Folk psychology needs explaining, not explaining away." Our stories are not stories of some objective Self, but are the very process by which we create Self. "The function of the story is to find an intentional state that mitigates or at least makes comprehensible a deviation from a canonical cultural pattern." Thus Self-forming stories are not kitsch, because kitsch involves mindless replication of canonical forms of culture. We come to see politics as kitsch enforced by guns, as Milan Kundera hinted at in his "Unbearable Lightness of Being." The paradox of Kundera's Grand March of Socialism is that the driving force of the non-canonical goals of cultural improvement can only disappear into the kitsch that invariably accompanies its success. The Grand March must inevitably terminate in the seedplots of coercion.

No one who reads Bruner can return to the flattened kitsch of information processing as the basis for our cognitive culture. One must look deeply into folk psychology and narrative for the roots of our cognitive and cultural cohesion.



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