Feast of Excess
Feast of Excess: A Cultural History of the New Sensibility
Oxford University Press 2015
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in ArtNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FilmNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in MusicNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books Network January 22, 2016 Lilian Calles Barger
George Cotkin is an emeritus professor of history at California Polytechnic State University. In his book Feast of Excess: A Cultural History of the New Sensibility (Oxford University Press, 2015) he has given us cultural criticism through a set of provocative portraits of creative Americans at mid-twentieth century who defied convention, pushed the boundaries of aesthetics and forged a new sensibility of personal liberation. From John Cage, who in 1952 explored the musical possibilities of silence in the composition 4′ 33″ to Chris Burden’s 1974 performance piece Trans-fixed nailing him to a Volkswagen; both challenged the standing categories of art and aesthetics. Two-dozen dramatic vignettes demonstrate the excess of violence, sex, and madness that blurred the boundaries between art, artist and audience. Creatives such as Marlon Brando, Lenny Bruce, Andy Warhol, and Anne Sexton populate his pages. The fascination with excess cut across diverse expressions taking art and audiences into uncharted territories of the imagination erasing the distinctions between high and low art. Cotkin argues that the advant-garde pushing the limits with a mania for the new and unfettered subjectivity constitutes American culture today. For all its transgressions the New Sensibility was politically impotent and its excess fed the explosive growth of capitalism, consumerism and the golden age of advertising. The New Sensibility became stale, expected, and commodified. With a weakened power to shock it has become our culture, our sensibility, yet still offering the possibility of something passionate and new on the boundary between liberation and limits.