Cover image for The pyrotechnic insanitarium : American culture on the brink
The pyrotechnic insanitarium : American culture on the brink
Dery, Mark, 1959-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 295 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
NX180.S6 D48 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A wild, sophisticated ride through "fin-de-millennium" America by the author of the critically acclaimed "Escape Velocity".

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Like many essays on pop culture of contemporary America, Dery's collection is an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink view of the end of the millenium (including comparisons of the Warren Report to Finnegan's Wake, and the author's fascination with the Edvard Munch painting The Scream). Occasionally, Dery's ruminations on our Nike-obsessed, Jim Carrey-imitating, X-Files-paranoid culture are hilarious; at other times, they definitely are not. But his point is well taken, that as we approach the next century, the U.S. is more of a culturally aware, and thus more culturally consuming, country than ever before. The author's previous take on cyberspace, Escape Velocity, seeps in here as well: the information age pushes the bits and pieces of pop culture further in our faces every day. The title is an old term used to promote New York's Coney Island amusement park, and a more appropriate monicker for 1990s culture can't be found. With no war to distract us as in previous decades, the culture itself has become a focal point for societal anxiety, and Dery's insights into the whys of this upheaval are most illuminating. --Joe Collins

Publisher's Weekly Review

Centering his critique of the contemporary pop cultural landscape around the title image, borrowed from a sobriquet once applied to Coney Island, Dery sees "a giddy whirl of euphoric horror where cartoon and nightmare melt into one." He can be an astute observer of trends, adept at connecting seemingly disparate phenomena. The best essays here focus on our obsessions with conspiracy and paranoia, the new grotesque aesthetic in the arts and the changing dynamics of technophilia and technophobia in the new computer age. Unfortunately, the book is padded with writing on minor topics. Dery shifts focus rather too quickly‘one has the sense that he is throwing ideas at a wall ostensibly to see what sticks, but really hoping to distract attention from the results through the speed of his performance. And, too often, he filters his subject matter through suppositions plucked from high theory without examining the ideas he's borrowing, perhaps least successfully in his deployment of Georges Bataille to unravel the cultural import of Jim Carrey. Some inconsistencies stick out: at one point, he characterizes deconstruction as a "vogue," barely above the level of a conspiracy theory; at another, he concludes his analysis of freaks as culturally "other" with one of the hoariest of deconstructionist chestnuts, the condemnation of binary oppositions. Such jargon limits his writing, and makes the book feel dated, as his reliance on interpretive strategies left over from the '70s (particularly from French thought: Kristeva's abject, Baudrillard's postmodern, Deleuze and Guattari's schizophrenic) is stale even by the standards of academe. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved