Are technological changes determinative of cultural changes? Consider the series of inventions and their deployment that led to the modern cinema and later to video, and so on. Did they together lead to a particular kind of change in the overall nature of society and culture? Great numbers of us now often find ourselves spending much time in front of screens in darkened rooms, with fellow audience members either crowded around us or watching exactly what we are watching in other places. How does this affect who we are and how we live, even outside those darkened rooms? Can anything very general be said as to all this? I think these are worthwhile questions; they are basically what Jonathan Beller in his new book proposes to address.

Significant though the issues are, however, Beller’s approach falls short of its promise. Judging by...

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