In "Ultra-Talk," David Kirby poses a simple question: What makes a cultural phenomenon truly great? Exploring a wide variety of "king-sized cultural monuments," Kirby argues that one qualification for greatness is that a phenomenon be embraced by both the elite and the general public. Further, he argues, it must be embraced repeatedly over time.
Kirby turns his critical eye to subjects that have been studied and written about, sought after avidly, discussed passionately, and even resisted vigorously around the world. Auto racing, Dante, folk music, food, Leonardo da Vinci, films, poetry, religion, striptease, television, and the internet are just some of the topics he examines. In Rome, heads of state kneel before Bernini's statue of Saint Teresa in ecstasy, says Kirby, and so do people who can't read. And everyone watches TV.
"Ultra-Talk" pays homage to the work of two towering writers and critics. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Giacomo Leopardi both stated that a book was valid only if it had been accepted by both an intellectual elite and a vast public. Kirby would have added a second requirement: that the book's--or cultural monument's--popularity must have traction over time. By standing on the shoulders of Goethe and Leopardi, Kirby offers a way to read, see, and savor a post-theoretical worldview that everybody can share.