Tantalizing Times:

Excitements,Disconnects and Discontents in Contemporary American Society

By V. Barry Dauphin, Ph.D.
Peter Lang Publishing

Dr. Dauphin analyzes the ancient Greek myth of Tantalus as a metaphor for understanding many aspects of modern American culture. Tantalus was a mythical earthly king who was wealthy and powerful. Being the son of Zeus, he was highly favored by the gods. Although he possessed much more than others and had a splendid palace in which to live, he was dissatisfied. A pleasure loving mortal by character, Tantalus covets the powers and trappings of the gods. His desires lead him to break boundaries in order to possess immortality and god-powers. There are various versions of the myth, but they all involve the crime of hubris. Either Tantalus asks for forbidden immortality via nectar and ambrosia or he chops up his own son to test the omniscience of the gods or he steals the prized hound of Zeus among other crimes. He is punished in a classic manner. He sees that which he desires, but he is unable to possess it because it is blown clear of his grasp or danger threatens if he tries to grab. His objects of desire remain just out of reach. His punishment is a poignant tale of desire teasingly unfulfilled. From his name we derive the word, tantalize.

This myth serves as a backdrop against which Dr. Dauphin discusses the psychodynamics of tantalization and the oft mentioned angst of contemporary American living. America is a wealthy and mighty nation that is now the lone superpower. We live in a country that makes available most anything that people could want. We have the latest in technology, procedures to enhance beauty and youth, a streaky economy, a culture reared on entertainment, etc. In other words we have plenitude and excitements galore. Yet for many this never seems like enough, although we may expect that possession of this should make us happy.

Dr. Dauphin analyzes the curious expectations that possession of transient goods and experiences should lead to everlasting happiness. He suggests that many people are seeking something eternal but try to find it in the ephemeral. Behind this lie strong desires and fantasies for immortality and god-like powers. The culture tempts us to believe that these fantastic longings can and will be fulfilled via shopping, entertainment, wonder pills, cosmetic changes, self aggrandizement, technological developments, relativisms, etc. Contemporary angst appears partly associated to the disappointments and frustrations that the deeper prizes remain repetitively out of reach despite the acquisition of the surface vessels. This sets the stage for Tantalizing Times.