When I first ordered Stuart Sim's `Routledge Companion to Postmodernism', I was expecting a narrative discourse on postmodernism, most from a philosophical standpoint. What I received was quite different, but quite wonderful, and an indispensable resource as I study theology and philosophy as they relate to postmodern ideas.
The text, edited by Sim, who is a professor of English Studies at the University of Sunderland, has dozens of contributors drawn from the academy and professional ranks. They provide an insight in the broad and varied diversity of postmodernism, which is far from being a monolithic enterprise. There are two main sections to the book - first, a series of 14 essays on sources and developments in modernism, and the second, a critical dictionary of names and terms.
The first section of essays includes essays such as Postmodernism and Philosophy, Postmodernism and Politics, etc. The topics deal with feminism, science and technology, art and architecture, many aspects of popular and current culture (cinema, television, literature, music, lifestyles), as well as the general idea of postmodernity vis-à-vis modernity and traditions of criticism and dissension. Each of the essays is interesting and engaging, brief enough to be read in one sitting, yet thorough enough to be the sort the interested reader will return to again. Postmodernism can be defined in various ways, but Sim gives the definition out of Lyotard as the rejection of `grand narratives' and universal theories -- the sort that science, metaphysics, mathematics, and other such disciplines have tried since the Enlightenment (or even further back) to support and impose. There is a strong antifoundational sense to postmodernism, that often makes it controversial.
One of the really useful aspects of the essays is that the text includes words (names, terms) in boldface when they are included in the general dictionary in the second section. There are brief biographical sketches of key intellectual players in postmodernism (Derrida, Lyotard, Barthes, Baudrillard, Foucault, etc.) as well as creative and artistic types (Pound, Carter, Rushdie, Vonnegut, etc.) contained, as well as figures who, while not postmodern themselves (Kant, etc.) nonetheless provide necessary and significant pieces to the postmodern project.
Rare is the book that will contain references to both Derrida and Heidegger's destruction/deconstruction as well as MTV and the rock band U2. This is truly postmodern! The cross-referencing makes this book a real pleasure to use; both the index and the bibliography make this of real value to scholars as well. The text is difficult at times (given the subject matter, there is no escaping that) but not needlessly so; the careful reader will find value regardless of the lack of previous critical and philosophical training.
I began my interest in postmodernism as a piece of theological investigations arising out of narrative theology. This book goes much further afield than that narrow disciplinary focus, but I am grateful for that, for it opens up a broad vista on the subject, and asks questions that need to be addressed in intellectual pursuits and cultural/creative tasks across the board.