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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant critique, 16 Aug 2004
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Illusions of Postmodernism (Paperback)
In his attempt to find a working definition, Eagleton makes a distinction between postmodernism and postmodernity. For him, postmodernism is a style of culture reflecting something of the epochal changes during the historical phase of postmodernity. He explores the culture and milieu of postmodernist philosophy as a whole and does not much discuss particular works of art or specific theorists. Eagleton's approach is to look at what a student today might believe about postmodernism and to prove that most of that is false. Although his view is mainly negative, he judges both postmodernism's strengths and its failures from a broadly socialist political and theoretical perspective.

The book draws extensively on the author's writings in the London Review Of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Monthly Review, Textual Practice and Socialist Register and is divided into the chapters Beginnings, Ambivalences, Histories, Subjects, Fallacies and Contradictions. Eagleton's sense of irony and gift of satire ensure an engaging text, especially when he comes up with turns of phrase like: " ... from Lyotard to leotards ...". He also touches on subjects are disparate as Madonna, graphic novels and gothic architecture, which enliven the text.

Eagleton considers the politics of postmodernism to have been both enrichment and evasion. For all its supposed openness, Pomo can be just as censorious and exclusivist as the orthodoxies it opposes. He explains that it is a type of orthodox heterodoxy that needs its straw men in order to stay in business. In its attempt to cut the ground from under its opponents' feet, Pomo unavoidably pulls the rug from under its own. He explores pomo's hatred of essentialism (the specific "whatness" of a thing) and concludes that if enlightenment universalism is exclusivist in practice, ethnic particularism can be exclusivist in both practice and theory.

Eagleton concludes that pomo is not just some theoretical mistake. It is the ideology of a particular historical epoch in the West when reviled and humiliated groups discovered something of their history and selfhood. But its inherent failings are its cultural relativism, moral conventionalism, cynicism, localism and lack of any adequate theory of political agency. As such, he concludes that postmodernism cannot confront authoritarian ideologies.

In simple parlance, pomo thought with its relativism denies distinctions between right and wrong or good and evil, whilst claiming that everything is just a power game and we are all victims. It in fact provides a fertile breeding ground for fascism, something that Eagleton is perhaps too polite to spell out. But his thoughts have broadened my perspective on this jargon-jaded phenomenon, all thanks to his elegant prose and intellectual acuity.

The book concludes with notes and an index. I also recommend Intellectual Impostures (Fashionable Nonsense) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, an investigation of how postmodernist theorists twist and abuse the language of the natural sciences. Further books of interest include Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks.
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The Illusions of Postmodernism
The Illusions of Postmodernism by Terry Eagleton (Paperback - 17 Nov 1996)
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