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Customer Review

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much more than 'first steps', 15 April 2013
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This review is from: Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
If you are ever interested in actually doing some useful postsmodernism you should read this book. It is easy to fictionalise Butler as a former realist who has had to retreat to a critical-realist position in the face of the onslaught on realism that is postmodernism. From this new position he intends to put up a dogged defence and for this reason Butler proves invaluable because in order for him to do so he must really understand postmodernism. Butler also unawarely reveals his privileging position by unconsciously assuming that when those on the margins speak to the centre, they speak to 'us', or when he explains that developments that have been 'immensely liberating' for women and cultural minorities have been the result of postmodernism's 'negative critique'. Still, although he conflates poststructuralism with its parent postmodernism, he demonstrates a depth of knowledge in these areas and is excellent at presenting their complex central themes in a clear readable manner.

Butler begins the narrative of postmodernism in Paris, 1968. Butler deviates a little from the accepted wisdom which is that the marxist's failure to join the barricades resulted in the students dismissing any metanarrative as being potentially liberating. Butler instead seems to infer that the results of this was that postmodernists predicted that metanarratives themselves would ceased to exist. This is an important disjunction for the defence of postmodernism. Throughout the book Butler sets out clearly the progress of postmodern's discourse theory {highlighted in the cultural selection of historical narrative} against realism's rationality, his subsequent championing of 'scientific fact' as being unassailable then seems unreasonable. In its dealings with minorities and women science has a chequered history. In an age when many are concerned about the New Eugenics being practiced by the scientific community, Butler's counter that 'Aspirin works everywhere' doesn't allay fears of a practice of science divorced from philosophy.

Butler engages well at other times and explores postmodern art, architecture music and literature. That poststructuralism is a politics of the left is no secret but Butler demonstrates well how Foucault provides a sophisticated language-based version of the class antagonism of Marx by relying on the beliefs about the inherent evils of the individual's class position. Butler also provides a good explanation {from first principles if you like} of the theory of pattern and repetition - everything is a copy of a copy in postmodernism. Postmodernists are the avent garde of social critique and 'have borne the greatest burden' for a long time; Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that the 'real' America is Disneyland, prisons exist to obfuscate the fact that 'freedom' is also a form of imprisonment. This is postmodernism at its most playful. What is easily forgotten is the extreme hard work postmodern philosophers put into developing the theory behind these vinaigrettes. Butler tells you to watch out because you had better also have worked hard to develop your work.
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