Modern/Postmodern (book review) Peter V. Zima

Society, Philosophy, Literature


220918 this is a much later later addition: after reading more, particularly Nietzsche and Buddhism, there is for me a more complex understanding of how his thought presages postmodernism, indeed his critique of central, European, humanist discourse, can be seen as essential in recasting the 'ground' on which these disputes may be argued, in showing there is a different possibility, different basis, that in some ways evades this distinction between modern/postmodern. is this 'deconstruction'? i do not know...


240816 this is a much later addition: just read about some interesting attempt to discredit 'continental' or maybe just 'postmodern' thought by some other (analytic?) philosopher writing a mock-text built out of speculative contentions, assertions, texts, of varied, disconnected 'scientific' lineage, connecting them in spurious/opaque manner- then when accepted by peer review for publication decides this nonsense as proof postmodern forms of ‘theory’ are nonsense. i suggest that this is a mistaken conclusion. not to say it actually means anything but refers to the nature of the submission: as in any code there is the reader's assumption it is a code, it is meaningful, it is worth thinking through. so, know your codes, believe the author is sincere, imagine some way, imagine some spurious logic simply because of its presentation... this is what this experiment means to me...


291215 first review: this is the best text i have read about these terms. from the subtitle it is clear these terms, whether epoch, problematic, attitude, admit varied conceptions, which are not necessarily if you believe in opposition of true/false (in political relativism) or exclusionary white/black (bits of everyone rather grey) this is a challenging range of interpretations that addresses their often chronologically uncertain and culturally 'constructed' nature, begun with an examination of the soil from which they are grown, society, moving on to more abstract but essentially political philosophy, then about the literary results of this evolution...


the first chapter: modernity-modernism-postmodernity, is as titled 'attempting a definition', an interesting facet of these contested definitions is their primarily 'anglo-american' presence, as the terms 'modern' and 'postmodern' are not applied much in french, german, spanish, or italian (note: this appears to be a translation by the author from german). in spain 'modern' refers to political reforms around 1900. there are more problems than just culture: there is how this term is 'constructed', as epochs, ideologies, styles, problematics- which must refer through key concepts of modernity, modernism, postmodernity, postmodernism, posthistoire, postindustrial society- and how this necessarily leads to best grasping these original terms as 'problematics'. so we have something to talk about...


zima argues that some social theorists actually refer to 'critical late modernism' rather than 'postmodernism'- that in social terms 'modernism' bourgeois dates back to renaissance after feudalism, that in spain it refers to the 'modernism' of the decline of church as organizing power, that according to some thinkers eg. habermas, we are not thinking in the 'postmodern' but rather in the 'unfinished project' of modernism, that some thinkers insist on resilience of their particular dogma eg. marxism to the characteristic doubt and cynically manifest conservative moments in 'postmodernism', that it is ideologically suspect if not simply mistaken to proclaim a general 'incredulity of metanarratives' in which, for example, the proletariat shall overcome the capitalists and we will have a classless utopia...


this is not soil to which i am much familiar. this is where i feel deficit in reading and thinking mostly in philosophy- not sociology, not politics- and lamentably not political philosophy. so i recognize some names, i perceive quick movements of thought, and can recognize only some critiques of modernity in universalism, particularization, social movement such as feminist and ecofeminist critiques... which lead to conservative postmodernity over against the marxist attitude, and though lyotard proclaims the postmodern is not an 'epoch' he talks of it as concrete, times it, locates it... the sortof general dissolution of pluralism, indifference, ideology... these are thoughts which i would probably better understand if i knew thinkers and thoughts of 'critical theory' eg. adorno, and on to critiques by baudrillard...


so we come to postmodern philosophies as critiques of modernity, and here i am on somewhat more familiar ground. only somewhat. for the first name, the first thinker, in whose thought much critique is inspired by is nietzsche- with his revaluation of such concepts as good and evil, truth, subject, his rebuke of hegelian 'dialectic', of synthesis, which can lead to complete philosophical collapse. i have read but not studied much n. and what little i have read suggests how bothersome or repelling or unwelcome at least, his critiques of knowledge, can lead to conflicts with 'ideolects' of natural science or analytic or positivist discourse... here we have the end of metanarratives, which seem to refuse the modernist aspiration of 'utopia' and valourization of 'pluralism', we have 3 versions of epistemology, we have ethics that moves from lyotard to rorty, we have aesthetics which involve hypertrophy and sublime, allegory and aporia...'plurality' rather than 'totalization'...


modernism and postmodernism are possibly clearest in these two chapters on literature, and here if nowhere else i should feel comfortable. i should. here the extent to which these terms are 'constructed' is most apparent, in literary criticism of ambiguity, ambivalence, indifference- which is posited as the general thematic progression from modernism to postmodernism, in the creation of the 'avant-garde', of focusing on 'popular culture', of 'de-differentiation' between elite and educated and pop, which leads to lit being postmodernism as 'poststructuralism', that you can decide form by simply counting references, that there is an attempt to read the difference, the contrast, but seems to oscillate politically from right to left, from fascism of eliot to leftist 'revolutionary theatre' of brecht, spectrum which pre-dates the 'post-' in modernism...


and here at last are names and references i know: authors i have read, critical work on said authors, other extensive critical works- even sometimes quotes which i know, such as umberto eco's suggestion we must revisit the past no longer 'innocently' but 'ironically'. i have read and liked eco, calvino, proust, svevo, even musil. there is the suggestion that central modernist concerns are usually 'epistemological' (what is true, how do we know, etc.) and central postmodernist concerns are more often 'ontological' (what is, how is, etc.) this section of the book is therefore the most engaging. this section even offers me new authors to read or old authors to reread or read more, such as modernists hesse, sartre, camus, postmodernists pynchon, suskind, fowles, doctorow, work such as barth's 'lost in the funhouse', woolf's 'orlando' in particular. then there is the contention that 'in the labyrinth' by robbe-grillet is almost the perfect postmodern work. and i just thought i liked it. 'the quest without a goal' is how zima characterizes it- well i would say it is sort of an anti-quest, the return of a promised gift, the return through a shifting labyrinth of a city structured like a question...


this book is the best i have read on disentangling these contested terms. i have to return my copy to the u library, but it is entirely likely i will purchase a copy- i am not convinced i have even in genre of review done justice to it, need to study more- and maybe read some more work by zima...


bonus points: if you wonder at the ramshackle nature of this review, i do sometimes succeed in reading and reviewing more clearly- how much is me, is the subject, is the book... i am not sure. a clearer review is like this: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1213570975?book_show_action=false

bonus bonus points: if you have read this far, you might question the way in which i try to understand this sort of philosophy- the best i can offer is this snippet of a review i did on a routledge book on wittgenstein as why i prefer language ambiguity and all the interesting, remarkable, important results (deleuze):


i best can argue by images, by my paradigm: art. i think of a circle. i think of two ways in which it may be described: math or art. a circle in math, in area, creation, shape, always comes down somehow to that irrational number pi. which does not end, however meaninglessly microscopic its decimals become. to end it is the ancient project of 'squaring the circle', which is the useful phrase characterizing anything impossible. a circle in art, in area, creation, in shape, is that first and simplest geometric figure, the line which is always the same distance from the centre point. to draw it is supremely simple- take a point as centre, take a line unseen as radius, rotate all the way around to join it. that it is not exact does not matter, for it is the idea of the circle, not whatever medium, surface, or other ephemeral material form. not only pythagoreans find it so restful, so perfect, so natural, and so it must be everywhere... now what does this have to do with w? i suggest that analytic philosophy, even so closely attended, logically analyzed, by w is along the lines of the paradigm of math- yes interesting, yes you can be philosophically enthused, yes it is based on irrational number- but it does not work for me. i definitely prefer elegant simplicity of the artistic description...

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