The Illusions of Postmodernism
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In this brilliant critique, Terry Eagleton explores the origins and emergence of postmodernism, revealing its ambivalences and contradictions. Above all he speaks to a particular kind of student, or consumer, of popular "brands" of postmodern thought.
then often enough pushed to a wildly implausible extreme: Dante and De Lillo, encapsulated as they are in their discrete historical moments, share nothing in common worth mentioning. The impulse to historicize capsizes into its opposite: pressed to the point where continuities simply dissolve, history becomes no more than a galaxy of current conjunctures, a cluster of eternal presents, which is to say hardly history at all. We must understand Oliver Cromwell in his historical context, but what is
the concrete; it is just that he recognized, along with Hegel and any sober thinker, that there was no way of constructing the concrete without general categories. Devotees of particularism should try doing without them for a while, an experiment which would need to include never opening their mouths. The phrase ‘this indescribably awful pain of mine’ is brimful with generalities. Perhaps postmodernists are suspicious of the idea of continuity (though they are sceptical of clean breaks as well)
but it is worth broaching a few of the reasons why it sounds so implausible. For one thing, we know that there never was a golden age. But it is true, even so, that ‘traditional’ or pre-modern societies have a great many merits which our own set-ups lack, and in some cases have these merits just because they don’t have what we have. On the whole they have a richer sense of place, community and tradition, less social anomie, less cut-throat competition and tormented ambition, less subjection to a
kind of social order. As the immanent critique of this culture, Marxism applauds its great universalist ideals, to which it knows itself to be enduringly indebted. Unlike some modern-day radicals, ‘bourgeois’ for Marx does not automatically mean ‘bad’, which would be just the sort of abstract, unhistorical bit of moralism that modern-day radicals are supposed to disapprove of. At the same time, though, Marxism is out to show how in practice these fine ideals tend to crush all sensuous specificity
has little enough use for it in the media or shopping mall. In these sectors, plurality, desire, fragmentation and the rest are as native to the way we live as coal was to Newcastle before Margaret Thatcher got her hands on it. Many a business executive is in this sense a spontaneous postmodernist. Capitalism is the most pluralistic order history has ever known, restlessly transgressing boundaries and dismantling oppositions, pitching together diverse life-forms and continually overflowing the