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Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault Paperback – August 1, 2004
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Top Customer Reviews
I have read several hundred books on philosophy from Plato to the present and I cannot think of one that I consider to have been more clearly written than this. The exposition is admirably jargon-free and straightforward, although some terms might be unfamiliar to some folks. This is the only book in many years that I began re-reading and marking up as soon as I had finished reading it the first time - I think it's that good.
It's important to distinguish between PM in the arts, which is largely an aesthetic trend, and academic PM, which exists almost exclusively in some humanities departments in the universities and identifies with particular epistemological and linguistic assumptions. This book is concerned with the latter group and Hicks provides a well documented case for the following historical sequence:
1) Leftist socialists had traditionally believed that reason and facts would show the superiority of socialism - theoretically, morally, and economically.
2) Academic PM's creators were all leftist socialists around the time that leftist socialism was failing - theoretically, morally, and economically (1950s on).
3) The reaction of leftist academic socialists to this wasn't to accept that they had been wrong. Instead, they availed themselves of recent developments in epistemology and linguistics as a pretext for dismissing reason and facts.Read more ›
This is intellectual history written like a novel, and it reads like a novel. It's a dark novel, unfortunately, but there is reason for hope. The story it tells is of how postmodernism evolved from its dual roots of socialist utopianism and counter-enlightenment philosophy to become the dominant intellectual force in today's universities.
Beyond being just an intellectual history, the book represents a call to action for all those who value their Enlightenment heritage to articulate and defend the premises upon which the Enlightenment was built, but which were never fully articulated. In this book, Enlightenment doesn't remain some historical abstraction, but a great movement that has brought us individualism, science, technology, capitalism and all the fruits of the progress in all these fields. It's something that's worth defending, and I hope this book is read widely enough to make an impact in that direction.
In all fairness, I suspect this book probably would not be considered to be an "academic level" philosophy book, at least for the advanced undergraduate philosophy major. But it does take one through a history of philosophical thinking from the Enlightenment to the postmodern present.
I had done some prior reading about postmodernism. I enjoy reading about the subject for the same reason I like going to public aquariums - the denizens are so strange and alien that one is astonished that such odd creatures exist at all. Of course, behind the scenes in the aquarium are vast engineered systems to provide anm environment that will support the inhabitants. For the postmodernists, universities serve as that vast engineered system. This book explains why the postmodernists need such a system to survive in a world that doesn't focus on pickle slices, hot meat and trans-fats.
The book also does a good job of explaining in more-or-less plain English the vacuity of postmodern thought. If you aren't impressed and awed by the kind of self-congratulatory dense prose one often gets from philosophical writers, and you want a readable overview of the development and blossoming of dead-end thinking, this is the book for you. If you're a real philosopher, though, I'm sure you'll find it so accessible as to be beneath contempt. And if you're a postmodernist, stay away at all costs. It will be dangerous reading for you. Your trope might trip.
In 2009, I took a university English course called "Critical Introduction to Literature." I anticipated literary criticism, somewhat reminiscent of E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel Rather, the class was rooted in "Critical Theory;" our textbook was called Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. However, neither the textbook nor the professor made clear that Critical Theory was an explicitly Marxist philosophy.
In critical theory, the artistic merits of literature are, essentially, irrelevant. In critical theory, literature is used mainly as a prop to critique society. Again, none of these core Marxist principles were made explicit to the students in my English class. In retrospect, I find this omission telling; an attempt to conceal an ideological agenda. If students understood the philosophical roots of critical theory and were given the chance to take an informed decision, they might ask some difficult questions or opt for another major.
The first chapter in the textbook was devoted to Marxist criticism. I asked the professor why we were studying Marxism, when the pillars of Marxism had been roundly disproved in theory and practice. Historian Richard Pipes wrote how Marx's core principles fly in the face of reality, and how Marx's key predictions were all disproved within a few decades of his death.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Truly informative and a great read for understanding today's culture and its clashes!Published 1 month ago by Brian Mullins
A superbly clear exploration of the origins and history of postmodernism. The use of charts and tables is particularly clever in making the argument easy the follow. Read morePublished 2 months ago by M. Lorenzo Warby
Very clear and concise writing. Covers the history of relevant philosophers that were the foundation of postmodermism.Published 2 months ago by PFH
This is a superb, important book, one which I have begun recommending to friends and colleagues. It is a history of postmodernism that connects its relationship to history, the... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Richard B. Schwartz
This is an important book. A concisely and clearly written explanation of the direct connection between philosophical ideas and the historical events of the 20th century and the... Read morePublished 7 months ago by D F Paris
I liked a lot the part about Kant.The epistemology crisis that was provoked in the modernists philosophy is very well described. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Rodrigo Flores Coombs