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The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History Hardcover – April 12, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0691118727 ISBN-10: 0691118728 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (April 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691118728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691118727
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,701,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Revisiting a theme of his earlier writing, Michaels (The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism and Our America) examines what most determines a literary work’s meaning: the reader’s experience (whether sensory, as in the room in which one is reading and the table on which the book is resting, or cerebral, as in identifying factors like nationality, race or religion) or the author’s intent. From there, Michaels expands his query into the postmodernist and posthistoricist (a la Francis Fukuyama) concern with identity’s supposition of ideology in the post-Cold War world. Rather than interpreting texts differently because of fundamental ideological conflicts, the author argues that readers experience them differently because of a post-modernist fixation on divergent, cultural identities. Likewise, Michaels explores how this notion of experience affects authors’ choices. To make his case, he reviews a wide range of historical, artistic and literary theories through the works of Michael Fried, Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Kim Stanley Robinson, Octavia Butler, Paul Celan, Toni Morrison, Bret Easton Ellis and Richard Rorty. Michaels’s arguments are provocative, especially as he considers current affairs like the war on terror or the debate about granting reparations to descendants of slaves; however, he occasionally struggles to connect his ideas in a congruent middle ground. This is further entangled by his thoughtfully complex prose, which for many readers may obscure his meaning more than illuminate it. However, dedicated disciples of theory will appreciate Michaels’s stimulating addition to contemporary debate.
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"Michaels's absorbing new book swims against the critical stream with a brilliance and originality unmatched this side of Slavoj iek."--Henry Staten, Modernism/modernity

"[This] book is not scholarship, criticism, or theory. It is a brazen call for the return to ideology."--Lindsay Waters, Chronicle of Higher Education

"[W]hat makes this book compelling . . . is his central thesis: that the apparent diversity of the marketplace of ideas, as in the marketplace of commodities, conceals fundamental uniformity (so many choices in the cereal aisle, so few in the voting booth)."--Robin J. Sowards, The Minnesota Review

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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Lam on June 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It is the most devastating critique of such notions as "identity" (unitary or hybrid), "subject position" (however contingent), and "experience" (recourse to materiality of an artifact-object paradoxically legitimates the immediacy of subjective perception), thus undermining theories ranging from deconstructionism, psychoanalysis to new historicism, or from postcolonial criticism, queer politics to media studies. Eloquently, Michaels contends that once we dismiss the question of the author's intended meaning, all we talk about is our different perception dependent on our different subject positions, that is why the radical play of signifiers that signify or "effect" differently in various contexts would take a conservative turn to maintain the primacy of identity. One result is that we now differ in terms of identity but no longer have any genuine disagreement (we only see different things from different perspectives). Correspondent to this academic atmosphere is the post-Cold War mentality, in which the ideological question of what we believe is displaced by the ontological question of what we are. Hence the peculiar conception of the war on terrorism, wherein Michaels points out neither side is truly conceived to fight for any belief (the enemies are not even seen as Muslim; they are only criminals). More precisely, terrorism as a limit case of our identitarian politics, Michaels argues, is projected as an ultimate crime of having no identity.
Despite his Anti-Theory reputation, Michaels proves to be theoretically engaging and indispensable to think through the dilemmas of theory rather than simply being dismissive. His reference to global political crises at this very moment testifies that theory, whether we are for or against it, is highly relevant.
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0 of 8 people found the following review helpful By K. J. Kebarle on May 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book and very much worth reading. Whether you agree or disagree, Michaels' argument is compelling.
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