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 works meaning: the readers 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 authors intent. From there, Michaels expands his query into the postmodernist and posthistoricist (a la Francis Fukuyama) concern with identitys 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. Michaelss 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 Michaelss 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