What's Wrong with Postmodernism
collects seven of Christopher Norris's reviews of recent work in literary theory. Throughout, Norris appears to assume that his readers possess substantial background knowledge in politics and philosophy as well as literary theory. He clearly deserves his reputation as the most philosophically astute of British literary theorists and, considering the abstruseness of the topics under consideration, he also manages to be surprisingly clear.
Two purposes permeate the collection. The first is to criticize postmodernism, described as "the upshot of a generalized incredulity with regard to all theories, truth-claims, or 'scientific' notions of system and method." Through discussion of Jean Baudrillard's Selected Writings and Stanley Fish's Doing What Comes Naturally, Norris argues that in addition to its obvious intellectual flaws, postmodernism leads in the political sphere to malaise, cynicism, and apathy. The appeal of postmodernism, he suggests, is due to the failure of literary theories based on Ferdinand de Saussure's structuralism; fortunately, because there are approaches to the philosophy of language other than Saussure's, the postmodernist turn is not irresistible.
The second purpose of What's Wrong with Postmodernism is to defend deconstruction--and its patron saint, Jacques Derrida--against the accusations of postmodernist irrationalism found in Jürgen Habermas's The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity and John M. Ellis's Against Deconstruction. Norris contends that deconstruction, properly understood, is not itself guilty of postmodernist irrationalism, even if Derrida's epigones sometimes are. --Glenn Branch
If I had to recommend one book on postmodern theory, this would be it.
(Gregory Meyerson English Literature in Transition
Norris is the most philosophically astute of all British literary theorists, and increasingly one of the most politically important, subjecting the jaded skepticisms of our time to a scintillating critique.
(Terry Eagleton, Linacre College, Oxford)
The text is a pleasure to read, unlike so many on the topic... Norris's scholarship is sound and the book is provocative.
(Mark Poster, University of California, Irvine)
With his characteristic exemplary clarity, Norris deploys a series of careful, precise and finely-honed arguments for a continuation of the relevance of critique, for a vigilant awareness of the political stakes involved in philosophy and criticism, and for the sheer necessity of hard but rewarding intellectual work.
(Tom Docherty, University College, London)