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Crossing the Postmodern Divide Hardcover – May 1, 1992
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From Library Journal
In this liberal, communitarian, and religious critique of the postmodern United States, Borgmann describes the intellectual, cultural, economic, and political forces that have configured our sullen and hyperactive culture. The various elements of postmodernism and the postmodern critique of contemporary life are explained. The failure of individualism and modernism leads Borgmann to a new vision of community life based on "bodily engagement, communal celebration, and focal orientation." The section on postmodern realism is especially noteworthy as a concise view of the choices facing us. A provocative essay, this is a fine approach to the political ideas that will influence the voters in this election year. Recommended.
- Gene Shaw, Elmwood Park Lib., N.J.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Rather astoundingly large-minded vision of the nature of humanity, civilization, and science, by Borgmann (Philosophy/Univ. of Montana at Missoula). To recap: As if climbing out of the sea and becoming a land creature, man now climbs out of the once modern, now postmodern era into a being that finds him thinning out as he covers more space. The great thinkers and explorers (Bacon, Columbus) came, shattered, and remade the past and changed us all forever. Luther broke the bond to a central authority; Copernicus decentralized us from the sun; Descartes gave us rational method; Locke overthrew the rule of kings and headed us toward individualism and democracy. Then came the rise of industrialism, as the railroad and the corporation squeezed us into the modern era and we split up our spiritual center into work, family, and community, which are now fading before the flood of information technology, TV, and our privileged classes' lack of interest in the poor. And we have lost faith, too, while living in our ``sullen'' postmodern era, with its rampant individualism and meaningless institutions. The more we grasp, the more ghostly our lives: ``The hyperintelligent sensorium, just because it is so acute and wide-ranging, presents the entire world to our eyes and ears and renders the remainder of the human body immobile and irrelevant.'' Borgmann finds hope in once-dying, now reviving Missoula, Montana, where daily city life has real spaces, real people, real tasks, and favors a ``bodily vigorous, richly connected, and securely oriented life.'' It is a place of charms and traditions, festivals and ``the holy game of baseball.'' The author ends with a ringing of church bells in his ``heavenly city'' and calls for all churches to follow Manhattan's St. John the Divine with its commitment to social works. Not a light read--and never disingenuous. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Although Borgmann is not completely flawless in his logic, nor is he without his own bias, his analysis and conclusions "feel" right. Modernism, in light of Bacon's "aggressive realism," Descartes' "methodical universalism," and Locke's "ambiguous individualism," seems to directly relate to the postmodern ideals of "information processing," flexible specialization," and "informed cooperation."
Borgmann sees the postmodern atmosphere as transitional. He seems to feel that unless a newfound emphasis on local community is found, it will lead to "hypermodernity," in which the present dichotomy of sullenness and hyperactivity will create an unbridgeable gap between the real and unreal. In this scenario, the "hyperreality" of video games, movies, recorded music, and the undifferentiated commodification that shopping malls (much less online commerce) represent will come to dislodge us from everyday experience.
The Lowdown: I would suggest "Crossing the Postmodern Divide" to just about anyone who has an interest in the way in which the present-day world is shaped and is being shaped by Western ideals. Despite its 1993 publication date, it predicts a hauntingly familiar picture of the way in which a simple Amazon review can simultaneously contribute to and detract from contemporary reality.
Borgmann's view of contemporary society offers us nothing that others have not written even more eloquently about elsewhere; his gift to us is rather to illustrate with uncommon verve and precision exactly how the our dance in the history of ideas as well as our enthusiastic embrace of materialism has acted to gradually bankrupt us in terms of having any real meaningful sense of who we really are and why it is we are alive. According to the author, we are now living in circumstances so far estranged from any kind of natural connection to or relationship with the environment that we seem to believe that whatever artificially created surroundings we may have are mere furniture, incidental and unconnected to us or how we experience our lives, and therefore we cannot understand the ways in which this "mere furniture" fatefully influences and determines our own possibilities, both in terms of our material well being, and for Borgmann, at least, also in terms of our waning recognition of the possibility of any substantial spiritual existence.
This is indeed a rather breath-taking vision, one that both encapsulates prior history, and also places that history in context as the meaningful prologue to what now exists. We have confidently left behind any belief in meaningful central authority, are ardently enthusiastic believers in the unalloyed superiority of the rational mode of thought, and are bravely rational progressives in the sense we take mere "material progress" to be the greatest possible good. Now at long last we awake from five centuries of striving to be free to find ourselves locked into a wide-open world of someone else's design, suddenly left in the lap of material luxury to try to cope with forces we neither understand nor fully appreciate in terms of their magnitude or consequence. Instead, we tune into the shallow commonweal of the media, where all things are hyped, and where nothing is scared, other than the stock market and the supposed spread of individual wealth. Is it any wonder we have collectively lost faith in the power of the present to satisfy us, or become suspicious that the future holds little but more of the same vacuous fare?
As another reviewer states, it seems the more we grasp for meaning, the more ghostly our existences become. Borgmann, true to his beliefs, underscores the desperate need each of us has to find meaningful connection in the community of our peers. We must strive to overcome our addiction to living lives of material inconsequentiality by devoting ore energy and resources to exploring our common humanity with others in our own habitat. For in the end, according to Borgmann, it is as simple (and as problematic) as having the good sense to establish more human connections to our colleagues, neighbors, and friends. We need a life, according to Borgmann, richer in social interaction and shared community as opposed to continue to seek material ends. This is a book I highly recommend. Enjoy!