In the field of contemporary cultural criticism, postmodernism has consistently denoted a set of cultural practices and a discourse of incredulity that has informed those practices and the theoretical project of a militant poststructuralism with which they are so frequently aligned. Downing and Bazargan's collection of essays adopts this postmodern hermeneutical suspicion as its guiding premise and pursues the implications of this critical discourse through the vexed issue of ideological critique. The essays in this volume adopt an antifoundationalist critique that is explicitly political, while resisting, as the editors point out in Part I, their Introduction, "a passive acquiescence to the unfocused and nebulous play of indeterminacy."
Part II of this collection is addressed to postmodernist readings of modernist texts, and these readings are devoted to uncovering a critical self-consciousness in the work of canonical modernist authors, particularly with respect to politics and patriarchy. In reading of Conrad's "Youth," for example, Brian G. Caraher argues that literary modernism is actually postmodern in its contrast of an imaginary other, the East, with an historical discourse that is both appropriated within and effaced by the rhetoric of romance in the text. These postmodern readings of modernist texts find their claims for a subversive self-consciousness to reside in the rhetoric of narrative structure or imagery in a text, which, in Linda Hutcheon's well known formulation, is installed only then to be subverted. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is also the principal strategy of the postmodern texts examined in Part III of this collection. For example, in his reflections on the role of the photographic image in the popular fiction of John le Carré, James M. Buzard argues that the photographic image in these texts is always a sign of the fragmented subject, a subject that in this instance is the specific product of the political discourses of the Cold War. In broader terms, Buzard maintains, this self-conscious attention to the image also invites a reconsideration of these controlling discourses and the polarizations that they both constrain and put into play.
Part IV of Downing and Bazargan's volume is devoted specifically to theoretical considerations of the image. Michael Walsh's account of the often frustrating and disturbing recent work of Baudrillard is a valuable addition to [End Page 1002] this collection, particularly since the volume includes an interview with Baudrillard and a selection from his De La Séduction. But the most incisive word here comes not from Baudrillard but from W.J.T. Mitchell, whose "Iconology and Ideology: Panofsky, Althusser, and the Scene of Recognition" concludes this collection. As Mitchell reminds us, iconology must be redirected toward a critical recognition of its own naturalizing processes, its ideological investments in the practice of representations; ideology, at the same time, must confront its own iconologies, or the very images through which it makes its claim to the status of a science of ideas.
Downing and Bazargan's collection is a welcome addition to the both the political turn in cultural studies and to the question of a distinctly postmodern critique and the implications of postmodernism's own cultural practices.