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Reviewed by:
  • Thomas Leddy
Spirits Hovering Over the Ashes: Legacies of Postmodern Theory, by H. L. Hix; x & 208 pp. Albany: SUNY Press, 1995, $16.95 paper.

This intriguing, rich and witty book is a collection of twelve mainly previously published essays each of which is titled “Postmodern” something.

“Postmodern Grief,” which first appeared in Philosophy and Literature (1993), is a wonderful and fun deconstruction of the postmodernists themselves. Hix sees certain writings in terms of Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The grief is over cultural losses (the ashes of which are referred to in the book’s title) in our electronic information age.

Hix is dead right when he argues that Derrida exemplifies the strategy of denial in “Plato’s Pharmacy.” Derrida, as Hix puts it, addresses yesterday’s problem. Hix also plausibly fits writers like Eco and Bloom into the stage of anger. His interpretation of Lyotard as dealing with grief by bargaining (“if I let consensus go, will you let me keep justice?”) is brilliant. There is something pathetic about Lyotard’s belief that if we give all people free access to information technology then this will insure justice. Hix matches Baudrillard, who laments the loss of four-dimensionality in the electronic era, with depression. Finally, Ong exemplifies acceptance since, for Ong, electronic [End Page 511] technologies bring us to a new oral age which fosters a communal sense and concentrates on the present. Hix then calls for a new Socrates who will take us beyond lament to forge a new ideal.

“Postmodern Beauty” argues, contra Lyotard, that beauty is still possible in our computer age since artworks are eternally created here and now. We can have aesthetic friendships with a visionary superior such as Van Gogh. However the Van Gogh we are speaking of is not the real historical one but a created proxy who only exists discursively. Still, the great artist is divine and gives us his (Hix’s examples are all male) blessing.

“Postmodern Obscenity” presents Baudrillard’s view that obscenity is to be found not in desire’s triumph but rather in its defeat. In this postmodern age we lose sexuality because penetration is no longer possible, and that is so because of the collapse of the distinction between surface and depth. Hix then contrasts a photograph by Mapplethorpe with a Victoria’s Secret catalog. The catalog fits the postmodern conception of obscenity nicely. The Mapplethorpe, although obscene in the traditional sense, is not in the postmodern sense.

“Postmodern Color” is my favorite chapter. Here, Hix deconstructs Derrida’s own analysis of metaphor and metaphysics. He shows how Derrida must use metaphors of opacity and depth to make his point. These metaphors also entail the very view Derrida opposes. It is here that Hix develops his theme of the postmodern replacement of metaphors of time with those of space. Prior to our postmodern era the Other which constitutes our selves was historical (for example, ancestors) while the Other which threatened us was spatial (for example, foreigners). By contrast, in the postmodern era we are constituted by the spatial Other and are threatened by the temporal Other. This explains something that has puzzled me in recent curriculum debates. As Hix puts it, reasonable people like Lynne Cheney and Louis Gates understand the humanities differently in terms of these competing metaphors. Cheney takes the traditional view, using temporal metaphors of origin and tradition, while Gates takes the postmodern view, using spacial metaphors of decentering and marginality.

“Postmodern Love” and “Postmodern Sex” fit together. The first argues that although postmodernists claim we lack a language of love, they actually believe that love and language are one. More importantly, they know but repress the idea that love is something that transcends language. Here Hix calls on postmodernism to recognize that what structures language is outside language. The second argues that sex in our postmodern era has been transformed into discourse and discourse into sex. Each is in exchange for the other. Thus, whereas postmodern love is inexpressible, postmodern sex is nothing but talk.

“Postmodern Virtue” begins by showing that each one of four great ethical theories leads to...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 511-514
Launched on MUSE
1996-10-01
Open Access
No
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