restricted access Qualified Hope: A Postmodern Politics of Time (review)
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Reviewed by
Mitchum Huehls. Qualified Hope: A Postmodern Politics of Time. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2009. x + 226 pp.

Despite that postmodernism’s most influential theorists—Hassan, Derrida, and Cixous—challenged canons and broke binaries, postmodernism today seems to have established its own orthodoxies and dichotomies: between depth and surface, purpose and play, and—for our purposes—time and space, and time and knowledge. In reaction, Qualified Hope: A Postmodern Politics of Time examines an interesting and disparate assortment of authors who have responded to the political crises of their day—the Cold War, 9/11, and the fragmentation of identity—from usual suspects Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon to less-mentioned authors such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Art Spiegelman, Nathaniel Mackey, Leslie Scalapino, and Dagoberto Gilb. In doing so, Qualified Hope challenges what have become postmodernism’s conventions, reframes some of its questions, and, politically and theoretically, creates a better understanding of where we were, are, and perhaps will be.

The book’s reassessment of postmodernism in a way that doesn’t rehash culture or theory wars seems crucial, and its exploration of a wide variety of texts, from juggernauts to seldom-taught [End Page 460] works, seems in keeping with the book’s iconoclasm. As Huehls writes in his introduction:

Rather than choosing between time and knowledge, Qualified Hope argues that modernity’s “ambivalent temporality” need not entail such irresolvable contradiction, if approached through a temporalized process of qualification. Although qualification produces a more convoluted conception of time’s political value . . . we should embrace such complication for its willingness to account for the ambivalent nature of temporal existence. In short, Qualified Hope will ultimately demonstrate that “qualified” can simultaneously resonate negatively (hope as provisional and tentative) and positively (hope as capable and well-equipped).


The impulse to address the complexities of “hope” in postmodern literature is necessary. This thesis alone demonstrates a number of important aspects of the study: Huehls’s political prescience in identifying the divergent readings of then-candidate Barack Obama’s campaign motto (“hope” and “change” come up frequently throughout the book), as well as the study’s move away from familiar temporal schisms between modernism and postmodernism, suggesting that “our conventional understanding of modernism as the time of time and postmodernism as the time of space” oversimplifies both (5). But the quotation is also a fair indication of the book’s overly academic prose and mannerisms, and, perhaps as well, of an approach that privileges unequivocal ideology over ambiguity, close reading, and literary analysis.

The first chapter, on DeLillo’s White Noise, remains for me unpersuasive despite the introduction’s promise. Huehls writes that “the novel’s form and style irreparably compromise the promise of its message, and the consistent treatment of White Noise as a text that paradigmatically diagnoses an ailing postmodern culture only establishes the work as a formal symptom of the very maladies it seeks to diagnose” (36). Huehls is correct, I believe, in asserting that many examinations of the novel “rarely vacillate from the party line” and that the novel is in need of critical reassessment (37). Yet I do not see sufficient analysis of the “form and style” to accept that “the nearly universal praise for White Noise points toward a certain level of bad faith at the heart of DeLillo scholarship, as many literature scholars read his novels to confirm what they already think they know about the world” (37). This argument presumes an awful lot about DeLillo’s purported readership, but it also ignores the literary tension created by what, supposedly, the [End Page 461] reader “knows about the world” with what narrator Jack Gladney believes and experiences. Huehls, for instance, never asks if the novel’s language, ironies, reversals, humor, and indirection allow it to resist the restrictions of both “party line” scholarship as well as his book’s attempt to reduce White Noise to “a symptom of the very ideology it diagnoses” (47).

The chapter begins by comparing White Noise to the movie Josie and the Pussycats, which I find aesthetically and artistically unfair; it concludes by suggesting that we read White Noise in a way that “tells us something about a...