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386Philosophy and Literature suasive. His "postdialectical" method, which values "consciousness as much for what it saves or restores as for what it produces" (p. 377), allows him a flexibility and subdety that softens the edge of his essentially teleological historiography, since it enables him to account for writers' synoptic appropriations of the past as well as their synthetic gestures toward the future. Yet finally one must decide whether the later eighteenth century was indeed struggling with problems that romanucism eventually solved, or whether a more decisive break must be established at the end of the century, one that divides the preromantics and romantics along a fault-line of incommensurable questions and incompatible projects. Preromanticism is no light after-dinner read. Dense, learned, and spare in its citation of primary texts, it presupposes considerable familiarity with the works of the period and with a broad range of issues in contemporary literary theory. Yet ifits demands are heavy, its rewards are substantial. This is a major achievement , an artfully written and carefully articulated contribution to the theory of literary history, and a powerful interpretation of eighteenth-century literature with which all scholars in the field will have to contend. University of GeorgiaRonald Bogue Political Theory and Postmodernism, by Stephen K. White; xiv& 153 pp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991, $39.50 cloth, $12.95 paper. Suppose we were to cross Jürgen Habermas with Martin Heidegger. What sort of offspring might this union of Teutons produce? Stephen White's intriguing exploration of the theoretical resources necessary to postmodern politics offers one possible response to this improbable speculation. What does it mean to call oneself postmodern? It is, on White's account, to embrace Lyotard's skepticism toward metanarratives; to endorse Foucault's account of normalization; to approve Baudrillard's deconstruction of public space into so many circulating electronic images; and to abandon the hope that some totalistic revolutionary program will soon deliver us from our plight. To dub oneself postmodern is to ask "what learning to be at home in homelessness might mean" (p. 7). What can it mean to act "responsibly" in this essentially problematic world? Should postmodernists defend their conduct through reference to its instrumental efficacy or its universal rationality, they will betray their will to mastery. Wishing to avoid such irresponsibility to otherness, postmodernists may do what Reviews387 Heidegger, when he wasn't sidling up to the powers that be, did quite well. They may adopt an abstinent politics whose aim is to reveal what is invariably sacrificed whenever one subordinates conduct to the claims ofteleocratic reason. But such politics, which White labels the "perpetual withholding gesture" (p. 18), coheres uneasily with the postmodernist's nagging desire to affirm emancipatory ends. To articulate such ends, we must repair to those dimensions of the Western tradition worthy of reconstruction. We need, that is, to turn to Habermas. For Habermas's characterization ofcommunicative action is not ultimately reducible to the model ofthe monological subject seeking control, and his characterization of the ideal speech situation furnishes a standard for evaluating competing programs of conduct. White's thesis is that most participants in the debate over postmodernism essentialize either the Habermasian or the Heideggerian argument, and so fail to do justice to the other. Those who walk down the aisle with Habermas conclude that Heideggerians are guilty of apolitical aestheticism. Those who go to the altar with Heidegger argue that Habermasians harbor authoritarian impulses which, when put into play, spell the death of difference. Each is the other's familiar counterpart, and so their marriage remains unconsummated. "My suggestion," White writes, is to "try to think about the implications of confronting both dimensions on something more like equal terms" (p. 30). If Habermas shows us how to make good on our obligation to justify conduct, Heidegger shows how an appreciation of finitude tempers the police mentality lurking in the ideal speech situation. Or, rather, when we come to fathom Heidegger's notion of Nähe we learn how we might tame our Habermasian argumentative impulses by learning how to let be, indeed to foster, what is different. So understood, the imperative to act responsibly becomes indissolubly bound up with responsiveness to intimations of particularity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 386-387
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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