In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

142Philosophy and Literature Crosñng the Postmodern Divide, by Albert Borgmann; 173 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, $19.95. This book is not as bad as it ought to be. A review trying to match Borgmann's evident generosity and decency ought to acknowledge where he makes gains for us, even when those gains are in the unconscious of die book rather than in its argument. This is a cautious welcome of a postmodernism peculiarly defined and purified. Generally unattentive to actual postmodernism debates, the book nevertheless presents useful analysis, such as a distinction between "rugged" individualism and "commodious" (consumer) individualism. But it also contains disincentives to reading it with full seriousness: reductive taxonomies, a flat-footed and naive style, ill-proportioned or uncritical evidence, and the nonglamor —indeed anti-glamor—of its reflections on technology and society. What can one say to the sublime innocence of advocating community baseball —avidly supported (without, he boasts, resorting to Astroturf) in Borgmann's hometown of Missoula, Montana—as a solution to the malaise of the hypermodern (p. 143)? Or his equating, after finally announcing his Christian identification, "the postmodern spirit" with the "holy spirit" (p. 146)? Or his encomium to compact discs ("hundreds of hours of music played by titanic orchestras and choirs"), his bittersweet lament that the telephone has diminished face-to-face visiting (p. 105), or his nostalgic comparison of television to the newspaper, the latter preferred because one has to go bring it in, unfold it, and notice its "smell and rusde" (p. 106)? Or an anecdote, countering hyperactivity, of a workaholic executive who left his corporate world to run a golf-clinic for children? Or earnest reflections on whether to buy a teenager a car? Tougher-minded in critiquing modernism, Borgmann unpacks its three intellectual sources—aggressive realism (exemplified by Bacon), methodical universalism (Descartes), and individualism (Locke)—against which he envisions three postmodern "counterpossibilities": information processing, flexible specialization, and informed cooperation (p. 65). But too often the book is reducible to binary vocabularies: Bad Modernism (along with the bad kind of postmodernism, the "hypermodern"): domination, resentment, resdessness, glamor, hyperactivity, sullenness, indolence , hyperreality, disconnectedness, disembodiment, disorientation, hardness . Good Postmodernism: patience, vigor, communal, celebratory, cooperation, flexibility, the premodern, the holy, excellence ("medieval excellence"!), realistic, informed, civility, softness. Reviews143 Despite the hard critique of modernism, Borgmann asserts "softness" as our primary cultural goal, a corrective to modernism and "hypermodernism" both. What we now see in our culture are "good shifts" "from litigation to mediation, from heroic medical technology to the hospice movement .... from hard to soft solutions" (p. 78). Rejecting a postmodernism of epistemological or ontological radicalism, Borgmann's version calls for "a recovery of the world of eloquent things," achieved by "focal realism, patient vigor, and communal celebration" (p. 6). The focal bases for this emergence often seem, in a philosophical boosterism, Missoula-specific. There, an expanding windsock company embodies the "postmodern firm ... a small group ofwell-educated people, eager and alert to find market openings and to fill them quickly with high-quality goods or service" (p. 77)—sounding like what Ben & Jerry's corporation calls "hippie capitalism." What is often critiqued, albeit implicitly, is large-scale capitalism and its urban cultural bias, supporting Trotsky's observation that capitalism represents the victory of city over country. Accordingly, Borgmann introduces the final topic of "the heavenly city," praising inventive, tolerant church services at St. John's Cathedral in New York. Perhaps most revealing is an admiring citation of Marx about the restlessness of capitalism in dissolving fixed relations and opinions and in profaning everything holy (p. 98), followed by a complaint about "Type A" behavior, an argument whose logic merely privatizes Marx's social observation. But softness becomes mere weakness when Borgmann symptomatically ignores the end of the citation, where Marx concludes that this constant revolutionizing inevitably forces man to face soberly "his real conditions of life" (p. 98) . Borgmann's is a kinder, gentler, postmodernism—a Mr. Rogers postmodernism countering the ludic, Pee Wee Herman variety we know well. A neighborly, human-scaled, rural postmodernism, it avoids gargantuan analytical moves and rhetorical and conceptual violence but ignores the damage "flexibility" itself can do. Still, it asks us if...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 142-143
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.