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Passing of Postmodernism, The

A Spectroanalysis of the Contemporary

Josh Toth

Publication Year: 2010

Examines the increasingly prevalent assumption that postmodernism is over and that literature and film are once again engaging sincerely with issues of ethics and politics. The Passing of Postmodernism addresses the increasingly prevalent assumption that a period marked by poststructuralism and metafiction has passed and that literature and film are once again engaging sincerely with issues of ethics and politics. In discussions of various twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers, directors, and theorists—from Michel Foucault and Slavoj Žižek to Thomas Pynchon and David Lynch—Josh Toth demonstrates that a certain utopian spirit persisted within, and actually defined, the postmodern project. Just as modernism was animated by an idealistic belief that it could finally realize the utopia beckoning on the horizon, postmodernism was compelled by an equally utopian belief that it could finally reject the possibility of all such illusory ideals. Toth argues that this specter of an impossible future is and must remain both possible and impossible, a ghostly promise of what is always still to come.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Postmodern Culture

The Passing of Postmodernism: A Spectroanalysis of the Contemporary

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The Passing of Postmodernism: A Spectroanalysis of the Contemporary

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pp. vii


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pp. ix

CHAPTER ONE: The Phantom Project Returning: The Passing (On) of the Still Incomplete Project of Modernity

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pp. 1-6

“Let’s just say it: it’s over” (Politics 166). Postmodernism, that is. Or so Linda Hutcheon claims. For Hutcheon, “the postmodern moment has passed, even if its discursive strategies and its ideological critique continue to live on—as do those of modernism—in our contemporary twenty-first century world” (Politics 181, my emphasis). Hutcheon’s announcement rings—and I imagine this is her intention—like a death knell, the final word. Indeed, the entire epilogue to the second edition...

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Ruptures and Specters

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pp. 7-18

Employed loosely in Arnold Toynbee’s multivolume Study of History (eight volumes of which were published between 1934 and 1954), the term “postmodern,” written “post-Modern,” was used to describe a late-nineteenth-century epochal shift: the end of a “modern” bourgeois ruling class and the growing dominance of an industrial working class. I do not wish to get lost in the early history of the term, but Toynbee’s initial theorizing of a “post-Modern” period of Western...

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Exorcisms Without End

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pp. 18-23

In Specters of Marx, Derrida argues that Marxism was haunted by various spirits. According to Derrida, one of these spirits cannot be ignored; it cannot be ignored because it compels movement—that is, critical, aesthetic and/or revolutionary movement. But a spirit, Derrida insists, arrives, or manifests, as a ghost, a specter. It is both seen and unseen, present and absent; or, if we employ Derrida’s earlier terminology, the spirits of Marxism exist only as trace and differance. What is interesting...

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The (Phantom) Project Still Incomplete

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pp. 23-35

With the theory of the specter and of mystification in mind, I would like to return now to the above “survey” of the postmodern debate via a discussion of one of postmodernism’s staunchest, and most influential, critics: Jürgen Habermas. For Habermas, postmodernism is a type of interruption, an interruption of what he refers to as the still incomplete project of modernism. Since the late 1960s, Habermas argues, the “spirit of aesthetic modernity has . . . begun to age”...

CHAPTER TWO: Spectral Circumventions (of the Specter): Poststructuralism, Derrida, and the Project Renewed

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Poststructuralism and/as Postmodernism

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pp. 37-45

Although many critics view poststructuralism and thus deconstruction as a distinctly postmodern and/or nihilistic form of theoretical discourse, commentators who wish to situate it in a much broader philosophical tradition typically reaffi rm poststructuralism as a distinctly French discourse, a discourse that is not entirely sympathetic to the pragmatism of (American) postmodernism. Pointing to the (albeit, latent) remainders of phenomenology and structuralism within...

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Private Irony All the Way Down?

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pp. 45-60

For most detractors of postmodernism, particularly Christopher Norris, Richard Rorty (along with Stanley Fish and Jean Baudrillard) is the epitome of all that is wrong with the past fifty or so years of theoretical discourse. A self-styled “postmodern bourgeois liberal,” Rorty champions hard-line American neo-pragmatism, insisting that the possibility of truth claims and/or meaningful political intervention has long...

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The Force of Derrida’s Indecision

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pp. 61-73

Following Caputo, it would be (in)accurate to say that Derrida is an atheist.31 Of course, such a statement—it is (in)accurate to say that Derrida is an atheist—is probably misleading; or rather, it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. Whether or not Derrida believes in God is hardly addressed; because of the parenthetical prefix, this statement fails to embrace fully a particular position. It is not decisive in the sense that...

CHAPTER THREE: Writing of the Ghost (Again): The Failure of Postmodern Metafi ction and the Narrative of Renewalism

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Neither Logocentric nor Logo Centric

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pp. 75-89

In the preface to The Tetherballs of Bougainville, Mark Leyner reminds us that “When an astronomer observes a galaxy in some distant realm of the universe, . . . [h]e is quite literally looking at the past” (9). This is, of course, as Leyner goes on to point out, an effect of light; by the time the light of a distant galaxy reaches us, here on Earth and in the “present,” the galaxy itself “may no longer even exist” (9). So, Leyner...

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From an Ethics of Perversity to an Ethics of Indecision

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pp. 89-106

In his extended discussion of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Žižek argues that “the art of the ridiculous sublime,” as exemplified in Lynch’s films, is neither a “cold postmodern exercise” nor a “New Age” affirmation of “a subconscious Life Energy” uniting all events and experiences. Highlighting the fact that Lynch is associated with both positions—that is, some view him as “the ultimate deconstructionist ironist” while others...

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Metafiction’s Failure and the Rise of Neo-Realism

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pp. 106-124

If we were to wager on it—wager, that is, on the exact moment when the “passing” of postmodernism became undeniably imminent—1989 would be, as I suggested in chapter 2, a fairly safe bet. Following a writer like Raymond Federman, we might in fact argue that the first symptoms of some terminal epistemological illness became...

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The Project of Renewalism

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pp. 124-137

In Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s film, Adaptation—their followup to the particularly solipsistic Being John Malkovich—Kaufman writes himself into his adaptation of Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief. Played by Nicolas Cage, Kaufman accidentally becomes the main character of the film, a film that is supposed to be about Susan Orlean (played by Meryl Streep). In a manner that makes Vonnegut’s presence...

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A Conclusion . . . Perhaps

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pp. 137-145

One final example. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the concept of the specter— of the ghost, of the repressed—is pivotal. For this reason, Beloved can help us to clarify two distinct yet intimately related concepts. On one hand, the text exemplifies a distinctly renewalist aesthetic; its narrative strategies overtly endorse and embrace the ironic spectrality of the mimetic promise. On the other hand, Beloved, like Hamlet, offers us a very specific model of the specter, a model that speaks to the...


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pp. 147-182

Works Cited

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pp. 183-191


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pp. 193-200

E-ISBN-13: 9781438430379
E-ISBN-10: 143843037X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438430355
Print-ISBN-10: 1438430353

Page Count: 210
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: SUNY series in Postmodern Culture

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Derrida, Jacques.
  • Poststructuralism.
  • Criticism.
  • Postmodernism (Literature).
  • Semiotics and literature.
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