- International Postmodernism: Global Mode and Local Moods
International Postmodernism strikes me as one of the most comprehensive surveys and useful instruments in twentieth-century scholarship to have come out in years. It purports to map out a rich cultural territory of “late capitalism” and, as quite a few critics would have it, of contemporary culture at large. There have been, as is well known, countless attempts at taking stock of postmodernism. But such projects have almost with no exception been confined either to the West or to the U.S., or, to narrow down their focus even further, to certain cultural areas, figures, or practices. More often than not, postmodernism has been seized as an American, if not Americanizing, phenomenon and has been hailed or dismissed accordingly.
In this view, a group of Dutch critics including Hans Bertens, Douwe Fokkema—and, I should add, Theo D’haen, also a contributor to International Postmodernism—deserve the credit for standing over the last fifteen years or so in the forefront of critical and editorial initiatives to refine the concept and draw out its implications across formal, historical, and linguistic boundaries. They have started out in the mid-eighties with now “classical” anthologies, most of them reuniting proceedings of comparative literature conferences: Approaching Postmodernism (1986), Exploring Postmodernism (edited by Fokkema and Matei Calinescu ), and Liminal Postmodernisms (edited by D’haen and Bertens ), to name just a few. These collections have been published also by John Benjamins in its Comparative Literature Series or by Rodopi in the important Postmodern Studies Series edited by D’haen and Bertens themselves.
There are at least three conclusions that can be drawn only by glancing at the titles of these books, their tables of contents and the circumstances of their publication. First, they bear witness to what may be determined as the comparative literature moment in postmodern studies. Second, they still work with a largely Western, philosophically informed model of postmodernism, a model which [End Page 236] trades time and again on the “pre-postmodernity,” if I may put it this way, of the “big four”: Eliot, Joyce, Beckett, and Pound, true stumbling blocks in any attempt to historicize the postmodern. Third, the interest in the sociocultural, let alone political, bearings of postmodern aesthetics is here rather light, but this is now changing, as the last title in my enumeration above indicates (the book is undertitled The Postmodern, the (Post-) Colonial, and the (Post-) Feminist). Following the shift in the current postmodern conversation in the U.S., Bertens and Fokkema have been fine-tuning their explorations to the radical impact of identity studies on this dialogue, which has been carried on, in its “Ihab Hassan phase,” mostly at a literary, playful, and, some might say, “apolitical” level. This process also transpires in Bertens’s historical survey of The Idea of the Postmodern, another source that I have turned to repeatedly since 1995, when Routledge published it.
The process has not been completed, however. Nor is this mandatory or necessarily desirable, one may want to argue. Bertens’s and Fokkema’s specific “location” wherein they carry out the anatomy of postmodernism is different than the statesiders’ and therefore likely to yield a distinct perspective. That is, a viewpoint that should be respected, I would insist, in compliance with the “late postmodern” dynamic of the local and the global. Feeding off this dynamic, International Postmodernism reflects the persistence of the traditional, philosophically oriented discussion of postmodernism in Europe (both Western and Eastern) as well as the continuing pivotal role poetics and the comparative literature approach hold in this debate. While Bertens cannot avoid noticing in his historical account of “The Debate on Postmodernism” (3–14) the current erosion of this position primarily in the U.S., many essays in the volume hark back on the “early postmodern” style of philosophical, textual—and intertextual—analysis. Briefly put, they operate on a deductive model that look for regional responses to a fairly limited cultural paradigm in the West. These are reactions to either American postmodern fiction...