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  • RE: Foley’s Review of Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences. An Exchange between Pauline Vaillancourt-Rosenau and Michael W. Foley.
  • Pauline Vaillancourt-Rosenau and Michael W. Foley

Dear PMC,

In a post-modern frame of reference one authors a book and then sets it free to be interpreted by various readers each in his or her own way. Criticism is central to a post-modernism and its pluralism of readings. If you can’t take criticism, or if you don’t wish to defend your ideas, better not present them in the public realm. And this is the problem with Prof. Foley’s review. It isn’t about ideas. It is a series of unsubstantiated insults and mis-information.

Foley’s review does not present a post-modern reading of my book. Neither is he inspired by deconstruction. His review is modern in the worse sense—a singular and unexciting “reading.” It announces that my text is a “repudiation” of post-modernism, assumes his is the only interpretation possible, and implicitly denies the legitimacy of other views. Post-modernism and the Social Sciences has been well received by some post-modernists and criticized by others. It has attracted attention not only in the social sciences but in the humanities as well. It even made it to the stage recently as the Doug Elkins Dance Company (New York) incorporated readings from it into their post-modern repertoire for the International Festival of New Dance, Montreal, November 1992.

Prof. Foley senses my own ambivalence about post-modernism. I make no claim to be a post-modernist but I did attempt to be fair in writing about it. I made every effort to document my conclusions about post-modernism, to indicate where readers could find more information. Of course I did not shy away from criticism of it. But at the same time I had no axe to grind. Nor did I feel the need to defend post-modernism. Perhaps this is why I made no effort to “eliminate” certain post-modern currents from it or, for example, to deny Derrida’s defense of Paul deMan’s early Nazi affiliations. It is not I, but Foley, who puts Derrida in bed with Ayatollah Khomeini! (REVIEW-2.592, par. 5). In a similar fashion on a number of occasions Foley takes the questions I pose for post-modern inquiry and answers for me, only to then turn around, attribute his constructions to me, and criticize his own self-fabricated answers (paragraph 6). Some post-modernists call for the death of the author and elevate the reader but in this instance Prof. Foley’s “interpretation” diminishes his status as reader, not to mention reviewer. Is this a “post-post-modern turn” where the review re-writes the text and then reviews his own creation?

Foley argues that there is nothing much new offered by post-modernism. I would not disagree. Chapter 1 section 1 of my book entitled “Post-Modern Lineage: Some Intellectual Precursors” makes his case. But he missed this and even misinterpreted the section on structuralists altogether. I argue that post-modernism is a collage of many intellectual and philosophical currents. But at the same time, it constitutes a new form of challenge in that it refuses to set up a new paradigm to replace those it deconstructs.

I am bothered by the absence of any depth to this review—brief, one-line dismissals signal an inability to take my book seriously. Foley says I am a “positivist.” He suggests that I “play on conflicts within postmodernism without illuminating them, or ever giving an adequate account of them.” This is insulting and unfair. By their very nature these criticisms are so broad and sweeping that they cannot be contradicted. I wonder, if I agreed with Prof. Foley’s own views would my analysis be “illuminating” and “adequate,” uncorrupted by “positivism.”

Finally, when I discuss the feminist debate around post-modernism, Prof. Foley admonishes that I could have “equally well” referred to the “new social history or the Annales School.” At this point Foley moves beyond criticism to what I view as pure paternalism, lecturing me as to what I should have written...

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