- The Routledge Critical Dictionary of Postmodern Thought
On the back cover of The Routledge Critical Dictionary of Postmodern Thought, A.N. Wilson presents the volume as follows: “I recommend every household to buy two copies of this exemplary compendium. One for the teenagers who should have absorbed its wisdom before setting off to college; and the second for the parents, who won’t ever need to make fools of themselves again by asking what metanarrative is.” The contributors’ effort to explain clearly the major concepts and forms of postmodernism is praiseworthy indeed. True, not all teenagers and certainly not all parents might be able—or willing, for that matter—to take in easily the dictionary’s “wisdom.” But, by and large, this is an accessible and comprehensive tool for anybody seriously interested in contemporary culture and theories thereof. I can think of a few anthologies and dictionaries of literature, [End Page 231] criticism, theory, and theorists, including the still very useful “bio-bibliographical guide” published by Larry McCaffery, that survey systematically this or that aspect of postmodernity. Covering a sizable number of these aspects, the Dictionary strikes me as a unique and much needed instrument. It does have, I think, a strong European flavor and a clear philosophical penchant as it seems at times to identify “postmodern thought” and poststructuralism. This is more apparent in its second half, “Names and Terms,” where philosophical, psychoanalytic, and deconstructive concepts seem to take central stage, from Kristeva’s “abjection” to Barthes’s “zero degree” [of writing]. One could probably make a case for an entry on “chora” (p. 212), which occurs in Derrida and Kristeva, and, before them, in Plato. But, I think, notions and practices such as pastiche, recycling, cloning, and repetition also speak to the postmodern mindset as well as to it modus operandi and, therefore, could have been included. But, again, this is a thorough work of reference, bringing together competent scholars who provide apt definitions of postmodern terminology and, in Part II, solid panoramas of postmodernism’s impact on fields and cultural arenas such as philosophy, critical theory, politics, feminism, lifestyles, science and technology, architecture, art, cinema, television, literature, music, and pop culture.
One cannot find “language,” “linguistics,” or an article on postmodernism and language in the Dictionary, despite the several entries and essays that touch on the topics. This gap, offset in part in the Dictionary itself by entries such as “semiotics,” is indirectly filled by the recent Routledge Language and Cultural Theory Reader edited by Lucy Burke et al. Again, this is not the first reference volume of its kind. But it is probably the most comprehensive and up-to-date anthology that brings together texts lodged at the crossroads of linguistics traditionally understood, culture, and politics. The Reader comes out in Routledge’s “The Politics of Language” Series edited by Tony Crowley and Talbot J. Taylor and complements, to my mind, two types of works: first, “encyclopedias of language” such as those published by Routledge in 1990 and Pergamon in 1997, and the recent Words on Words, edited by David and Hilary Crystal for Chicago UP last year; and second, various readers in modern and postmodern literary and cultural theory. The Reader, too, surveys twentieth-century discourses of language. This is not a linguistics compilation per se but gathers works that have explored “the relations between language and culture, and language and cultural identity.”
Its Part One focuses on “Structure and Agency in Language,” with selections from Saussure, Croce, Voloshinov, Spitzer, Raymond Williams, Freud, Irigaray, and Hortense J. Spillers among others. This Part’s subsections revolve around issues in semiotics, history, subjectivity, gender, and sexuality. Part Two addresses “unity and diversity in language” and includes linguists, critics, and philosophers from formalists and ex-formalists such as Bakhtin, Mukarovsky, and Jakobson to stylisticians like Vossler and poststructuralists (Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva). Finally, Part Three, is divided into three segments: “Language/Cultures,” “Language and...