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Reviewed by:
  • Postmodern American Literature and Its Other
  • Sue-Im Lee
W. Lawrence Hogue. Postmodern American Literature and Its Other. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 2009. 212 pp.

In Postmodern American Literature and Its Other, Hogue argues the insufficiency in the theory and practice of postmodernism in American literature. Hogue locates the insufficiency in postmodernism’s inability to successfully overthrow the prevailing version of modernism that is Eurocentric, patriarchal, capitalist, instrumentalist, and imperialist. This failure is most visible in postmodern fiction’s failure to meet the following challenge: “does postmodern American fiction augur a different culture/social reality? A new/different way of constructing the world beyond/different from modernity?” (x). The answer, Hogue offers, depends entirely on the writer’s ability to fully embrace the decentralizing potential of postmodernism, a “planetary postmodernism” that not only decentralizes the hierarchies of race, class, gender in Western history and culture, but also disrupts the politics of subject formation that necessitates the making of “the other.”

Hogue builds his theory of planetary postmodernism on Enrique Dussel’s distinction between a Eurocentric modernism and a planetary modernism. The prevailing understanding of modernity, Dussel argues, is a deeply Eurocentric one, in which the subject of modernity is unfailingly Western, male, and a champion of “Reason, progress, hierarchy, monism, sameness, and center” (1). Conversely, this Eurocentric modernism elides all that lies outside its purview—the non-Western, the female, the poor, all of which constitute the global periphery—that is not only elided, but objectified, as the necessary condition of making the Western male the subject of history and social reality.

From the failings of Eurocentric modernism, Hogue draws the two kernel questions of his analysis: how thoroughly and consistently does the novel 1) overthrow the Eurocentric, patriarchal modernist worldview, and 2) challenge the objectification of the global periphery? The analysis operates by pairing novelists by race and gender; it begins with Thomas Pynchon’s V. (1963) and Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy (1985, 1986), moves to Rikki Ducornet’s The Jade Cabinet (1993) and Kathy Acker’s Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996), and ends with Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972) and Gerald Vizenor’s The Heirs of Columbus (1998). This ordering of paired novelists represents the spectrum of postmodernisms, from postmodernism-as-neomodernism to planetary postmodernism-as-anti-modernism. Pynchon and Auster exemplify canonical postmodern literature’s failure to supersede the objectification of the global periphery. However insistently these novelists deconstruct Enlightenment reason, teleology, and history by propelling mystery, indeterminacy, and multiplicity, they never escape the modernist quest for Origin, order, and Truth. Furthermore, the very means of their [End Page 383] white male protagonists to attain the status of subjecthood is to encounter the objectification of the global periphery—women, the poor, people of color, and of non-Western cultures—who become the static background in which the subject’s quest attains its political and cultural urgency.

Precisely this neo-modernist lapse is corrected in Ducornet and Acker, who explicitly take on, and deconstruct, the normative masculinist subject embedded in Eurocentricism, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. Concomitantly, these women writers unleash a feminist recuperation and valorization of qualities and attributes suppressed under masculinist Eurocentricism—“magical/pagan/feminine periphery” (95), in Ducornet, and “outlawed, marginal myths, individuals, spaces, witches, prostitutes, fortune-tellers (paganism), dreams, piracy” (121) in Acker. However, Hogue finds, the planetary postmodernism of these women writers is still one which requires the Other, as Ducornet reduces the Irish servant Feather, the Egyptian presence, and non-phallic sexuality to a static entity without agency (119), and Acker objectifies African American women, who are “not invested with the same difference and subjectivity as Acker’s Euro-American female characters” (140).

Only in the constructed worlds of Reed and Vizenor, Hogue argues in the final chapter, do we find a planetary postmodernism that entirely escapes the shadow of modernism, that, in fact, succeeds in offering a postmodern vision of the future where instrumental reason is entirely overthrown and the formation of the subject is not contingent on the reduction of the global periphery. Furthermore, Reed and Vizenor represent the final achievement of planetary postmodernism by actively visualizing “the dialectical relationship...


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pp. 383-385
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