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books and company The Anti-Aesthetic:Essays on Postmodern Culture Edited by Hal Foster Bay Press, 175 pp., $8.95 (paper) The Anti-Aesthetic is a provocative collection of essays which have been collected in an effort to elucidate the terms of "postmodernism," a term signifying "the state of contemporary culture." The writers included are an eclectic group, with perspectives of extensive diversity: Jurgen Harbermas, Kenneth Frampton, Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp, Craig Owens, Gregory L. Ulmer, Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard, and Edward W. Said. The question raised by this collection is whether or not the aspirations of "modernism " as a philosophical and a cultural adversary have evolved or devolved now that "modernism" has entered "the academy," and has, in fact, become "the academy." In this situation, the strategems for continued discourse, as defined in terms of analytic practice, must become either more stringent or more sedate. One of the problems with modernist discourse, as exemplified, perhaps, in such critics and such philosophers as Clement Greenberg, Michael Fried and Stanley Cavell, was the tendency to prescribe; in an attempt to defuse the modernist distinction, the essays in The Anti-Aesthetic assert the explication of ideological constructs through the specificity of aesthetic projects . In a sense, the essays in The Anti-Aesthetic exemplify a mode of postmodernism by specifying theory in terms of criticism, that is, collapsing the categorical imperatives such that the terms fuse in the particularities of practice. Postmodernism presupposes the necessity for pluralism in terms of aesthetics: rarely is work "criticized," rather, work is comprehended. (Perhaps the most important instance of an enterprise which might be considered the precursor of postmodern theory would be the "criticism" of Jean-Paul Sartre, especially Saint Genet and The Idiot of the Family.) The enterprises of architecture (in Kenneth Frampton's essay, "Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance"), of 95 sculpture (in Rosalind Krauss's essay, "Sculpture in the Expanded Field"), and of the visual arts (in Douglas Crimp's essay, "On the Museum's Ruins," and Craig Owens's essay, "The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism") represent the most concentrated instances of postmodernism as cultural activities, and these essays have the added allure of a definitive address. (For example, when Fredric Jameson attempts to address the commercial cinema as an examplar of postmodernism in his essay "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," there is a marked attenuation of incisiveness, because the specifics of the situation have not the intent implied when the term "postmodern" is applied.) The Anti-Aesthetic is an exceptional beginning for a bibliography on postmodernism, though there are many other choices which come to mind (specifically from such journals as October and Critical Inquiry) for future reference (in particular, essays by such writers as Annette Michelson, Noel Carroll, and George Rochberg), to mention sources which Foster has tapped for his substantive choices. It should be noted that "performance" is a category which has been presumed to be "postmodern," yet few essays address the subject directly; theatre is rarely mentioned, and this is, perhaps, inevitable, since the theatre is a field which has not "expanded" in the same sense that architecture and sculpture have expanded. Postmodernism represents the effort to sustain the intensity of analytical discourse when there is an acknowledgement of the "death" of that discourse's modus operandi, "modernism." Perhaps when the theatre catches up to postmodernism, that will be the signal for postmodernism's funeral rites. Daryl Chin Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial,and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England Martin Meisel Princeton, 472 pp., 220 illus., $52.50 (cloth) The visual high point in The House of Mirth, the play by Clyde Fitch and Edith Wharton, based on Mrs. Wharton's best-selling novel of 1905, is a striking scene of posing tableaux vivants at a New York society benefit. Noted in relation to Martin Meisel's remarkable survey of nineteenthcentury English syntheses of the narrative and the pictorial-notably on stage-this theatrical effect of Fitch's, which was a hallmark of dramaturgy, shows his affinity for a style which was already in eclipse. In Realizations, Meisel seeks, with success and many fascinating, thoroughly researched examples, to identify and explain the distinctive nineteenth...


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