Ideas in fashion;Subject of the week;Reference books

1st May 1998 at 01:00

It is safe to hazard that Winnie the Pooh might have had a few problems with postmodernism, but if you, too, feel like a bear of very little brain in your attempts to negotiate the fuzzy logic of this funny phenomenon, do not worry.

Postmodernism is happiest when eluding rather than lending itself to definition. Definition, after all, suggests the boundaries postmodernism denies. Finally, it seems to say, the bottom line is that there is no bottom line.

On the basis of this extremely useful compilation, tell-tale signs of incorrigible po-mo-ness include signing on for the pursuit of signs, remembering Baudrillard and simulating enthusiasm for simulations - or realising that not only are things not what they used to be, they never were what they were supposed to have been in the first place; howling down all opposition to "popular culture"; and possibly even blowing up the occasional neo-brutalist tower block or perhaps just drinking conspicuouscappuccinos.

Emancipating one from the elitist images of modernism, postmodernism would claim to be a good thing. Yet it has been subject to persistent trashing by radical "policemen", from the sociologist Juergen Habermas to literary critic Terry Eagleton.

And certainly, pragmatically speaking, po-mo man always sounds as if he has plenty of money jingling in his pockets to pay for his conspicuouslyhigh-tech consumptions.

But the thing is unavoidable. Fortunately, there are extremely good orienteering essays here by experts on postmodernism and philosophy, music, architecture, critical and cultural theory, literature, popular culture, film, television and so on (quite a lot of the so on).

Oddly, the title avoids "postmodernism". The contributors assume that that is what they are discussing, however, and the back cover blurb deploys the term quite happily.

But this is a quibble. In general, the enterprise is brilliantly carried off. This is a work crammed with interesting fact and speculation and with a most assiduous cross-referencing of key terms.

Winnie the Pooh would, I am sure, have been delighted with the book.

Edward Neill

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