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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Bhabha And Spivak: Where Are You Now That We Need You?

Remember all that hurried talk about postmodernism being one of the victims of 9/11? Well, that was followed by books like Postmodern Pooh by Frederick Crews and After Theory by Terry Eagleton (and articles such as Ramachandra Guha's put-down of Edward Said's Orientalism). And now comes a piece entitled Postmodern Fog Has Begun To Lift, by Morris Dickstein, English professor at the City University of New York:

“…many Americans today, sensing that the foundations of their world have crumbled, feel a deep nostalgia for something solid and real. Surrounded by a media culture, adrift in virtual reality, they seek assurance from their own senses...I see evidence of this in my own field of literary studies, which has long been in the vanguard of postmodernism…

"To understand the changes that shook the modern world, my students and colleagues have returned in recent years to long-neglected writers in the American realist tradition, including William Dean Howells, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. For readers like me who grew up in the second half of the 20th century on the unsettling innovations of modernism, and who were attuned to its atmosphere of crisis and disillusionment, the firm social compass of these earlier writers has come as a surprise.

"Like Henry James before them, they saw themselves less as lonely romantic outposts of individual sensibility than as keen observers of society. They described the rough transition from the small town to the city, from rural life to industrial society, from a more homogeneous but racially divided population to a nation of immigrants. They recorded dramatic alterations in religious beliefs, moral values, social and sexual mores and class patterns. Novels like Dreiser's "Sister Carrie" and Wharton's "House of Mirth" showed how fiction paradoxically could serve fact and provide a more concrete sense of the real world than any other form of writing.

"This is how most readers have always read novels, not simply for escape, and certainly not mainly for art, but to get a better grasp of the world around them and the world inside them. Now that the overload of theory, like a mental fog, has begun to lift, perhaps professional readers will catch up with them."

A review of Dickstein's new book, A Mirror In The Roadway (billed as a "reconsideration of realism"), can be found here.


  • me, i'm quite happy to see the end of pomo and the return of humanism...

    By Blogger uma, at 7:31 PM  

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