chapter
Introduction
Pages 8

Postmodernism has been part of the cultural landscape for quite some time now, but with many of the major theorists identified with it having died in the last few years (Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, for example), the time seems ripe for a reassessment of their work as well as a reconsideration of who should be included in any survey of the phenomenon’s history. Modernity itself as a socio-economic movement is under considerable strain since the credit crisis of 2007-8, which has thrown into doubt its ability to go on delivering the socio-economic progress that is its driving force and the major basis of its public appeal. That makes it all the more topical to look again at those figures who were critical of modernity’s stranglehold on world culture, and of the ‘Enlightenment project’ in general, in the decades leading up to what is still as I write an unresolved crisis seriously threatening the global economy. Fifty Key Postmodern Thinkers therefore concentrates on figures working in a wide variety of fields in the later twentieth century, when postmodernism as it is now understood came to have a high profile in popular culture and the public consciousness. There are forty-six standard-length entries (c. 1,900-2,000 words),

and two longer; the latter to accommodate thinkers best known for their collaborative work, but who also have substantial bodies of work published under their own name – namely, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Each entry will include the following: an exposition of the thinker’s key concepts; references to their main works and consideration of their impact; a select bibliography of their main works (ten maximum in order not to curtail the coverage of the entry unduly); plus a list of references of other texts mentioned in the entry. The entries are alphabetically arranged, from Adorno through to Žižek. The volume ranges across philosophy, politics, social theory, psy-

chology, anthropology, religion, feminism, science and the arts in general, to demonstrate the scope of postmodernism as a movement

of ideas and the inspiration it gave to cultural critique in the later twentieth century and then on into the twenty-first. The aim is to show that the critique offered by the movement’s major figures is as relevant today as it was when it first broke into the public domain back in the 1970s and 1980s, and that it was always far more than a short-lived cultural trend that has now run its course. Indeed, the ideas of those thinkers covered represent an important contribution to the history of scepticism as a cultural phenomenon, with its notably anti-authoritarian, counter-cultural bias from the days of classical Greek philosophy onwards (for more on postmodernism’s debt to scepticism, see Sim 2001, 2006). Above all else, postmodernists are sceptical in attitude and spirit: sceptical towards the claims of modernity and modernism to be the best, indeed only, method of organising society; sceptical of the claims made by authorities in general and determined to bring these to public attention wherever possible. The figures covered here have been chosen to represent their par-

ticular fields and by no means exhaust those who could be included under the heading of the postmodern: many other names are mentioned over the course of the volume, but clearly a selection had to be made and this has been done in the first instance on chronological principles. Theodor W. Adorno is the furthest back in the past the selection goes, as his ideas, especially in his later career, strikingly prefigure the postmodern and indeed have set some of the terms of debate amongst theorists there. Adorno, along with his Frankfurt School colleague Max Horkheimer, specifically called into question the Enlightenment’s influence and achievements in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), setting the tone for what was to become a concerted critique of it by the poststructuralist and postmodernist theorists in the later twentieth century. Adorno’s Negative Dialectics (1966) also stands as a key work in the development of post-Marxism by what is effectively its deconstruction of one of the most basic building blocks of Marxism as a system of thought, a teleological dialectic: it seems entirely appropriate, therefore, that it is Adorno who leads off the entries. The decision was made to concentrate on the twentieth century

and not to go further back than Adorno, since earlier figures who have also strongly influenced postmodern thought – Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche spring most readily to mind in this context – properly speaking belong to other intellectual traditions. To include such as those in the present volume would have been to weaken the specifically postmodern slant of the project at the expense of influences whose work has often been substantially reinterpreted

by postmodern thinkers to fit their own objectives. Postmodern theorists are generally more post-Marxist than Marxist in their philosophical and political orientation, and Kant would hardly have approved of his ideas being appropriated, as they have been by the postmodern community, to undermine rather than reinforce the role of reason in human affairs. Everyone given an entry can claim a direct role in helping to form what we now call postmodern thought, although reference will also be made, where appropriate, to the sources of their ideas in cultural history. The second principle of selection has been to cast the net as widely as possible over academic, intellectual and artistic disciplines in order to demonstrate the very considerable breadth of postmodern thought, the implications of which soon became apparent across the entire cultural spectrum from those working in the arts through to those in the sciences. The artists, musicians and writers chosen for inclusion here are to be considered as leading examples of their fields, rather than as isolated figures who happen to display some characteristics of the postmodern aesthetic in their work. It is a point worth making, too, that many of the figures here

rejected the label of ‘postmodernist’, and that there is no such thing as a defined postmodernist movement – except perhaps in the field of architecture (as I will explain in more detail below; readers are also referred to the Charles Jencks entry). There is, however, a definable condition of postmodernity, and all the figures included in the volume have contributed significantly to our understanding of this phenomenon, and stand in some kind of critical relation to its predecessor, modernity. It is that critical relation I take to be most important, and through their articulation of it these thinkers have, in their varied ways, helped to shape what we mean by postmodernity and the postmodern, hence their inclusion. Every effort will be made to cross-reference between these thinkers, to show the connections that can be made between them that do suggest a common set of concerns running throughout their work.