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This review is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

THE WOBBLING PIVOT BARRY SMART, Postmodernity: Key Ideas (Routledge) np
DANA GIOIA, Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture (Graywolf Press) np

Postmodernity serves as a short introduction to and overview of a complex phenomenon which, by dint of the instability which is its central characteristic, can be approached as profitably from one scholarly perspective as another, the traditionally observed delineation between disciplines no longer withstanding. As Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Auckland, it is unsurprising that Barry Smart should have chosen to place the emphasis of his inquiry on discovering what postmodernity might mean in terms of the functioning of societies in the late-twentieth century. His exploration of the theories propounded by such as Foucault, Baudrillard and Eco, whilst thorough and illuminating, is therefore geared primarily towards establishing an understanding of the pertinent issues as they operate within the sociopolitical sphere; there is very little here that might assist us in our understanding of the relationship between postmodernity and hermeneutics, for example, or between postmodernity and metaphysics (a particularly fractious and intriguing coupling). True, there is mention of 'substantial, possibly increasing constituencies of people for whom a sacred, "other-worldly" orientation continues to be of fundamental significance' (pp. 113-14), but this is so fleeting as to be almost meaningless, and again suffers from the author's reluctance to augment his sociological readings with a fuller variety of approaches so as to do justice to the subject under discussion. The brief passages in which Smart undertakes an examination of Heidegger and his conception of Being as it has undergone change from medieval times to the present are especially interesting, since ...

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