New Internationalist

The A to Z of Postmodern Life: Essays on Global Culture in the Noughties

November 2002

I don’t think I am postmodern. Some days I’m not even sure if I qualify as modern. I tried to approach this book in a suitably ironic way, zapping (chapter 34) and browsing and reading its alphabetically arranged chapters at random. It seemed to add precisely zero, though, so I went back to the old fashioned premodern technique of linear reading, page after page. This is pretty much the problem with most of the detritus of popular culture that gets lumbered with the postmodern tag; it is just a modish, lazy way of attempting to define things which, when subject to scrutiny, are not really that fresh after all. Postmodernism, in common with post-feminism and post-fascism, is an evasion rather than a definition. Dissent (chapter 6) is to be found elsewhere than in this self-referential cul-de-sac.

Avoiding the hype (chapter 12) and the lies (chapter 15) though, Ziauddin Sardar is quite engaging company and his critique of such topics as Americana (chapter 2), Terrorism (chapter 26) and Lists (chapter 16) is both perceptive and politically acute. The question he poses at the outset is surely one we have all asked ourselves recently: ‘Is it just me… or are the times we live in out of joint?’

Quite appropriately (ironic, really), the term ‘postmodern’ in the title is a bit of a misnomer but I suppose a more accurate label such as ‘some well written and thought-provoking musings on globalization (chapter 10), tradition (chapter 28) and identity (chapter 12)’ was rejected as being insufficiently zingy and out of tune with the zeitgeist.

Peter Whittaker

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 351 This column was published in the November 2002 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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