"It's noble to be good, and nobler to teach
others to be good, and less trouble."

                                    -Mark Twain


"We are the great abbreviators. None of us has the wit to know the
whole truth, the time to tell it if we believed we did, or an
audience so gullible as to accept it"



"I'm all for progress. It's change I can't stand.
                                    -Mark Twain

The esoteric quality of legal education has been known to deliver absurd twists of language, confoundedness, and meaninglessness.[1]  I have looked for another modifying adjective and have found that the word, “esoteric,” immediately follows “esophoria” in my dictionary, a condition of a squint in which the eyes turn inward toward the nose, and am reminded of the old story about how lawyers squint at gnats and swallow camels to make their point; so I’ll keep the word “esoteric” here.  The law systematizes and legitimizes procedures for looking backwards, where constant references to stodgy bastions of precedent dilute and make parsimonious the urgency, the emergency, of social justice.  Should we, as law and business school professors, myopically emphasize legal scriptures and procedural complexities in area by area of practice?  Should we not be educating, in equal measure and with immediacy, humane social dialogue, the tactics of public civility, and furtherance of egalitarian values?[2]  The place in which each young attorney and MBA student finds himself or herself, and where they will continue to find themselves as they season, and their own satisfaction with that time and space of our hypermodern world,[3] remarkably is dependent on how ever fast the world turns and to what extent we instill in them the practice to take moments to answer questions of the soul B how values are created B in the face of numbing and desensitizing stimulus that has become western culture.[4]  This “Globalization” class, then, was designed to be just one example to educators of a blended curriculum in the field of law, economics, sociobiology,[5] human geography,[6] philosophy, ecological literacy[7] and human justice.

I’m lazy in esotery.  So, instead, I teach impending doom, resilience, heartbreak, hope, action, paying attention.  In the early part of my legal career, after I returned from living and working on the Navajo Indian Reservation, I was wonderfully good at knowing that I did not know much, and I did not pretend to.  But, I could always smell the intangible scents of trouble, like Humphrey Bogart in film noir, and my recognitions came to me as strong as newly coated varnish in a dive boat’s kitchen galley mixed with the vapors of morning bacon grease.  I like to think that this class is about reaching into infinite space and grabbing odors from the back of minds.  I want our young lawyers to wear orange jumpsuits to watch red sunsets, to be alive sensuously, to be urgent, to be called to awareness.  In essence, my class explores humanity and inhumanity in an accelerated world.[8]  It asks, as capitalism approaches universality, what are the legal, social, and community obligations that accompany global participation?  Does money equal wealth?[9]  How do technological innovations enhance, displace, or devalue human existence and culture?[10]  If public morality supposedly resounds in the law, then is morality increasingly bound to perpetual consumption?[11]  Should we not rethink the very nature of human progress?[12]

My first series of seminars began in the fall of 1998; they came across like a shotgun blast.  The current human condition exploded from the strikes of pellets of planetary atrocities.  The classes were bridges into the soul of human unkindness, somewhat lamenting and nostalgic toward a yesteryear that supposed, admittedly idealistically and naively, mankind/ womankind/humankind was at some time “kinder before.”  Of course, this is a silly utopian notion, probably derived from a painting hung on the wall above my grandmother Frieda’s goofy lumpy couch, which showed happy Romanians—really, happy Romanian maidens—in a thatch-covered wagon drawn by a chestnut mare in the 1600’s, 1700’s or 1800’s—who knows—in front of a thatched-roof cottage with a warm woodstove fire within—I could see the smoke from the chimney stack—surrounded by happy chickens and barnyarders on a happy dirt road with no manure, no mud and no discrimination against Jews and Gypsies.  My naiveté is having created for myself utopian iconography to change the natural discordant behavior of humans into healthy floral arrangements of egalitarian kindness.  Does the golden age always lie in the past, never in the future?[13]  What happened at the dawn of humanity that made us so vengeful yet passionate for art and music?  My learned-later-in-life knowledge of history countermands, does battle, with my dream that people conduct their lives altruistically.[14]  “Kinder before?”  From where on earth could I have come to such thought?  Please indulge me in a very short tale to try for an answer— my gestalt—for it is within my compositional structure that I from somewhere learned to care, be heartbroken by atrocity, be repaired and inspired by showers of illustrious dignity, and be doomed to repeat these emotional fluctuations that inhabit me whenever I teach this class.

I was born and raised in Hollywood and a thousand times skateboarded down the Avenue of the Stars.  Bill Williams, the television star who played Kit Carson signed my toy holster in Palm Springs when I was nine (and, no doubt, I have been atoning as an Indigenous human rights attorney ever since.  The recalled memory and attendant guilt was too much to bear.)  I saw El Cid starring Charlton Heston six times in two days at the Carthay Circle Theater and never wondered why the million Middle-Eastern fellows all dropped to the ground and parted like the Red Sea in superstitious-fearful-admiration when El Cid, the Spaniard, rode on horseback out from the castle down the long expanse of oceanfront.  I mean, he was dead and strapped upright to the saddle, for goodness sake!  I knew zero about the word Moor.  It was all about the gleam of the sword, its raised point glistening from under the weight of heaven’s beams.  Ditto for Lawrence of Arabia and Peter O’Toole’s blue eyes.  Again, the glisten.  I spent my high school English literature class drawing surfboards.  I was stampeded at Pacific Ocean Park by a horde of girls screaming insanely when Jan and Dean[15] came to sign autographs.  I saw Kooky park cars for Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. at 77 Sunset Strip.  Southern California in the 1950’s and 1960’s was sublime, the middle-class idyll.  Perhaps that is why it was also so wickedly delusional.

The sunsets are giant rainbows lasting for an hour.  The seasons here make no sense: in the morning it is spring, at noon it is summer, and the desert nights are cold without it ever being winter.  It is a kind of suspended eternity in which the year is renewed daily, with the guarantee that it will be like this each day, that every evening will be that rainbow of all the colours of the spectrum in which light, after having reigned all day long in its indivisible form, in the evening fragments into all the nuances of colour that make it up, before it finally disappears.  Nuances which are already those of the instant rainbow catching fire in the wind on the crest of the Pacific waves.


This is the invulnerable grace of the climate, privilege of a nature that completes that insane richness that is man’s.


This country is without hope.  Even its garbage is clean, its trade lubricated, its traffic pacified.  The latent, the lacteal, the lethal – life is so liquid, the signs and messages are so liquid, the bodies and the cars so fluid, the hair so blond, and the soft technologies so luxuriant, that a European dreams of death and murder, of suicide motels, of orgies and cannibalism to counteract the perfection of the ocean, of the light, of that insane ease of life, to counteract the hyperreality of everything here.


Hence the phantasy of a seismic fracture and a crumbling into the Pacific, which would be the end of California and of its criminal and scandalous beauty.  For it is unbearable, while one is still alive, to pass beyond the difficulty of being, simply to pass into the fluidity of sky, cliffs, surf, and deserts, into the hypothesis of happiness alone.


But even the seismic challenge is still only a flirtation with death; it still forms part of the natural beauty, as do history or revolutionary theory, whose hyperrealist echoes come here to die with the discreet charm of something from a previous existence.  All that remains of a violent and historical demand is this graffiti on the beach, facing out to sea, no longer calling upon the revolutionary masses, but speaking to the sky and the open space and the transparent deities of the Pacific.




And yet is it irrelevant that the largest naval base, that of the Pacific 7th Fleet – the very incarnation of American worldwide domination and the greatest firepower in the world – also contributes to this insolent beauty?  In the very place where the beautiful magic of Santa Ana blows, the desert wind that crosses over the mountains to stay for four or five days, before scattering the fog, scorching the earth, making the sea sparkle, and crushing those who are used to the mist – the most beautiful thing about the Santa Ana is spending the night on the beach, swimming there as if it were daytime, and tanning, like vampires, under the moonlight.


This country is without hope.


We fanatics of aesthetics and meaning, of culture, of flavour and seduction, we who see only what is profoundly moral as beautiful and for whom only the heroic distinction between nature and culture is exciting, we who are unfailingly attached to the wonders of critical sense and transcendence find it a mental shock and a unique release to discover the fascination of nonsense and of this vertiginous disconnection, as sovereign in the cities as in the deserts.  To discover that one can exult in the liquidation of all culture and rejoice in the consecration of in-difference.[16]


I should have known better, learned better, or at least looked for more.  My grandparents, whose ancestors remain nameless to me to this day, fled Hungary from centuries of annihilation.  My parents never spoke of this and changed their last names to avoid discrimination, yet I managed a secondary education in science and creative writing without having to study, much less feel, the messiness of conquest, racism and world criminalities.  Or, perhaps, I just forgot about, maybe even hid from, the painful episodes of humans dominating and brutalizing other humans.[17]  Everything was blonde; the blacks and the browns were blonde—even the blues were blonde.  I felt no hatred and gave none.  Somehow, I put together an ignorant idealism believing that people were still unilaterally virtuous and that humanity’s altruism was the natural state.[18]  Then, of course, most of us were awakened, transformed in college times by knowledge that comes from older age, a wearisome awareness of the threats of wars and environmental degradation.[19]  And, I never worried whether water would pass from the faucet when I turned the tap.

We, with our propensity for murder, torture, slavery, rape, cannibalism, pillage, advertising jingles, shag carpets, and golf, how could we be seriously considered as the perfection of a four-billion-year-old grandiose experiment?  Perhaps as a race, we have evolved as far as we are capable, yet that by no means suggests that evolution has called it quits.  In all likelihood, it has something beyond human on the drawing board.  We tend to refer to our most barbaric and crapulous behavior as “inhuman,” whereas, in point of fact, it is exactly human, definitely and quintessentially human, since no other creature habitually indulges in comparable atrocities.  This negates neither our occasional virtues nor our aesthetic triumphs, but if a being at least a little bit more than human is not waiting around the bend of time, then evolution has suffered a premature ejaculation.[20]

            Most certainly, I am not uniquely experienced in riding in the emotional chariots of eco-literate life; despondency, positiveness, pessimism, hope, defeat, fear, anger, irrationality, actuation, integrity all sway me.  And, of course, ideals have made me heartsick. 

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,

A quiet house, some green and modest acres

A little way from every troubling town,

A little way from factories, schools, laments,

I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,

With only streams and birds for company,

To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.

And then it came to me, that so was death,

A little way away from everywhere.


There is a thing in me still dreams of trees.

But let it go.  Homesick for moderation,

Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.

If any find solution, let him tell it.

Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation

Where, as the times implore our true involvement,

The blades of every crisis point the way.


I would it were not so, but so it is.

Who ever made music of a mild day?[21]


My clarity is also my enemy.  Like Horas, I weighed hearts against a feather all the while sipping port with clowns.  At my age, you would have thought I had to be using a sandalwood staff to support my dreams for us all on this planet.  But, for the past two years, I have been carving a different walking stick, one from the timbers of harshness.  I have been compelled to whittle, to shave away the moroseness I generate when my eyes see inhumaneness and unkindness abound, and to be uncompelled to be personally responsible to arrest all offending conduct and subsequently judge it.  Still, I have had to ask myself, how could I continue to champion and venerate a landscape of legal ecology when all around me, most political and consumeristic paths led to hubris and the annihilation of humanity.[22]  A bit dramatic, to be sure; but remember, I am from Hollywood.

To answer myself, I embarked on a quest, an adventurous, metaphoric crusade, one promoted by a student who became a friend during the two years we worked together.[23]  As a candidate for a joint Juris Doctor degree at the law school and a Doctorate in English, he kept annoying me with his insistence that I could find explanations for the human condition by studying postmodernity and its antecedents.  Until that past year, however, my own personal dogma rejected classroom words that began with “neo” or “post.”  “Deconstruction,” “normative” and “relativism” were also particularly distasteful.  I must confess that I really had not spent an adequate amount of time considering what “modern”/“postmodern”/“modernity”/ “postmodernity”/“modernism”/“postmodernism” or the “neos” or the “isms” meant.[24]  To me, labels attempt to simplify that which cannot or should not be so simple.  They categorize.  Once labeled, ideas usually still need an explanatory qualifier—an “in other words”—because an agreement of definition requires an understanding of the socio-ethnological-educational background of each perceiver to the conversation.  As I grappled with these mouthfuls, however, I began to unburden myself from the arrogated responsibility of saving an unsaveable planet.  I had been so full of sheer folly and wrapped myself in a buffalo coat of stress believing that inhumanity had been reconstituted anew and could be eradicated by the force of my will.  What I needed was a concise refresher lesson in the history of cruelty.  Let me, then, tell you of my journey and gather here some thoughts on the twentieth century with particular attention to Modernism and Postmodernism. 

The end of the nineteenth century in America was a time of perceived increasing unification, in spite of the many tumultuous social and political rifts present within American society.  Though such things as waves of immigration and reconstruction following the Civil War created powerful tensions and social strife,[25] nonetheless there were many cultural forces that had developed throughout the nineteenth century that were coming together by the end of that century to produce palpable notions of national unity. 

Consider the following technological innovations:

·         In 1862, Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, authorizing the building of the first transcontinental railroad.  The golden spike was driven in 1869.

·         The telegraph appeared in America in the 1840s and began to be used for dispatching trains in the 1850s.  In 1881, the Postal Telegraph entered the market.  Until 1877, all rapid, long-distance communication depended on the telegraph.

·         The first telephone line was installed in 1877, and by 1880 there were nearly 48,000 telephones in the U.S. (Transcontinental service would not appear until 1915.) 

·         Standardized time zones, driven by the railroads’ need to make schedules uniform, were implemented in 1883 in the United States.  Within one year, 85% of all cities having a population over 10,000, about 200 cities, were using standard time.

·         The first automobiles manufactured in the U.S. appeared in the 1880s.  In 1901, Olds produced 425 cars and was the leading manufacturer from 1901-1904.  Ford installed the first conveyor belt assembly line around 1913-1914.  (A single Model T was assembled in 93 minutes in assembly line production.  The Model T was originally introduced in 1908.)


What sits behind this array of technological development is a fundamental transformation of American culture.  What is just as important as the introduction of these individual inventions is the development of social institutions and the establishment of social normative interactions.  Chief among these are the U.S. corporation and new formations of capital and social practices surrounding capital.  As Alan Trachtenberg writes in The Incorporation of America:  Culture and Society in the Gilded Age:

My purpose in this book can be described as an effort to find appropriate words and names for the powers which transformed American life in the three decades following the Civil War….  I am concerned chiefly with effects of the corporate system on culture, on values and outlooks, on the “way of life.”  …I mean not only the expansion of an industrial capitalist system across the continent, not only tightening systems of transport and communication, the spread of a market economy into all regions ***, but also and even predominantly, the remaking of cultural perceptions this processed entailed.  By “the incorporation of American” I mean, then, the emergence of a changed, more tightly structured society with new hierarchies of control, and also changed conceptions of that society, of America itself.[26]


            One can recognize within the social thinking of this period, a perceived notion of social unity and triumph carrying forward as an extension and culmination of the Enlightenment Project—late sixteenth and seventeenth century thinking initiated by figures such as Rene Descartes[27]---rational thought later coupled with scientific practices that promised to produce a flawless human societal condition through secular human mental capabilities and understanding.  Charles Darwin and Karl Marx, figures often noted as two of the most important thinkers of the nineteenth century, both fit within such thinking, with systems that promised to explain rationally and scientifically the “big picture,” and thereby allow us to engineer desirable societal conditions.[28]

            The Modern period is usually approximated as 1914-1945.  I am not going to treat “Modernity” (that is, the philosophical concept) head on.  Instead, I am going to sketch a number of themes arising out of literary Modernism and allow those themes to render, through their iconography, the cultural condition of the period.[29]

            Without question, the culturally transformative event of World War I is the watershed moment initiating and forever marking the Modern period.  It is noted that the United States did not experience WWI with the same degree of psychological trauma that the United Kingdom and Europe did.  Nonetheless, its impact remains great, and the transformations in world interconnectivity deeply penetrated the U.S. gestalt.  In literature, the work of the High Modernists[30] ruled this period, and theirs was the dominant material taught until that hold began to be broken in the late 1960’s.[31]    The High Modernists were predominantly American expatriates living abroad after the war and strongly marked by the war experience.

            Their work rendered a world shattered.  The hoped for unity promised by the advancements of the nineteenth century was destroyed, ironically, by the very means by which the advancements had been achieved.  Technological and mechanical means, innovation, new materials, communication, and social uniformity produced not a utopia, but a dystopic world of destruction and brutality on a scale never before experienced.[32]  Marx had written of alienation as a condition experienced by workers in a modern system of capitalism.[33]  This resulted from a capitalist system that functioned to organize labor, organize markets, specialize the tasks of manufacturing, assign individual unskilled tasks to each individual, and then siphon off as much of the worker-created surplus value as possible in order to benefit the owner capitalist.

            WWI in many respects revealed, universalized, and made far more brutal this same mechanized process.  What it made devastatingly clear was that the cause served and ends produced ultimately failed as noble endeavors.  “Noblesse Oblige,” the “obligation of nobility” felt by many well-bred English subjects to defend England and carry high English ideals into the world, crumbled when confronted with the realities of WWI.  Soldiers went into battle expecting the sort of tactics that had been employed in earlier conflicts.  What they experienced was the first true modern warfare, mechanized destruction on a mass industrial scale.

            A great deal of literature was written attempting to convey this experience.  Among the most noted is Ezra Pound’s poem, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” published in 1920.  The intensity of personal disillusionment is strongly captured in the final stanzas:

There died a myriad,

and of the best, among them,

for an old bitch gone in the teeth,

for a botched civilization,


charm, smiling at the good mouth,

quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,


for two gross of broken statues,

for a few thousand battered books.


The perceived pointlessness of WWI is evident, but so, too, is the loss of faith in the British Empire and Western ideals.  Pound’s England is a “bitch gone in the teeth;” the British Empire is a “botched civilization” that finally produces not enlightenment, but merely “two gross of broken statues” and “a few thousand battered books.”

            This loss of faith in Western ideals is underscored earlier in the poem:

These fought, in any case,

and some believing, pro domo, in any case …..


Some quick to arm,

some for adventure,

some for fear of weakness,

some from fear of censure,

some for love of slaughter, in imagination,

learning later…


Some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

died some pro patria, non dulce non et décor …


Walked eye-deep in hell

believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving

came home, home to a lie,

home to many deceits,

home to old lies and new infamy;


Pound tells us that some died “pro patria” (“for country”), but it was “non dulce et décor” (“not sweet and right”).  This is a direct invocation of Wilfred Owen’s famous WWI anti-war poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.”  Vehemently contesting the deep-seeded tradition of noblesse oblige, Owen’s poem includes the following lines:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --

my friend, you would not tell with such high zest

to children ardent for some desperate glory,

the old Lie:  Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.


Dying for one’s country, Owen found, like so many of his generation, is not sweet and right.  Through horrifying imagery, Owen reveals the zestful imparting of such thinking for what it truly is:  “an old Lie.”

            In conjunction with WWI and events happening at the beginning of the twentieth century, it is also important to recognize that the Modern period followed on and coincided with the long colonial phase of Britain’s history.  Matthew Arnold published his famous poem “Dover Beach” in 1867 and Culture and Anarchy in 1868, both already indicating deep concerns about the condition of modern British culture and its ability to stave off anarchy.  Likewise, Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, published in 1902, focused on “the lie” that had to be told to conceal the true condition of contemporary Western culture.  When Marlowe, the narrator of Heart of Darkness, returns to England after having seen the state of inhuman anarchy that Colonel Kurtz fell into in the Congo, he is forced to confront Kurtz’s betrothed.  Faced with her innocence and purity, the narrator feels he has no choice but to lie to her of Kurtz’s last words.  Rather than admit that Kurtz’s last words were of the inevitability of succumbing to the abyss—“The horror!  The horror!”—the narrator tells Kurtz’s betrothed that his last words were of his love for her. 

            This literary incident is widely recognized as representative of the imperial position of England touting its colonial oversight as enlightening to colonial entities (“bringing light to the dark places of the earth”) rather than as inherently corrupting the parties on both sides of the colonial equation.  The “lie” in effect stands for the modern notion that modern forces will supposedly produce societal well being, when in fact those forces will ultimately produce only new and more intensive forms of subjugation and domination.

            The motif of Western culture shattered and fragmented in the Modern period is present and recurrent in cultural representations throughout this time.  This motif is reflected in Ernest Hemingway’s “stoic code” that calls on the individual to quietly and gracefully bear up under the Godless condition of the modern world.  It is also reflected in Gertrude Stein’s “eternal present” (“a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”) that suggests we are always moment-to-moment individually composing anew the world as we know it.  Likely the greatest statement, and certainly one of the most influential, of existing in a culture of fragmentation is found in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land.”

            Published in 1922 (the same year as James Joyce’s Ulysses), “The Waste Land” contains numerous elements underscoring the theme of cultural fragmentation.  Eliot employs numerous languages of Western culture (and even some Eastern ones) to demonstrate the inability of the individual in Modern times to comprehend the cultural references one unavoidably encounters.  Similarly, depictions of different class positions, from the refined aristocracy to the coarse working class, portray the multivalent structure of Modern society.  Though the voices of these classes are interwoven throughout this poem, they produce a discordant effect indicative of the experience of Modern living.  Equally powerful as these elements, however, is the very theme of the poem.

            The poem throughout portrays a quest for regeneration – a renewal of cultural forces allowing a rebirth and advancement of Western culture, but no regenerative forces can be found:

  • “April is the cruelest month” (an ironical statement speaking of spring),
  • “a heap of broken images,”
  • “the dead tree gives no shelter…and the dry stone no sound of water,”
  • “The wind / Crosses the brown land, unheard,” “Here is no water, only rock / Rock and no water and the sandy road.”  “If there were the sound of water only… / Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop / But there is no water”

Rain finally does come (“In a flash of lightening.  Then a damp gust / Bringing rain”), but even this long hoped for action is inadequate to renew life.  One of the last narrative voices conveys the final condition:

I sat upon the shore

Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down


The thunder speaks, calling finally only for sympathy and control, all that seemingly can be had within the condition of the Modern world.

            Parallel to this movement in the poem is a quest for the Holy Grail, the cup from which Christ drank at the last supper.  Symbolically in Judeo-Christian culture, the Grail again supposes regeneration, a renewal through Christ and through God’s greater plan.  Just as nature fails to deliver a solution to the condition of a failed and fragmented culture, so too spirituality is impotent to bring salvation:  “I have heard the key / Turn in the door once and turn once only / We think of the key, each in his prison / Thinking of the key, each confirms his prison,” and finally the narrative voice finds himself “Fishing, with the arid plain behind him.”  If indeed this is an attempt to spiritually fish for the souls of men, the attempt fails on this dry unregenerative plain. 

            Eliot’s poem, along with the other poems and authors I’ve discussed, effectively conveys a dominant cultural motif emergent at this time.  The Modern period was one of great disillusionment, a period rife with a sense that Western culture, rather than achieving the promised ideals of enlightenment, was instead falling into chaos and anarchy—and in many ways this was occurring as a result of the very means that were supposed to produce the cultural enlightenment.  It is important to recognize, however, that for such a disillusionment to occur, there first had to be a true belief that the ideals of Western culture were superior, that Western ideals could produce enlightenment.  As Eliot writes in the last lines of “the Waste Land,” “These fragments I have shored against my ruin.”  Western culture is problematic, fragmented, and perhaps producing dystopia rater than utopia, but nonetheless one should presumably cling to it against all encroachments.  This is the dichotomy that lies at the heart of much Modern thought:  however fragmented and impotent the Modern condition might have revealed Western enlightenment ideals to be, Western culture still contains within it fragments “the best that has been thought and said in the world” (to invoke Arnold’s famous phrase from Culture and Anarchy).  This belief ultimately is a key point that divides Modernity from Postmodernity

            Arguably, postmodernism reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s.[34]  An often-entertained question is whether Postmodernity is an extension of Modernity or a decided break from it.[35]  Postmodernity is its own philosophical beast, though it understandably presents some elements that are common to both or at least closely related.  I will touch on some Postmodernist literary representations shortly, but since I have established a Modernist cultural groundwork, I believe it will be more effective to proceed here by offering some of the philosophical thinking that articulates the Postmodern cultural condition/period.[36]

            Most obvious, I believe, is that throughout the concepts articulated in Modernity, there is a striving for “mastery” or control.  In contrast, the Postmodernity seems fairly free of such striving and seems not only to recognize, but also to embrace the “freeplay” it finds at the heart of knowledge construction.  It is easy to see, however, why the idea of “freeplay” taken to its extreme unnerves people.  At its extreme, it seems to say that all knowledge construction is a decentered and relativistic “game.[37]  This becomes a central problem.  Western liberal enlightenment thinking said, essentially, through pure rational thought and good practices (e.g., science), all problems eventually can be solved.  The Modern crisis began to reveal, through sudden and shocking experiences (e.g., WWI), that this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Postmodernity came along and said that of course it’s not the case and it never was.  Such thinking and objectives were delusional in the first place.  There never was any objective, pure thought.  All construction of knowledge is always already bound up with power relations, and therefore contains within it and reflects those power relations.[38] 

            Postmodernism totally accepts fragmentation, ephemerality, discontinuity, and the chaotic, and it “swims, even wallows, in the fragmentary…currents of change as if that’s all there is.”[39]

America is the original version of modernity.  We [Europe] are the dubbed or subtitled version.  America ducks the question of origins; it cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth.  Having known no primitive accumulation of time, it lives in a perpetual present.  Having seen no slow, centuries-long accumulation of a principle of truth, it lives in perpetual simulation, in a perpetual present of signs.  It has no ancestral territory.  The Indians’ territory is today marked off in reservations, the equivalent of the galleries in which America stocks its Rembrandts and Renoirs.  But this is of no importance – America has no identity problem.  In the future, power will belong to those peoples with no origins and no authenticity who know how to exploit that situation to the full.  Look at Japan, which to a certain extent has pulled off this trick better than the U.S. itself, managing, in what seems to us an unintelligible paradox, to transform the power of territoriality and feudalism into that of deterritoriality and weightlessness.  Japan is already a satellite of the planet Earth.  But America was already in its day a satellite of the planet Europe.  Whether we like it or not, the future has shifted towards artificial satellites.


America is neither dream nor reality.  It is a hyperreality.  It is a hyperreality because it is a utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it were already achieved.  Everything here is real and pragmatic, and yet it is all the stuff of dreams, too.  It may be that the truth of America can only be seen by a European, since he alone will discover here the perfect simulacrum – that of the immanance and material transcription of all values.  The Americans, for their part, have no sense of simulation.  They are themselves simulation in its most developed state, but they have no language in which to describe it, since they themselves are the model.  As a result, they are the ideal material for an analysis of all the possible variants of the modern world.  No more and no less in fact than were primitive societies in their day.  The same mythical and analytic excitement that made us look towards those earlier societies today impels us to look in the direction of America.  With the same passion and the same prejudices.


In reality, you do not, as I had hoped, get any distance on Europe from here.  You do not acquire a fresh angle on it.  When you turn around, it has quite simply disappeared.  The point is that there is really no need to adopt a critical stance on Europe from here.  That is something you can do in Europe.  And what is there to criticize which has not been criticized a thousand times before?  What you have to do is enter the fiction of America, enter America as fiction.  It is, indeed, on this fictive basis that it dominates the world.  Even if every detail of America were insignificant, America is something that is beyond us all . . .


America is a giant hologram, in the sense that information concerning the whole is contained in each of its elements.  Take the tiniest little place in the desert, any old street in a Midwest town, a parking lot, a Californian house, a Burger King or a Studebaker, and you have the whole of the U.S. – South, North, East, or West.  Holographic also in that it has the coherent light of the laser, the homogeneity of the single elements scanned by the same beams.  From the visual and plastic viewpoints, too:  things seem to be made of a more unreal substance; they seem to turn and move in a void as if by a special lighting effect, a fine membrane you pass through without noticing it.  This is obviously true of the desert.  It is also the case with Las Vegas and advertising, and even the activities of the people, public relations, and everyday electronics all stand out with the plasticity and simplicity of a beam of light.  The hologram is akin to the world of phantasy.  It is a three-dimensional dream and you can enter it as you would a dream.  Everything depends on the existence of the ray of light bearing the objects.  If it is interrupted, all the effects are dispersed, and reality along with it.  You do indeed get the impression that America is made up of a fantastic switching between similar elements, and that everything is only held together by a thread of light, a laser beam, scanning out American reality before our eyes.  In America, the spectral does not refer to phantoms or to dancing ghosts, but to the spectrum into which light disperses.


On the aromatic hillsides of Santa Barbara, the villas are all like funeral homes.  Between the gardenias and the eucalyptus trees, among the profusion of plant genuses and the monotony of the human species, lies the tragedy of a utopian dream made reality.  In the very heartland of wealth and liberation, you always hear the same question:  ‘What are you doing after the orgy?’  What do you do when everything is available – sex, flowers, the stereotypes of life and death?  This is America’s problem and, through America, it has become the whole world’s problem.


All dwellings have something of the grave about them, but here the fake serenity is complete.  The unspeakable house plants, lurking everywhere like the obsessive fear of death, the picture windows looking like Snow White’s glass coffin, the clumps of pale, dwarf flowers stretched out in patches like sclerosis, the proliferation of technical gadgetry inside the house, beneath it, around it, like drips in an intensive care ward, the TV, stereo, and video which provide communication with the beyond, the car (or cars) that connect one up to that great shoppers’ funeral parlour, the supermarket, and, lastly, the wife and children, as glowing symptoms of success. . . everything here testifies to death having found its ideal home.


The microwave, the waste disposal, the orgasmic elasticity of the carpets:  this soft, resort-style civilization irresistibly evokes the end of the world.  All their activities here have a surreptitious end-of-the-world feel to them:  these Californian scholars with monomaniacal passions for things French or Marxist, the various sects obsessively concerned with chastity or crime, these joggers sleepwalking in the mist like shadows that have escaped from Plato’s cave, the very real mental defectives or Mongols let out of the psychiatric hospitals (this letting loose of the mad into the city seems a sure sign of the end of the world, the loosing of the seals of the Apocalypse), these obese individuals who have escaped from the hormone laboratories of their own bodies, and these drilling platforms – ‘oil sanctuaries’ – keeping watch in the night, like grand casinos, or extraterrestrial spacecraft.


Ravishing hyperrealism

Ecstatic asceticism

Multi-process tracking shot

Interactive multi-dimensionality



Western Digitals

Body Building Incorporated

Mileage unlimited

Channel Zero


Seedy bar in Santa Barbara.  The billiard player’s red braces.  Foucault, Sartre, and Orson Welles all standing together at the counter, talking to each other, strangely convincing, strikingly like the originals.  ‘Cocktail scenery.’  The smell of violence, the stale odour of beer.  ‘Hustling is prohibited.’


Sex, beach, and mountains.  Sex and beach, beach and mountains.  Mountains and sex.  A few concepts.  Sex and concepts.  ‘Just a life.’


            Everything is destined to reappear as simulation.  Landscapes as photography, women as the sexual scenario, thoughts as writing, terrorism as fashion and the media, events as television.  Things seem only to exist by virtue of this strange destiny.  You wonder whether the world itself isn’t just here to serve as advertising copy in some other world.


            When the only physical beauty is created by plastic surgery, the only urban beauty by landscape surgery, the only opinion by opinion poll surgery. . .and now, with genetic engineering, along comes plastic surgery for the whole human species.


This is a culture which sets up specialized institutes so that people’s bodies can come together and touch, and, at the same time, invents pans in which the water does not touch the bottom of the pan, which is made of a substance so homogenous, dry, and artificial that not a single drop sticks to it, just like those bodies intertwined in ‘feeling’ and therapeutic love, which do not touch – not even for a moment.  This is called interface or interaction.  It has replaced face-to-face contact and action.  It is also called communication, because these things really do communicate:  the miracle is that the pan bottom communicates its heat to the water without touching it, in a sort of remote boiling process, in the same way as one body communicates its fluid, its erotic potential, to another without that other ever being seduced or even disturbed, by a sort of molecular capillary action.  The code of separation has worked so well that they have even managed to separate the water from the pan and to make the pan transmit its heat as a message, or to make one body transmit its desire to the other as a message, as a fluid to be decoded.  This is called information and it has wormed its way into everything, like a phobic, maniacal leitmotiv, which affects sexual relations as well as kitchen implements.[40]


Obviously, I have been searching for my own fragmented free fall, my free-for-all-free-fall.  My own Timbuktu.

A town made of pastry dough and starlight.  A mirage you can walk around in—if you can stand the heat.  Solitary, sealed, and shuttered, it wears a mask beneath a mask behind a veil.  Timbuktu.  A dehydrated Venice, crumbling into a plexus of dust canals.  Conceived when the sphinx lay down with the goldbug at a campsite half as old as time.  The Sahara crackles in every bite of its bread, the ashes of dead books blow through the streets; the lost wisdom of a dozen races is buried under its drifts, never to be jiggled by the archaeologist’s spade.  Timbuktu.  A city only an adventurer would risk, only a romantic would forgive, only a nomad would find inviting, only a camel could love.[41]


Kiss me, Snow White, and wake me from my own pragmatism.  I know that many readers have known that the world has always been a cruel place, but please bear with me a smidgen longer.  You’re in the weather the whether you’re in.  Umberto Eco makes us read one hundred pages of William Baskerville’s daily life in an Italian abbey before his fourteenth century crime caper becomes a ripper.[42]  I won’t ask you to accompany me on a journey into the Tao, the I Ching, the Bagavad-Gita, or the battle for God.[43]  Heaven forbid I ask you to start blowing kisses at the mythological tales of Joseph Campbell.[44]  Instead, I want to contemplate Nicholson Baker’s dazzling reappraisal of everyday rituals and objects on a one-story escalator ride and his new shoelaces.

As soon as my gaze fell to my shoes, however, I was reminded of something that should have struck me the instant the shoelace had first snapped.  The day before, as I had been getting ready for work, my other shoelace, the right one, had snapped, too, as I was yanking it tight to tie it, under very similar circumstances.  I repaired it with a knot, just as I was planning to do now with the left.  I was surprised – more than surprised – to think that after almost two years my right and left shoelaces could fail less than two days apart.  Apparently my shoe-tying routine was so unvarying and robotic that over those hundreds of mornings I had inflicted identical levels of wear on both laces.  The near simultaneity was very exciting – it made the variables of private life seem suddenly graspable and law-abiding.


I moistened the splayed threads of the snapped-off piece and twirled them gently into a damp, unwholesome minaret.  Breathing steadily and softly through my nose, I was able to guide the saliva-sharpened leader thread through the eyelet without too much trouble.  And then I grew uncertain.  In order for the shoelaces to have worn to the breaking point on almost the same day, they would have had to be tied almost exactly the same number of times.  But when Dave, Sue, and Steve passed my office door, I had been in the middle of tying one shoe – one shoe only.  And in the course of a normal day it wasn’t at all unusual for one shoe to come untied independent of the other.  In the morning, of course, you always tied both shoes, but random midday comings-undone would have to have constituted a significant proportion of the total wear on both of these broken laces, I felt – possibly thirty percent.  And how could I be positive that this thirty percent was equally distributed – that right and left shoes had come randomly undone over the last two years with the same frequency?


I tried to call up some sample memories of shoe-tying to determine whether one

shoe tended to come untied more often than another.  Wheat I found was that I did not retain a single specific engram of tying a shoe, or a pair of shoes, that dated from any later than when I was four or five years old, the age at which I had first learned the skill.  Over twenty years of empirical data were lost forever, a complete blank.  But I suppose this is often true of moments of life that are remembered as major advances; the discovery is the crucial thing, not its repeated later applications.  As it happened, the first three major advances in my life – and I will list all the advances here –


            1.  shoe-tying

            2.  pulling up on Xs

            3.  steadying hand against sneaker when tying

            4.  brushing tongue as well as teeth

            5.  putting on deodorant after I was fully dressed

            6.  discovering that sweeping was fun

            7.  ordering a rubber stamp with my address on it to make bill-paying          more efficient

            8.  deciding that brain cells ought to die


-- have to do with shoe-tying, but I don’t think that this fact is very unusual. 

Shoes are the first adult machines we are given to master.  Being taught to tie them was not like watching some adult fill the dishwasher and then being asked in a kind voice if you would like to clamp the dishwasher door shut and advance the selector knob (with its uncomfortable grinding sound) to Wash.  That was artificial, whereas you knew that adults wanted you to learn how to tie your shoes; it was no fun for them to kneel.  I made several attempts to learn the skill, but it was not until my mother placed a lamp on the floor so that I could clearly see the dark laces of a pair of new dress shoes that I really mastered it; she explained again how to form the introductory platform knot, which began high in the air as a frail, heart-shaped loop, and shrunk as you pulled the plastic lace-tips down to a short twisted kernel three-eighths of an inch long, and she showed me how to progress from that base to the main cotyledonary string figure, which was, as it turned out, not a true knot but an illusion, a trick that you performed on the lace-string by bending segments of it back on themselves and tightening other temporary bends around them: it looked like a knot and functioned like a knot, but the whole thing was really an amazing independent pyramid scheme, which much later I connected with a couplet of Pope’s:


            Man, like the gen’rous vine, supported lives;

            The strength he gains is from th’embrace he gives.[45]


Perhaps, I too would have wished upon myself the escapism of a Vagabond Wordsmith, free to fly past the didactical storm clouds and into the ceruleum blue Poetic Sky.  I assume that is why I have been given to re-reading Naked Lunch;[46] the great postmodern war novels Catch-22,[47] Slaughterhouse Five,[48] and Gravity’s Rainbow;[49] White Noise;[50] Gain;[51] The Painted Bird;[52] and what is considered to be one of the principal works of the Beat Generation, Howl.[53]

Who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations

Which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,


Who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up

and were forced to open antique stores where they thought

they were growing old and cried,


Who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through

images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangels of the Soul

between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs

and set the non and dash of consciousness together jumping

with sensation of Pater Omnipoteus Aeterna Deus.


and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn

shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America’s

naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthami

saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio

with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their

own bodies good enough to eat a thousand years.[54]


We cannot deny postmodernism its range.  Dick Hebdige, in his “Hiding in the Light,” commends:

When it becomes possible for people to describe as ‘postmodern’ the décor of a room, the design of a building, the diegesis of a film, the construction of a record, or a ‘scratch’ video, a television commercial, or an arts documentary, or the ‘intertextual’ relations between them, the layout of a page in a fashion magazine or critical journal, an anti-teleological tendency within epistemology, the attack on the ‘metaphysics of presence’ a general attenuation of feeling, the collective chagrin and morbid projections of a post-War generation of baby boomers confronting disillusioned middle-age, the ‘predicament of reflexitivity, a group of rhetorical tropes, a proliferation of surfaces, a new phase in commodity fetishism, a fascination for images, codes and styles, a process of cultural, political or existential fragmentation and/or crisis, the ‘de-centring’ of the subject, an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’, the replacement of unitary power axes by a plurality of power/discourse formations, the ‘implosion of meaning’, the collapse of cultural hierarchies, the dread engendered by the threat of nuclear self-destruction, the decline of the university, the functioning and effects of the new miniaturised technologies, broad societal and economic shifts into a ‘media’, ‘consumer’ or ‘multinational’ phase, a sense (depending on who you read) of ‘placelessness’ or the abandonment of ‘placelessness’ (critical regionalism) or (even) a generalised substitution of spatial for temporal coordinates: when it becomes possible to describe all these things as ‘postmodern’ (or more simply using a current abbreviation as ‘post’ or ‘very post’) then it’s clear we are in the presence of a buzzword.[55]


And the novelists speak to us without the fixation of time, yet with temporal sensitivity, in pastiche, of technoculture and hyperreality, paranoia, temporal distortion, racism, colonialism, underground conspiracies, synchronicity, entropy, preterition, rampant consumerism, capitalism predominantly concerned now with the production of signs, images, and sign systems rather than with the commodities themselves, radical medicalization, media saturation, novelty intellectualism, the disintegration and re-integration of the family, of escape fantasies, and the potentially positive virtues of human violence, as in Blade Runner.[56]  They can make nonsense of cruelty or give it the proportionately of horror it deserves.  They can make no sense of no sense with nonsense.  Authors can make us desire to live a thousand cultural lives.  They can erase straight lines and make crisp marks across the fates of educators.  Yet, can we forget about so much headspin and take the advice of the plucked parrot in Tom Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates?  The defeathered macaw admonishes us, “People of zee wurl, relax.”[57]

But when we look at a photograph memorializing West African refugees or starving children be speckled by flies on their lips in Sebastian Salgado’s famed photographs, can we relax?  Can we rejoice in witnessing the sharp orange cirrus clouds lolling a Sonoran Desert sunrise while at the same time agonize over the incessant rape of women and children in the eastern Congo.  Can postmodernism help get us through the night?

Or, must we “retrace our steps:”

Then an Israeli Sophocrat named ben-Yeshu wrote a book, A Critique of Utopias, that greatly impressed his colleagues in Southern Europe, America and Africa.  From a detailed and learned analysis of some seventy Utopias, including Plato’s Timaeus and Republic, Bacon’s New Atlantis, Campanella’s Civitas Solis, Fenelon’s Voyage en Solente, Cabot’s Voyage en Icarie, Lytton’s Coming Race, Morris’s News from Nowhere, Butler’s Erewhon, Huxley’s Brave New World, and various works of the twenty-first to the twenty-fourth centuries, he traced the history of man’s increasing discontent with civilization as it developed and came to a practical conclusion: that ‘we must retrace our steps, or perish.’


He recommended ‘anthropological enclaves’, the setting aside of small territories in Lithuania, North Wales (which had escaped the devastation of South Wales and England), Anatolia, the Catalan Pyrenees, Finland and Libya, and the reerection there, as far as possible, of social and physical conditions as they had existed in prehistoric and early historical times.  These enclaves were to represent successive stages of the development of civilization, from a Palaeolithic enclave in Libya to a Late Iron Age one in the Pyrenees; and were to be sealed off from the rest of the world for three generations, though kept under continuous observation by field-workers directly responsible to the Anthropological Council.  Ben-Yeshu’s theory was that ‘these experiments will supply the necessary data as to when and why the freight train of civilization leapt the rails.’[58]


 Honestly, I am not very good at this head play, this paronomasia.[59]  Did I film the wind or capture the winded?  My upbringing geared me more toward a scientific life, and a shortcoming in the vocabulary of history and philosophy I regrettably acknowledge.  My own neglect raises the fear that our current educational system,[60] with an emphasis on structure, scientific reductionism— science fixation—will mean fewer and fewer will study, let alone spend the time to recall the brutalities of the past.  These last few years, I have read to saturation the panoramic accounts of historic and contemporary barbarism.  Why?  Not to be obsessively cynical, for sure.  But because I had to stomp on my naiveté.  Let me now search for those embers of dignity still left in the world from which to keep the fires lit in my heart.

                                                            * * *

For me, reality is an agreement, and I am continuously enthralled by how many of my students long to study, in law and business school, those authors and adventurers that are conscientiously trying to add egalitarian kindness to the fabric of human-to-human relations.  This paper, an example of my classroom experience, is meant to challenge those educators that have always thought to incorporate their personal ideals and healing talents onto the framework of legal and business education.[61]  The years turned and the Syllabus[62] responded to and included the works of brilliant, thoughtful humanists, futurists, ecologists, economists, naturists, scholars, cultural theorists, literary theorists, historians, and political illusionists.  The energies of the writers and filmmakers are dynamic, responding to the magnificent drama of breath, what we call life on earth.  I have been fascinated and frustrated, at times unhappily, with rearranging a galactic overabundance of information.  Like Benjamin DeCasseres (“My studies in speculative philosophy, metaphysics, and science are all summed up in the image of a mouse running in and out of every hole in the Cosmos hunting for the Absolute Cheese.”),  I scour the pantheons and catalogue an upside-down world.  Better I should have forever been contented by my comic book mentor in the 60s, Mr. Natural.  When asked what was the meaning of life, this wizened bon vivant replied, in two separate majestic epiphanies of good taste, “twas ever thus” and “don’t mean shit.” 

I fear the following quote: 

            This data glut has turned us all into the Jorge Luis Borges fictional character Funes the Memorius whose brain is fantastically receptive but utterly unselective.  He can recall every leaf of tree he saw 30 years ago, but lets important things slide right through his consciousness.  We don’t know what to do with vast amounts of useless information we ingest.  We can’t sweat it out or excrete it or trash it.  It stays in perfectly stored somewhere taking up space forever.  The result is a kind of low-level tension as if we are perpetually preparing for an exam that never comes.  As if we’ve been sent out to gather branches in the woods, we pick up everything and put down nothing until we buckle under the weight of the impossible load.[63] 


            I fear more Kalle Lasn’s description of our contemporary society:

            Post-modernism is arguably the most depressing philosophy ever to spring from the western mind.  It is difficult to talk about post-modernism because nobody really understands it.  It’s allusive to the point of being impossible to articulate.  But what this philosophy basically says is that we’ve reached an end-point in human history.  That the modernist tradition of progress and ceaseless extension of the frontiers of innovation are now dead.  Originality is dead.  The avant-garde artistic tradition is dead.  All religions and utopian visions are dead and resistance to the status quo is impossible because revolution too is now dead.  Like it or not, we humans are stuck in a permanent crisis of meaning, a dark room from which we can never escape.[64]

I rarely fear Tom Robbins:


            Sarah Bernhardt was such a powerfully popular, awe-inspiring actress that when she toured in North America her performances invariably sold out, even though she spoke hardly a word of English.  Whatever play she did, Shakespeare, Moliere, Marlowe, or whatever, she did in French, a language few nineteenth-century Americans could comprehend.  Theatergoers were provided with librettos so that they might follow the action in English.  Well, on at least a couple of occasions, ushers passed out the wrong libretto, a text for an entirely different drama than the one that was being staged.  Yet, from all reports, not once did a single soul in those capacity crowds ever comment or complain.  Furthermore, no critic ever mentioned the discrepancy in his or her review.




We modern human beings are looking at life, trying to make some sense of it, observing a ‘reality’ that often seems to be unfolding in a foreign tongue—only we’ve all been issued the wrong librettos.  For a text, we’re given the Bible.  Or the Talmud or the Koran.  We’re given Time magazine and Reader’s Digest, daily papers, and the six o’clock news; we’re given schoolbooks, sitcoms, and revisionist histories; we’re given psychological counseling, cults, workshops, advertisements, sales pitches, and authoritative pronouncements by pundits, sold-out scientists, political activists, and heads of state.  Unfortunately, none of these translations bears more than a faint resemblance to what is transpiring in the true theater of existence, and most of them are dangerously misleading.  We’re attempting to comprehend the spiraling intricacies of a magnificently complex tragicomedy with librettos that describe barroom melodramas or kindergarten skits.  And when’s the last time you heard anybody bitch about it to the management?[65]


My collection of authors is, of course, by no means complete.  Other educators have filled their own resource coffers with their favorite visionaries and have, no doubt, designed curriculum to sustain their own comment on the world.  Still an infant, the syllabus searches for a continued sharing of wisdom and resources that can be passed along to a bevy of like-minded educators.  The class is a small stream trying to find its way into the big river.  I encourage teachers to use this Syllabus as a table upon which can be placed your own favored advocates. 


[1]   One author suggests that law instruction is part ideological training for willing service in the hierarchies of the corporate welfare state.”  Duncan Kennedy, Legal Education as Training for Hierarchy, in The Politics of Law 40 (David Kairys ed., 1998).  The law also toys with the imagination.  If I had a television, I would have watched the former CBS series, “Century City,” covering the ground of a small Los Angeles law firm in the near future.  “In the pilot episode, a widower whose 7-year old son is dying of an incurable liver disease wants to clone his son’s cells to develop a baby who could donate a portion of his liver to save him.  Unfortunately, he illegally smuggled the cloned cells into the United States from Singapore, where cloning is legal, and his future embryo was confiscated at customs.”  Alessandra Stanley, Law Firm of Tomorrow:  Like ‘The Practice,’ but with Engineered Genes, N.Y. Times, Mar. 16, 2004, at B1. 

[2] I must confess that when I began writing this tome many years ago, I felt that our system of legal education emphasized – to quote one of my older colleagues – the “making of horse collars” in a rocket-ship age, and I had written thusly in an earlier iteration.  But I do find today a dynamic change in the way we have become forward thinkers and questioners of the future.  See, e.g., Alberto Bernabe-Riefkohl, Tomorrow’s Law Schools:  Globalization and Legal Education, 32 San Diego L. Rev. 137 (1995); Thomas D. Morgan, Educating Lawyers for the Future Legal Profession, 30 Okla. City U. L. Rev. 537 (2005).  See Intro.   See also Marjorie A. Silver, The Affective Assistance of Counsel: Practicing Law as a Healing Profession (challenging the legal profession’s gladiatorial paradigm).

[3]  Aptly thought out in Charlene Spretnak, The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in a Hypermodern World (1997).

[4] See Joanna Macy, Widening Circles: A Memoir (2001).  Cf. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (1993); Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994). 

[5] The word "sociobiology" was coined by John Paul Scott in 1946, at a conference on genetics and social behavior, and became widely used after it was popularized by Edward O. Wilson in his 1975 book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.

[6] See Human Geography:  Society, Space and Social Science (Derik Gregory, Ron Martin & Graham Smith eds., 1994); Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies:  The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (1989); David Harvey, Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference (1995); Jared Diamond, Guns Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1999); Jared Diamond, CollapseHow Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004).

[7]  This term derives from the great mind of David Orr, a Professor of Environmental Studies and Policies and Chair of the Environmental Studies Department at Oberlin College.  See David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy:  Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World (S.U.N.Y. Press 1992).  Fritjof Capra, The Hidden Connections:  A Science for Sustainable Living (2002).

                [8] Man’s inhumanity to man was articulated by Robert Burns, in From Man Was Made to Mourn: A Dirge (1785), also Robert A. Williams, Jr., Like a Loaded Weapon (2005).

[9]  See Thorsten Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) (republished 2001).  The subject of Veblen’s examination, the newly emergent middle class arising at the turn into the twentieth century comes to full fruition by the end of the twentieth century in the process of globalization.  A contemporary book that makes good on Veblen’s argument within the present is Robert H. Frank, Luxury Fever:  Money and Happiness in an Era of Excess (1999).  See also Frank Ackerman & Lisa Heinzerling, Priceless:  On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing (2004). 

[10] See, e.g., Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden : Technology and the Pastoral Idea in America (1964); David Noble, Forces of Production:  A Social History of Industrial Automation (1984); Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital:  The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (1974); Michael Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1966); Katherine M. Hayles, How we Became Post-Human: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (1999); and Donna Haraway Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991); Bill McKibben, Enough: Staying Human in An Engineered Age (2003); Allen Buchanan, From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice (2000).

[11] For excellent detailed examinations of consumption in America occurring not as a natural process but as an ideological triumph, see Gary Cross, An All-Consuming Century:  Why Commercialism Won in Modern America (2000); Lisabeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic:  The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2003); Stuart Ewen, PR!:  A Social History of Spin (1996); and Roland Marchand, Creating the Corporate Soul:  The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in American Big Business (1998); Jeffrey Kaplan, The Gospel of Consumption, Orion 38, May/June 2008.  For analyses of nineteenth and early twentieth century origins of consumerism in America, see William Leach, Land of Desire:  Merchants, Power and the Rise of A New American Culture (1993); Richard Ohmann, Selling Culture:  Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century (1996).  See also Thomas Friedman, The Inflection Is Near?, NY Times, March 8, 2009, at sec.wk, p. 12; Joan O’C. Hamilton, This is Your Brain on Bargains (“decision neuroscience”), Stanford Mag., November/December 2008, at
  “Does the Free Market Corrode Moral Character?,

[12] My cupboard of books from the statuesque parents of historical and contemporary philosophy is, undeniably, sparse, as is my understanding of the “isms” that are created by the conscriptors and shortchangers of masters’ works when it serves their own polemic.

Yet, as a law professor, I have become somewhat saturated in prose, both consciously and inadvertently, from my dialectical engagements, from my glances into the wordy world of erudition, like Bogart in the African Queen, when you tug a boat through marshy swamps, you’re bound to attract some leeches.  So, dutifully, I will point to the works of Karl Marx, in particular Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (1867), and The German Ideology (1845).  Therein began an important critical rethinking of the apparent idea of progress.  Marx saw the commonly promoted idea of progress as an ideological obfuscation concealing the true course of history.  Marx’s project involved revealing history’s true dynamics, thereby advancing history toward its ultimate condition of liberation.  In contrast to Marx’s replacement of a bourgeois notion of progress with a “true” advancement of history, Jean Baudrillard a century later in The Consumer Society:  Myths and Structures (1970), rigorously advanced an argument that the term progress itself is a Western, liberal construct from which liberation cannot be achieved.  Similarly, Michel Foucalt rejected Marxism and ideologies in general, believing that many forms of progress were more about controlling people than liberating them.  He departed from the view that rational knowledge produces objective accounts of reality and represents progress in directing human life.  Michel Foucault, The Order of Things:  An Archeology of the Human Sciences (1994)See also Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History (1997).

                [13] See Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History (1997).  On my bedtime plate tonight with vegan, gluten-free cookies: Plato’s Timaeus and Republic, Bacon’s New Atlantis, Butler’s Erewhon, Huxley’s Brave New World, More’s Utopia, Campanella’s Civitas Solis, Fenelon’s Voyage en Solente, Cabot’s Voyage en Icarie, Morris’s News from Nowhere and Lytton’s Coming Race, Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done?, not necessarily in this order.  SillyUtopians.  I’ve invited all of them to a party at Friedrich Nietzsche’s cave night club, the “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.”  See also Jim Holt, You Are What You Expect: The Future of Optimists and Pessimists, N.Y. Times, Jan. 21, 2007.

                [14] The Countermands:  Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (2009); Derrick Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe 2004; Jonathan Glover, Humanity:  A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (1999); Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost (1998); Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade (1997); Richard B. Frank Downfall:  The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999); Robert A. Williams, Jr., The American Indian in Western Legal Thought:  The Discourses of Conquest (1990); Edward Said, Orientalism (1978); Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence (1973); Eduardo Galeano, Memory of Fire (Trilogy), (1985, 1987, 1988); David Stannard, American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World, (1992); Homer, The Iliad (Samuel Butler trans.).; Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1989); Margaret Sayers Peden & Antonio Munoz Molina, Sepharad (Harcourt 2003); The Malleus Maleficarum of Kramer and Sprenger, (Montague Summers ed., 1971); Konrad Charmatz, Nightmares: Memoirs of the Years of Horror Under Nazi Rule in Europe 1939-1945 (2003); Eli Wisel, Night (1982); Roger S. Gottlieb, Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust (1990); Kurt Buerger, Appalling Facts: Letters from German Concentration Camps (1934); Drew Gilpin Faust, The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008); Susan Sontag, Death Kit (1967); Stephen O’Shea, The Perfect Heresy (2001); Kurt Vonnegut, Armageddon in Retrospect: And Other New And Unpublished Writings On War And Peace (2008); David Park, The Truth Commissioner (2008).  For more on the idea of looking backwards, see Raymond Williams, in The Country and the City (1973), in which he uses a metaphor of an escalator that is forever carrying us nostalgically back in time and critically cautions us to resist such a temptation.  For a text looking forward, cf. Walter Benjamin’s classic essay, Theses on the Philosophy of History, in Illuminations (1969).  Benjamin, too, looks at nostalgia but alludes to Paul Klee’s painting of an angel to characterize history as an angel forever facing backwards as it is blown forward into the future, a metaphor for the advancement and forward motion of history.

                [15] Of Surf City, Dead Man’s Curve and The Little Old Lady from Pasadena (the terror of Colorado Boulevard) fame.

                [16] Jean Baudrillard, America 121-123 (Verso 1988).

                [17] I hope that I am now just reflecting from poor memory and that I wasn’t quite such a shallow boy-then-man.  Of course, there was sympathetic pain in my youth:  The assassinations of John Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy; the Vietnam War; rages of the Watts riots in Los Angeles; the potent violence against red and black people of color; the wayward idealism of the 1960’s; and the genocide and denigration of cultures and species worldwide.  James Pierson, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism (2007); Gerald L. Posner, Killing the Dream, James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1998); David E. Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War (2000); Bao Ninh, The Sorrow of War (1993); David L. Lewis, et al., The Civil Rights Movement in America: Essays (1986).  I am now remembering how we used to “duck and cover” drill under our desks at school to help us survive, oh so naively, the blast of shards of window glass blown and rained upon us from the always threatened nuclear explosion that came to us in nightmares and daydreams when the jets popped the sound barrier.

                [18]  The French philosopher, Jean Francois Lyotard, undermined the universalist principles of the Enlightenment, and he argued that we no longer believe in the “meta-narratives” of the progress of history, the knowability of everything by science, and the possibility of absolute freedom.  See Jean Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition:  A Report on Knowledge (1979); Just Gaming (1979); The Difference (1983).   See Intro.

[19] See, e.g., Arthur Clark, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1960); Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960); J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (1964); Ken Kesey, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1963); Anthony Burgess, Clockwork Orange (1962); Rachael Carson, Silent Spring (1962); Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (1962); Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963); Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-five, Or, The Children’s Crusade:  A Duty-dance with Death (1969); Truman Capote, In Cold Blood:  A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (1967); Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965).  See also Psycho (1960); Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964); Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969); Bonnie and Clyde (1967); The Graduate (1967); Easy Rider (1969); Rosemary’s Baby (1968); Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1959); Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1997); Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody (1972); Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (1999).

                [20] Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas 326 (1994).

                [21] Mary Oliver, A Dream of Trees,

                [22] See Clive Thompson, Global Mourning: How the Next Victim of Climate Change Will Be Our Minds, Wired 70, January 2008; Joanna Macy, The Greatest Danger, Yes!, Spring 2008, at p. 53.  What is the measure of my own happiness?  Darrin M. McMahon, The Quest for Happiness, Wilson Quart. 62 (Winter 2005).

                [23] Ron Gard was this student, a gifted and supremely intelligent foil.  He was responsible for a solid portion of the near text and footnotes on modernism and postmodernism.

[24]  I am attracted to Theory Trading Cards, the brainchild of Professor David Gauntlett of Bournemouth University in Great Britain.  He “wryly merges theory and pop-culture on his website,”  See Patricia Leigh Brown, Go Fish (or, Deconstruct This), N.Y. Times, Mar. 21, 2004, at sec. 4, p. 2.  See also, Arif Dirlik, Whither History?  Encounters with Historicism, Postmoderinism, Postcolonialism, Futures, Feb. 2002. ; Hans Bertens, The Idea of the Postmodern (1995); Charles Jencks, What is Post-Modernism? (1996); Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (1991).  Contrary to my own dogma, I came across this excellent distillation of why utilizing the term “postmodern” is ultimately a very useful thing.  It comes from Edward Soja (department of human geography, UCLA); and, as you can see from the passage, he too was initially quite opposed to, even hostile toward, the term “postmodern”.  But he comes around…

In the late 1960’s, however, with the onset of a crisis-induced fourth modernization, this long-lasting modern critical tradition began to change.  Both Western Marxism and critical social science appeared to explode into more heterogeneous fragments, losing much of their separate cohesiveness and centralities.  And as we approach another fin de siecle, alternative modern movements have appeared to compete for control over the perils and possibilities emerging in a restructured contemporary world.  Although they remain controversial and confusing terms, filled with disparate and often disparaging connotation, postmodernity, postmodernization and postmodernism now seem to be appropriate ways of describing this contemporary cultural, political and theoretical restructuring; and of highlighting the assertion of space that is complexly intertwined with it.

Initially suspicious of too hasty a ‘rush to the post’, I once toyed with the idea of creating a new journal called Antipost to do battle not only with postmodernism but also with the multiplying array of other post-prefixed ‘isms’, from postindustrialism to poststructuralism.  I am now, as is obvious from my titular commitment, more comfortable with the epithetic label postmodern and its intentional announcement of possibly epochal transition in both critical thought and material life.  I continue to see the present period primarily as another deep and broad restructuring of modernity rather than as a complete break and replacement of all progressive, post-Enlightenment thought, as some who call themselves postmodernist (but are probably better described as anti-modernists) proclaim.  I also understand the suspicious antagonism of the modern left to the presently dominant neo-conservative and obfuscating whimsy of most postmodernist movements.  But I am convinced that too many opportunities are missed by dismissing postmodernism as irretrievably reactionary.


Utilizing the term allows us to recognize and explore important changes that make the contemporary environment qualitatively different than a previous one.  This holds true even if the term, in its overall incarnation, embodies ambiguity, contradiction, overblown and extreme claims (and thereby forces us to qualify it incessantly when we use it).  In certain respects, when we use a term, we might be outright wrong, but in other respects the use of the term highlights the change in conditions that inarguably have taken place.  Compare Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Empire (Harvard Univ. Press 2000), and Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, (Penguin 2004) with Soja, EDWARD W. SOJA, POSTMODERN GEOGRAPHIES: THE REASSERTION OF SPACE IN CRITICAL SOCIAL THEORY (1989); and ANTHONY GIDDENS, THE CONSEQUENCES OF MODERNITY (1991).

See also Peter Roberts, Rereading Lyotard:  Knowledge, Commodification and Higher Education, Electronic Journal of Sociology (1998).


The criticism of postmodernism as ultimately meaningless rhetorical gymnastics was demonstrated in the Sokal Affair, where Alan Sokal, a physicist, proposed and delivered for publication an article purportedly about interpreting physics and mathematics in terms of postmodern theory, which he had deliberately written in a completely nonsensical fashion, including several in-jokes mocking postmodernism.  It was nevertheless published by Social Text, a “cultural studies” journal active in the field of postmodernism, as a serious postmodernist work.  Sokal arranged for the simultaneous publication of another article describing the former as a successful experiment to see whether a postmodernist journal would publish any nonsensical article with big words that flattered the editors’ political views, triggering an academic scandal.  Sokal later published a book with Jean Bricmont called Intellectural Impostures, which expands upon his criticism of postmodernism.



*   *  *  *


The linguist Noam Chomsky has suggested that postmodernism is meaningless because it adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge.  He asks why postmodernist intellectuals won’t respond as “people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn’t already obvious, etc.?  These are fair requests for anyone to make.  If they can’t be met, then I’d suggest recourse to Hume’s advice in similar circumstances: to the flames.


Still, why do we need even to explain our “condition”?  Maybe, all the “isms” are merely attempts at describing our aspirations to civility via iconographic sounds.  The myth of transcendence.  In the end, though, how does a jolly nihilism or postcolonial chatter feed a hungry people?

                [25] See, e.g.,; Mark A. Yanochik, et. al., Railroad Construction and Antebellum Slave Prices, 84 Soc. Sci. Quart. 723 (2003).

[26]  Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America:  Culture and Society in the Gilded Age 3-4 (1997).  See also Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order:  1877-1920 (1991).

                [27] See Michael Losonsky, Enlightenment and Action From Descartes to Kant:  Passionate Thought 11 (2001).

                [28]  Professor Marc Loth describes the period which lasted from the end of the seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth century as the “epoch of modernism… characterized by what John Dewey has named ‘the quest for certainty.’” Marc A. Loth, Limits of Private Law:  Enriching Legal Dogmatics, 35 Hofstra L. Rev. 1725, 1736-1739 (2007).

                [29] Modernism and Postmodernism are so often confusing because they simultaneously refer to different conceptual frameworks.  In general, people use these terms when referring to one of the three following categories:  (1) a historical period exhibiting a cultural condition; (2) a philosophy; and (3) an artistic movement or description.  It is useful to employ parallel technology in order to make clear which of these three you are referring to:

                1.  Modern (or the Modern period) and Postmodern (or the Postmodern period) to refer to the historical period exhibiting a particular cultural condition;

                2.  Modernity and Postmodernity to refer to a given philosophy;

                3.  Modernism and Postmodernism to refer to an artistic movement or description.

This doesn’t solve all problems because the terminology isn’t perfect.  In category 1, for example, people will use Postmodern to talk about the historical period that corresponds to it (roughly 1965 to the present), but rarely will people use Modern to talk about the period corresponding to that term.  They are far more likely to say something like “the Modernist period” or simply “Modernism”.  This may be because of the standard usage in history of “modern history”, referring to everything from the Enlightenment forward.  Even more common is a collapsing of the terminology in categories 2 and 3 above.  People often use Modernism or Postmodernism when referring to the philosophy that corresponds to these terms.  The problem with that is the confusion it creates in separating the philosophical ideas from the particular artistic practices the terms now historically refer to.

                I propose, and here will use, the above terminology so that I can more clearly indicate when I am referring to a historical period, when I am referring to a philosophy, and when I am referring to particular artistic practices.  There is often overlap, and each category is of course influenced by the others because they exist simultaneously within a cultural milieu, but they are distinguishable and it is useful to think of them individually.

[30] Notable High Modernists include:  T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce.  See Maria DiBattista, High and Low Moderns:  Literature and Culture, 1889-1939 (1996).

                [31] It, of course, took some time for alternative works to enter the canon more fully.  This includes American domestic modernist writers, regional movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, and other alternative U.S. cultural artistic movements.  Even today, however, there remain vestiges of the tradition proclaiming the High Modernists are the “truly important” authors to study.

[32] Throughout history, technology has created massive problems and unforeseen consequences.  One such example is the connection between the railroad system and the near extinction of the American bison.  See Dean Lueck, The Extermination and Conservation of the American Bison, 31 J.Legal Stud. 609, 639-644 (2002).

                [33] Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto.

                [34] “As with all stylistic eras, no definite dates exist for the rise and fall of postmodernism’s popularity.  1941, the year in which the Irish novelist James Joyce and British novelist Virginia Woolf both died, is sometimes used as a rough boundary for postmodernism’s start.”

The prefix ‘post’, however, does not necessarily imply a new era.  Rather, it could also indicate a reaction against modernism in the wake of the Second World War (with its disrespect for human rights, just confirmed in the Geneva Convention, through the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, and Japanese-American internment).  It could also imply a reaction to significant post-war events: the beginning of the Cold War, the civil rights movement in the United States, postcolonialism (Postcolonial literature), and the rise of the personal computer (Cyberpunk fiction and Hypertext fiction).


Some further argue that the beginning of postmodern literature could be marked by significant publications or literary events.  For example, some mark the beginning of postmodernism with the first performance of Waiting for Godot in 1953, the first publication of Howl in 1956 or of Naked Lunch in 1959.  For others, the beginning is marked by moments in critical theory:  Jacques Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play” lecture in 1966 or as late as Ihab Hassan’s usage in the The Dismemberment of Orpheus in 1971.  Id.

                [35] Keith Tester, Life and Times of Post-Modernity (1993).  It is not uncommon to see this question linguistically signaled through written queries such as:  “Post-Modernity or Postmodernity?”

                [36] A pedigree was first given to postmodernism in the early 1970s by the literary critic Ihab Hassan in his book, The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature (1971).  This book is somewhat confusing to read, itself being one of the first critical works to adopt a postmodern mode.  What it most gets noted for is the binary list it established distinguishing Postmodernity from Modernity.  This list is not without its problems, of course, and it should not be taken too much as orthodoxy.  It’s important to remember that it was created fairly early in the postmodern paradigm.  A lot of thinking and writing on the subject has occurred since then.  It’s useful generally, however, because many of the binary observations it made were fairly accurate, and it really helped many people crystallize in their thinking the kinds of divisions that can be found between Modernist and Postmodernist thinking and practices.  Actually, this binary list wasn’t added until the 1982 edition, though the argument was fully developed in the earlier edition of the book.  The list, and it’s not being added until the later edition of the book, tends to reinforce the argument that the way we think about Modernity now has to some extent been defined in retrospect in opposition to Postmodernity in order to help with the defining of Postmodernity.

[37] In fact, Jean Francois Lyotard, another philosopher most associated with theorizing postmodernity (seeJEAN FRANCOIS LYOTARD, THE POSTMODERN CONDITION:  A REPORT ON KNOWLEDGE (1979); JUST GAMING (1979); THE DIFFERENCE (1983).) authored another book entitled Just Gaming.  The linguistic aspect of postmodernity and the decentralized nature of knowledge, is most often associated with the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. David Gruender, Wittgenstein on Explanation and Description, 59 J. Phil. 523 (1962).  And in instances of domination and subjugation, making knowledge a game allows the reader to disengage and allows the subjugated to resist.  At the same time, however, in its less extreme strains, this freeplay creates a powerful tool for negotiation by those who were dominated and subjugated under Modernist conceptualizing.  See also Chris Rojek & Bryan S. Turner, The Politics of Jean-Francois Lyotard (2002).

Feminist authors also manifested alternative voices in the last half-century.  See Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963); Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1970); Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful, An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement (1970); Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (1970); Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (1977).See Intro.

[38]  Foucalt questioned whether rational knowledge represents progress in directing human life.  See MICHAEL FOUCAULT, THE ORDER OF THINGS: AN ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES (1966).   Postcolonial theory is key here.  Gayatri Spivak wrote a now very famous essay entitled Can the Subaltern Speak?, in which she explored the very division I point to, though it’s cast in somewhat different terms.  Postcolonial thought doesn’t really question the notion of competing constructions of knowledge and the ability of power relations to prevent some knowledges ever from appearing.  It does, however, wrestle with the problem of whether strongly dominated subjects will be able to manifest their positions.  I’m similarly going to sidestep the question of relativism because I think it’s a non-issue.  More often than not, it’s those in positions of power that want to decry relativism because it threatens their domination.  Theorists who work seriously with relativistic concepts, on the other hand, don’t tend to throw around relativism wildly.  Instead, they tend to work very close to the ground, building counternarratives and demonstrating how those narratives have been foreclosed through social and cultural structures.  See, e.g., Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture 171 (1994) (“To reconstitute the discourse of cultural difference demands not simply a change of cultural contents and symbols….  It requires a radical revision of the social temporality in which emergent histories may be written, the rearticulation of the ‘sign’ in which cultural identities may be inscribed.”).  This “rearticulation” is bringing rise to the voice(s) of those who previously have been closed out of any place in the cultural discourse, which is to say that they have been given no role in the constitution of knowledge formation.  It is not to say that all things are equal, but that everyone should be given a voice as part of the social collective, especially those that have historically been precluded from such a position. 

Carrying his point a step further, Bhabha argues that the marginalized are in fact uniquely and beneficially positioned to formulate important alternative discourses.  He writes:

[I]t is from those who have suffered the sentence of history…that we learn our most enduring lessons for living and thinking.  There is even a growing conviction that the affective experience of social marginality… transforms our critical strategies.  It forces us to confront the concept of culture outside objets d’art or beyond the canonization of the “idea” of aesthetics, to engage with culture as an uneven, incomplete production of meaning and value, often composed of incommensurable demands and practices, produced in the act of social survival.

Id. at 172.


                [39] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity 44 (1989).

                [40] Jean Baudrillard, America 76, 28-33 (Verso 1998).

                [41] Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas 237-238 (1994).

                [42] Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1984).  Professor Eco also explains his idea of postmodernism as a kind of double-coding:

I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her, “I love you madly,” because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland.  Still there is a solution.  He can say, “As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.”  At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly it is no longer possible to talk innocently, he will nevertheless say what he wanted to say to the woman:  that he loves her in an age of lost innocence.

Quoted in John W. Nixon, Modernism and Postmodernism: An Overview,, from Umberto Eco, Postscript to The Name of the Rose (1984).

                [43] See Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism (2000); Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of our Religious Traditions (2006).

                [44] Even though it would be my want.  See, e.g., Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal (2003).

                [45] Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine (1986).

                [46] William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1961)

                [47] Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1959 / 1961).

                [48] Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (1969).

                [49] Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).

                [50] Don DeLillo, White Noise (1985).

                [51] Richard Powers, Gain (1998).

                [52] Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird (1965); Jerry Kosinski, Being There (1970).

                [53] Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems (1956).

                [54] Id. at 13-16.

                [55] Dick Hebdige, Postmodernism and the Other Side, in John Story (Ed.), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (2006).

                [56] See also Max Barry, Jennifer Government (2003); Bruce Sterling, Holy Fire (1996); Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods (2008); Jiang Rong, Wolf Totem (translated by Howard Goldblatt (2008).

                [57] Tom Robbins, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates (2000).  Robbins also guides us with Erleichda (lighten up) in Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume (1984).

                [58] Robert Graves, Seven Days in New Crete (1949).

                [59] There are others so much more qualified.  Modernity recognized the fragmentation of Western culture and its impotency to unify.  Postmodernity moved past the lamentation, recognizing that the vision of unity was a false one from the start, that it was built into the structures of Western liberal enlightenment thinking, and reinforced through deep components of that structure such as capitalism and science.  See Charles Jencks, What is Post-Modernism? (1996); Hans Bertens, The Idea of the Postmodern (1995).  And, in this order, David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (2000); David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (1989); Mike Featherstone, Consumer Culture and Postmodernism (1991); David Lyon, Postmodernity (2d ed. 1999); Peter Gay, Modernism: The Lure of Heresy From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond (2007).

                [60] See Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983); Sir Ken Robinson, The Element (video),

[61] Several movements within the legal discipline, such as critical race theory, feminism, and indigenous peoples rights, have sought a greater humanist perspective in legal training and study. See, e.g., Richard Delgado & Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory:  The Cutting Edge (2d ed. 1999); Derrick Bell, Race, Racism, and American Law (2000); Catherine Mackinnon, Feminism Unmodified:  Discourses on Life and Law (1987); Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice (1982); Robert A. Williams, Jr., The American Indian in Western Legal Thought:  The Discourses of Conquest (1990); S. James Anaya, Indigenous Peoples in International Law (2d ed. 2004).  Carol M. Rose, The Moral Subject of Property, 48 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1897 (2007); Robert Glennon, Tales of French Fries and Bottled Water: The Environmental Consequences of Groundwater Pumping, 37 Envtl. L. 3 (2007); Ronald F. Wright & Marc L. Miller, Dead Wrong, 2008 Utah L. Rev. 89 (2008).  Economists have also had their day.  See, e.g., E. S. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (2000); Hazel Henderson, Building a Win-Win World: Life Beyond Global Economic Warfare (1996); Hazel Henderson, Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy; Stephen Marglin, The Dismal Science (2008); John Kenneth Galbraith, The Good Society: The Humane Agenda (1997); Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point (2002); Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics (2005); Amitai Etzioni, From Empire to Community (2004).

                [62] The Syllabus begins on Page here.  The Tool Kit follows.

[63] Thomas de Zengotita, Numbing of the American Mind: Culture As Anesthetic, Harper’s Mag., Apr. 2002.

[64]  Kalle Lasn & Bruce Grierson, A Malignant Sadness, Adbusters #30, June/July 2000.  See also Clive Thompson, Global Mourning: How the Next Victim of Climate Change Will Be Our Minds, Wired, January 2008, at p. 70.

                [65] Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas 97-98 (1994).