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Monday, June 06, 2011

Book Review: The Post-Modern Reader

The Post-Modern Reader edited by Charles Jencks
Wiley, 2nd Edition, 2011
Paperback, 352 pages

The third title in Wiley's AD Reader series* is the second edition of 1992's The Post-Modern Reader, edited by Charles Jencks, a writer and landscape designer living in Scotland. Jencks is known most for articulating post-modernism in architecture through his books, penning or editing a few titles on the topic since 1977's The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. An essay from the seventh edition of that book can be found in this reader covering the post-modern in various arenas: architecture, literature, sociology, economics, feminism, and science. It is obvious from the selection of essays, excerpts, and new writings that the permeation of post-modernism across just about all areas of culture is the focus here, not just the formal appropriation of it in architecture. A new essay by Jencks, "What Then Is Post-Modernism?," commendably argues that post-modernism was not just a passing fad, illustrating how it has hybridized or paired with modernism to define much of the world today.

The reader is split into three sections: defining the post-modern, literature and architecture, and sociology and other areas. The first collects primarily classic texts by Jean-Francois Lyotard, Andreas Huyssen, and Margaret A. Rose. Within the second are excerpts by writers like John Barth and Umberto Eco, ones by Jane Jacobs, Robert Venturi, and Paolo Portoghesi, and a couple new essays. The last section also has a couple new essays alongside excerpts by Zygmunt Bauman, David Harvey, David Bohm, and others. Not surprisingly, given the topic at hand and the names involved, the collection is academic and at times quite dense. But unlike trudging through books like Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity or Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (two titles in my "unfinished" pile), this collection highlights various strands that are more bite-size, allowing readers to discover what resonates. For me, Bauman's take on post-modern sociology is most intriguing, focusing on consumerism and culture. For others, standouts will vary, but the diverse texts do a good job of signaling where the post-modern stands today and how it got here.

*Space Reader and The Diagrams of Architecture preceded this book.

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