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The Persistence of Modernity: Essays on Aesthetics, Ethics and Postmodernism.

This collection of essays from the works of a critical theorist and professor of philosophy at the Free University of Berlin seeks to press home a central point: postmodernism should not be placed in dialectical opposition to, but should be seen as a critical continuation of, the spirit of modernity. Wellmer urges us to think of postmodernism as an heir to the project of Enlightenment rationality rather than as a sworn enemy of its goals. W. admits that postmodern thought has uncovered pathologies hidden within modernity's self-understanding: instrumentalism, scientism, and the dominating technocratic spirit. Healthy postmodernism must resist these distortions (as well as its own tendencies to irrationality) even while retaining democratic universality, the just and open society which characterizes the Enlightenment achievement.

Central to W.'s work is his creative retrieval of the thought of Theodor Adorno who, within limits, serves as a legitimate guide to the modern/postmodern debate. Adorno anticipates postmodern themes with his critique of instrumental reason, of reified and identificatory thinking which seeks to suppress difference and, especially, critical consciousness. What postmodernism can learn from his philosophy, particularly his aesthetic theory, is that legitimate criticism of Enlightenment reason can never degenerate into a demonization of concepts such as unity, identity, and consensus. At the same time, W. believes Adorno must be superseded because he remains trapped within the philosophy of consciousness, never making the linguistic turn characteristic of communicative rationality.

W.'s analyses of the issues at stake in the modern/postmodern debate are illuminating and creative. Most disappointing is his silence on the constructive role that religion can play in the formation of an emancipatory discourse ethics.
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Author:Guarino, Thomas
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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