Terry Eagleton, Everything, All the Time, Everywhere by Stuart Jeffries review – how we became postmodern, The Guardian, 10 November 2021
Stuart Jeffries, Everything, All the Time, Everywhere: How We Became Postmodern, Verso, 2021
For the past half-century, postmodernist thinkers have been trying to discredit truth, identity and reality. Identity is a straitjacket, and truth is just some middle-aged academic’s opinion. As for reality, it has become as obsolete as dressing for dinner. Objectivity is a myth in the service of the ruling powers. If only we could shed these illusions, we could revel in a world of infinite possibility. Instead of waking up to the same tedious old self each morning, we could flit from one identity to another as easily as David Bowie. The final liberation is that anything can mean anything else. Once you kick away fixed meanings and firm foundations, you are free to enjoy yourself. Postmodernism is meant to be fun, even if a current of nihilism runs steadily beneath it. As Stuart Jeffries suggests in this splendidly readable survey, there is something vacuous at the heart of its exuberance.
Some studies of postmodernism are cultural, some are historical and a few of them are philosophical. The achievement of this book is to roll all three approaches into one. This is rare, because those who know about Sid Vicious may not be avid readers of Michel Foucault, while those who are deep in Jacques Derrida are not always fans of Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick. Jeffries packs a remarkable knowledge of postmodern culture into these pages, from punk, hip-hop, film and photography to anti-psychiatry, the Rushdie fatwa and queer theory. All this is set in the context of the neoliberalism of the 1970s, showing how a revamped capitalism gave birth to a culture of the flexible and provisional – of short-termism, endless consumption and multiple identities.