Book Reviews

Tibor Zilka (Ed.), Tracing Literary Postmodernism

Tibor Zilka (Ed.), Tracing Literary Postmodernism (Nitra: University of Constantine the Philosopher Faculty of Humanities ULUK, 1998). Pb. 220. ISBN: 80-8050-143-2.

This is a collection of papers given at a conference in Nitra in 1996. As the title suggests, most are concerned with defining and periodizing postmodernism.

The good thing about the book is that, while many of the articles address the concept in relation to familiar texts, they also tackle lesser known, Slovakian material. Some go so far as to undermine the assumptions we make about contemporary culture. For instance, one makes the point that challenges to the high/low hierarchy of the kind famously articulated by Fiedler in 60s America, "date back to antiquity."

Even when the essays focus an authors traditionally discussed by historians of postmodernity, they often do so from fresh perspectives. Though there are papers on canonical authors like Barth, Barthelme, Irving, Roth and Vonnegut, many of these seek to qualify the critical consensus. One essay on Roth, for example, argues that his first truly 'postmodern' novel is Sabbath's Theatre (1995) whereas most Roth scholars would probably argue that his work has been informed by the spirit of postmodernism for decades.

It depends, of course, on how you define the term and this piece, together with a few others, would have benefited from a more developed theoretical context. In fact many key theorists - like Jameson and Baudrillard - scarcely feature at all in the book. Another shortcoming is that, while most of the articles are in English, there does occasionally seem to be a problem with translation. The phrasing isn't always lucid and this, combined with a number of typos and errors in the text, means it is often difficult to follow. Still, there is much to praise in the book and on the whole I think it makes a useful contribution to the debate.

Paul McDonald
University of Wolverhampton