For many writers and scholars, the current prominence of literary theory is evidenced in the "postmodernist" consensus that seems to exist among progressive thinkers, activists, and cultural workers. Those on the Left who defend theory often point to the need for a thoroughgoing critique of some of the traditionally enshrined ideals of the dominant culture: truth, rationality, the objectivity of knowledge and values. What is specifically postmodernist, however, is not the critique of tradition itself--for such a critique was central to the Enlightenment project of modernity as well--but rather the more far-reaching claim that truth and rationality are always socially and discursively constructed and their validity and applicability are necessarily limited to their particular contexts or situations. They have, it is claimed in principle, no general or universal import.
One of my intentions in this book is to examine this postmodernist claim by breaking it down into some of its constituent assertions and presuppositions. Since I believe postmodernism is a popular intellectual position on the Left, I look at it critically and politically to decipher both the reasons for its attractiveness and the theoretical conclusions it implies or entails. My critique attempts to cut a bit deeper than standard arguments for or against postmodernism (or, in literary-critical circles, specific versions of poststructuralism) have allowed us to do. Thus I recast the issues by focusing most centrally on the various postmodernist arguments against objectivity, examining the move from local discussions about textual meaning or the complexity of cultural interpretation to the larger claims about the status of knowledge.