Art in an Age of Fundamentalism
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 Sanity, sanity, sanity, as Steiner squarely addresses a number of contemporary cultural conflicts and teases out their subtler meanings. While Steiner is the chair of the English department at the University of Pennsylvania, her writing and thought are remarkably free of the cant and willful obfuscation so characteristic of the modern academy; this is one of the few works of cultural criticism that is actually intelligible to the nonspecialized reader. Ranging from the S&M photos of Robert Mapplethorpe to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie to that discredited doyen of deconstructionism, Paul de Man, Steiner argues for a conception of art that cuts between aestheticism (art for art's sake) and literalism (that dull province of feminists such as Catharine MacKinnon, Marxists, and certain presidentially minded Republican politicians). Working outward from the critic Cleanth Brooks's text-based conception of paradox, Steiner posits: ``The work of art is . . . a virtual reality which we invest with value. We do this because of what we are and what therefore gives us pleasure, and we are able to do so because the work has such a paradoxical makeup.'' Like condensed milk, this idea is not exactly fresh. Samuel Johnson in his Preface to Shakespeare developed a similar conception of art's imitations bringing ``realities to mind.'' But rarely has this notion been given such elaboration and play and used so forcefully to root out hypocrisy and contradiction. For example, Steiner effectively demolishes MacKinnon's view of pornography as equal to rape. It is a small shame that most of Steiner's diverse targets have been so extensively pummeled already. But Steiner's perspective is fresh and her perceptions invariably shrewd, far-ranging, and reasonable. A welcome association of sense and sensibility. (27 illustrations)

Pub Date: Dec. 7th, 1995
ISBN: 0-226-77223-3
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1995