This book, published in the mid-’80s, is an analysis of four thinkers: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and Derrida. I’m not sure how best to articulate Megill’s overall thesis, but he argues these thinkers constitute a direct line of thought in the way they respond to a cultural crisis, essentially the crisis of Modernism and Postmodernism. Megill posits that two ways of responding to crisis are nostalgia and futurism, both responses looking for a kind of utopia (either in the past or the future).
I didn’t really what the specific crisis was; rather, Megill points to a number of crises, including the expanding role of scientific determinism (and how that role poses a crisis to individual freedom?), the historical crisis (economic stagnation, wars, the downfall of religion), and, finally, the aesthetic and phenomenological crisis of the world-as-representation.
Megill argues that all four thinkers have a kind of aestheticism; they’re interested in art, and the constructed nature of art. Art creates a world, and Megill traces how in their writings, we have variations of the world-as-representation — art, language, discourse, text — and how the project of Modernism searches for the underlying reality, whereas the project of Postmodernism embraces the notion that there isn’t an underlying reality.
I have a limited, undergraduate exposure to these thinkers, so I can’t speak to the precision of Megill’s reading of these thinkers. He acknowledges at times that he’s reading them against the grain, and his presentation is rather logical, even though he says their philosophies at times defy logical cohesion. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in these thinkers, or in the projects of Modernism and Postmodernism. It’s a good book for artists, I think, because it gets you thinking about what exactly you’re doing with your art, which we don’t always do enough.