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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary criticism

Postmodern Pooh

Frederick Crews

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To purchase Postmodern Pooh

Title: Postmodern Pooh
Author: Frederick Crews
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2001
Length: 179 pages
Availability: Postmodern Pooh - US
Postmodern Pooh - UK
Postmodern Pooh - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : sharp and often clever but, in parodying what is essentially already parody, hollow

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 4/10/2003 Nicholas Lezard
London Rev. of Books . 1/11/2001 Elaine Showalter
The LA Times . 8/10/2001 Merle Rubin
San Francisco Chronicle . 25/11/2001 Martin Rubin
Sunday Telegraph A 15/12/2002 John Gross
TLS A 28/12/2001 Sandy Starr
The Washington Post . 30/9/2001 James Hynes
The Weekly Standard . 26/11/2001 R.V.Young

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but generally found it very amusing

  From the Reviews:
  • "This book could have been no more than a reactionary whinge at trends in modern thought. (...) (B)ut what lifts Crews's satire above the ordinary, or some kind of superior Punch parody, is that he takes pains to make the arguments as plausible as possible." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "But of course Crews is of the devil's party whether or not he admits it. He can't resist the opportunity to invent clever and weirdly convincing theories about Winnie-the-Pooh even as he mercilessly mocks those who live by the criticism racket. Ultimately, the most basic of academic instincts is to play with ideas. If literary theory can generate a book as funny as Postmodern Pooh, you have to love it." - Elaine Showalter, London Review of Books

  • "Despite the sparkling wit and brilliant parodies that make this a funny book, Postmodern Pooh is also an angry book, certainly angrier than The Pooh Perplex. The reason can be found in the footnotes to the papers delivered by Crews' demented panelists. Though the papers are Crews' clever parodies, the footnotes include actual quotes from real-life academic writing. What some of these academicians have said in print is even more outrageous than Crews' inventions." - Merle Rubin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The Postmodern Pooh reflects a shell-shocked observer's amazement at excesses that the innocent author of the earlier volume might never have anticipated. Consternation has replaced amusement. (...) For those blissfully unaware that such things have been going on in literary criticism, Postmodern Pooh serves as a pretty accurate tour d'horizon of the current academic scene." - Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Postmodern Pooh is a brilliant exercise in criticism through burlesque. It is often deliciously funny, and there is no need to be deterred by the fact that most of the figures Crews targets are unknown outside academia: you won't have much trouble getting the point." - John Gross, Sunday Telegraph

  • "It may seem a little late to satirize the Culture Wars, which have been endlessly lampooned already, but Postmodern Pooh is the funniest and most incisive book on the subject to date." - Sandy Starr, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(A) brilliant and savagely witty skewering of the combatants on all sides of the academic culture wars. (...) As incisive and hilarious as this book is, one comes away from it struggling with a creeping despair. For all the brilliant jokes in Postmodern Pooh, the book's greatest accomplishment may be in evoking the deadly sameness of its combatants' rage." - James Hynes, The Washington Post

  • "The trouble is that it hardly seems a joke any more. Of what use is parody in a world that parodies itself ?" - R.V. Young, The Weekly Standard

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In The Pooh Perplex (1963) Frederick Crews took on the literary theorists of the day, presenting pieces that showed how A.A.Milne's Winnie the Pooh tales might be read, analyzed, and interpreted using them. Nearly four decades later he tackles a new set of theorists and theories in Postmodern Pooh.
       The book is presented as a collection of papers presented by a Pooh-panel at the December 2000 convention of the Modern Language Association (MLA). Crews offers the whole gamut of trendy theories, presented by an impressive cast of characters. As it turns out, Pooh makes for very malleable material, and everyone manages to twist and turn the words and stories to their own ends.
       The theorists include:

  • a dedicated "Derridadaist" (Felicia Marronez, the "Sea & Ski Professor of English at the University of California at Irvine")
  • a Marxist who begins her presentation by exclaiming: "Power to the people" and for whom the only authority on all matters is Frederick Jameson
  • Sissy Catheter, who engages in "gynocritical discourse"
  • Renee Francis, whose specialty is "Biopoetics"
  • someone who has changed his name to BigGloria3.
       Just your typical MLA get together, in other words. One speaker contends that there is a lot of repressed sexual abuse in the Pooh-books (in perhaps the most distasteful of the contributions), while others accuse the bear (and Milne) of imperialism, a variety of sexist (and sexual) stances (in all their variations), and a good deal more. Some see Pooh as pure evil, others consider him of Shakespearean stature. Read what you will into Pooh, someone apparently told these people, and they certainly do.
       "Theory" gets the brunt of the attack -- but not all of it. Crews wisely includes some who speak against theory as well -- and he doesn't hesitate in skewering them either. (Among the most amusing is the anti-MLA man Dudley Cravat III, who speaks in the first person plural ("we" instead of "I").)
       Many of these figures are based on real academics and so-called intellectuals: N. Mack Hobbs is clearly Stanley Fish and Orpheus Bruno is Harold Bloom; Lingua Franca suggests Dudley Cravat III is Roger Kimball (though we would have guessed: William J. Bennett).
       The papers Crews' ascribes to all these would-be scholars ring eerily true. With quotes from actual texts, Crews is able to build up "convincing" arguments using each of the theories or models. Most of it is, of course, utter nonsense -- but hardly less convincing than what generally passes for scholarship. The MLA is Crews' main target (for fostering this stuff, and for meddling where it shouldn't -- a point he manages to slip in several times), but each of the presenters is also nicely undermined. (Even heavyweight Bruno, allowed to posit that maybe it wasn't A.A.Milne who wrote the Pooh-books, but rather Virginia Woolf.)
       Crews gets the tone of most of these papers down very nicely, and the interpretations themselves are wild enough to generally hold the reader's attention. He also manages to slip in some very amusing touches, from the names of the professorships these authors hold to the titles of the books they have written. And some of the incidental comments are marvelous, including the president of Emory declaring that with the appointment of Das Nuffa Dat: "marginality now takes center stage at Emory."
       The general (very misguided) attitude towards criticism is also well expressed by one of the contributors, Carla Gulag:
Meanwhile, the truly essential tasks of criticism -- cognitive mapping, reconciling emergent and residual forms, weighing synchronic against diachronic factors, detecting and disabling master narratives, retotalizing the Real, and deciding what is hegemonic over what, and why -- remain unaddressed.
       So Postmodern Pooh is all good fun ? Well, sort of. It is amusing -- but it also hits a bit too close to home. Yes, there is exaggeration -- but not much. These pieces almost all probably could be presented at an MLA convention without anyone believing them to be a hoax. People do take all these theories seriously, and they present their arguments much as Crews has here.
       The infamous Sokal-hoax (see our reviews of Fashionable Nonsense and The Sokal Hoax) showed how theorists were abusing scientific theory (a very different sort of theory) in misapplying it to a variety of subjects. Crews clearly aims to show the foolishness of literary theorists too, but his Pooh-papers are too close to what these people actually believe in for comfort. A selection of papers from any recent MLA convention would make his point essentially as effectively.
       Crews adds a bit of humour to lighten things up -- there are some very funny bits here -- but it is too sad a subject to really be amused by it. Some of the approaches -- notably Dolores Malatesta's repressed-abuse theory -- also verge on the offensive; the fact that such theories are, in fact, propounded -- and definitely worthy of criticism -- doesn't make them a better fit for Crews' book.
       Still, Postmodern Pooh is an amusing, clever book. Parents trying to dissuade their children from studying literature at college should certainly buy it for them -- while parents who have children at university studying literature are strongly advised not to read it.

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Postmodern Pooh: Reviews: Winnie the Pooh: Frederick Crews: Modern Language Association:
  • MLA - Official Site
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Frederick Crews taught English at the University of California, Berkeley

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© 2002-2021 the complete review

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