Marxist historian brings this late cold war polemic against the linguistic turn in the writing of history, bringing his critique to bear specifically on post-structuralist developments.
Opening section gives a whirlwind tour of the linguistic turn itself, beginning with the nietzschean prototype, moving through Saussure, the Bakhtin circle, and the Prague circle before getting hot under the collar for Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Althusser, Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida, then ending with a critique of de Man's wartime conduct. It's all very fast, and readers unacquainted with the writers in question may have a hard time keeping up. It's accordingly not a beginner's volume, but it's flattering that the writer gives his interlocutors the intellectual credit of writing this kind of introduction. (Seriously, don't approach this one until reading at least Derrida for Dummies
or Introducing Saussure
The argument proper breaks out into sections on marxism, politics, class, and gender, with a concluding statement thereafter. Each section takes on specific writers in the discipline of history, attempting to expose how they have been influenced by the linguistic turn, and how this affects both the writing of history in general and dismantles old left class-based politics, even though the writers under examination likely can't be designated as rightwingers.
One reviewer grouses that the author is an "unreformed marxist," which a) rudely suggests that marxism is something to be cured, and b) is manifestly erroneous in any event, as Palmer declares his sympathy for E.P. Thompson and Ray Williams on several occasions--marxists of a sort, sure, but no one will accuse them of being dogmatic adherents to the second international or dim-witted stalinists. (Nor, as the same reviewer suggested, is the author a disciple of Trotsky, though same is quoted several times.) As the author otherwise notes: "I am not, of course, suggesting an unthinking return to mechanical Marxism" (211).
Admits in the conclusion that the linguistic turn has some value--"historians do need to deal with and assimilate some of what discourse theory has been claiming" (216)--but history writing should not be simply an aesthetic endeavor that seeks to eschew class analysis in favor of ludic interrogation of events.