[Since I just finished up a play, I figured I'd post an essay I've been writing.]
Since the early 1950s, contempt has been creeping into literature. It started off as a few dissatisfied writers, writing about how Modernism failed, everything beforehand has failed, so why even bother making something new? It’s just going to fail. This nihilistic hatred for the past is known as Postmodernism, and is slowly putting a chokehold on our world’s supply of thinkers.
Postmodernism is particularly hard to define; unlike modernism, it doesn’t have an identity. It’s not trying to make something new, it’s not trying to stop a world war, and it’s not looking at the beauty and greatness of humanity. Postmodernism rejects everything Modernism wrought; new ideals, another look at morality, new ideas, and preventing another world war through art. Postmodernism is the cultural backlash after World War II. Modernism failed, new ideas failed, deep thought failed, so what does that leave? Postmodernists feel it leaves shallowness, reuse of old ideas, the thought that “nothing can be new”, and a new gap between the writer and his work. Literary critics have said the following about postmodernism;
“The Theory of Rejecting Theories.” Tony Cliff
“A generation raised on channel-surfing has lost the capacity for linear thinking and analytical reasoning.” Chuck Colson
“Postmodernist fiction is defined by its temporal disorder, its disregard of linear narrative, its mingling of fictional forms and its experiments with language.” Barry Lewis, Kazuo Ishiguro
“It’s the combination of narcissism and nihilism that really defines postmodernism,” Al Gore
Al Gore seems to ring the most truth so this essay will be focusing on his definition of postmodernism. But what does it mean? It means nothing exists, all of the old texts are rubbish, and nothing has meaning except for my writings. ME ME ME! Chuck Palahniuk once said, “The only reason why we ask other people about how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our weekend.” (Palahniuk, 87) Postmodernism is a form of navel-gazing in that respect, because it takes those ideals to an extreme. It doesn’t try to go deep, it doesn’t try to give you new insights; it wants you to know that it went water skiing last weekend. There is a reason the majority of postmodern books are written in the first person; it’s easier to relate a story in the first person.
The real problem with Postmodernism is how it’s affecting English departments in universities. Everything that was previously taught has been deemed wrong because it’s canon, and therefore useless. According to Philip Ayres,
'The situation could have been averted, coverage of the field could have been maintained, but for the fact postmodernists came to dominate the liberal arts in the early 1980’s, insisting there are no such things as canon for English or French literature, or of serious music, or any of the plastic arts. The truth is no one ever heard the word canon until this set of critics started evoking it as a phantom enemy, and if it ever was a popular concept it was thought as fluid, not static. In any case the result is those who are paid to know don’t know.'
A teacher who doesn’t know what he’s teaching leads to students who don’t know what they’re reading, which leads to frustration, which leads to an antipathy toward reading. And why bother reading when the movie is already out? Thinking processes have turned our nation’s youth into substandard readers with no talent or skill for writing. After all, if you’re having trouble writing, you can add in a plot twist! Oh, Tyler is Jack! Bruce Willis was dead the whole time! The house has a monster! There’s no need to work in a reason why, because it’s all postmodern!
Postmodernism is also in love with Marxism, believing there’s no one person better than others. Tom Wolfe said it best when he said
'The names vary but the subtext is always the same: Marxism may be dead, and the proletariat has proved to be hopeless. They’re all at sea with their third wives. But we can find new proletariats whose ideological benefactors we can be- women, non-whites, put-upon white ethnics, homosexuals, transsexuals, the polymorphously perverse, pornographers, prostitues (sex workers), hardwood trees- which we can use to express our indignation toward the powers that be and our aloofness to their bourgeois stooges… (Wolfe)'
Another problem with postmodernism is its subset, deconstructionism. Originally created by Jacques Derrida, deconstruction is a form of creating a wedge between the writer and his work. A deconstructionist uses clever words, a caustic tongue, and fuzzy logic, to prove something means exactly the opposite of what it seems. Chip Morningstar said it perfectly when he wrote, “the basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all.” (Morningstar) Let’s say I want to deconstruct the sentence “I love my cat,” to mean I hate society. The essay would say something along the lines of:
“I love my cat.” In saying this, the writer is making a distinction between his cat and the world around him. by making such a distinction, the writer is effectively alienating the idea of ‘society’ from the statement, suggesting a form of contempt by means of negligence. You may notice the writer also refrains from mentioning anything beyond said love for the cat, specifically about his personal circumstances. This suggests the reader is ashamed of his place in the world, and casts blame at the world itself. By this simple train of thought, the writer hates the world, and specifically the society that brought him there.
Of course, unlike a regular deconstructionist essay, I refrained from using the dense language of a literary critic. That would look more like this:
““Reality is fundamentally a legal fiction,” says Lacan; however, according to Scuglia , it is not so much that reality that is fundamentally a legal fiction, but rather the fatal flaw, and eventually the absurdity, of reality. However, the primary theme of Dietrich’s analysis of posttextual narrative is the bridge between society and sexual identity. And abundance of appropriations concerning neosemantic desituationism may be found. “ (Elsewhere.org)
If you read into the essay, you’ll notice it means absolutely. It’s a series of buzzwords and names, with no actual content placed inside. In fact, that’s a randomly generated essay; what content that was placed into it is there by the token of serendipity, not any actual thought. This is what can be passed off in college circuits though. It will be pored over by a bunch of eggheads detached from the world, except for their ability to spout vitriolic nonsense. These people are so detached from actual meaning in content, they are shocked when they read a book like As I Lay Dying or Catch-22. They are used to manufacturing their own subtext, without even a thought to the author. Donald Norman was right when he said, “Academics get paid for being clever, not for being right.”
Postmodernism advocates a lack of canon literature, (Ayres) writing in plot twists that don’t work into your story, and manufacturing meaning for the works of others. Each of these undermine literature in their own way. If no one ever reads the liker of Faulkner, Milton, Pope, or Dryden, they will never know the great works, and likely the people they teach will never know, effectively destroying any past knowledge. If we can just add a plot twist whenever stuck writing, we’ll make convoluted stories that will never make sense, destroying any chance at future knowledge. If we just paste our own ideals onto an essay or story, the artist will lose his voice and be unable to speak his mind, undermining everything he works for. All of these put together lead up to the destruction of our culture, with the death of the mind.
I’d like to finish up my essay with a quote from Edward Friedlander, MD;
“There was a time when people enjoyed discovering how much we all have in common, and how most of us wanted the same things despite the superficial differences. There was even a time when we thought the best way to overcome misunderstanding, prejudice, and hate was by means of reason, common sense, clear-thinking, and good will.
“We called this being scientific. We called this being rational. We called this being enlightened. We called this being liberal.
“We called this being modern.”
Ayres, Philip. “Cheerless Culture Killers.” Editorial. Quadrant June 2006: 1-5.
Bulhak, Andrew C., and Josh Larios. “The Absurdity of Society.” Communications From Elsewhere. 15 Feb. 2007 www.elsewhere.org
“Deconstruction.” Wikipedia. 15 Feb. 2007 www.wikipedia.org
Friedlander, Edward R. “Why I Am Not a Postmodernist.” Pathguy. Jan. 2005. 15 Feb. 2007 http://www.pathguy.com/postmod.htm
Gore, Al. “Al Gore’s Fifth Column.” Observer. Aug. 2000. 15 Feb. 2007 http://www2.observer.com/observer/pages/frontpage1.asp
Morningstar, Chip. “How To Deconstruct Almost Anything: My Postmodern Adventure.” Fudco. 18 Feb. 2007. 15 Feb. 2007 http://www.fudco.com/chip/deconstr.htm;
Palahniuk, Chuck. Invisible Monsters. 2nd ed. Portland: WW Norton, 2003.
“Postmodernism.” Wikipedia. 15 Feb. 2007 www.wikipedia.org
Wolfe, Tom. “Tom Wolfe on Rococo Marxism.” Editorial. Harper’s Jan. 2005: 1-100.