This is a post from last fall that got lost in the shuffle when I restarted my blog. I think it still has merit … how about you? Let me know: Like, Comment, Share, Follow!
Leah McLaren, in her Globe and Mail article “Postmodernism: Finally, a museum piece,” published October 1, 2011, reminded me of (at least) one reason why I wasn’t a very astute graduate student. She calls postmodernism the “intellectual and artistic equivalent of antimatter,” further defining it as a “creative sucking sound.”
My problem with postmodernism started in Literary Criticism, the most feared and demanding course of my undergraduate career. It was intended to help the lot of us make the transition to graduate school. By and large, I simply found it confusing. It made me feel stupid. I’ll leave it to my former professors to comment on that …
I had returned to university in order to become a better writer, by reading and studying great writing. Lit Crit seemed the perfect way to deepen my understanding. Not so, I discovered. The earlier literary theorists weren’t so bad. I could relate to them, and gain something from them to fortify my art, but postmodernism … hurt my poor, tender head.
Think of a black hole in scientific terms: its gravitational centre is so dense that is draws in all energy and matter around it, and nothing can escape it.
Postmodernism is similar. It has no presence, or meaning, except in the absence of meaning.
I was told that a way to engage with the big PM was to read between the lines, that it was as much about what was missing, or not being written, as it was about the words on the page.
Then ensued endless exercises regarding what a particular piece of prose meant, in absentia. Meaning became this fluid thing and my mind a sieve attempting to contain it. Every interpretation could be valid, if supported by theory. I wasn’t writing anymore, I was thinking about writing, ironically, even when I was writing an essay about writing.
It was one big intellectual exercise to see if I could get it. “It,” being that there wasn’t an “it” to get. I came to understand that while some works, though challenging, had merit (Elliott and Joyce), other postmodern literature could be the equivalent of an artist painting a blank canvas and embedding pubic hair in the gesso, or defecating in a can and selling it as “merde d’artiste” as a performance piece.
I have, sadly, heard of both occurring.
Postmodernism hasn’t helped me a bit if life, or in art, and perhaps that was what I was supposed to learn.
In November, my mom went to see a production of Waiting for Godot. I’ve seen it before and we compared notes.
Mom enjoyed Godot very much. She got the whole philosophical slant and said that she didn’t think they were waiting for God at all. They were waiting for death, or the end of the world, one or the other. Very astute interpretation, Mom. The two friends she went with weren’t very impressed though.
Ultimately, that didn’t settle any of my postmodern angst.
Is there an intellectual exercise that you don’t get, or that pisses you off? Do share 🙂
- After Postmodernism? “True, but still…” (theotherjournal.com)
- On Postmodernism (artandtheeveryday.wordpress.com)