Monday, January 29, 2007

Reaching for my semi-automatic

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. --Ecclesiastes 1:9

Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver. --Hermann Goering (attributed without citation) (1893-1946)

For a long time I avoided dealing with postmodernism. It is an aesthetic issue. The jargon sets my teeth on edge. When I hear the word "meta-narrative," I want to start shooting (only metaphorically, I assure you).

It is not a recent affliction. In the 70s one often heard of shifting paradigms. My indwelling sin had to be restrained from the urge to shift proboscides. I prefer my abstractions concrete; my ideals tactile. My intuition suggests that big empty words suggest big empty heads.

Of course, short and loaded words may say something about my own head.

But postmodernism cannot be avoided. Everyone who has anything to say about our culture is talking about it. I admit I am a brute Philistine on the subtleties, but it seems that postmodernism is what happens when existentialism quits trying.

Very broadly, as I understand it, existentialism focuses on freedom, action, and self-definition as being the foundation of human meaning. Postmodernism questions the idea of meaning itself. Like the dog that gave the original cynics their name, postmodernism tracks vulnerable prey and devours. Its specialty is deconstruction.

This deconstruction may be a virtue. It thoroughly and effectively demolishes modernism. But it is also a fatal flaw because it demolishes itself. When we give up meaning, we give up words. Without words, there is no truth. We end up in a sort of pre-Stoic nihilism.

. . . there is no new thing under the sun.

Even if there is no new thing, it is our thing. We do not live in the age of the Puritans, or even in the golden post-war age of prosperity and promise. We live in an age of despair and doubt. The postmodern dialog expresses it in the most appropriate way possible: it denies man the ability to comprehend his problems, let alone solve them.

Maybe, then, postmodernism portends some good. It focuses on narratives, which I would rather call stories. Everyone loves to hear a story. But, mostly, everyone wants to tell their own story. At some point, everybody will exhaust their repertoire. This is because everyone will find that meaning is meaningless. After a due season of wandering in Mesech and tent-dwelling in Kedar, perhaps we will be driven back to the Word of John 1--the Word that tells us that words are real things with real meaning.

Reducing scripture to a narrative diminishes its force. Of course there are narratives within the Bible. But the real story is plain: we are lost and without hope or power. The sooner our culture realizes this, the sooner it has a reason to turn to Truth. Christ is King right now. No one can come to God but by Him.

So, for now I sheath my pistol. I've learned new languages before, I'll try to learn postmodernism too. I doubt I will ever understand it, but I aim to chronicle its undoing.

The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Ecclesiastes 12:11-14.


lauren said...

I should have signed in as Simone. Then you could be Jean-Paul. Then I could say, "Eh bien." And you could say, "Nous continuons." Then I could be Diane Keaton and you could be Woody Allen, and we could say, "Wheat."

But you should be prudent, because the word police could become vexed with you and send you to New Parlance Sensitivity Training. You could be there a long time. They could demand a public meta-narrative of repentance.

The Word spoke existence in, and the Word will speak existence out. The present trend toward decline in meaning is, I think, symptomatic of a decline in thought, a necessary corollary of the decline in ability to apprehend the reality of a Sovereign Creator, and sin, and retribution. Hence the gloss: nobody's wrong if everybody's right. Everything is sort of on a spectrum; nothing occupies any particular absolute spatial or lexical context of its own. How vulgarly crowded, all those imprecise points, all huddled together....

Victorbravo said...

Annie, there's a big lobster behind the refrigerator.

lauren-simone-annie said...

To say nothing of the spider the size of a Buick in my bathtub.

Now that's meaningful language. Alack, where has it all gone....

Josh Hicks said...

Great words!