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Standing In Its Shadow or Blocking Its Light*

February 19, 2008
Recently I read a joke somewhere about people who pretend to understand what postmodernism means. I cannot pretend to understand its meaning and I have a degree in English Literature. The best I can conclude, basing my speculations on several in depth conversations that I had with a professor who has went deeper and can keep up with my disunited thoughts more than any other professor that I have ever interact with is, postmodernism is the celebration of the fragmented self, an essence that anyone can capture and claim, a universal commonality that should be embraced. She told us that there are very few truly postmodern authors, that most authors who people label as postmodern are actually contemporary or an exaggerated-extended modern. The postmodern narrative has no specific message and/or lacks the tragedy of the modernist. If one protagonist in particular is considered a representative center as a whole then it is not postmodernism. This area in my studies is blurred because I can hardly ever venture pass World War I and the tragic aftermath, which would clearly be a modernist point of view. When I do, it is limited to the Harlem Renaissance, multicultural literature (most are nostalgic in nature or refers to a time gone by) and occasionally, contemporary short stories. I have yet to study closely literature written by a living author who sets his or her works in contemporary times. The thought bores me to tears. After the Modern Period sans Multicultural Literature, it seems that Western society plunged right into a Consumerist-Religious Period™ heavily cloaked in Contemporary Period rhetoric and have now become a full-blown case of Histrionic-Projected-Identity-Realism™, Projected-Identity because Self-Identification is out of the question. One’s identity has to be sanctioned by the identity police and those identity police are not necessarily the group in power but, disguised as being anti-establishment and secretly desiring power. Most likely, their so-called subversion to the power structure reinforces that power structure but they are usually riding a manic wave of righteous indignation that their forward visibility is limited, if not irrevocably impaired. Moreover, if it were left up to some New Yorkers we would all be studying Histrionic-Projected-Identity-Regionalism™ as our Sociological guide to all of human behavior.

I understand the need for a postmodern angle as a method to counter the system of rewarding known heritage by hierarchising value according where that heritage places someone in the system. One only has to pick up a work of Fiction pre-World War II to see how birth and class particularly in the western world assigned a person worth or not. Who are your parents? In what part of London is Cheapside? The system is set up to ostracise the bastard children before the other layers such as sex, race, class, etc are introduced to finish the job. Nevertheless, I do not believe a beneficial counter offense is to broaden fragmentation. What seems more appropriate and fair is to dismantle the value system that elevates known heritage over unknown heritage. Both can exist without a superior/inferior dichotomy. Heritage does not need to be erased, including when one has a socially unfavorable history. It is what it is. However, social politics seem to have very little to do with the individual person who simply wants to feel a connection with origin.

While working through this I realised that dismantling the patriarchy, which does value legitimacy over illegitimacy, is in fact a form of bastardising the masses. Yet, to call it bastardising is still operating within a patriarchal mindset. A complete bastardisation of the masses will dismantle the patriarchy but it will probably lead to total fragmentation. Fragmentation provokes a feeling of imbalance and incompleteness. Not unless fragmentation only feels imbalance and incomplete while trying to exist within patriarchy. Who knows how a quintessential fragmentation will feel if patriarchy is completely annihilated.

Nevertheless, I want to know who my people are. Not people who are assigned to me by others. Not people who are projected on to me, but my people. I want to become so over stimulated with my ancestry that I faint when I touch our land. This is unobtainable in a fragmented society. Regardless of what other layers a family is operating under, it seems privilege to know one’s ancestry. To know that one’s aunt or great uncle or grandfather or mother or even father was this or that or did this or came from here or there is a comforting balance that bastardise children (who become adults) are not privy to. When I say bastardise I am not limiting the term to just knowing one’s mother and father and being the product of their patriarchal approved marriage, but to mean the absent of knowledge of who and where one’s origins began. Without that knowledge the child is an orphan of the world.

I don’t know what home feels like. I’m not speaking in the physical realm as the home one grew up in, but the visceral realm as in “I’ve come home.” The closest I have ever felt this is in England. Each time I go to England I feel almost home, like if I just walked further north or south or east or west or across the way a bit I would make it home. In America, I feel discombobulated. Granted, I feel less the more east in America I am and more irritated the more west I go. In Hawaii and in Japan I feel totally away from home. I can acknowledge the peacefulness of Japan, the potential qualities of home it may have for others but I am definitely detached and not at home in Japan, Okinawa, etc. Nor do I belong to Puerto Rico, Jamaica, or Central America. I want to try Scotland, Bulgaria, Finland, Liberia, Egypt, Tanzania, etc to see if when I set foot there I can feel at home. Yet, I appreciate and understand all to well how one can be caught up in the grass is greener or longing for a reality that can only exist in disillusionment. Or maybe I can pay the money to have a DNA test done, but then I would have to go into all of the family secrets that some have promised to take to their grave. Because in order to do the test I have read how one needs to know this or know that, etc. What if someone does not know anything about anyone?

*Borrowed from Cher’s “Not enough Love In The World.”

11 Comments
  1. Unsane permalink
    February 20, 2008 2:02 am

    Postmodernism seems to involve the renunciation of a nostalgic longing for a sense of personal wholeness or origins.

    My view is that as this formula goes it is exceedingly dubious and superficial because it is assumed that we all “long” for this elusive wholeness but that it is indeed, inevitably, elusive.

    But that begs the question as to whether that kind of longing is indeed part of “The human condition” (the aforementioned being another notion that postmoderns claim to want to dispense with, and yet implicitly rely upon whenever they make an estimation about why postmodernist thinking is now necessary — ie. it is necessary so that we do not have this internal craving for wholeness which is the human condition, even though there is no human condition to speak of in postmodernist terms.)

    My advice to acquiring wholeness — follow your own instincts. Dare to challenge yourself to go against society’s grain.

  2. Kitty Glendower permalink
    February 20, 2008 2:23 am

    Postmodernism seems to involve the renunciation of a nostalgic longing for a sense of personal wholeness or origins.

    Yes, that’s it, that’s what I was gathering. To me, in postmodern rhetoric there is a feeling of shame, a shame to want to be complete. I was wondering if adding a feminist prospective to it, if postmodern is celebrated because in a way it denounces the father, something the patriarchy relies upon. But not knowing an origin is just as bad as knowing an origin, if not worse in some regards.

  3. Unsane permalink
    February 20, 2008 5:39 am

    See, I don’t see any point in denouncing the father if it is in fact the case that our characters are shaped by “the father” — that is by various patriarchal societies and systems. That is like denouncing cancer after it has already become systemic. The thing to do is to put in effort to transcend “the father.”

    “How?” you might ask.

    Well, you know whatever it is your superego tells you is your natural limitation? Go beyond it!

  4. ECOPHOTOS permalink
    February 20, 2008 5:44 am

    In this comment, I reveal how dated I am. Let me term my lack of literary acumen as “pre-deconstruction.”

    The critic, Northrup Frye, had a nifty thumbnail for organizing the entire sweep of literature from the beginning of civilization to the present:
    – – – – – – – – –
    Mythic mode – stories about gods/goddesses and their human counterparts; example – classical Greek mythology and legends.

    Romantic mode – stories about kings/queens and super heroes with near deity qualities; examples – Tristan und Isolde.

    High mimetic mode – tragic heroes who are noble, mortal and flawed, examples –Elizabethan through 19th century.

    Low mimetic mode – a heroic literature of the middle class; example – Willy Loman; 20th century.

    Ironic mode – comedic types like Charlie Chaplin who aspire to be human but fall short; examples – Waiting for Godot (Beckett), Six Characters (Pirandello).

    – – – – – – – – –
    According to the above, heroes tended to be less and less lofty and more and more ordinary through time. A truly heroic character is no longer possible in modern times unless the hero is a comic book character (fantasy). My hypothesis is that post-modern literature operates closer to the ironic mode – adrift, disjointed, absurd.

  5. Unsane permalink
    February 20, 2008 5:53 am

    My hypothesis is that post-modern literature operates closer to the ironic mode – adrift, disjointed, absurd.

    Well I’m not sure about this, since the ironic mode only works by virtue of invoking an implicit comparison to something more perfect in our minds — whereas postmodernist theory explicitly renounces this perfection. Therefore postmodernist literature cannot really be ironic, whereas modernist literature (which is able to retain the invisible or transcendent standard of perfection) can be.

  6. Kitty Glendower permalink
    February 20, 2008 6:01 am

    That is like denouncing cancer after it has already become systemic. The thing to do is to put in effort to transcend “the father.”

    Yes yes I think I can agree with this. Because denouncing the father is also solidifying his authorial position in the process and perpetuating an imbalance. Whereas transcending the father is making his presence an equal part of the whole.

  7. Kitty Glendower permalink
    February 20, 2008 6:05 am

    ecophotos, I believe your timeline fits into a Joseph Campbell’s view of the hero. But I have yet to add him on my list.

  8. Unsane permalink
    February 20, 2008 7:50 am

    Yes yes I think I can agree with this. Because denouncing the father is also solidifying his authorial position in the process and perpetuating an imbalance.

    It could be worse: It’s like allowing him free range to write the script, whilst blindfolding oneself and signing on the dotted line.

  9. Professor Zero permalink
    February 20, 2008 4:25 pm

    Great post and thread. Your professor
    was right about postmodernism (that many so called postmodern writers are
    not), too.

  10. ECOPHOTOS permalink
    February 20, 2008 6:28 pm

    Kitty, you are right about Campbell (Frye was a contempory). I informed you in advance of my paleolithic proclivities.

  11. momo permalink
    February 21, 2008 2:52 pm

    so many people use the term postmodern to mean so many things that it has lost its usefulness for me as a term. I do think that a lot of what people call postmodern is really more about stylistic devices that I associate with literary modernism, so I don’t like definitions that only attempt to classify texts in terms of their style.
    How about the deconstruction of the “hero” as a condition for narrative? is that modernist or postmodern? It can (sometimes) be feminist, although not all feminist writing dispenses with the heroic.

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