Sunday, 26 September 2010

Post | Fiction | Where Have All The Postmodernists Gone?

Thank you, Nick Clegg, for finally providing me with something I could possibly write about on the theme of ‘post’, which for the past week has seemed to me so utterly impenetrable that I’d started to try and rearrange the letters in an attempt to get an article, any kind of article, out before the end of the week. (‘Stop’ and ‘pots’ were my favourites.) And thanks also for reminding us that there may actually be a thoughtful and even well-read person behind the mask of the politician. Possibly a speech-writer. But still.
It seems in his speech to the UN – which apparently some delegates idly chatted over, the poor bastard – Clegg stated the following;

“The work of international institutions must continue to be guided by the values on which those institutions were founded: the rule of law – both domestic and international; the right to freedom of expression and belief; democracy; and equality before the law.”

Little Nicky: "The US was not responsible for 9/11."

"These values are sometimes described as 'western' values – but only by people who do not know their history. Four centuries ago, the great Mughal emperor Akbar was legislating for religious freedom and equality in what is now India, while in parts of Europe 'heretics' were being burned at the stake.

"The truth is that these liberal ideals of equality, law and self-determination cannot be claimed by any nation, or hemisphere.

"They are global values with global force. They are also the values at the heart of the UN charter."

Pissy nasal historical reference aside, this is a pretty forthright kick in the face towards cultural relativism, isn’t it? A reminder of the insidious rhetoric of rulers worldwide who like to equate religious freedom, sexual equality, et al. with corporate greed and cultural decadence by labelling them all as ‘Western’, and of various cliques who justify their questionable practices by telling outsiders they have no right to judge them.
Hell, I thought, sitting back in my chair, was cultural relativism the most lasting and widespread effect of post-modernism? I mean, I don’t know that many people – one or two, perhaps – who would try and use Derrida in an ordinary conversation. But all too often, if you start a debate about any important subject with someone who disagrees with you, you’ll hear those horrifying words,

“Well, I’ve got my opinion, and you’ve got yours...”

"Who are you to tell me what the truth is?"

“No!” I want to scream, grabbing them by the lapels. “No! Don’t put up these barriers of the equal value of opinion between us! Let me into your opinion, where I can dissect it for you, lovingly and near-erotically, and you can do the same to mine, and let our combined research bring us closer to objective truth.”

What, in short, the hell happened to post-modernism?

When I first started reading Seamus Heaney, I was struck by one of Faber’s blurbs (I can’t now remember where it was from) that lauded the great poet for – and I paraphrase – “avoiding the abyss of post-modernism.” A strange place to be in, you might think, that (what is presumably still) the major cultural movement of our day should be noted only as a pitfall that our best writers manage to dodge. And, when you think about it, when was the last time an author who described themselves emphatically as post-modern was accepted by the literary establishment? Caryl Churchill?

If I was being optimistic, I’d suggest that perhaps this was the final, noble, unacknowledged sacrifice of the post-modern; by attempting to show the relativity of all cultural movements it rendered itself, and all movements to come after it, meaningless. That from now on, there will simply be authors, and their surges will be individual, not as part of a larger wave. Fractism, we can call it (ironically), and it will contain every sort of opinion and every sort of movement.

This is probably balls. But, my God, I’d like to imagine it’s not. And anyway, who the hell are you to tell me I’m wrong?

Jon Ware
Fiction Editor

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