Archive for August 2009

On Defining Postmodernism

Someone once asked me what postmodernism is, and I replied with a bumbling answer that went nowhere. At the end of my embarrassing attempt, he said, “I think I know what you mean…” which was a really nice thing to say to me, considering I couldn’t even begin to articulate what I knew was a way to define it. He might have come to me because I teach writing and literature, and if that’s the case, I am even more regretful because if I can’t answer such a question, what does it say about me as a teacher. How could I possibly be fit to teach without that kind of knowledge?

I have the answer now, but what’s the point if I can’t find this guy, whose name I don’t remember, but I know his face, for sure: young, short brown beard, getting light on top but a good-looking guy, not too thin but not portly, either. He had a wife and a son. If I could just see him again and sit him down, I’d tell him what postmodernism is. I’d say

Postmodernism is the death of the universal.

a teenager playing a PSP at an elegant, pricey restaurant, each member of his family folded into his or her own mind and silent.

ruining a pair of Beats headphones with ear sweat while doing yardwork. And not knowing who Dr. Dre is.

remembering the tattoo on Mike Tyson’s face but caring nothing about the tragic death of his young daughter in the last few months.

Postmodernism is not owning a television, but buying twenty bumper stickers urging everyone to kill theirs.

It’s making a point of telling anyone within the radius of your voice’s soundwaves that you love your sushi with a side of Chia seeds from a food truck.

It’s a nine-year old boy with terminal cancer.

It’s a giant luxury bus pulling a Hummer into a KOA.

an eleven-year old with an iPhone.

Postmodernism is claiming to be a writer and knowing nothing about Virginia Woolf…Leo Tolstoy.

It’s about Touchstone/Fireside (Simon & Schuster) giddy over the release of another autobiography from one of the New Housewives of New Jersey.

It’s giving an incorrigibly lazy international student a full scholarship to Emory while wait-listing a high-achieving, hardworking American one.

It’s about the rise and domination of mediocrity and mediocre people.

It’s about recreational drug use entrenched in the mainstream of American high schools; the adults in the same buildings turning their backs to it.

Postmodernism is writing lists like this one and calling it literature.