Friday, February 8, 2008

The acid of postmodernism

I'm posting this for discussion, as always, not because I do or do not agree with it.

"The cheerful term postcolonial, which I often hear on campuses these days, might suggest that the age of destruction is over. In fact, the colonization is still at fever pitch. The great transformation of gold into lead and of forests into shopping malls continues. Some analogous transformations can be seen in the university itself. One of the reagents used for this purpose is the acid of postmodernism: the thesis that nothing has meaning because everything is language. It works especially well in parallel with the acid of unrestrained commerce: that nothing has meaning because everything is for sale. Repeated exposure to these ideological acids produces human beings who cannot wonder at the world because they are not at all sure the world exists, though they can wonder all the more at social power and reputation. When you take the world away from a human being, something less than a human being is left. That is the inverse of education.

To me it is clear that things have meaning because they are meaning - or can have meaning - because it can speak, poorly but truly, of some of the things that language is not. For me, these facts have a practical outcome: because things have meaning, not everything is for sale...

Language listens to the world. I listen with it. What I hear when I listen is a question, which is listening itself. The question often changes form: from silence to breathing to speaking to music to voices to visions to silence again. But that is my vocation. The trail it leaves, more often than not, is a text. Real texts are the products of a vocation, not the other way around. That is almost all there is to writing."

Robert Bringhurst, The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology (Counterpoint, 2008)

1 comment:

Jennifer S. Flescher said...

It's an interesting parallel -- terms in history and terms in literary history... certainly in either case the course of things is always flowing far faster and stronger than the individual...

"nothing has to have meaning" isn't really the argument, though, is it... when we have talked ourself blue, bought ourselves blue, found it is impossible to extricate or judge ourselves from or based on our involvement in this world we live and write in, where can we find connection that brings meaning back to life...

Language doesn't listen to the world. People listen to the world -- and administer the world into the language.