Last week I used the short story form to try and explain just what Modernism looks like, exactly. Now I’m going to do the same to Postmodernism. After all, if you can’t distinguish between the two, do you really know what they are? And if you don’t know what they are, you’re going to find the English literature of the twentieth century a strange place indeed. So here’s a Postmodernist story I like to call Dude, Where’s My Rhizome? Call it an extreme example.
I am going to a lecture on Postmodernism. I am writing a story about going to a lecture on Postmodernism. Postmodernism is going to a lecture on writing a story about me. Postmodernism is going to a lecture on me.
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.
The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind the reader, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles, and the light and heat it receives from the sun is barely half of that received by this world. It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our world; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely one seventh of the volume of the earth must have accelerated its cooling to the temperature at which life could begin. It has air and water and all that is necessary for the support of animated existence.
Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no writer, up to the very end of the nineteenth century, expressed any idea that intelligent life might have developed there far, or indeed at all, beyond its earthly level. Nor was it generally understood that since Mars is older than our earth, with scarcely a quarter of the superficial area and remoter from the sun, it necessarily follows that it is not only more distant from time’s beginning but nearer its end.
Part III: The Return of the King
Postmodernism. Post-traumatic stress disorder Modernism. Postman Modernism. Poster boy Modernism. Post-amputation Modernism. Postproduction Modernism. Postscript Modernism. I sit in the lecture, in the spot where I have been sitting in up until this point, and try to decide what makes Postmoderm so very post. Is is because it’s what happens when Modernism runs flat into a lamppost? Does Salman Rushie know? Does Jeanette Winterson know? No?
Dot dot dot.
If you don’t think it matters what Postmodernism is, you’re being Postmodern. But perhaps that makes it matter. So don’t think that.
If you’ve realised this is no longer a story, you’re Postmodern. The asterisks were just a deception. You never left the blog. You shouldn’t trust asterisks so much. Asterisks are just a tool hack writers use to convince people there has been a change of scene. The scene never changes. There is no difference between fiction and non-fiction unless you decide that there is. The differences between this blog and A Tale of Two Cities do not exist. The back of your cereal box is literature, just not very good literature. Or perhaps the best. It reflects your daily life the best, doesn’t it? You decide, or I’ll do it for you.
I sat in the lecture theatre for the hour, nodding furiously and stroking my chin. Nobody dared inform me that due to scheduling changes the lecture had been cancelled. They knew that I had reached Postmodern nirvana.
Next week: sanity.