I. A good part of what I've learned over the years about Postmodernism came from reading the literary critic and essayist George Steiner (not that there is anything we can really learn from it, but just stay with me here). His books were introduced to me by a very good friend with whom I've lost touch, many years now. Those were my university days, meaning sleep during the day and work into the late night hours at our assigned office. That is, if we weren't procrastinating, which was a common occurrence. Oftentimes we'd just consume enormous quantities of junk food and smoke like fiends, discussing everything from theology to macroeconomics to science to the streamlined biology of women. An atheist with a elevated propensity for melancholic defeatism, he nonetheless had one up on me in that this guy was a massive storehouse of knowledge and culture (coming from a highly educated, upper class family abroad). In hindsight, I now have mixed feelings about delving into the works of a self-proclaimed elitist.
II. The thing that really grabbed my attention in Steiner's writings was his emphasis on the fundamental importance of language to culture. He is also a stylistic writer, extremely so at times. His essays are chuck full intricated and confounding words that even aristocrats use only once per decade. Steiner's prose is alluring as a river flowing with quicksilver. As a speaker, he effortlessly mesmerizes the audience. Here is a little video sampling of him when interviewed for a documentary on Martin Heidegger. I've read 16 of his books. Those pertaining to language are After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, one of his more famous works, Real Presences: Is There Anything in What We Say?, Language and Silence and Extraterritorial: Papers on Literature and the Language Revolution, the latter three being essay compilations. Other notables where hours were spent reading include The Death of Tragedy, Antigones, No Passion Spent and On Difficulty and Other Essays. One of his first books, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in Contrast is, in my opinion, essential reading for any student of literature. Rightly, he sides with the vehement, soul-exposing Dostoyevsky. Tolstoy is too pastoral and girly for my tastes. Three books are apocalyptic in tenor: In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture, a biography on Heidegger, father of Postmodernism, and Nostalgia for the Absolute, from his 1974 Massey Lectures.
III. Despite his ability to dazzle with astounding feats of linguistic gymnastics, many of Steiner's ideas and propositions repulsed me. First and foremost is that he's made claims to the effect that anti-Semitism is endemic to Christianity. Not a few academics make this argument. It's an industry in some places, but that's a discussion for another day. In the context of this post, what is immediately apparent with Steiner is that he avows to be a traditionalist/conservative when it comes to high culture and it's preservation (classical music, fine art, poetry, etc.); yet at same time he approvingly quotes and references those radical thinkers whose philosophies have facilitated the abolition of Western Civilization. For example, he will praise Martin Heidegger as being the greatest philosophical mind of the twentieth century. However, Steiner is well cognizant that Heidegger was a Nazi and that his ontological existentialism is intimately associated with the Nazi weltanschauung. This amoral, contradictory, even inauthentic mode of presentation is persistent throughout most of his books. It is also a mirror reflection of the elemental aspects of Postmodernist thought. Praise and promotion for a treatise there will be because of a supposedly enigmatic writing style (as over substance), of subjective epiphanies, of bizarre interconnections, of free association without limitation, etc. And all this without regard to its moral and social consequences in the objective world where real people live their lives, knowingly or not, in conformance with this debilitating worldview, if it so happens to hold sway with whatever group. Note, for instance, the structural abominations "designed" by architects spellbound by Deconstructionism.
IV. In 1996 a brilliant experiment was conducted by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. He submitted a paper entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" to the Postmodernist journal Social Text. The main argument of the paper was that the scientific notion of quantum gravity was in actuality a "social and linguistic construct". As Sokal detailed in this paper:
...deep conceptual shifts within twentieth-century science have undermined... Cartesian-Newtonian metaphysics... revisionist studies in the history and philosophy of science have cast further doubt on its credibility... most recently, feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream-Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the facade of "objectivity"... It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical "reality", no less than social "reality", is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.Beautiful textual content, is it not? Mellifluent, yes? Deliciously appealing to Gunther, the thick-rimmed glasses-wearing sipper of latte's, connoisseur of Lacan-inspired interior design schemes? The paper was accepted and published. But... it was a hoax, as Sokal afterward wrote in an article for Lingua Franca magazine.
V. Inspired by the "Sokal Affair", some time ago this blogger conducted his own experiment, a kind of "stream of consciousness" test. In the blurring smoke of sophistry, I will now like to effect a self-indulgent exercise in grammatical solipsism; checking, in a way, for "presence" and meaning in language. As Steiner said in the video linked above, "Deconstruction speaks of language as an autonomous, inward turning game, as a dance around an infinity of possible meanings". In what follows I will as much as possible neglect rules, evade logic, engage in the solipsistic and the ridiculous. I will pick words, so to speak, out of nothing, ejecting the notion of continuity, direction and purpose. Essentially, I will just play like the Dadaists and "let everything go". I will be a Postmodernist intellectual.
Here is the outcome:
Notwithstanding the innate inclination of neurologically-minded denizens, who, without ruminating on the quagmire that has interpenetrated their circumflexive normalities, things have metaphorically culminated into a maelstrom of incontestibilities. Alternatively, the hyper-biological, those individuals whose externalities are devoid of stratae - and I wholeheartedly affirm the erudition of these buffoons - perpetually combat the ontological necessity of a necessary unit, thus extenuating into an apocalyptic chaos. Now, one might interject that, even though these amalgamations, these conglomerates of particularities, are withdrawn from the hiddenness of the global scheme of interconnections, they are still, without rubric, the epiphany and apex of potentialities. Predestination and the atypical meanderings that delve and suffuse within the innermost cavities of the metaphysical abyss are, indeed, the dissociates of the embedded, nominated anti-logocentrisms. However, if the roundaboutness has camouflaged the internalities of the megalopolis, it would be presupposed that the juxtapositions and circumlocutions would suffice for the post-conditioned detachments and antecedents. Moreover, the multi-dimensioned, the trinity of universals, would, perchance, scream onwards beneath, between and behind the geometrical subdivisions that are coincidentally adjacent, and therefore intermingled with, the extraordinary capacities of humanity, the befriending of consequences. Collaterally, these indiscreet problematics are tautological in the sense that they commingle with the eventualities inborn in the cranium that we label as society. The randomness of the syllogisms and hence their totalities are rendered nil. If the reader were to subsequently refute these verifications - and, indeed, the probability confounds us - it would be explicated that the implosive force of the corresponding returns would eventually rebound and enter our range of spatial cognition. This hypothesis may seem fruitless, but if we sample the denatured aspect of thrownness of the gratifying essent we sublimate into that singularity which swirls into a region contiguous to Gondwanaland. The cataclysm, the catastrophe, astound and attract us as though we defended the crushing thrust of the pluralisms of the contemporary dissidents. From this, in this, near this, and of this, we wane, we compress and decompress until the finality of the circumstance is floundered. Although, if the duality of the substance is a reflection of its existentiality, we push backwards and succumb to a plentiful notion that dwells, to the residency within the coextensiveness of being human.See, it's easy. Try it and then submit your work to Social Text for possible publication, or perhaps to Vox Nova, or even to the poetry section at the Prairie Messenger. And, no, yours truly was not consuming an alcoholic beverage when composing that tract. Nor was the Postmodernism Generator utilized.
Now, one asks, is this true?
Nay, I say.
Sixteen score and three years have passed, have engendered indecisiveness that detaches, that staggers the credible emblems. Lastly, and by no means eloquently, it is too late. Bypassing these actualities, and fretting alongside these buttresses, we query the naturalness of the dreaded classification and, supposedly, the subjugations that infuse into our minds. If this were subdued teleologically, we would - and I concur with this grandiosity - be baffled and compounded retrogressively. Venus and vapour, that etherealness, would make ephemerality reign in the highest sovereign mode. Saliently and, one would assume precipitously, we are disgusted to the point of an abdominal implosion. And the dissonant music of the spheres would give an unstable foundation, a structure that wavers synchronously as time diminishes. Perchance without the condition of boundedness. It follows that pornographic subliminalness and the noise humanity makes one excitable. Returning to the lowest immaterial possibility, the folly of the complicated, including that bilateral diffusiveness which is incessantly propounded, enmesh us in quietness.
Or so it would seem.
Just think of all the people Joyce has hoodwinked.
Will have something more substantial up next time around. In the meantime, the reader might want to peruse my essay on Deconstructionism here.
Now it's time for a cookie. Goodnight.
NOTES / REFERENCES
1. Steiner also has some fiction: Anno Domini: Three Stories, Proofs and Three Parables and The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., the acronym meaning "Adolf Hitler". His autobiography, Errata: An Examined Life, is one of the strangest books I've ever read.
2. See V. Farias, Heidegger and Nazism, trans. P. Burell and G.R. Ricci (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), passim; W.E. Hughes, "The People Versus Martin Heidegger", First Things, December 1993, no. 38, pp. 34-38; H. Ott, Martin Heidegger, A Political Life, trans. A. Blunden (London: Fontana Press, 1994), pp. 133-260; R. Safranaski, Martin Heidegger, Between Good and Evil, trans. E. Osers (London: Cambridge University Press, 1998), passim.
3. For a critical review of Steiner's works see B. Cheyette, "Between Repulsion and Attraction: George Steiner's Post-Holocaust Fiction", Jewish Social Studies, vol. 5, no. 3, Spring/Summer 1999, pp. 67-81.
4. A Sokal, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", Social Text, Spring-Summer 1996, no. 46/47 (Science Wars issue), pp. 217-252.