The ‘Rub’ in Rubbish

This will be one of the worst literary criticisms of all time in that I will not mention the title or themes of the book, nor make any reference to the plot, characters or quality of prose. All it prompts me to do is extend a swift knifestroke into the worst excesses of what tends to be called postmodernism.

Postmodernism is as ill-defined as most concepts, but insofar as it has a common usage it is typically used to suggest either a degeneration from commonly held social or conceptual strictures, or a freedom from very much the same, depending on one’s reaction to it. Of course, people being by nature coarse-grained, in both cases it often amounts to the same thing, which is that anything can be justified, for reasons which may be merely local, inconsistent, or absent.

But social and conceptual strictures are not things to be understood as real, at some temporal points, and mere constructs after another point. They can be wrongly understood as real, or correctly understood as always being and having been constructs. On the correct understanding, postmodernism (or the realisation of that constructed nature) is not a further freedom or degeneration of anything, and so is not the excuse or provocation to offer insights or behaviour designed largely to show a commitment to shrugging off that nature. Some minor reflection on how consistently this ostensibly emancipated behaviour seems to derive its savour only in comparison with the ostensibly discarded strictures will show how dismally most manage to travel along this road. A great deal of postmodernism puts one in mind of nothing so much as children with an intimation of the lie of adult authority.

And so the ever present themes within postmodern thought tend to be overwhelming childish and vacuous. The idea that anything can be rendered free from criticism. That relativism, to go even further, means that criticism or evaluation cannot be justified, and that all viewpoints are equally valid. If the view was that all viewpoints have zero validity, that would at least be approaching a worthwhile point, but that is not the tone typically set. And the most childish impulse of all: that value (ill-defined conceptions of value, remember, since we have no normative standards of value) is to be found in transgression. It is a point touched on in the last paragraph and worth echoing: to find value in transgressing concepts and strictures one is contending are empty or invalid is simply to have failed to understand.

This poor understanding. This unrecognised commitment to the merely puerile. This infantile inability to comprehend that a worthwhile realisation of the proper nature of constructed reality involves the endeavour of each and every participant to be the source, the engineer, the artist, and the judge of all things. This is what renders so much of postmodernism ugly and empty.

And oh yes, there was a book. One as valid and worthwhile as anything.


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