From: Nev Dull <mailto:[SMTP:email@example.com]> [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 1998 11:05 AM
To: <mailto:email@example.com> firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: The Perils of Theory
Forwarded-by: Tim Ruddick < <mailto:TRuddick@UU.NET> TRuddick@UU.NET>
Forwarded-by: Bernie Mueller < <mailto:email@example.com>
Forwarded-by: <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> email@example.com at
JENNY JONES: Boy, we have a show for you today!
Recently, the University of Virginia philosopher Richard Rorty made the
stunning declaration that nobody has "the foggiest idea" what postmodernism
means. "It would be nice to get rid of it," he said. "It isn't exactly an
idea; it's a word that pretends to stand for an idea."
This shocking admission that there is no such thing as postmodernism has
produced a firestorm of protest around the country. Thousands of authors,
critics and graduate students who'd considered themselves postmodernists are
outraged at the betrayal.
Today we have with us a writer-a recovering postmodernist-who believes that
his literary career and personal life have been irreparably damaged by the
theory, and who feels defrauded by the academics who promulgated it. He
wishes to remain anonymous, so we'll call him "Alex."
Alex, as an adolescent, before you began experimenting with postmodernism,
you considered yourself-what?
Close shot of ALEX.
An electronic blob obscures his face. Words appear at bottom of screen:
"Says he was traumatized by postmodernism and blames academics."
ALEX (his voice electronically altered): A high modernist. Y'know, Pound,
Eliot, Georges Braque, Wallace Stevens, Arnold Schoenberg, Mies van der
Rohe. I had all of Schoenberg's 78's.
JENNY JONES: And then you started reading people like Jean-Francois Lyotard
and Jean Baudrillard-how did that change your feelings about your modernist
ALEX: I suddenly felt that they were, like, stifling and canonical.
JENNY JONES: Stifling and canonical? That is so sad, such a waste. How old
were you when you first read Fredric Jameson?
ALEX: Nine, I think.
The AUDIENCE gasps.
JENNY JONES: We have some pictures of young Alex. ...
We see snapshots of 14-year-old ALEX reading Gilles Deleuze and Felix
Guattari's "Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia." The AUDIENCE oohs
ALEX: We used to go to a friend's house after school-y'know, his parents
were never home-and we'd read, like, Paul Virilio and Julia Kristeva.
JENNY JONES: So you're only 14, and you're already skeptical toward the
"grand narratives" of modernity, you're questioning any belief system that
claims universality or transcendence. Why?
ALEX: I guess-to be cool.
JENNY JONES: So, peer pressure?
ALEX: I guess.
JENNY JONES: And do you remember how you felt the very first time you
entertained the notion that you and your universe are constituted by
language-that reality is a cultural construct, a "text" whose meaning is
determined by infinite associations with other"texts"?
ALEX: Uh, it felt, like, good. I wanted to do it again. The AUDIENCE groans.
JENNY JONES: You were arrested at about this time?
ALEX: For spray-painting "The Hermeneutics of Indeterminacy" on an overpass.
JENNY JONES: You're the child of a mixed marriage-is that right?
ALEX: My father was a de Stijl Wittgensteinian and my mom was a
JENNY JONES: Do you think that growing up in a mixed marriage made you more
vulnerable to the siren song of postmodernism?
ALEX: Absolutely. It's hard when you're a little kid not to be able to just
come right out and say (sniffles), y'know, I'm an Imagist or I'm a
phenomenologist or I'm a post-painterly abstractionist. It's really hard --
especially around the holidays. (He cries.)
JENNY JONES: I hear you. Was your wife a postmodernist?
ALEX: Yes. She was raised avant-pop, which is a fundamentalist offshoot of
JENNY JONES: How did she react to Rorty's admission that postmodernism was
essentially a hoax?
ALEX: She was devastated. I mean, she's got all the John Zorn albums and the
entire Semiotext(e) series. She was crushed.
We see ALEX'S WIFE in the audience, weeping softly, her hands covering her
JENNY JONES: And you were raising your daughter as a postmodernist?
ALEX: Of course. That's what makes this particularly tragic. I mean, how do
you explain to a 5-year-old that self-consciously recycling cultural
detritus is suddenly no longer a valid art form when, for her entire life,
she's been taught that it is?
JENNY JONES: Tell us how you think postmodernism affected your career as a
ALEX: I disavowed writing that contained real ideas or any real passion. My
work became disjunctive, facetious and nihilistic. It was all blank parody,
irony enveloped in more irony.
It merely recapitulated the pernicious banality of television and
advertising. I found myself indiscriminately incorporating any and all kinds
of pop kitsch and shlock. (He begins to weep again.)
JENNY JONES: And this spilled over into your personal life?
ALEX: It was impossible for me to experience life with any emotional
intensity. I couldn't control the irony anymore. I perceived my own feelings
as if they were in quotes.
I italicized everything and everyone. It became impossible for me to
appraise the quality of anything. To me everything was equivalent-the
Brandenburg Concertos and the Lysol jingle had the same value.... (He breaks
JENNY JONES: Now, you're involved in a lawsuit, aren't you?
ALEX: Yes. I'm suing the Modern Language Association.
JENNY JONES: How confident are you about winning?
ALEX: We need to prove that, while they were actively propounding it,
academics knew all along that postmodernism was a specious theory. If we can
unearth some intradepartmental memos-y'know, a paper trail-any corroboration
that they knew postmodernism was worthless cant at the same time they were
teaching it, then I think we have an excellent shot at establishing
JENNY JONES wades into audience and proffers microphone to a woman.
WOMAN (with lateral head-bobbing): It's ironic that Barry Scheck is
representing the M.L.A. in this litigation because Scheck is the postmodern
attorney par excellence. This is the guy who's made a career of volatilizing
truth in the simulacrum of exculpation!
VOICE FROM AUDIENCE: You go, girl!
WOMAN: Scheck is the guy who came up with the quintessentially postmodern
re-bleed defense for O.J., which claims that O.J. merely vigorously shook
Ron and Nicole, thereby re-aggravating pre-existing knife wounds. I'd just
like to say to any client of Barry-lose that zero and get a hero!
The AUDIENCE cheers wildly.
WOMAN: Uh, I forgot my question.
Dissolve to message on screen: If you believe that mathematician Andrew
Wiles' proof of Fermat's last theorem has caused you or a member of your
family to dress too provocatively, call (800) 555-9455.
Dissolve back to studio. In the audience, JENNY JONES extends the microphone
to a man in his mid-30's with a scruffy beard and a bandana around his head.
MAN WITH BANDANA: I'd like to say that this "Alex" is the single worst
example of pointless irony in American literature, and this whole heartfelt
renunciation of postmodernism is a ploy-it's just more irony.
The AUDIENCE whistles and hoots.
ALEX: You think this is a ploy?! (He tears futilely at the electronic blob.)
This is my face!
The AUDIENCE recoils in horror.
ALEX: This is what can happen to people who naively embrace postmodernism,
to people who believe that the individual-the autonomous, individualist
subject-is dead. They become a palimpsest of media pastiche-a mask of
JENNY JONES (biting lip and shaking her head): That is so sad. Alex- final
ALEX: I'd just like to say that self-consciousness and irony seem like fun
at first, but they can destroy your life. I know. You gotta be earnest, be
real. Real feelings are important. Objective reality does exist. AUDIENCE
members whoop, stomp and pump fists in the air.
JENNY JONES: I'd like to thank Alex for having the courage to come on today
and share his experience with us.
Join us for tomorrow's show, "The End of Manichean, Bipolar Geopolitics
Turned My Boyfriend Into an Insatiable Sex Freak (and I Love It!)."