I am currently taking a class on Creative Non-Fiction, a class designed to expose MFA students to various kinds of works within this genre, so that they may identify and analyze the various techniques that authors use in crafting their works. One of the authors that I had the good fortune of reading is David Foster Wallace, who is noted for such works as Infinite Jest, and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. A quality of Wallace’ writing that I particularly like is his ability to mix the discourse of the academy with common vernacular in a way that seems very natural. Along with this, he is obviously a very intelligent guy, who is able to make the banal interesting and is able to find humor in practically any circumstance. In light of all of these qualities, I was not surprised when a fellow student, in giving a presentation on Wallace, gave us a transcript of an interview in which Wallace brilliantly articulated the problem of the Postmodern era. I liked what he said so much that I decided to post it on my blog. However, there is a caveat, or a point of departure, that I feel impelled to express afterwards.
For me, the last few years of the postmodern era have seemed a bit like the way you feel when you’re in high school and your parents go on a trip, and you throw a party. You get all your friends over and throw this wild disgusting fabulous party. For a while it’s great, free and freeing, parental authority gone and overthrown, a cat’s-away-let’s-play Dionysian revel. But then time passes and the party gets louder and louder, and you run out of drugs, and nobody’s got any money for more drugs, and things get broken and spilled, and there’s a cigarette burn on the couch, and you’re the host and it’s your house too, and you gradually start wishing your parents would come back and restore some fucking order in your house. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the sense I get of my generation of writers and intellectuals or whatever is that it’s 3:00 A.M. and the couch has several burn-holes and somebody’s thrown up in the umbrella stand and we’re wishing the revel would end. The postmodern founders’ patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years. We’re kind of wishing some parents would come back. And of course we’re uneasy about the fact that we wish they’d come back–I mean, what’s wrong with us? Are we total pussies? Is there something about authority and limits we actually need? And then the uneasiest feeling of all, as we start gradually to realize that parents in fact aren’t ever coming back–which means “we’re” going to have to be the parents.
Beyond using a great analogy to effectively describe the nature of Postmodernism, what particularly stood out for me in Wallace’ articulation was his question, “Is there something about authority and limits we actually need?” Being a Xian, I, of course, respond to this question with a resounding “Yes!!”. And yet, I am mostly glad for the “patricide” that postmodernism brought to us as a culture, as I do not think that postmodernism needs to be interpreted as that era in which humanity finally cast aside their ignorant and stubborn parental myths. Rather, it could be seen as a time of tearing away the false masks that we have placed onto God throughout human history. I realize that Wallace, in talking about the absence of parents, may not have been making a theological assertion, but rather was referring to the collapse of the intellectual foundation upon which Western history was built: the collapse of absolutes and universals. If this is the case, however, it does not change my response, as I think that in either case a healthy unmasking has occurred. So, finally, in reference to Wallace’ statement, what this means for me, is that there are parents, or particularly there is a Parent, the face of whom we have never clearly seen, and the nature of whom may very well surprise us. My guess is that this surprise would be very much like when a baby was born to lower middle-class parents within a marginalized culture, who as rumor had it, was the very Son of God.