2017/07/26

Postmodern Lit Is Cancer

Castalia House Lead Editor Vox Day has been making a strong case that postmodern literature isn't just bad writing, but non-writing, over at his blog.

First, Vox relates a discussion he had with a CH author about a bad writing habit that's baffled him for years:
What we were discussing is the nonsensical metaphor or simile. Now, I have used a nonsensical simile at least once myself, although I did so knowingly, as it was an inside joke. Some old-school Ilk might remember the phrase "then it hit him, like a cheetah" from Rebel Moon. That was something my best friend's brother used to say, because my best friend's brother is a complete goofball who gloried in saying nonsensical things like that. The point is that I knew it was a silly simile and horrifically bad writing, although I suppose it is not a nonsensical simile from a technical perspective, since being hit by a cheetah at 60+ MPH would presumably be the sort of thing that would bowl one over.
However, as the writer explained, the mediocre writer doesn't know that the metaphor or the simile is nonsensical. To him, it is an emotionally true connection, and therefore it makes sense, even when it objectively doesn't. For the purposes of reference, here are the four examples from the rough draft to which the author, Johan Kalsi, is referring, a bizarre metaphor that completely mystified me, and not only because the author utilized it FOUR FREAKING TIMES in a single scene.
Jeckell's broad, sleepy face held his lips in a strange smile, as if he had just caught a mouse between his teeth. 
Jeckell continued to chew on his mouse, doing nothing to wipe his face clean of its aura of smug supremacy.
Jeckell stopped gnawing the imaginary mouse for a moment.
Everyone gasped. Jeckell stood up and punched the table in front of him, his jaw clenched back down on the mouse.
I like to think that my editorial comments were polite, professional and helpful: "What the fuck is going on with this guy chewing on a nonexistent mouse? What does that even look like? Lose the fucking mouse!"

Parallelisms and pseudo-archaic formulations abound: "They caught up and set out each day in the dark before the day yet was and they ate cold meat and biscuit and made no fire"; "and they would always be so and never be otherwise"; "the captain wrote on nor did he look up"; "there rode no soul save he," and so forth.
The reader is meant to be carried along on the stream of language. In the New York Times review of The Crossing, Robert Hass praised the effect: "It is a matter of straight-on writing, a veering accumulation of compound sentences, stinginess with commas, and a witching repetition of words ... Once this style is established, firm, faintly hypnotic, the crispness and sinuousness of the sentences ... gather to a magic." The key word here is "accumulation." Like Proulx and so many others today, McCarthy relies more on barrages of hit-and-miss verbiage than on careful use of just the right words.
Vox's comment:
That's why there is so often no meaning to be found in their works, that there is neither action nor character to be found in the texts. No one actually reads these books! They are, instead, scanned, with no more comprehension of the empty contents surveyed than the whole language reader grasps the phonetics of the words he is reading.

An unnamed Castalia House author weighs in:
Now, today's post about bad writing makes a similar case that Modernism, and in particular its virulent Boomer strain - Postmodernism - is culture cancer.
Many people could see that Modernist literature was, at base and overall, simply not as deep or interesting as those books which had not gottenn caught up in Modernism's well-crafted, insubstantial mopefests.
The clue that Modernism was a dead-end can be found in its best products: As I Lay Dying, The Wasteland, Invisible Man, Heart of Darkness and The Aspern Papers are ALL, at heart, about how writing from a Modernist perspective is a pointless, disjointed exercise that renders a man insignificant. Wait for death, write or don't...in the end Material Man is a Hollow Man. If even Modernist novels don't like Modernist novels, you know you've chanced on a Very Bad Idea.
When the reactionary Post-Modernism came along, the self-defeating problem became clear. There were plenty of sane readers who said, "Okay, that way lies madness. Taken to its logical conclusion, PM could lead to the end of literature!"

Vox's closing argument:
The following three passages are the same string of words taken from the 1985 National Book Award winner. I divided the original passage into 15 strings based on the punctuation and randomized it twice. Now, without looking anything up on the Internet, see if you can tell which passage is in the correct order, Number 1, 2, or 3.
  1. We simply walk toward the sliding doors ... This is not Tibet ... sealed off ... timeless. Code words and ceremonial phrases. It is just a question of deciphering ... Another reason why I think of Tibet. Dying is an art in Tibet ... Energy waves, incident radiation ... Look how well-lighted everything is ... Not that we would want to ... Chants, numerology, horoscopes, recitations. Here we don't die, we shop. But the difference is less marked than you think. Everything is concealed in symbolism... This simple truth is hard to fathom. But once we stop denying death, we can proceed calmly to die ... Tibetans try to see death for what it is. It is the end of attachment to things. The large doors slide open, they close unbidden. We don't have to cling to life artificially, or to death ...
  2. Everything is concealed in symbolism ... The large doors slide open, they close unbidden. Energy waves, incident radiation ... code words and ceremonial phrases. It is just a question of deciphering ... Not that we would want to ... This is not Tibet ... Tibetans try to see death for what it is. It is the end of attachment to things. This simple truth is hard to fathom. But once we stop denying death, we can proceed calmly to die ... We don't have to cling to life artificially, or to death ... We simply walk toward the sliding doors ... Look how well-lighted everything is ... sealed off ... timeless. Another reason why I think of Tibet. Dying is an art in Tibet ... Chants, numerology, horoscopes, recitations. Here we don't die, we shop. But the difference is less marked than you think."
  3. Energy waves, incident radiation ... This is not Tibet ...timeless. Chants, numerology, horoscopes, recitations. Here we don't die, we shop. But the difference is less marked than you think. We don't have to cling to life artificially, or to death ...Another reason why I think of Tibet. Dying is an art in Tibet ... Everything is concealed in symbolism... Look how well-lighted everything is ... code words and ceremonial phrases. It is just a question of deciphering ... We simply walk toward the sliding doors ... Not that we would want to ... Tibetans try to see death for what it is. It is the end of attachment to things. Sealed off ... This simple truth is hard to fathom. But once we stop denying death, we can proceed calmly to die ... The large doors slide open, they close unbidden. 

My comment:

Modernism denied the validity of divine revelation as source of truth and placed all of its faith in the self-sufficiency of the human intellect. Postmodernism realized the failure of the Modernist project and reduced every question to a matter of raw will. What you've seen above is the inevitable result.

@BrianNiemeier

12 comments:

  1. Jordan Peterson's take on P-M is alswo worth noting - they spotted a very real problem, that of the number of ways that you could interpret something was effectively infinite - and then concluded that nothing was worth anything (except power, because they were marxists) and there was no meaning.

    And thus the current craziness re: geneders, etc., it's all a construct denying any meaning but power, in the face of a reality that sharply limits meanings if one is to continue to live.

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    1. Exactly. That's why Postmodernism is batshit loco. You may not be able to come up with a single definition that encompasses everything that we call a "game". That doesn't mean games don't exist.

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  2. One issue is that, take music. Is "Rap" (or more properly, hip-hop, which predominantly relies on rap-style lyrics) music?

    Well?

    Drum-only stuff like drum solos involving rhythm and a bare minimum of tone are arguably music. Things where the vocals are all spoken word set to a melody are music (though it arguably requires more skill to sing in key), gregorian chants with no instruments are music... and yet poetry is not (but can be with accompianament)

    the point is that you can generate horrible not-music with instruments, and music with just words. About the closest thing to a constant is _rhythm_ - but there is no one thing that ALL things we call music, or scinece fiction, or many things possess.

    They're all fuzzy blobs

    But they nevertheless concentrate around a set of traits of which anything we label "music" or whatever will have at least one or more., and thus the definition is useful, despite the edge cases.

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    1. one or more, but two different things we label "music" may not share any of them, even if most do

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    2. Last redoubt

      Is rap music? Yes if you focus on the voice as both instrument and music. You really hear this in non English rap like Arabic French Spanish and Catalan which still has preserve the ministral/trobabourian/storytelling mode. Let's not forget that troubadour songs were sung with a lute and maybe a flute. In Arabic It's the voice which contains both the instrument and the music.
      The problem with English language rap is that it's either fogotton the English/Welsh/Celtic and Scottish ministral/storytelling modes in favour of miscegenated African music/storytelling modes.

      If I were an Anglophone rapper I'd be ransacking the aforementioned traditions and the mix them with the African modes.

      Actually in the Romance languages It's a musical tradition and trope to musicalize poetry. And you can't tell me it's not music. Usually some make really great songs with good music.
      Perhaps with the Germanic languages it doesn't work as nicely (cf Leonard Cohen)

      xavier

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    3. It sounds like a version of Sorites paradox. The larger problem with something like post modernism is that they take that paradox of sometimes borders can't be clearly defined, and try to deny that there is ANY clarity, when even the paradox admits that at the ends of the spectrum are very clear occupants who are different from each other.

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  3. One of the central problems in modern and postmodern writing(or any sort of art) is it's divorce of dialectic and rhetoric. What we're seeing in the above examples are when the cannons of invention and disposition are actively ignored in favor of pure style. It's like if you cut into a cake only to find none of the cake inside - only a shell of frosting.

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    1. To your point: https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/review-the-lady-astronaut-of-mars/

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  4. Brian:
    Here's a website that has a quote that with a few minor changes could be the pulprev's battle cry
    http://www.fiuv.org/p/address-given-bydr.html

    and here's the abbreviated quote:

    And it is our task – since we have been given the grace to appreciate the value of this heritage -- to preserve it from spoliation, from becoming buried out of sight, despised and therefore lost forever. It is our duty to keep it alive: by our own loving attachment, by our support for the priests who make it shine in our churches, by our apostolate at all levels of persuasion.

    Like I said a few tweaks and the quote applies to good fiction that pulp rev wants to publish again

    xavier

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  5. Postmodernism, having decided the soul doesn't exist, and the body is dead, became focused on wearing makeup to pretty up the corpse.

    It's an ugly, mean philosophy, brought about by modernists tearing the supernatural away from the natural.

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    Replies
    1. I know a history professor who took an entire course in how to deal with Postmodernists. The proper response to their word salad is "So what?" followed by "Fuck you" if they persist.

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