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The Rôle of Postmodernism in Poetry and Politics

Creative non-fiction essays in literature, politics, history, or philosophy allow space for affirming one's stance on issues, old and new.

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The Basics of Postmodernism

In general, postmodernism decries most traditions in Western culture and civilization, including but not limited to tight structure in works of art, received moral essentials, familial bonding, legal imperatives, and attitudes toward subjects such as beauty, love, patriotism, and truth. This stance includes viewing the world through a lens of skepticism, and while too often the works produced by those heavily invested in subterfuge seem to be using a rather fogged lens, nevertheless, skepticism has its place in human activity.

The issue regarding whether "truth" exists has suffered greatly within the confines of the postmodernist mind-set, resulting in the notion that "Postmodernist truth is hence that there is no truth." A result of this pernicious idea that there is no truth—that all truth is relative—is demonstrated in the following narrative, regarding Oprah Winfrey’s receiving a life-time achievement award at the 75th Golden Globe Awards:

[Winfrey is speaking]: I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have…
For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men, but their time is up. Their time is up! [emphasis added]
Winfrey did not say that women were speaking the truth, because in the postmodern world, there is no absolute truth, only narrative. Only "your truth" or "my truth."
As Ben Shapiro recently tweeted, "There is no such thing as 'your truth.' There is the truth and your opinion."

The very claim that "there is no truth" negates itself, as poet and essayist David Solway explains, "Ironically, the governing canon such postmodern revisionists espouse, namely, the relativity of all truth claims, applies to everything, apparently, but their own absolute insights and pronouncements about the relativity of truth claims. All facts are fictive except their own."

Apparently, even those postmodernists who concocted and spread that notion have remained humble enough not to add the caveat, "except for this statement," likely already seeing the absurdity of the claim.

Postmodern Poetry

Nevertheless, the idea of relativism has taken hold and has wrought havoc in many fields of endeavor, including poetry, which has become a vague shadow of itself, as Anis Shivani’s scatter-shot review of Paul Hoover’s Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology demonstrates.

Examples of the folly, dreck, and gloom that postmodernist poets have inflicted upon the contemporary literary canon can be seen in the works of Robert Bly, Louise Glück, Adrienne Rich, Charles Bernstein, Barbara Guest, Charles Simic, and many others.

Often the works of art produced through the fog of nihilism result in disjoined imagery which never coalesces around meaning. Many postmodernist poets have succumbed to the notion that they can spew anything forth in broken lines and have it accepted as "poetry." Often even without a system of thought which the basic skepticism of postmodernism would supply, these postmods have perpetrated a fraud upon the reading public.

If a poet does not attempt to write something that makes sense even to her, she should not expect her works to be admired by others. Unfortunately, too many so-called poets have allowed themselves to be lured by that method. Yet others have simply accepted revisionist versions of history and fallen for the idea of victimhood, categorized by the politics of identity.

A Notable Exception

Although Allen Ginsberg’s poem, "Howl," stands at the beginning of the postmodernist era in America, the piece has stood the test of time, holding value for literary studies. Ginsberg's poem, loosely based on the style of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, offers a view of American life that informs that portion of society that would never consider taking the trips of a Ginsberg or a Kerouac.

Whether one agrees with or appreciates a work of art or not, that art’s message can be useful. Even if a work demonstrates nonsense or is replete with nihilism, immorality, or naïveté, readers have the right to experience the piece, in order to determine their own thoughts about the work.

Although poetry's main function is not to deliver empirical information, poems do rely on facts as they focus on the expression of human experience of emotion and feeling. Despite Ginsberg’s focus on debauchery and degradation, it does rely on facts that can be useful in understanding the milieu in which Ginsberg and his ilk operated.

The Curse of Censorship

If poets allow possible misreadings of their poems to affect how they write, they are allowing themselves to be censured and censored. And any form of censorship cannot be condoned; even those poets whose works one may not admire like Bly, Glück, and Rich must be allowed to follow their own inner promptings. Honest, heartfelt claptrap is better than timorous, duplicitous flattery.

Readers should still vehemently disdain utterly senseless bilge, blather, and poppycock with its nihilistic whining and pointing blame at others for one's victimhood. Further response to such unsatisfying texts is preferable to attempting to cancel what one does not admire or censor that with which one does not agree.

Regarding censorship, John Stuart Mill in his essay, "On Liberty," has averred,

the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

Following this line of thought, Justice Louis Brandeis crafted the Counterspeech Doctrine with his declaration, "If there be time to expose through discussion, the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

Postmodern Politics

Under the vapid impact of postmodernist thought, as poetry has become devalued so has politics, wherein statesmanship, originally meant to constitute temporary service to the nation through government service, has devolved into an influence-peddling career, exemplified by the Biden family, as nationally acclaimed Professor Jonathan Turley and the thoroughly researched Typhoon Intelligence Report so clearly substantiate.

Victor Davis Hanson offers a useful overview of the issue of political postmodernism:

All presidents have, at one time or another, fudged on the truth. Most politicians pad their résumés and airbrush away their sins. But what is new about political lying is the present notion that lies are not necessarily lies anymore — a reflection of the relativism that infects our entire culture.

Postmodernism (the cultural fad "after modernism") went well beyond questioning norms and rules. It attacked the very idea of having any rules at all. Postmodernist relativists claimed that things like "truth" were mere fictions to preserve elite privilege. Unfortunately, bad ideas like that have a habit of poisoning an entire society — and now they have.

The postmodern mind-set that touts relativism often devolves into nothing but sheer hypocrisy. While in the political sphere certain issues must be revisited with the changing of society (for example, the institution of slavery, women's suffrage, and same-sex experience), care must always be taken not to judge harshly the good just because it is not perfect. Perfection in an imperfect world is not possible—something every school child learns, or used to learn, by the sixth grade.

In their pursuit of the "perfect," too many postmods have too often indulged in a melancholy nihilism that seeks to abolish certain societal strictures based solely on personal preference. Such thinking leads only to more melancholy and ultimately to chaotic anarchy through which no civilized society can exist. Politicians who engage in the extremities of relativism do so simply to pander to influence groups to secure votes.

David Solway has observed and detailed that relativism threatens the values secured through the Judeo-Christian ethic, which remains vital to Western civilization. Even individual rights such as free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to peaceably assemble guaranteed by the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence hold no sway under the auspices of relativism.

Furthermore, turned on their heads and thought of as "sub-cultural attitudes or culture-specific assumptions" are such issues as gender equality, traditional matrimony, habeas corpus, and even the basic rule of law. Relativism assumes that these forces that govern a civilized society do not necessarily apply to all people. Thus, Solway concludes,

It is this relativistic sentiment that informed President Obama’s Cairo speech. Alluding to the muddy concept of the "will of the people," Obama deposed that "Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people." Barack Obama is America’s first postmodern president.

President Obama’s tentative relationship with "the truth" also marks him as "America’s first postmodern president." His most widely spread prevarication was one of his earliest: "if you like your health plan, you can keep it"—deemed by the left-leaning PolitiFact, "Lie of the Year." Furthermore, Matt Margolis, political commentator and columnist for PJMedia, has documented the "29 scandals" of the falsely touted scandal-free Obama administration.

Regarding the postmodernism of the current Oval Office occupier, Joe Biden, Julio M. Shilling, political scientist and director of the CubanAmerican Voice, writes that the Biden presidency is being administered more like a "regime" than a "government." That the press behaves as an arm of the Democratic Party feed into this evaluation, as does the fact that private businesses and government have become aligned as in fascist regimes. Thus, Shilling explains,

A regime includes a government but additionally brings with it a set of institutions, laws, rituals, belief systems and a power structure. To merely identify the Biden Administration as simply a government would be flawed. This is a postmodern presidency.

Further discussion regarding the postmodern presidency of the Biden administration is offered by the Cornell Review’s Joe Silverstein, who points out that Biden’s original claim for is reason for running for president was based on the lie that President Trump had praised the neo-nazis and white supremacists who clashed with the protesters at the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue in Charlottesville—now labeled the "Charlottesville Hoax."

After pointing out further prevarications by Biden, such as his administration "didn’t have the vaccine," until after he took office, when, in fact, Biden had already been vaccinated while Trump was still president, Silverstein explains that academic postmodernism has proffered the "no objective reality" notion and that flaw has influenced culture. He avers that the claim that facts can come from bias has led some professors to assert that "math is racist." Because of these anomalies, Silverstein chides Republican politicos for not engaging and giving an airing to Biden’s claim that "we choose truth over facts" as Biden campaigned in Iowa. Silverstein explains,

By dismissing Biden’s comment as a mere gaffe, they missed an important opportunity to highlight Biden’s allegiance to the ideological far Left. His remarks represented more than a mere verbal slip-up: they demonstrated Biden’s commitment to an ideology hellbent on destroying America.

Even Biden’s choice of poet to perform at his inaugural ceremony put on display one of the current fads in postmodern poetry, as the very young spoken-word (Hip-Hop) artist, Amanda Gorman, celebrated her president with a text that can be qualified only as a word salad. True to the sycophantic, postmodernist flair for uncritical criticism, Maya King and Nolan D. McCaskill offer their disingenuous appraisal of Gorman and her pedestrian piece in their article on Politico, "The political roots of Amanda Gorman’s genius."

Currently, we now await the likely dangerous results arising from the debacle of the American military withdrawal from Afghanistan. As political pundit, Tom Borelli, has averred, "President Biden’s promise that the Taliban will not take over Afghanistan will go down as a huge lie." With three and a half more years of the Biden occupancy of the Oval Office remaining, likely many more examples of postmodern political dreck will fill media pages and spotlights.

A Caveat

The basic original tenet of informed skepticism can result in useful works. However, because too much of postmodern thought has resulted in fake and fraudulent works, readers must be continually vigilant while experiencing contemporary poetry. Separating the genuine from the disingenuous is necessary to avoid falling prey to literary charlatans.

The same vigilance is necessary in vetting politicians who are committed to relativistic truth telling that equals blatant lying. One has to wonder how certain lies can continue with such strength as the "Charlottesville Hoax" proffered by Biden, as he threw his hat in ring to run for president, because what President Trump actually said can so easily be found on the internet.

Did Biden not know that Trump said, "I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and white nationalists because they should be condemned totally.” Whether Biden knew or not, his deplorable prevarication equals dereliction of duty: if he knew, he blatantly lied; if he did not know, he should have, and that lapse in knowledge places part of the blame on his advisors.

In order to alleviate the disservice done to the culture by a movement based on denying reality and truth, readers, thinkers, citizens from walks of life, races, and ethnic groups should take it upon themselves to become and remain as informed as possible.

We must engage with ideas by reading and listening to texts widely, but carefully and closely so we can make the proper connections that lead to meaning. We need to look up words, learn the meanings of symbols, and determine whether a text, speech, lecture, or any discourse is primarily literal, satiric, or figurative. Most of all we should retain some skepticism, which remains the best and virtually the only positive tenet of the otherwise vile, culture-killing movement known as postmodernism.

Sources

Biden Race-Baits with Charlottesville Tragedy | Lies, Distortion, and Hate

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on August 31, 2021:

Thank you for your comment, John. Always nice to hear from you!

This essay focuses on an issue that deeply concerns me. Although I urge readers to look at evidence, I am aware that two people looking at the same evidence can claim opposite conclusions: both cannot be correct, so I just hope that what individuals decide to believe, they do so honestly with true, personal conviction. Also, too many will continue to rely on unreliable sources. Determining the accuracy of a claim can be daunting because of the layers of information that one must peel away to get to the heart of the matter.

Along with those issues, we have a growing cult of censorship that operates in both flagrant and subtle ways. So even if we dedicate ourselves to researching widely, we have no way of knowing what accurate information has been kept from us; thus, we often have to rely on implication along with bits and pieces that manage to find their way to publication in unlikely or not widely known places.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 31, 2021:

A very interesting and insightful piece you have written here, Linda. You have offered much food for thought.

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