Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Possibilities of A Postmodernism


"What we get is, in Van Bastelaere’s words, ‘parts of a whole that is missing’: there is no whole encompassing the elements of the poem, not even on the abstract level of a thematic synthesis. The postmodern poem, described by Mary Ann Caws as a ‘frame without a center’,40 debunks the idea that there exists something like a totality: the ‘worlds’ it evokes are, in the words of Brian McHale, ‘fragmentary, discontinuous, flipping back and forth between literal and figurative’"


"The postmodern poem is, as Brian McHale writes, an ‘echo chamber in which discourses resound and mingle’ so confusingly that the reader is unable ‘to assimilate them to any single unitary or speaking-position’.46 He must then also renounce the idea that something like ‘the author’ is still present somewhere in the text as a central consciousness: Where the modernist still attempted to confront the fragmented chaos of reality by assuming a ‘subject of signification’, the postmodern poet gives up on the whole idea of an intentional subject."


"There is no such thing as a source from which elements are derived, as now everything is derivative. Postmodern intertextuality then deliberately misleads its reader."


"The postmodern poem is the exact opposite of whatever presents itself as something perfect, as having a divine – because perfect and more than human – status, as it was earlier only found in nature. By being emphatically unnatural it opposes an artistic ideal that has been dominant sincethe romantics introduced the organic conception of art. The postmodernist will have nothing of such poetical pretension, and therefore presents his poem as im-perfect, in-complete: the loose ends are not to be read as imperfections that have been overlooked, but are essential in a poem that wants to express distrust of the totalizing claim of closed unity."


"The core of the problem of intuition is the unsolvable conflict between reason and feeling: is the poem the product of rational calculation (as is suggested in some of Krol’s poems) or has it been inspired from up above (which would make the role of intuition decisive, as the same Krol suggested when he announced his turn to an ‘anti-rational’ style, because he had allegedly ‘thought trough’ the whole process of rational thinking)? As ever, the issue cannot be reduced to an alleged choice by the postmodern poet for one or the other option. Reason and intuition, spirit and body – both extremes are being problematized and are presented in postmodern discourse less as opposite poles than as each other’s radicalization."


"It should be clear that the postmodern poet’s reconsideration of poetical autonomy is never tempted to simply opt for a poetics that has historically always opposed this autonomy. For reasons already mentioned when we discussed the problem of identity, he refuses a form of poetry in which the poetical subject expresses its deepest feelings or, from some burning desire to oppose injustice, furiously attacks reality. His attempt at immersion in reality relates in a complicated way to the remoteness of modern(ist) poetry. He does not accept the idea that the finished poem has completely emancipated itself from its author, but at the same time he radicalizes the epistemological doubt that brought the modernists to that idea: where the modernists at times already did not dare to claim full responsibility for the finished poem, the postmodernists positively deny the possibility of any such control over language."


"In an age that has renounced all Grand Narratives, and that refuses to believe in any legitimizing foundation for human existence, the choice for an ethical subject for poetry is far from obvious. Still, some poets return to moral matters – questions concerning literature (‘this is how poetry ought to be written’) and questions concerning moral life – even when they are aware of the impossibility or inadvisability of any thinking in terms of good and evil. Their problem is that of morality.
The poet who rejects the ‘anything goes’, who opposes the idea that there are ‘no traffic signs, no prohibitions and no rules’, does see certain norms, which clears the way for a new poetic engagement with morality. The postmodern poet wants to show how everything is determined by hidden and/or unconscious norms. But the fact that he sees these norms does not entails that he also welcomes, or even designs them. He does not prescribe any morality, but rather reminds himself and his reader that, after the demise of all shared meaning structures, each individual has to assume his own moral responsibility, a responsibility that brings new uncertainties."

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