The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1259. Friday, 26 December 1997.
From: Norm Holland <
Date: Tuesday, 23 Dec 97 15:25:30 EST
Subject: Xmas gift from an ex-wise-man
Hearing a beautiful performance Sunday on the radio of _Messiah_ (Robert
Shaw Chorale, Atlanta Symphony) has put me in an Xmas spirit. I'd like
to send you a gift, courtesy of the New York Times, Sunday edition.
It's a spoof of confessional TV and some other things, perhaps closer to
The picture above this Op-Ed essay, a big picture, shows a television
screen with a man's head and shoulders. The face is obscured by one of
those electronic blobs that turns the image into little squares, and the
man's hands are clawing at the blob, pulling its edges askew. Beneath
his image is a caption band: "J" (for our host) and:
Enjoy! And enjoy your holidays, too! --Best, Norm
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
December 21, 1997, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section 4; Page 11; Column 1; Editorial Desk
LENGTH: 1330 words
HEADLINE: Geraldo, Eat Your Avant-Pop Heart Out
BYLINE: By Mark Leyner; Mark Leyner is the author, most recently, of
"The Tetherballs of Bougainville."
DATELINE: HOBOKEN, N.J.
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 promul-gated 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 Schonberg, Mies
van der Rohe. I had all of Schonberg'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 heroes?
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
ALEX reading Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's "Anti-Oedipus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia."
The AUDIENCE oohs and ahs.
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
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
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
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
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 down, sobbing.)
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 liability.
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 Scheck-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
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 metastatic irony.
JENNY JONES (biting lip and shaking her head): That is so sad.
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
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!)."