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...over-educated and under-experienced, or so they say...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Explaining The Postmodern

The poem is entrenched in metaphor and symbol. Think about how a light shines in your eyes so badly you can’t look up at it. Light is supposed to help a person see clearly, it literally “sheds light” on something that was otherwise hidden in the darkness. But still, if we look directly at it we’re blinded by it. In this situation, the only thing the speaker can do is look away from it, or down.

The first thing the speaker realizes, when trying to shade the eyes from the light in an attempt to see what lies beyond it, is a force that prevents the hand from doing so – the cable attached to a brace on the wrist. At that point, the speaker realizes all limbs are bound by something unseen, controlling and limiting her ability to move. Once she realizes that, she sees herself strapped in a chair on top of a cracked concrete slab.

The picture should leave the reader with a sense of being interrogated – the chair, the bondage, the blinding light in the eyes and the force in the shadows controlling it all.

Now think about the symbol of the chair and the concrete. The chair is wooden, the thought being that a wooden chair is made by hand, by a carpenter, and therefore “man made.” The fact that the chair is “weathered” indicates that it’s been there for quite some time. The fact that the speaker is strapped to it, belted in, and “woke up” in it could also indicate that she’s been sitting in it for an equal amount of time without knowing it. And what does the “concrete slab” represent? A foundation, something solid. Houses are built on concrete slabs. Freeways and bridges are often made of concrete. It is a support for our lives but it’s a “man made” support, a “man made” foundation. Concrete by definition is “an artificial, stone like material used for various structural purposes,” but it can also be applied to concepts and theories (also “man made”) as in a concrete idea, a firm notion, etc. But if the concrete is cracked it must not be that solid, right? Something that is cracked is flawed and defective.

So what does all this mean? We have a speaker who has woken up to find herself strapped to a weathered wooden chair atop a cracked foundation with her arms and legs bound by some sort of cables extending out to an unknown source of control? And the only thing the light allows her to see is that fact that she’s bound up against her will. So a voice plays, Defiance and Defiance and Defiance. She may not know how she got there or who or what is behind it all and controlling it all, but she has no intention of staying there. So she slowly and successfully unbuckles herself from the chair, fearing nothing but whatever jerks her limbs from the cables. But the moment she takes a step or two, perhaps her attempt to get past the light and see who’s manning the cables beyond the shadows, that concrete slab, her foundation, falls apart and she falls down with it. And all she can see is the light getting farther and farther away and that the cables are still attached to her. Until she finally reaches the extent of the slack in the cables, causing her body to buckle and bend (like a fallen puppet). And as she dangles, there is just enough light left for her to see that there is “ground,” not cracked concrete, not “man made,” but something real, something true and solid. The problem is, she can’t get to it. It’s the so close and yet so far idea. And why can’t she get to it? Because of the cables. Because of the unknown force that’s holding the strings.

So, again, what does all of this mean? It’s basically my commentary on what I perceive to be the human condition, if you will. I wrote this after spending a few years studying theories like Postmodernism, Feminism, Marxism, Fascism, Capitalism, Liberalism, Humanism, Monotheism, Polytheism, Agnosticism, Atheism, and any other ism that comes out of the human intellect and is then forced upon us at the University.

Postmodernism was my favorite theory to study because it was a never ending puzzle and no two postmodern theorists ever said the same thing, nor am I even sure they truly understand what it is they’re trying to say. The theory sort of falls in on itself regularly, which, in some strange way, is part of the point. But the easiest and most common idea to explain from the theory is that it states there is no absolute truth. Everything depends on one’s own perspective – what I perceive to be right you can perceive to be wrong but somehow we’re both correct in our perceptions because there is no truth, there is no right or wrong. My truth is my truth, your truth is your truth, and that’s as good as it gets. There is no such thing as a lie because, well, there’s no truth to prove the lie wrong.

My problem with this theory is that it holds no practical application to life. It’s fine in the University where all we do is sit around and read books and use language to suit our purpose as academics, but when it comes down to the victim of a crime, when it comes down to the person that has to get to work on time because they’ll get fired tomorrow if they don’t, when it comes down to the person who experiences a great injustice in their everyday life it simply doesn’t work. For example: her truth was that he broke into her house, raped her and murdered her daughter, but his truth was that he grew up beaten and abused his whole life and he didn’t know any better and so he didn’t really commit a crime in his mind. By her standards he committed a crime, by his standards it was normal behavior. You see? Doesn’t work too well. So, for my purposes in this poem, the “cracked concrete slab” and the “abyss” she falls into is Postmodern thought.

The cables represent all other schools of “man made” thought – basically all of the isms I listed above. These are the thoughts that control all of our lives, even if we’re not aware of them. The best example of their daily presence in our lives that I can think of right now is “political correctness.” They are all “thoughts” born out of bad human behavior. Capitalism -- born out of government oppression. Feminism – born out of patriarchal oppression. Marxism – born out of socio-economic oppression. And so on and so forth. “Man made” thought processes put into motion to correct a past mistake but all bearing flaws of their own. The trouble is, they are so dominant, interwoven into every aspect of our everyday lives, there is no way to shake them and there is really no way to control them. Hence, the braces attached to the wrists and ankles and the cables extending endlessly to some unseen force.

The wooden chair represents old time organized religion. I am a believer in God, a follower of Christ, but I am not a believer in the organization, particularly the Americanized church. Too often it is used as a masquerade, a façade to house and hide bad behavior. Even more often the people inside the church building are the most judgmental and uncaring people to their own kind. Jesus was a teacher and a healer of the broken and the lost, “let him without sin cast the first stone,” and yet the organization somehow breeds a people that stand with stones in their fist. The organization is, more often than not, a social club more than it is a hospital for the broken or a light in the darkness. This is why, once the “ground” is seen there are remnants of broken chair and concrete strewn across it. The ground is reality, a solid truth made by God, Earth, Natural foundation, not something thought up and written in a book. But even so… the speaker is left dangling there because, well… the point of the entire poem is that humans and their self-sustaining systems will never be able to exist without their own organizations. And I can sit here and say what I believe all day long, but I’m just a person in a cubicle and I can’t change “the world,” and so… I’m just dangling.

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