For awhile I have been a bit disillusioned by the problem posed by Postmodernism. Postmodernism is “The Death of the Author,” according to Roland Barthes and many other intellectuals. It is the disregard for the thoughts, politics, events, cultures, and ideas of the past that brings us the documents and artistic works we regard today, and their replacement by the current interpretations of the texts and works themselves. Thus the only importance that is imbued upon the past is what can be reasoned out of the work itself, using tools like Deconstructionism. No matter what tools or interpretations are used, every body of knowledge heretofore reasoned through and discovered falls under the ever-reaching shadow of relativism.
One Historian fights back using Postmodernism’s own tools. William Cronon, a graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, and Yale, and current professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote an enlightening article that brings all historians to the dark precipice, and carefully directs them along the edge back to safer grounds. In Nature, History, and Narrative, Cronon uses four examples of ecological history, specifically the famine of the Great Plains, and shows how each historian takes the unarguable facts and events and shapes them into separate, unique narratives. Each narrative couches the Great Plains with a different beginning, middle, and end to the story. They all are accurate, and yet their accounts present sometimes conflicting views. Thus, even the craft of History falls fully into subjectivity.
But Cronon sees this not as the last stand against Postmodernism. Instead, he reminds us that narrative and the storytelling tradition of human beings has existed since we first developed self-awareness. This need to tell stories is so vital to our understanding and progression that it takes precedence over mere chronology of fact, since stories are how we tease out meaning from the events and circumstances around us. Are those meanings subjective? Of course they are, but in each new narrative a new meaning casts more light on the same events, bringing us more and more useful knowledge. It is up to us to construct a meaningful story out of “facts”, and where we choose to begin and eventually end a story elicits meaning that is most important to us.
There is no greater answer to a problem that foretells a catastrophic end to knowledge as we have known it. Instead of avoiding postmodernism, we embrace it. Instead of avoiding subjectivity, we revere it.
An interesting blog from which I borrowed this great photo is called the slanted penguin. The author deals with current, philosophical questions much like myself! check it out!