On Postermodernism (Or Chaos Part One)

It is a misconception to think of postmodernism as a cohesive movement or umbrella under which some arrayed vector field points generally towards a common direction, a vision or goal or set of principles: literary, moral, thematic or what-have-you like the many preceding literary movements that whether because of the separation of time and other movements in between seem to have definable, finite, focused convergence toward a common worldview amongst its artists (ie romanticism, Victorianism, modernism). Or perhaps it’s more like we take a common set of basis representative works for a particular era and assume this finite set spans the entire space of the movement such that the pertinent knowledge is effectively filtered into said major representative works. This is indeed how knowledge works sometimes.

Of course, it’s often reductive to apply broad labels spanning connected places and times simply because our brains are hard-wired for this kind of linear-temporal ordered narrative of history. In any case, as certain technologies advanced writing and as literacy spread over time and as different groups of people gained the freedom, through loosening oppression, to explore their history/culture and hone their voice and craft (that there are far fewer famous women novelists in literature is not in any way a function of a gap in ability, and is wholly due to the fact that women had no way of disseminating their viewpoints in their appointed role as housewives and mothers throughout much of history, a role forced upon them so that men could go off on power trips both constructing and destructing civilizations with equal fervor and aplomb because of superior physical strength lingering from biological evolution but rendered null with the awakening of the conscious being and consequent branching of the evolution of the mind that separates humankind from all predecessors), literature as a whole branched more and more to accommodate the vastly disparate perspectives that define humanity’s existence.

I cannot overstate the significance of this progression towards shared perspective and experience, of the spread of knowledge in all its infinite forms, where individual, independent views and stories exist as separate entities through which a discerning mind can begin to synthesize knowledge and find universal themes and meaning while remaining cognizant that every mind is unique.

This brings me (by commodius vicus of recirculation…) back to postmodernism. Postmodernism should first be taken literally: the era of literature beginning with the Cold War that immediately followed modernism. Easy enough, and relative closeness of time of publication is really the only true invariant trait of postmodernism. At first, it was a reactionary movement, but the nature of the reaction created divergence rather than convergence. Postmodernism is primarily a leap of faith into exploration and experimentation and idiosyncrasy that represented the broader shifts in thought brought upon humans with the exponential growth of technology, science, and society, but also of course by the infinite void of wars and world-destroying weapons.

Regarding literature, the events of the first half of the 20th century catalyzed a denouncement of more classic structure, form, and language, but what emerged is much more aligned with how the universe actually works: ordered chaos. I have a fairly specific meaning when I invoke chaos: in a broad sense the philosophical implications of the discovery (and subsequent ubiquitous supporting evidence) that, even if we ignore random processes which certainly exist, many deterministic systems actually functioning in reality, besides often being dependent on unaccountably innumerable variables (but at least we can model these and even probabilistically so), abide by chaotic dynamics. The bane of the weathervane is just this: even if we can take a slice of time and call it time zero and measure every significant variable affecting climate with an aim toward prediction, chaos by it’s very definition stops us dead in our tracks eclipsing any hope of predictive value beyond local time scales (days, sometimes hours). This is one of the beautiful and damning secrets of the universe, the ultimate pro/con: chaotic systems are deterministic such that we can uncover their underlying structure and properties globally and even assign values to variables at time zero, but to attain the complexity necessary for a universe to evolve, these systems have to be otherwise unconstrained and specifically, among other things, they have the property that arbitrarily small perturbations (limit at infinity nonzero) in the initial values of aforementioned variables change the evolution of the system unpredictably and over the long run this often means vastly diverging results.

In other words, nature can define a system that will dynamically evolve over time, and it can set the initial values itself, but it won’t necessarily know the results with these values, hence the whole idea of experimentation. For us, because of inherent measurement error, even when minimized to seemingly negligible scales (but never zero), every single initial value will be off by some non-zero factor and any single error in a single variable renders prediction futile. We want to know properties that are invariant over all possible results. We will continue to explore self-similarity/scale invariance as core concepts leading to a comprehensive universal worldview throughout this blog. Human beings matter, each one no more or less than any others. Life matters. Everything matters.

-BB

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