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I Love You Madly

January 8th, 2009

In trying to understand what Postmodernism is, I came across this wonderful quote from Umberto Eco:

“the postmodern attitude is that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her, I love you madly, because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland.”

13 Responses to “I Love You Madly”

  1. Ha ha, yes quite! Reminds me of one of my favourite literary theory books: ‘Desire: Love Stories in Western Culture’ by Catherine Belsey … a good overview of postmodernism in itself.

    Dan /|

  2. So what conclusion did you come to? That postmodernism is when people get so stuck in their heads that they can’t express their feelings? 🙂

  3. Well Murray I think it fosters an attitude that says ‘everything is derivative’. In seeking to express oneself clearly I think one has to let go of the worry or even simple knowledge that somebody might have said it before. If I’m not repeating myself I’m probably repeating somebody else, but I’m still going to pray for the inspiration of Awen!
    A postmodernist couldn’t possibly believe in the concept of Awen!

  4. Wait a minute — there are quite a few of us po-mos who grasp the concept of Awen (“belief” is an ill-defined concept, so I won’t even get into that now). The key to postmodernism is not only self-referentiality, but reflexivity. It seems to me that this quality is essential to self-expression, and is not inimical to the inspiration of Awen.

  5. Oh good Bramble!
    I had a long talk with a creative writer teacher at Sussex Uni who told me that a concept such as Awen couldn’t exist in a po-mo universe. I’m delighted it can!

  6. I suppose it depends on who is defining postmodernism, and how. It seems to me that as a number of scholars have argued (e.g. see Susan Greenwood’s work), the very act of self-consciously reclaiming Druidism and other Pagan religions is part of a post-modern set of sensibilities. Thus Awen is very much a part of the po-mo universe.

  7. The relativism at the heart of postmodern thinking makes it almost impossible to truly define what postmodernism actually is; in defining ‘it’, postmodernism becomes yet another of the shifting mental constructs that make up the postmodern view of life. How can it explain anything if it is merely a construction cut free from objective truth, as it claims all things to be? Is it not an academic construct in itself and therefore (by its own terms) the product of a specific social context (academia)? As such, it is merely one of the many shifting ‘truths’ out there and so to give it a overarching term is contradictory. Postmodernism explains itself out of existence. But then this seems to be the main criticism levelled at it.

    I think relativism can give tremendous freedom from ‘the one true way’ approach. It challenges assumptions about ‘rightness’ and hierarchy; giving us the opportunity to explore other ways to think and be, to open ourselves to paradox and diversity – all very valuable things. In the arts, it has helped to challenge the assumptions and judgements about so called ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. In religion, the move away from monotheism towards polytheistic traditions by many in Western Cultures seems to reflect it too (as I think Bramble suggests). However, ‘meaning’ has been thrown into crisis by this new freedom. We become cut adrift in a world of surfaces and reflections, the only reality our own subjectivity. I am uncomfortable with absolutes but I have to say that the tricky, allusive and shifting nature of a lot of hard core postmodern and poststructuralist writing leaves me yearning for something more rooted.

    We also have to remind ourselves that ‘postmodernism’ is an abstract idea not an absolute ‘truth’ (wow, I am being all postmodern!) and as such has its limitations. There is a danger that in viewing these philosophies as academic movements, we fix them more rigidly on our cultural landscape than we should. Exploring academic ideas is vital and valuable, but I have known many academics guilty of overidentifying themselves with specific approaches (without any sense of irony) to the extent that those ideas become rigidly adherred to as if they were indeed absolute realities (I have known postmodernists guilty of this).

    Aahh, that’s nice! We love you madly too Philip!

  8. I’ve just been studying Chaos magic for ‘The Book of English Magic’ and it is very much a post-modern phenomenon. It feels as if there’s a tremendous validity in accepting the limitations of viewpoints and beliefs, but then if we’re not careful it can shift into yet another limited way of understanding.
    Your analysis is really helpful Maria and I love you all madly too (said with a flick of the head a la Stephen Fry or Zsa Zsa Gabor!)

  9. I’m a post-structuralist po-mo and the concept of Awen is very important to me, and funnily enough the desire metaphor is probably one of the best ways to explain it.

    Our perception of the universe is structured linguistically because language is nothing more than a way of classifying experience. Without it everything would be amorphous and undifferentiated. Without language we cannot make sense of what we perceive.

    Language is not perfect though. Words are artificial and do not align perfectly with our constantly changing perceptions. Western rationalism, however, teaches that this should not be the case, that what we perceive is objective reality, not reliant on the frailties of our structuring process.

    There is a gap between the ideal and the perceived. No word or words are ever good enough to describe our object, our beloved, adequately. We are always required to qualify, our descriptions proliferating down a never-ending chain of signifiers.

    But no matter how hard we try we can never attain ultimate Truth, never achieve unity with the Other. But we must try; the desire is what makes us human, what makes us thinkers and artists and lovers. It is the Awen.

  10. Perhaps if you give the Other a chance to come to you, things can be experienced without words?

  11. It would seem that there is infinite potential that exists outside of the structure of language. Perhaps this resides in us already, is a part of our innate understanding and experience; one not connected to the left brain stuff of organising and conceptualising in an effort to categorise and ‘understand’ our experiences (I really must stopping putting apostrophes around everything). I feel as if there is a place within us that ‘understands’ (aarrghh! Doing it again!) or perceives beyond the limits of language, as Hennie suggests.

    I am often amazed at the massive gap of understanding between the concepts/systems I construct in my head to explain stuff to myself, and my emotions and body. These both seem to have a life and understanding all their own, one that I suspect contains a greater depth of perception. Although I am aware that mind, body and emotions impact on each other – and also the conscious part of me needs language to make sense of this non-verbal information – I also feel aware that there is a large, nonverbal part of me just waiting for my little left brain to catch up.

    I don’t think that our perception of the universe is only structured linguistically – although I think our conscious perception of it undoubtedly is. I am drawn back to Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke experience; at that moment, she seemed to experience a non-verbal perception and ‘truth’ , a kind of completeness and knowing beyond language. That might well be perceived by the left brain as amorphous and undifferentiated as tangiblesanctity writes. It might then be said that it is our left brain function that can never achieve unity with Other; whereas that sense of unity is actually our right brain’s default position. We are so language/left brain dominant in our culture we literally can’t ‘think’ outside it (have completely given up on not using apostrophes -it’s obviously a lost cause!). Perhaps our connection to Awen is about making a channel through to that amorphous place of infinite potential and completeness within us (and outside of us)?

  12. Absolutely Maria. I’m happy to concede that our subconscious perceptions are not perceived linguistically, but come to be so as soon as they become conscious.

    There is indeed an infinite potential that exists outside the structure of language, and to let ourselves experience and communicate that potential, to accept our own limitations, is to work magic.

    Giving ourselves over to the potential without going mad is difficult because it is literally at the edge of understanding. Even so, the edge can be manipulated in such a way as to send ripples through reality.

    I would agree that connecting to Awen is about making a channel through to the place of infinite potential, for it is this Other that reflects the inadequacies of our arbitrary structuring system. It is the glimpse of this potential Truth that drives our desire.

  13. Very beautifully put TangibleSanctity! I have just read Philip’s post about the ‘Institute of Not Knowing’ and smiled at how apt it is with regard to this thread. It’s the door we all need to walk through on a regular basis; those of us who confuse systems with truths will see only buckets and brooms when they enter; those who remain open to the Mystery will never be able to explain the beauty of what they find there! :0)

    Philip, you have always said Lewes was a magical place!

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