I have some friends, Trevor and Kristina Eikenbary. The only thing that I don’t like about them is the fact that they are San Fransisco Giants fans. I am a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, so naturally we are supposed to hate each other.
One day the three of us were on our way to a Dodgers, Giants game in San Fransisco (which the Dodgers won 4-3) and we were having a discussion about life, love and other great mysteries. It was then that I realized that Trevor was fairly intelligent and that Kristina was one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. Mostly I judge this by her using words that I didn’t know the definitions of. Unlike when I try and use large words, she used these in sentences that actually made sense.
One phrase that she used that intrigued me was “metanarrative,” I was completely fascinated by this. I’ve asked her to write a guest blog to try and define this for me (and you), you better get out your dictionaries. It’s wicked smart –
Just a note:
I normally blog about food. I really do enjoy it. Not that I don’t have my fair amount of opinions that I would like to proliferate throughout the world. In fact, that’s probably why it’s a good idea that I blog about food. However, when Jeremy asked me to write a bit about one of our past conversations, I couldn’t help myself. For what it’s worth, here’s a thought:
A pretty girl sits sipping her pretty pink foo-foo cosmo, chatting it up with her friends. Someone catches her eye and winks…
And you’ve already sized up the situation. Although he could have been an old friend or just had something in his eye, our reasoning process has told us that there was something a bit more. Why? The light turns green and we go. Sex has equaled everything from procreation, to love, to recreation. We live in a world dripping with signs and symbols—interpretation being anything but a luxury.
Fortunately, our brain is set up to do this automatically. Every sense we have is neurologically set to identify a referent. But how do we decide what the referent really is when all we see, hear, taste, or smell is the symbol?
We live in a postmodern culture, or so I’m told. Stop someone on the street and ask them what that means and I’ll bet you 20 bucks they don’t have an answer (at least good one)—make that 40. Heck, without Lyotard,* I don’t know that anyone would. While Jean-Francois Lyotard may not have been the father of the postmodern revolution, he was certainly one of its the best observers. He most notably defined postmodernism as “incredulity towards metanarratives.” Ah, so here is where we get back to signs and symbols. In order to interpret on a more comprehensive level, we usually work within some sort of system that allows us to legitimize our interpretation of signs. This metanarrative, or grid work, or lens through which we see life is exactly what postmodernity would ask us to call into question.
That said, I wonder how postmodern we really are. Surrounded by a sea of people who are either blissfully unaware of their spoon-fed dogma or scathingly cynical in their nihilism, it seems that we’ve missed the point. We’ve lost that wonderful little part of us that as children so frequently asks “why?” Our framework has become the bars to our prison rather than the bars on the jungle gym. We may have torn down some of the more notorious and totalitarian forms of thinking, but in avoidance of reconstructing something similar, we have instead exalted the self. You are the new form of legitimization. You know you’ve heard it: “it’s true for you,” and “only you can set yourself free.” You know you’ve been caught going through the self-help section at Barns and Nobles. So here we have it: the metanarrative of the individual being the ultimate validation of truth. We didn’t like the truth “they” gave us, so we took things into our own hands. I only ask what the cost is. A gilded cage is still a cage, even if it’s of our own construct.
So what now? Can we question without destruction? Can we hold loosely without falling? It certainly appears that all of our constructs to find truth and reality are power-driven exercises in futility. Yet we still crave it, desiring meaning and order in the chaos that life often appears to be. But maybe there’s something that we haven’t taken into account. Maybe truth doesn’t need to be constructed and defended as if it were some fortress to hide behind. Everything that seems to transcend time and culture, the genuinely sublime, seems to do so without any of our help. Perhaps we must stop trying to break into the realm of Truth and instead, Truth, as elusive as it is, must instead break into our realm, finding us; defending us. In an age where everything seems possible and productivity is god, humility and patience may be our best weapons in our search to be found.
*The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Jean-Francois Lyotard…check it out
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