A closed mouth gathers no feet

Postmodernism is often referenced pejoratively by Modernist thinkers when arguing against something in the cultural change that they don’t like. But this is a slippery animal not easily understood, and once in awhile, a writer or speaker will stick his foot in his mouth while bitch-slapping it. Case in point: Garrison Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion fame.

In an interview with Steve Courtney of the Hartford Courant, Keillor moaned about what he sees as a growing inability to communicate basic concepts. “American language,” he said, “has been so riddled with postmodernism and irony that it is very difficult for people to gracefully express the fundamental loyalties and affections except in poetry.”

Now that may be true, but Postmodernism isn’t a scapegoat; it’s a culture change, and one wherein Mr. Keillor finds more comfort than he realizes. Later in the interview, he speaks of a book he’s read recently.

A recent nonfiction book that springs to his mind is “102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers” (Holt, $26) the detailed account by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn of what happened inside the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It’s just one of those great books of reporting, and you read it almost at one sitting with your hair on end. It tells you something about 9/11 that you may not have known before, and it does it by marshaling facts. There have been 50 different preachy books and 10,000 op-ed pieces, but this is one that really takes you back to that beautiful morning in New York . . . When you open the book and there are people heading for the tower at 8:30 in the morning, going up to Windows on the World for their conference, you really choke up.”

Why does he like this book so much and reject the “preachy” and the “op-ed pieces?” Because he is demonstrating one of the cornerstones of our Postmodern culture — that the experiences of our own and others are more to be trusted than those of anybody from a hierarchical position of expertise (the preachy, the op-eds).

We’re all a part of this great change. Some of us cling to our logic and reason more than others, but that doesn’t alter the reality of our current state. And rather than slinging mud at this new era, we ought instead to be understanding it. Because, in so doing, we’ll better understand ourselves.

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