Yesterday I had my last CivArts and Dr. Munson talked about modernism and postmodernism, all crushed into one little class period. I love modernism, and I am not entirely sure why. I think it is because of the earnestness of self-critique and the push for excellence and the wholehearted love of a worthwhile thing. Nowadays we are rarely interested and earnest and willing, or, if we are, we try not to admit to it too much. No one would want to be our friend.
Of course what happens to modernism is that it is determined to find art only in introspective progress and is sometimes rather obsessed with obscurity. It digs and digs in the darkest recesses looking for new beauties, usually while hiding its eyes from revealed truth. It crouches and shrivels away from the light, until it collapses into a little dung-heap of postmodernism and self-referential irony.
To watch this happen over the course of an hour and half has made me so sad. It’s the terrible history of a people governed by fear.
I know fear. I am afraid. Throughout college I have become a much slower writer because of fear. I am afraid that I will say the wrong thing, that I will not say it well enough, and most of all, I am afraid that the things I write have no real meaning, that my words are just cheap, hollow ornaments which will shatter when dropped, to then be swept up, thrown away, and forgotten.
So, in my small grey puddle of fear, I sympathize with the modernists in their avant-garde tunnel vision. If it’s new, there’s a better chance of something worthwhile being accidentally dredged up in there somewhere, right? At my worst, I must even acknowledge a kinship with the deconstructionists. Some mornings, before I get up, I lie there, deeply afraid that there is nothing worth saying at all.
But I keep writing. I wrote papers this semester, kept up with my blog, edited two magazines, and drafted a novel. Why do I do that? Why do I spend hours of my life crouched on my desk chair, staring at a blinking cursor, hugging my knees, accidentally holding my breath while waiting for a word?
I do it because fear is mortal. I do it because fear pronounces my efforts dead and futile, but John Donne told me that death shall die. I do it because there are bloody hands stretched upon a cross, mighty and willing to save Prufrock from drowning. I do it because death has burst out of the grave and invited me to put my hand in his open side. I do it because a very long time ago, men followed a star in the eastern sky, where the sun rises, and found God incarnate. I do it because the Child who lies in the manger in Bethlehem is eternally stronger than the marked monstrosity which slouches towards it.
“For unto us a Child is born, / Unto us a Son is given.”