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Whatever happened to the idea of romance in literature? Why is it suddenly (not really suddenly, as this unfortunate change has taken place over the last few decades in a slow, unending procession that tramples out the heart and soul of anything in its path that resists) unfashionable to have romance in "serious," critically-acclaimed literature in any role other than that of something to titter politely at, to sneer and proclaim ironic and dead in a tongue-in-cheek (what the fuck expression is that supposed to be, anyway, when one's tongue is solidly stuck in one's cheek? May we please do away with that idiom and perhaps the use of "decadent" to describe chocolates? Decadent is what describes the people who write the sort of ads for chocolates describing them as decadent, not to mention the very society that produces such people!) sort of way? What the hell is the matter with these literary types that they can't see a the idea of love as anything other than something deserving of mockery?

I've been meaning to write a rant about postmodernism, but couldn't really find the motivation to do so. (Which is probably very postmodern in itself.) Here's your rant: This is postmodernism's doing, whatever the hell postmodernism is. (I'm in a class all about the subject right now, so be assured that they're trying their best to teach me this pastiche that has taken on the label "postmodernism." I don't happen to believe in the thing. I already vastly prefer modernism, with its positive illusions of progress and whatnot.)

Contrary to what these postmodern idiots say, there are things to believe in, or at least things I have a desperate desire to believe in. I started off thinking about romantic gestures, as that's what Joy Williams, the writer whose work we're currently reading in advanced fiction writing, the class I just stomped back from, seems to focus on—the dearth of meaning in romantic relationships in these oh-so-postmodern times, the emptiness of these supposedly liberated people's lives, &c—though the rest of the class doesn't seem to get that sweeping message so clearly as I did. To me, the sorry condition her characters are in shows the fallacy of all they believe in—these people who so believe they have free will will simply have none of it—instead, they plow themselves under in ways that generations before them couldn't even have dreamed of, drowning in their sex and alcohol and lack of self-control, possessing little, if any, self-knowledge. Such malaise. Ugh. These are the people I share this vaunted university with...these are the ones I'm forced to shield my eyes from seeing, lest I be blinded by my rage at their falseness.

At least in Williams' work, they seem to get their own. The formerly lusty ones try to feed Drano-laced hamburger meat to their dog in a vain attempt at expressing their discontent at existence, going unconscious just in time to forget their son's 6th birthday and ignore his mental deficiencies. Their lives come out in the horribly disquieting way that they well should, given the dead air serving as a placeholder for brains and morality. They spend idle time among strangers, never content with these oddly amoral "interesting" folk they bide their time among—they have choice, all right, and they waste it!—and then they wonder why their lives are so full of clamor, ill will, and discontent.

(Bah!—the "Select All" option for the context menu in this Firebird text box here only appears after you select some of the text...what an annoying feature!)

These characters will have none of gestures like grabbing your woman and pulling her away from the drunken party to the balcony to gaze at the stars, singing to her, standing under her window, throwing small rocks at it to get her to come out and stand in the moonlight—why, these days, gestures like that are more likely to get you arrested than win the women over, and you're not likely to find them seriously depicted in anything other than cheap paperback romance novels and "genre" fiction. You know why you find them in genre fiction, though? That's a place where extremes (apparently love is seen as an extreme now, à la the proles of Huxley's imagining) are tolerated and nurtured! I maintain, however, that there is a place for these gestures in the mainstream. Why must romance, spectacle, and even love die—or at very least be shifted to the edges of our consciousness—at the hands of academics and nihilists who proclaim our existence utterly meaningless in the first place? Let them have their lack of meaning, but give us a place for our romance and sincerity—yea, meaning!—to exist!

I have a deep ability to be disillusioned, which in and of itself is probably symptomatic of my living in these here postmodern (post-postmodern, as Professor Bourg would have it) times—but the current conditions are disillusioning! It's a horrible condition we've inherited where we're unable to sincerely believe in something without someone mocking us, jeering, "You don't actually believe in that, do you?"

Now, when I say romance, I don't mean cheesy, over-the-top sentiment. I mean feeling, real emotions expressed. "But isn't that the same thing?" you might ask. No, no, it's really not. There is a big difference between mere sentiment, manufactured to fit the moment (think Hallmark cards) and emotion. A lot of people think they're being emotional, giving themselves the label "temperamental" or something else melodramatic and thinking that's the same as truly being temperamental—but they're not real! As Ayn Rand would note, these people don't exist in any meaningful sense when their every sentiment can be overwritten so quickly, their ever-so-shallow emotions melting into evanescent puddles around them. I portray it prettily, but it's not very pretty at all. These people lead ugly lives, full of discontent and divorce, because of the poverty of what they can imagine. They don't imagine themselves finding anything lasting, so they don't. Now, I may be straying a bit into positivism here, into my R. Bach–esque belief that anything held in mind will appear in some form before me eventually—but who's to say it doesn't work?

Surely I could write volumes about this—people have—but I shan't. I simply miss what some call innocence, the way people of a few generations back could believe in things, holding some things sacred even as they grew discontent with their lives. There's something to be said, a lot to be said, really, for taking love and romance seriously and seeing them as an integral part of everyday life, for not sneering at ideas and philosophies that someone fervently believes in. Who are we to say that such things are outmoded? Quiet talks, reading, walking through beautiful places, finding beautiful places within those that aren't so beautiful, actually bothering to look at the sky we hurry under, contemplating our fate and thinking about other people when they aren't in our direct line of vision...there is room in the world for such things, regardless of whether the academics agree. There's room for peace of mind, however falsely derived, room for confidence and faith in things and people and, I daresay, room for God.

Life's too short to pay attention to these academics, ad-men, campaigners, and CEOs who wish to strip everything of value from our lives. Perhaps it's a sign of insanity or, at the very least, extremism to believe that the majority of people aren't looking out for one's best interests, but I really don't think those people have my best interests in mind. I'll take the ones I can count on, thanks.

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"Why live life from dream to dream...and dread the day when dreaming ends?"
Moulin Rouge

3:15 pm, January 26, 2004 :: the jablog years

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