Uncertainty and doubt has always been part of intellectual and cultural life--including that exceptionally large doubt as to whether anything is knowable (an issue that seems as old as philosophical speculation itself). Equally, intellectual and artistic expression has always entailed risk. There was always a premium on pleasing everybody, and offending nobody (or at least, nobody who counts).
The difference between our own, postmodernist-influenced era and earlier periods is that a significant portion of opinion elevates incoherence to a virtue, with the result that muddled pseudo-engagement is often taken as something bold and worthwhile, while the muddle itself is taken for aesthetic sophistication.
How did we get here? Certainly part of the explanation is the inescapable irony of the postmodernist outlook, which very easily turns intellectual life into a parlor game. (Indeed, "playful" is a word that comes up very frequently in postmodernist discourse.) Surface is about all we can get at, so that text is assumed to be about nothing but itself, a premise that can reduce politics to hollow theater, culture to a play of symbols.
This makes it especially easy to fall into the frame of mind that we can't know anything, and can't do anything about it--and therefore bear no responsibility. (Philosophers do not change the world; they don't even interpret it anymore.) This being the case, why fuss over ideas? Especially when we can't be sure what the truth is, and thinking that we do is arrogance, pure and simple? (History, in the old sense, is over.) Besides, aren't we always being told that ideas just get in the way of art? ("If you want to send a message, use Western Union.")
But all the same, it's almost impossible to totally escape ideas, to totally escape making reference to the world. At least touching on them sometimes is something writers can't help. And one supposes that touching on them that way can make the parlor game more interesting. It gets attention. People may even call you daring and clever for doing it. (And all that can be profitable, of course. No one's so postmodernist they don't appreciate dollars and pounds, euros and yen, "skepticism" about the existence and value of these interestingly lacking on the part of even the most committed postmodernist.)
And it's possible to play it safe. Just don't take a side. Just evoke it, while studiously not taking a position--not least by turning your "text" into a game with the audience. Or if you do wind up taking a discernible position, so that it is possible to spot the personal "truth" from inside of the bodyguard of what the plainspoken might call lies surrounding it (sometimes writers just can't help it), play it ironically, so that you have that avenue of retreat. If anyone thinks you did say something, you can always say that they're not reading you correctly, that you were being ironic, that you meant to say the opposite, or perhaps to say nothing at all about anything but THE TEXT!
Play it even safer: say you were being ironic even when the whole thing was an impenetrable muddle.
Are you telling the truth when you do that? Well, what's truth? What's honesty? What's the self? What's memory? You're unsure yourself; your reader will be more so.
Ah, there's that postmodern doubt again, just when we needed it.
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