February 06, 2004

Finding myself in the postmodern narrative

grid book blog :: A Primer on Postmodernism

Who am I, Dr. Grenz? You couldn't have know that I was a Trekker, but your choice of frames for the introductory discussion of modernism and postmodernism seemed meant specifically for me. I grew up riding the waves caused by the death throes of modernism, racing home from school every day to catch reruns of Star Trek on television, and I was one of the millions of fans who watched the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation the night it originally aired. I spent my dreaming hours placing myself into those stories, and the combined imaginations of Gene Roddenbery and myself were the "warp drive" of the next fifteen years of my life.

And yet, there was this still, small voice somewhere inside/outside me, gently trying to tell me that I wasn't one of them. "You're not Kirk, not Picard, not any of them." "Then who am I?" is the question I was too afraid to ask--afraid that I'd hate the answer, afraid that on a soul-level I didn't have the "right stuff" to live on either edge. Only recently have I even allowed myself to consider the question, and then only from a distance, remotely. Until today...when you (yes, you, Dr. Grenz), tricked me into looking into the mirror of the postmodern narrative with my eyes crossed just right. And there I was.

The moment came when you characterized the modern scientist as one who "considers it aziomatic that the discovery of knowledge is always good" (4). At that moment I had an experience that I share with so may of my fellow cultural wave-riders--the unbidden appearance in my consciousness of a quote from a film that touches on what we've just seen or heard. The voice I heard wasn't that of a Star Trek character (though I've seen enough episodes and films to have a quote available for almost any situation). No, this time it was the voice of Jeff Goldblum, playing Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park:
What's so great about discovery? It is a violent, penetrative act that scars what it exlpores. What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world.
With those words echoing through my head, I suddenly realized that the characters of Dr. Malcolm and his foil Hammond in Jurassic Park are, from a certain perspective, symbolic of the contrary worldviews of postmodernism and modernism, just as the two Treks are.

And before I could stop myself, I realized that I can't really identify with either one of them. Though I'm a child of the modern age, I seem to have an inherant understanding of the weaknesses of the modernist point of view. I couldn't make Jurassic Park; my morality and sense of community wouldn't allow me to. But so much of my understanding of existance is built on foundations that cannot hold without the rules of Enlightenment rationalism. I can appreciate chaos theory, Dr. Malcolm, but I can't build my life on it.

And then, relief...because there I was. There in the character of Dr. Grant, the protagonist in Jurassic Park, just trying to survive in a world I understand on one level, but am completely unprepared to face on another. Constantly amazed at, but rarely surprised by what I experience...gathering together other survivors for a journey we make not because we choose to, but because we have to...learning to be comfortable without a map or GPS or SUV to travel in...interested in the clash of worldviews that put him where he is, but too busy listening to the sounds, seeing the sights, and smelling the smells of the emerging world to debate them very effectively.

And you know what, Dr. Grenz? I feel okay about that. Because we're all pretty much going "where no one has gone before," aren't we?

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