Random Thoughts on Postmodernism

The reason why much postmodern theatre has such contempt of the audience is that it believes that communication is impossible and truth is relative. It doesn’t like to use ways of framing the narrative that allow the audience to understand the narrative. It doesn’t even like to use narrative. Unfortunately, since framed narrative is how humans understand meaning, theatrical performances that reject frames and narrative appear like meaningless gobbledygook to the audience. They use images and moments that would be laden with meaning if they occurred within a narrative framework, but outside it they’re stripped of their power to communicate anything. It all becomes gibberish.

If postmodernists don’t believe that there is any form of objective truth, then to them it stands to reason that there is no form of objective morality (since statements like “It is wrong to be cruel” have no inherent truth, and therefore it’s not necessary wrong to be cruel at moments). If we can’t be sure about the morality of cruelty, or any other behaviour, then what standard have we to go on to choose our behaviour? If there’s nothing external we can count on, the standard must be internal and subjective – myself. Therefore my own thoughts, feelings, and will become the standard of my behaviour. Therefore again, if I have a desire to do something, there is nothing external to stop me from doing it. If I want to express myself through cruelty, or through wild bursts of emotive sound and movement, I may do so.

Again, if there is nothing objective outside myself which I can consider true, nothing sturdy which I can understand, it follows that even other human beings (since they’re outside of myself) can’t even be understood. We understand truths as communication and through patterns, and through reason. Reason even works through truths that we assume (such as that A = A). If we can’t even trust that a thing is itself, we can’t trust reason or thought at all. Therefore any means of understanding the world falls apart.

We experience other people’s personalities as momentary experiences linked together by a pattern of experiences in our history with that person. That’s how we know when someone is “not acting like himself” – we have a sense of who that person is, what their personality is, so we know when someone is different, is extraordinarily different from that pattern. If we can’t trust patterns, then we can’t experience personality, and therefore we can’t truly know other people. We’re forever sundered, not only from our own environment, but from our fellow human beings.

You can see, then, why many postmodern theatre artists see no need to show respect for their audiences. They can’t even trust that their audiences exist as steady, integrated entities, much less that communication is possible to them. Yet they still feel the need to express themselves, even if it is into a void. If all they feel they can know is themselves, then why try to communicate to anyone else?


Working Summer

I thought I’d do an update post before I continued my series on a Benedictine theatre company.

I’m in what’s called the Long Vac in Oxford parlance – the long vacation during the summer, during which students are expected to do the bulk of the primary reading required for their course. I’m also using the time primarily to write my BA thesis on “C.S. Lewis on the Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist.” I spent three weeks at Wheaton College finishing up my reading (I’ve now read all the published Lewis material, except for book reviews and other minor pieces that haven’t yet been collected into a book – though I did skim through the book reviews the Wade Center at Wheaton had on file, and took a glance at the Lewis Papers).

I then went to northern Virginia and shot two principal roles for an educational video, aimed at teaching bartenders and servers how to deal with unruly customers. (I played a restaurant customer who made inappropriate comments to his waitress, and also a bar patron who’d had a wee too much to drink – seriously playing against type!) It was nice to make some money this summer, instead of just spending it traveling.

I also did ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) for The Fellows Hip. It was my first time doing ADR, and though we did about three scenes worth of dialogue, it took less than an hour, averaging about 4-5 takes per line. I saw a rough cut of the film beforehand, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product.

By the way, you can now pre-order the DVD! It’s only $10 $15 ($14 $19 total with S&H in the U.S.) – AND this DVD comes with extra bonus features for folks that pre-order!

I then drove down to Virginia to attend a friend’s wedding, and then directly afterward drove up for another friend’s wedding in New York City the next day. I then stayed in NYC for a few days to see friends (and my favorite teacher at NYU), and next drove to Vermont to stay for a week at my uncle’s horse farm.

After a week of unloading hay carts, mucking out stalls, and doing various other tasks on the farm, I drove home to Virginia, stopping on the way to visit the Northfield, Mass. campus of the C.S. Lewis College (where I met Jean Mattson, wife of C.S. Lewis Foundation President Stan Mattson, sadly no relation to me) and to stay overnight with one of my NYU friends who is about to begin her last year of med school in New Jersey.

I arrived home last Friday, and attended a party for the 50th wedding anniversary of two of my Sunday school teachers on Saturday. Sunday was early Mass and then 11 a.m. service with my mother at the Presbyterian church where I grew up in the Faith. Today, I had lunch with another one of my Sunday school teachers, a gentle, wise, and holy man whom, along with his wife, my family greatly loves and respects. Afterwards, I went to see Inception, which is a pretty good movie. At the moment, I’m typing this while sitting in the living room with my parents, with the Jack Ryan flick Patriot Games playing on the T.V. (Jack Ryan, by the way, is one of those wonderful examples of how heroic figures can be interesting, much more so than anti-heroes, which seems to be an unbelievable statement to many actors¬† and other story-telling artists. I love when, in Clear and Present Danger, the corrupt CIA Deputy Director Robert Ritter tells Ryan he’s “such a boy scout” – as if that’s an insult – and needs to see the world and its moral choices in shades of grey, not black and white. Ryan retorts, “Not black and white – right and wrong.” Sadly, the voice of Ritter is all too often seen as the more true statement, and even the healthier [!] one. Actually, if we were all “boy scouts” like Jack Ryan, the world would be a much better place.)

This week I’ll be finishing up organizing my notes for my thesis, which I will start writing next week. I will also be visiting Duke August 16-20, which I’m very excited about. I’ll not only be seeing some friends, but also meeting with a couple current ThD students and a Divinity School professor. (Duke’s ThD and St Andrews’ PhD in Theology and the Arts are my top two choices for graduate school.)

Afterward, I’ll be coming back here for another week and prepping for my last year at Oxford, and then heading back to the U.K. the first week of September. My first stop will be the Theology, Aesthetics, and Culture conference at St Andrews, focusing on the works of David Brown. Next, I’ll be attending the Beatification ceremony of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, led by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham on Sept. 19!¬† (Learn more about the papal visit, the first visit to the U.K. by a pope in his capacity as a head of state since Henry VIII, here.) Finally, my goal is to finish my thesis and hand in an edited draft to my supervisor for his comments by the end of September.

So, that’s what’s going on for me this summer. Let me know if you’d like to meet up at any point!