Ignoring the Postmodern

I hadn’t expected to find much common ground with Richard Rorty beyond (some of) his literary essays, but am in sympathy with his call for an end to the postmodern, and his argument for an ongoing engagement with modernity:

It’s one of these terms that has been used so much that nobody as the foggiest idea what it means. It means one thing in philosophy, another thing in architecture and nothing in literature. It would be nice to get rid of it. It isn’t exactly an idea; it’s a word that pretends to stand for an idea. Or maybe the idea that one ought to get rid of is that there is any need to get beyond modernity.

Old Chestnuts

I am immensely moved by this Richard Rorty essay written just before his death, with this staggering closing paragraph:

However that may be, I now wish that I had spent somewhat more of my life with verse. This is not because I fear having missed out on truths that are incapable of statement in prose. There are no such truths; there is nothing about death that Swinburne and Landor knew but Epicurus and Heidegger failed to grasp. Rather, it is because I would have lived more fully if I had been able to rattle off more old chestnuts — just as I would have if I had made more close friends. Cultures with richer vocabularies are more fully human — farther removed from the beasts — than those with poorer ones; individual men and women are more fully human when their memories are amply stocked with verses.

Projection

The Everyman’s Library edition of Nabokov’s Pale Fire is introduced by philosopher Richard Rorty:

But Nabokov helps us remember that we can only respect what we can notice, and that it is often very hard for us to notice that other people are suffering. He also reminds us of the main reason why it is so hard: we all spend a lot of time inventing people rather than noticing them, reshaping real people into characters in stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, stories about how beautiful and rare we are.