The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.
Toni Morrison, Nobel lecture, 1993
Interviewer: What does post-modern mean in literature?
DFW: Ah, no no no…after modernism. ::grins:: It’s a very useful catch all term because you say it and we all nod soberly as if we know what we’re talking about when in fact we don’t. There are certain…when I mean post-modern, I’m talking about maybe the black humorists who came along in the 1960s, the post-Nabokovians. I’m talking about Pynchon, and Barthelme, and Barth. DeLillo in the early 70s. Coover, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot. Um, let me see…
Interviewer: But that’s the camp you put yourself in?
DFW: That’s the camp that interested me when I was a student. The problem is I think post-modernism has to a large extent run its course. The biggest thing for me that was interesting about post-modernism is that it was the first text that was highly self-conscious. Self-conscious of itself as text, self-conscious of the writer as persona, self-conscious about the effects that narrative had on readers, and the fact that the readers probably knew that. It was the first generation of writers who’d actually read a lot of criticism, and there was a certain schizophrenia about it. // It was very useful it seems to me because the culture…this was a real beaker of acid in the face of the culture. The culture at the time this came out–this was before the youth rebellion in the 60s–was very staid and very conservative. The problem though is now that a lot of the schticks of post-modernism–irony, cynicism, irreverence–are now part of whatever it is that’s enervating the culture itself.
I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful
Words are so cheap
But they can turn out expensive
Words like conviction can turn into a sentence