Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's Postmodernism got to do with it?

The canon for male/female relationships used to be very small. Men would bring home the bacon and women would cook it. Women would have the baby, nurture the baby, and breastfeed the baby, and men would have little to do with the baby at all, and might perhaps discipline an older child in between performing manly household chores like mowing the lawn and fixing stuff. Those days are over. If marriage, black marriages in particular, are to survive as an institution then our ideas about marriage need to change to reflect present social conditions.

At no time in history have gender roles been so uncertain. Modern life is one of shifting needs and complexities. Nuance and ambiguity are the order of the day, and contradictions run rampant, particularly in our relationships. For instance, where is the line between chauvinism and gentlemanliness? Between a woman who knows what she wants and a bitch? Doesn’t that line shift from person to person? And as a person observing these behaviors, should we withhold judgment concerning where another person falls as regards either side of that line? Any attempt to make a principled reasoning of these expectations and anxieties about respective gender roles may leave your head spinning.

This paradigm shift has a lot of people questioning the usefulness of marriage and serious relationships. It has a lot of people wondering: is marriage an outdated institution? The only thing that's certain is we are all going through this state of flux together. It is just as confusing to her as it is to him, and just as confusing to him as it is to her. None of us really know what to do.

Enter: Postmodernism.

Postmodernism is an aesthetic, literary, political or social philosophy, which was the basis of the attempt to describe a condition, or a state of being, or something concerned with changes to institutions and conditions; a style and concept in the arts characterized by distrust of theories and ideologies…; refers to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, interconnectedness or interreferentiality…

Where our social fabric has been torn to shreds and stitched back together into a seemingly disjointed patchwork quilt, with no rhyme nor reason, embracing the postmodern aesthetic and applying it to our relationships offer a glimmer of hope.

Instead of holding tight to old paradigms we need to be distrustful of them. If we find them creeping into relationships they should be shunned immediately because not only are they not useful, they are detrimental. Old ideas about what constitutes a man and what constitutes a woman will reek havoc on a relationship. Any notion of manhood or womanhood is a vestige of an earlier time and serve no place in today’s family structure unless they have been narrowly tailored to the complexities of you and your mate’s own diverse situation. Don’t let a fantasy destroy your reality.

Interreferentiality is another means of rebuilding foundations between men and women. How do you and your mate see the world? Do you find the same things funny or ironic? Deep and Profound? Or, maybe not so much. Regardless, recontextualizing the images and symbols we are bombarded with everyday and taking something very commodified and impersonal, and making it a secret joke and or language between mates can be a way to bond and further cement commonalities. In as much as the world and social mores send conflicting messages to all of us, survival as a couple can depend on you and your mates ability to collectively make sense of our rapidly changing world in a way that reconciles confusion and leads to harmony and agreement, if not, enlightened, and respectful, disagreement.

Interconnectedness goes without saying. This aspect of postmodernism has probably always been important for truly happy relationships. However, in this era of "no fault" divorces, where marital splits are the norm, interconnectedness takes on a new level of importance; and true interconnectedness embraces elements of postmodernism such as respect for each others complexities, contradictions, and ambiguities. First and foremost, we are people, not chains of logic. Understanding that your mate will change, will be inconsistent from time to time, and will say they are fine when they are not, and will be in a funk yet appear happy, is just a fact of life. Understanding the same is true about yourself from day to day is necessary in achieving the sort of interconnectedness that can result in long happy relationships.

There is no manual to modern love. But we do not necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, either. To attain an artful relationship why not look to artists? Particularly, the artists who have answered the question: how to make sense of a changing, rapidly evolving world, and in the process, make something beautiful.

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