Postmodernism As Liberty Valance


(1) Spoiler alert. John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is an allegorical western that I am now going to totally pretzel into an allegory for something else entirely. Actually, I’ll reverse it: The original allegorizes the taming of the western frontier, the coming of modernity in the form of the law book and the locomotive, and memorializes what was lost (a loss the film sees as inevitable). My version allegorizes the holding at bay, for the special province of literary fiction, of contemporary experience in all its dismaying or exhilarating particulars, as well as a weird, persistent denial of a terrific number of artistic strategies for illuminating that experience. The avoidance, that’s to say, of any forthright address of what’s called postmodernity, and what’s lost in avoiding it (a sacrifice I see as at best pointless, an empty rehearsal of anxieties, and at worst hugely detrimental to fiction).

more from Jonathan Lethem at The Believer here.