With derivatives, we seem to enter a modernist world in which risk no longer means what it means in plain English, and in which there is a profound break between the language of finance and that of common sense...If the invention of derivatives was the financial world's modernist dawn, the current crisis is unsettlingly like the birth of postmodernism.
The recent crash is entirely self-referential, reminding us that most of the money we've been earning and spending over the past fifteen years has been imaginary. The consequences of the crash, of course, are horribly real.
This phenomenon, coupled with the death of David Wallace, got me thinking that maybe this whole idea is dead. Perhaps we have had quite enough of pretending. And reading Smith's review doesn't do much to change my mind. For one thing, I think that her argument is based upon a false dichotomy. "The two novels are antipodal," she writes, "indeed one is the strong refusal of the other." And yes, these books appear very different. But they are not responses to one another, and they are not opposites. They're two very different personal reactions to a cultural moment, and there is room in the world for both of them, along with the thousands of other books that have been written about that same moment. There are not two paths for the novel. The paths for the novel are infinite.
I don't mean to take Smith to task; in fact, her review is superb, when it hews to the works themselves, their strengths and failings. What I am suggesting is dead (not, I assure you, declaring) is the notion of postmodernism as a discrete area of artistic endeavor. I'm suggesting that maybe it's time to stop betting the house on postmodernism, and admit to ourselves once and for all that it is merely a quality inherent to narrative--indeed, to artistic expression. Hamlet is about writing, Bach's Inventions are about music. And painting has always been about painting. What's perhaps over is not self-referentiality, but our torrid affair with self-regard. Maybe our cultural preoccupation with cultural preoccupation is what made us consider it reasonable to invest all our money in the idea of investing our money. The distinction is semantic, but I think important.
The ideas that make Remainder a great book are real. They are part of how we see ourselves, rather than abstract concepts about seeing. I'm not proposing that Remainder is postmodern, and thus Remainder is dead; I'm proposing that Remainder is realism, and the real encompasses the imaginary, and not the other way around.