powerful and life affirming. I seek to find the commonalities and embrace the differences in all of our stories. I, too, long for the day when someone leaps up to draw a big circle around everything, and truly includes us all.
Dave Camp chicken dances in... “Things are more like they are now than they ever were before.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower There’s trouble afoot amongst that cadre of academics, educators, students, and other cultural critics of sorts who rely on the analytical framework of human ecology to investigate the normative and regulatory fictions that underpin, indeed affirm, material practices. The trouble came hunch-squealing out of the bowels of mid-Maine where a god of sharkskin britches and a troublemaker to boot—a jealous god, don’t you know, who suffers no false god before him—emerged from the erebosian buffer between event and discourse to dance the chicken-twist across the pages of three books of poetry, two novels and various and sundry essays, columns, blurbs, and compositions—including his latest, “Human Ecology: The Grandest Narrative?” To say “Bill did it,” then, is an obvious conceit (he’s been blamed for a lot of stuff)! But what exactly has Bill done that’s causing so much trouble? For that we need a history lesson, of sorts. I want to discuss a couple of things more or less together: first, in response to being frequently labeled a postmodernist—a label I admit I’ve occasionally applied to myself and sometimes even take seriously—some old questions raised by the nagging currency of “narratives,” both meta- and grand; second, some aspects that historically situate postmodernism and suggest new possible directions for its use; third, some professional concerns related to the above matters and having to do with nihilism, negation, human ecology, and how to live not as an object of history but as a subject of history.
Despite the freewheeling modernist thinkers who pioneered the synthesis of humanism and natural science, modernism has never been simply an intellectual movement aimed at reuniting thought, value and action. The modern project was predicated on the central premise that knowing autonomous subjects arrived at truth by establishing a direct correspondence between the external objective world and epistemological judgments. To my mind, such a thing is impossible. We simply have no access to something called reality apart from our own linguistic and conceptual constructions. The self-assured realism of modernism, with its accompanying grand narratives and notions of truth, ignores the fact that we have no access to reality apart from the way in which we represent that reality in language and discourse. Of course, another way to say this is that it is only in terms of some worldview that we experience the world. Life is perspectival in character and everyone, I hope, recognizes that access to the world is mediated by our varying perspectives; the way we see the world invariably shapes our epistemological judgments. Worldviews, however, come and go. They are, after all, human constructs, as Bill demonstrates when he offers up human ecology as the new contender for an overarching, guiding and directing vision of life that allows for the encountering of the wholeness of the world. Worldviews are nothing more than received cultural assumptions about the way the world is supposed to work—ideological constructs perceived as natural facts. Or are they? Not only are worldviews human constructs; they are more particularly social constructs. Inevitably, this means that they are always someone’s or some group’s construction of the way the world is supposed to work. And once we grant the epistemological point that we relate to the world, know it, make a home in it and order it according to our particular and historically conditioned social constructions, then we need toask, Whose social constructions? Perhaps as Bill suggests, we have cast off the ghosts of Brahmins past, but women’s studies, Native American literature, the “critique of science,” and a smattering of diversity across the student body doesn’t change the answer to that question. It is still a privileged, COA | 43