Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Brief Note on Postmodern Parables

Dahne commented on my second Postmodern Parable thusly: "So...is the moral of the story that the little girl's father is a jerk?" Um, the short answer is no. However, the question highlights a problem that I probably should have realized about the entire Postmodern Parable concept. Unless no one objects, I'll explain. No? Good. I was in church one fine Sunday toward the end of a series on the Parables of Jesus. Many of the people around me were, for one reason or another, not getting the point. I wanted to bang my head against the wall. Some were asking for a concrete meaning. Yet the entire purpose of a parable is to offer an illustration, not a definition. There is and can be no one, single, absolute 100% accurate meaning, as the story, the storyteller and the audience all exist in slightly different places and get slightly different things out of the experience. The storyteller often has a definite purpose in telling the tale, but the difference between telling a story and preaching a sermon is that in the former you give the audience the chance to figure it out on their own whereas in the latter you tell them how they should react. I realized that most of the great teachers and thinkers tended to use allegories to convey great thoughts. When I was younger, that had annoyed me. I wanted an answer, not some mumbo-jumbo. But as I've gotten older, I've found myself using stories and allegories to illustrate points more and more often. Once I realized I had started to do what the teachers and thinkers have done throughout time, I realized there was a good reason for it: Some things simply cannot be expressed concretely. The problem I realized the people around me at church were having, however, was that they didn't know how to connect with a bunch of 2000 year old Jewish stories. There's no frame of reference between now and then and a lot has literally been lost in translation. I think it doesn't help much that modern society thinks in concrete values far more than pre-modern society did. That tendency is shifting with postmodernism, however. And so the Postmodern Parables were born. When I use allegory, I often borrow from other sources. Babylon 5, The Simpsons and The Great Gatsby are some of my favorites. I wanted to find something more universal, however, so I decided to go with simpler snippets of things we've all been told by our parents. The thing is, with the intertubes and everything, I have the opportunity to communicate with a vast and diverse audience. Perhaps not everyone in that audience has been told by their parents not to swallow watermelon seeds lest an impromptu fruit stand appear. The original lesson of the watermelon seeds was, I think, "You might choke, so just don't swallow those things." The lesson of "The Seed" is up to the reader. And the lesson of the Postmodern Parables is that Brian needs to put more thought in to the entire concept...

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Yeah, so far, it seems like the point of those stories is simply that parents should explain the actual reasons behind stuff so their kids don't turn out stupid. I guess you were probably going for more of a general message about shortsightedness in determining what we should and shouldn't do, but... whatever...