I have just returned from lunch and feel an inexplicable desire to blog. I’m currently reading a set text about organisational behaviour for my library MSc and found myself on the slightly more familiar territory of postmodernism. I was reading more about the concept that language is used in subtle and powerful ways to construct a supposed ‘reality’ that we then find ourselves subsumed by. I started to deconstruct my personal assumptions, the statements made daily by the press or television news crews, the assumptions presented as hard fact. When we begin to pick away at these assumptions, to challenge their substance, often we are left with a different picture of instability and the feeling that nothing we thought was real actually is.
Perhaps that is why the majority of us are not really comfortable with postmodernism. The concept appears something of a problem child, rearing its head and shouting for us to take notice. It is slippery; ironically, the theory which seeks to undermine reality as it is constructed in doing so leaves us with no reality at all. Maybe that is why deconstruction seems very dark to me, marking the end of the known real-ness of the world and replacing it with a horrific picture of what is really there, chaos and anarchy. Of course, the discipline itself forbids this, arguing that nothing is constant, all is shifting constantly, that even the process of observation changes that which is observed. Indeed, a plethora of different realities could indeed exist simultaneously in the mind of differing individuals,
All this theorizing got me to thinking about Egypt, about the real-ness of our perceptions of the country or otherwise. Postmodernism dictates that, as language constructs our vision of reality, the rise of capitalism has also given meaning to symbols to such an extent that the symbol itself becomes more important than the object itself. Think, for example, about a coca-cola bottle. Is it the drink that’s attractive, or the symbol it holds? Many mineral water drinkers believe in a healthier lifestyle and publicly fund a brand accordingly. This condition is referred to as hyperreality.
When we drove through Cairo, the scenes that I saw reminded me of Channel 4 news. It was only after several days that the aliation wore off and I began to contextualise what I was seeing. The extent to which we are in the West conditioned by the media is extremely worrying.
Lying under a blanket of stars in the white desert, I saw myself from outside and looked at our camp as I would have done a week earlier, and I saw strangers. Four English white strangers and one guide, impossibly colourful rugs and blankets, and a desert that looked more arctic than sandy. I took preconceptions with me into the desert and the desert wiped me clean, like an old blackboard wiped and waiting for more knowledge.
We cannot help it; we are bombarded by media images everywhere we look. Perhaps the key is to remember to always deconstruct, to question, and to ask ourselves whose interests are served by the assumptions being made, even though this may at times be the hardest thing in the world.