My readings as of late have convinced me of this: behind the post-modernist love of ambiguity lies the post-modernist fear of commitment.
It’s sad that so many talented writers, able to craft truly rounded characters and rich situations, capable of profound observations about the very nature of our relationship to the world, to memory, to our strange feelings about ourselves and each others, are so afraid of actually picking a branch of the forked road at the end of their books. I am not saying such needs to be inescapably the destiny of a story, but that the option should at least be on the table!
What began as a valiant challenge to the conformist practice of serving you, the reader, outcomes and resolutions all tied up in a bow and neatly presented on a platter, has devolved into a crutch; both an easy escape from the technical difficulties of achieving such prolix endings without lapsing into clichés, as well as a solution to the problem of having to decide, to commit to an outcome – a practice that brings decidedly dangerous consequences to the comfortable neutrality of a writer.
Realistic, raw and gritty depiction of sex, violence of mind or body and shocking ugliness of character and form, are welcomed tools in a po-mo writer’s toolbox. And since they are also good selling points nobody hesitates to use them. But committing to definite outcomes is becoming rare; this is because outcomes express opinions, which is why fables and parables don’t let you uncertain about their ending.
A committed resolution means offering an opinion, revealing yourself, alienating sectors of the audience that hold differing views. Exposing themselves to criticism while baring their true thoughts has never been easy for the children of the late 20th century.
Of course, life often offers unresolved situations. Science delves more and more in the realm of the relative, and absolute truth is increasingly considered as a concept of the past. But when 80% of the whodunits are answered “well, we just don’t know, don’t we now?” something is unambiguously out of whack.
You’d have to wonder what does all this says about moral ambiguity…