In his famous (some might say infamous) appendix to his influential study, The Postmodern Condition, Jean-François Lyotard contends that the postmodern work struggles continuously, if paradoxically, to find a way to present the unpresentable. Its goal, whether in the form of one of Ad Reinhardt's all-black canvases, Beckett's Unnameable, or David Lynch's Lost Highway, is to "enable us to see only by making it impossible to see"; to "please only by causing pain."
There are some situations, Lyotard maintains, that by their very nature cannot be thought about or articulated within the bounds of reason. There are some events—he cites Auschwitz—whose atrocious complexities refuse to be reduced to conventional understanding, conventional storylines and forms, to anything other than what they are: manifestations of unimaginable difficulty and radical existential unease. In the wake of such limit situations, you can only say, along with one of the characters in Don DeLillo's astonishing Falling Man: "Nothing seems exaggerated anymore. Nothing amazes me."
The task of presenting the unpresentable is central to the recent haunting and haunted genre of fiction called the 9/11 novel. Perhaps this accounts for the critical cliché that there are no good ones out there.
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