6.0 Jean-François Lyotard’s seminal formulation of our present circumstances The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minuit, 1979; Minnesota, 1984) has at its core the idea that the contemporary West is no longer able to agree on large-scale meta-narratives on which to ground and explain its societies – whether in the arenas of religion, politics, or literature. The default experience of this world then is one of bewildering vertigo atop the sheer number of possibilities, and the apparent lack of any primacy among them. Whether its decision paralysis over which of the innumerable potential films you could watch, or the endless array of products to order online sliding from thrilling abundance and opportunity to an uninspiring low-grade terror, there is the eternally latent sense that, in spite of all the world has to offer, the surface area and pace of presentation makes it hard to see if any of it means anything. The more we try to sift through it, the more we find the pit to be bottomless.
6.1 Much so-called postmodern culture from the second half of the 20th Century on responded to this sublime multiplicity by variously embracing it: with gleeful cynicism, sincere adventurism, or a nihilistic aporia … Whether playful or empowered or tormented in the face of this anything-goes world, what diverse postmodernisms held in common was a taste for destablising techniques, and the circumvention of normative grounding. Now in the fake news era of conspiracy theories as mainstream discourse, the once unthinkably gauche desire for some modicum of confidence to underpin our culture appears in a new light. Where once radicalism could only be found in questioning everything, it has become possible to imagine a revolutionary spirit in the quest to fix certain things.
6.2 On the one hand, erasure poetry fits the basic postmodern mould comfortably in its suggestion that any given text contains inexhaustible potential others. But these works also offer another way, where we are able to experience something of the undeniable multiplicity of the world, at the same time as a current of some known quantity. In the midst of Radi Os, it is difficult not to look upon the gulfs in the page and consider what other paths Johnson might have taken through Milton, all the while secure in the knowledge of an epic landscape over which the rivers flow. In Voyager, a perhaps unremarkable and stuffy memoir from one of countless interchangeable bureaucrats becomes the bedrock for three wildly divergent ways of looking at the world. These works of contingency born of something actually existent present a tension and counterpoint between the infinite and the finite, allowing us to acknowledge the reality of one without having to give up on the dream of the other.
6.3 In a world where a sense of radical imagination remains as important as the renewed drive for justice and equality, we must becoming capable of moving with the best of postmodernism’s openness to multiplicity without also falling prey to the temptations of aporia and the easy impossibility of knowing. Practices used in erasure poetry are among our most critical cultural technologies.