What are the postmodern tenets in Carver's "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one of the strongest postmodern elements in Carver's short story is a relatively simple one.  There is no answer.  There are no answers provided to the title question.  What do people talk about when people talk about love?  At best, one can only surmise yet another postmodern element.  The most people can do in terms of articulating the condition of love is to talk about their own experiences.  Mel and Terri end up talking about their own experiences about love. Terri believes that her ex really did love her, Mel disagrees.  Mel turns to the story of "the old fart" as his reference point about love.  In the end, no one can achieve a transcendent answer, and so the only notion evident is the idea of one's sense of self.  In a typical postmodern predicament, one has voice, but is unable to gain anything outside of oneself in the process.  The hope for a transcendent and unifying answer is a futile one.

At the same time, one cannot even take solace in the articulation of individual voice.  It is deliberate that Carver constructs the entire conversation to take place with the presence of alcohol as part of the decision making process.  This reflects that any decision, any action, any thought, any word spoken is distorted to a great degree.  There is simply no real way to ascertain anything meaningful from the discourse because alcohol has impacted everything.  Slurred speech, disjointed thoughts, repressed anger, latent hostility, and a stunned silence could all be the actual articulations of what love is, but in reality it might be that this is the result of alcohol.  One simply does not know and cannot ascertain any totalizing answer.  It is here that the ending of the story so abruptly arrives when the alcohol is over.  To this end, in another postmodern element, while answers are absent, questions are even more abundant.

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