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—“For the postmodernist, language cannot be cognitive because it does not connect to reality, whether to an external nature or an underlying self. Language is not about being aware of the world, or about distinguishing the true from the false, or even about argument in the traditional sense of validity, soundness, and probability. Accordingly, postmodernism recasts the nature of rhetoric: Rhetoric is persuasion in the absence of cognition. . . .
To the modernist, the “mask” metaphor is a recognition of the fact that words are not always to be taken literally or as directly stating a fact—that people can use language elliptically, metaphorically, or to state falsehoods, that language can be textured with layers of meaning, and that it can be used to cover hypocrisies or to rationalize. Accordingly, unmasking means interpreting or investigating to get to a literal meaning or fact of the matter. The process of unmasking is cognitive, guided by objective standards, with the purpose of coming to an awareness of reality.
For the postmodernist, by contrast, interpretation and investigation never terminate with reality. Language connects only with more language, never with a non-linguistic reality. In Jacques Derrida’s words, “[t]he fact of language is probably the only fact ultimately to resist all parenthization.” That is to say, we cannot get outside of language. Language is an “internal,” self-referential system, and there is no way to get “external” to it—although even to speak of “internal” and “external” is also meaningless on postmodern grounds. There is no non-linguistic standard to which to relate language, so there can be no standard by which to distinguish between the literal and the metaphorical, the true and the false. Deconstruction is therefore in principle an unending process. Unmasking does not even terminate in “subjective” beliefs and interests, for “subjective” contrasts to “objective,” and that too is a distinction that postmodernism denies. A “subject’s beliefs and interests” are themselves socio-linguistic constructions, so unmasking one piece of language to reveal an underlying subjective interest is only to reveal more language. And that language in turn can be unmasked to reveal more language, and so on. Language is masks all the way down.”—