the fireplace. The rider looks at the bowl and then at the old man. I’m not taken in by your wiles, he says lowly. I know what you are, you won’t ensnare me. The old man looks at him. The rider tips his bowl of stew onto the floor, looking into the old man’s face. It splashes on their feet. The old man flinches and the rider smiles. You will show me where it lives, he says. Your magic. An amulet, perhaps? A staff? A familiar? The old man shakes his head. I don’t – the rider hits him across the face. The old man cries out and tears run from his eyes. Show me, the rider says. He hits the old man again. Please, he whimpers. I will show you. They go to the cliff and stand looking at the carved rock. The ladder still stands against it, white and crooked. The rider spits on the ground. He goes back inside and comes out with the chisel and riverstone. He works for hours, long into the night, making the old man tend a fire at the cliff base to see by. He
 Postmodernity is solipsism, by necessity. Paranoia, anti-social behavior, sociopathy. Survival mechanisms run rampant in a society insulated from day-to-day bodily danger.
 But of course, these things have always existed and continue to exist even in societies rampant with unavoidable fatalities. Hunter-gatherer tribes, peoples displaced by genocide, civilians caught in civil war, are no less vulnerable to mental disorders than we in our ivory (Caucasian) fortress.
 And yet
 There exists a disparity between expected and observed proportions of mental disorders that cannot be rationalized by better diagnostic procedures – postmodernism still suffers from the specter of the pastoral that modernism could never exorcise.
 Diseases, disorders, syndromes, malaises – these are the small, personal intrusions of chaos into the ego that threaten the breakdown of identity. They are the superdense pellets of depleted postmodernism fired into us by the indiscriminate artillery of the universe, reminding us that we are (that I am) imperfect and fleeting and fragile. The postmodern affliction is deeper than this, however. Deeper than the rotting flesh and misfiring neurons.
 The postmodern affliction is the betrayal of language.