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Postmodern literature

Related: interactive fiction - literature - novel - metafiction - Postmodernism

Writers: Jorge Luis Borges - Burroughs - Alain Robbe-Grillet - Tom Stoppard

Like all stylistic eras, no definite dates exist for the rise and fall of postmodernism's popularity. The 1941 death of Irish novelist James Joyce, one of modernism's last and biggest giants, is sometimes used as a rough boundary for postmodernism's start. It's ironic that the beginning of postmodern literature should be the death of James Joyce and the start of postmodern architecture is the destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe building.

"Postmodern literature argues for expansion, the return of reference [as opposed to the cult of originality], the celebration of fragmentation rather than the fear of it, and the role of reference itself in literature. While drawing on the experimental tendencies of authors such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf in English, and Borges in Spanish, who were taken as influences by American postmodern works by authors such as Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, William Gaddis, David Foster Wallace and Paul Auster, the advocates of postmodern literature argue that the present is fundamentally different from the modern period, and therefore requires a new literary sensibility."

Fragmentation and the postmodern novel: "Unlike postmodern literature, modernist literature saw fragmentation and extreme subjectivity as an existential crisis or a Freudian internal conflict. In postmodern literature this crisis is avoided. The tortured, isolated anti-heroes of, say, Knut Hamsun or Samuel Beckett, and the nightmare world of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, make way in postmodern writing for the self-consciously deconstructed and self-reflexive narrators of novels by Vladimir Nabokov, Vladimir Sorokin, John Fowles, John Barth, or Julian Barnes." [Jul 2006]

In postmodern literature, fragmentation is a broad term for literary techniques that break up the text or narrative. Related techniques are collage and nonlinear narrative. [Jun 2006]

Compare: modernist literature


Both modern and postmodern literature represent a break from 19th century realism, in which a story was told from an objective or omniscient point of view. In character development, both modern and postmodern literature explore subjectivism, turning from external reality to examine inner states of consciousness, in many cases drawing on modernist examples in the stream of consciousness styles of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. In addition, both modern and postmodern literature explore fragmentariness in narrative- and character-construction, often reference back to the works of Swedish dramatist August Strindberg and the Italian author Luigi Pirandello.

Unlike postmodern literature, however, modernist literature saw fragmentation and extreme subjectivity as an existential crisis, or Freudian internal conflict. In postmodern literature, however, this crisis is avoided. The tortured, isolated anti-heroes of, say, Knut Hamsun or Samuel Beckett, and the nightmare world of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, make way in postmodernist writing for the self-consciously deconstructed and self-reflexive narrators of novels by Vladimir Nabokov, Vladimir Sorokin, Gerhard Anna Concic-Kaucic, John Fowles, John Barth, or Julian Barnes. Meanwhile, authors such as David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow, satirise the paranoid system-building of the kind associated, by postmodernists, with Enlightenment modernity. This shift in the role of the "inner narrative of the self", from the self at war with itself, to the self as arbiter points back to the phenomenological roots of post-modern thought.

Dubbed maximalism by some critics, the sprawling canvas and fragmented narrative of such writers as David Eggers has generated controversy on the "purpose" of a novel as narrative and the standards by which it should be judged. The post-modern position is that the novel must be adequeate to that which it depicts and represents, and points back to such examples in previous ages as Gargantua by François Rabelais and the Odyssey of Homer, which Nancy Felson-Rubin hails as the exemplar of the polytropic audience and its engagement with a work. Many modernist critics attack the maximalist novel as being disorganized, sterile and filled with language play for its own sake, empty of value as a narrative, and therefore empty of value as a novel.

The post-modern novel was also part of a larger social project: integration and ending discrimination against women. From the perspective of post-modern writers such as Maya Angelou, the life experiences of women had been systematically suppressed, either by men who did not understand them, or by women who engaged in self-censorship. The hard version of this critique was that this suppression came from the use of rape and incest as tools for the subjugation of women, and their suppression in literature was designed, in an Orwellian sense, to create an absence of language and meta-narrative to shape a response to these realities. The softer version of this critique takes a more modernist shape: that sexism and racism are hold overs from another, less enlightened age, and need to be stamped out by exposure and the creation of normative art.

This social project has also been the root of a great deal of controversy. Proponents see it as part of the progressive removal of barriers to social participation in power and art. Opponents deride it as political correctness, where moralizing takes the place of literary merit. This debate reflects larger political conflicts, not only over what is to be done, but how it is to be accomplished.

Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_literature

Critics' reception

Literary critics, most notably Harry Levin, Irving Howe, Leslie Fiedler, Frank Kermode, and Ihab Hassan, began to use the term in the 1960s to distinguish the post-World War II experimental fiction of Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Thomas Pynchon, and others from the classics of high modernism. From the start, postmodernism spurred skepticism (had not James Joyce, Franz Kafka, and the various avant-gardes already performed all the tricks now called postmodern?) and antagonistic evaluation. The Old Left (Howe) and the critical establishment (Levin) deplored the new writers' lack of high seriousness; their apparent contempt for the well-made, unified literary work; and their addiction to popular culture. --John McGowan, 1991

Literary critics such as Irving Howe and Harry Levin stated in 1959 that in comparison to the great "modern" literature (William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce), contemporary literature, which for the sake of contrast they designated "postmodern", was characterized by a lack of innovation and power.

Critics such as Leslie Fiedler and Susan Sontag gave up the orientation by the high, elitist standards of modern literature in order to describe particularly the combination of elite and mass culture as the specific qualities of the new literature by authors such as John Barth, Leonard Cohen, and Norman Mailer. A milestone in this development was Fiedler's essay in 1969, "Cross the Border, Close the Gap", which, significantly, did not appear in a literary magazine, but in Playboy. --http://www.fask.uni-mainz.de/inst/iaa/anglophonie/second/postcol.htm [Jul 2006]

Related genres and authors

In search of experimental literature

"Martin Amis belongs to the generation that introduced the postmodernist novel into the literature of Great Britain." says Michael J Meyer in Literature and the Writer (2004).

But just what is postmodernism in literature? Can we define it until we have adequately defined modern literature and modernist literature? Does the nouveau roman belong to postmodern literature? And do magic realism, maximalism, hysterical realism? Has postmodern literature been influenced by television, just as modernist literature was influenced by the phonograph, the telephone and cinema?

The literature which arose as a series of styles and ideas in the post-World War II period which reacted against the perceived norms of modernist literature has been termed postmodern literature. It can also be described as a literature that keeps on going, from the World War II till the present literature. The style of narrative breaks from modernism, in its earlier form, with the idea of subconscious-mind-talk, a continuous conscience stream of narrative, this in a nonconformist style of literature, with authors such as Angela Carter (author of The Bloody Chamber, a collection of gothic styled fairy tales) being renowned for it. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_literature [Jun 2006]
Wikipedia has this on the relationship between postmodern literature and magical realism
Magical realism is often considered a subcategory of postmodern fiction due to its challenge to hegemony and its use of techniques similar to those of other postmodernist texts, such as the distortion of time. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_realism#Relation_to_other_genres_and_movements [Jun 2006]

list of postmodern authors

Kobo Abe * Kathy Acker * Oscar Acosta * Sherman Alexie * Martin Amis * Gloria E. Anzaldúa * Paul Auster * J.G. Ballard * Julian Barnes * John Barth * Donald Barthelme * Saul Bellow * William Boyd * T.C. Boyle * Malcolm Bradbury * William S. Burroughs * Octavia Butler * Pat Cadigan * Italo Calvino * Norma Elia Cantú * Angela Carter * Raymond Carver * Ana Castillo * Theresa Hak Kyung Cha * James Chapman * Sandra Cisneros * Robert Coover * John Crowley * Mark Z. Danielewski * Don DeLillo * Samuel R. Delany * Phillip K. Dick * James Patrick Donleavy * Umberto Eco * Bret Easton Ellis * Ralph Ellison * Dave Eggers * Louise Erdrich * Raymond Federman * Jonathan Safran Foer * John Fowles * William Gaddis * Neil Gaiman * John Gardner * Alex Garland * Romain Gary * William H. Gass * Eckhard Gerdes * William Gibson * James Gunn * Jessica Hagedorn * Joseph Heller * Andrés Ibáñez * Robert Irwin * Kazuo Ishiguro * Shelley Jackson * B.S. Johnson * Michael Joyce * Maxine Hong Kingston * Jerzy Kosinski * John Knowles * Prakash Kona * Ursula K. Le Guin * Randie Lipkin * Dimitris Lyacos * Cormac McCarthy * Joseph McElroy * Jon McGregor * Arthur Miller * David Mitchell * N. Scott Momaday * Alan Moore * Toni Morrison * Bharati Mukherjee * Haruki Murakami * Vladimir Nabokov * Tim O'Brien * Chuck Palahniuk * Orhan Pamuk * Suzan-Lori Parks * Victor Pelevin * Thomas Pynchon * Catherine M. Rae * Ishmael Reed * Adrienne Rich * Tomás Rivera * Philip Roth * Salman Rushdie * George Saunders * Leslie Marmon Silko * Vladimir Sorokin * Art Spiegelman * Neal Stephenson * Tom Stoppard * Michael Szymczyk * Amy Tan * William T. Vollmann * Kurt Vonnegut * David Foster Wallace * Irvine Welsh * Jeanette Winterson --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_postmodern_authors [Jun 2006]

See also: Angela Carter - experimental - nouveau roman - postmodern literature - Martin Amis

White Noise (1985) - Don DeLillo

  • White Noise (1985) - Don DeLillo [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Better than any book I can think of, White Noise captures the particular strangeness of life in a time where humankind has finally learned enough to kill itself. Naturally, it's a terribly funny book, and the prose is as beautiful as a sunset through a particulate-filled sky. Nice-guy narrator Jack Gladney teaches Hitler Studies at a small college. His wife may be taking a drug that removes fear, and one day a nearby chemical plant accidentally releases a cloud of gas that may be poisonous. Writing before Bhopal and Prozac entered the popular lexicon, DeLillo produced a work so closely tuned into its time that it tells the future. --amazon.com

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