postmodernism


postmodernism

“Despite persistent disagreement regarding its definition, the term ‘postmodernism’ was accepted by the mid-1970s as a comprehensive sociocultural paradigm…Reacting against the traditional master narratives that projected an orderly and coherent universe, the postmodern writers have chosen narrative openness over closure, fiction over truth, and fragmentation over unity and coherence” (Source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, ed. George Perkins, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leiningter [N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1991],  874).

The following information is from Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology, ed. Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron, Andrew Levy (N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998):

Cultural and literary postmodernism, which began in the 1960s, is “a tentative grouping of ideas, stylistic traits, and thematic preoccupations that set the last four decades apart from earlier eras” (x). “In postmodern fiction, World War II, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and the atom bomb appear often as metaphors for …[a] failure of reason, as historical markers to explore how we manage to live with… absolute contradiction, or simply as spectral presences that remind us that nuclear arsenals still exist, and that our lives remain charged and threatened by visions of apocalypse” (xi).

Characteristics of postmodern fiction:

  • “an assault upon traditional definitions of narrative…particularly those that created coherence or closure” (xii)

  • the theme of the suburbanization of America, the decline of the city, and apocalyptic visions of the devastated city (xiv)

  • “fascination about how the public life of the nation intersects with the private lives of its citizens” (xviii)

  • “questioning of any belief system that claims universality or transcendence” (xx)

  • the rise of the nonfiction novel, which “extends the experiments of the New Journalism and further undermines the distinctions between journalism and literature, fact and fiction” (xxv)

  • the creation of “ruptures, gaps, and ironies that continually remind the reader that an author is present” (1); this characteristic is particularly evident in the postmodern tendency to blend memoir and fiction to show “how individuals use fictional constructions to make order of real-life events” (126)

James Wood, writing about modern British literature in The Oxford Guide to Contemporary Writing (John Sturrock, ed.; Oxford UP, 1996), describes America as “the locus of Post-Modernity and its discontents—vulgar films, trashed cities, the congestions of cliché and other degradations of language, the clotting of the soul with cultural debris, the submersion of the individual” (137).

About.com’s contemporary literature guide Amy Strong has this to say about reading postmodern literature: “reading postmodern fiction can be an exhilarating and, at times, utterly baffling experience. Postmodern texts consciously disorient the reader, shaking off the soft blanket of chronological, straightforward storytelling in favor of a harsher, more forbidding narrative style. The reader is led through multiple shifts in consciousness, chronology, and geography, often without a chapter break [. . .].”

(From “Analyzing Postmodern Texts,” http://contemporarylit.about.com/library/weekly/aa031201a.htm)

Example: L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy.


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