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  • Postmodernism, like modernism, follows most of these same ideas, rejecting boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejecting rigid genre distinctions, emphasizing pastiche, parody, bricolage, irony, and playfulness. Postmodern art (and thought) favors reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity (especially in narrative structures), ambiguity, simultaneity, and an emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject.
Modernism, for example, tends to present a fragmented view of human subjectivity and history (think of The Wasteland, for instance, or of Woolf's To the Lighthouse), but presents that fragmentation as something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss.
  • Many modernist works try to uphold the idea that works of art can provide the unity, coherence, and meaning which has been lost in most of modern life; art will do what other human institutions fail to do. Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let's not pretend that art can make meaning then, let's just play with nonsense.
frederic jameson
Frederic Jameson:
  • modernism and postmodernism are cultural formations which accompany particular stages of capitalism.
  • Three primary phases of capitalism which dictate particular cultural practices (including what kind of art and literature is produced).
3 primary phases of capitalism
3 primary phases of capitalism
  • 1. market capitalism
  • associated with particular technological developments, namely, the steam-driven motor, and with a particular kind of aesthetics, namely, realism
  • occurred from the eighteenth through the late nineteenth centuries in Western Europe, England, and the United States (and all their spheres of influence)
2. monopoly capitalism
  • associated with electric and internal combustion motors, and with modernism
  • occurred from the late nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century (about WWII); this phase,
The third, the phase we're in now, is multinational or consumer capitalism (with the emphasis placed on marketing, selling, and consuming commodities, not on producing them), associated with nuclear and electronic technologies, and correlated with postmodernism.
postmodernity modernity
Postmodernity & modernity
  • Like Jameson's characterization of postmodernism in terms of modes of production and technologies, the second facet, or definition, of postmodernism comes more from history and sociology than from literature or art history. This approach defines postmodernism as the name of an entire social formation, or set of social/historical attitudes; more precisely,this approach contrasts "postmodernity" with "modernity," rather than "postmodernism" with "modernism."
the difference
The Difference
  • "Modernism" generally refers to the broad aesthetic movements of the twentieth century; "modernity" refers to a set of philosophical, political, and ethical ideas which provide the basis for the aesthetic aspect of modernism.
  • "Modernity" is older than "modernism;" the label "modern," first articulated in nineteenth-century sociology, was meant to distinguish the present era from the previous one, which was labeled "antiquity."
postmodernism is a broad range of
'Postmodernism' is a broad range of
  • responses to modernism, especially refusals of some of its totalizing premises and effects, and of its implicit or explicit distinction between 'high' culture and commonly lived life,
  • responses to such things as a world lived under nuclear threat and threat to the geosphere, to a world of faster communication, mass mediated reality, greater diversity of cultures and mores and a consequent pluralism,
3. acknowledgments of and in some senses struggles against a world in which, under a spreading technological capitalism, all things are commodified and fetishized (made the object of desire), and in which genuine experience has been replaced by simulation and spectacle,
4. resultant senses of fragmentation, of discontinuity, of reality as a pastiche rather than as a weave,

5. reconceptualizations of society, history and the self as cultural constructs, hence as rhetorical constructs.

a reaction to, refusal and diffusion of, the elements of modernist thought which are totalizing: which suggest a master narrative or master code, i.e. an explanatory cohesion of experience; the result may be
  • a sense of discontinuity, of the world as a field of contesting explanations none of which can claim any authority,
  • parodies of all sorts of meta-narrative and master-code elements, including genre and literary form,
  • the challenging of borders and limits, including those of decency,
  • the exploration of the marginalized aspects of life and marginalized elements of society.
breaking down grand narratives
Breaking down grand narratives
  • The 'problem' with grand narratives is that they bring all of experience under one explanatory and one implicitly or explicitly regulative order, and hence are potentially (some would say, inevitably) totalitarian and repressive
  • Is living without grand narratives an act of courage and freedom in the face of inevitable doubt and instability, or merely an opening of oneself to the worst forces of the libido and an abandonment of necessary principles?
the writing of reflexive or meta-fiction: fiction which is in the first instance aware of itself as fiction and which may dramatize the false or constructed nature of fiction, on the one hand, or the inevitable fictionality of all experience, on the other.
a reaction to, refusal of, the totalizing of modernist form -- of the dominance in modernism of form and of the idea of the aesthetic, which concept created a 'special world' for art, cut off from the variety and everydayness of life (a negative judgment on this 'refusal' is that postmodernism simply aestheticizes everything, see the next point)
an attempt to integrate art and life -- the inclusion of popular forms, popular culture, everyday reality; Bakhtin's notion of 'carnival', of joyous, anti-authoritarian, riotous, carnal and liberatory celebration, makes sense in this context and adds a sense of energy and freedom to some post modern work
the notion of carnival is taken to the limit in the idea of transgression, the idea that to live and think beyond the structures of capitalist ideology and of totalizing concepts
  • Violate what appear to be standards of sense and decency, the methods of social and imaginative control
  • A more benign conception than transgression is the concept of the paralogical: a revelation of the non-rational immediacy of life (considered thus to be implicitly revolutionary, liberating)
  • as with ideas such as carnival and transgression, the paralogical gives access to the energy of the world, and allows us to experience outside of the strictures of the grand narratives
the use of paradox, of undercutting, of radical shifts, in order to undercut any legitimization of reality, subject, ontological ground
  • a crossing or dissolving of borders -- between fiction and non-fiction, between literary genres, between high and low culture
  • a sense that the world is a world made up of rhetoric -- of language and cultural constructs and images and symbols, none of which have any necessary validity
achieved through the notion of carnival, of the turning upside-down of everything, and through the use of parody, play, black humour and wit;
  • this refusal and these methods of undercutting seriousness are associated as well with fragmentation, as traditional notions of narrative coherence are challenged
  • The 'problem' with seriousness is that it has no room for the disruptions necessary to expose the oppressions and repressions of master narratives, in fact seriousness tends almost inevitably to reinforce them and hence the ideologies they support
a crossing or dissolving of borders -- between fiction and non-fiction, between literary genres, between high and low culture
  • a sense that the world is a world made up of rhetoric -- of language and cultural constructs and images and symbols, none of which have any necessary validity
a move away from perspectivism, from the located, unified 'subject' and the associated grounding of the authority of experience in the sovereign subject and its processes of perception and reflection
  • a fragmentation of the self (the unified, located subject), or a disappearance or flatness -- the self, or subject, is no longer a 'psychological' reality but henceforth a cultural construction, located rhetorically (in terms of the kinds of language used, the subject matter, the situation), differently configured in different situations
a greater emphasis on the body on the human as incarnate as physical beings in a physical world
A greater emphasis on the body, on the human as incarnate, as physical beings in a physical world.
  • This is tied to postmodernism's distrust of rationalism and of the ideology of the Enlightenment. This emphasis on the physicality of our being leads in several directions, including
  • an emphasis on chance and contingency as fundamental conditions of our being and
  • a positing of aesthetics rather than rationalism as guide to truth, hence ultimately as the ground for ethics.
a rethinking of modernism's break with history. There are (at least) two directions in which this rethinking may go:

1. a greater awareness of history as a narrative, that is, a human construct; history is accessible to us, but only as text -- its documents are texts, its institutions are social texts. This does not mean that history did not happen; it means that what we know as history is known to us only through what is configured for our understandings by language, by narratives with their own shaping forces, by figures of speech.

2 an insistence of the incarnate and the contingent, human life as located, specific, grounded in the body and in circumstance.

postmodern literature
Postmodern literature
  • Postmodernism is a fact of everyday life. We live in a world of uncertainty, of lapses in--if not absence of--authority, of fragmentation, of visual and auditory overload, of the blurring of lines between mass culture and elite culture.Such features have found their way into contemporary literature and particularly into the literature labeled "postmodern."
The postmodern camp is inhabited by such writers as William Burroughs, Robert Coover, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and E. L. Doctorow and African American writer Ishmael Reed.
  • a nonlinear plot, with jumps both in space and in time, and confuses the identity of ostensible author and the "I". Is the "I" the author? Another character? Planting the seeds of uncertainty in the reader regarding the identity of authors and their relationship to the text is one of the hallmarks of postmodernism. By extension, it prompts us to ask where "fiction" ends and "reality" begins.
postmodernism makes us question the organization of the text itself
  • blurring of the admittedly artificial line between historical narrative and fictional narrative
  • the problem of "author-ity" characterizes the text
  • both fiction and history are reconstructions and that historical "objectivity" is impossible
Postmodern fiction is challenging, pulling the rug out from under readers, juggling narrators, obscuring authorial voice, fragmenting plot lines so that the old plot diagram takes on bizarre geometric patterns and calls attention to its own fictionality, the result of which is known as metafiction.
metafiction http www eng fju edu tw literary criticism postmodernism metafiction htm
  • Metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In providing a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text. (Waugh 2)
Spectrum: Metafiction is thus an elastic term which cover a wide range of fictions. There are those novels at one end of the spectrum which take fictionality as a theme to be explored . .. whose formal self-consciousness is limited. At the center of this spectrum are those texts that manifest the symptoms of formal and ontological insecurity but allow their deconstructions to be finally recontextualized or 'naturalized' and given a total interpretation . . .Finally, at the furthest extreme that, in rejecting realism more thoroughly, posit the world as a fabrication of competing semiotic systems which never correspond to material conditions, ...(Waugh 18-19)
metafictional techniques
Metafictional techniques
  • Metafictional techniques include everything from the Dear-Reader convention to authors confessing to the reader that they are tired of a particular scene/character and want to move on. Ex. Virginia Woolf's Orlando
  • the authorial voice interrupts the narrative to observe that in situation X, the biographer usually does Y.
John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) can be excerpted to illustrate Fowles' using and subverting the conventions of Victorian fiction and relying on a favorite postmodern strategy: the inclusion of alternative endings.
  • Plot becomes fragmentary, characters are eccentric, tone inconsistent, and language frenetic, spiced with seemingly endless allusions to mass culture.
Las MeninasBrown, Jonathan.  Velaquez: Painter and Coutier.  New Haven: Yale UP, 1986.
  • "Recent studies of Las Meninas, inspired by the ideas of Michel Foucault, have paid considerable attention to the seemingly novel relationship between the scene on the canvas and  the spectator.  These ideas tacitly assume that the picture was meant to be seen by the public-at-large., as if it were hanging in an important museum, as it is today.  ...However. the original placement indicates that this is not the case.  In 1666, the year after the death of Philip IV, Las Meninas was inventoried in a room known as ...the office in the summer quarters, ...a room destined for the personal use of the king." (Brown 259).