- What is Postmodernism Literature?
The meaning of Postmodernism has been under debate for such a long time that there are many who maintain that it is but a buzz word with no true meaning. However, in terms of Literature, Postmodernism refers to certain traits of post WW2 literature and a reaction against the ideas of enlightenment present in Modernism works.
Rather than a slow shift to a new era of Literature, Postmodernism was a reaction to modernism (mainly due to the events of WW2). For example:
Modernism - “Using rational, scientific, logical means to know the world. Optimism that we can understand and control an objective world” Postmodernism- “A reaction against rationalism, scientism, or objectivity of modernism”
Modernism - “There is an absolute, universal truth that we can understand through rationalism and logic”
Postmodernism - “There is no universal truth. Rationality by itself does not help us truly understand the world.”
Modernism - "disenchantment with material truth and search for abstract truth"
Postmodernism - "There is no universal truth, abstract or otherwise"
And perhaps the most important veiw:
Modernism - “there is an ultimate meaning hidden inside master literature”
Postmodernism - “there is no ultimate meaning, instead meaning emerges from what the audience brings to the text”
This means that as a Postmodernism author, you accept that a reader’s previous ideals and experiences will affect their viewing of your work and because of this, trying to include specific lessons or morals (for readers to learn from) in your works is pointless
- Themes and techniques that are often seen in Postmodernism Literature
Irony, playfulness and black humour are all big parts of the Postmodernist novel as well as a sense of paranoia. Other techniques that are often seen in postmodernism are:
Intertextuality- “Shaping a text’s meaning with other texts”. In other words, using references/excerpts from other texts in your own works.
Pastiche - Pastiche is most often seen in Postmodernism as a blend of genres to either pay homage to or parody past styles.
Metafiction - “a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion”. Some examples of Metafiction include:
1. A story about a reader reading a book. Such as The Neverending Story, or If on A Winters night A Traveler. 2. A story that includes itself as a prop, such as Inkheart. 3. A story that (intentionally) exposes himself as the person who wrote the story, such as The BFG. 4. A book where the book itself seeks interaction with the reader, such as The House Of Leaves
Also Maximalism and Minimalism are often found in Postmodernism Texts.
- Examples of Post Modernism.
Catch-22 - One of the most well known postmodernist books ever written, Catch-22 tells the story of Yossarian in his efforts to not loose his life in Battle. Filled with Irony and humor, this is a great Postmodernist novel to stay with.
Written By Joseph Heller
Slaughterhouse5 - A satirical novel about WW2. Follows Billy Pilgrim’s WW2 experiences, and his journeys in time travel. Written By
Breakfast of Champions - About "two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." This book explores he link between looks and personality in a deeply humorous and ironic fashion.
Written by Kurt Vonnegut
House Of Leaves - The best new book in the last decade (In my honest opinion o’course). The concept, of a house that is larger on the inside than from the outside, is simple. The writing style and layout is not. Written by
Mark Z. Danielewski
- Linking Postmodern Literature to other Postmodern art forms.
The Postmodernist Composer Jonathan Kramer wrote the following about Post modern music:
1. is not simply a repudiation of modernism or its continuation, but has aspects of both a break and an extension 2. is, on some level and in some way, ironic 3. does not respect boundaries between sonorities and procedures of the past and of the present 4. challenges barriers between 'high' and 'low' styles 5. shows disdain for the often unquestioned value of structural unity 6. questions the mutual exclusivity of elitist and populist values 7. avoids totalizing forms (e.g., does not want entire pieces to be tonal or serial or cast in a prescribed formal mold) 8. includes quotations of or references to music of many traditions and cultures 9. embraces contradictions 10. includes fragmentations and discontinuities 11. locates meaning and even structure in listeners, more than in scores, performances, or composers
Even though these were written specifically for music, these also apply to the at least one of the postmodern novels above.
is not simply a repudiation of modernism or its continuation, but has aspects of both a break and an extension
“Modernistic literature tends to revolve around the themes of individualism, the randomness of life, mistrust of institutions (government, religion) and the disbelief in any absolute truths, and to involve a literary structure that departs from conventionality and realism”. These themes are further explored in all of the above books. That being said, their deliberate lack of included morals/lessons and the negative reaction against enlightenment ideas are decidedly un-modernist.
Is, on some level and in some way, ironic
Irony is a huge part of postmodernist literature, in fact Catch-22 is based entirely on the irony of the now infamous “Catch-22”. Irony also plays a big part of Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse5.
Does not respect boundaries between sonorities and procedures of the past and of the present
Although writing doesn’t deal with sonorities (sounds and notes etc), postmodernist literature does not respect boundaries between writing techniques etc. and procedures of the past and present, ie, nothing is sacred.
Challenges barriers between 'high' and 'low' styles
In previous eras, writing was often considered a noble act, with strict procedures and high-brow attitudes but there were also those who were considered ‘cheap’ or undignified. Postmodernism doesn’t view writing to be either a ‘high’ or ‘low’ act, and thus mixes aspects from both styles.
Shows disdain for the often unquestioned value of structural unity
Falls under “Nothing is sacred”. The Main character of Catch-22 doesn’t pay much heed to structural unity, believing it is just another ploy of those trying to kill him. This belief is what drives him to escape the war. Similar beliefs are found in Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse5 etc.
Questions the mutual exclusivity of elitist and populist values.
Postmodernist literature often questions why Populist Values are always found tied to elitism values and Visa-versa. For example: “Why is struggling for sustenance always linked to one seeking Wealth and Power?” or Why the thoughts of “we need to work for change” are found along with “I know what’s best for you”.
Avoids totalizing forms (e.g., does not want entire pieces to be tonal or serial or cast in a prescribed formal mold)
Linked to Pastiche, ie, a fusion of many different genres. Found in All of the books above.
Includes quotations of or references to music of many traditions and cultures
Postmodernism works references many different genres, either broadly or specific works. Instead of just music, postmodernism literature often references all kinds of print media (Books, magazines, TV shows, poems, movies), music and world events.
Postmodernism often focuses story lines on irony or ironic situations, sometimes whole books are written about irony and similar contradictions (Catch-22).
Includes fragmentations and discontinuities.
Non-linear narration (Story lines that jump back and forwards through time periods) are present in all of the above books. Another technique dealing in fragmentaition and discontinuities oft found in postmodernism is Temporal Distortion, usualy shown by the main character becoming “unstuck in time” (for example, in Slaughterhouse5).
locates meaning and even structure in listeners, more than in scores, performances, or composers
In literature, this is shown as the realisation that a reader’s previous ideals and experiences will affect their viewing of your work and because of this they will obtain their own meaning from the text.