As a term, ‘Postmodernism’ is complex and probably has two distinct meanings relevant towould be writers and artists:1)A period in Western social and cultural history – probably post-1945 to the present - punctuated by significant historical events and socio-cultural trends (we shall listthese trends shortly).2)Various post-WW2 intellectual/cultural movements (philosophical and artistic)having as their epicenter the theories of certain mainly European intellectuals
butembracing also a large number of innovative writers, poets, etc.
In extending the first definition above we can list some of the key social and cultural trendsunique to the postmodern period.
1. Disbelief in the ‘progress’ narrative of the West due to the barbarity of colonialism, twoworld wars, the development (and use) of nuclear warheads, the horrors of the Nazi deathcamps, and the belated admittance among leftists that Communism had given birth to theauthoritarianism of the Stalinists.2. The rise of technocratic elites that make ordinary people feel constantly under surveillance(by the state and industry) i.e. ‘administered’ by impersonal experts/professionals. This stateof affairs, some have suggested, has led to a prevalent mood of helplessness, paranoia and passivity/apathy.3. The rise of hyper-consumerism and Neo-liberal economics such that more and more areasof subjectivity and the inter-relational support networks of societies (especially in the West)are turned into commodities to be traded in supposedly ‘free markets’. There is a tendency inthe postmodern period to make materialism the solution of choice to internal states of alienation that were formerly viewed as metaphysical or existential ‘problems of being’.4. The advent of a shared global worldview that exists side by side with multiple unique,locally evolved, understandings of the world. This has come about due to improvements inthe mechanical means of travel and also due to new communication technologies that makethe world seem smaller. The result is a world of many different
(paradigms/realities), sometimes coexistent, sometimes clashing, that individuals somehow have to cometo terms with. This condition gives rise to a ‘literature of the
’ (or the zone ‘in- between’) – i.e. created by writers who deliberately place themselves in the space betweenmonolithic (potentially hostile) ‘paradigms/worldviews’.
Particularly relevant are of course figures like Roland Barthes, Helene Cixous, Deleuze and Guattarri,Derrida, Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, Linda Hutcheon, Luce Irigaray, Jameson, Julia Kristeva, Lacan, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Richard Rorty and Patricia Waugh.
In terms of postmodern literature the following writers are often listed as key innovators: Thomas Pynchon,Kurt Vonnegut, Robert-Grillet, Nabokov, Robert Coover, John Barth, Italo Calvino, Jorge Borges, RichardBrautigan, William Burroughs, Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco and Don Delillo. Many leading Australianliterary figures are also described as having written postmodernist texts: e.g.. Janet Turner Hospital, DorothyPorter, Drusila Modjeska and Peter Carey.
The following list simplifies lists of defining characteristics as outlined in books and essays on the topic.For simplicities sake I’ll only mention some key overview works on postmodernism:
, edited by Patricia Waugh, particularly the extracts from works by Irving Howe, Ihab Hasan and William Spanos.
, edited by Hal Foster, particularly the extracts by Jameson, Habermas and Baudrillard..