Thursday, December 16, 2010

Post-Modern Literature
Understanding Post-modernism
Until the 1920’s, the term “modern” used to mean new or contemporary, but thereafter it came to be
used for a particular period, the one between the two World Wars (191!19"#$ %hen came up after about
half a century the, ma&ic term, “post!modern,” meanin& the period after the modern$
'ow, this sort of namin& is certainly problematic$ (or how many “post” will ha)e to be used for the further
periods of literary history to follow* +ince our purpose here is limited to writin& the “history” of literature,
we shall not &o on with the issue, lea)in& the matter for the more ,ualified critics to &i)e it a thou&ht$ -)en
as it is, there is a problem about the namin& of the period between 19" to 19.", durin& which period there
was no consciousness of what is now called “post!modern”$ %he period of the “post!modern” is said to date
from the mid!si/ties ! some critics push it e)en further to the nineteen ei&hties$ 0ealin& with the
contemporary is always, of course, a little tic1lish, because closer we stand to an ob2ect, more details we see
of the picture$ 3nce remo)ed by some distance, the outline comes out clearly$ 4s of today, critics ha)e seen
historical chan&es in literary styles from decade to decade, from e)en author to author$ 5erhaps we shall
ha)e to wait another half a century or so to be able to ma1e &reater &enerali6ations about the later half of
the twentieth century$ 7eanwhile, let us accept what has become almost con)entional in the historical
writin& of -n&lish literature$
8n his essay “%he 5ost!7odern 9ondition,” :rishan :umar has clarified some confusion about the
meanin& of post!modernism;
7ost theories claim that contemporary societies show a new or hei&htened de&ree of fra&mentation,
pluralism, and indi)idualism$$$$ 8t can also be lin1ed to the decline of the nation!state and dominant
national cultures$ 5olitical, economic, and cultural life is now stron&ly influenced by de)elopments at the
&lobal le)el$ %his has as one of its effects, une/pectedly, the renewed importance of the local, and a
tendency to stimulate sub!national and re&ional cultures$$$$
5ost!modernism proclaims multi!cultural and multi!ethnic societies$ 8t promotes the politics of difference<
8dentity is not unitary or essential, it is fluid and shiftin&, fed by multiple sources and ta1in& multiple
forms (there is no such thin& as =woman’ or =blac1’#$’
%he debate about contemporary society bein& “post!industrial,” “post!modern,” “post!structuralist,”
“post!colonial,” “pluralistic,” “multi!cultural,” “fra&mented,” etc$, &oes on, with select pieces of literature
used for illustration$ %he fact of the matter is that the theoretical discussion of the sub2ect has been self!
&enerati)e, proliferatin& all o)er the space, pushin& literature to the periphery, lea)in& not much space for
actual human narrati)es in the pri)ile&ed domain$ 4s such, it has not pro)ed of much help to the historian
of literature who would much rather record the literary happenin&s than discuss literary theories (unless,
of course, the latter has been an inte&ral part of the former#$ Until the time of the 7odernists li1e 5ound
and -liot, literary theory came from the leadin& literary writers$ 0urin& the 5ost!modern period, howe)er,
it has come from the non!literary thin1ers$ >ence the problem of its meanin&ful application to literary
3ne ,uic1ly turns to (rederic ?ameson, who seems to ha)e aptly articulated the reader’s dilemma
about “post!modernism”;
8 occasionally &et 2ust as tired of the slo&an =post!modern’ as anyone else, but when 8 am tempted to re&ret
my complicity with it, to deplore its misuses and its notoriety, and to conclude with some reluctance that it
raises more problems than it sol)es, 8 find myself pausin& to wonder whether any other concept can
dramati6e the issues in ,uite so effecti)e and economical a fashion$
8n the absence of a more useful concept, therefore, as also because now the concept of post!
modernism has come to stay, we ha)e no choice but to &o on with it, lea)in& the problems it has raised to
time for whate)er solution will become possible tomorrow$ @ut we must 1now at the same time how and
why the term =postmodernism’ has come about and what it has accumulated around itself as a description
of certain distincti)e characteristics of the post!War period, which is still &oin& on$
%he &rowth of post!modernism, in the words of 9harles ?enc1s, a ma2or theorist of architecture and
the ori&inator of the term, has been “a sinuous, e)en tortuous, path$ %wistin& to the left and then to the
ri&ht, branchin& down the middle, it resembles the natural form of a spreadin& root, or a meanderin& ri)er
that di)ides, chan&es course, doubles bac1 on itself and ta1es off in a new direction$” (What is Post-
Modernism?Aondon; 4cademy -ditions, 19B., p$2#$ We may cite and e/amine any number of definitions
(out of the innumerable a)ailable to us#, post!modernism pro)es slippery li1e a sna1e whose twists and
twirls are impossible to pin down$ (rom the )ery inception of the term in 4rnold %oynbee’s A Study of
History (19C#, the term has accumulated a lot of meanin&s many of which are mutually contradictory$
>ow then do we &o about understandin& the term, ma1in& sense of all that it has accumulated* 4s %im
Woods has ri&htly obser)ed;
%he prefi/ =post’ su&&ests that any post!modernism is ine/tricably bound up with modernism, either as a
replacement of modernism or as chronolo&ically after modernism$ 8ndeed with post!modernism, post!
feminism, post!colonialism and post!industrialism, that =post’ can be seen to su&&est a critical en&a&ement
with modernism, rather than claimin& the end of modernism to sur)i)e, or it can be seen that modernism
has been o)erturned, superseded or replaced$ %he relationship is somethin& more a1in to a continuous
en&a&ement, which implies that post!modernism needs modernism to sur)i)e, so that they e/ist in
somethin& more li1e a host!parasite relationship$ %herefore, it is ,uite crucial to reali6e that any definition
of post-modernism will depend upon one’s prior definition of modernism. (Beginning post-
modernism. 7anchester Uni)ersity 5ress, 1999, p$.#
+een from the )iewpoint su&&ested abo)e, one can see how post!modernism is a sort
of knowing modernism, or a self-refleti!e modernism$ 8n one sense, post!modernism is a modernism
which does not a&onise itselfD it, in fact, does all that modernism does, but only in a mood of celebration,
not in a mood of repentance$ Eather than lament the loss of the past, the fra&mentation of life, and the
collapse of ci)ili6ation as well as selfhood, postmodernism embraces these phenomena as a new form of
social e/istence and beha)iour$ %hus, the difference between the two is best understood as difference
in mood or attitude" rather than a chronolo&ical difference or as different institutions of aesthetic
3ne core issue of this debate between postmodernism and modernism is the e/tent to which the
-nli&htenment )alues are still )aluable$ %he Eomantic philosophers, such as Eousseau, :ant and >e&el,
had placed &reat faith in man’s ability to reason as a means of securin& our freedom$ %he modernist
philosophers later raised doubts about man’s ability to do so$ %his ,uestionin& of the Eomantic
philosopher’s faith is mainly associated with the wor1 of ?ean!(rancois Ayotard, for whom postmodernism
is best understood as an attac1 on reason$ 4s +abina Ao)ibond has obser)ed;
%he -nli&htenment pictured the human race as en&a&ed in an effort towards uni)ersal moral and
intellectual self!reali6ation, and so as the sub2ect of a uni)ersal historical e/perienceD it also postulated a
uni)ersal human reason in terms of which social and political tendencies could be assessed as =pro&ressi)e’
or otherwise$$$$ 5ostmodernism re2ects this picture; that is to say, it re2ects the doctrine of the unity of
reason$ 8t refuses to concei)e of humanity as a unitary sub2ect stri)in& towards the &oal of perfect
coherence (in its common stoc1 of beliefs# or of perfect cohesion and stability (in its political practice#$
(“(eminism and 5ostmodernism”, #ew $eft %e!iew" 1CB (19B9#;.#
4s a&ainst the uni)ersality of modernism and the lon&!standin& conception of the human self as a
sub2ect with a sin&le, unified reason$ 5ostmodernism has pitted reasonsin the plural, that is fra&mented
and incommensurable$ 5ost!modern theory is suspicious of the notion that man possesses an undi)ided
and coherent self which acts as the standard of rationality$ 8t no lon&er belie)es that reasonin& sub2ects can
act as )ehicles for historically pro&ressi)e chan&e$ >ere, we must also understand the difference
between post-modernism and post-modernity. 5ost!modernity is used to describe the socio!economic,
political and cultural condition of the present!day WestD where people are li)in& in post!industrial, =ser)ice!
oriented’ economiesD where human dealin&s li1e shoppin& are mediated throu&h the computer interface,
where communication is done throu&h e!mail, )oice!mail, fa/, teleconference on )ideo!lin1D where the
wider world is accessed )ia the netD where the choice of entertainment falls on hi&h!speed ima&e
bombardment of the pop )ideo, etc$ +uch conditions of li)in& are often described as “post!
modernity”$ Postmodernism on the other hand describes only the aesthetic and intellectual beliefs and
attitudes often presented in the form of theory$
%he term postmodernism, in use rou&hly since the 19.0’s, desi&nates cultural forms that display
certain characteristics, which include (i# the denial of an all!encompassin& rationalityD (ii# the distrust of
meta!narrati)esD (iii# challen&e to totali6in& discoursesD in other words, suspicion of discursi)e attempts to
offer a uni)ersal account of e/istenceD (i)# a re2ection of modernism$ %hus, re2ectin& belief in the infinite
pro&ress of 1nowled&eD in infinite moral and social ad)ancementD in ri&orous definition of the standards of
intelli&ibility, coherence and le&itimacyD postmodernism see1s local or pro)isional, rather than uni)ersal
and absolute, forms of le&itimation$
Jean-Francois Lotard !"#$%-&'(
-/tensi)e and )aried debates about postmodernism in philosophy and cultural theory
notwithstandin&, we can concentrate upon the 1ey theorists whose ideas ha)e shaped these debates about
the philosophical effects and theoretical impact of the mo)ement after modernism$ %he philosopher who is
said to ha)e put the first post!modern cat amon& the modernist pi&eons was ?ean!(rancois Ayotard,
whose &he Postmodern 'ondition( A %eport on )nowledge (19C9# occupies a special place amon& a set of
boo1s which launched an attac1 on modernity$ >is ar&ument is for a re2ection of the search for lo&ically
consistent, self!e)idently “true” &rounds for philosophical discourse$ 8nstead, he would wish to
substitute ad ho tactical manoeu)res as 2ustification for what are &enerally considered eccentricities$
Ultimately, he is suspicious of all claims to proof or truth$ 4s he puts it, “+cientists, technicians, and
instruments are purchased not to find truth, but to au&ment power,” (Postmodern 'ondition" p$.#$ 8n his
considered )iew, beneath the facade of ob2ecti)ity there always is a hidden and dominant discourse
of realpolitik( “%he e/ercise of terror” (p$.#$ %hus, any 1ind of le&itimation is nothin& but an issue of
power$ >e belie)es that there is a connection, an intimate one, between power and the rhetoric of truth or
Ayotard identifies “an e,uation between wealth, efficiency, and truth,” and contends that it
continually remains a ,uestion of; “'o money, no proofFand that means no )erification of statements and
no truth$ %he &ames of scientific lan&ua&e become the &ames of the rich, in which whoe)er is wealthiest has
the best chance of bein& ri&ht” (Postmodern 'ondition" p$"#$ >e also demonstrates how utilatarianism is
predominant in institutions;
%he ,uestion (o)ert or implied# now as1ed by the professionalist student, the +tate, or institutions of
hi&her education is no lon&er =8s it true*’ but =What use is it*’ 8n the conte/t of the mercantili6ation of
1nowled&e, more often than not this ,uestion is e,ui)alent to; =8s it saleable*’
4nd in the conte/t of power!&rowth; =8s it efficient*’$$$ What ho lon&er ma1es the &rade is competence as
defined by other criteria trueGfalse, 2ustGun2ust, etc$ (Postmodern 'ondition" p$"1#$
(rom these ideas Ayotard de)elops a narrati)e of the difference between modernist and
postmodernist aesthetics which does not conform to an historical period$ 8n his ar&ument, 7odernism is;
an aesthetic of the sublime, thou&h a nostal&ic one$ 8t allows the unpresentable to be put forward only as
the missin& contentsD but the form, because of its reco&ni6able consistency, continues to offer to the reader
or )iewer matter for solace or pleasure$$$$
%he postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself,
that which denies itself the solace of &ood forms$$$that which searches for new presentations, not in order
to en2oy them but in order to impart a stron&er sense of the unpresentable$
%hus, to sum up Ayotard’s )iew of 5ostmodernism, it is, first of all, a distrust of all metanarrati)esD it
is also anti!foundational$ +econdly, when it presents the unpresentable, it does not do so with a sense of
nostal&ia, nor does it offer any solace in so doin&$ %hirdly, it does not see1 to present reality but to in)ent
illusions to the concei)able which cannot be presented$ (ourthly, it acti)ely see1s hetero&eneity, pluralism,
and constant inno)ation$ Aastly, it challen&es the le&itimation of positi)ist science$
Jean Ba)dri**ard !"&$&+(
'e/t to Ayotard, the founder of 5ostmodernism, comes ?ean @audrillard, another (rench intellectual
who can be called the hi&h priest of 5ostmodernism$ 4ccordin& to @audrillard, postmodernity is also
characteri6ed by “simulations” and new forms of technolo&y of communication$ >is ar&ument is that
whereas earlier cultures depended on either face!to!face communication or, later, print, contemporary
culture is dominated by ima&es from the electronic mass media$ 3ur li)es today are increasin&ly bein&
shaped by simulated e)ents and opportunities on tele)ision, computer shoppin& at “)irtual stores,” etc$
+imulation is in which the ima&es or =manufactured’ reality become more real than the real$ 8n his )iew, the
demarcation between simulation and reality implodesD and alon& with this collapse of distinction between
ima&e and reality, the )ery e/perience of the real world is lost$ >yper!reality, accordin& to @audrillard, is
the state where distinctions between ob2ects and their representations are dissol)ed$ 8n that case, we are
left with only simulacra$ 7edia messa&es are prime e/amples that illustrate this phenomenon$ 8n these
messa&es, self!referential si&ns lose contact with the thin&s they si&nify, lea)in& us witness to an
unprecedented destruction of meanin&$ 4d)ertisements present manipulated ima&es to float a dream
world only to trap the )iewer for the sale of consumer &oods$ %he manipulated simulation, manufacturin&
moti)ated reality, i&nores or o)erloo1s the harsh or unpleasant aspects associated with an ima&eFsay 'ew
Hor1 or 'ew 0elhi$ 9onse,uently, the ima&es of spar1le and li&ht casually erase the ur&ent socio!economic
problems$ >is conclusion is that %I is the principal embodiment of these aesthetic transformations, where
the implosion of meanin& and the media result in “the dissolution of %I into life, the dissolution of life into
%I” (Simulations" 'ew Hor1, 19BJ, p$""#$ @audrillard was the one who contributed to the *uardian of 11
?anuary, 1991, the well!1nown article “%he Kulf War 0id 'ot %a1e 5lace$”
Jac,)is Derrida !"&-.-$..%(
5erhaps the most influential person amon& the 5ostmodernist intellectuals has been ?ac,uis 0errida,
who remains the principal theorist of 0econstruction$ %he publication of the three of his boo1s in 19.C,
namely Writing and +ifferene" ,f *rammatology" and ,f Speeh and Phenomena" laid the foundation of
the theory of 0econstruction$ 0errida has his precursors in (riedrich 'iet6sche (1B!19J9#, 7artin
>eide&&er (1BB9!19C.#, and +i&mund (reud (1B".!19J9#, who ,uestioned the fundamental philosophical
concepts such as “1nowled&e”, “truth”, and “identity” as well as the traditional concepts of a coherent
indi)idual consciousness and a unitary self$ 4lthou&h notoriously difficult and elusi)e, 0errida’s )iews can
be summarised as under;
>e insists that all Western philosophies and theories of 1nowled&e, of lan&ua&e and its uses, of
culture, are A3K39-'%E89$ What he means is that they are centred or &rounded on a “lo&o” (which in
Kree1 si&nified both “word” and “rationality$”#$ Usin& a phrase from >eide&&er, he says that they rely on
“the metaphysics of presence$” 4ccordin& to him, these philosophies and theories are lo&ocentric in part
because they are 5>3'39-'%E89D that they, in other words, &rant, implicitly or e/plicitly, lo&ical
“priority”, or “pri)ile&e”, to speech o)er writin& as the model for analysin& all discourse$
0errida’s e/planation for “lo&o” or “presence” is that it is an “ultimate referent”, a self!certifyin& and
self!sufficient &round, or foundation, which is a)ailable to us totally outside the play of lan&ua&e itself$ 8n
other words, it is directly present to our awareness and ser)es to “centre” (that is to anchor, or&anise and
&uarantee# the structure of the lin&uistic system$ 4s a result, it suffices to fi/ the bounds, coherence, and
determinate meanin&s of any spo1en or written utterance within the foundation in Kod as the &uarantor of
its )alidity$ 4nother is 5latonic form of the true reference of a &eneral term$ +till another is >e&elian “telos”
or &oal toward which all process stri)es$ 8ntention, too, is an instance, which si&nifies somethin&
determinate that is directly present to the awareness of the person who initiates an utterance$ 0errida
,uestions these philosophies and shows how untenable these premises are$ >is alternati)e conception is
that the play of lin&uistic meanin&s is “undecidable” in terms deri)ed from +aussure’s )iew that in a si&n!
system (which is lan&ua&e#, both the “si&nifiers” and the “si&nifides” owe their seemin& identities, not to
their own inherent or “positi)e” features, but to their differences from other speech sounds, written mar1s,
or conceptual si&nifications$
0errida’s most influential concept has been that of 08((-E4'9-$ >is e/planation for substitutin& =a’
for =e’ is that he has done it to indicate a fusion of two senses of the (rench )erb “differer,” which are (8# to
be different, and to defer$ %hus, meanin&s of words are relational (in relation to other words#$ %hey are also
conte/tual$ 8n any case, there are no absolute meanin&s, nor are the meanin&s of words stable, as words
always defer their meanin&s$ 4ny utterance, therefore, oral or written, can be sub2ected to any number of
interpretations, dependin& upon the reader’s ability to “play” with the )arious possible meanin&s each
word is capable of yieldin&$ %his )iew of lan&ua&e and meanin& has had &reat impact on both literary
criticism as well as literary writin&$ 5ostmodernist te/ts as well as interpretations decentre and sub)ert the
con)entional or settled meanin&s and )alues of any &i)en story or situation, concept or construction,
system or structure$
+ome of 0errida’s sceptical procedures ha)e been ,uite influential in deconstructi)e literary criticism
as well as in feminist, postcolonial, and poststructuralist creati)e compositions$ 3ne of these is to sub)ert
the innumerable binary oppositionsFsuch as manGwoman, soulGbody, ri&htGwron&, whiteGblac1,
cultureGnature, etc$Fwhich are essential structural elements in lo&ocentric lan&ua&e$ 8n 0errida’s )iew, as
he shows, there is a tacit hierarchy implied in these binaries, in which the term that comes first is
pri)ile&ed and superior, while the one that comes second is deri)ati)e and inferior$ What 0errida does is to
in)ert the hierarchy, by showin& that the secondary term can be made out to be deri)itati)e from, or a
special case of the primary term$ >e does not, howe)er, stop at thatD rather, he &oes on to destablise both
hierarchies, lea)in& them in a state of undecidability$
0errida had not thou&ht of 0econstruction as a mode of literary criticism$ >e had only su&&ested a
way of readin& all 1inds of utterances so as to re)eal and sub)ert the presuppositions of Western
7etaphysics$ @ut more than any other discipline of 1nowled&e it is literary criticism which has adopted his
theory of 0econstruction as a critical tool of literary analysis$ >is most ardent followers ha)e, howe)er,
been in4merica, not in -n&land$ %he most influential of these has been 5aul de 7an whoseAllegories of
%eading (19C9# was the earliest application of 0errida’s concepts and procedures$ %hen came @arbara
?ohnson, a student of de 7an, whose wor1, &he 'ritial +ifferene (19B0#, carried the tas1 of
appropriatin& 0errida to literary criticism still further$ Aater, ?$ >illis 7iller, once a leadin& 4merican
critic of the Kene)a +chool, con)erted to 0econstruction and contributed to the theory’s practical
application his-ition and %epetition( Se!en .nglish #o!els (19B2#, &he $inguisti Mo!ement( -rom
Wordsworth to Ste!ens (19B"#, and &heory &hen and #ow (/00l1.
/ic0ae* Fo)ca)*t !"&$1-'%(
4s he himself described, (oucault was a “specialist in history of systems of thou&ht”, althou&h we
often call him a (rench philosopher and historian$ -)en thou&h he wrote on a )ariety of sub2ects ran&in&
from science to literature, his wor1s that ha)e influenced the course of 5ostmodern literature and literary
criticism include &he Arhaeology of )nowledge (19.9#, &he ,rder of &hings (19..#, +isipline and
Punish( &he Birth of the Prison (19C"#, History of Se2uality (19C.#, Power3)nowledge (19B0#, “What is an
4uthor*” (19CC#, and Madness and 'i!ili4ation (19.1#$ 8n the boo1 listed last, (oucault e/plores how
madness is socially constructed by a wide )ariety of 08+93UE+-+ that &i)e rise to collecti)e attitudes or
mentalities definin& insanity$ 8ts basic thesis is that, li1e the lepers of the 7iddle 4&es, the mad are
e/cluded in a &esture that helps to construct modern society and its ima&e of reason$ (oucault’s ma2or
wor1s e/amine the ,uestion why, in any &i)en period, it is necessary to thin1 in certain terms about
madness, illness, se/uality or prisons$ @y clear implication he seems to as1 if it is possible to thin1 about
those topics in different ways$ %he effect of (oucault has been to )iew with distrust all that has been
passin& in the name of essentials, uni)ersals, or natural, and ta1e all these as social constructs reflectin&
the )alues of different cultures and societies$
8n the history of philosophy, (oucault’s wor1 falls within the tradition established by 'iet6sche, from
whom he adopts the techni,ue of “Kenealo&y” and the insi&ht that the search for 1nowled&e is also an
e/pression of a will to power o)er others$ (or (oucault 1nowled&e is always a form of power$ >e ta1es e)en
psychiatry and mental health as new technolo&ies that cate&ori6e certain forms of social and se/ual
beha)iour as de)iant in order to control them$ %he modern psychiatrist assumes the role of medie)al
priest, see1in& confessions, imposin& the )alues of the empowered$ >is thesis is that power is not
somethin& that one sei6es, holds, or loses, but a networ1 of forces in which power always meets with
resistance$ %hese )iews ha)e led to the challen&in& of all sorts of political, social, and &ender constructs,
ta1en as networ1s of power to repress the wea1, the indi)idual, the disad)anta&ed, the female, etc$
4lthou&h (oucault’s name was associated with structuralism and the contro)ersial theme of @arthe’s
catchy title, 0-4%> 3( %>- 4U%>3E (19.B# and 0-4%> 3( 74' (19..#, his true concern remained
with the formation and limitations of systems of thou&ht$ 4lthou&h made an icon of LU--E %>-3EH,
(oucault’s contribution has been )aluable to all the 5ostmodern critical approaches includin& the (eminist,
5ostcolonial, 5oststructuralist, etc$
Ro*and Bart0es !"&"2-'.(
4 (rench literary critic and theorist @arthes has been ,uite influential amon& the 5ostmodernist
writers and critics$ >is principal concern, despite his )aried writin&s, remains with the relationship
between lan&ua&e and society, and with the literary forms that mediate between the two$ %he idea is that
no literary composition can be studied in isolation, bein& one of the practices of a culture, an e/pression of
society’s rulin& discourse$ >ence, study of a te/t will be useful if it is done in relation to other
contemporary practices of the same cultureFe)en fashions of dress, ci&arette smo1in&, or styles of
wrestlin&$ 9ultural +tudies, one of the aspects of 5ostmodernist critical theory, althou&h founded by
Eichard >o&&art (&he 5ses of $iterary" 19"C# and Eaymond Williams ('ulture and Soiety /678-
/098" 19"B#, owes a &ood deal to the writin&s of @arthes as well$
@arthes’s famous wor1 Mythologies (19"C#, as well as his )ery first essay on writin& in 19"J,
demonstrates that no form or style of writin& is a free e/pression of an author’s sub2ecti)ity, that writin& is
always mar1ed by social and ideolo&ical )alues, that lan&ua&e is ne)er innocent$ 4 sense of the need for a
criti,ue of forms of writin& that mas1 the historical!political features of the social world by ma1in& it
appear =natural’, or ine)itable, pro)ides the impulse behind the analysis of Mythologies. @arthes’s other
boo1s include .lements of Semiology (19.#, Writing +egree :ero (19"J#, &he Pleasure of the &e2t (19C"#,
and “%he 0eath of the 4uthor” (19.B#, later included in ;mage-Musi-&e2t (19CC# ed$ @y +tephen >eath$ 8n
his essay mentioned last, @arthes pleads for abandonin& the con)entional author!and!wor1s approach in
fa)our of an anthropolo&ical and psycho!analytical readin& of canonical te/ts$ >is insistence is that
literature as well as literary criticism, as well as lan&ua&e itself, is ne)er neutral, and that the specificity of
literature can be e/amined only within the conte/t of a semiolo&y or a &eneral theory of si&ns$ >is ideas
about lan&ua&e and author and their relation with social world promoted cultural studies as well as reader!
response theory$
Jac,)es Lacan !"&."-'"(
4 (rench psychoanalyst, also most contro)ersial since (reud, Aacan has had an immense influence on
the literary theory of our time, as well as on philosophy, feminism and psychoanalysis$ 7ost of his
important writin&s are included in his .rils(19..#$ >is writin&s, full of allusion to +urrealism, contend
that the unconscious is structured li1e a lan&ua&e$ >is notion of the (ra&mented @ody clearly shows his
debt to surrealism$ >e elaborates an immensely broad synthetic )ision in which psychoanalysis
appropriates the findin&s of philosophy, the structural anthropolo&y of Ae)istrauss, and the lin&uistics of
+aussure$ >e also hea)ily relies on ?ac1bson’s wor1 of 5honeme analysis and 7etaphorG7etonymy$ >e
defines lan&ua&e as a synchronic system of si&ns which &enerates meanin& throu&h their interaction$ 8n
other words, meanin& insists in and throu&h a chain of si&nifiers, and does not reside in any one element$
(or him there is ne)er any direct correspondence between si&nifier and si&nified, and meanin& is therefore
always in dan&er of slidin& or slippin& out of control$
/i30ai* Ba30tin !"'&2-"&#2(
4 Eussian literary theorist, @a1htin has been a &reat influence on the contemporary theory of
0iscourse analysis$ >e is best 1nown by his wor1s named &he +ialogi ;magination (19B1#, Speeh *enres
and ,ther $ate .ssays (19B.#, %a<elais and his World (19.B#" and Pro<lems of +ostoe!ski=s
Poetis (19B#$ 8n these studies, there is a criti,ue of Eussian (ormalism and an outline of his
characteristic theme of “dialo&ism$” >e critici6es (ormalism for its abstraction, for its failure to analyse the
content of literary wor1s, and for the difficulty it finds in analysin& lin&uistic and ideolo&ical chan&es$ %his
criti,ue is then e/tended to lin&uistics, especially the +aussurean$ 8n his )iew, the purely lin&uistic
approach to both lan&ua&e and literature is hi&hly limited in scope$ 8t tends to isolate lin&uistic units or
literary te/ts from their social conte/t, ha)in& no analysis to offer of the relations that e/ist between both
indi)idual spea1ers and te/ts$
@a1htin’s proposal is for a historical poetics or a “translin&uistics” which can show how all social
intercourse is &enerated from )erbal communication and interaction, and that lin&uistic si&ns are
conditioned by the social or&ani6ation of the participants$ 8n his later wor1, @a1htin de)elops his historical
poetics into a theory of “speech &enres” or “typical forms of utterances$” >e claims that the wea1ness of
+aussure’s lin&uistics is that it focuses solely on indi)idual utterances and is unable to analyse how they are
combined into relati)ely stable types of utterance$ 4lthou&h his speech theory remains incomplete, @a1htin
was ambitious to apply it to e)erythin& from pro)erbs to lon& no)els by analysin& their common )erbal
With these ma2or intellectual influences in the bac1&round, the 5ostmodern literature in the second
half of the twentieth century &rew to show &reater impact of the new ideas on the continent and in
4merica, with comparati)ely much less impact on the literature of the @ritish islands$ 7ostly used as a
periodisin& concept to mar1 literature in the later half of the twentieth century, 5ostmodernism is also
used, as we ha)e earlier discussed, as a description of literary and formal characteristics such as lin&uistic
play, new modes of narrational self!refle/i)ity, and referential frames within frames$ Koin& chronolo&ically
and &enrewise, we shall try to e/plore the nature and e/tent of 5ostmodernism the literature
in @ritain absorbed and reflected durin& the period be&innin& with the 19"0’s$
Post-4ar No5e*
4fter >itler’s de)astation of @ritain, the country was literally in ruins, torn apart by years of
bombardment$ “%he landscape of ruins must also be reco&ni6ed as formin& an inte&ral part of much of the
literature of the late 190’s and the early 19"0’s$ 8t was a landscape which pro)ided a metaphor for bro1en
li)es and spirits$” 3ne of the best e/pressions in fiction of this ruin and its implications is a no)el, &he
World My Wilderness (19"0#, by a female no)elist of the post!War period, named Eose 7acaulay (1BB1!
19"B#$ %he no)el’s Aondon is not only post!War but also post!-liotic; “>ere you belon&D you cannot &et
away, you do not wish to &et away, for this the ma,uis that lies about the mar&ins of the wrec1ed world,
and here your feet are set$$$ =Where are the roots that clutch, what branches &row out of this stony rubbish*
+on of man, you cannot say, or &uess$$$$’ @ut you can say, you can &uess, that it is you yourself, your own
roots, that clutch the stony rubbish, the branches of your own bein& that &row from it and nowhere else$”
7acaulay was, of course, not the only one to )iew the post!War period as one re,uirin& the reassembla&e of
fra&ments of life and meanin&$ 4nother female no)elist of the period, -li6abeth @owen (1B99!19CJ#, also
&a)e powerful e/pression to the post!War e/perience in her &he +eath of the Heart (19JB#, $ook at all
those %oses(191#, &he +emon $o!er (19"#, &he Heat of the +ay (199#, and &he $ittle *irls(19.#$
-,ually important amon& the post!War no)elists was another female writer, Eebecca West (the pen name
of 9ecily 8sabel (airfield, 1B92!19BJ#, whose &he -ountain ,!erflows (19".# and &he Birds -all
+own (19..# depict the same de)astated world$ With her pen!name deri)ed from an 8bsen play, and
acti)ely in)ol)ed in the feminist cause, West wrote on political climate of the cold!war era$
Gra0am Greene
4 ma2or no)elist of the postmodern or contemporary period was Kraham Kreene (190!1991#, who
fre,uently &a)e direct e/pression to his pessimism, such as “(or a writer, success is always temporary,” or
“+uccess is only a delayed failure,” which he made in his autobio&raphical memoir A Sort of $ife (19CC#$ >e
emer&ed a popular writer with his )ery first no)el, &he 'omedians (19."#$ >e was a staunch anti!
imperialist who resented the risin& imperialism of 4merica and despised the crumblin& empire of @ritain$
>e remained a Eoman 9atholic since 192. when he was admitted to the Eoman 9hurch$ 4lmost all of his
wor1 is haunted by the themes of a wounded world of the -uropean colonies in 4frica or the 4merican
imperialism in Aatin 4merica, a &loomy sense of sin and moral failure, and a commitment to “others” and
rebels$ 4lthou&h Kreene produced as many as twenty si/ no)els, those necessary to 1now are&he Power
and the *lory (190#, focused on the character of a Whis1y!priest in anti!clerical 7e/icoD &he Ministry of
-ear (19J# and &he .nd of the Affair (19"1# both of which are located in the twilit, blit6ed AondonD &he
Heart of the Matter (19B#, focused on the flyblown, rat!infested, and war!blit6ed West!4frican
colonyD &he >uiet Amerian(19""#, set in Iietnam, and ,ur Man in Ha!ana (19""#, set in 9uba, both
e/pose the 4merican imperialism$ 4ll of these no)els present a &rim picture of the world that emer&ed in
the post!War period$
Ant0on Po6e**
4nother notable no)elist of the period was 4nthony 5owell, whose se,uence of 12 no)els collecti)ely
named A +ane to the Musi of &ime “is neither a fictionali6ed war memoir, nor a prose ele&y for the
decline and fall of a rulin& class$ >owe)er, as a chronicle of @ritish upper!middle!class life, set between the
1920’s and 19"0’s, it necessarily ta1es the disasters, disillusions, incon)eniences, and chan&es of a society
and its war in its leisurely and measured stride$”
Monday, December 27, 2010
Discuss the main features of Literary Post-Modernism
Introd)ction7 /odernism and Postmodernism7
@efore tryin& to e/plain what literary postmodernism is or what the salient features of
postmodernist literature are it is necessary to understand the basic si&nificance of the followin& two sets of
(i# M7odernM and M7odernismM
(ii# M5ostmodernM and M5ostmodernismM
3f these four words the least easy to e/plain is Mpostmodern$M M7odernM means what is ali)e,
pre)alent, or a)ailable today$ +o MpostmodernM is somethin& that will come later, that is, in the future$ 8n
other words, nothin& which has e)er e/isted or is e/istin& now can be Mpostmodern$M Eeal M5ostmodernsM
are, in +helleyNs phrase, in the womb of futurity$
M5ostmodernismM is, howe)er, a )ery different 1ettle of fish$ @ein& MmodernM does not necessarily
imply bein& a Mmodernist$M M7odern,M as we ha)e said, has a temporal si&nification, but MmodernismM
si&nifies a set of aesthetic tendencies associated chiefly with writers li1e ?oyce, -liot, and 5ound who wrote
around the 1920s in defiance of the decadent Iictorian and -dwardian tradition replacin& it with what is
now called M>i&h 7odernism$M Ai1e MmodernismM, MpostmodernismM was also somethin& li1e a
Mmo)ement,M but a far more amorphous one$ 8t was not self consciously directed a&ainst MmodernismM or
a&ainst any other Mism$M 7ore than a mo)ement it was a newly de)eloped mind!set which cut across
national boundaries and cut across academic disciplines and aesthetic arts as also schools of criticism
(such as the (reudian, 7ar/ian, etc$#$ %he amorphousnature of Mpost modernismM can be easily pro)ed by
citin& the case of +amuel @ec1ettwho twenty or thirty years a&o was deemed a &reat MmodernistM but is now
hailed as a &reat Mpostmodernist$M Ai1ewise, the theatre of the absurd (of which @ec1ettNs Waiting for
*odot is a lous dassius1 as a whole is deemed to be MpostmodernistM for almost the same reason for
which it was considered MmodernistM earlier!its )iolation of cate&oriesand dismantlin& of dramatur&ical
con)entions$ 4bsurdist plays are the perennial deli&ht of Mpost modernM deconstructionist critics$
T0e Timing7
When e/actly postmodernism came into bein& is another difficult ,uestion$ (ormation of a mind!
set across nations is a &radual process which cannot be dated precisely$ %here is bra)ado in awrenceNs claim
in )angaroo that Mthe old world endedM in 191"$ Iir&inia Woolf is e,ually darin& in assertin& that M3n or
about 0ecember 1910 human character chan&ed$M %he MworldM or Mhuman characterM does not chan&e so
suddenly and so completely$
Eou&hly spea1in&, postmodernism may be related to what 0ra1a1is calls Ma transformation of
-uropean culture at the end of World War 88$ %his war produced the death camps and the atomic bomb,
and thus &enerated a new sense of manNs propensity to e)il, of the destructi)e potential of scientific
1nowled&e, and of the perils of political totalitarianism$ %he end of -mpire and the post! war chan&es in
the world economy and power!structure in)ol)ed new relationships between @ritain and other cultures$M
Non-recognition o8 Bo)ndaries7 9:ridism7
3ne important feature of postmodernism is its non!reco&nition of boundaries of all 1inds$ 8n life,
cultural boundaries and hierarchies ensure order and discipline, and in the field of creati)e writin& &eneric
boundaries ensure decorum$ 'either the modernists nor the postmodernists o)erly obser)ed such
boundaries, but there is a difference$ Whereas the former willfully trans&ressed them (to achie)e the
re,uired effects#, the latter 2ust do not reco&ni6e them at all$ ?oyce and -liot de)ised new techni,ues for
their fiction and poetry respecti)ely, 1nowin& fully well that they were reflectin& or sub)ertin& the old ones$
%he postmodernistN new techni,ue consists in mi/in& up the old a)ailable ones$ 4nd not only techni,ues,
they mi/ up disparate &enres as well, producin& wor1s which carry the specific mar1 of postmodern
hybridism$ Aet us consider a few e/amples of &eneric hybridism$
+ince 5lato, creati)e literature and literary criticism ha)e been reco&ni6ed as )ery different 1inds
of discourse not to be intermi/ed in a &i)en wor1$ 3f course, there ha)e been a few e/amples of a little
departure from the rule!such as in 0rydenNs .ssay of +ramati Poesy and +wiftNs &he Battle of the
Books" the former of which is more criticism than creation and the latter more creation than criticism, but
either combines both discourses$ 4s e/emplars of postmodernist practice consider such wor1s as Eoland
@arthesN "CC(19C# and ?ulian @arnesN -lau<ert?s Parrot (19B"#! Mcreati)e criticismM of @al6acNs
no)ella Sarrasine and (laubertNs life and wor1s respecti)ely$ @oth these wor1s employ a medley of
techni,ues in an unprecedented manner$
8n @al6acNs no)ella +arrasine is a sculptor in lo)e with a castrated opera sin&er with a female
name, ta1in& him to be a woman$ >e disco)ers his real identity at their first meetin& and ends up bein&
1illed$ @arthes ma1es a )ery percepti)e, line!by!line analysis of @al6acNs story and disco)ers that castration
(with which @al6ac plays around but ne)er mentions# with all its symbolic su&&estions of want,
imperfection, incompleteness, loss of wholeness, deadness and so on is in)ariably present as a thematic
positi)e$ %he real interest of S3: lies in the numerous di&ressions, whimsical punctuation and
capitali6ation and, what @arthes himself calls, Ma number of ficti)e elements$M
8f S3: is nominally a critical wor1, -lau<ert?s Parrot is, as nominally, a no)el$ Keoffrey
@raithwaite, the narrator, &i)es an account of his obsession with the (rench no)elist both as man and
fictionist$ 7uch of the interest of @arnesN boo1, li1e that of @arthes, lies in di&ressions of all sorts, such as a
dictionary of the pre)alent ideas about (laubert, chronolo&ies of &ood and bad incidents in his life and a
collection of the animal metaphors used by him$ Eobert Eay obser)es; M3fficially neither bio&raphy nor
criticism, -lau<ert?s Parrot achie)es the effect of both; a 1nowled&e effect enhanced by eruditionNs passa&e
throu&h the no)eles,ue$M
Literar Pastic0e7
+o far as literary wor1s are concerned, postmodernist @ritish literature has se)eral e/amples to
offer of wor1s ma1in& deliberate use of a hod&epod&e of techni,ues andGor se)eral 1inds of discourse$ 4
fine e/ample is 0oris Aessin&Ns no)el &he *olden #ote<ook (19.2# which deals with the 4frican problem as
also the problem of bein& a woman in a manNs world$ %he diaries of the prota&onist 4nna, who wants to be
a Mfree womanM occupy a substantial part of the boo1$ %he no)el, in 4ndrew EobertsN words, Me/emplifies
the post!modernist e/periment in Aessin&Ns wor1, in its use of multiple narrati)es and its concern with
fiction and the reconstruction of the self$M @older than&he *olden #ote<ook is ?ohn (owlesN &he -renh
$ieutenant?s Woman (19.9#!a pastiche combinin& passa&es from 0arwin, 7ar/, 4rnold, and %ennyson,
,uotations from sociolo&ical reports, fre,uent authorial comments and narrati)e passa&es in the
nineteenth!century no)elistic style$ (urther, in the course of the no)el (owles himself becomes a character$
4nd, last but not least, (owles offers two alternati)e endin&s, in)itin& the reader to choose either$
@$+$ ?ohnson has been an a)ant!&arde postmodernist writer of recent times$ >isSee the ,ld $ady
)indly (19C9# is a Mnon!fictional no)elM which ma1es a &enerous use of authentic documents and
photo&raphs$ 4nother path!brea1in& no)el, &he 5nfortunates(19.9# comprises twenty!se)en loose!leaf
sections, twenty!fi)e of which may be read in any order< ?ohnsonNs intention is the familiar postmodernist
one of hi&hli&htin& the arbitrariness of the structure of fictionality and the radical circularity of the mind$
A Ret)rn to Re;resentationa*ism and t0e P*eas)re Princi;*e7
%his welter of postmodernist techni,ues or rather combination of techni,ues, &enres, and
discourses must not be allowed to o)ershadow a distincti)e element of postmodernism!a return to
representational ism and the pleasure principle which had been re2ected by the modernists$ 7ellarme,
(laubert, -liot, 5ound etc$ were a&ainst the )ul&ari6ation of art$ %hey were for difficult literature
inaccessible to the masses$ When 7ellarmeNs publisher came to collect a poem, 7ellarme said; MWait till 8
add a little obscurity$M 7imetic or representational art, bein& easy to understand, is the common peopleNs
cup of tea and a source of pleasure$ -)en @recht, who had 7ar/ian leanin&, spo1e li1e a modernist; M8 am
at an e/tremely classical, cold, hi&hly intellectual style of performance$ 8Nm not writin& for the scum who
want to ha)e the coc1les of their hearts warmed$M Aater on, howe)er, he made some concession to what he
called Mfun,M i$e$, the pleasure principle$
%hus one mo)ement of postmodernism is from elitist intellectuality and obscurity to en2oyable
lucidity for mass consumption$ 5op art of today is as postmodernist as complicated e/periments with
Postmodernist Literar Criticism7
%he distincti)e features of postmodernist criticism are much more easily identifiable than those of
postmodernist literature$ 4s the postmodernists are inclined to i&nore the con)entional boundaries,
postmodernist criticism tends to be interdisciplinary$ %he purity of old critical approaches is now a thin& of
the past$
%he centre field of critical acti)ity today is occupied by structuralists and poststructuralists$
+tructuralists (such as +aussure, the Eussian formalists, @arthes, etc$# re2ect the idea that ate/t represents
the authorNs meanin& or reflects a society$ %hey treat it as an independent unit but a part of a structure
comprisin& other te/ts as well$ %hey ha)e a propensity for lin&uistic analysis to arri)e at the idea of the
structure of the te/t which animates its parts$ 8n short their search is not for an inherent meanin& of the
te/t but for the literary and cultural structures (which are outside it# which &enerate meanin&$
5oststructuralists focus their attention on the ways in which te/ts themsel)es undermine structures$ %he
theory of the most eminent poststructuralist ?ac,ues 0errida is 1nown as Mdeconstruction$M 0errida denies
the e/istence of specific structures built around centres$ 4ccordin& to him Mthere are only conte/ts without!
any centre or absolute anchorin&$M %hus a te/t has no meanin&, only MplayM of lin&uistic elements which
1eeps the hypothetical meanin& defeated fore)er$ 4 deconstructionist dismantles the te/t!and studies the
MplayM amon& its bits which sub)erts all meanin& or 1eeps it perpetually deferred$