You are on page 1of 6

Postmodern Literature

Postmodern describes certain characteristics of post-World War II literature. It heavily relies on

fragmentation, paradox, questionable narrators, etc. Irony, black humor, and the general
concept of “play” are the most recognizable characteristics of postmodern literature. Numerous
novelists labeled postmodern were first collectively labeled black humorists. Postmodern
literature represents a break from 19th century realism, in which a story was told from an
objective or omniscient point of view. In character development postmodern literature explores
subjectivism, turning from external reality to examine inner states of consciousness. In addition,
postmodern literature explores fragmentariness in narrative- and character-construction.

The focus in the study of postmodern literature is on intertextuality: the relationship

between one text and another. This is an indication of postmodernism’s lack of originality and
reliance on clichés. Intertextuality in postmodern literature can refer to or parallel another
literary work, an extended discussion of a work, or the adoption of a style. In postmodern
literature this commonly shows up as references to fairy tales or in references to popular genres
such as sci-fi and detective fiction. Attributes in postmodern literature are author is a character,
blurs reality and fiction, comments on its own bookishness, plays with language, and
disrupts/plays with form.
Themes and Techniques
Irony, playfulness, and black humor became trademarks for most postmodern authors.
Postmodern authors often choose very serious subjects, like wars and conspiracy theories, and
depict their histories ironically and humorously. Many postmodern used pastiche, which is to
combine elements of other genres and styles of literature to create a new narrative
voice. Popular elements are detective fiction, science fiction, and war fiction, songs, pop culture
references, and well-known, obscure, and fictional history. An important element of postmodern
literature is intertextuality. Intertextuality is the acknowledgement of previous literary works in
a story. Many postmodern authors feature metafiction in their writing, which is writing about
writing. This is an attempt to make the reader aware of its ficitionality, and the presence of the
author. Some postmodernists use temporal distortion, which is the use of a non-linear timeline.
This is where the author jumps either back in time or foward through time. Many postmodern
authors use paranoia in their novels. Thought process heavily influenced by anxiety and fear is
Paranoia. Paranoid thinking includes persecutory beliefs because the person believes they are in
danger or is threatend by something or someone.

Postmodernism means, 'after the modern'. It was a reaction to modernism and was
influenced by the disenchantment brought about by the Second World War.
Postmodernism refers to the state that lacks a central hierarchy and one that is complex,
ambiguous and diverse. The developments in society, the economy and the culture of
the 1960s were impacted by postmodernism.
Modernism Vs. Postmodernism

Modernism began in the 1890s and lasted till about 1945. Postmodernism began after
the Second World War, especially after 1968. Modernism was based on using rational,
logical means to gain knowledge while postmodernism denied the application of logical
thinking. Rather, the thinking during the postmodern era was based on unscientific,
irrational thought process, as a reaction to modernism. A hierarchical and organized and
determinate nature of knowledge characterized modernism. But postmodernism was
based on an anarchical, non-totalized and indeterminate state of knowledge. Modernist
approach was objective, theoretical and analytical while the postmodernism approach
was based on subjectivity. It lacked the analytical nature and thoughts were rhetorical
and completely based on belief. The fundamental difference between modernism and
postmodernism is that modernist thinking is about the search of an abstract truth of life
while postmodernist thinkers believe that there is no universal truth, abstract or

Modernism attempts to construct a coherent world-view whereas postmodernism

attempts to remove the difference between high and low. Modernist thinking asserts that
mankind progresses by using science and reason while postmodernist thinking believes
that progress is the only way to justify the European domination on culture. Modernist
thinking believes in learning from past experiences and trusts the texts that narrate the
past. On the other hand postmodernist thinking defies any truth in the text narrating the
past and renders it of no use in the present times. Modernist historians have a faith in
depth. They believe in going deep into a subject to fully analyze it. This is not the case
with postmodernist thinkers. They believe in going by the superficial appearances, they
believe in playing on surfaces and show no concern towards the depth of subjects.
Modernism considers the original works as authentic while postmodernist thinkers base
their views on hyper-reality; they get highly influenced by things propagated through

During the modernist era, art and literary works were considered as unique creations of
the artists. People were serious about the purpose of producing art and literary works.
These works were believed to bear a deep meaning, novels and books predominated
society. During the postmodernist era, with the onset of computers, media and
advancements in technology, television and computers became dominant in society. Art
and literary works began to be copied and preserved by the means of digital media.
People no longer believed in art and literary works bearing one unique meaning; they
rather believed in deriving their own meanings from pieces of art and literature.
Interactive media and Internet led to distribution of knowledge. Music like Mozart,
Beethoven, which was appreciated during modernism became less popular in the
postmodern era. World music, Djs and remixes characterized postmodernism. The
architectural forms that were popular during modernism were replaced by a mix of
different architectural styles in the postmodern times.

A relatively slow paced life that was driven by grounded principles became fast paced
and lost its calm
Modernism vs. Postmodernism

The term "Postmodern" begins to make sense if you understand what

"Modernism" refers to. In this case, "Modernism" usually refers to Neo-
Classical, Enlightenment assumptions concerning the role reason, or
rationality, or scientific reasoning, play in guiding our understanding of the
human condition and, in extreme cases of Postmodern theory, nature itself.
Postmodernism basically challenges those basic assumptions.

Modernism (or Enlightenment Postmodernism

Existence of stable, coherent “self”,The “self” is a myth and largely a
independent of culture and composite of one’s social
society. experiences and cultural contexts.
The "self" is an Ideology.
Reason and science provide Reason and science are Ideologies in
accurate, objective, reliable the Marxist sense; myths created by
foundation of “knowledge” man.
Reason transcends and exists There is no universal, objective
independently of our existential, means of judging any given concept
historical, cultural contexts; it is as “true”; ALL judgments of truth
universal and “true”. exist within a cultural context
(cultural relativism).
Reason and human The application of pure Reason
independence/freedom are (predicated Cartesian Radical
inherently linked; just laws Skepticism) disproves the universal
conform to the dictates of nature of a priori human freedom.
Reason. We hold these truths to be Independence/Freedom are Western
self evident… Ideologies used to colonize foreign
cultures (ie Belgian Congo, Viet
Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan)
Because it is universal, Reason can Reason is no more universal than is
help us overcome all conflicts. any other culture’s definition of
Science is the paradigm of all true Science is Ideology.
Language is transparent; a one to Language is fluid and arbitrary
one relationship between signifier and/or rooted in Power/Knowledge
(word) and signified (thing or relations. Meaning is fluid and
concept). arbitrary. Meaning is “messy”.

Reason will lead to universal “…no eternal truths, no universal

truths all cultures will embrace. human experience, no universal
human rights, overriding narrative
of human progress” (Faigley, 8).
In sum: Truth exists independent In sum: Truth may exist
of human consciousness and can independent of human
be known thru the application of consciousness but there is no
Reason. objective means of nailing it down.

All Enlightenment conclusions All Postmodern conclusions lead

lead from this assumption. from this assumption.
Connotations: The application of Connotations: There is no objective
Reason leads to means upon which to predicate
a progressive movement toward morality and right/just governance.
civilization, democracy, freedom,
scientific advancement. Postmodern theory is descriptive of
the human condition; it describes
The Enlightenment is prescriptive: a an impasse in philosophy and social
means of building a better society. relations.
Modernist Feminism: Women are Postmodern Feminism: The
oppressed by patriarchy and can categories male/female,
use Reason to achieve both masculine/feminine are themselves
independence and regain their culturally constructed and/or
“authentic selves”. Ideology. Gender roles are
culturally relative in all cultures and

Source: Borrowed heavily from Jane Flax, via Lester Faigley's Fragments Of

Modernism vs Postmodernism --The features in the table below are only

tendencies, not absolutes. In fact, the tendency to see things in seemingly obvious,
binary, contrasting categories is usually associated with modernism. The tendency to
dissolve binary categories and expose their arbitrary cultural co-dependency is
associated with postmodernism.

Modernism/Modernity Postmodern/Postmodernity
Suspicion and rejection of Master
Master Narratives and Metanarratives of
Narratives; local narratives, ironic
history, culture and national identity; myths
deconstruction of master narratives:
of cultural and ethnic orgin.
counter-myths of origin.

Faith in "Grand Theory" (totalizing

explantions in history, science and culture) Rejection of totalizing theories; pursuit of
to represent all knowledge and explain localizing and contingent theories.

Faith in, and myths of, social and cultural

Social and cultural pluralism, disunity,
unity, hierarchies of social-class and
unclear bases for social/national/ethnic
ethnic/national values, seemingly clear
bases for unity.

Master narrative of progress through Skepticism of progress, anti-technology

science and technology. reactions, neo-Luddism; new age religions.

Sense of fragmentation and decentered

Sense of unified, centered self;
"individualism," unified identity.
multiple, conflicting identities.

Idea of "the family" as central unit of social Alternative family units, alternatives to
order: model of the middle-class, nuclear middle-class marriage model, multiple
family. identities for couplings and childraising.

Subverted order, loss of centralized control,

Hierarchy, order, centralized control.

Trust and investment in micropolitics,

Faith and personal investment in big
identity politics, local politics, institutional
politics (Nation-State, party).
power struggles.

Root/Depth tropes.
Rhizome/surface tropes.
Faith in "Depth" (meaning, value, content,
Attention to play of surfaces, images,
the signified) over "Surface" (appearances,
signifiers without concern for "Depth".
the superficial, the signifier).

Disruption of the dominance of high

Dichotomy of high and low culture
culture by popular culture;
(official vs. popular culture);
mixing of popular and high cultures, new
imposed consensus that high or official
valuation of pop culture, hybrid cultural
culture is normative and authoritative
forms cancel "high"/"low" categories.

Mass culture, mass consumption, mass Demassified culture; niche products and
marketing. marketing, smaller group identities.
Knowledge mastery, attempts to embrace a Navigation, information management, just-
totality. in-time knowledge.
The encyclopedia. The Web.

Centering/centeredness, Dispersal, dissemination,

centralized knowledge. networked, distributed knowledge

Determinancy Indeterminancy, contingency.

Seriousness of intention and purpose, Play, irony, challenge to official

middle-class earnestness. seriousness, subversion of earnestness.

Hybridity, promiscuous genres,

Sense of clear generic boundaries and
recombinant culture, intertextuality,
wholeness (art, music, and literature).

Clear dichotomy between organic and cyborgian mixing of organic and inorganic,
inorganic, human and machine human and machine and electronic

Phallic ordering of sexual difference, androgyny, queer sexual identities,

unified sexualities, exclusion/bracketing of polymorphous sexuality, mass marketing of
pornography pornography

hypermedia as transcendence of physical

the book as sufficient bearer of the word;
limits of print media;
the library as system for printed knowledge
the Web or Net as information system