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The postmodernist fables and conundrums.

Conventions of the discontinuous writerly

text: the playful choices and games which ingeniously sample and re-write the canon.
Case-study 1: THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN – a Victorian critical
encyclopaedia and a taunting romance; the Hardy-esque pastiche and the 20th c. parodical
game as ingredients of the post-modern experiment. Time and the hour-glass shape of
the intra-canonical relationship between the 19th and the 20th centuries.

1. A Theoretical Introduction
Commonplaces about Post-Modernism. On Why and How “Post-“ is Appended to
Modernism in Literature. The Connexion to Post-Structuralism.
- Self-reflexive fiction foregrounding the constructedness of the text, not any subtle
aesthetic intuitions – an ontology of form and creation (it amounts to being an
encyclopedia, IZ) (Brian McHalle’s book on Postmodernist Fiction (published by
Methuen, 1987) speaks extensively of modernism as being epistemological, i.e.,
interested in the cognition of life through the creation of fictional worlds, and of
postmodernism as launching ontological questions among several possible worlds being
meditative or reflexive about fiction-making; what our lectures said about modernism
was, in addition, that there is in modernism stress on subjectivity as the last centre in a
de-centred world. Post-modernism does away with the last centre of identification left
to the reader: the subjective conscience - which was used in the 20th c novels in general
and in the novels of adolescence (the English name for Bildungsroman) in particular to
give universal shape to existence. The loss of centre1 causes the novels to become flat
sheaves of paper whose binding-pattern rather than a meaningful sequence of collage-
pieces matters most. What has been retained from modernism is the uniqueness of the
monad, but we deal with decentred monads, flat and proliferating in an arbitrary space.
The reading task is a cold, intellectual one: to accomodate to the local pattern so as to
interact with the local idea, which is, in principle a generality, an abstraction. The other
thing retained from high modernist or anagogical fiction in post-modernism is the clinical
lucidity contemplating sentiments from a distance, i.e., the shunning of emotivity. But in
post-modernism there are no objective correlatives left, there is just objectivity for its
own sake. The novel becomes in fact thematic literature, a romance of ideas, not a
romance of art2, as contemplated by Oscar Wilde in his essays, for example “The Critic
as Artist”. At the same time, the medium of expression for the new, dominant ideas of
decentredness remains the literary one, with its own highly specialised conventions (as
forged by the demiurgical creative logic of the high modernists). The resulting objects of
Here is what we read about the pair centre/decentre from the Canadian Encyclopedia of Literary Theory,
edited by Irene Rima Makaryk, in 1993 : Each society tends to perceive reality in more or less coherent
ways and maintains generally syhstematic and systemic values. These constitute its foundations or centres
and are often viewed as thr firm structures which are part of a closed system. If the existence of a centre is
assumed, other ways of seeing reality and other values must be ignored, repressed or marginalized. IN oher
words, reality and values (‘presences’) are not universal but are conditional upon specific cultural, social,
economic, and political perspectives”. These perspectives (prompted by the philosophical idea of
perspectivism in Nietzsche’s unsystematic essays) have to be identified and observed at work in
postmodernist fiction, so as to help the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and recognize the intellectual
message of the decentered anti-novels of the age of post-modernism when they are read.
Acording to Benedetto Croce’s Aesthetics (published in 1902), art thrives on individual artist’s intuitions
which turns it into the hub of cultural activities in history, art being the deputy of a general philosophy of
the spirit. By contrast, intellectual enterprises based on reason and theory, tend towards representing

literary interaction (please, remember, not objects of spiritual or emotional
identification!) are impossible objects, as they are defined in the French school of literary
criticism of the later 20th century, taken up by the studies of literary hallucination(s) by
Ion (Johnny) Manolescu, of all the Ions turned into fashionable English Johnny among
the academics of the University of Bucharest, one of whom, Johnny Panzaru, is the
leading academic of our University – the Rector or Chancellor. But to finish on a less
formal tone, more adequate for the description of post-modernism which is ludicrous and
playful, post-modernist novels represent the latest embodiments of our intellectual and
playful fashions. The authors of the post-modernist novels are tricksters who take
themselves quite seriously, professional/expert authors of literary toys, i.e., mannerists,
the mannerists of modernism. This proves the tenet of Northrop Fyre’s Anatomy of
Criticism in its first, historical essay, which declares that contemporary fiction is written
everywhere in the ironic mode.
In the last part of the lecture, will be provided a collection of orientative labels for or
kinds of postmodernist fiction, but, beforehand, some further theoretical clues for the
understanding of irony underlying ”the jocular spirit” of post-modernism are offered in
what follows.
they are excerpts from a presentation of Hayden White’s 1986 book Tropics of


(an excerpt from chapter 2, about interpretation) According to the chapter dedicated to
Giambattista Vico, the 9th in Hayden White’s book, irony is the mode of intellectual
existence in the ages that have renounced the healing, providential idea of identifying
with prototypical perfection (the perfections of the spirit in inspired, sacred texts, for
Vico) and are living in the age of men (not of gods or heroes), which ushers in an age of
decadence if irony is allowed to fend for itself only. As we can read below:

Now, most of the postmodernist fables (metafictional texts, as we learn explicitly from
Linda Hutcheon’s Poetics, as well as from her Politics, of Postmodernism) take pleasure
in contradicting on purpose such cyclical interpretations about the dependence of man
upon other than the man-made thoughts or constructions (and especially the fables of
postmodernism are bent on demonstrating the lack of dependence of man on nature or the
spirit or God3). The novels become polemic instruments refuting all the traditional
expectations that have become entrenched as commonplaces of the literary great
expectations. In this respect, they are brilliant man-made objects cutting short
identification and relegating it to merely human, all too human interaction.
Unlike in Nietzsche’s essays, however, the human interactions create intellectual and
miniature toys of art that give delight and hurt not – like Ariel’s songs, in The Tempest,
only, not commended by any authority figure. For they are songs of the enchanted island
of literature. Their main purpose is to interrupt what Vico had called, in the 18th century,
the ricorsi, or law of repetition in the texture of tradition.

Rather, they depend upon the rules of literary textuality, as we learn dogmatically, from Roland Barthes,
who proclaimed, among other French post-structuralists “il n’y a pas de hors texte”.

* The postmodern universe is a universe of intertextualities (according to Julia Kristeva,
intertextualities are different practices placed in relation; it is necessary to distinguish
different practices from different identities placed in interpersonal conjunction in
traditional fiction)

* The postmodern universe refuses simple, linear statements by asking questions

rather than by immersion in subjectivity (as in high modernism) – e.g. “post-
cognitive” questions : “Which world is this? What is to be done in it? Which of my
selves is to do it?” specialised questions bearing either on the ontology of the
literary text itself or on the ontology of the world which it projects, for instance:
What is a world?; What kinds of world are there, how are they constituted, and how
do they differ?; What happens when different kinds of world are placed in
confrontation, or when boundaries between worlds are violated?; What is the mode
of existence of a text, and what is the mode of existence of the world (or worlds) it
projects?; How is a projected world structured? And so on”.

2. The Perspective and the Pieces of the Artistic Puzzle in John Fowles’s bestseller
and best-movie of the year “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”

We can follow the way the ingredients of the new artistic platform emerge in Fowles’s
book which is a distinctly self-reflexive novel, still very much a novel crossing over
personal and cultural identities, as in realistic fiction (in the Victorian age).

* the narrative method – retrospection – a 20th retrospective view upon the Victorian
age, its ethos, its texs, its values – an encyclopaedia of Britishness made up of two
halves, the 20th c and the 19th c. ; witty articulation, in fictional form of intellectual
and fictional conversation and conundrums (riddles); only apparently an omniscient
narrative, in fact an ironic, self-reflexive narrative hiding a dramatized narrator who
had been present, hidden in the hermeneutic dimension of the text, as an enigma in
detective stories which are not read as detective stories, but as realistic and
philosophical romances – and who surfaces in chapter 55.

* the species of the novel – a historical novel, a documentary text (a national

identity romance, a romance proper, an anti-novel)

* the characters’ reduplication (in the female and male protagonists ) and their
spanning across centuries, with the Victorian male protagonist divided between a

Victorian and a 20th c. feminine protagonists (the spoilt upper-middle class Ernestina
and the tragic muse fit for 20th c. writers’ inspiration, Sarah); the pre-Raphaelite
artistis’ community as a switch between two ages

* the hour-glass shape of the novel, with the essential strain of epochal time
recommending the reversibility of time-economies characteristic, in one way, for the
19th century (as we can read in chapter 4) and characteristic in a quite diferent way
for the 20th humanity (see the figure of the hourglass that can be turned upside
down, so as to let the sand course from the emptied cup into the cup about to be
filled (THE HOURGLASS SHAPE - a new shape than linearity, as in the Christian,
progressive view of time prolonged in eternity for the firm believers; a new shape
than the corsi-ricorsi in Vico’s cycles, cf. the quote above)

* the kinds of postmodern textuality to be found in Fowles’s encyclopaedic novel: the

paratextual, framing quotes from Victorian fiction, poetry and documentation from/
about the Victorian age

* the Victorian intertext – confronting and debating the presuppositions of realistic

and domestic fiction, the Darwinian view of the world, the anti- (or late) Victorian
Pre-Raphaelite thread and solution to the narrative

* the hypotext – Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native – versus the 20 th c.

* the ironical, self-reflexive text

* the manneristic meta-text

Each of these texts motivates the different endings of the novel.

3. American brands of postmodernism

* Raymond Federman, our Italics,, from the google search, the entry from Writing in 1988, Raymond Federman acknowledged self-reflexive fiction as a
troublesome, exasperating, irritating form of narrative with its gimmicks, its playfulness, its
narcissism, its self-indulgence. It is a remarkable admission, considering that as both critic and
innovator, Federman bears a large share of responsibility for the attack on the referential
element in [literature]... “Critifiction: Postmodern Essays” (1994) Federman focuses on
themes that have obsessed him throughout his long career, including Surfiction (a kind
of fiction that he himself forwarded in the seventies), Imagination As Pla{y}giarism,
Self-Reflexive Narrative Devices („Critifiction erases the line between genres. A piece of
critifictional writing brings together fragments of fiction, poetry, theory, criticism,
quotation, misquotation, pla[y]giarism, or whatever is available to the writer. As such,
Critifiction becomes digressive and discontinuous. ”).... Federman celebrates the crazy
products of Postmodern Fiction: works by such writers as Pynchon, Sukenick, Barth,
Sorrentino, Gins, Abish and many others, as well as the one writer who Federman has
spent his entire adult life studying and trying to make sense of: Samuel Beckett. The
Ghost of Beckett and all his alter-identities (Malloy, Malone, The Unnameable) fills these
pages. Federman goes so far as to say that December 22, 1989, the day Beckett died,
was also the day Postmodernism died.

Metafiction is primarily associated with Modernist and Postmodernist literature, but is
found at least as early as the 9th century One Thousand and One Nights, Cervantes' Don
Quixote and Chaucer's 14th Century Canterbury Tales.

In the 1950s, several French novelists published works whose styles were collectively
dubbed "nouveau roman" ("new novel"). These "new novels" were characterized by their
bending of genre and style and often included elements of metafiction. It became
prominent in the 1960s, with authors such as John Barth, Robert Coover, Kurt Vonnegut,
and William H. Gass. Important American examples from that time include: Barth's Lost
in the Funhouse, Coover's The Babysitter and The Magic Poker, Vonnegut's
Slaughterhouse Five, and Gass's Willie Master's Lonesome Wife.

Some common metafictive devices include:

• A work of fiction within a fiction (e.g. Hamlet, "The Laughing Man", The Crying
of Lot 49)
• A novel about a writer creating a story (e.g. Secret Window, Secret Garden, At
Swim-Two-Birds, Atonement, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,
The Counterfeiters, The World According to Garp, Barton Fink, Adaptation.).
• A novel about a reader reading a novel (e.g. Neverending Story, If On a Winter's
Night a Traveler).
• A novel within the novel (e.g. Sophie's World, The Princess Bride).
• A story addressing the specific conventions of story, such as title, paragraphing or
plots. (e.g. Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth)
• A novel in which the book itself seeks interaction with the reader and asks the
reader to stroke the pages of the book to see the book itself as a "living entity"
(e.g., Reflections in a Prism by David Lempert).
• A non-linear novel, which can be read in any order other than from beginning to
end (e.g. The Unfortunates by B. S. Johnson, Rayuela by Julio Cortazar,
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce).
• Narrative footnotes, which continue the story while commenting on it (e.g. Pale
Fire, House of Leaves, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, The Post Card by
Jacques Derrida).
• A novel wherein the author (not merely the narrator) is a character (e.g.The Dark
Tower, The French Lieutenant's Woman, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Life of
Pi, Everything Is Illuminated, The People of Paper, Breakfast of Champions,
Slaughterhouse Five, Song of Susannah, Lanark, JPod, The Monkey Wrench
Gang, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues)
• A movie in which a character reads a fictional story (e.g. The Princess Bride,
Donnie Darko, Disney Channel's Life is Ruff)
• A movie or television show in which a character begins humming, whistling, or
listening to (on a radio, etc), the show or movie's theme song (e.g. the final scene
of "Homer's Triple Bypass", from The Simpsons, or when Sam Carter hums the
theme from Stargate SG-1 during the episode "Chimera", or the second Collector

from Demon Knight or when Mr. Incredible whistles theme music from The
• A parallel novel which has the same setting and time period as a previous work,
and many of the same characters, but is told from a different perspective (e.g. The
Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, Wicked (novel) by Gregory Maguire,
The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys,Till We
Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom
Stoppard, Grendel by John Gardner, Foe by J.M. Coetzee, Ender's Shadow by
Orson Scott Card). iz, a pastiche novel
• A work of fiction directly referencing another work that internally references the
first work. (e.g. Weird Al Yankovic appearing on The Simpsons, when he himself
sings songs that reference The Simpsons.)
• A story that anticipates the reader's reaction to the story.
• Merging characters or elements from diverse works of fiction into a new fictional
scenario (e.g. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).
• Characters who do things because those actions are what they would expect from
characters in a story. (e.g. Scream, Who Framed Roger Rabbit , The Last
• Characters who express awareness that they are in a work of fiction (e.g. Stranger
than Fiction, "The Great Good Thing", Puckoon, Spaceballs: the Movie,
Deadpool, Illuminatus!, Uso Justo, 1/0. "Bob and George")
• A real pre-existing piece of fiction X, being used within a new piece of fiction Y,
to lend an air of verisimilitude to fiction Y, e.g. A Nightmare on Elm Street is
referenced extensively in Wes Craven's New Nightmare, while actors from the
former star as "themselves".
• A story where the author is not a character, but interacts with the characters. (e.g.
She-Hulk, Animal Man, Betty Boop, Daffy Duck in Duck Amuck, Breakfast of
• A dialogue between two characters who interact within the dialogue with the
author himself, who enters the dialogue he is writing as a character created by
him. (Gödel, Escher, Bach)

Contemporary author Paul Auster has made metafiction the central focus of his writing
and is probably the best known active novelist specialising in the genre.

Metafiction may figure for only a moment in a story, as when "Roger" makes a brief
appearance in Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, or it may be central to the work, as
in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

As a literary device, metafiction is frequent feature of post-modernist literature. Examples

such as If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, "a novel about a person
reading a novel" as above, can be seen as exercises in metafiction.

Metahumor is a device in which the author or creator uses metafiction as a starting point
to deliberately and comedically break suspension of disbelief. For example, in the
videogame We Love Katamari, the entire plot centers around the King of All Cosmos

sending the Prince to roll more katamari to appease fans who enjoyed the first game,
Katamari Damacy, and subsequently wanted to see more of it.[1]

It can be used in multiple ways within one work. For example, novelist Tim O'Brien, a
Vietnam War veteran, writes in his short story collection The Things They Carried about
a character named "Tim O'Brien" and his war experiences in Vietnam. Tim O'Brien, as
the narrator, comments on the fictionality of some of the war stories, commenting on the
"truth" behind the story, though all of it is fiction. Likewise, in the story chapter How to
Tell a True War Story, O'Brien comments on the difficulty of capturing the truth while
telling a war story.