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POSTMODERN VOCABULARY

1) UNDECIDABILITY  involves the impossibility of deciding between two or more competing interpretations. For postmodern critics.  The difference is that for the new critics literary texts tended to exploit the polysemic potential of language to create a unified whole in which ambiguity produced an enriching of the text’s final unity. . by contrast. heterogeneity and difference. undecidability radically undermines the very principle of unity: these critics celebrate multiplicity.  What the new critics of the middle of the twentieth century called ambiguity or paradox is now considered in terms of undecidability. A classical example of this is the Cretan liar paradox.  The postmodern gives particular emphasis to ways in which this law may be productively questioned or suspended.

.For those nervous of the postmodern. this is deemed to amount simply to nihilism and chaos. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer argue that ‘Enlightenment is ‘totalitarian’. the postmodern is sceptical about claims of progress in history. the belief that a combination of abstract reason and empirical science will lead to knowledge and eventually to political and social progress. By contrast. not least because of the necessary marginalization (of the apparently non-progressive) which it entails. The notion of the Enlightenment entails the assertion of the power of reason over both superstition and nature.  The writing in 1944. ‘Enlightenment’ here can be understood very generally as a way of characterizing Western thought since the seventeenth century.2) A NEW ENLIGHTENMENT  Theorists of the postmodern are drawn into that exhilarating as well as terrifying ‘play’ of a text thrown up by its forms of undecidability.

 A common misunderstanding of the postmodern is that it involves simply an assertion and celebration of the irrational. 141) concerned to explore the value and importance of ways of thinking that cannot be reduced to an opposition between the rational and the irrational.  The postmodern could be seen as concerned rather with what Jacques Derrida calls ‘a new enlightenment’ (Derrida 1988. .

centre and presence.  Another way of thinking about postmodern fragmentation is in terms of dissemination.  postmodern entails a new kind of critique of the very ideas of fragment and totality. The romantics and modernists.. it is dissemination without any assurance of a centre or destination.3) DISSEMINATION  Postmodern resistance to totalizing forces such as rationalism or irrationalism means that its characteristic form is fragmentary. . Dissemination involves a sense of scattering. Postmodern fragmentation is without origins. . a scattering of origins and ends. by contrast. of identity. tend to figure fragmentation in terms of the loss of an original wholeness.  fragmentation in the postmodern does not depend on the possibility of an original ‘unity’ which has been lost.

4) LITTLE AND GRAND NARRATIVES • One of the best-known distinctions in the postmodern is that made by JeanFrançois Lyotard concerning what he calls ‘grand’ narratives and ‘little’ narratives. .

non-totalizing and ‘non-teleological’.  present local explanations of individual events or phenomena but do not claim to explain everything. Little narratives  Contemporary Western discourse is characteristically unstable. Marxism.  follow a ‘teleological’ movement towards a time of equality and justice. .  fragmentary. the Enlightenment attempt to provide a framework for everything. dispersed – not a world-view at all. fragmented.Grand narratives  such as Christianity.

5) SIMULATION  Contrast with the representation. . the real is inextricable from the significance and effect of the copy. newspapers and so on.  This leads to the world of what Jean Baudrillard calls the hyperreal. in which reality is fabricated by the technology. TV. advertising hoardings.the real become unthinkable without the copy.  Involves the disturbing idea that the copy is not a copy of something real. magazines.  Short-circuits such distinction  Saturated by images.on computers.

between nature and artifice. If one governing opposition for Western thought has been between the real and the copy. whereas our thoughts or consciousness represent depth. . The words are the surface. which involves the idea that the words which we write or speak expresssomething ‘inside’ our heads (thoughts and feelings). another has been between surface and depth  An obvious example of this would be the notion of ‘expression’.6) DEPTHLESSNESS  Another way of talking about simulation or the simulacrum is in terms of depthlessness.

is an inauthentic distortion or arbitrary offshoot of the underlying truth. he argues. . With the postmodern. all of these surface-depth models are shaken up. dislocates and transforms the oppositional structures presupposed by major Western modes of thought. while the surface phenomenon. The postmodern suspends. the facade. Fredric Jameson provides a useful account of four depth models that. have dominated the West in the twentieth century (Jameson 1993. 70):  Marxism  Psychoanalysis  Existentialism  Semiotics  In each case. the authentic or real is understood to be hidden or disguised.

no single impulse such as ridicule and no sense of a distance from any norm  This hybridization. conventions. Both rely on imitation of earlier texts or objects.  In parody. media. however. a radical intertexuality mixing forms.  The postmodern. there is an impulse to ridicule by exaggerating the distance of the original text from ‘normal’ discourse. between the serious and the ludic.7) Pastiche  Jameson also distinguishes between parody and pastiche. genres. . no longer accepts the notion of ‘normal’ language: pastiche is ‘blank’ parody in which there is no single model followed. dissolves boundaries between high and low art.

the book proclaims on its cover).M. . Genre becomes explicitly unstable EXAMPLES:  especially in such texts as Vladimir Nabakov’s Pale Fire(1963). Thomas’s The White Hotel (1981).  John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman(1969).  David Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius(2000). which uses history textbooks to tell a love story. which infuriatingly resists our desire to categorize it as either autobiography or novel (‘Based on a true story’. which mixes up a poem with a literary-critical analysis and political thriller. which exploits the genres of poetry and psychoanalytic case-study.  D.

Hollywood musicals. soap opera and so on  Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective (1986) dissolves the borders between the detective story. psychological dramas. Two of the most creative and powerful television drama series yet produced are exemplary in this respect: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990) mixes up the detective story with forms such as horror. avant-garde or art-house movies. and the Bildungsroman. .

Post modernwould have to be understood according to the paradox of the future (post) anterior (modo). puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself: that which denies itself the solace of good forms. . are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done. Hence the fact that work and text have the characters of an event . the artist and the writer. the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable. . . not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable . (Lyotard 1992. .8) The unpresentable  The postmodern would be that which. that which searches for new presentations. in the modern. then. 149–50) .

of the linear progression of time. what will have been. of a disturbance of temporality. The unpresentable is an effect. The postmodern is grammatically specified as inhabiting the future perfect. not least. There is no pure present on the basis of which re-presentation may take place. .

demystification. difference. dissemination.  As Ihab Hassan remarks. discontinuity. the possibility of final meanings or of being in the presence of pure ‘sense’. displacement.9) Decentring  The postmodern challenges the ‘logo-centric’ . dispersal.the authority of the word. 309).everything that privileges the symbolic power and significance of the phallus. decentring. delegitimation.  It challenges the ethnocentric . disappearance’ (Hassan 1989.the authority of one ethnic ‘identity’ or culture – such as Europe or ‘the West’ or Islam or Hinduism. . the postmodern may be summarized by a list of words prefixed by ‘de-’ and ‘di-’: ‘deconstruction.  It challenges the phallocentric .