Postmodernism in Literature

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Postmodern literature

The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain tendencies in post-World War II literature. It is both a continuation of the experimentation championed by writers of the modernist period (relying heavily, for example, on fragmentation, paradox, questionable narrators, etc.) and a reaction against Enlightenment ideas implicit in Modernist literature. Postmodern literature, like postmodernism as a whole, is difficult to define and there is little agreement on the exact characteristics, scope, and importance of postmodern literature. However, unifying features often coincide with Jean-François Lyotard's concept of the "meta-narrative" and "little narrative", Jacques Derrida's concept of "play", and Jean Baudrillard's "simulacra". For example, instead of the modernist quest for meaning in a chaotic world, the postmodern author eschews, often playfully, the possibility of meaning, and the postmodern novel is often a parody of this quest. This distrust of totalizing mechanisms extends even to the author; thus postmodern writers often celebrate chance over craft and employ metafiction to undermine the author's "univocal" control (the control of only one voice). The distinction between high and low culture is also attacked with the employment of pastiche, the combination of multiple cultural elements including subjects and genres not previously deemed fit for literature. A list of postmodern authors often varies; the following are some names of authors often so classified, most of them belonging to the generation born in the interwar period: William Burroughs (1914-1997) Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), John Barth (b. 1930), Donald Barthelme (1931-1989), E. L. Doctorow (b. 1931), Robert Coover (1932), Jerzy Kosinski (1933-1991) Don DeLillo (b. 1936), Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937), Ishmael Reed (1938), Kathy Acker (1947-1997), Paul Auster (b. 1947).[1]

Significant pre-cursors

Postmodernist writers often point to early novels and story collections as inspiration for their experiments with narrative and structure: Don Quixote, 1001 Arabian Nights, The Decameron, and Candide, among many others. In the English language, Laurence Sterne's 1759 novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, with its heavy emphasis on parody and narrative experimentation, is often cited as an early echo of postmodernism. Other significant examples of 18th century parody include the works of Jonathan Swift and Shamela by Henry Fielding. There were many 19th century examples of attacks on Enlightenment concepts, parody, and playfulness in literature including Lord Byron's satire, especially Don Juan; Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus; Alfred Jarry's ribald Ubu parodies and his invention of 'Pataphysics; Lewis Carrol's playful experiments with signification; the work of Isidore Ducasse, Arthur Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, etc. Playwrights who worked in the late 19th and early 20th century whose thought and work influenced the aesthetic of postmodernism include Swedish dramatist August Strindberg, the Italian author Luigi Pirandello, and the German playwright and theorist Bertolt Brecht. In the 1910s, artists associated with Dadaism celebrated chance, parody, playfulness, and attacked the central role of the artist. Tristan Tzara claimed in "How to Make a Dadaist Poem" that to create a Dadaist poem one had only to put random words in a hat and pull them out one by one. Another way Dadaism influenced postmodern literature was in the development of collage, specifically collages using elements from advertisement or illustrations from popular novels (the collages of Max Ernst, for example). Artists associated with Surrealism, which developed from Dadaism, continued experimentations with chance and parody while celebrating the flow of the subconscious. Andre Breton, the founder of Surrealism, suggested that automatism and the description of dreams should play a greater role in the creation of literature. He used automatism to...
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