Elements of Postmodernism in Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, Don Delillo's White Noise, Toni Morrison's Beloved and Thomas Pynchon's the Crying of Lot 49

Topics: Thomas Pynchon, Postmodern literature, The Crying of Lot 49 Pages: 18 (6348 words) Published: June 20, 2013
Introduction

Postmodernism as a term and a philosophy represents a wide range of various concepts and ideas. Perhaps the central achievement of postmodernism is the "consideration of difference," an insistent attention to the local cultures and undervalued constituencies that modernism's exaltation of unity and grand narrative often obscured, which can easily be observed by reading and analyzing some of the most important works of American postmodern fiction. Works such as Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, Don DeLillo's White Noise, Toni Morrison's Beloved and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 are only a few of many which contain all or some of postmodernism's most distinguishable elements.

Throught these four novels one can perceive the concepts of potmodernism, from its assault upon traditional narratives to the role of the individual in an impersonal, emotionless society. The narrative techniques applied by the authors are entirely consistent with the postmodern strive to break up the structure of the text and to involve the reader and give him a significant role in the creation process. White Noise is abundant in lists of three products or brand names which are used as a method of disruping the narrative. In Reed's Mumbo Jumbo the text begins and ends as if it were a movie script, with credits, a fade-in, and a freeze-frame. This is followed by a closing section that mimics a scholarly book on social history or folk magic by citing a lengthy bibliography. In addition, the entire story is heavily illustrated throughout with drawings, photographs, and collages, all of which is incorporated with the sole purpose of stepping outside the boundaries of traditional narrative techniques. Toni Morrison shifts points of view and merges narratives of different characters and this way disrupts the linear plot.

The language used in the novels is consistent with the characteristical language of the society and is often criticized as too colloquial or imperfect. The fact of the matter, however, is that such a language genuinely depicts the language of the surrounding world and its impoverishment caused by the newly developed technologies, which ultimately is the goal of postmodern writers.

Also all of these novels are characteristically postmodern in the anxious, skeptical way they treat the question of knowledge. Philosophically, postmodernism contends that real, definitive knowledge is impossible and that truth is forever shifting and relative. Complex and intricately woven, postmodern novels string together a never-ending web of connections that ultimately frustrate any attempt to draw definite conclusions. In Don DeLillo's White Noise, Jack Gladney, the narrator, constantly connects seemingly random events, dates, and facts in an attempt to form a cohesive understanding of his world. Behind that attempt lies a deep-seated need to find meaning in a media-obsessed age driven by images, appearances, and rampant material consumption. Beloved engages the reader by leaving gaps in the characters’ recollection of their painful past and therefore leaves the story incomplete.

Generally speaking, postmodern literature is fascinated by the trappings of contemporary culture. The authors are preoccupied with the rise of technology, the power of images, and the pervasiveness of the media and their protagonists search for a sense of meaning in this dreary consumerist world they cannot escape.

Pynchon’s use of surrealism and creation of vast, varied, and incredible conspiracy theories in The Crying of Lot 49 is one more prominent characteristic of postmodern fiction. Postmodernism represents an “antifoundational philosophy” since it is “a form of skepticism about authority, received wisdom and cultural and political norms”[1] therefore such instances of conspiracy theories are a common feature of nearly every postmodern novel.

All of the above mentioned and numerous other...
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