Re: RARA-AVIS: Postmodernism and literature

From: david david (
Date: 18 Mar 2007

miker's not, um, a big fan of post-structuralism.

--- Michael Robison <> wrote:

> Jim Doherty wrote:
> My curiosity is overcoming my reluctance to display
> my
> ignorance. What, exactly, is "po-mo?"
> **************
> More than you ever wanted to know, sliced out of
> last
> September:
> In 1916 the collected lectures of Saussure were
> published posthumously in a thin volume titled
> Course
> in General Linguistics. Called structuralism, it
> introduced a revolutionary concept into the field of
> linguistics. Formerly, the study of language
> emphasized the history of words, a field called
> etymology that examined the slow evolution of word
> similarities and derivatives. Structuralism
> stressed
> differences instead, stating that words are defined
> by
> difference rather than similarity. Saussure
> referred
> to words as signifiers, the idea or thing that it
> stood for as the signified, and the word and idea
> together was the sign. Saussure's book on
> linguistics
> lighted a slow-burning fuse that took over forty
> years
> to make the transition into literary criticism. In
> the sixties, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida
> seized
> upon structuralism's emphasis on differences and
> extrapolated it out to binary opposites,
> concentrating
> on constructs such as light and dark, good and evil,
> male and female.
> Ten years later postmodernism was born. The
> movement
> originated with the restoration of peace after the
> violent student rioting in France during the late
> sixties. A transmogrification of structuralism,
> postmodernism declared the binary opposites of
> structuralism as non-neutral constructs that
> supported
> a philosophic bias, with one end of the spectrum
> seen
> as more desirable or privileged than the other. By
> an
> often contrived process, the postmodernists revealed
> the privileged construct and proceeded by a process
> called deconstruction to use minor or obscure
> details
> to demonstrate conflicts in the underlying
> philosophy
> of the text. The bottom line was an established
> methodology for demonstrating that the validity of
> absolutely everything can be denied. This, of
> course,
> is not an original school of thought but rather a
> rehash of the Greek sceptics. Postmodern scepticism
> is founded upon a conclusion drawn from two
> premises.
> First, human perception of reality is based almost
> exclusively on language. As Roland Barthes's
> dramatically stated, "There is nothing outside the
> text." Second, language is a notoriously unreliable
> media for portraying reality with any degree of
> accuracy.
> So what do you find in postmodern fiction? A
> standard
> theme is the purposeful disruption of any sense of
> realism. Postmodernism considers realism to be
> bogus
> because they consider language to be an inadequate
> tool for conveying reality. Therefore, realism in
> writing is dishonest, and a writing style that
> brings
> attention to the contrivance of the story is
> desirable. Authorial intrusion upon the text is one
> technique used to disrupt realism. The story is
> interrupted by editorial commentary from the author
> in
> a manner that accents the artificiality of the text.
> It might be a discussion of a possible event in the
> author's life that inspired the story, like in Tim
> O'Brien's The Things They Carried, or the author
> might
> talk about his price negotiations for the novel at
> hand, like in Nick Tosches's In the Hand of Dante.
> Another technique commonly used to impart a
> postmodern
> flavor is manipulation of the narrative. Narrative
> structure with the usual suspects moving through a
> reasonably contolled timeline is old school. The
> narrative might be scattered, perhaps with many
> different characters doing inconsequential bit
> parts,
> sometimes so convoluted and confused that it simply
> doesn't carry much of anything identifiable as a
> story.
> Another common postmodern theme is the
> deconstruction
> of ideals and absolutes. Around the mid-twentieth
> century there was a strong belief that moral right
> and
> wrong were founded on immutable and absolute
> principles. Postmodern scepticism eschews any kind
> of
> certainty, and denies the validity of these
> absolutes.
> In postmodern fiction, any character with strong
> moral beliefs will likely be proved to be a fool or
> a
> fraud. Julian Barnes demonstrates this in his
> Arthur
> and George. Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the
> popular
> Sherlock Holmes stories, appears as a character in
> Barnes's novel. What first appears to be
> respectable
> motives and upright Victorian morality is
> deconstructed into pathetic hypocrisy and stupidity
> by
> the end of the book. There is an exception to their
> objection to absolutes. In postmodernism, the
> United
> States typically stands as a symbol for many of the
> ideals that it disdains. As a result, the moral
> stance of anti-American characters is likely to be
> bolstered, without being subjected to the usual
> postmodern criticism.
> Another theme found in postmodern fiction is
> marginalization. Although language is deemed
> undependable, it can nevertheless wield great power.
> Foucault identified certain schools of thought that
> centered around the favoring of some binary
> opposites.
> Calling them discourses of power, he noted that
> they
> empower particular groups of people while isolating
> others in a marginalized state. Originally,
> Foucault
> concentrated on crazies and criminals as
> marginalized
> by the social mores of the eighteenth century, but
> eventually Western democracy was targeted by
> postmodernism as a dominant discourse of power, and
> the portrayal of those marginalized by it became a
> popular theme. So instead of a bastion of freedom
> and
> the epitome of Enlightenment philosophy, Western
> democracy is deconstructed into an expansionist
> tyranny. Pamuk's Snow demonstrates how deeply
> religious Muslims are pressured by Western
> oppression
> into terrorist acts of liberation. Barnes's Arthur
> and George portrays Victorian society as racist and
> sexist.
> The establishment of the sanctity of the individual
> was the supreme philosophical achievement of the
> Renaissance, and a philosophy of natural rights and
> a
> structure of government that supported it was the
> apogee of the Enlightenment. In postmodernism, the
> individual loses importance and becomes little more
> than an arbitrary intersection of varying and
> dubious
> discourses, so debunking the value of the individual
> is a primary postmodernism theme. Postmodern
> characters are often drab, uncommitted, uninspired,
> and lifeless, often little more than text on the
> page.
> In postmodern thought, this is not bad writing; it
> is
> the intended effect. Generally, the characters
> accomplish little. Any significant accomplishment
> would have the suspicious aura of mattering, a
> dangerous flirting with the obviously bogus concept
> of
> an ideal worth working towards. In a postmodern
> mystery novel, the mystery most likely won't get
> solved, and if it is solved, it won't matter to
> anyone. If it's a crime novel, nobody will pay for
> the crime, but on the outside chance that somebody
> does, it won't be the person who committed the crime
> and, again, it won't really matter.
> miker
=== message truncated ===

____________________________________________________________________________________ Now that's room service! Choose from over 150,000 hotels in 45,000 destinations on Yahoo! Travel to find your fit.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 18 Mar 2007 EDT