postmodernist writing


postmodernist writing
   The foremost difficulty in characterizing postmodernist writing is distinguishing it from the traits of high modernist texts such as Woolf’s Orlando, Eliot’s The Waste Land and Joyce’s Ulysses. Because the texts of both periods are associated with a focus on stylization that highlights fragmentary organization and intertextual echoes, identifying distinguishing features other than date of composition has been a primary task of attempts to describe what is truly postmodernist about contemporary writing and not merely retreaded modernism.
   David Lodge, in one of the first attempts to evaluate postmodernist writing, argues that postmodernism deploys devices such as contradiction, permutation of narrative line, discontinuity, randomness, excessive figural substitution and shortcircuiting of the ‘gap between text and world’. Such strategies are employed in an attempt to avoid choosing between the metaphoric and metonymic patterns that had characterized modernist and anti-modernist writing, respectively. Linda Hutcheon similarly emphasizes the tendency of postmodernist writing towards a self-unravelling. She argues that contemporary texts, such as those of Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter and Julian Barnes, emphasize a strategy of irony, a trope achieved by a self-conscious awareness of the text’s own fabricated nature, an awareness that knowingly undermines its own textual features. A particularly important mode of the practice of this self-deconstruction is intertextuality, the echoes and allusions to previous texts stressing the fact that a contemporary piece of writing is itself a fabricated document, a move that allows the postmodernist text to problematize our understanding of its ‘sources.’
   In contrast, the shift from modernism to postmodernism is primarily a philosophical one for Brian McHale, one characterized by a switch in focus from epistemological to ontological problems. Postmodernist writing no longer questions what can be known through the use of competing accounts and stream of consciousness narratives, but instead questions the unity and harmony of a single reality by highlighting the fragmentary and multiplicit natures of textuality and subjectivity. Pastiche (as seen in a writer such as Angela Carter or John Fowles) is the dominant feature of postmodernism according to Fredric Jameson in a formulation that likewise stresses the allusive and disjunctive nature of current writing. Because master narratives of history no longer seem sustainable, it has become impossible to order individual events, moments and texts into an account that is able to offer a coherent narrative of how they relate to one another. Without this stabilizing metanarrative, postmodernism is thus in this account condemned emptily to echo texts of the past, regurgitating them without being able to offer a consistent explanation of their relevance or importance.
   See also: novel; postmodernist theory
   Further reading
    Hutcheon, L. (1988) A Poetics of Postmodernism, New York: Routledge.
   RYAN S. TRIMM

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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