Uploaded by Mohammad Sharique


The terms “postmodern” and “postmodernism” first of all referred to new departures in the arts, in literature,
and in architecture that had their origins in the 1950s and early 1960s, gained momentum in the course of the
1960s, and became a dominant factor in the 1970s. It emerged as an area of academic study since the mid1980s. Just as the name implies, it is the period that comes after the modern period. But these are not easily
separated into discrete units with specific dates. Postmodernism in literature is not an organized movement with
leaders or central figures; therefore, it is more difficult to say if it has ended or when it will end. Postmodern
literature can be considered as an umbrella term for the post-war developments in literature such as Theatre of
the Absurd, Beat Generation and Magical Realism. Postmodernism came about as a reaction to the established
modernist era, which itself was a reaction to the established tenets of the nineteenth century and before. It is
largely influenced by a number of events that marked the period. Genocide that occurred during the Second
World War, Soviet gulags, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, mass destruction caused by atomic bombs dropped
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, insecurity of Cold War Era, post colonialism issue, as well as the supremacy of
multinational corporations and post industrialism with new technologies, violence, counter culture and
consumer culture shaped the perception of new authors.
Postmodernism shares many of the features of Modernism. Both schools reject the rigid boundaries between
high and low art. Postmodernism even goes a. step further and deliberately mixes low art with high art, the past
with the future, or one genre with another. Such mixing of different, incongruous elements illustrates
Postmodernism’s use of lighthearted parody, which was also used by Modernism. Both these schools also
employed pastiche, which is the imitation of another’s style. Parody and pastiche serve to highlight the selfreflexivity of Modernist and Postmodernist works, which means that parody and pastiche serve to remind the
reader that the work is not “real” but fictional, constructed. Modernist and Postmodernist works are also
fragmented and do not easily, directly convey a solid meaning. That is, these works are consciously ambiguous
and give way to multiple interpretations. The individual or subject depicted in these works is often decentred,
without a central meaning or goal in life, and dehumanized, often losing individual characteristics and
becoming merely the representative of an age or civilization, like Tiresias in The Waste Land.
In short, Modernism and Postmodernism give voice to the insecurities, disorientation and fragmentation of the
20th century western world. The western world, in the 20th century, began to experience this deep sense of
security because it progressively lost its colonies in the Third World, worn apart by two major World Wars and
found its intellectual and social foundations shaking under the impact of new social theories an developments
such as Marxism and Postcolonial global migrations, new technologies and the power shift from Europe to the
United States. Though both Modernism and Postmodernism employ fragmentation, discontinuity and
decentredness in theme and technique, the basic dissimilarity between the two schools is hidden in this very
What sets Postmodernism apart from its predecessor is the reaction of its practitioners to the rational, scientific,
and historical aspects of the modern age. Modernism projects the fragmentation and decentredness of
contemporary world as tragic. It laments the loss of the unity and centre of life and suggests that works of art
can provide the unity, coherence, continuity and meaning that is lost in modern life. Thus Eliot laments that the
modern world is an infertile wasteland, and the fragmentation, incoherence, of this world is effected in the
structure of the poem. However, The Waste Land tries to recapture the lost meaning and organic unity by
turning to Eastern cultures. Many modernist works try to uphold the idea that works of art can provide the unity,
coherence, and meaning which has been lost in most of modern life; art will do what other human institutions
fail to do.
Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather
celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let's not pretend that art can make meaning then, let's just play with
nonsense. In Postmodernism, fragmentation and disorientation is no longer tragic. It considers fragmentation
and decentredness as the only possible way of existence, and does not try to escape from these conditions.
Modernity is fundamentally about order: about rationality and rationalization, creating order out of chaos. The
assumption is that creating more rationality is conducive to creating more order, and that the more ordered a
society is, the better it will function (the more rationally it will function). Because modernity is about the pursuit
of ever-increasing levels of order, modern societies constantly are on guard against anything and everything
labeled as "disorder," which might disrupt order. Thus modern societies rely on continually establishing a
binary opposition between "order" and "disorder," so that they can assert the superiority of "order." But to do
this, they have to have things that represent "disorder"--modern societies thus continually have to
create/construct "disorder." In western culture, this disorder becomes "the other"--defined in relation to other
binary oppositions. Thus anything non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-hygienic, non-rational, (etc.)
becomes part of "disorder," and has to be eliminated from the ordered, rational modern society.
Comparison with Modernism
1. Whereas Modernism places faith in the ideas, values, beliefs, culture, and norms of the West, Postmodernism
rejects Western values and beliefs as only a small part of the human experience and often rejects such ideas,
beliefs, culture, and norms.
2. Whereas Modernism attempts to reveal profound truths of experience and life, Postmodernism is suspicious
of being "profound" because such ideas are based on one particular Western value systems.
3. Whereas Modernism attempts to find depth and interior meaning beneath the surface of objects and events,
Postmodernism prefers to dwell on the exterior image and avoids drawing conclusions or suggesting underlying
meanings associated with the interior of objects and events.
4. Whereas Modernism focused on central themes and a united vision in a particular piece of literature,
Postmodernism sees human experience as unstable, internally contradictory, ambiguous, inconclusive,
indeterminate, unfinished, fragmented, discontinuous, "jagged," with no one specific reality possible. Therefore,
it focuses on a vision of a contradictory, fragmented, ambiguous, indeterminate, unfinished, "jagged" world.
5. Whereas Modern authors guide and control the reader’s response to their work, the Postmodern writer creates
an "open" work in which the reader must supply his own connections, work out alternative meanings, and
provide his own (unguided) interpretation.
Example is B. S. Johnson's 1969 novel The Unfortunates; it was released in a box with no binding so that
readers could assemble it how ever they chose.
Postmodern literature also often rejects the boundaries between 'high' and 'low' forms of art and literature, as
well as the distinctions between different genres and forms of writing and storytelling.
Elements of Postmodernism:
Irony, absurdity, playfulness & black humour: treating serious subjects as a joke, sometimes with
emotionally distant authors. Playfulness is central to postmodernism; it reinforces the idea that there is
no organizing principle in a chaotic world.
o of theories and ideologies;
o of the author/narrator, undermining his control of one voice
o of modern assumptions about culture, identity, & history
Pastiche (mixing genres) as homage to or a parody of past literary styles
Metafiction: making the artificiality of writing apparent to the reader, i.e. deliberate strategies to prevent
the usual suspension of disbelief, drawing attention to the conventions of literature
Technoculture and hyper-reality: worlds and characters inundated with information, focused on
technology in everyday life, swamped by products and bombarded by advertising, ambiguity about
what’s real and what’s simulated.
Maximalism: sprawling canvas and fragmented narrative i.e. looking disorganized and filled with
playful language for its own sake.
Minimalism: short, ‘slice-of-life’ stories where readers have to use their own imaginations to create the
story. Unexceptional characters, economy with words. Spare style, lacking adjectives, adverbs and
meaningless details.
Historiographic metafiction: fictionalising actual events and figures from history
Faction: blending fact and fiction, especially historical novels or those using real living personalities e.g.
world politicians or celebrities.
Temporal distortion: events can overlap, repeat, or multiple events can occur simultaneously, often to
achieve irony.
Magic realism: imaginary themes and subjects, with a dream-like quality, mixing the real with the
fantastic, surreal and bizarre. Timeshifts, dreams, myths and fairy stories as part of the narrative, arcane
erudition, inexplicable events, elements of surprise or abrupt shock.
Intertextuality: quotations, references and allusions, designed to make apparent that every text absorbs
and transforms some other text somewhere.
Postmodern literature, as expressed in the writings of Beckett, Robbe Grillet, Borges, Marquez, Naguib
Mahfouz and Angela Carter rests on a recognition of the complex nature of reality and experience, the role of
time and memory in human perception, of the self and the world as historical constructions, and the problematic
nature of language.
Postmodern literature reached its peak in the ’60s and ’70s with the publication of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller,
Lost in the Funhouse and Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, Gravity’s Rainbow, V., and Crying of Lot 49 by
Thomas Pynchon, “factions” like Armies in the Night and In Cold Blood by Norman Mailer and Truman
Capote, postmodern science fiction novels like Neoromancer by William Gibson, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt
Vonnegut and many others. Some declared White Noise in (1985) or The Satanic Verses (1988) to be the last
great novels of the postmodern era.