Hunting Snipes and attempting to find a definition for postmodernity
Postmodern literature is intrinsically difficult to define. It is a combination of
many movements starting around the end of WWII and extending up to the
present, but a timeline is little help, due to the fragmented and disjointed
nature of postmodernism.
Postmodern literature is perhaps most easily defined by what it rejects and
reacts against:
Traditional power structures (hierarchies).
Singular explanations of truth and good.
The idea that reason will save humanity.
“Postmodernism is among other things a sick joke at the expense of revolutionary avant-gardism.”
-Terry Eagleton
Order and Reason: The Pre-WWII World
Ride of the Valkeries
Where did order and reason take us?
Hitler used evolutionary theory, in the form of Social Darwinism, to
explain and support his ideals of a Master Race.
The utopian ideals of Marxism led to repressive regimes.
Scientific advancement leads to horrifically powerful weapons.
Does this accurately reflect the world in the aftermath of World War II?
Postmodernists reacted to the horrors of WWII
I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.
-J. Robert Oppenheimer
-Theodore Adorno
Postmodernism is also a reaction to civilian technology
In addition to the horror of the second world war,
postmodernists saw the world rapidly changing as new
technologies appeared.
1) Airplane travel becomes commonplace and accessible.
2) Workplaces continue to become more mechanized.
3) Television changes peoples relationship to their homes,
entertainment, and information.
4) Humans reach the moon.
5) Personal computing arrives and becomes a major factor of human life.
These and other changes magnify the postmodern feeling
that old methods are inadequate.
Postmodern Reaction
Having watched as order and reason birthed unimagined horrors into the world,
artists began questioning and rejecting traditional power structures and ideas.
• Temporal Disorder
• Pastiche
• Fragmentation
• Looseness of Association
• Paranoia
• Vicious Circles
While postmodernism is actually an umbrella term that covers many movements from
the 1940s to the present, several major characteristics hold these movements loosely
(Matos, 2014)
Grand Narratives: Hero’s journey, etc.
Many postmodern texts exhibit abandonment of traditional plot structures
Stems from distrust of grand texts and metanarratives
Additionally, postmodernist’s rejection of authoritarianism extends to
themselves as artists.
While the author creates the work, postmodern theory holds that the
interpretation of that work is entirely up to the reader; the author
cannot be expected to provide meaning, and so readers should cease
looking for the author’s intentions.
In 1967, postmodern author Roland Barthes published
an essay titled “The Death of the Author”.
So the question is, who wrote the essay?
Another key component of postmodern fiction is the use of meta-fiction
as a literary device.
Meta-fiction is fiction that draws attention to the fact that it is fiction by
becoming self aware.
Don’t worry, we’ll take a look at a sample in a moment.
Tracer by Robert Rauschenberg
Combination of styles and mediums
High and Low Art combined
Lack of formal structure
What does it mean? Figure it out for yourself.
You’ll Be Shot
Postmodernism and the American Dream
Kurt Vonnegut, considered a postmodern author (enjoy Slaughterhouse-Five
next year if you get Mr. Mooney), had a word for nations: Granfalloons.
Granfalloon: "a proud and meaningless association of human beings“
With this as our definition, we see that, in the postmodern view, national
identity is merely an attempt to hold together a hopelessly heterogeneous
Furthermore, the postmodern premise that experience is inherently
subjective and individual, would point to a mistrust of ideas such as the
American Dream, which are, in fact Grand Narratives.
This interpretation may not be what the postmodernists themselves intend, but their position is severely weakened by the
idea that the author’s intentions are irrelevant.