Introduction to Postmodernism

1. (Brief) Review of Tuesday’s
2. Introducing Postmodernism
3. Introducing The Crying of
Lot 49
A set of aesthetic/thematic dominants in arts of
the 1890s-1930s
•art transcends human experience, esp. suffering
•art for art’s sake
•astonishing explosion of knowledge across the arts &
sciences (relativity, radio, 12-tone scale…)
•extreme formal experimentation in all arts
– “Make it new!”
•emphasis on subjective experience (e.g. stream of
consciousness in fiction)
The idea that human (Western)
knowledge will propel social progress
Associated with
–Renaissance humanism
–The Enlightenment
–The Industrial Revolution (capitalism)
–The “bourgeois individual subject”
• Mimesis: the capacity of art (or history,
philosophy, etc.) to transparently represent
the world as it is; art (knowledge) holds a
mirror up to the world. Assoc. with realism
• Artifice/artefact: art that is about itself, about
the process of making art, that exists outside
of or without fidelity to the world as it is.
• Stephen Dedalus: “Old father, old artificer,
stand me now and ever in good stead.”
Literature and History
• This particular literature
(“postmodernism” and what follows)
• These particular histories
(WWII and its effects across the globe)
• Postmodern literature’s particular
treatment of history
(hint/example: Pynchon and the past)
and post-Modernism
(continuities, breaks, and
Postmodernism = A set of
characteristics foregrounded in
the arts roughly after WWII
In literature, writers of the 60s and 70s
are typically considered canonical
postmodernists: Pynchon, Barthelme,
Barth, Gaddis, Roth, Mailer, Didion
Some characteristics defining
postmodern aesthetics
• Metafiction: art focusing on the artistic
process rather than transparent representation
– Reflexivity, self-referentiality and interreferentiality
• Hypperreality: simulation as reality
• Narrative Multilinearity
– no stable cause & effect/ skewed temporality
• Relativity (of truth, reality)
– This doesn’t mean amorality and nihilis m
• Pastiche: imitation without judgment
• Technoculture integrated into arts
More Pomo Traits
Decentered & fragmented selfhood
Marginal voices become central
Revisioning & rewriting history
Irony & playfulness
Blending of aesthetic & intellectual categories
– “high”/“low” cultures, narrative form/content,
marginal/central social positions, fact/fiction
• General blurring of ontological boundaries
– E.g. human/machine/animal, man/woman,
nature/culture, fantasy/reality
Jean-Francios Lyotard,
The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge
(1979, trans. 1984)
“Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity
toward metanarratives” (xxiv)
Metanarratives: narratives that legitimate knowledge
production, for example:
The Enlightenment narrative, that “the hero of knowledge
works toward a good ethico-political end--universal
peace” (xxiv).
Science legitimated by the philosophical narrative, “making an
explicit appeal to . . . the dialectics of the Spirit, the
hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the
rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth”
Others: Marxism, Christianity (heaven), history
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have
given us as much terror as we can take. We
have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia
of the whole and the one, for the reconciliation of
the concept and the sensible, of the transparent
and the communicable experience. Under the
general demand for slackening and for
appeasement, we can hear the mutterings of the
desire for a return of terror, for the realization of
the fantasy to seize reality. The answer is: Let
us wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to
the unpresentable; let us activate the differences
and save the honor of the name. (81-2)
What are some continuities
with modernism?
What are some
What are some
ways that The
Crying of Lot 49
fits this
framework of
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr.
(b. 1937)
• V. (1963)
• The Crying of Lot 49
• Gravity’s Rainbow
• Vineland (1990)
• Masen & Dixon (1997)
• Against the Day (2007)