09 November 2006

Exploring Postmodern Literature

This is a blog of random thoughts as I try to make my way in this pomo lit world.
Some characteristics listed in different sources:
- exploring subjectivism (turning from omniscient 3rd person narrative to inner states of consciousness)
- fragmentariness in narrative and character construction
- many similarities to existential crisis and literature, but seen more in a society than in an individual
- emphasis on pastiche, parody, magic realism
- deconstruction
- breaking down of distinct between high and low culture
- emphasize metaphor and symbol
Overall, they all relate to doubt, which is the reason for any worldview change. (Note: I use the term “worldview” as cultural anthropologists do, not as some churches have been in the habit of using. So I would see an Asian worldview, a Western worldview, an African worldview, etc.) For example, Descartes doubted that the physics handed down via the authority of Aristotle was correct, so he proposed knowing by our own experience. He meant an “objective” experience found in empirical data instead of the subjective way of knowing truth from authority that had been used in the Middle Ages.
So here we have doubt again. The stories past down, at the very least, our biased, if not persuasive of a particular agenda. Who can blame these questions? Scientific progress, which was supposed to improve human life (which, according to Enlightenment, always progresses and gets better) produced things like the atomic bomb and 9/11. So how exactly are we better? Trusted corporations such as Enron and politicians can’t be trusted. The church falls in shambles around us. Who can we trust?
What is real?
And the literature reflects this.
Apart from the literature side, I have been studying postmodernism as a cultural anthropologist. In many ways, we are reading to pre-modernism with a twist. We have questions that modernism can no longer answer. The world just doesn’t fit anymore. It seems to me that postmodern literature is an attempt to deal with these questions. Maybe some of the literature is poorly written. Maybe some of it answers questions in ways that I would not answer the questions, or even asks questions that I would not ask. Maybe some of it has a structure that is different than our traditional novels, like the changing structure of architecture and music.
Some examples of postmodern literature (I’m including films as a literature):
Toni Morrison, Beloved
D. DeLillo, White Noise
Stephen King, The Stand
Pulp Fiction
The Matrix
Fight Club
Run, Lola, Run

**addendum: Since posting this, I would like to add two books to the list. Straight Up by Lisa Samson, and a book coming soon to a bookstore near you by an up-and-coming author, My Name Is Russell Fink (tentatively titled) by Mike Snyder.

So these are my beginning musings on a long trek. Any thoughts?


Claudia said...

Hey! Blogger decided to behave again and let me post comments!

well, I think when you mention the politicians and corporations, it's very related to our generation (X, thank you!) but I'm not sure how old you are...this seems to be the feelings of most of us in this generation....almost the feeling of uselessness, that no matter what we do, things won't change. It's like the new John Mayer song.."so we keep waiting...waiting for the world to change..." I remember reading an article way back about the Gen Y and how they are much more optimistic and feel that they do make a difference (poor deluded one..haha!)
But maybe all this lit reflects our generation more so than theirs...

Pamela said...

Claudia: Every generation is that way. the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The post was way over my ability to absorb - but I can come back, can't I???


willowtree said...

You need to use more auxiliary words such as 'and, but, or' and so forth. Otherwise there is nothing for me to recognize.

Just kidding. You have quite an amazing vocabulary, a whole post and no reliance on profanities, that's a goal I'll never achieve.

Hey, Pamela snuck in while I was writing this. I should have been second!! boo.

Jennifer Tiszai said...

Okay, given the fact it's been about 20 years since I've studied modernism and postmodernism from an academic perspective, I'll make a stab at shaking the rust off my brain.

I think some of the key points you've brought up are doubt and the realization that modernism can't answer the questions we thought it could, especially debunking the Enlightened idea that society is progressing. Which is different from the Eastern worldview that life is more cyclical (Ecclesiastes for example--there is nothing new under the sun).

Claudia brought up a good point that this attitude is particularly prevalent in Gen X (I think Heather barely qualifies :) ).

I particularly like your decision to use movies as examples. I think that can be an easier way to grasp some of these concepts.

So, Girlfriend, where do you want to go from here? I'll break out the WD-40.

John Dekker said...

And what do you notice about these movies?

The Matrix, Fight Club and Run Lola Run all came out in 1999. Add to that American Beauty, and you have a big year for postmodern film.

Memento was made the following year. I didn't see Pulp Fiction until much later (I wasn't old enough in 1994), but that was definitely the ground-breaker. In Hollywood, that is.

L.L. Barkat said...

I'm thinking Life of Pi. Maybe I get this stuff after all. :)

Heather said...

Jen, I honestly don't know where I want to go with this. I just know that I have seen several authors dismiss all pomo lit, probably because of the deconstructionism and fragmentaryism (whatever that word is) characteristics. I tend to bristle at out right dismissals, so I decided to start learning more about it. On the one hand, I'm surprised at how much I've read and seen that are considered "postmodern" literature. They deal with specific pomo issues, so in the past I would have considered them pomo, but when people started rejecting pomo as being antinovel and therefore bad, I thought I had missed something.
So I'm just experimenting and reading and learning and sharing thoughts along the way so that smarter people than me can chime in and help me.
L.L, I haven't read that yet.
John, I hadn't noticed the years. Hmm. That makes me wonder about movies in the past 7 years.

Jennifer said...

You make me feel smarter. Well, actually you make me feel dumber, but reading your thoughts helps me think about remedying that if that makes any sense at all.

I agree about film being literature, or art, reflecting our culture certainly. I haven't seen many of those movies. I did see Memento, which made my head hurt.

Beyond Words said...

Heather,you are so right about postmodernism and doubt. We're never going back to modernism, and I think God will heal this present doubt and fragmentation -- I truly believe He is doing that. The Gospel is so radially holistic when recovered from modernism.

I would like to discuss stories that heal--how do we write in the language of postmodernism to give hope and replace doubt with a deep, Hebrew "yada" and "shalom?"

Dineen A. Miller said...

Hmmm, I agree with 'beyond words.' Faith has to play a major theme for me. As to who do we trust? God jumps to mind immediately.

Two thoughts as well.

First, why do we constantly limit God? Perhaps that is what this search is about, what postmodernism (which I am very unfamiliar with) is about. The answers aren't so clear cut anymore, because we see they fall short of the mark. Are we rebelling against the traditional confines wanting to experience life in the power the 12 desciples experienced it? I know I do. There has to be more.

Second, I believe we are either in the birth pains of the final days or in the very early steps of it. The world will continue to decline. Scripture tells us this. Yet we are understandably shocked by what we see. Sometimes I can actually "feel" the shift as society dips into a new low.

No, we may not be able to impact the world as a whole, but we can impact the people around us. Our vision must be on the trees (to use a cliche metaphor) and leave the forest to God.

Robin said...

Heather, what's your day job??

THIS is why I can't read you fast...this is why I wish you lived around the (damn!) corner and we could have coffee and talk. You speak (write) just beyond my reach, but I sooo want to grasp. And, lol, this is why you can't submit something to the "Carnival of Beauty" ;), as if that's something you're thinkin' about.

Not a good time to process these thoughts...they're deep and heady, and like I said, just out of reach. But I hear ya and love the conversation.

Reading Dineen's comments 1) makes me wanna visit here :) and 2) resonates with me. Whereas I used to see the need to solve world hunger, now I see the need to feed one...or two. An intimate connection to change the world...which sooooooo reminds me of Jesus;).

Miss ya (gotta go do carpe diem my house, family in day after tomorrow. This (my visit here) was a "treat"/respite/reward for an hour of cleaning....

Margo Carmichael said...

Hi, Heather and all, I have to agree with Dineen. I love to compare current events with Bible prophecy, and I think *we* are the people--whatever generation we are--who will see the return of Jesus.

Ever since Israel was reborn in 1948, the time is winding down. Iran is Persia, Iraq is Babylon, Israel is Israel again. Anyway:

In the '70s, there was much emphasis on the presence of the Holy Spirit, and things were happening. One incident that impressed me the most was when I went to a home group and heard rich piano chords accompanying our usual puny praise singing. The speaker had had years of piano "therapy" to learn coordination, having been all drawn up and crippled with CP.

Well, he was there to share how he had been gloriously healed in a home group, when a small group of believers laid hands on him and prayed.

Eager to believe but not be deceived, I called his high school secretary next day, ***did not put words in her mouth,*** asked her if she remembered him and could she tell me what happened.

And she told me the same thing--he was all crippled, then came in one Monday healed! Had been to a revival or something.

Nope, just a living room full of believers.

I had him give his testimony twice in my home. My pastor and some church friends came both times.

Did he invite the boy to speak at church? Ha. That would make some people uncomfortable.

The late, great Jamie Buckingham wrote that people would pray for the spark of revival, and the leaders would pray, "Amen, Lord, and we'll water that spark."

People are afraid when God does show up.

Oh, Lord, show us your glory again! I could weep for it.

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