From Modernism to Postmodernism: Concepts and Strategies of Postmodern American Fiction

From Modernism to Postmodernism: Concepts and Strategies of Postmodern American Fiction

From Modernism to Postmodernism: Concepts and Strategies of Postmodern American Fiction

From Modernism to Postmodernism: Concepts and Strategies of Postmodern American Fiction

Synopsis

This systemic study discusses in its historical, cultural and aesthetic context the postmodern American novel between the years of 1960 and 1980. A general overview of the various definitions of postmodernism in philosophy, cultural theory and aesthetics provides the framework for the inquiry into more specific problems, such as: the broadening of aesthetics, the relationship between aesthetics and ethics, the transformation of the artistic tradition, the interdependence between modernism and postmodernism, and the change in the aesthetics of fiction. Other topics addressed here include: situationalism, montage, the ordinary and the fantastic, the subject and the character, the imagination, comic modes, and the future of the postmodern strategies. Among the authors whose fiction is treated in some detail under the various aspects thematized are John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Richard Brautigan, Robert Coover, Stanley Elkin, Raymond Federman, and William Gaddis.

Excerpt

Modernism and postmodernism will in this text be viewed in terms of continuity and discontinuity. The experimental tendencies in postmodern art are interpreted against the backdrop of the overall cultural and social context, which creates both the intellectual climate and the material conditions for making of art. Postmodernism is a complex phenomenon. It is a product of the Sixties, but not their sum. The Sixties are a composite of contradictory trends, as is postmodernism. This explosive decade may create what Susan Sontag called a new “unitary sensibility”; however, the new sensibility is not uniform but plural. Like the Sixties, postmodernism is diverse: it extends into the culture at large, it defines the theories that explain the condition of the lifeworld and the arts, and it is responsible for the innovative power of the creative arts. Each of these three areas of postmodernism has its own “rationality complex” (Habermas); each highlights different attributes of the Sixties; each extends beyond the Sixties and develops its own perspective(s).The rationalities of the three (or more) aspects of postmodernism connect and form a unity within multiplicity. The postmodernism of the Sixties is the result of the liberation from the restraints of the Fifties. It extends into the past and the future. The Sixties turned against what was conceived as the general mood and the dominant notes of the Fifties: materialism, moralism, individualism, self-consciousness, domesticity, and privacy, de-politicization, anxiety, the Cold War and the Bomb; they rejected the methods of manipulation and what Marcuse called “surplus repression”, the blacklists and union purges, and above all the pervading spirit of hypocrisy. It was a spirit of deconstruction that prevailed; its complement, the spirit of reconstruction, was less sure in its goals. Postmodernism participated in this dialectic of deconstruction and reconstruction, as did postmodern fiction; both, however, did so in their own, quite different ways. The changes, of course, did not come overnight; the ground for the shift was prepared in the Fifties. The first postmodern novels were written in the Fifties as were the first rebellious statements.

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