The Short Story: An Introduction

By Paul March-Russell | Go to book overview

18
Postmodernism and the
Short Story

Despite J. G. Ballard's contention that postmodernism was invented by academics in order to justify their continued existence (Ballard 1991: 329), the concept has not only informed critical reading but also creative writing in the postwar period. Yet, to attempt to periodise the postmodern is threatened by the word itself, literally meaning 'after' (post) 'the now' (from the Latin modo). To be always coming after and, therefore, in a continual state of transit rather than rest disturbs notions of linearity, causality and chronology. Insofar as the preceding chapters have tended to pursue a thematic and cross-sectional approach, in which the short story has been situated in terms of paradox, ambiguity and fragmentation, this book can also be said to be indebted to postmodern thought. Or, alternatively, that the short story has acted at various times as a resource for writers to contest the dominant beliefs in social progress and formal cohesion. As the complex timing of the word 'postmodern' suggests, it is impossible to locate the concept in a single or agreed body of knowledge. This undefinable quality is shared by both postmodernism and the short story. I shall not attempt to define postmodernism, as I have also avoided doing with the short story, but to propose a series of statements in which we can think about their mutual relationship (see also Bennett and Royle 2004: 248–57).


The postmodern is … undecidable

Modernist narratives privilege the indeterminate ending, for example, in Katherine Mansfield's 'Bliss' (1918) Bertha Young gains a pessimistic yet also mature insight into herself, which can either be read positively or negatively. To say that a narrative is indeterminate, though, is still to determine that there is a meaning to be uncovered.

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