Jorge Sacido, Ed. 2012. Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Short Story in English

By Rallo, Carmen Lara | Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Jorge Sacido, Ed. 2012. Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Short Story in English


Rallo, Carmen Lara, Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos


Jorge Sacido, ed. 2012. Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Short Story in English. Amsterdam and New York: Peter Lang. 269 pp. ISBN: 978-90-420-3557-7.

In her essay collection On Histories and Stories (2000), A.S. Byatt claims that "storytelling is intrinsic to biological time, which we cannot escape.... Stories are like genes, they keep part of us alive after the ending of our story" (166). This statement could be transferred to the domain of literary history, as the short story genre emerges as a privileged site for the staging of the (hi)story of literary creativity and criticism, and in particular of the transition from modernism to postmodernism. Enacting the move from modernist autonomy and subjectivity to the postmodernist emphasis on literary artifice, the short story becomes an apt tool for the reassessment of modernism, postmodernism and their interrelationship, as Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Short Story in English, edited by Jorge Sacido, demonstrates. This study offers a collection of critical essays by internationally renowned scholars who examine the modernist and postmodernist dimensions of the short story from the perspective of both critical theory and textual analysis.

In the context of contemporary literature and criticism, Sacido's edited volume proves to be an enlightening and timely contribution because, apart from addressing the always controversial issue of the relationship between modernism and postmodernism, it also approaches the current debate on the prevalence of the postmodern paradigm in the twenty-first century. At a moment when critics like Pelagia Goulimari (2007, 1) are asking questions such as "do we still live in postmodern times? What is the moment--the time, but also the force and significance--of postmodernism?," the opening chapter of Modernism convincingly argues for a continuation of postmodernism in the short story nowadays.

This chapter, by the editor of the volume, is followed by four main parts, chronologically arranged and with a mainly (though not exclusively) British-oriented approach in terms of the writers and texts considered. In his theoretical chapter, before part one, Sacido examines the defining features of modernist and postmodernist short fiction, exploring the role of the short story in the rise of modernism in terms of autonomy and subjectivity, and analysing how in postmodernism "interpretation is blocked and representation becomes impossible" (14). Significantly, Sacido's interest in the interrelationship between modernism and postmodernism is mirrored in part two and the first two chapters of part three, which all approach the short story genre from the point of view of the relationship existing between both movements. This signals the balance in contents and structure of the book, since the other chapters in the volume are devoted to each paradigm separately: the two chapters in part one ("Refocusing 'Modernism' through the Short Story") focus on modernism, while the final chapter of part three, together with part four, is devoted to contemporary short fiction.

The attention paid to the interplay between the modernist and the postmodernist short story is already announced in the title of part two, "The Subject Vanishes: Modernist Contraction, Postmodernist Effacement and the Short Story Genre," with contributions by three international experts on the short story: Tim Armstong, Fred Botting and Paul March-Russell. These essays share a similar interest in the related ideas of incompleteness, fragmentation and spectrality. The notion of incompleteness figures prominently in Armstrong's chapter, which aims at showing how the incompletion of desire works as a marker of the relation between totality and fragmentation in the short story. Comparing two classic modernist stories--Joyce's "The Dead" and Mansfield's "The Stranger"--with postmodernist short fiction by David Mitchell and David Forster Wallace, Armstrong analyses how the partial and limited self in the modernist short story enters into a traumatised relation with the other in contemporary fiction, as "the madness which briefly assaults Joyce and Mansfield's [sic] characters . …

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