Introduction

Postmodern Studies, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Introduction


The present volume is a collection of critical essays on short stories published during the period in which modernism and postmodernism developed. As a whole, it is also a reassessment of modernism, postmodernism and their interrelationship, from the perspective of a genre that has been said to be in tune with "the sense of fleetingness and fragility" of the "moderns", thus representing "better than poetry or drama, our own attitude to life" (G. K. Chesterton qtd. in Hunter 8; O'Connor 83). Given the writers and texts considered, the volume's overall approach to modernism, postmodernism and the short story in English is mainly, yet not exclusively, British-oriented.

In "Modernism, Postmodernism and the Short Story", the first essay in this volume, I provide a critical overview that links short story theory and the development of the genre to some of the defining features of modernism and postmodernism. It begins by discussing the early theoretical approaches that were instrumental in establishing the modern short story as a genre, and then focuses on the role the short story played in the inception of modernism. Drawing on Lukács, Jameson and Eysteinsson, I single out "autonomy" and "subjectivity" as central modernist concerns in the move away from realist models based on an assumed balance between social totality and the humanist subject. Attention to these issues serves to complement Dominic Head's thesis that the short story epitomises the essence of literary modernism. The radical turn against "representation", and the concomitant view that reality is a discursive construct, are common threads connecting the different accounts of postmodernism upon which the essay comments. Initially, postmodernism seemed to do away with artistic autonomy, undermine interpretation and entail the disappearance of the subject, though the subject was later rehabilitated under the influence of political discourses that articulated the claims of the silenced and the dispossessed. The essay then reviews the few theoretical contributions to the postmodern short story, and concludes by rejecting the view that literary postmodernism is a thing of the past.

The rest of the essays in the volume are distributed in four parts ordered according to both a temporal and a thematic logic. The two pieces in Part I, "Refocusing 'Modernism' through the Short Story", qualify the received notion that identifies modernism (hence the inverted commas) with interwar experimental fiction that exhibits certain aesthetic features and is associated with the work of authors such as Joyce, Woolf or Mansfield. In "The Short Story and the Difficulty of Modernism", Adrian Hunter re-contextualises modernist innovation by highlighting its presence in the English short fiction of the 1890s. Hunter claims that the instrumental role played by the short story in the high-modernist project - that of creating a "difficult" form for aesthetically discerning audiences of "little magazines" in a context of mass-market production - finds its precedent in the fin-desiècle literary scene. There, highbrow periodicals like the Yellow Book or Cosmopolis carried short pieces by artistically ambitious authors which already exhibited "difficult" features such as plotlessness, incompleteness, openness and allusiveness, all of which contravened mass-readership expectations. While Hunter shows how the construction of "modernism" (by authors, critics and authors-ascritics) silenced the achievements of these members of the previous generation, José María Díaz places the focus not on what went on before but on what developed alongside hegemonic modernism. In "Allegory and Fragmentation in Wyndham Lewis's The Wild Body and Djuna Barnes's A Boole \ Diaz draws on Bürger, Benjamin, Jameson and Fletcher to argue that, in the short stories of both authors, "fragmentation" - the modern feature par excellence - is not linked to subjective experience or counterbalanced by the unifying power of epiphany and symbol as it is in "modernism". …

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