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Transcript of Postmodernism
First, let's do a little literary history...
What about the novel in the twenty-first century?
Is it still postmodern?
Are WE still postmodern?
What is "postmodernism"
it's an open question
The post-WWII period witnesses the decline of colonialism and the rise of American imperialism.
A dramatic change to the nature of economic life across the globe (a "world system")
What is "postmodernism"? What does it have to do with "The Novel in the 21st Century"?
history (of the novel)
Circa 1700: the "birth" or rise of the novel
Shaped by the post-renaissance movements in science, industry, and philosophy that we call The Enlightenment, early novels are deeply concerned with categories of civility, decorum, citizenship, and the social codes of aristocratic society.
Famous novels of the Enlightenment period:
La Princesse de Clèves
(1678), Madame de La Fayette
(1719), Daniel DeFoe
(1726), Jonathan Swift [satire]
(1719), Daniel Defoe
Influenced by and concerned with science and nature, growing political unrest with the expansion of middle classes (French Revolution, 1789), and the waning allure of religion.
Famous romantic novels?
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
(1818), Mary Shelley
The novels of Jane Austen (1811-1818)
Sir Walter Scott's "historical" novels (1814-1832)
Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818
UK: Victorian Period (1837-1901)
Or, the age of realism / naturalism
Defined by the solidification of political power in the middle classes, industrialization, urbanization, colonial expansion, etc.
The Victorian novel is overwhelmingly "realist" in nature (as opposed to the Romantic novel). Tends to be concerned with interpersonal relationships (especially domestic ones) and is occasionally moralistic.
(1847), Emily Brontë's
(1847), the novels of Charles Dickens, etc.
roughly 1900 - 1945
Informed by European empire, the world wars, mass society and urbanization, advertizing, technology, rapidity of modern life, etc.
Tends to be highly experimental in its forms and to concern itself with the subjectivity of individual minds.
Major texts: James Joyce's
(1922), Virginia Woolf's
(1925), the work of Samuel Beckett, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, etc.
Monet's haystacks (1872)
Gertler's "Merry-Go-Round" (1916)
Otto Dix, "Prague Street" (1920)
Pablo Picasso's cubism
"Le Guitariste" (1910)
division of labor
a drop in
(in the West),
rise of an “info
stupefying speed of the stock market
Finance as virtual wealth
No gold standard
1989: the fall of Soviet Communism.
Result: Capitalism as an increasingly global and unchecked economic force
“the world system” elevates the status of the “world” in general (i.e. "world literature," "world music," etc.)
non-imperial expansion of capitalism through the leveraging of economic markets. (The capitalization of markets through military intervention happens, but less frequently.)
If we could give one word for this shift
in the balance of financial power, we
would probably say
[i.e. not states]
While the historical conditions of postmodernism are still at play, there may be
features of our historical moment.
Our goal: to understand the historical conditions of possibility for 21st century culture in the broadest terms.
One way to do this is to ask: How does daily, lived experience, the distributions of power, and our sense of the world differ from an earlier historical moment?
What does this new historical orientation do? How does it affect the cultures we inhabit?
One major concern:
Personality as commodity ("life style")
Individuality as a matter of consumer choice
pre-modern life: seasons :: modernism: mass transportation :: postmodernism: "24/7"
distraction / split attention
One more consequence of finance: the
commodification of art
Andy Warhol, 1962
itself IS a commodity
(self-conscious, self-referential art)
[as opposed to oppositional art]
1. A new relationship to
Diminished sense of national identification
influenced, of course, by the transnational flow of capital and labor
2. The death of
religion, capitalism and socialism, etc.
the death of meliorist ideas of historical progress
especially after WWII and the holocaust
Other consequences of this
the image or spectacle as a dominant cultural form
an era not even of cinema or photography, but of the You Tube “clip,” the "sound bite," and the “meme.”
television comes to dominate the media ecology of the post-war era, as well as its art. (internet?)
How does this manifest in the literary culture of the post-war era?
A few dominant
the mixing of "high" and "low" genres
science-fiction, spy fiction, etc.
fiction (Salman Rushdie, Vladamir Nabokov)
(Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon)
An increasingly explicit attention to
large scale, non-national political
issues: globalization, imperialism, transnational communities,
Example: Pop Art
Tom Wesselmann, "Still Life" (1962)
(note: this should be a zombie, not a robot)
in novel publishing
English as a
English-language books dominate the
global literary marketplace
, and translations overwhelmingly tend to be unidirectional
2002: about 215,000 new titles published in the US, 125,000 in the UK, 79,000 in Germany, 70,000 in Spain, and about 59,000 in France.
Corporatization of publishing since the 1960s
new emphases on
that might be amenable to a diverse marketplace (including a marketplace reading in translation)
Emphasis on the
(Booker, Pulitizer, Oprah)
Open questions in the 21st century novel
1. The novel "after" the nation-state
The role of community (non-national, trans-national) in the world and in our sense of self.
2. The novel and science
How is “the human” being redefined in our contemporary moment, and what does that mean for literary character?
How does the novel imagine and dramatize life in the anthropocene?
3. Memory in a de-localized and virtual world
How is the internet forcing us to rethink individual and collective memory? Is memory still important, and if so, how/why?
4. Consumer society and Globalized (“Late”) Capitalism
How are these forces remaking “individual” identity (“character”)?
How are these forces remaking literature as an institution?
(the Hollywood-ization of literature?)