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Transcript of Postmodernism:
a timeline of sorts...
I understand how problematic trying to explain something as anti-structural as postmodernism as something as structural as a timeline is, but I am going to try. I hope a linear model of postmodernism will enrich our course conversation on contemporary ethnic literature by explaining the historical context of postmodern critic and how it influenced ethnic literature in America.
What is postmodern?
But what is
"The ground motive of modernism, Graff asserts, was criticism of the nineteenth-century bourgeois social order and its world view. Its artistic strategy was the self-conscious overturning of the conventions of bourgeois realism [...] the antirationalist, antirealist, antibourgeois program of Modernism [...] the modernists, carrying the torch of romanticism, taught us that linearity, rationality, consciousness, cause and effect, naïve illusionism, transparent language, innocent anecdote, and middle-class moral conventions are not the whole story." -John Barth
Rebellion against Victorianism (nationalism, cultural absolution)
Blamed Victorian thought for slavery, imperialism, WWI and Great Depression
Broke away from binaries: anti-heroes and blurred dichotomies
Saw "civilized" Western elite as savages
So what changed?
With the push of a button...
The optimism of post WWII America was shadowed in fear, apprehension and discontent.
The world not only had to come to terms with the trauma of the Holocaust, but find meaning after the use of the atomic bomb in Japan. More than 200,000 lives were taken in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki without combat...after many say he war was over.
The seemingly inevitable nuclear war and impending doom damaged a sense of logic and order to life after the bombs.
Mass conformity, "teen culture," population boom, and consumer culture amplified the confusion of post WWII world.
This conformity "pressure cooker" explodes in the 1960s and 70s: moral/political "right" and "truth" is questioned. Individualism, innovation, and disruption are explored culturally.
Through this confusion a Cold War loomed and the international community continued to use nuclear weapons as a show of force.
Time lapse of atomic bomb explosions (It's a little long, but worth the view).
It didn't take long for artist to start breaking the rules in an attempt to understand the confusion...
Miles Davis records
"Birth of the Cool"
Some useful terms:
Alterity : philosophical principle exchanging one's own perspective for that of the "other". A lack of personal identity.
Constructivism: knowledge is assimilated and internalized during the process of learning.
Cultural appropriation: adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group.
Deconstruction: analyzes the built in bias of language and questions its ability to represent reality.
Fragmentation: the process or state of breaking or being broken into small or separate parts.
Intertextuality: the shaping of a text meaning by another text.
Pastiche: a tongue-in-cheek imitation or tribute used in literature, art, music, movies, etc.
Semiotics: the study of signs, symbols, and how meaning is constructed and understood.
Subjectivism: philosophical tenet that "our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience."
Unreliable narrator: narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised.
As postmodernist continue to test social constraints and order in American society, issues of human rights and speculation of the role of government was explored politically and artistically.
This is deconstructing and questioning the social order influenced peaceful movements towards social change and violent demands for new norms.
The American condition for Black Americans changed, and postmodern concepts were used to explore a new cultural identity. With the continual evolution of cultural tolerance and understanding through out the 20th century, writers from many American minority groups use postmodern techniques when crafting contemporary literature.
"Be careful what you say. It comes true. It comes true. I had to leave home in order to see the world logically, logic the new way of seeing. I learned to think that mysteries are for explanation. I enjoy the simplicity. Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and sidewalks. Give me plastics, periodical tables, TV dinners with vegetables no more complex than peas mixed with diced carrots. Shine floodlights into dark corners: no ghosts,"
A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe
Postmodern themes in Kingston:
Kingston uses alterity when using other stories and ideas to describe her own identity.
She deals with some issues of constructivism when she discusses leaning and the process of learning about her culture.
Culture appropriation is almost a gimmie in Kingston's work. At length she explores culture and what she believes her own culture is.
Destruction and fragmentation are also explored as she switches themes, story forms, and narrator (including her own admission that she is an unreliable narrator).
Postmodern themes in Spiegelman
Spiegelman exploits the comic to create an unsettling image of the Holocaust. Images of cartoon animals partaking in graphic acts of genocide succeed in creating a jarring effect for the reader.
The story within a story shows the violence of the Holocaust parallel to Spiegelman hearing the story from his father and coming to terms with his father's eccentric nature.
Power, guilt, race, and cultural identity-- themes that define postmodernism-- are explored at length in Maus.
Spiegelman, the child of a Holocaust survivor, uses postmodernism as a way to analyze what happened to his parents.
“Don't panic. Say, Hey, no problem. Run a hand through your hair like the whiteboys do even though the only thing that runs easily through your hair is Africa.”
Drown, How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl or Halfie
Postmodern themes in Diaz
Diaz also used a non-linear story style in
. Although his narrators may not be unreliable, it is not clear if the same man is narrating all of the stories.
Cultural appropriation is a theme through out the stories. The narrator(s) are trying to understand their cultural identity as an American and a man.
Diaz also uses a postmodern lens to analyze latino machismo throughout adolescence and adulthood.
Social constraints and the "American Dream" are presented as oppression in the stories. The fight for a better life leads to drug abuse, sexual exploitation and a loss of identity for many of the characters.
"Then I wondered which was more confidence killing: believing that you should not have felt inadequate when in fact you were, or discovering that, all along, you were actually smart enough to see things clearly, that you were correct in your fears."
, chapter nine
Postmodern themes in
Everett uses the "Story within a story" technique. The story of Van Go in
turns into a bizzare and violent experience compared to the reader's previous notions of Monk and his character.
The fragmentation of the story form confuses the reader.
Everett deconstructs the biases of language when he writes
in a "phonetically correct way." These semiotics almost become a character themselves.
Monk's role becomes that of an unreliable narrator after
. He is unpredictable and his character does not recover.
"I wasn’t scared of fistfighting with those boys. I’d been in plenty of fights. And I wasn’t scared of losing fights with them, either. I’d lost most every fight I’d been in. I was afraid those monsters were going to kill me.
"And I don’t mean “kill” as in “metaphor.” I mean “kill” as in “beat me to death.” Alexie, 64
Postmodern themes in Alexie
The principle of alterity come into play throughout Junior's story. His lack of personal identity (or rejection of) allows him to identify with life off the "rez."
He practices cultural appropriation when he goes to the white school in search of a better life though education.
Some pastiche is exhibited with the illustrations in the text. These also reference materialistic American pop culture.
Violence and sexuality jar the reader. Alexie's honest and depressing perceptive told from a young voice offer a stark experience.
“Four weeks into the invasion, Gamal discovered a black cat licking itself in the bidet and screamed at the top of his lungs. We all ran to the bathroom, and Baba yelled, ‘All that for a cat, you son of a bitch, you scared me!’ Mama was already beginning her histrionic attempts at capture. As for me, I was completely relieved that, for once, there was someone other than myself masturbating on the toilet.”
Postmodern themes in Jarrar
Sexuality and violence seem to have a more important role in Nidali's adolescence than defining her culture. She often notes that she is different, but she tries to identify sexually more through the novel.
Some fragmentation is naturally found in the text, although it is a linear story form that goes through the process of her moving.
Pastiche is how Nadali explores her cultural appropriation. Her references to pop culture are very poignant and are a great testimony to her character.
When she come to America some semiotics are used to express humor, and the frustration for her father and his adjustment to American life.