Monday, March 6, 2017

Are we Postmodernists?

One of the last things I studied* before going to sleep last night was the timeline of Western literary movements. It's too easy to forget that literature doesn't pop up from a vacuum–it amazes me how simple it can be to see how an author's themes fit in with their peers. Everyone who has ever written prose or poetry has been a product of (or reaction against) the world around them.
As I finished my review of Postmodernism (generally considered to be the movement beginning in the late 1900s and continuing to the present day), I wondered if my writing would be considered Postmodernist, or if I'm part of a different movement altogether. How do you classify a literary movement you are literally in the middle of? Many critics would say that, being a writer in 2017, I am a postmodernist. I'm just not sure I agree.

Postmodernists are big on deconstruction, which reads texts with particular attention to contradictions. Famous examples of postmodern literature include James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and Alan Moore's Watchmen comic. When I look at examples such as these, I have a hard time identifying my own work with this movement.

Yet, the very definition of postmodernism is founded on a sort of subjectivity. The Renaissance may have created writers and artists who created for creation's sake, but religion still held sway over many creatives. Even if they weren't painting or writing as an act of worship, their works revolved around their religion. It wasn't until the early 1900s that (I think) writers truly became aware of what and why they were writing, and I see that as the final move from objectively evaluating art to subjectively seeing it in a greater context**.

Postmodern writing also tends to be experimental, such as James Joyce's stream of consciousness style, and I wouldn't put my science fiction adventure stories in the "experimental" column. I use punctuation, for Pete's sake. Also, I don't know that I've read a postmodernist work besides Watchmen that I actually enjoyed. Many of them deal with heavy, where-is-the-meaning topics in a way that I simply don't care to follow. In that way, however, they are certainly brilliant. What better way to find meaning than to craft a novel whose very style and form reflects your search?

Am I writing in reaction to Postmodernism and therefore, a part of whatever literary movement came after, or am I a postmodernist? I'm a fan of postmodern subjectivity, and I'm fascinated by David Foster Wallace's description*** of pop culture references in postmodern literature:
"...a generation of new fiction writers who saw themselves as sort of avant-avant-garde, not only cosmopolitan and polyglot but also technologically literate, products of more than just one region, heritage, and theory, and citizens of a culture that said its most important stuff about itself via mass media."

That could be me–especially being a product of multiple heritages and theories. And yet, when I compare the themes and style of my work to that of the postmodernist works I've read or studied, I simply don't see the resemblance. I'll need to find a new perspective to base my research on, or at least start brainstorming names for this new movement I may or may not be a part of.

What do you think of this literary movement?

 Michelle really just wants to read all the things.

*I'm getting ready to take the PRAXIS–the test that teachers must take to prove they're smarty pants-type people. I have to pass it in order to jump into my Master's degree studies later this year. Most people take it straight out of college after four years of English lit classes. Not me!
**...I did say I was a nerd, right?
***From his 1990 essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction"

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