Postmodernist Studies by John Carlos Rowe

An attempt to discuss postmodern within a frame of reference and to define it with the rational course and specific logic is bound to be inadequate. The term is ambiguous because of its equivocation or of the different ways in which the term has been used to characterize a wide range of social aesthetic, economic and political phenomena making it an indefinable concept.

Now postmodernism has been taken as an ambiguous term because of its close affinity with several fields: social, aesthetic, economic and political. The essayist argues that the postmodern is a global phenomenon. As a result, it has gained its definition along with its emergence in several parts of the world (USA, Western Europe and may be all the urban areas of the world).

The term postmodernism only enters Anglo-American critical discourse in the 1950s and in a significant way in the 1960s. At first it seems to indicate a new periodization: Postmodern art/culture is the art or culture which in the years after the Second World War, extends or even breaks with modernist techniques and conventions without reverting to realist or pre-modernist position but before long critics start to use the term to refer to particular cultural, artistic or even social phenomena.

Postmodern cannot be reduced to a viewpoint or even a small collection of viewpoints. However, it can be clarified by examining three widely held theories: anti-essentialism, anti-realism and anti-foundationalism. Each of these is discussed, and the last one is treated in detail. Arguments against firm foundations in knowledge go back to the ancient Greeks, though postmodernists take their bearing from the declaration of Friedrich Nietzsche’s madman, “God is dead”. With this means and how it relates to nihilism and perspectivism is discussed. Derrida’s anti-foundationalism is contrasted with Richard Rorty’s. Yet anti-foundationalism is hardly the pressure of ‘Postmodern’ thinkers, as they are usually grouped: it is also an important part of analytic philosophy. Brief introductions are made to Wilfred Sellars, Willard Van, Orman Quine and Donald Davidson.

The essayist addresses three different kinds of postmodernism in this essay: i) the literary experimentation, ii) poststructuralist and deconstructive approach, and iii) the ‘specio-economical approach towards the society’.

Literary experimentation

 Postmodern writer in the late 1960s and early 1970s, accepting the charge that the ‘novel was dead’, bid it good riddance. The most notable and vocal postmodernist worked primarily in prose fiction, and they generally preferred the term fiction to novel. One of the postmodern critics John Barth said that literature had been exhausted. The great plots had been used again and again; centuries of stylistic innovation and formal experimentation had left contemporary writers with nothing new to say or do. That ‘nothing’ of course, was the starting point for the postmodernists. According to him, literature is nothing, and that nothing can save us from a world too insistently material.

Writers between mid 1960s to mid 1970s focused on different sorts of experimentation. They crossed beyond what modernists had considered difficult to cross. Modernist ancestors originated the term, realism; however, it is only a place to visit but not to live. As a result postmodernists went beyond the earlier boundary. Many clichés- antirealism, counter realism, fibula, surfiction and fantastic-were inverted and circulated to rebel against literary realism and social reality. New stylistic innovation began to come into existence in the name of experimentation. Literary works seemed intent on “negating negation” or so dwelling on the insignificance of literature and the marginalization of the artist as to turn these negative qualities into positive virtues. The hallmark of postmodern literature was its obsessive concern with its own possibility of production. The questions that arouse at the entrance to every postmodern fiction were: why write. And why read?

Of course, there were answers to those questions. We write because we are defined by our language. How we know is finally more important: what we know is nothing but a function of how we know. Post-modern writers always seek the how of knowing via defamiliarization. Another important issue of the period is New Left Political coalition, formed of civil rights, women’s rights, and the Vietnam War. Earlier two focus upon the equality. They try to come into center from the marginal position whereas the latter one is the international issue-US was involved in this war against South East Asian country Vietnam. The fear of war had an impact on the psychology of the mass and then writers wanted to release form mental channel. So, in this condition writers basically focused upon experimentation Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night (1968), Why are we in Vietnam? (1967) came as experimentation. Similarly Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity Rainbow (1973) and Robert Coover’s Public Burning (1996) are also about contemporary situation.

Another important issue of postmodern writing is ‘pastiche’, in which the limitations of previously dominant genres such as lyric epic, and the realistic novel were identified. In order to express the self-expression, postmodernists used mythical tool too. Myths announce their human fictional origin and insisted on their ‘truth and reality’. In this writing, postmodern writers used avant-garde stylistic.

Poststructuralist and Deconstructive approach

By the middle of the 1980s, the poststructuralist methods in use identify themselves with Derrida’s Deconstruction in order to refer to postmodern writing. However, in 1966 there was on direct relation between the postmodern literary avant-garde and poststructuralist theory. Still, there are several indirect connections worth considering. The theorists used such a kind to define postmodern technique. The poststructuralists insisted on the fundamentally linguistic construction of social and psychic reality. Jacques Lacan’s famous declaration “The unconscious is structured like a language” was effectively revised to read: “The unconscious is a language.” Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept of signifier and signified was revised by Derrida’s concept of ‘difference’. The conceptual and intellectual reference of any speech act was understandable only as the repression or a potentially endless chain of signifiers.

Derrida tried to dismantle and subvert the linearity of writing and reading in western language. Deconstruction basically was known as a theory of language and language uses—no text can have a fixed coherent meaning. Now, this term applied in the criticism of literature, designates a theory and practice of reading which questions and claims to subvert or undermine the assumption that the system of language provides grounds that are adequate to establish the boundaries, the coherence or unity, and the determinate meaning of a literary text. Typically, a deconstructive reading sets out to show that conflicting forces within the text itself serve to dissipate the seeming definiteness of its structure and meaning into an indefinite array of incompatible and undecidable possibilities.

Post structuralism is a term that is sometimes used almost interchangeably with ‘deconstruction’, in many instances. In fact, post structuralism remains under post modernism. It is seen as a more general umbrella term. It has a close affinity with the term postmodernism. The term post structuralism later became rather umbrella term inclusive of writings of Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kriteva, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault combines texts from literature, visual arts, medicine, science, anthropology, linguistics, politics and psychoanalysis case studies interpreting rhetorical subtexts.

In the United States, literary deconstruction is associated with the Yale School, which emerged and flourished in between 1975 and 1985. It included the prominent critics such as Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hills Miller, Paul de Man, and Harold Bloom. By 1979, deconstruction was divided into literary and political versions. In this time, both postmodern literature and poststructuralism are part of our recent history. It includes feminist and minority studies which have brought the changes in the traditional practices and study of literature.

Socio-economical and political approach towards the society:

In the late phase of capitalism, economical condition determines the ideology. Capitalist production helps to develop economy in general. Social-political ground also comes into the existence with the help of capitalist culture. From 1960 onward, the world entered into an era of information technology and scientific improvement. Industrialization and immense commercialization measured the circulation of mass production. The role of literary genre became narrow because of television, radio, film and other information system.

People of this age depend upon live program on television and radio, so they don’t have any interest of literary production. Of course, there is an interest, but such interest is on economy. In this age people want to be strong in terms of economy not in terms of ideology. Earlier ideological interest shifts to economy. Even all human production is to be understood in term of representation- which is already shaped and informed by certain hermeneutic assumptions and values. After that the economy of so-called natural production and reproduction would have to be considered central not only to simple economic system but also to the more sophisticated economy of cultural production. Emergent female voices cried for political, economic, psychological, and legal rights of a woman to the productivity of her own body. Production, reproduction and representation occupied the same body, making it at once physically discrete and textual.