Postmodernism: What is it?
The term “postmodernism” isn’t one that is easily defined. Postmodernism can, of course, refer to the movement in the arts, music, architecture and critical thinking that began occurring in the late 20th century. When one looks at how postmodernism affected writers and their subsequent works, there are several characteristics to look for as you read that will signal that a story might be postmodern in nature. For example, postmodern stories tend to include elements of paradox, fragmentation and magical realism. Time, both past and present, might seem disrupted or shuffled around. The plot of a story might jump around and be told in an unnatural order. Narrators of stories might begin to sound paranoid, as if they themselves don’t even trust the “realness” or reliability of what is happening in the fictional world around them. Overall, it is best to think of postmodernism as an “attitude” instead of a genre.
Check out the following mix of postmodern picks from the Library:
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin (2000), winner of the Booker Prize, is a story meant to confuse the reader. It contains a novel-within-a novel within another novel, blends three narratives together and employs items such as newspaper clippings, a letter, and society announcements in order to add to the story. On the opening pages, the reader learns that the protagonist Iris's sister dies by driving her car off a bridge, yet it will take the entire novel to learn why.
The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
In his startling, witty and inexhaustibly inventive first novel—first published in 1986-Baker uses a one-story escalator ride as the occasion for a dazzling reappraisal of everyday objects and rituals. From the humble milk carton to the act of tying one’s shoes, The Mezzanine at once defamiliarizes the familiar world and endows it with loopy poetry. Baker’s accounts of the ordinary become extraordinary through his sharp storytelling and his unconventional, conversational style. At first glance this appears to be a book about nothing. In reality, it is a brilliant celebration of things, simultaneously demonstrating the value of reflection and the importance of everyday human human experiences.
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
House of Leaves is the debut novel of Danielewski. The story begins with a first-person narrative by Johnny Truant, a Los Angeles tattoo parlor employee and professed unreliable narrator. Truant is searching for a new apartment when his friend tells him about the apartment of the recently deceased Zampanò, a blind, elderly man. In Zampanò's apartment, Truant discovers a manuscript that turns out to be an academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record, though Truant says he can find no evidence that the film ever existed. The format and structure of House of Leaves is unconventional, with unusual page layout and style. It contains a lot of footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves, including references to fictional books, films or articles.
White Noise by Don Delillo
Winner of the National Book Award, White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, his fourth wife, Babette, and four ultramodern offspring as they navigate the rocky passages of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism. When an industrial accident unleashes an "airborne toxic event," a lethal black chemical cloud floats over their lives. The menacing cloud is a more urgent and visible version of the "white noise" engulfing the Gladneys-radio transmissions, sirens, microwaves, ultrasonic appliances, and TV murmurings-pulsing with life, yet suggesting something ominous.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
When her ex-lover, wealthy real-estate tycoon Pierce Inverarity, dies and designates her the coexecutor of his estate, California housewife Oedipa Maas is thrust into a paranoid mystery of metaphors, symbols, and the United States Postal Service. Traveling across Southern California, she meets some extremely interesting characters and attains a considerable amount of self-knowledge.
The Elephant Tree by R. D. Ronald
Mark Fallon is an overworked detective investigating a spate of attacks at a string of high profile city centre nightclubs. Scott is a dejected 24-year-old struggling to make ends meet working for his brother and supplementing his income with a small-scale drug dealing operation. Angela is an attractive 23-year-old, raised by her father, a career criminal and small time drug dealer who supplies Scott with cannabis. This is a chilling tale spanning a few months in the lives of Scott and Angela, where realizations about the present combine with shocking revelations from the past leading to an apocalyptic climax where they no longer know whom they can trust.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
A postmodern book list without Infinate Jest on it would be ignoring the fact that this book has been a poster cover for postmodernism in literature since its publication in 1996. Although critics argue whether David Foster Wallace's writing is truly postmodern or instead something even beyond postmodernism, Infinite Jest is still almost always mentioned in discussions about postmodern literature. Coming in at over one thousand pages,the story is set in a North American dystopia, centering on a junior tennis academy and a nearby substance-abuse recovery center. The novel touches on many topics, including addiction and recovery, family relationships, entertainment and advertising, film theory, United States-Canada relations (as well as Quebec separatism), and tennis. If you'd like to check out more titles by Wallace, check out the blog article Library staffer Adam wrote back in February in honor of Wallace's birthday!
In addition to postmodern novels, you can also take a look at some nonfiction works from our collection:
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