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English Literary File_Vol 6

The Pitfalls of Postmodernist Criticism: Identifying the Gaps in Analysis of Contemporaneous Literature By Kristian Wilson, English 430 When discussing postmodernism, critics Fredric Jameson and Linda Hutcheon agree on very little. Jameson laments the lack of originality and individualism in post-World War II literature, while Hutcheon celebrates postmodernism’s capacity to develop new stories by bending history to serve its narratives. The first of two things these two disparate critics agree upon is that no one may easily define postmodernism itself. In his 1983 essay, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” Jameson claims that “the concept of postmodernism is not widely accepted or even understood today” (1). Hutcheon, in her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction, declares, “Of all the terms bandied about in current cultural theory. postmodernism must be the most over and under-defined” (3). In their attempts to pin down the postmodern period, both authors skirt around offering a true definition and instead provide readers with a framing lens through which they may view postmodern works. This approach is very much akin to—and just as frustrating as—US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s non-definition of hardcore pornography: “I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis). The lack of concrete classifications for postmodernism from Jameson and Hutcheon requires scholars to piece together the positions of these critics from their respective essays. Jameson asserts that postmodernism only emerged after the highly original and individual voices of modernism were claimed. The development of modernism into postmodernism was not spontaneous, but was brought about as “the age of cor- porate capitalism” destroyed individualism by way of mass-culture and –consumerism (4). Therefore, according to Jameson, postmodernist writers must engage in pastiche—“blank parody, parody that has lost its sense of humor”—of modernist styles in order to assume any façades of originality (3). Hutcheon declares postmodernism a paradox, something that is only easily defined by what it is not, through “negativized rhetoric”— which she also refers to as “the rhetoric of rupture”—using terms such as “discontinuity, decentering, and so on” (3, 20). The paradoxical nature of postmodernism lends itself to the genre Hutcheon calls “historiographic metafiction” (5). This genre consists of purely selfinsistent fiction, which is to say that its stories exist independently of any actual reality and yet, paradoxically, draw heavily upon the personalities and events of the past in service to their narratives. Thus, we see the second point on which Jameson Figure 4 John Updike with First Lady Barbara Bush and President George H. W. Bush at awards ceremony for the Medal of Arts at the White House, 17 Nov. 1989. Photo Credit: George Bush Presidential Library. Image available at Wikimedia Commons. ELF 2015 (Vol. 6) 12


English Literary File_Vol 6
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