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and Hutcheon concur: that postmodernism uses the past to suit its own purposes, whether pastiche or historiographic metafiction. But where does this definition leave those works of fiction that are grounded in reality and do not delve into the past for content? Most, being so far removed from the Lost Generation, certainly could not be considered modernist, and with so many works of contemporaneous literature—that is, set in the same era in which it is written, without the use of the nostalgic and historiographic tropes identified by Jameson and Hutcheon—spread out over seventy years of postmodernism, addressing them as a new period is out of the question. Scholars have only one answer, then: to admit that current postmodern thought has left large cracks through which works of literature written in and about their present times, without utilizing or revising history, have fallen. In order for society and academia to fully understand— and possibly move past—postmodernism these gaps must be acknowledged and analyzed. John Updike’s short story, “Separating,” is a prime example of this unaddressed postmodern genre. Published in 1975, Updike’s piece is the story of a couple who have finally decided to tell their children about their impending divorce. Its characters, being upper class and—presumably— white, would fit well in modernist literature; Richard Maple fits perfectly into the niche of Aristotelian hero: he is from the upper echelon of society, influential, with character flaws which are not too remote to destroy readers’ sympathy. However, “Separating” bears enough postmodernist attributes to place it firmly within that period. The story is rife with materialism to the extent that it drives the narrative. The Maples have just installed a new tennis court on their property, and it stands unfinished, a testament to Richard and Joan’s failed marriage and flagrant wasting of money. Other various luxuries are casually referenced throughout the text, such as sabbaticals in Europe, camps, “lobster and champagne” dinners, and rock concerts (Updike 2269). Doubling down on this rampant consumerism, the children are frequently described as inanimate objects or concepts: Joan reminds Richard that “they’re. not just some corporate obstacle to his freedom,” and John exclaims, “We’re just little things you had” (2269, 2271). Later, Joan describes telling Dickie about the divorce as “doing” him, to which Richard responds with an even more dehumanizing, “I’ll do it” (2273). Although there is frequent insistence on the children’s having separate identities, that the characters need to insist in the first place is telling: the concept of their individualism “is merely a philosophical and cultural mystification which sought to persuade them that they possessed unique personal identities” (Jameson 4). There is no evidence anywhere in the text that would lead readers to believe it takes place outside of the mid-1970s. Judith’s “stories of bomb scares” during her study abroad in England fit nicely with the United Kingdom’s political landscape during this period (Updike 2270). According to the Canterbury Times article, “University of Kent Expert Professor Feargal Cochrane: Canterbury’s Bomb Scare and Northern Ireland,” that was exactly when “the Provisional IRA Irish Republic Army exported their bombing campaign to Britain,” and “in the peak year of violence, 1972, the death rate in Northern Ireland was an average of 1.3 per day.” Jameson argues that postmodernism cannot accept its own present. He writes, “the very style of nostalgia films is invading and colonizing even those movies today which have contemporary settings: as though we have become incapable of achieving aesthetic representations of our own current experience” (6). It is important to note that while Jameson is only questioning the ability of postmodern culture to live wholly in the present in the above passage, he does not back down from this argument. Therefore, it is acceptable to classify this as a concrete statement from the critic on the nature of postmodernism. The contemporariness of stories like Updike’s “Separating” begs the question: is the past truly necessary in postmodern fiction? To insist that postmodern fiction draw from the past is to give in, primarily, to Jameson’s pessimistic outlook on its nature. If postmodernists are “condemned to live in a perpetual present for which there is no conceivable future,” then theorists cannot even so much as create a new period for contemporaneous fiction within the postmodern period, as creating something new would push analysis past the postmodern and over “the horizon” that Jameson argues will never be reached (7). Contemporaneous literature was inarguably more popular in pre-World War II periods, thus making its presence in the postmodern that of a somewhat problematic outlier for which theorists have yet to account. ELF 2015 (Vol. 6) 13


English Literary File_Vol 6
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