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Postmodernism

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Definition:

Main Ideas: "Postmodernism" is the general term for a series of developments in literature, art, philosophy, and intellectual life as a whole. To some extent, postmodernism entails a questioning approach to doctrines and theories, as well as a belief that diversity and contradiction are inevitable (and even desirable) in art, society, and psychology. For some readers, the defining writers of the postmodern era are notoriously difficult essayists and philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Jurgen Habermas. But standard post-modern values are also evident in the works of several writers from the middle of the 20th century, and later—writers as different as V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, W.G. Sebald, Milan Kundera, Haruki Murakami, and Roberto Bolaño.

Much like their modernist forerunners, post-modernist writers are interested in both the literary past and in cutting-edge artistic experimentation. Re-tellings of older narratives (including well-known novels and fairy tales) and re-workings of well-worn genres (including detective fiction, science fiction, and historical fiction) have preoccupied many famous postmodernists. Yet there are also a few important contrasts between modernism and postmodernism, as they are typically understood. While modernists occasionally reacted to historical and cultural change with anxiety and despair, the postmodern response to new social developments is seldom as anguished. (Playful irony, and outright enthusiasm for new media and new international connections, are characteristically postmodern reactions.) There is, however, one final similarity between modernism and postmodernism—that neither term can be defined with absolute certitude. There is no set date for the beginning of the postmodern age, and it is unclear whether or not the postmodern era persists into the present day.

Major Postmodernist Writers: A few of the central figures in the development of the postmodern novel are Vladimir Nabokov, Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace. Despite their considerable stylistic differences, these authors share a reputation for the same traits: self-conscious intellectualism, intricate plots and stories, unabashedly complex descriptions. Nonetheless, comedy and pop culture play an important role in the works of the standard postmodernists—for instance, in the novels of Pynchon and DeLillo, and in the visual art produced by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons.

Some of the other important artists of the post-modern era tend to be classified differently—or seem to defy classification altogether. Although Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende exhibit a typically postmodern interest in tales and storytelling, these two Latin American novelists are most often classified as "magical realists", not as standard postmodernists. It is also difficult to say whether the more traditional creative writers of the postmodern period—John Updike, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, and Jonathan Franzen, to name just a few—should or should not be grouped with the more self-consciously experimental authors of the late 20th and early 21st century.

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