I think I should define “postmodernism” before I help you apply a postmodern critique to Richard Brautigan’s rather zany short story “Homage to the San Francisco YMCA.”
According to the Poetry Foundation, postmodernism can generally be defined as a concept or theory that is “suspicious of hierarchy and objective knowledge and embraces complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, and diversity.”
I think the above definition fits quite nicely with Brautigan’s short story. Hopefully, I shouldn’t have a hard time explaining the connection to you.
As you know from having read the quick story, the narrator replaces their plumbing with poetry. That right there seems to be an example of being “suspicious” or doubtful of “hierarchy and objective knowledge.”
Surely, the narrator must know that poetry cannot replace a kitchen sink, a bathroom sink, the bathtub, and the water heater. Yet the narrator carries out their task regardless. It’s not exactly clear how the poet does it. I’m not sure what John Donne looks like as pipes or what Vladimir Mayakovsky looks like as a bathroom sink. I suppose that’s the ambiguity of postmodernism. Not everything is clear. I guess there are some things that can’t be explained. I also can’t explain how Emily Dickinson, Donne, or Michael McClure are able to speak to the narrator.
Finally, I should tell you about the contradiction. After the narrator did all of the work to replace the plumbing with the poets, the narrator had a sudden about-face. “This just didn’t work out the way I planned it,” said the narrator. It’s like the narrator goes back on everything the story is about. The narrator counters or contradicts their own actions.
Of course, the poets don’t want to be discarded. They fight the narrator and win. Not to undercut everything I’ve just told you, but the triumph of the poets could be seen as anti-postmodern. It could be an example of the supremacy of knowledge and hierarchy.