What are the characteristics of Postmodern Literature?

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Postmodern literature is characterized by suspicion, skepticism, and rejection of many of the theories and values of Modernism. With Postmodernism, therefore, there is fragmentation and multiple, conflicting identities along with alternatives to established values. In short, Postmodern literature challenges the established artistic criteria:

[Postmodernism] stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism...focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually.

Thus, Postmodern literature examines through its narratives the nature of knowledge, both deconstructing established beliefs and purporting new interpretations. One of the most exemplary of Postmodern writers is James Joyce. In his novel Ulysses, for instance, he employs the characteristic stream-of-consciousness technique which breaks from all traditional structure; he parodies the development of English literary style as he employs the idioms and cliches of pulp fiction; and, he relates the events of 1904 using scientific jargon in the format of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Another novel, Finnegan's Wake is what one critic calls "a dizzying web or allusions and languages," that is "bold" in its "technical innovations" such as the employment of the serious mixed with the comic and ambiguous, and myth combined with history.

Another Postmodern writer and poet, Ismael Reed, who was innovative and controversial, mixed dream-fantasy with contemporary reality and satire as nothing held sacred in America was safe from his pen. A literary device he created was called Neohoodism; Reed stated that he employs a aesthetic process of mystery and eclecticism "to take care of business on behalf of the maligned and mishandled."

While its exploration of reality and ideas opens new vistas for readers, Postmodern literature also blurs the clear line once drawn between reality and fiction, leaving readers somewhat disturbed and doubtful.


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