Postmodernism

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What common features can be found in postmodern literary works?

Features that can be found in a postmodern literary work include subjective realities, unreliable narrators, and intertextuality.

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One feature that can be found in a postmodern literary work is an elusive reality. For postmodernists, reality is neither universal nor objective. What constitutes reality is one’s individual experience. A person’s world is composed of how they interpret their surroundings and the information that’s available to them. A literary...

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One feature that can be found in a postmodern literary work is an elusive reality. For postmodernists, reality is neither universal nor objective. What constitutes reality is one’s individual experience. A person’s world is composed of how they interpret their surroundings and the information that’s available to them. A literary work that exemplifies this subjective notion of reality is Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49. In it, Oedipa Maas tries to piece together her reality via conspiracy theories, an unstable psychotherapist, and a Jacobean play.

Another feature of postmodernism is an unreliable narrator. As with reality, many postmodern works question the legitimacy of the narrator. The narrator becomes a source of suspicion instead of a trustworthy guide. A specific postmodern work that features a potentially dubious narrator is Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita. The story is narrated by the predatory Humbert Humbert. Nabokov leaves many clues that Humbert is manipulating events and characters to come across as less of a creep.

A third feature of postmodern literary works is intertextuality. Some authors associated with postmodernism build their stories around external texts, authors, and cultural products. Kathy Acker’s novel Blood and Guts in High School incorporates the American author Nathaniel Hawthorne and the French writer Jean Genet. Zadie Smith’s novel Swing Time focuses on two girls with an appreciation for Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire films.

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