Historical Context

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Postmodernism is an outgrowth of Modernism just as Modernism itself was an outgrowth of the Enlightenment project of the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century, authors, composers, architects, and other intellectuals rebelled against the strictures of older forms and ways of doing things. Architects began creating more functionally oriented buildings; composers created different methods of organizing musical sounds to create new music; authors felt similarly constricted and reacted against old styles and formats of poetry and fiction. Out of this came the likes of the Bauhaus architects, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton von Webern in music, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound in poetry, and Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, and James Joyce in literature.

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In the years following World War II, a new impetus in the arts and philosophy emerged that eventually resulted in Postmodernism. Writers were reluctant to fall into similar traps of conventionalization against which the modernists rebelled a generation before. They felt that the modern movement had now, through canonization, become the “old guard” and they wanted something different, more invigorating. Fiction writers like Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. began to experiment in their novels. Poets like Ishmael Reed wrote in new forms and created new poetic styles. Composers like John Cage experimented with new forms of and approaches to music-making, often using new sound-generating techniques. Along with this came a dissatisfaction with the old ways of looking at the issues of reality, language, knowledge, and power.

Derrida is likely the most important and controversial of the postmodern critics. His two 1967 works, Writing and Difference, and Of Grammatology, laid the groundwork for the concept known as deconstruction. Another French philosopher, Michel Foucault, presented his first major paper on the subject, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, in 1966. These men were followed by the Marxist critics Jameson and Eagleton, both of whom saw Postmodernism in terms of its social and economic ramifications.

Also coming out of the 1950s and the 1960s was a new approach to popular cultural arts. Among those artists who made significant impact on their art form were the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones. These rock groups experimented with new sounds, combinations of entertaining lyrics, and lyrics with some political or social implications. In the 1960s and early 1970s folk rock performers like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Pete Seeger led the way with their passionate political lyrics. In films, attitudes shifted and the role of the film changed from a more purely entertainment function to a medium with social or political emphases. These genres, including the “art film” and the sexually explicit film, reacted to the old requirement for a continuous narrative and abandoned it in favor of more disjointed and nonlinear presentations.

At the same time, television was emerging from the shadows of being “radio with pictures” to being an important medium on its own. The 1950s saw the introduction of the situation comedy, i.e., I Love Lucy, and the variety show The Ed Sullivan Show. But by the end of the 1960s these were giving way to less formal programs and moving into the beginnings of postmodern television with programs like All in the Family and Laugh In. Also at this time news became more entertaining with the introduction of the news magazine show, 60 Minutes.

Through all of these innovations and introductions of new approaches to old idioms, there occurred a disintegration of the separation of reality and fiction. Television entertainment began to include deliberate references to current events; rock songs took on the role of political commentary; and fiction became less narrative and more obscure, less realistic and more intellectually fantastic (not to be confused with children’s fantasy worlds).

The combination of the forces of suspicion, disintegration, and uncertainty led to the present postmodern world. World social situations are visited with a mouse click; economic pressures by individuals demanding specialized products have reduced the “target consumer” to ever smaller units. As Vaclav Havel has noted, seeing a Bedouin on a camel in typical Arab dress, wearing jeans beneath, listening to a CD through an ear piece and drinking a soft drink is no longer odd or unexpected. The fragmented nature of the postmodern world has created a new culturally diverse and, at the same time, culturally mixed world. Television brings war into viewer’s living rooms. It shows the horror of collapsing buildings; on reality shows, it gives the consumer a window to the most intimate and tender moments in a person’s life, and it reduces this to a slickly packaged product for the purpose of getting higher ratings and more profits.

Literary Style

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Schizophrenia
An important aspect of Postmodernism in literature and entertainment media is the relaxation of strict time lines, sometimes called discontinuous time. Often an author will construct a sequence of events that have no time relationships to each other. In literature this requires the reader to create a time line, which the author may upset later in the story. In some TV shows this is particularly important when the time line would have two things happening at the same time. Therefore, the writers show one event, then show another that happened at the same time as the first. This kind of temporal disruption is called “schizophrenia” by Jameson.

Recurring Characters
Some authors introduce a single character into several different works. Vonnegut does this with Kilgore Trout and Tralfamadorians, who appear in several of his novels.

Irony
Irony is a specialized use of language in which the opposite of the literal meaning is intended. Its former use often had the intent to provoke a change in behavior from those who were the object of the irony. But for the postmodernist the writer merely pokes fun at the object of the irony without the intention of making a social (or other kind of) change.

Authorial Intrusion
Occasionally an author will speak directly to the audience or to a character in the text in the course of a work—not as a character in the tale but as the writer. Vonnegut does this in several of his novels, including Breakfast of Champions.

Self-Reflexivity
Many literary works make comments about the works themselves, reflecting on the writing or the “meaning” of the work. These works are selfconscious about themselves. In some instances the work will make a comment about itself in a critical way, making a self-reflexive comment on the whole process of writing, reading, or understanding literature.

Collage
This style is characterized by an often random association of dissimilar objects without any intentional connection between them or without a specified purpose for these associations. For example, the rapid presentation of bits and pieces from old news tapes that are often used at the beginning of news programs is a collage. While it intends to introduce the news, it is not the news nor is it any hint of the news to come.

Prose Poetry
This idea seems to be a contradiction in terms but it is an effective style of writing. The passage will look like a paragraph of prose writing, but the content will be poetic in language and construction. Rather than being a literal statement, the language in this paragraph will be more figurative.

Parody and Pastiche
Oftentimes writers will take the work of another and restructure it to make a different impression on the reader than that of the original author. Some writers lift whole passages from others, verbatim, resulting in something quite different from the original writer’s material.

Parody is the imitation of other styles with a critical edge. The general effect is to cast ridicule on the mannerisms or eccentricities of the original.

Pastiche is very much like parody but it is neutral, without any sense of humor. It is the imitation or a pasting together of the mannerisms of another’s work, but without the satiric impulse or the humor. Jameson says that because there is no longer a “normal” language system, only pastiche is possible.

Simulacra
This is a term that comes from Plato meaning “false copy” or a debased reflection of the original that is inferior to the original. Author Jean Baudrillard claims that a simulacrum is a perfect copy that has no original. The postmodernists use this technique of copying or imitating others without reservation or hesitation. They treat it as just another process in their creative effort.

Many science fiction movies deal with simulacrum characters. In Alien, one of the crew members, Ash, is an android, but one of such high quality that it is only revealed when he/it is cut and the blood is a white liquid. The “replicants” from Blade Runner are simulacra who desire a longer life. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is a simu- lacrum character with many human traits, but one who wants to have human emotions, too.

Movement Variations

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As might be expected in a relatively new philosophic movement, there are a variety of different understandings, proposals, and approaches reflecting on the particular interests of writers and contributors to that new philosophy. Postmodernism’s origin in the aftermath of World War II was not a universally scripted event. By the time Derrida and others were presenting their major papers on the basics of Postmodernism, many others were already approaching these concepts in individual ways. Additionally, as time moved on and Postmodernism developed as an accepted area of discussion, the basic ideas of Postmodernism were branching off into many facets of contemporary life. Among these variations are Marxism and political studies, Poststructuralism, feminism and gender studies, and Gay/Lesbian studies.

Feminism
Feminist readings in Postmodernism were initiated as a way to consciously view and deconstruct ideas of social norms, language, sexuality, and academic theory in all fields. Feminist theorists and writers (and they were not all women, e.g., Dr. Bruce Appleby, Professor Emeritus of Southern Illinois University, is a long-standing contributor to feminist writings and theory) were concerned with the manner in which society assumed a male bias either by direct action—for example, paying women less for doing the same job; or by inaction—using the term “man” to mean all of humankind. In either case, the female segment of society had been excluded. Even the modernist penchant for binary sets for discussions, good/bad, white/black, established an unspoken hierarchy that made the first of the set more important than the second. In that way the “male/female” set defined the female half as being less important or inferior to the male half of the set. This was not acceptable to the feminist writers and to those in the subsequent feminist movement. Feminist writers and theorists attempted to separate the ideas of sex (which is biological) and gender (which is a social construct), and use those ideas as a lens through which to deconstruct language, social mores and theories, economic policies, and longstanding historical policy.

Marxism
It is not much of a stretch to move the discussion of gender discrimination into a discussion of class discrimination, which is the focus of many of the Marxist critics. While some issues are different, it is easy to see that bias based on gender is just as destructive as the elitism in a society based on class differences.

Political Marxism is a topic that engenders strong emotional opinions, especially among those who see it as a threat to Western political systems. However, the basic issues that drove Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to formulate their theories in the nineteenth century are still valid in a discussion of literature and art and the relationship between class and the arts in a society. Marxist critics assert that the products of artistic endeavors are the results of historical forces that are themselves the results of material and/or economic conditions at the time of the creation of the art.

Art then becomes the product of those who control the economic and the intellectual production of the society. Therefore, the nature of the description of an era in human history is the product of the dominant class at the time the description is given. The present era called postmodern is so labeled by the dominant class. (It is important to note that since the present era has not yet come of age, the eventual naming of it may shift if the dominant class also shifts. What that shift may be is unknown at this time.) This concept has been reduced to the simple statement that the victor writes the story of the battle.

An enlightening example concerning this process is The Wind Done Gone. This novel is a retelling of the story of the American Civil War through eyes of the African-American slave in the southern United States. It tells Margaret Mitchell’s story Gone with the Wind from another perspective. Granted this is a pair of novels, but the factual basis behind each is the history of the Civil War. For Mitchell it is history through the eyes of the white southerner; for Alice Randall it is through the eyes of the slave in that same southern society.

Poststructuralism
Poststructuralism is a term often used interchangeably with Postmodernism. While these two terms share a number of philosophic concepts, there are some differences that need to be explained. Structuralism is rooted in a theory of language that was derived from the teachings of Swiss-born linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, which were published as the Course in General Linguistics (in 1913 in French; in 1966 in English). These publications are a set of reconstructions of his teachings from the class notes of many of his students. As the label of the philosophy indicates, it is concerned with the underlying structures of language and meaning. The structuralists “confined the play of language within closed structures of oppositions,” according to Steven Best and Douglas Kellner in their book, Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. Saussure posited that language functions in a self-referential manner and has no “natural” relation to external reality. This movement also believes, according to Claude Levi-Strauss, that texts are universal (even if the meanings of the texts are indeterminate) and that texts are found in all activities. This is construed to include the personal life histories of individuals, which are called their “texts.”

The main technique used by the structuralists in their investigations of language is the study of semiology, or the study of signs and symbols. They say that all language is arbitrary and that the culture determines the relationship between the signifier (a word) and the signified (the object). The word book is arbitrary and does not have any direct and irrefutable relationship to the object it is used to signify. That relationship comes from the culture alone. Additionally, the structuralist examines the underlying construct of language and is concerned with determining what is called the meta-structure, a universal structure that could be found in all language systems.

The poststructuralist responds to these investigations with the Derridean concept that there is not a universal structure and that the structures of language are indeterminate, just as the language (text) itself is. They give the signifier primacy over the signified, which opens the door to the indeterminacy of other postmodern considerations.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Anderson, Perry, The Origins of Postmodernity, Verso, 1998, pp. 4–5.

Barthelme, Donald, Overnight to Many Distant Cities, Penguin, 1983.

Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner, Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations, Guilford Press, 1991, pp. 20–21.

D’Andrade, Roy, “Moral Models in Anthropology,” in Current Anthropology, Vol. 36, No. 3, p. 402.

Derrida, Jacques, Of Grammatology, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Doctorow, E. L., “Four Characters Under Two Tyrannies,” in New York Times Book Review, April 29, 1984, p. 1.

Duras, Marguerite, The Ravishing of Lol Stein, translated by Richard Seaver, Pantheon Books, 1966.

Eagleton, Terry, “Estrangement and Irony,” in Salmagundi, No. 73, 1987, pp. 25–32.

Grentz, Stanley, A Primer on Postmodernism, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996, pp. 5–6, 146.

Havel, Vaclav, “The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World,” July 4, 1994, http://www.worldtrans.org/ whole/havelspeech.html (last accessed April 25, 2002).

Howard, Maureen, “Fiction in Review,” in Yale Review, Vol. 74, No. 2, January 1985, pp. xxi–xxxiii.

Jameson, Fredric, “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” in Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, 1991.

—, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” in Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology, edited by Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron, and Andrew Levy, W. W. Norton, 1998, pp. 656–57.

Klages, Mary, “Structuralism/Poststructuralism,” at Lecture Notes, http://www.colorado.edu/English/ENGL2012Klages/1997d erridaA.html, revised September 18, 2001 (last accessed April 25, 2002).

Kristeva, Julia, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, Columbia University Press, 1980.

Kundera, Milan, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, translated by Michael Henry Heim, Harper and Row, 1984.

Leffel, Jim, and Dennis McCallum, “Postmodernism and You: Religion,” at the Crossroads Project, 1996, http:// www.xenos.org/ministries/crossroads/dotrel.htm (last accessed April 25, 2002).

Lesser, Wendy, “The Character as Victim,” in Hudson Review, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, Autumn 1984, pp. 468–82.

Levin, Harry, “What was Modernism?” in Refractions: Essays in Comparative Literature, Oxford University Press, 1966, p. 292.

McDonald, Henry, “The Narrative Act: Wittgenstein and Narratology,” in Surfaces, Vol. 4, 1994, http://www.pum .umontreal.ca/revues/surfaces/vol4/mcdonald.html (last accessed April 25, 2002).

McGowan, John, Postmodernism and Its Critics, Cornell University Press, 1991, p. 91.

Morrison, Toni, Beloved, New American Library, 1987.

Reed, Ishmael, Conjure: Selected Poems, 1963–1970, University of Massachusetts Press, 1972.

Rosenau, Pauline, Postmodernism and Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions, Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 81.

Sarup, Madan, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, 2d ed., University of Georgia Press, 1993, pp. 33, 164.

Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr., Cat’s Cradle, Dell Publishing, 1963.

—, Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons: Opinions, Dell Publishing, 1974.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, On Certainty, translated by Danis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe, HarperCollins, 1972.

Further Reading
Geyh, Paula, Fred G. Leebron, and Andrew Levy, eds., Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology, W. W. Norton and Company, 1997. Postmodern American Fiction is a collection of some of the major works of literature and criticism from the postmodern era. These works are excerpted but they maintain their postmodern essence and are worthy representatives of the literature.

Grentz, Stanley J., Primer on Postmodernism, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996. This short text explains in simple terms some of the major aspects of Postmodernism. It is easily accessible to the interested student of postmodern thought.

Hoover, Paul, ed., Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, W. W. Norton and Company, 1994. The selections in Postmodern American Poetry are arranged in chronological order by the birth date of the author. There is a section of writings by many of the authors in which they explain their philosophy of writing poetry and their poetics.

Natoli, Joseph, and Linda Hutcheon, eds., Postmodern Reader, SUNY Press, 1993. This is a collection of critical writings, some excerpted, by the major authors and critics in the postmodern movement. These are the original works and they do not have guides or explanations accompanying.

Compare and Contrast

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1920s–1930s: The modernist philosophic paradigm can be expressed as the following: search for the truth.

Today: The postmodernist philosophic paradigm is expressed in the following way: there is no identifiable truth.

1920s–1930s: Modernists believe that the artist is not the preserver of the culture; rather the artist is the creator of culture. The art of the modernist is experimental, innovative, and formally complex. Art is a unique object and a finished work authenticated by the artist and validated by agreed-upon standards. “The Photograph never lies.”

Today: Art is repetitive and uses familiar or ready-made objects, or mechanical reproductions of objects. The artist does not believe that art or the artist occupies a special place apart from the rest of society. Art is a process, a performance, a production, using combinations of media. There are no agreed-upon standards. In the postmodern world, with digital imaging, photos and video can be altered completely or created completely, leaving the question, “What is reality?”

1920s–1930s: Writers are very conscious of the act of writing and try to leave a permanent result in the reader’s mind with their product. The novel is the dominant form of fiction writing. The author determines the meaning of the novel for the reader.

Today: Postmodern writers become aware that language is not as permanent as the modernists believed and that their product is not a stable one. As Derrida claims, speech is more secure than written language because the producer of the text is present to give it immediate meaning. Since meaning is indeterminate, the meaning of a novel is unknown.

1920s–1930s: Art is created to shock the audience. The cubism of Picasso and the risqué novels of Joyce are examples of these shocking creations. Once art is completed, it is a stable work of art.

Today: Art is less shocking and more an incomplete artifact of the artist. “Performance art” is an example of this in which people ‘live’ in a store window or in a glass walled house revealing their everyday life to a passing public.

1920s–1930s: Work in factories is for the husband; home life is for the wife who tends house and raises the children.

Today: Men and women work at the same tasks including firefighting and construction work; however, pay scales for women are not equalized in all areas.

Representative Works

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Beloved
When Fredric Jameson said, in “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” that postmodern society has reached the end of its awareness of history, he stirred up a great controversy. Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved (1987) asks a similar question about the postmodern society’s understanding of history.

Beloved is the story of one ex-slave’s relationship with her children, herself, and the world around them. There are two considerations about the historical accuracy of the novel. The first is the use of contemporaneous accounts of slavery and the second, Morrison’s imaginative recreation of the slave society. The conflict between these two arises from the concern that the version of slavery written by the ruling white class is flawed and that a fictional story is by definition unreal.

Two events in the novel raise this issue: the first is the moment Paul D sees the newspaper clipping of Sethe and remarks, “That ain’t her mouth.” If the news reports are not accurate, including the pictures, then the novel has relied on flawed data and it is thereby flawed.

The second incident is the scene in which Beloved lures Paul D into the shed to have sex. There is a stack of newspapers in the shed, a symbolic juxtaposition of the real and the imagined. The poststructuralist view that reality is a function of discourse is challenged in these scenes. The sources of discourse are unreliable (newspapers, photos, fictional accounts of events) and that leads to the conclusion that there is no reliable explication of “reality” present in these scenes and, by extrapolation, in the novel itself.

Cat’s Cradle
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is one of those authors who defy easy categorization, though it might be appropriate to call him an eclectic postmodernist. But the difficulty of identifying him or his works within a trend or movement remains. If one work were representative of his philosophy, it is his 1974 book Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (Opinions). (These concepts are found in Cat’s Cradle.) This collection of opinion is not his best or most important, but it locates in its title the three most important aspects of his writing. Wampeters are objects around which the lives of otherwise unrelated people revolve, for example, The Holy Grail or The National Championship (in college football). Foma are harmless comforting truths such as “Prosperity is just around the corner.” “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” “Everything’s going to be all right!” Granfalloons are a proud and meaningless association of human beings, for example “The Veterans of Future Wars” or the “Class Colors Committee.”

In many of his works he pokes fun at the quirkiness of normal life, and the grand institutions of society. He infuses his novels with a sense of humor, with the exception of Slaughterhouse Five, which is based on the bombing of Dresden during World War II.

Cat’s Cradle is a humorous and sharp-edged novel that takes major institutions of society to task for their vapidity and shallowness: religion, the military, and science. Jonah lives in the Caribbean where the only religion tolerated is Bokononism. It is based on the teachings and songs of Bokonon, most of which are in a Caribbean dialect and sung to a calypso beat.

Jonah finds out about a corrupted production of crystals at a chemical plant that changed the way ice crystals are formed. Instead of forming ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (called ice-one), the process was transformed eventually creating ice-nine that freezes (crystallizes) at 130 degrees. The book tackles the problems of science gone awry, a military that saw an opportunity for a doomsday weapon, and the religion that tried to make some philosophic sense of it all.

The chief image in this novel comes from its title, a cat’s cradle: a finger game played by two people with a loop of string that becomes twisted and tangled during the game. But if it is done properly, it will return to its original form and “All will be well” (a Foma!).

Conjure: Selected Poems, 1963–1970
Reed’s 1972 book of poetry contains prose poems, didactic poems, and short poems offering comments on very specific incidents such as the poem “Report of the Reed Commission” which reads:

i conclude that for
the first time in
history the practical
man is the loon and the
loon the practical man

a man on the radio just
said that air pollution
is caused by jellyfish.

Not all of his poetry is this transparent and humorous. Some, for example “catechism of d neoamerican hoodoo church,” explore what he sees as the oppressive nature of the American society in which he lives. His reference to “Hoodoo” (which is a variation of Voodoo) is a common theme in most of his writings. It combines aspects of conjuring, magic, and Voodoo, which he claims will help African Americans and people in the Third World rid themselves of the oppressive nature of contemporary western civilization.

The opening paragraph includes a statement confronting established value systems: “i refused to deform d works of ellison and wright.” In this refusal he raises concerns about social demands and instructs others in ways to confront similar demands.

Throughout these poems he uses a kind of written language that more completely approximates the language of common people. In “catechism” stanza i, he writes: “we who hv no dreams permit us to say yr name/ all day. we are junk beneath yo feet.” The look on the page may seem unusual or even wrong, but if the line is said aloud the normal sounds of everyday speech result. Another technique in the poems in Conjure is repeated lines, phrases, or words to emphasize the passage. These repetitions derive from an oral tradition of storytelling, learning scriptures, and hymns.

Of Grammatology
The beginnings of Deconstructionism are found in Derrida’s introduction to his 1962 French translation of German philosopher Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, and later expanded in two major works, Of Grammatology (1967) and Writing and Difference (1967). Of Grammatology is a difficult book that contains the basis for deconstructive analysis of language. Two of the more important issues raised in the book are: logocentrism of language and the use of binary oppositions (sets) in western culture.

Logocentrism gives precedence to the spoken word over the written word. He says that philosophies that claim that speech is a more natural form of language give speech the position of primacy. By doing so, writing is reduced to a secondary position. His argument is not that writing is not secondary but that speech is not primary, a tricky way of equalizing these two components of language without setting up another binary set.

Some may claim that writing is merely recorded speech but Derrida argues the opposite: speech is a form of unrecorded script. Here again he makes a careful argument to avoid the establishment of new hierarchies. The specific concern that he raises in this discussion is what he calls “centering,” the process of giving one term (the first of a set) more importance than another.

He shows that any text, no matter what kind, can be read in ways different from what it seems to be saying, which is the central proposition in his book. Communication is an unending series of textual meanings that arise and are subverted within themselves. Then the process repeats. The result of these repeated subversions of meaning is that no text is ever stable. Any stability in a text is merely illusory.

The basis of his discussion is the signifier/signified relationship that comes from the structuralists. He raises the specter of the difficulties of interpreting the relationships between the signifier (the word) and the signified (the object). This is the problem of writing, where a written word represents a spoken word that in turn represents the object. The movement from the one to the other is the structure of the meaning, but because this movement conceals and erases itself during the very act of movement, it remains unstable. He says, “There is not a single signified that escapes, even if recaptured, the play of signifying references that constitute language.” Hence, since a text has so many different meanings, it cannot have one single meaning. This is the basic conundrum of deconstruction: the very act of deconstruction is unstable and the results are indeterminate.

Overnight to Many Distant Cities
Barthelme is a noted minimalist fiction writer. In his collection Overnight to Many Distant Cities (1983) are several notable short stories. “Cortes and Montezuma” shows the minimalist character of Barthelme’s writing style. Minimalist means using a small amount of text to create the tale. Much of this story consists of short rapid-fire sentences, some of which have only three words, giving the reader a sense of urgency. In this manner, Barthelme retells the history of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, using themes of trust and breaking trust.

Another story from the same collection, “The first thing the baby did wrong . . . ,” is a humorous parable about the difficulties of living with immutable rules. A family of three has a rule that the child will be confined to its room for four hours for every page that is torn out of a book. This rule backfires because the child tears pages out at every chance it gets. Eventually, the child owed the parents eighty-eight hours. The narrator says, “If you made a rule you had to stick to it.” This points out the absurdity of a society that lives by rules that are not always understood nor well thought out.

“Postmodernism and Consumer Society”
In his 1983 essay “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” Frederic Jameson explains his idea of Postmodernism, what caused it to occur, and its basic principles. He discusses what he calls pastiche and schizophrenia as they relate to “the emergent social order of late capitalism.” Pastiche is the loss of personal identity, which may be the result of capitalism and bureaucracies that place no importance on the individual. Another aspect of this loss of identity lies in the possibility that there is no way for writers and artists to create new styles because “they’ve already been invented.” The other focus of the essay, schizophrenia, is the clash of narratives resulting from the combination of the past and future into the present. Throughout this essay, and others by Jameson, he takes considerable notice of the impact of capitalism on the course of social progress and artistic expression of the time.

Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art
Julia Kristeva introduces gender politics into the postmodern discussion in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. She proposes that unconscious drives are major players in communication and language. She explains that in creating a text by writing, the author releases unconscious selves and destroys the former notion of a solid, traditional, logical self. She considers the formative possibilities of a feminine voice that can result.

Kristeva looks at this issue of the feminine voice in the context of the dissolution of binary sets discussed by Derrida. She asserts that if customary language usage privileges one sex over another, as in the male/female set, it opens up the possibility of the marginalized sex eventually being eliminated from all discussions, though, at the same time, it provides means for women to raise their concerns if they utilize their status outside the mainstream.

Media Adaptations

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Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed sets the poetry of Ishmael Reed to music. The selections are from Reed’s collection of poetry published in 1972. This adaptation has received high acclaim by reviewers from Absolute Sound and the Philadelphia Enquirer.

Morrison’s Beloved was adapted as a film by director Jonathan Demme in 1998.

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