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What are the characteristics of postmodern literature?

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In postmodernist literature, irony has lost both its humor and drive to correct social wrongs. Further, temporal-causal comprehension is broken down by the fragmentation of time through authorial intrusion and self-reflexive comments.

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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...

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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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What are the characteristics of postmodernist literature that makes it challenging to read?

Irony has lost both its humor and its drive to correct social wrongs in Postmodernist literature, so the ironic tone that might amuse in Austen's Pride and Prejudice becomes a biting, humorless sarcasm in postmodern works. The Fault in Our Stars is a good example of this postmodernist stripping of humor and intent from irony. This is one characteristic that makes these works challenging to read.

mostly friendless, ... exploiting his cancertastic past, slowly working his way toward a master's degree that will not improve his career prospects, waiting ... for the sword of Damocles to give relief that he escaped lo those many years ago.... (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars)

Even more challenging is what postmodernist Marxist critic Fredric Jameson calls chronological, or temporal, "schizophrenia." Until modernists and postmodernists, chronology in literature was fairly straightforward following a cause-effect order through time. Flashbacks were employed to tell backstories or to fill in events that transpired away from the point-of-view focus, but temporal cohesion was kept intact. An example of such a flashback occurs in Austen's Sense and Sensibility when Willoughby bursts in on Eleanor and tells her the story of his away-from-point-of-view events: he is speaking about a time he flashes back to, so temporal consistency is not lost, only momentarily redirected.

"I do not know ... how YOU may have accounted for my behaviour to your sister ... [but] When I first became intimate in your family, I had no other intention, no other view in the acquaintance than to pass my time pleasantly while I was obliged to remain in Devonshire,..." (Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility)

Modernists, like Virginia Wolf, chose to show fragmented time, showing things that are happening simultaneously--like Mrs. Dalloway's actions simultaneously occurring during Septimus's experiences in the park--by using real-world commonalities, like an aeroplane they both see performing the same act. Postmodernists fragment time even more severely because they don't have the modernist's regret at the post-World War fragmentation of spatial-temporal (space-time) experience. Postmodernists disrupt timelines with regularity, with simultaneity, flashbacks and flash-forwards, creating fragmented, discontinuous timelines.

Space doesn't permit a full discussion of Postmodernism's challenging characteristics, but two other prominent ones are authorial intrusion and self-reflexivity. In postmodern literature, the author may choose to intrude into the fictive world and address the reader or another character thus creating a sometimes disconcerting partnership between the otherwise invisible author and reader. This intrusiveness may be in reaction to Barthes declaration that the author, as such, had died for purposes of textual analysis and all that embodies meaning is the text and the text alone. Similar to intrusion, the text may call attention to itself as a text by incorporating self-reflexive remarks about meaning, structure, or characters. An example of very boldly made self-reflexive remarks is in London Fields:

Three days in and I am ready to begin. ... Hear my knuckles crack. ... Hurry. I always assumed I'd start with the murderee, with her, with Nicole Six. But, no, that wouldn't feel quite right. (Martin Amis, London Fields)

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Examine how Postmodernist literature can be challenging to read because of its varied characteristics.

Postmodernist literature is often challenging to read and subsequently analyze due to not only its scope but also because of its manipulation of older tropes and writing techniques. There is an understanding in much postmodernist literature that our own analysis of events is often as real as it is fragmented. The self-awareness of Postmodernist literature allows for the understanding that we cannot suspend reality, but at the same time, we are required to.

One example of this simultaneous reality and suspension of reality is the style of historiographic metafiction. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is thought of as historiographic metafiction because it calls on the reader to analyze a real historic event, World War II. Vonnegut writes Slaughterhouse-Five in such a way that makes clear that it is impossible to truly recall the events of World War II with truth and impartiality. This is the difficulty in providing analysis to postmodernist literature: the level of self-awareness to postmodernist literature and its writers means that there are no clear answers; rather, almost through a type of Socratic method, the books only raise more questions.

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Examine how Postmodernist literature can be challenging to read because of its varied characteristics.

Postmodern style makes it challenging to read because of its deconstructionist nature.  The deconstructionism that is such a part of postmodernism is a condition in which the author is able to embrace different elements in the construction of their work. Narratives are not necessarily direct and the emergence of metanarratives become a trait commonly seen in Postmodern literature.  The presence of authorial intrusion and contradictions within story lines and the use of multiple story lines also becomes a part of this process.  The collage style that is used in Postmodern literature also enables more constructions and story lines to present itself.

For the Postmodern author, the manner in which narratives are presented are almost as important, if not more, than the narrative itself.  I think that this becomes where one can see how Postmodern literature is so challenging to read.  The need to deconstruct what literature is and move into what can be in terms of expressing a complex relationship towards truth and its depiction is where intricacy lies.  It is in this where the literature of the movement can be challenging to read.

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