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British and Irish Literature Postmodernism
by
Tim Woods

Introduction

“Postmodernism” has been a notoriously difficult term to define, and it has had a complicated history across various disciplines. Nevertheless, the idea largely emerged in the late 1950s in the humanities to indicate a sense that modernism had been superseded by a new cultural, aesthetic, and critical agenda. Some theorists have treated “postmodernism” as an epochal or historical term, while others have regarded it as an aesthetic or formal characteristic that is not limited to a particular era. Initially, it found its principal purchase in cultural philosophy, literature, architecture, art, and cultural theory, but it has subsequently affected and influenced debates across a wide range of disciplines, including international politics, psychology, law, history, sociology, and even town planning and medicine. As its concepts and ideas found purchase within intellectual debates, many saw in postmodernism an emancipation from the institutional straitjacketing of culture, while others in turn regarded postmodernism as an abandonment of social and intellectual responsibility that was symptomatic of a cultural decline with the ascendancy of late capitalism. Despite this wrangle over its political and ideological implications, in broad philosophical terms postmodernism tends to focus on reconceptualizing notions of subjectivity and gender, concepts of temporality, history, space, and place, and the relationships of power between races, ethnicities, and different cultural spheres of influence across global communities. The advent of postmodern thought has been a story of uneven development across various disciplines. This has meant that in certain disciplines where postmodern theory arrived early, there has been little recent theoretical development of postmodern ideas, while some disciplines have seen major theoretical discussions emerging since around 1990. However, since postmodernism has been around in intellectual debates since the 1960s, we have reached a stage where a history of postmodernism can now be written. Furthermore, it would be fair to say that more recently, across disciplines like literature, art, and history, the debate has switched from discussing the opportunities opened up by postmodern ideas, to considerations of whether it has had its day and what its trajectory and future legacy to theoretical and cultural concerns might be.

General Overviews and Reference

The difficulties in unraveling the nuances and explaining the refinements of the concept of postmodernism have led to numerous attempts to illuminate the term. Ranging between approving and fiercely skeptical tones, such introductory books are nevertheless useful springboards for diving into more detailed investigations. Appignanesi and Garratt 1995 is part of a longstanding series that seeks to offer cultural explanations through the medium of the cartoon and is very accessible for that reason. Silverman 1990 and Tester 1993 offer sets of essays on the impact that postmodernism has had on a variety of disciplines. Although most of the overviews are introductory by nature, Taylor and Winquist 1998 seeks to provide a thorough coverage of the different fields influenced by postmodernism, stretching to four volumes of extracts, manifestos, and key essays. Generally, these books are best read in conjunction with others, and Taylor and Winquist 2001 is a very helpful short-entry companion that can act as a supplementary aide to most overviews on the subject. One major source of research discussion that has rapidly become the standard journal for the cultural concept is Postmodern Culture, whose very digital medium facilitates debates about the innovative formal and experimental styles of postmodern literature and culture. Madsen 1995 and McCaffery 1986 between them provide excellent specialist bibliographical sources to support the bibliographies found in most reference books and general introductions.

  • Appignanesi, Richard, and Chris Garratt. Postmodernism for Beginners. Cambridge, UK: Icon, 1995.

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    Offering the series’ familiar cartoon-style approach to intellectual concepts and ideas, this book covers postmodernism across art, theory, and history in an approachable and humorous fashion.

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  • Madsen, Deborah. Postmodernism: A Bibliography, 1926–1994. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.

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    An exhaustive bibliographical list of articles and books that engage with postmodernism.

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  • McCaffery, Larry, ed. Postmodern Fiction: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide. Westwood, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

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    The scope of the work is broad, with European and Latin American influences well represented. Recommended for research that emphasizes fiction of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

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  • Postmodern Culture.

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    Postmodern Culture has become the leading electronic journal of interdisciplinary thought on contemporary cultures. As an entirely web-based journal, PMC publishes still images, sound, animation, and full-motion video as well as text.

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  • Silverman, Hugh J., ed. Postmodernism: Philosophy and the Arts. New York: Routledge, 1990.

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    A range of readable essays, in which the first part raises general theoretical questions about the language and politics of postmodernism, and the second part focuses on some particular “sites”—architecture, painting, literature, theater, photography, film, television, dance, fashion. Contains a helpful bibliography of books, articles, and journals on postmodernism.

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  • Taylor, Victor E., and Charles E. Winquist, eds. Postmodernism: Critical Concepts. 4 vols. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

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    Seeking exhaustive coverage of the whole range of the humanities and some social sciences, this is a monumental multivolume collection of key essays and theorists. The four volumes are organized into “Foundational Essays,” “Critical Texts,” “Disciplinary Texts: Humanities and Social Sciences,” and “Legal Studies, Psychoanalytic Studies, Visual Arts and Architecture.”

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  • Taylor, Victor E., and Charles E. Winquist, eds. Encyclopedia of Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 2001.

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    Organized alphabetically, this is a thorough coverage of the ideas that lead up to postmodernism, its key concepts, key theorists, major works, and targeted supplementary reading lists. Written in dictionary-style short entries, it is also helpfully cross-referenced.

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  • Tester, Keith. The Life and Times of Postmodernity. London: Routledge, 1993.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203216989Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book offers an introductory albeit skeptical appraisal of postmodernism as a “great transformation.” It regards postmodernism as a reflection of the problems of modernism, focusing on issues of identity, nostalgia, technology, responsibility, and the other.

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Textbooks

The teaching of postmodernism has become almost de rigueur in most self-respecting humanities departments. The result has been the publication of a myriad of undergraduate textbooks designed to tease out the philosophical issues and concepts across the range of cultural disciplines in the humanities, to trace the evolution and philosophical lineage of postmodernism, and to contextualize the debates in postmodern theory. Connor 2004 does this with essays written on specific subjects in the humanities by key critics, while Sim 2011 and Woods 2009 do this in survey chapters covering not just the humanities but also the impact of postmodernism on sociological and scientific subjects. Their aim is to show just how wide a reach postmodernism has had and to show how explanations of the concept in one discipline can in turn open up new understandings in other disciplines. Nicol 2009 focuses more narrowly on the impact of postmodernism on literature. Always an issue in the debate about cultural and intellectual origins and trajectories, Brooker 1992 traces the vexed interrelationship between modernism and postmodernism, while Sarup 1993 offers a similar comparison between postmodernism and one of its key philosophical drivers in poststructuralism. Bertens and Natoli 2002 and, to a lesser extent, Sim 2011, seek to supplement the analytical discussions of theories and concepts with short critical biographies of the influential theorists, practitioners, and philosophers within postmodernism. Sardar 2003 speculates on and documents the impact of postmodernism on global culture and its role as a key driver of globalism. It should be noted that this list of textbooks should be read and used in conjunction with the Anthologies, since they often supplement each other in their scope, content, and focus.

  • Bertens, Hans, and Joseph Natoli, eds. Postmodernism: The Key Figures. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

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    Over fifty shortish entries on the key figures associated with postmodernism, covering authors, poets, theorists, philosophers, composers, performance artists, film makers, architects, and theater practitioners, presenting digests of their critical engagements with and contributions to postmodern ideas.

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  • Brooker, Peter, ed. Modernism/Postmodernism. London: Longman, 1992.

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    An introductory book that combines key essays and selections from a variety of important critics of modernity and postmodernity, which are grouped in linked debates and set alongside challenging contemporary arguments from Third World, black, and feminist perspectives.

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  • Connor, Steven, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521640520Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Covering a range of fields from philosophy through performance, space, religion, ethics, and law, these essays seek to investigate the ways in which different disciplines continue to engage with postmodern ideas despite arguments about their cultural demise.

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  • Nicol, Bran. The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodern Fiction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511816949Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Placing its emphasis firmly on literature, this book explains the preoccupations, styles and techniques that characterize postmodern authors. Designed for students, the work specifically challenges readers to question common-sense and commonplace assumptions about literature.

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  • Sardar, Ziauddin. The A–Z of Postmodern Life: Essays on Global Culture in the Noughties. London: Vision, 2003.

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    In a collection of challenging but witty essays, grounded in personal experience, observation, and anecdote, Sardar analyzes the ideas, products, artifacts and -isms that shape global culture.

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  • Sarup, Madan. An Introductory Guide to Poststructuralism and Postmodernism. 2d ed. Harlow, UK: Prentice Hall, 1993.

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    A revised edition of this accessible and popular introduction to poststructuralist and postmodern theory, embracing sections on the meaning of such concepts as modernity, postmodernity, modernization, modernism, and postmodernism.

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  • Sim, Stuart, ed. The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism. 3d ed. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    An accessible attempt to cover “Postmodernism and . . .” in essays that focus on fourteen different cultural fields, from philosophy through science and technology to lifestyles. Concludes with alphabetically organized and cross-referenced short entries on key names and terms.

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  • Woods, Tim. Beginning Postmodernism. 2d exp. ed. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009.

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    Exploring how debates about postmodernism have emerged and their comparative connections between different areas, this book’s emphasis is firmly on “postmodernism in practice” in the following areas: philosophy and cultural theory; architecture and concepts of space; visual art, sculpture and material culture; popular culture and music; film, video and television; and the social sciences. First edition, 2001.

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Anthologies

There are numerous anthologies that include the principal essays or extracts from key theorists’ writings on postmodernism, pitched mostly at the level of undergraduates. Most have their own unique or interesting angle in their selection of work or their presentation of the concepts. Many anthologies are structured so as to present an argument about the genesis and trajectory of postmodernism, and often, in seeking to be more and more comprehensive as the field of debate expanded, these anthologies become huge tomes (Cahoone 2003, Docherty 1993). Others are aimed at trying to give a sense of the broad disciplinary scope of postmodern theory (Boyne and Rattansi 1990, Jencks 1992, Sim 2002). Foster 1983 includes many seminal pieces, as well as advancing the influential notion of a postmodernism of resistance—an aesthetic that rejects hierarchy and celebrates diversity, in contradistinction to those radicals who have tended to side with the modernists against the forces of conservatism. From the context established by these sorts of debates, Nicol 2002 and Waugh 1992 tend to focus their collections upon the literary critical perspective. Many of these anthologies also contain comprehensive bibliographies that can supplement those of Madsen 1995 and McCaffery 1986 (see General Overviews and Reference). It should be noted that this list of anthologies should be read and used in conjunction with the Textbooks, since they often supplement each other in their scope, content, and focus.

  • Boyne, Roy, and Ali Rattansi, eds. Postmodernism and Society. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1990.

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    A good, wide-ranging collection of essays on the subject of postmodernism across disciplines, including art, architecture, fashion, feminism, theory, and language.

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  • Cahoone, Lawrence, ed. From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology. 2d exp. ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

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    Aims for thorough coverage and embraces essays and extracts that trace and contextualize the development of postmodernism out of modernity and modernism. Essays cover the works of more than sixty key theorists and a whole variety of disciplines from philosophy to pedagogy. First edition, 1996.

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  • Docherty, Thomas, ed. Postmodernism: A Reader. Hemel Hempstead, UK: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993.

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    Gathering influential essays by key postmodern theorists who have shaped the postmodern question, the anthology resists a polemical position by including both antipathetic and favorably disposed thinkers. Seeking to establish a “map of postmodernism,” sections embrace “Founding Propositions” through various philosophical and cultural areas like feminism, dance, politics, and architecture.

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  • Foster, Hal, ed. The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Port Townshend, WA: Bay, 1983.

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    An influential and accessible anthology containing a number of prominent and interesting essays on the politics of postmodern theory and its effect on art, cultural theory, sculpture, feminism, and architecture, by key people like Jürgen Habermas, Fredric Jameson, Baudrillard, Rosalind Krauss, Kenneth Frampton, Edward Said, and Gregory Ulmer. Reprinted in the United Kingdom as Postmodern Culture (London: Pluto, 1985).

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  • Jencks, Charles, ed. The Post-modern Reader. London: Academy Editions, 1992.

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    Contains many of the usual central pieces by leading theorists, like Jürgen Habermas, Andreas Huyssen, Linda Hutcheon, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, and Charles Jencks. Wide-ranging in its focus, it also has an unusual and interesting section on science and religion.

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  • Nicol, Bran, ed. Postmodernism and the Contemporary Novel: A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002.

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    An excellent source of key texts and statements, covering many areas of the postmodern debate and seeking to place the theory of postmodern fiction in a broader intellectual and cultural context.

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  • Sim, Stuart. Irony and Crisis: A Critical History of Postmodern Culture. Cambridge, UK: Icon, 2002.

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    Acts as an excellent sourcebook, tracing the emergence and subsequent developments of postmodernism across the full range of academic disciplines, within an organizing intellectual framework of irony and crisis as the two sides of philosophical debate.

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  • Waugh, Patricia, ed. Postmodernism: A Reader. London: Edward Arnold, 1992.

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    Includes the central and now canonical essays by Jürgen Habermas, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, and Fredric Jameson, but also a useful section on philosophical predecessors and a select bibliography. In contrast to others, this anthology is weighted toward the literary critical.

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Postmodern Theory

Postmodern theory embraces a wide range of disciplines but generally tends to focus upon the historical development of the term, the philosophical underpinnings of the concept, and discussions of the seminal figures and their ideas. Marxists and deconstructionists (and shades in between) have battled each other over the past three decades, each in turn seeking to claim valuable territory and jettisoning what it sees as inimical to its ideological and philosophical position. One might have included equally in this section many of the key theoretical works by theorists like Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord, Jürgen Habermas, Raymond Williams, and others, but I have sought here to point to some of the main critical and conceptual “mediations” and critical accounts. From the outset, works by theorists such as Harvey 1989 and Best and Kellner 1991 were concerned to define the differences among modernity, postmodernity, and postmodernism. Theorists can be either in favor of postmodernism as an innovative, liberating category for describing new trajectories in cultural and philosophical thought (Best and Kellner 1991), or they can be squarely against it, demonstrating how postmodernism obscures, even damages, important analyses of culture from historical, materialist, philosophical, or other perspectives (Anderson 1998, Callinicos 1989, Eagleton 1997, Norris 1993). Huyssen 1986 provides an interesting supplement to this perspective by tracing postmodernism’s indebtedness to the modernist avant-garde, thereby demonstrating both links and differences between modernism and postmodernism. Others accept that social and cultural changes have occurred since the heyday of modernism, but seek to provide what they see as wild cultural assertions or vague aesthetic characterizations with a firmer historical or materialist basis for their understanding (Jameson 1991, Harvey 1989). Fredric Jameson in particular has been a key figure in defining the parameters of the debate, and his book has gone through several stages of development from the earliest essay (New Left Review 1.146, 1984). Anderson 1998 devotes considerable space to explaining, developing, and extending the economic ideas of postmodernism as a manifestation of “late capitalism” that underpin Jameson’s argument.

  • Anderson, Perry. The Origins of Postmodernity. London: Verso, 1998.

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    Explores the changing meanings of the concept through to the late 1970s before focusing on Fredric Jameson’s ideas. Rigorously pursues the interpretation of postmodernism as the cultural logic of a multinational capitalism, and concludes by reflecting on the fading of modernism and the “end of art,” the rise of the spectacular, and the fate of politics.

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  • Best, Stephen, and Douglas Kellner. Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1991.

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    One of the better introductions to philosophical and cultural theory, with chapters on all the principal theorists of postmodernism—Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari—and useful interrogations of their ideas. A thorough and sophisticated treatment, as well as investigating the critiques by various opponents.

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  • Callinicos, Alex. Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1989.

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    A trenchant critique of postmodernism from the perspective of Marxism, this book draws on ideas from philosophy and history to argue that postmodernism is best regarded as a reflection of the disappointed revolutionary generation of 1968 and as a symptom of political frustration and social mobility than as a significant intellectual phenomenon in its own right.

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  • Eagleton, Terry. The Illusions of Postmodernism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

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    A thoroughgoing intellectual polemic against postmodern ideas and postmodernity, this book offers an exploration of the ambivalences, histories, subjects, fallacies, and contradictions of postmodernism. Written from a committed Marxist intellectual perspective, the arguments nevertheless acknowledge postmodernism’s strengths and also expose its failings in an incisive and witty style.

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  • Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1989.

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    One of the central books in the definition of postmodernism, this is an excellent, wide-ranging, and easily approachable book on postmodernism across cultural arenas. Interesting on film, geography, economics, architecture, and cultural theory.

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  • Huyssen, Andreas. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

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    Argues that postmodernism cannot be regarded as a radical break with the past but is deeply indebted to the modernist avant-garde. Locates postmodernism in a field of tension between tradition and innovation, conservation and renewal, mass culture and high art, in which the second terms are no longer privileged over the first.

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  • Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso, 1991.

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    Another landmark text in the debate concerning postmodernism, this is the result of several earlier essays. Deals provocatively with film, architecture, video, art, economics, space, ideology, and cultural theory. For the more advanced reader.

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  • Norris, Christopher. The Truth about Postmodernism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

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    Aimed at sorting out some of the muddles and misreadings—especially misreadings of Kant—that have characterized recent postmodernist and poststructuralist thought, it provides an advanced and sophisticated critique of the philosophical appropriations made by postmodern theorists, which challenges their various apocalyptic tones.

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Gender and the Body

Postmodernism and its implications have had wide ramifications, and postmodernism’s impact on feminism and theories of gender is no exception. Many feminists (e.g. Ahmed 1998) have been extremely wary of postmodernism, since they regard it as another expression of patriarchal thought and a means to marginalize the political arguments advanced by feminism as the manifestation of flawed philosophical thought. Nevertheless, some feminists, such as Hekman 1990 and Nicholson 1990, have latched onto postmodernism’s arguments regarding the flexibility of identity and subjectivity, the resistance to totalizing thought, and the recentering of hitherto marginalized communities, that have derived from poststructuralism and New French Feminism, as a liberating politico-philosophical means of advancing feminist ideas. Other feminists have found within postmodern ideas ways of reformulating the discourses of specific disciplines such as ethical philosophy and critical theory (Benhabib 1992), or psychoanalysis (Flax 1990), to interrogate their underpinning gendered assumptions and foundations. More recently, others still have built upon these feminist critiques of postmodernism and moved the debate into rethinking the implications for sexualization (Simon 1996) and the human body more specifically (Bordo 1993, Halberstam and Livingston 1995). This trajectory of analysis has clear implications for and intersections with concepts for the (re)thinking of New Subjectivities.

  • Ahmed, Sara. Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    Challenges feminist theorists to speak (back) to postmodernism, rather than simply speak on (their relationship to) it. Such a “speaking back” requires closer readings of what postmodernism is actually “doing” in a variety of disciplinary contexts. Examines constructions of postmodernism in relation to rights, ethics, subjectivity, authorship, metafiction, and film.

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  • Benhabib, Seyla. Situating the Self: Gender, Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Indebted to Habermasian critical theory, this book argues for a conception of interactive dialogical rationality and universalism that is sensitive to recent critiques by feminists and postmodernists. For the more advanced student interested in moral and political theory.

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  • Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

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    Seeking to move the body and women from the margins to the center of debate, part 3 of this book is titled “Postmodern Bodies” and provides an interesting critique of postmodernity and its cultural effects on and analyses of women’s bodies.

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  • Flax, Jane. Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West. London: Routledge, 1990.

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    Addressing the question of how to theorize in the contemporary West, Flax explores the new modes of thinking to come to terms with self, gender, knowledge, and power without resorting to concepts that stress objectivity, universal knowledge, and a unitary self.

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  • Halberstam, Judith, and Ira Livingston, eds. Posthuman Bodies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

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    Engages in an interdisciplinary investigation of the emerging political technologies of the body in the wake of postmodernity. It focuses upon the new interfaces between humans and computer and biomedical technologies, providing a strong sense of the fundamental changes that will radically alter the experience of our own and others’ bodies.

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  • Hekman, Susan J. Gender and Knowledge: Elements of a Postmodern Feminism. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990.

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    Arguing that the critique of Enlightenment knowledge is at the core of both postmodernism and feminism, the book sets out many of the key arguments and debates about the viability of a rapprochement between feminism and postmodernism.

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  • Nicholson, Linda, ed. Feminism/Postmodernism. New York and London: Routledge, 1990.

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    Analyzing the benefits and dangers of postmodernism for feminism, an accessible collection of a variety of important and interesting essays investigating the tensions and rapprochements caused by the meeting of these two bodies of thought.

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  • Simon, William. Postmodern Sexualities. London: Routledge, 1996.

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    The essays range widely, from changes in the social construction of deviance and perversion to the experience of adolescence and the myth of the Wild West. In particular, Simon rethinks the Freudian model, showing how sexuality has become for us not, as we might once have thought, a unifying thread in our experience, but rather the ultimate postmodern discourse.

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Spatiality

One of the earliest areas for the development of postmodern ideas occurred in the field of architecture, and that in turn quickly led to profound consequences for the reconceptualization of space and spatiality, and how humans interact with physical, conceptual, and virtual environments. Some of the most influential postmodernists have been architects (Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Bernard Tschumi), theorists of urban design (Peter Frampton, Mike Davis), and geographers (Edward Soja, see Soja 1989; Derek Gregory, see Gregory 1994), and grasping and interpreting their ideas has been central to the exciting interdisciplinary ways of thinking that postmodernism has required and forced, as illustrated in Watson and Gibson 1995 and King 1996. Charles Jencks has been an influential theorist and exponent of postmodern architecture, and using ideas from semiotics, Jencks 1991 is typical of the way he has sought to develop a typography of the “language of postmodern architecture” that provides very useful conceptual categories and analogues for other subjects. Massey 1994 has been instrumental in relating new conceptions of spatiality and theories of power and domination, and their effect on the experience of women in urban environments, while Massey 2007 explores the impact of such relationships in specific and particular analyses of global urban and metropolitan spaces. One new area that has developed out of these debates about negotiating urban and geographical space on a global scale has been the theorization of “mobility,” and Urry 2007 is at the forefront of bringing the implications of postmodern conceptions of spatiality together with recent sociological conceptions of transport highways, global networks, and virtual environments.

  • Gregory, Derek. Geographical Imaginations. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.

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    An exciting survey of the discipline and discourse of geography. Mapping human geography onto contemporary social theory, Gregory addresses, investigates, and reinterprets the ways in which social life is variously embedded in place, space, and landscape, questioning key debates that connect spatiality with postmodernism and other social theories.

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  • Jencks, Charles. The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. 6th ed. London: Academy Editions, 1991.

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    An influential analysis of how architecture can be treated as a language. Final chapter shows the emergence of a postmodern language with its emphasis on hybridity, mixed materials, and eclectic pluralism.

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  • King, Ross. Emancipating Space: Geography, Architecture, and Urban Design. New York and London: Guilford, 1996.

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    A first-class account of postmodernism and its intersection with the debates concerning architecture, geography, and other spatial discourses. Incorporates useful discussions of the ideas of Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenman, and Jacques Derrida, as well as others such as Michel Foucault, Henri Lefebvre, Edward W. Soja, David Harvey, and Fredric Jameson.

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  • Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1994.

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    An excellent collection of Massey’s essays, which interrogate spatial theory and postmodern ideas from a feminist perspective in a stimulating and provocative manner.

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  • Massey, Doreen. World City. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007.

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    Concerning identity, place, and political responsibility in the changing geographies of our times, this book focuses on the City of London as an example of the rise of a new class, of deepening inequality, and of the geographical imaginations that are mobilized to legitimate the increasing dominance of cities around the world as they strive to be global.

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  • Soja, Edward W. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London: Verso, 1989.

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    A major discussion of the relationship of new theories of space to postmodernism. Offers a critique of a number of contemporary theorists like Foucault and Lefebvre, and contains an excellent analysis of Los Angeles from this perspective.

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  • Urry, John. Mobilities. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007.

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    Developing what he calls the “new mobilities paradigm” for the social sciences, Urry shows how this paradigm makes comprehensible social phenomena that were previously opaque. He analyzes the intersecting implications of “mobility systems” for social inequality, for social networks and meetings, for the nature of places, and for alternative mobility futures.

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  • Watson, Sophie, and Keith Gibson, eds. Postmodern Cities and Spaces. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

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    An excellent collection of essays by leading theorists on the politics of postmodern space and cities. Considers such issues as feminism and space, urban walking, and sexuality.

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Postcolonialism, Race, and Ethnicity

Many theorists of postcolonialism regard postmodernism as, at best, nothing more than a distraction from the critical discussion of the cultural and power relations between colonial masters and their colonies, and at worst, a damaging intervention in the discussion. For example, many of the essays in Adam and Tiffin 1995 present the view that postmodernism is an effort to preserve Europe’s position of influence and centrality in the global sphere. However, there are others (e.g. During 1987) who, albeit cautiously, see postmodernism as a set of enabling conceptual tools that enhance and augment the analyses of international power relations and the complexities of interracial, multiracial, and multiethnic politics, largely driven by the poststructuralist interests of Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak in particular. Postcolonialism is not merely a set of theories about what “comes after” colonialism, but introduces ways of analyzing the discourse of opposition that comes into being with colonialism. The interest in theories of postcolonialism coincided with the emergence of postmodernism, and this overlap has blurred and muddied the distinctions between the two. Some of this confusion has derived from the similarities of the two projects—namely, the deconstruction of the hegemonic, logocentric master narratives of Western cultures and the decentering of the Center/Margin binarism that dominated its conceptions. Written by an author once a champion of the intersection of the two, Hutcheon 1994 now poses their mutual conflicts, and some critical perspectives alert readers to similar problematic misprisions (Mukherjee 1990, Appiah 1992). Nevertheless, certain key terms from poststructuralist theorists of postcolonial power (such as “hybridity,” “liminality,” and “borders”) continue to structure much thought, as evident in D’haen and Bertens 1994 and Ashcroft, et al. 1995. More recently, postcolonial criticism has tired of endless speculation about its parallels with postmodernism and turned its attention to intersections with ethnic theory, cross-cultural exchanges, and other key social and political preoccupations (see Goldberg and Quayson 2002).

  • Adam, Ian, and Helen Tiffin, eds. Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-Colonialism and Post-Modernism. Brighton, UK: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995.

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    Useful essays on the nature of the “post” in postcolonial literature and theory. Juxtaposes postmodernism and postcolonialism, their similarities and differences, and opens up the political implications of postmodernism in relation to postcolonialism.

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  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony. “The Postcolonial and the Postmodern.” In In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. By Kwame Anthony Appiah, 137–157. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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    Focusing upon the African and European art markets, this is one of the key articulations of the interface between postmodern and postcolonial ideas, their strategies and their impacts, in a consideration of those Western discourses that affect and seek to conceptually organize non-European cultures.

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  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, eds. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1995.

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    The section titled “Postmodernism and Post-colonialism” contains a good range of extracts that place the discussion in a clear context. Other sections in the book on “Hybridity,” “Universality and Difference,” and “Issues and Debates” also offer interesting and useful discussions of pertinent concepts and arguments.

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  • D’haen, Theo, and Hans Bertens, eds. Liminal Postmodernisms: The Postmodern, the (Post-) Colonial, and the (Post-) Feminist. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994.

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    Essays center on the intersection of the three areas in the subtitle, focusing upon the issues of liminality, of borders and boundaries both separating and joining races, genders, and nationalities.

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  • During, Simon. “Postmodernism or Post-colonialism Today.” Textual Practice 1.1 (1987): 32–47.

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    Identifying language as lying at the core of the postmodern and postcolonial experiences, argues that both explore the condition of living between the language of the oppressor and the marginalized language of the indigenous inhabitant. Within such a loss of linguistic foundations, it explores how one can locate one’s subjectivity.

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  • Goldberg, David Theo, and Ato Quayson, eds. Relocating Postcolonialism. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

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    Many new essays by theorists, seeking to locate postcolonialism in relation to race theory, ethnic studies, and disability studies. Focusing on cross-cultural exchanges, many essays are impelled by a framework that partly derives from postmodern and poststructuralist inquiries and concerns.

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  • Hutcheon, Linda. “The Post Always Rings Twice: The Postmodern and the Postcolonial.” Textual Practice 8.2 (1994): 205–238.

    DOI: 10.1080/09502369408582193Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Following Hutcheon’s earlier promotion of the similarities between postmodernism and postcolonialism in her books, this is more pessimistic in tone and focuses upon their incompatibilities and points of ideological conflict.

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  • Mukherjee, Arun P. “Whose Post-Colonialism and Whose Postmodernism?” World Literature Written in English 30.2 (1990): 1–9.

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    Challenges the argument that literature from postcolonial societies is uniformly focused on writing back to the empire. Points to the enormous diversity of concerns to which “postcolonial” cultural productions respond—a diversity created, in part, by different forms of imperialism and the multitude of precolonial cultures upon which they had an impact.

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New Subjectivities

One area that has been affected from the outset by postmodern ideas has been the way subjectivity is constructed and the implications of this for notions of identity. In this respect, postmodernism’s impact on notions of subjectivity may seem to some as somewhat out of date. Kroker and Cook 1988 seeks to characterize the postmodern psyche and its affects and the way that this forces us to rethink the notion of the postmodern subject, while Flax 1993 develops similar explorations from a more focused philosophical perspective. For the effects of postmodernism on subjectivity and the ways in which this has affected gender debates, see also Gender and the Body. The new areas that have opened up in the debate are largely a result of considering the manner in which subjectivity and the capacities of the human body have been affected, altered, and extended by new developments in technology and science, and these issues have been at the forefront of recent theoretical discussions, driven principally by the work of people like Judith Butler and Donna Haraway. The impact of digital technologies, cybernetic extensions, and information networks on reconceptualizing subjectivity, so evident in the physical experiments of “body artists” like Stelarc and Orlan, forms the central focus for Featherstone and Burrows 1995, Hayles 1999, and Bell and Kennedy 2007. These books consider the ways in which information webs and digital technologies enhance and extend the capacities of humans in ways that challenge many of the conventional longstanding assumptions of humanism and rationalism; Balsamo 1996 extends this focus to the gendered body. The implications of postmodern theories for conceptualizing the mind in philosophy are tackled by Farrell 1994, while postmodernism’s intersection with debates about psychological identity and its consequences for the formation of subjects can be explored in Schrag 1997.

  • Balsamo, Anne. Technologies of the Gendered Body. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

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    Reads the body into various fields of knowledge, arguing that the body is gendered even in high-tech conceptions. A feminist engagement with techno-narratives, demonstrating that the body in technology is not obsolete and is still masked by race and gender.

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  • Bell, David, and Barbara Kennedy, eds. The Cybercultures Reader. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2007.

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    An excellent sourcebook for this new interdisciplinary field of cyberculture studies, providing articles by leading critics and theorists on subjects as diverse as popular cybercultures, cyberfeminisms, cybersexualities, post(cyber)bodies, and cybercolonization. First edition, 2000.

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  • Farrell, Frank B. Subjectivity, Realism and Postmodernism: The Recovery of the World in Recent Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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    Investigates Anglo-American philosophy’s challenge to notions of subjectivity, mind, and language. Exploring topics like mental content, moral realism, realism, and antirealism, and the character of subjectivity, much of the book focuses upon Donald Davidson and Richard Rorty. A final chapter defends the realist position against objections from postmodern thought.

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  • Featherstone, Mike, and Roger Burrows. Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk. London: SAGE, 1995.

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    An innovative collection of essays by many of the leading theorists of cyberculture on such topics as technological extensions to bodies, cyberprosthetics, bodies in cyberspace, virtual environments, and cyberpunk fiction as prefigurative social and cultural theory.

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  • Flax, Jane. Disputed Subjects: Essays on Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Philosophy. New York and London: Routledge, 1993.

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    Constructs a dialogue between psychoanalytic, feminist, and postmodern theorizing, to investigate such issues as social disillusionment, notions of the “true self,” different kinds of subjectivity, and theories of justice and responsibility in an ambivalent world.

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  • Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

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    Investigates the fate of embodiment in an information age, ranging across how information lost its body, the cultural and technological constructions of the cyborg, and the dismantling of the humanist subject in cybernetic discourse.

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  • Kroker, Arthur, and David Cook. The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyperaesthetics. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1988.

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    A series of manifesto statements and Saturnalian observations concerning the “panic site” of postmodernism, characterized by the double-signs of “decay/ecstasy, hyper-pessimism/hyper-optimism, memory/amnesia.” The book is conceived as a guide to “the ecstatic implosion of postmodern culture into excess, waste and disaccumulation” (p. i) that constitutes fin-de-millennium culture.

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  • Schrag, Calvin O. The Self after Postmodernity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

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    Examines the human self by way of a critical engagement with the proponents of postmodernity, utilizing an experimental and innovative vocabulary to describe self-understanding and self-formation in its discursive, action-oriented, communal, and transcending dynamics.

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Temporality, History and Memory

The nature of history and theories of history have been central topics and subjects for debate in postmodernism from the outset. Poster 1997 traces the impact of postmodernism and poststructuralism on cultural history; and the conceptualization and writing of history and its representation, as well as the erasure of history, have been hotly debated by both poststructuralist and Marxist critics. This clash of ideologies was arguably best exemplified in the debates that centered upon the notorious publication by Francis Fukuyama on the “end of history” (The End of History and the Last Man; New York: Free Press, 1992) and Jean Baudrillard’s scandalous “denial” of the occurrence of the Gulf War (The Gulf War Did Not Take Place; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995). Such infamous interpretations and rewritings are indicative of the challenges posed by postmodern theorists to the discipline of history, as much as it has to historical thinking in other disciplines. The ramifications of rethinking history and the ways in which it is constructed for the discipline have been explored in Breisach 2003, Jenkins 2003, Southgate 2003, and Southgate 2005. One of the major offshoots of the ways in which postmodernism has forced a rethinking of history is the emergence of interest in memory and how the past is memorialized and remembered. The French historian Pierre Nora has set this agenda, but there are many other critical historical areas, such as Holocaust studies, studies in psychology, and postcolonial studies, that have developed this aspect of considerations of temporality. Middleton and Woods 2000 offers an exploration of how postmodern concepts have shaped and had an impact upon the different ways in which the past is remembered in different types of writing. Part of their interest lies in the way technological innovations have altered the understanding of memory and the past, an area pursued by Ermarth 1992 and Heise 1997, who explore how technological innovations altered conceptions of temporality and the impact that this in turn has had on contemporary notions of cultural identity and subjectivity. Many other books might be cited in this category, and these books should be read in conjunction with Marxist critiques of postmodernism such as those by Habermas, Eagleton, and Jameson (see Postmodern Theory).

  • Breisach, Ernst. On the Future of History: The Postmodernist Challenge and Its Aftermath. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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    Provides a comprehensive overview of postmodernism and its complex relationship to history and historiography, placing postmodern theories in their intellectual and historical contexts.

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  • Ermarth, Elizabeth. Sequel to History: Postmodernism and the Crisis of Representational Time. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Explores the relationship between postmodernism and time within a context of a crisis in our dominant idea of history and the concomitant crises of cultural identity.

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  • Heise, Ursula K. Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    Argues that postmodern fiction is principally concerned with and structured by the radical transformations in our understanding and experience of time, as temporal horizons have been drastically foreshortened by developments in technology and transport.

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  • Jenkins, Keith. Refiguring History: New Thoughts on an Old Discipline. London: Routledge, 2003.

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    Arguing for a refiguration of historical study, this book presents notions of the past and questions about the nature of history as interminably open to new and disobedient approaches.

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  • Middleton, Peter, and Tim Woods. Literatures of Memory: History, Time, and Space in Postwar Writing. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2000.

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    Focuses upon the representation of the past in contemporary literature, showing how its reevaluations and deconstructions of space and time articulate new forms of social experiences that are only emerging in public culture. Engages with a wide range of contemporary, modern, and postmodern literatures.

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  • Poster, Mark. Cultural History and Postmodernity: Disciplinary Readings and Challenges. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

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    Charts the move from social history to new practices of cultural history that are drawing strength from poststructuralist interpretive strategies and raising issues found in feminist and postcolonialist discourse. Outlines a postmodern historiography that can negotiate the contested terrain between the ambiguities of discourse and the pull of the “real.”

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  • Southgate, Beverley C. Postmodernism in History: Fear or Freedom? London: Routledge, 2003.

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    With his main concern to counter “pomophobia” and to assert a positive future for historical study in a postmodern world, Southgate describes the core constituents of postmodernism and provides a lucid and profound analysis of the current state of the debate.

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  • Southgate, Beverley C. What Is History For? London: Routledge, 2005.

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    With traditional notions of truth and historical representation under question, Southgate rethinks the function of history and renegotiates its uses for the postmodern age.

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Literary Theory

Arguably, it is in the field of literary studies that the term “postmodernism” has received widest usage and most vexed debate. There have been many attempts to theorize the consequences and manifestations of postmodernism for literature, although the term continues today to be used fairly indiscriminately, if somewhat suspiciously, by some, and in a rather intolerant and bored manner by others. Many of the issues derive from the developments in cultural theories in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s brought about by Marxism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, feminism, and postcolonialism, and Greaney 2006 provides a good starting point for understanding this trajectory. Niall 1997 supplements this analysis with an argument that locates the sources for postmodern literary theory in 18th-century and Romantic ideas, while Thiher 1984 analyzes the indebtedness of postmodern literary theory to the influences of European hermeneutic and phenomenological philosophies. Nevertheless, there are two areas of general use: first, it is a term that designates the contemporary cultural context as a whole; and second, it describes a set of characteristics that are evident in selected texts. Postmodern literary theory seeks to explore the implications of the concepts of Postmodern Theory for the analysis of literary form, narrative, characterization, and plot. It raises specific questions about the politics of representation, the narrativization of history, and the formation of identity. Many postmodern literary theorists seek to combine the specific insights of philosophers and cultural theorists with fictional narrative, in order to reinforce the antiformalist arguments by demonstrating that fiction does not operate in some formal vacuum unaffected by social, cultural, and philosophical concepts. As the approach taken by Hassan 1987 shows, the critical focus falls on the indeterminacy of textual meaning, narrative play, and the multiplicity of signification; however, as Marshall 1992 and Gibson 1999 exemplify, such experimental fictional forms both intersect with and shape social and political constructions and realities. Furthermore, as demonstrated by Gibson 1999 and Eaglestone 2004, one recent trajectory within postmodern literary theory is the focus that has fallen on the ways in which postmodernism has opened up the possibility of an ethical space for literature.

  • Eaglestone, Robert. The Holocaust and Postmodernism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199265930.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In the light of the theories of Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas, argues that postmodernism is a response to the Holocaust. Despite its characterization as ludic and playful, Eaglestone demonstrates postmodernism’s ethical and committed aspects.

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  • Gibson, Andrew. Postmodernity, Ethics and the Novel. London: Routledge, 1999.

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    Prompted by a close engagement with the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas, concerned with elaborating a postmodern “ethics of reading,” setting out to demonstrate that postmodernism has actually made possible an ethical criticism of fiction.

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  • Greaney, Michael. Contemporary Fiction and the Uses of Theory: The Novel from Structuralism to Postmodernism. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

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    Focuses on the interrelationship of literary theory and fiction from the 1970s to the present, analyzing the “fictionalization” of radical literary theories.

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  • Hassan, Ihab. The Postmodern Turn: Essays in Postmodern Theory and Culture. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1987.

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    Isolates ten preoccupations and concerns of postmodernism, such as periodization, definition, and historical precedent. Largely bases his idea of postmodernism on his neologistic concept of “indetermanence” to designate two central tendencies in postmodernism: indeterminacy and immanence. In both cases, these are manifested in the workings of language.

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  • Marshall, Brenda K. Teaching the Postmodern: Fiction and Theory. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Introduces the reader to key terms and concepts such as representation, intertextuality, historiographic metafiction, and counter-memory, as well as reading texts by key authors in an attempt to root theory in practice.

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  • Niall, Lucy. Postmodern Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

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    A provocative discussion of how postmodern literary theory derives from a late 18th century Romantic tradition. Explores a range of theorists and writers touching on issues such as reason, ethics, reading, interpretation, and history in relation to Kathy Acker, Paul Auster, John Barth, and Thomas Pynchon.

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  • Thiher, Allen. Words in Reflection: Modern Language Theory and Postmodern Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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    Offers a convincing argument that postmodern fiction has evolved a new way of writing whose metaphysical premises lie in modern theories of language, particularly those of Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ferdinand de Saussure, and Jacques Derrida. Discusses key issues like representation, voice, play, and history.

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Fiction

The ennui with what was perceived to be the conventional linearity of fictional narrative and the “rounded” characterization in the psychological realism of modernity was initially challenged by fictional experiment in the United States in the early 1960s. Many of the dominant practitioners of postmodern fiction remain those American male authors who tested and eventually “broke” the rules that governed fiction, such as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert Coover, and later Paul Auster and Don DeLillo. The fictional experimentation that began in the early 1960s was dominated by a sense of exhaustion that emphasized how novels had “used up” the conventions of fictional realism. Now there was pretense that it was impossible to write an original fictional work, and there emerged the paradoxical theme of writing about the “end” of writing. Alexander 1990 and McHale 1992 analyze this fictional lineage of novels openly proclaiming their own artifice in modes of self-conscious reflexivity. Lee 1990, Smyth 1991, and D’haen and Bertens 1993 develop and analyze the impact of these fictional strategies in the work of British novelists such as John Fowles, Angela Carter, Graham Swift, and Salman Rushdie, focusing partly on Magic Realism, a subgenre of postmodern fiction that demythologized history and that included magical elements blended with the “real” world. The cultural context that gave rise to such formal innovations in fiction has been one of the principal areas explored and shaped by postmodern literary theory, and Smyth 1991 and Baker 2000 exemplify this approach. Heuser 2003 offers an analysis of the science fiction cyberpunk genre within postmodern culture, seen as an archetypal fictional genre prompted by a matrix of cybernetics, late capitalism, new subjectivities, and technologies in the last decades of the 20th century. Indicative of a strong strain in contemporary fictional criticism, Waugh 1992 argues that instead of viewing postmodernism as a sudden break from modernism, we should rather see it as a late phase in a tradition of specifically aestheticist modern thought inaugurated by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant. She analyzes modernist novels from a postmodern perspective, drawing out incipient signs and preoccupations of postmodernism.

  • Alexander, Marguerite. Flights from Realism: Themes and Strategies from Postmodernist British and American Fiction. London: Edward Arnold, 1990.

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    Investigates the historical impulses that have driven postmodernism and its dialogical relationship with realism. Introductory essays on Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Salman Rushdie, E. L. Doctorow, John Fowles, Joseph Heller, and Paul Auster.

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  • Baker, Stephen. The Fiction of Postmodernity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

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    A study of postmodern fiction in the work of Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Pynchon, and Martin Amis, viewed in relation to critiques of the culture industry, analyses of the postmodern condition, and theories of simulacra.

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  • D’haen, Theo, and Hans Bertens, eds. British Postmodern Fiction. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993.

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    Good introductory essays on contemporary fictional styles, including realism, Magic Realism, historiographic fiction, and metafiction, as well as such novelists as Samuel Beckett, Martin Amis, Christine Brooke-Rose, Peter Ackroyd, and Graham Swift.

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  • Heuser, Sabine. Virtual Geographies: Cyberpunk at the Intersection of the Postmodern and Science Fiction. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003.

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    A detailed study that offers a working definition of cyberpunk within postmodern culture, considering its offspring in domains like literature, film, music, and feminism.

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  • Lee, Alison. Realism and Power: Postmodern British Fiction. London: Routledge, 1990.

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    Focuses on the subversive techniques of British postmodern fiction, examining its challenge to realist traditions. Discussions of Alasdair Gray, John Fowles, Salman Rushdie, and Graham Swift. A good introduction accompanied by a useful bibliography.

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  • McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Focuses on the formal characteristics of postmodern fiction, arguing that postmodern fiction foregrounds its own ontological status and raises questions about the world(s) in which we live. Extends the argument first expounded in Postmodernist Fiction (London: Routledge, 1987). Wide-ranging and readable, has good chapters on Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and cyberpunk fiction.

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  • Smyth, Edmund, ed. Postmodernism and Contemporary Fiction. London: Batsford, 1991.

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    Contains a number of useful essays on contemporary fiction in Britain, the United States, France, Italy, and Spain, and others on ideology, politics, and feminism, with especially helpful pieces by John Mepham, David Seed, Linda Hutcheon, and Thomas Docherty.

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  • Waugh, Patricia. Practising Postmodernism Reading Modernism. London: Edward Arnold, 1992.

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    A good discussion of the relationship between modernism and postmodernism. Focuses on modernist writers from the perspective of postmodern theory.

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(Historiographic) Metafiction, Metanarrative, and Intertextuality

Several dominant characteristics have been identified in postmodern fiction. One feature of postmodern fiction that was early identified as a major characteristic is its metafictional element. The novelist William Gass is generally credited with the coinage of the term “metafiction,” which refers to the way in which a postmodern narrative talks about its own construction. In discussing its own constructedness, such fiction often parodies other genres as a way of exposing its own fictionality (see Waugh 1984). Metafiction refers to the fact that the novelist’s business is no longer to render the world, but to make one from language: fiction is no longer mimetic, but constructive. Intentionally drawing attention to its own linguistic medium, rather than creating the illusion that the language is a “transparent” representation of the world, metafiction refers to the “self-reflexivity” of a postmodern narrative. Scholes 1979 developed the term “fabulation,” among numerous other efforts to describe this narrative feature. Hutcheon 1988 and Hutcheon 1989 extended this analysis with the development of the influential term “historiographic metafiction” to describe the ambivalent stance of a fictional practice that is directed both inward and outward, both concerned with its status as fiction, narrative, or language, and also grounded in some verifiable historical reality. Allied to metafiction is a second principal characteristic of postmodern fiction, its “intertextual” element, which refers to the way in which postmodern narratives seem to orient themselves less to a world lying beyond the narrative and more to other narratives or stories as the touchstones for “reality.” Allen 2000 and Orr 2003 examine the ways in which allusion, citation, quotation, and knowing reference become some of the key organizing features of narratives, apparently intent less on representing the world in and of itself than on seeing the world always already shaped through other linguistic constructions. Consequently, these two elements have caused theorists to rethink narratology in the light of these postmodern narrative characteristics, exemplified in the work of Currie 2011 and Gibson 1997.

  • Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. New York and London: Routledge, 2000.

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    Pitched at undergraduates, this book introduces the topic and relates its significance to key theories and movements in the study of literature, covering the history and contemporary use of the term, considerations on the future of intertextuality, and relating intertextuality to global cultures and new media.

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  • Currie, Mark. Postmodern Narrative Theory. 2d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2011.

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    Summarizes the often over-complex theories that have transformed the study of narrative in recent decades with theoretical discussions and critical readings. Plots the connections between fiction, criticism, and ideology that represent the contribution of narrative theory to an understanding of postmodern culture. First edition, 1998.

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  • Gibson, Andrew. Towards a Postmodern Theory of Narrative. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

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    Reexamines narrative theory and outlines the consequences for narratology of deconstructive, poststructuralist, and more recent theory. Assesses the extent to which narrative theory might be rethought in their light, drawing on the work of Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, and Foucault.

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  • Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. London: Routledge, 1988.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203358856Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A sophisticated account of postmodernism, but still easily accessible and wide-ranging. Considers issues like the role of parody, “ex-centricity,” intertextuality, metafictionality, and discourse and history.

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  • Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1989.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203426050Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A very useful and approachable introductory discussion of debates concerning postmodern fiction. Also contains discussions of fiction and history, photography, and performance.

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  • Orr, Mary. Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts. Cambridge, UK: Blackwell, 2003.

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    Provides a comprehensive discussion of intertextuality in relation to the work of key French theorists. In a theoretical discussion that throws light on interdiscursivity, interdisciplinarity, and intercultural discourse, consideration is given to influence, imitation, allusion, and quotation.

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  • Scholes, Robert. Fabulation and Metafiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.

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    Develops the notion of fabulation as a way to characterize the writers who experimented with new formal innovations in the late 1950s and 1960s, who asserted a delight in narrative self-reflection and metafictional structure.

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  • Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London: Routledge, 1984.

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    Surveying the state of contemporary fiction in Britain and America, and drawing on Russian Formalism, this argues that metafiction uses parody along with popular genres and nonliterary forms as a way of exposing the obsolescent conventions of the classic novel, and of suggesting the lines along which fiction might develop.

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Drama and Performance

There are many contemporary playwrights whose work has been produced within the context of the postmodern debate about the politics and representation of history. In Britain, playwrights like Howard Barker, Caryl Churchill, Howard Brenton, and Brian Friel are often discussed within these terms, dealing as they do with the relation of history to the political sphere, the equivocal nature of “reality,” and the inequalities of social power based on gender differences. Watt 1998 discusses these playwrights but also queries whether the entity “postmodern drama” actually exists. By contrast, Malkin 1999 argues that postmodern drama does exist and derives from the particular ways in which plays recast history and memories of the past. Yet it is in the work of the contemporary avant-garde—that of groups and directors like the American experimental Wooster Group and its founder Elizabeth LeCompte, the Welfare State International, the American experimental directors Robert Wilson, Richard Foreman and Richard Schechner, the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski and his Laboratory Theatre, and the Canadian director-writer Robert Lepage— that the real influence of poststructuralist and postmodernist ideas have been manifested. Much of this change is measured from the upsurge in performance and experimental theater in the 1960s, as demonstrated in Auslander 1997. Authors such as Peter Handke, Samuel Beckett, and Heiner Muller began presenting texts that, although delivered by actors as a form of dialogue, could no longer be interpreted as representations of “real life.” There are some practitioners and companies who have been identified with the ideas that have fed into postmodern theories, especially with theater as a basis for an exploration of physical gestures as semiotic systems, an area particularly explored in Whitmore 1994. Concentrating upon the theory and aesthetics of performance understood as a social practice struggling with the growing impact of technological and electronic culture that reduces human experience and transforms our relationships to reality, the body, and the social imaginary, Birringer 1991 challenges the boundaries of what constitutes classical drama, as well as the space in which that drama occurs. Indeed, much of postmodern drama might be called “performances” or “happenings,” and overlaps with the performance in body art, dance, art happenings, theater, and even pop concerts. This is the territory explored in Kaye 1993, Birringer 1998, and Carlson 1998, who also explore the mixed-media nature of contemporary performance.

  • Auslander, Philip. From Acting to Performance: Essays in Modernism and Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1997.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203444269Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chapters on the politics in postmodern theater, gender and the body, alteration and identity. From the ecstatic theater of the 1960s to the performance theater of the 1990s, Auslander argues that performance is the postmodernism that ousts the theatricality of modernism.

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  • Birringer, Johannes. Theatre, Theory, Postmodernism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

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    Analyzing the dehumanizing and dematerializing effects of postmodernism, Birringer calls for theater to have a “critical connection to postmodern culture,” (p. xiii) and to develop a resistance to postmodern impoverishment.

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  • Birringer, Johannes. Media and Performance: Along the Border. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

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    Examining the borderline between performance and the impositions of reality, the book covers such key artists as Pina Bausch’s Tanztheatre company; the performance artist Stelarc; Canadian artists Gromola and Sharir, Vito Acconci, and Naim June Paik; and the creation of video sculptures such as Francesc Torres’s Oikonomos.

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  • Carlson, Marvin A. Performance: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge, 1998.

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    Seeks to explore the relationships between performance, postmodernism, and the politics of identity and introduces the contested interpretations of performance art as a theatrical activity and the ways that performance has been understood by ethnographers, anthropologists, linguists, and cultural theorists.

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  • Kaye, Nick. Postmodernism and Performance. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1993.

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    A good critical survey of the territory, focusing on performance and dance, attempting to delineate the development of the plurality of practices that have emerged in contradistinction to those of modernism.

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  • Malkin, Jeannette R. Memory-Theater and Postmodern Drama. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.

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    Examines the theme of memory in a range of plays by contemporary American and European playwrights. Proposes that postmodern drama—that is, drama since the 1970s—can be defined and examined according to the ways it recasts history and engages memories of the past.

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  • Watt, Stephen. Postmodern/Drama: Reading the Contemporary Stage. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

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    Calls for a renewed exploration of drama’s relationships with late capitalist economy, post-Marxian politics, and commodity culture. Scrutinizes the critical tendency to label texts or writers as “postmodern” and demonstrates that key playwrights should not be labeled “postmodernist” but rather recognized as producers of texts that might be termed “post-modern.”

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  • Whitmore, John. Directing Postmodern Theater: Shaping Signification in Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

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    A guide to the use of semiotics in theater which explores the theory of postmodern theater, using examples from contemporary practitioners, while gradually building upon the intricate workings of theater’s most pioneering medium.

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Poetry

In many respects, it was innovations in American poetry during the late 1950s and early 1960s that opened the debate about the “new American poetry” and the association of these with postmodernism. Specific anthologies had significant influence in bringing to light the formal experiments and new trajectories brought about by the affiliations around the Beat Poets, the Black Mountain School, the Objectivist Poets, the New York School, and the Language Poets. Postmodern poetry in Britain developed partly as a direct response to trans-Atlantic dialogue and engagement with these poets over the decades, as much as it developed out of ennui with the intellectual and highly wrought poetic traditions of British poetic modernism. The continuing relationship of experimental poetics in the United States with that in the United Kingdom and the misperceptions surrounding these engagements form the basis of Tuma 1998 and Huk 2003. Tracking its emergence from some modernist techniques (see also Gregson 1996), the engine for the innovative trajectory in British poetics is laid out expertly in Mottram 1993, which charts the historical and the contextual dimensions of the “British Poetry Revival” since the 1950s. This context is reinforced by the essays in Easthope and Thompson 1991 and Barry and Hampson 1993, which present useful case studies of contemporary poetic practice and its relation to postmodern theories. These innovations gradually developed into what has been termed “linguistically innovative poetry” or LIP poetics, a term coined by the poet Robert Sheppard. Sheppard 2005 explores this territory in some considerable detail, arguing from a theoretical position informed by Bakhtin and Levinas that it is “a poetry of saying” that aims to keep interpretations maximally open. Davidson 2010 offers a supplementary exploration that focuses specifically on the interaction between theories of space in contemporary British poetics, very ably combining the discussions raised by the “new geography” with the innovations in poetics, coalescing in a matrix that one might characterize as a British postmodern poetics.

  • Barry, Peter, and Robert Hampson, eds. New British Poetries: The Scope of the Possible. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1993.

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    Contains some seminal essays and some very interesting discussions of contemporary poetry in Britain by poets and critics. Also offers some useful case studies of poets’ work that aids in mapping the field of contemporary developments.

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  • Davidson, Ian. Radical Spaces of Poetry. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

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    Introduces a diverse range of contemporary experimental writing and explores the ways that contemporary poetics engages the reader emotionally and intellectually over current and important social issues. Examines the political, social, and cultural implications of some of the most exciting and dynamic work of recent years.

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  • Easthope, Anthony, and John O. Thompson, eds. Contemporary Poetry Meets Modern Theory. Brighton, UK: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991.

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    A wide-ranging collection of essays from some of the key critics on American and British contemporary poets and their practices. Explores how critical theory and contemporary poetics illustrate and illuminate each other, tackling the cultural conditions under which contemporary poetics has emerged in the United Kingdom and the United States.

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  • Gregson, Ian. Contemporary Poetry and Postmodernism: Dialogue and Estrangement. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230379145Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of detailed essays that chart the development of experimental poetic techniques of estrangement out of modernist dialogic practices. Essays on Edwin Morgan, John Ashbery, Denise Riley, Roy Fisher, and others.

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  • Huk, Romana, ed. Assembling Alternatives: Reading Postmodern Poetries Transnationally. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.

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    In twenty-four essays, this book focuses on how national differences have inflected poetic experimentation and analyzes the provocative differences in strategies of resistance, constructions of self, use of voice, and use of technology.

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  • Mottram, Eric. “The British Poetry Revival, 1960–1975.” In New British Poetries: The Scope of the Possible. Edited by Peter Barry and Robert Hampson, 15–50. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1993.

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    A key essay that traces the emergence of the “New British Poetry,” its influences, its origins, and its sources, over the fifteen-year period. Doesn’t explicitly address postmodernism, but lays the context for the principal engagements.

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  • Sheppard, Robert. The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and Its Discontents, 1950–2000. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2005.

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    Investigates the “secret history” of fifty years of experimental British verse, revealing the work of British poets as well as the role of poetry magazines.

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  • Tuma, Keith. Fishing by Obstinate Isles: Modern and Postmodern British Poetry and American Readers. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998.

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    Explores the complex relations of recent British and American poetries, challenging reductive American views of a British poetry dominated by antimodernism.

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The “End” of Postmodernism

Has postmodernism “finished?” Was postmodernism’s critical edge blunted by incorporation into a cultural hegemony? Have we moved beyond postmodernism? What comes after postmodernism? Such questions have been hotly debated since the late 1990s and early 2000s, with several arguments being advanced concerning the demise of postmodernism. Connor 2004 and Gasiorek and Boxall 2006 give good accounts of the reasons for conceptualizing the end of postmodernism as they also search for the new cultural trajectories of the future. Yet the “end” of something also heralds the “beginning” of something, and seeking to define exactly what is emerging is partly what characterizes much of contemporary theoretical debate, as undertaken in Brooks and Toth 2007. Some critics are less certain that the death knell of postmodernism has rung, and they seek to explore the new avenues opened up by postmodern ideas and concepts. Committed to the value of the insights of postmodern theory, Best and Kellner 2001 opens up intersections and debates that dovetail with those explored in New Subjectivities as they strive for a new lexicon to describe contemporary culture. Green 2005 examines the emergence of new forms of fiction in the United States that build upon the experiments of the postmodern fiction of the last quarter of the 20th century, demonstrating a determined optimism in the literary legacy of postmodernism. Other terms have emerged to characterize this new era after postmodernism, none of which have found particularly widespread common currency yet, including the somewhat unwieldy “post-postmodernism,” “altermodern,” “metamodernism,” and “digimodernism,” as outlined in Kirby 2009. Lopez and Potter 2001 contends that “critical realism” is a sufficiently labile term to account for new developments in a range of areas covering science, technology, and theory itself.

  • Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. The Postmodern Adventure: Science, Technology, and Cultural Studies at the Third Millennium. New York: Guilford, 2001.

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    Faced with massive geopolitical shifts and dramatic developments in computerization and biotechnology, this explores the challenges to theory, politics, and human identity on the threshold of the third millennium, as humans are altered by modes of work, communication, and entertainment, new postindustrial and political networks, and novel approaches to warfare, genetic engineering, and even cloning.

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  • Brooks, Neil, and Josh Toth, eds. The Mourning After: Attending the Wake of Postmodernism. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007.

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    Essays focus upon the “failure” of postmodernism and the emergence of a “new realism” in fiction. Examines the impact of the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, on postmodernism and analyzes new cultural productions and trends. Seeks to interrogate the legacy of postmodernism while, through this reappraisal, open up the territory of future critical engagements.

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  • Connor, Steven, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521640520Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Covering a range of fields from philosophy through performance, space, religion, ethics, and law, these essays seek to investigate the ways in which different disciplines continue to engage with postmodern ideas despite arguments about their cultural demise.

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  • Gasiorek, Andrzej, and Peter Boxall. “Modernism and Postmodernism.” The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory 14.1 (2006): 64–88.

    DOI: 10.1093/ywcct/mbl004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The second section in particular addresses itself to a review of contemporary critical discussions that are concerned with the exhaustion and demise, as well as the “triumph,” or living on, of postmodernism. Concludes by speculating on what future directions theory will take “after” postmodernism.

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  • Green, Jeremy. Late Postmodernism: American Fiction at the Millennium. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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    Addressing the issue of whether postmodernism can be written off as a fin-de-siècle trend, this investigates new directions in US experimental fiction since the 1990s that build upon the concepts and insights resulting from postmodern theory.

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  • Kirby, Alan. Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture. London: Continuum, 2009.

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    With the increasing demise of postmodernism, focuses upon a new theory to underpin our current digital culture. Calling this “digimodernism,” Kirby analyzes the emergence of these diverse media, which, he argues, produces distinctive forms of author and reader/viewer, which, in turn, lead to altered notions of authority, “truth,” and legitimization.

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  • Lopez, José, and Gary Potter, eds. After Postmodernism: An Introduction to Critical Realism. London and New York: Athlone, 2001.

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    Examining what comes “after” postmodernism, this book considers the increasing interest in “critical realism” as a possible alternative future critical trajectory. The flexibility of critical realism as a methodology is illustrated by a range of essays covering such diverse areas as quantum mechanics, cyberspace, nature, the unconscious, and theory itself.

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LAST MODIFIED: 09/20/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199846719-0048

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