So far this semester, our class has covered:
- John Barth’s short story, “Lost in the Fun House”
- Jeannette Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body
- and Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club.
To help define what postmodern means we have explored excerpts from:
- Simon Malpas’ book, The Postmodern (2005)
- H l ne Cixous critique “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays” (1975)
- Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979)
- Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991)
- and Linda Hutcheon’s Poetics of Postmodernism (1988)
How do I cohesively make sense of all this? Having drank fully from the fire hose for weeks on end, I wonder… Will I digest or blow? This post is where I just vomit in my mouth a little.
As Malpas explains, “at the heart of identity there is a ‘thinking I’ that experiences, conceptualizes and interacts with the world” (Malpas, 57). Consequently, running rampant throughout postmodern fiction is the question of this subject’s reliability as an authority representing truth.
- Barth’s narrator, Ambrose, is at once a child and an adult, interweaving the blind?experience of “living in the moment” with 20/20 hindsight and calling attention, through various narrative devices, to the limitations of the narrating subject both as child and adult, in other words, as narrator looking in at the main character and main character being himself.
- Winterson complicates her narrator by creating a nongender-specific bisexual who objectifies the beloved, Louise, pitting the power of subject vs. object, one against the other, both creating and destroying the linguistic barrier to fully realizing true love.
- Palahniuk splits his narrator’s identity into two dueling subjects within the same body who both objectify not only Marla, but each other, creating a power triangle rather than a single identifiable power source.
By complicating the subject, these authors use fiction to turn the subject in on itself and reveal its limitations. The point for the reader is that perspective and representation are not natural ways of reaching some sort of truth, but are cultural devices?that, until postmodernism hit the stage, were accepted as natural. The most we can hope for, as Stephen Colbert often points out, is mere “truthiness” (or “falsiness” as the following parody explains), which is called into question each time subjectivity becomes decentered by an alternate version of the traditional subject. (Hello, Derrida!)
Sexuality is also addressed in each piece, not just in terms of masculinity or femininity, but where the two overlap. According to theorist Hélène Cixouss:
Traditionally, the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition — a culture’s values are premised on an organisation of thought in which descriptions of the feminine are determined by masculine categories of order, opposition and hierarchy. (Malpas, 72)
Lyotard says that metanarratives order the world for a particular culture and not all cultures order the world in the same way. Because of this he believes reality is not real, that it is rather “simplicity, communicability” (75) in the name of the “unity of experience” (72) and that the postmodern “puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself” (81).
- Barth calls masculinity into question by addressing the subservience of women in the ’50s and how that defines the angered narrator’s role as he matures socially in contrast with what he feels differently internally.
- Winterson’s non-specifically gendered and bisexual narrator draws attention to the dysfunction of defining through opposition, creating a world of confusion for the reader while, at the same time, pointing out the problem.
- Palahniuk’s split identity, one masculinized and one feminized, are embodied within one male person which shows that neither masculinity nor femininity encompass fully what comprises the essence of a human being.
These narrators struggle with the idea that identity is formed through the constriction of language and social mapping according to opposing genders. Each illustrates that society provides no useful language or ordering of our world to address these grey areas. Postmodern work obviously strives to draw attention to the gap between the grand narrative and what actually exists.
And, although there are many more threads to follow, the HUGE question of history (revered by Jameson as fact of lived experience) versus historicity (truthiness and the closest we can get to truth) is the last item I have time to discuss. Jameson argues that the democratization of art subjects it to the corruption of marketing and capitalism. They are inseparable to the detriment of world cultures and history through depthless representation and pastiche unless we map how the depthless came to be, “in which we may again begin to grasp our new positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spacial as well as our social confusion” (54). SOOO, the question of historical validity appears repeatedly in our fiction selections.
- Barth criticizes history by describing the role of generations of copulation in constructing social understanding of sexuality.
- Winterson explores the narrator’s serial monogamy and only in breaking the tradition does he/she find love.
- Palahniuk creates Tyler Durden who desperately wants to break free from history to redefine it from his point of view.
According to Malpas, Hutcheon argues that parody is not dead, it is now focused to use form to reveal a failure of form. She also finds great value studying the unrepresentable in fiction, as much as that which has been represented as “history,” because both employ the same narrative devices (Malpas, 25-26). In the fiction we have read, we can see this parody in action, where our authors provide recognition of the power forms hold, and turn around to employ these forms to point out the flaws within them. We’ll talk more about this next week when we read more of Hutcheon.
Other pan drippings, grey in color, that deserve to make it into the gravy bowl are
- body/soul connections
- bodily parts in gender definition,
- disease: death in life and life in death
- and many, many more.
Sadly, the repair man is here and I have to supervise the fixing of shit.