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While many works labeled postmodern do not strictly adhere to any formal tenets, a great number of them borrow postmodern techniques and devices, including discontinuous time, recurring characters, irony, and authorial intrusions.Postmodern works also evidence the belief that there is no distinction between reality and fiction, much like there is no inherent relationship between words and the objects they are meant to signify. Literature is not exhaustible for the simple and sufficient reason that no single book is. Borges, "A Note on (Toward) Bernard Shaw" Over the past two decades, as the high tide of modernism ebbed and its masters died off, the baring of literary artifice has come to be more and more a basic procedure—at times, almost an obsession—of serious fiction in the West.The whole reflexive tendency in contemporary fiction has been reinforced by the prominence of selfconscious cinema since the early sixties in the work of directors like Fellini, Antonioni, Resnais, and Godard.
None of Robbe-Grillet's novels really equals in fascination Roland Barthes' brilliant descriptions of them.
Queneau's Exercices de style (1947) is an intriguing and at times immensely amusing book, but it is just what its title implies, a set of exercises; and to suggest, as George Steiner has done, that it constitutes a major landmark in twentieth-century literature, is to mislead readers in the interest of promoting literary "future shock." The instance of Exercices de style is worth pausing over briefly because it represents one ultimate limit of the whole self-conscious mode.
Postmodernism The term postmodernism has been defined in many different ways, and many critics and authors disagree on even its most basic precepts.
However, many agree that, in literature, postmodernism represents the rejection of the modernist tenets of rational, historical, and scientific thought in favor of self-conscious, ironic, and experimental works.
Precisely what is missing from Exercices de style is any sense—and playfulness need not exclude seriousness—of human experience, which is largely kept out of the book in order to preserve the technical purity of the experiment.
I don't mean to take Queneau to task for what he clearly did not intend; I mean only to emphasize that criticism need not make excessive claims for this kind of writing.John Ashbery Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (poetry) 1975 Houseboat Days (poetry) 1977 John Barth The Sot-Weed Factor (novel) 1960; revised 1967 Giles Goat-Boy; Or, The Revised Syllabus (novel) 1966 Donald Barthelme The Teachings of Don B.: Satires, Parodies, Fables, Illustrated Stories, and Plays of Donald Barthelme (short stories and plays) 1998 Roland Barthes Writing Degree Zero (criticism) 1967 Critical Essays (criticism) 1972 Mythologies (criticism) 1973 The Pleasure of the Text (criticism) 1975 Jean Baudrillard The Mirror of Production (criticism) 1975 In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities; Or, The End of the Social, and Other Essays (essays) 1983 Simulations (criticism) 1983 Walter Benjamin Illuminations (criticism) 1968 Thomas Berger Little Big Man (novel) 1964 Jorge Luis Borges Ficciones (short stories) 1944 The Aleph (short stories) 1949 Other Inquisitions (essays) 1952 William S.... [In the following essay, Alter presents an overview of postmodern fiction, including works by Cervantes, Borges, Flann O'Brien, Nabokov, and John Barth.] Our literature has been for a hundred years a dangerous game with its own death, in other words a way of experiencing, of living that death: our literature is like that Racinean heroine who dies upon learning who she is but lives by seeking her identity. A book is not an isolated entity: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships. The creators of self-conscious fiction in our time do not constitute a school or a movement, and the lines of influence among them, or to them from their common predecessors, often tend to waver and blur when closely examined.Robert Alter SOURCE: "The Self-Conscious Moment: Reflections on the Aftermath of Modernism," in Tri Quarterly, No. —Roland Barthes, "Literature and Metalanguage" A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory. Some of these writers have tried their hand at shorter fictional forms, which, after the Borgesian model, one now calls "fictions" rather than "short stories"; but most of them, perhaps inevitably, have turned back to, or stayed with, the novel, attracted by its large and various capacity to convey a whole imaginatively constituted world.In many of these works, the authors abandon the concept of an ordered universe, linear narratives, and traditional forms to suggest the malleability of truth and question the nature of reality itself, dispensing with the idea of a universal ordering scheme in favor of artifice, temporality and a reliance on irony.Many postmodern writers believe that language is inherently unable to convey any semblance of the external world, and that verbal communication is more an act of conflict than an expression of rational meaning.If this is the moment of the self-conscious novel, that is decidedly a mixed blessing, as the spectacular unevenness of innovative fiction today would indicate.The growing insistence of self-awareness in our culture at large has been both a liberating and a paralyzing force, and that is equally true of its recent developments in artistic expression. The kind of criticism that often has to be invoked in discussing a traditional realistic novel is in the indicative mode: yes, we know that a woman like Rosamund Vincy would act in just that way, with just such a gesture, toward her husband at a given moment in Middlemarch because it seems right, because it corresponds to some subtle, gradually acquired sense of human nature in our extraliterary experience, and to this we can only point, signaling an act of recognition we hope others will share.Queneau, of course, has written full-scale novels of flaunted artifice, both before and after Exercices de style, that do involve a more complex sense of experience.One of the great temptations of the self-conscious novelist, however, is to content himself with technical experiment, trusting that in these difficult times (but then the times are always difficult) the only honesty, perhaps the only real profundity, lies in technical experiment.Therefore, much work classified as postmodern displays little attention to realism, characterization, or plot.Time is often conveyed as random and disjointed; commonplace situations are depicted alongside surreal and fantastic plot developments, and the act of writing itself becomes a major focus of the subject matter.