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Postmodernism and After

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions

Edited by

Regina Rudaityt

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions, Edited by Regina Rudaityt This book first published 2008 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing 15 Angerton Gardens, Newcastle, NE5 2JA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2008 by Regina Rudaityt and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-84718-410-3, ISBN (13): 9781847184108


Introduction ................................................................................................. 1 A Nostalgia for Tradition Regina Rudaityt From the Postmodern to the Pre-Modern: More Recent Changes in Literature, Art, and Theory.................................................................... 11 Herbert Grabes Performing Cultural Alterity: Non-Conformist American Drama since the 1990s .......................................................................................... 28 Herbert Grabes "What Am I Doing Here": Contemporary British Travel Writing: From Revival to Renewal .......................................................................... 42 Jan Borm National Past / Personal Past: Recent Examples of the Historical Novel by Umberto Eco and Antanas Sileika ........................................................ 54 Milda Danyt Towards a Polythetic Definition of the Bildungsroman: The Example of Paul Auster's Moon Palace............................................. 65 Anniken Telnes Iversen Subjectivity in A.L. Kennedy's Writing.................................................... 79 Egl Kackut Literary Culture in the Age of the Internet ................................................ 89 Jens Kirk A Self-Reflexive Renewal of Realism: Aesthetic Developments in 21st Century Novel............................................................................... 103 Windy Counsell Petrie


Table of Contents

(De)Construction of the Postmodern in A.S. Byatt's Novel Possession . 111 Regina Rudaityt The Old and the New: British Concepts of Writing the History of English Literature after Postmodernism.............................................. 121 Margit Sichert Intertextuality in Theory and Practice ..................................................... 136 Adolphe Haberer Reading Postmodern Narrative: An Intertextual Dialogue Between J. Banville's The Book of Evidence and V. Nabokov's Lolita................. 156 Jrat Butkut The Ecocritical and the Postmodern: Re-Visions in "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams" by Sylvia Plath and "The Quagmire Woman" by Jolita Skablauskait ............................................................................ 169 Irena Ragaisien Comparing Mythologies: The Postmodern Voices of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad ....................................................................... 182 Rta Slapkauskait Transtextual Bridge Between the Postmodern and the Modern: The Theme of the "Otherness" in Monique Truong's Novel The Book of Salt (2003) and Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1932) ......................................................................... 198 Ingrida Zindziuvien Contributors............................................................................................. 212


The present publication is a collection of academic articles, most of which are modified versions of papers given at the International Literary Conference "Beyond Postmodernism: Literature, Theory, Culture", which was held on 16-17 November, 2006 at the Faculty of Philology, Vilnius University, Lithuania. It is an attempt to reflect on new openings and recent developments in literature, literary theory and culture which seem to point beyond postmodernism and raise a question whether what appears as newness is not rather a return to traditional concepts, theoretical premises and authorial practices. Interestingly enough, forty years after the publication of John Barth's seminal essay "The Literature of Exhaustion" (1967), one is tempted to diagnose the exhaustion of postmodernism. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there are signs in contemporary British literature indicating that postmodernism is past its heyday, that it is losing or has lost its shine, fascination and attraction and that writers have been turning to the "old" or pre-modern forms, practices and strategies. It seems to me that novels with metahistorical dimension, the ethical component, the revival of realist storytelling in the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Julian Barnes's novel Arthur and George (2005) attest to the new mode which reaches beyond postmodernism. Metafiction, postmodernist experiment with narrative technique, attacks on mimetic referentiality, delight in popular culture became mainstream, they lost their subversive power and shock effect and no longer produce the effect of novelty; thus to reach alterity the postmodernist and modernist novel are deconstructed: old, pre-modern forms are used to achieve defamiliarization. David Lodge predicted it already two decades ago: "Experiment can become so familiar that it ceases to stimulate our powers of perception, and then more simple



and straightforward modes of writing may seem wonderfully fresh and daring".1 At some later date, in the 1990's, writing about the British novel Malcolm Bradbury made a similar observation: "There was a general feeling that Eighties experiments had become Nineties conventions, and that serious young writers were becoming imitative clones of their elders".2 It was Ihab Hassan, a distinguished American professor and scholar, who started the critique of postmodernism; in his thought-provoking article "Beyond Postmodernism: Toward an Aesthetic of Trust" he is advocating for what he calls "a fiduciary realism", "a postmodern realism" based on believing there is truth and we have to be committed to it. It is not, Hassan argues, "an absolute, transcendent, or foundational Truth", it is Truth which "rests on trust, personal, social, cognitive trust", trust as "the premise to realism" which "is no light matter" and which "refers us to the enigma of representation, the conundrum of signs, the riddle of language, the chimera of consciousness itself".3 We have to believe there is truth, because "if truth is dead, then everything is permitted", asserts Hassan, paraphrasing Dostoyevsky and challenging postmodern relativism.4 The current processes in literary culture undoubtedly invite reconsideration and reconceptualization of such key notions as "truth", meaning production, textuality and literary interpretation. Some attempts at reassessment have already been undertaken.5 Andrzej Gasiorek disputes the clear-cut realism/experimentalism divide in contemporary British fiction, arguing that some writers incorporate modernist and postmodernist insights into their works, fuse technical innovations with strong social concerns, this way extending realism in new directions. Acknowledging the role played by linguistic codes and narrative forms in the construction of meaning, the scholar does not dismiss the external world that literature engages with, claiming that "out of this tension between the word and the world emerges a wide range of new realisms." 6 At the recent ESSE

1 Lodge, Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature, 10. 2 Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, 455. 3 Hassan, "Beyond Postmodernism: Toward an Aesthetic of Trust", 204-207. 4 Ibid., 204. 5 On this point, see Jose Lopez and Garry Potter, eds. After Postmodernism. London & New York, 2001. Also an impressive collection of essays Beyond Postmodernism. Reassessments in Literature, Theory, and Culture, edited by Klaus Stierstorfer. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2003. 6 Gasiorek, Post-War British Fiction. Realism and After, 183.

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


(European Society for the Study of English) conference in London in 2006, attempts to reinstate realism were obvious at some seminars and particularly at Christophe den Tandt's lecture "On Virtual Grounds: Reclaiming Realism at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century". It seems to me that the point is made particularly well by Herbert Grabes'comprehensive and illuminating article "From the Postmodern to the Pre-Modern: More Recent Changes in Literature, Art, and Theory" which opens and sets the tone for this collection of essays; it is a major assessment of new developments in literary culture, focusing on the evolution of the postmodern to the premodern mode, as well as highlighting the role and current popularity of cultural studies and cultural history ­ theoretical movements which have been prevailing for some time now after the end of deconstruction. Likewise, reflecting on the implications of the notion of conformity and non-conformity, and its changing nature in his essay "Performing Cultural Alterity: NonConformist American Drama Since the 1990s", Herbert Grabes gives a splendidly clear account of more recent non-conformist American plays linking them to the changes in culture and moral climate prevailing in society, as well as to the complex and adverse historical and political situation of our turbulent times. In being non-conformist, Grabes claims, aesthetically they also, however, fulfill an important function of theater and art in general: "to make us laugh, or admonish us, or even shock us out of our complacency, our conformity, by confronting us with what had better not be, or must not be." In his essay "`What Am I Doing Here`: Contemporary British Travel Writing: From Revival to Renewal" Jan Borm concentrates on the renewal of the long-established genre of travel writing in Great Britain, reflecting on the situation today, some fifty years after Claude Lévi-Strauss' famous declaration about travelling, and highlighting the pronounced literary dimension of some seminal contemporary travel books which in their own particular ways raise the issues of representation and reflexivity. The article rightly claims that "travel writing does continue to aim at partly reflecting the real, even if the writing involves various processes of fictionalisation." Not only intertextuality as one of the chief postmodern features of contemporary works but various forms of reflexive observation also characterize a number of the narratives explored in Borm's essay. Such texts, according to the scholar, bear witness to the dynamic potential of the genre and make it possible to affirm that travel writing represents one of the most dynamic or poetically subversive domains of British literature in the past thirty or forty years.



Claiming the historical novel to be one of postmodernism's favourite genres, Milda Danyt looks at two works of historical fiction published in 2004, the Italian writer Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, and the Lithuanian-Canadian writer Antanas Sileika's Woman in Bronze, to explore the notion of a "post postmodern historical novel", one that has some features in common with both traditional and postmodern historical novels, yet which also differs in significant ways from both of these. Danyte's readings of these two recent historical novels suggest that instead of parodying the past in postmodern fashion, these post postmodern historical novels seem to prioritize unofficial memory and celebrate popular culture in the broad sense. In this revisionist form of history, the author's personal past has real significance. Thus the new kind of historical fiction has ties to new versions of history and autobiography which also bring together the national past and the personal past. In her essay which almost bears on "literary sociology", Anniken Telnes Iversen presents a multi-factorial and polythetic approach to the definition of the bildungsroman with the aim of using this definition to read Paul Auster's novel Moon Palace as a bildungsroman postulating links with tradition. The picture of the bildungsroman that emerges from this approach is one of marked continuity from its late eighteenth-century beginnings up to our own times. Differently from the critics who often see Moon Palace as a postmodern novel with strong resemblances to the picaresque, the researcher thinks it is closer to the classical tradition and has a much stronger bond to the bildungsroman, more specifically the nineteenth-century British bildungsroman. For the definition of the bildungsroman Iversen tried to create what she called "the Bildungsroman Index" which is developed for the English-language bildungsroman tradition and thus based on four works that are seen as foundational to that genre: Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, and Dickens's David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Egl Kackut's essay is another attempt to conceptualize the construction of identity and subjectivity in A.L. Kennedy's Novel So I am Glad and Short Story Original Bliss. The two texts by one of the most prominent contemporary British authors are seen as a good example of both post- postmodernist and post-feminist writing as she belongs to the generation of writers who started their careers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the time when both postmodernism and feminism were losing their currency and fiction started to develop in all sorts of liberating and refreshing ways. It is maybe for this reason that subjectivity and/or identity in Kennedy's work comes across as evasive and intangible. The analysis of the two texts is based on the premise that although Kennedy's

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


fiction defies all of the above mentioned theoretical and/or ideological clichés, it still seems to indirectly engage with and challenge them, which finally leads to the conclusion that Kennedy's fiction is aware of the doings of the postmodernist and feminist idioms, but is careful to stay away from both of them. Kackut seems to be bent on showing that its interests lie elsewhere. According to her, Kennedy is interested in a complicated, multiple, flexible and indefinable subject that nevertheless retains his or her integrity and coherence. The structure of identity proposed in the novel So I am Glad and the short story Original Bliss is non-singular and yet non-binary. It is deliberately evasive and embedded in language thus residing between the text and the reader. Kennedy's fiction embraces moral and ethical issues with extreme unorthodoxy as well as constructs textual, fictional and non-fictional subjectivity which is simultaneously deliberately impalpable and indefinable thus highlighting the complexity and controversy of the human condition. J.Hillis Miller referring to a prophetically striking and frightening passage from Jacques Derrida's La Carte postale, sees the print culture swamped by the digital culture, by the "new regime of telecommunications" which is bringing an end to literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and love letters.7 It does sound most threatening. However, Jens Kirk in his article "Literary Culture in the Age of the Internet" argues that the literary culture on the Internet relates to the literary culture outside the Internet. The work done on the Internet produces value and significance in the literary culture of the printed book. Kirk looks into the reasons of why writers, publishers and bookshops go electronic. In his essay, the literary culture on the Internet is outlined with special reference to Jeanette Winterson's website, and, ultimately, it is maintained that the website and its uses are firmly inscribed within the literary culture of the printed book. Print is not only the main source of the site ­ it draws upon and makes available already published material ­ it is also its destination. Eventually, the different kinds of work on the site lead to printed books, to their production, distribution and consumption. There is no distinct literary culture on the Internet, then. Rather, electronic literary culture is furthering the literary culture of the printed book. Windy Counsell Petrie looks into the signs of renewal of realism in contemporary Jewish-American writing which is generally marked by its concern with the historical, the moral, and the human anxieties of the


For more on this point, see J. Hillis Miller's thought-provoking essay "Will Literary Study Survive the Globalisation of the University and the New Regime of Telecommunications?" In REAL: Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature, 373-85.



modern self, and therefore has sometimes been described as displaying a return to realism. The novels which form the focus of her article, Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, published in 2000, and Jonathan Safran Foer's 2002 novel, Everything is Illuminated, also a bestseller and the winner of the National Jewish Book Award in America, and the Guardian First Book Award in the UK, were written by relatively young Jewish-American novelists. Both writers, it is argued, try to regenerate a faith in fiction which does not privilege historical fact, modifying literary realism for the 21st century. Both novels are read through the lens of realism-defining Hassanian concept of "Trust" which presupposes faith in the representable reality. Both Chabon and Foer reflect this kind faith, as their works seek to regain the trust that Hassan observes is so central to literary realism, but in a less naïve, more self-reflexive way. Both novels, it is claimed, profess a belief in the regenerative and illuminating powers of Art. But both books, whatever confidence they place in art, refuse to be naive. Neither claims to really represent history or reality, but simply to escape it or illuminate it. Petrie's article concludes that this is not mere realism, but a new offspring of it; this is a realism that cannot promise Truth, but does offer readers the Trust Hassan claims is "indispensable", a new mode that promises to keep faith with the reader, not with the "real world." Regina Rudaityt's essay "(De)Construction of the Postmodern in A.S. Byatt's Novel Possession" examines Byatt's Booker-prize winning novel Possession (1990) which is generally regarded as an emblematic postmodern novel in which texts, authors, literary movements of the past are transformed and reflected in the form of metafictional narrative, of rewriting, of parody and pastiche, giving them a reinterpretation and recoding in a totally different cultural and literary context. However, this essay attempts to detect the writer's ambivalence towards and unease about the postmodern mode, inscribed in the novel's text. It is argued that although Byatt's play with conventions of metafiction, the use of parody and pastiche which is one of the most important exponents of postmodern art, are instrumental in the construction of the postmodern, on the other hand, this postmodern move eventually results in the critique and deconstruction of postmodernism itself. Byatt's parody is also very explicitly directed at the postmodern critical theories, particularly poststructuralism and feminist criticism. Even in the heyday of postmodernism when history was declared dead and when the concept of a canon was a controversial point, and the writing of literary histories became doubtful, not only large literary histories were projected, but also new literary histories of just one volume for a broader

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


readership continued to be written. This is the core of Margit Sichert's argument in her article on the concepts of writing literary histories today, after postmodernism. It turns out that even the famous British writer and critic Malcolm Bradbury, the author of the immensely readable and enjoyable The Modern World. Ten Great Writers (1989) and other splendid books on modernism, became a promoter of the writing of literary histories: as Sichert points out, in 2000, the year he died, Bradbury wrote his fascinating foreword to the second edition of the Routledge History of Literatures in English­ "and it sounds like a testament, like a last wish of an author who wants his kind of writing to be read, honoured and treasured as a part of collective memory." Margit Sichert traces and analyzes the processes of writing literary history, drawing parallels between past and present literary histories and concentrating on three recent literary histories that, on the one hand, continue the tradition of the literary histories of the nineteenth century and, on the other, break away from it ­ go further or beyond, try to find a way which leads straight to the readers of the twentieth or twenty-first century. They all avoid the academic jargon still so cherished these days, which would repulse the general reader. It seems very clear that they are designed to be readable, understandable, interesting and meaningful for a broader public. The authors seem to feel very deeply that the cultural and literary knowledge they present is a cultural heritage of the nation and belongs to all people. The legacy of postmodernism cannot be easily ignored either. Postmodernism still seems to mesmerize our minds; some postmodernist strategies turn out to be quite productive and feeding into the new mode of "revamped" realism. A few of the essays in this collection, naturally, still engage with postmodern practices. Symptomatic in this respect is the impressive scholarly essay "Intertextuality in Theory and Practice" by Adolphe Haberer who places a firm trust in the concept of intertextuality even in a new age "beyond postmodernism". Adolphe Haberer focuses on the theory and practice of intertextuality, extensively discussing its farreaching consequences and implications for literary interpretation. Viewing postmodernism as a development of modernism, the scholar attemps to show that the workings of intertextuality were already being explored by such modernists as T.S. Eliot and David Jones. In that respect also, there is an undeniable continuity between modernism and postmodernism. It is claimed that intertextuality, this prime exponent of postmodernism, is still very much valid and continues to provide a solid basis for interpretation : according to Haberer, even if we have truly entered a new age "beyond postmodernism" we cannot do without the



key-concept of intertextuality to account for that all-important dimension of our experience as readers of literary texts. Jrat Butkut's essay on the intertextual dialogue between J.Banville's and V.Nabokov's novels raises a question about the ways the Irish author John Banville addresses the issue of the possibility of writing in the postmodern age which actually challenges the very notion of representation. Banville's intertextually rich body of work, numerous references to Nabokov, Beckett, Joyce and Proust among many other authors present in his writing, suggest an intertextual method of reading. This leads Butkut to explore the nature of a dialogic discourse between his novel The Book of Evidence (1989) which belongs to his art trilogy Frames (2001) and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955), a text that has been widely examined as an example of postmodernism. The objective of the present essay, therefore, is to establish whether both of these texts operate in the same dimension of postmodern aesthetics by discerning the structural strategies of their narratives and discussing semantic implications that the reading of the texts may lend. The analysis is based on a question, whether the semantic structure of Banville's text goes beyond the notions of postmodern ontology and if it does, in what direction of discursive practices it tends to develop. In her discussion of Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath and The Quagmire Woman by Jolita Skablauskait, a contemporary Lithuanian writer, Irena Ragaisien aims at establishing links between postmodernism and ecocriticism and in this theoretical framework provides a gender sensitive/ecocritical comparative reading of Plath's and Skablauskait's texts, highlighting the manner in which each text reveals environmental, gender, and social sensitivity by exposing and criticizing tropes that reflect the multifarious aspects of interaction between nature and culture. In light of ecocriticism which tends to move beyond the postmodern emphasis on indeterminacy and fragmentation, and which destabilizes the human/nature dualism, in which the human subject has always been regarded as superior and separate from the natural world, the two texts are read shifting the focus from the individual self to nature and human relationships to it, dissolving the hierarchical oppositions between self and the natural/human. This approach, especially to Sylvia Plath's text, seems to bring fresh hues of reflection and may be regarded as contradicting the prevailing critical views on Plath's writing. Rta Slapkauskait focuses on Canada's literary icon Margaret Atwood and her latest novel The Penelopiad, aiming to define Atwood's place in the landscape of literary postmodernism which, as she, hopefully, tongue in cheek, claims, is as Canadian as the maple leaf. It is a

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


commonplace of literary criticism to say that many writers after reaching the high point in their literary careers tend to show signs of exhaustion and a lack of imagination; their writing is often diagnosed with a failure to open up fresh insights and phenomenological wonder. It looks like Atwood's The Penelopiad might be receiving controversial criticism. The Independent was not very gracious defining the novel as "half Dorothy Parker, half Desperate Housewives"; on the other hand, the world premiere of this "wry, witty and wise" novel's adaptation for the stage was widely advertised by The Times Literary Supplement and The London Review of Books in the summer of 2007. In her discussion of The Penelopiad, Slapkauskait gives due credit to "the literary legend" and her recent novel, whatever its slips. Wondering where Atwood's recent rewriting of a Grecian myth stands in relation to narrative conventions and the literary system at large and if we might read The Penelopiad as a barometer of new trends in Western literature, the researcher ambitiously attempts at looking into the very heart of postmodernism, activating a broad and rich contextual web of theoretical and literary references and parallels. The article provides some very interesting observations and insights not only into Atwood' writing but also into the nature of narrative, of the real and the imaginary, and, finally, encourages our reflections on the creative process itself. Ingrida Zindziuvien's article explores the transtextual framework of the novel The Book of Salt by a Vietnamese-born American author, Monigue Truong. The text of this novel has two broad contexts ­ textual and social. The textual, postmodern, realm implies strong relationship to the modernist one­Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. However, it is argued that the social context is based on the theme of the "otherness" which is similarly discussed in both texts. This becomes a particularly self-conscious form of transtextuality: it credits the readers with the necessary experience to make sense of the allusions and offers them the pleasure of recognition. These contexts constitute a frame which the reader cannot avoid drawing upon in interpreting the text. The interpretative practice reminds the reader of the mediated reality and appeals to the pleasures of critical detachment rather than of emotional involvement. The notion of transtextuality leads to the understanding of the boundaries of the text and may question the dichotomy of "inside" and "outside", the beginning and the end of the text and the relationship between the text and the context. Literary, historical and social determinants that have been chosen for this analysis provide strong evidence for the return of the postmodern age to the realities of the past,



and the reconstruction and reproduction of the past experience, all of which can be understood as the popular notion of "returning to the roots." The articles assembled in this collection are on diverse thematics and written from diverse theoretical perspectives; they differ in scope and methodology, and their focus ranges from the postmodern, intertextual aspect to the open questioning of it and to more recent developments in the literary culture. Whatever its virtues or flaws, this book is aiming to open fresh discussion, debate and reflection on the new age reaching beyond postmodernism, and the budding literary mode, whatever labels we might stick to it.

Works Cited

Bradbury, Malcolm. The Modern British Novel. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994. Gasiorek, Andrzej. The Post-War British Fiction. Realism And After. London:Edward Arnold, 1995. Hassan, Ihab. "Beyond Postmodernism: Toward an Aesthetic of Trust." In Beyond Postmodernism. Reassessments in Literature, Theory, and Culture, edited by Klaus Stierstorfer, 199-212. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2003. Lodge, David. Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Lopez, Jose and Potter, Garry, eds. After Postmodernism. London and New York, 2001. Miller, J.Hillis. "Will Literary Study Survive the Globalization of the University and the New Regime of Telecommunications?" In REAL. Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature, edited by Herbert Grabes, 373-85. Volume 17. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2001.


That literature, art, and theory have changed considerably since the early and more spectacular phase of postmodernity in the nineteen-sixties and seventies is too obvious to be overlooked. These changes raise questions regarding their actual extent and quality, their presumable causes and their already discernible consequences ­ three aspects to which I will be directing your attention in the following remarks. First, then, the extent and quality of the changes that can be observed in the domains of literature, art, and theory: in order to let you share my observations, I will have to draw at least a rough sketch of the situation then and now: that is, of the state of play in the nineteen-sixties and seventies as against the situation obtaining from the nineteen-eighties onwards. In retrospect, the difference between the new works of art and literature from the nineteen-sixties and those of the nineteen-fifties seems so great that it is no wonder observers soon began speaking of a `postmodernism', in the sense that `modernism' seemed to be over. I would like to begin with the advent of postmodernism in the domain of the visual arts because it was especially here that the phenomenon was so unmistakably visible ­ no accident, then, I might add, that the very term `postmodernism' should have entered awareness via Charles Jencks's lucubrations on contemporary architecture, an essentially visual domain. Too great was the contrast between the stylish late modernist Colour Field paintings of American Abstract Expressionism and the new presentation of banal objects of everyday use, such as Jasper Johns's "Two Beer Cans" (1960) or Andy Warhol's "Brillo Box" (1964) as well as the foregrounding of the nature of such objects as mass products of consumer culture in Warhol's famously iconic "200 Campbell Soup Cans" (1962).


More Recent Changes in Literature, Art, and Theory

What soon came to be called "Pop Art" further included the integration of the sexy images of advertising, as in the paintings of Tom Wesselman, the large-scale stylized imitations of comic-book or cartoon-strip figures and objects and speech- or thought-balloons as represented by Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenburg's magnified plastic reproductions of icons of everyday consumable or utilitarian culture (just think of his "Two Cheeseburgers with Everything" from 1962). At the same time, the techniques of representation were largely influenced by the use and imitation of mechanical reproduction. Warhol, for instance, used acrylic paint and oil paint to create the impression of silkscreen prints or newspaper reproductions of photographs, Rauschenberg imitated the look of TV images, Lichtenstein the raster screen appearance of comic-book frames as quotations from mass culture, but they all emphasized the distance between that culture and their art by an alienation effect that was achieved via the extreme magnification involved in their very large canvases. What nevertheless was surprising was how well the ubiquitous and banal images of mass culture were suited as sujets for works of art. The literary equivalent to Pop Art was the integration and refinement of the structural patterns of popular genre literature and the wide use of the clichés of everyday speech. Much of the latter can be found, for instance, in works like Donald Barthelme's Snow White (1967), Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America (1967), or Stanley Elkin's The Dick Gibson Show (1971), while the preferred genres ranged from science fiction (as in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle (1963) and fantasy (as in Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar, 1968) to the detective novel [eher: conspiracy thriller] (as in Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, 1966) and crime fiction or `faction' (Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, 1966) as well as the western and the horror story (Richard Brautigan, The Hawkline Monster, 1974). And I should not forget to mention that the popular pattern of the horror story was used in feminist works like Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle (1976), Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve (1977), and in combination with science fiction in, for instance, Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1975) and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). While in the domain of postmodern art and literature Pop Art seemed so spectacular in its move beyond the previous limits of aesthetic taste that it appeared as another avant-garde movement, in the domain of theory the replacement of structuralism by poststructuralist ideas and deconstruction meant a similarly radical break with the previously dominant trend. After 1977, when Jacques Derrida's De la Grammatologie (1967) appeared in

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


English translation, deconstruction became the new orthodoxy. Yet even if poststructuralist thought looked like the theoretical base of postmodern literature and art, it has to be said that artists and writers had become postmodern even earlier, or at least at the same time as the theorists. This is borne out by works from the nineteen-sixties like Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1961), Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire (1962), and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying Lot of 49 (1966), novels with a clearly anti-foundationalist stance. And as to the free play of signifiers, where could one study it better than in Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America from 1967, a novel in which arbitrariness reigns supreme? The exhibition of arbitrariness was quite obviously also one of the objectives of the artists of the time, as can be gathered from the `combines' of Robert Rauschenberg (for instance, his "Monogram" from 1959), the `environments' of Claes Oldenburg ("Four Environments", 1963) or the `assemblages" of James Rosenquist ("Mixed Media", 1963), from `Earthworks' and `Land Art' like Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty" or Walter de Maria's "Lightning Field", and, above all, from most of the works belonging to `Concept Art' ­ for instance, the series of random photographs by Vito Acconci or John Dribbet. The radical relativization of validity stressed in poststructuralist theory is also a strong feature of earlier postmodern literature and art, where it takes the shape of irony and self-irony, parody, or travesty. I would just like to recall John Barth's parody of Ebenezer Cooke's verse satire The Sot-Weed Factor (1708) in his novel with the same title from 1960, or Donald Barthelme's satirical travesty Snow White (1967). That a relativizing ironical stance was also shared by postmodern artists is shown by the provocative celebration of the banal and the corresponding trivialization of the lofty and dignified, as in many of the paintings of Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, and Francesco Clemente, or the treatment of important German historical myths by Anselm Kiefer. As is well known, the integration of a self-ironical critical discourse in narrative became such a typical feature of some postmodern fiction that one soon spoke of `metafiction' as a new subgenre. Typical specimens are John Barth's novel Lost in the Funhouse and many of the postmodern short stories and tales of Donald Barthelme, Gilbert Sorrentino and Robert Coover. Metafiction was, however, only one particular kind of the mixing of discourses, styles and genre patterns that stood in absolute contrast to late modernist purism. Other examples include Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) with its combination of historical war novel


More Recent Changes in Literature, Art, and Theory

and science fiction and Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night (1968) with its blending of documentary prose and novelistic narration. * All these reminders of earlier postmodern art and literature are meant only to help us see more clearly how much different was most of what came after. One of the most astounding events in the domain of art was the appearance of the various "Neo"-movements from the late nineteenseventies onwards. Starting with the neo-expressionist painting of the "Neue Wilde", there soon reappeared an abstract geometrical art under the name of "Neo-Geo," which in turn was soon followed by "NeoConceptualism." Such an open declaration of `new' work as a variation and renovation of something already existing had been utterly impossible during modernism and actually been barred since absolute novelty became a decisive criterion of aesthetic quality with the eighteenth-century conception of the original genius. Suddenly the minimal difference of mere variation became not only acceptable, but ­ with its obvious déja-vu effect ­ even desirable. It is, for instance, hard, when contemplating Roni Horn's presentation of two parts of a severed beam ("Parted Mass") from 1985 to tell it apart from the works of Carl Andre in the nineteen-sixties, and frequently we also find `quotations' of earlier styles, as when Gerhard Richter's "Strich (auf Rot)" from 1980 alludes to the art informel of the 1950s, or even of particular works, for instance of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" (1893) in Enzo Cucchi's "Paesaggio Barbaro" (1983). What became visible in the nineteen-nineties was already the bewildering diversity of styles that still prevails to this day. There were some spectacular events like the covering of the Reichstag in Berlin by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1995, and a predilection for spatial arrangements showed also in the great variety of `installations'. Regarding painting, new abstract art (to which even someone like Georg Baselitz contributed) competed with `naive' realism and the various other kinds of `realism' that could be found, for instance, in the exhibition "Radical Realism After Picabia" that was in 2002 first shown in the Centre Pompidou and then in the Kunsthalle in Vienna. In the domain of literature, the changes that occurred in the late nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties were just as significant. The most remarkable new development was the return of more or less `realistic' storytelling, something observable on an international scale, although I will take my examples from British and American literature. In the United

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


States, `mainstream American realism' never stopped flowing even during the heyday of postmodernism (as, for instance, the successful series of John Updike's "Rabbit"-novels that began in 1960 testifies). Yet with the `minimalist', `dirty' or `new' realism of Raymond Carver (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, 1981) and Frederick Barthelme (Moon Deluxe, 1983), comparatively `straight' storytelling became more widespread again. In quite a few cases the postmodern `crisis of representation' still left its traces insofar as the rendering of reality is made to appear doubtful by various means. In novels like Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy (198586) or E.L. Doctorow's World's Fair (1986), the account of the past is made to appear ostensibly imperfect. As Gerhard Hoffmann has pointed out in his recent study From Modernism to Postmodernism (2005), in many American novels from the eighties and nineties the reality presented is marked by sudden disruptions of continuity that take the form of a mystery. While this may seem understandable in the works of an AfricanAmerican writer like Toni Morrison (for instance, in Beloved, 1987, and in Paradise, 1997) and those of a native American writer like Louise Erdrich (for instance, in The Beet Queen, 1986, or in Gardens in the Dunes, 1999), it surprises in novels like Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace, Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides, or The Corrections (2001) by Jonathan Franzen. The novels of Morrison and Erdrich are specimens of the so-called "hyphenated literatures" to which belong, besides African-American and Native-American, also Hispano-American literature (for instance, the successful novel Hunger of Memory (1982) by Richard Rodriguez), or Asian-American literature (for instance, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, 1977) . The revival of realistic narration in the United States meant also a reintroduction of social problems and social criticism such as we find it in Franzen's The Corrections, Philip Roth's The Human Stain (2000) and Richard Powers' The Time of Our Singing (2003). The fact that in the nineties there was still room for what Hoffmann has called "Strategies of Excess", strategies at work in the 835 pages of Harold Brodkey's epic adventure in consciousness called Runaway Soul (1991) and in the 1079 pages of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (1996) with their extreme multi-modality and excessive language games proves, however, how wide the range of recent writing is. In Britain, where the postmodern excesses were never as massive as in American literature, the nineteen-eighties brought a revival of the historical novel that included works with a metahistorical stance aptly


More Recent Changes in Literature, Art, and Theory

called historiographic metafiction. Among them were such successful novels as Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981), and Graham Swift's Waterland (1983), as well as Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot (1983) and Nigel Williams' Witchcraft (1987). And it is important to see that in the nineteen-eighties, feminist critique of society was also expressed in historiographic metafiction like Maureen Duffy's Illuminations: A Fable (1991) and Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger (1987). The revival of the historical novel comprised, however, also a considerable amount of more traditional storytelling, which began already with J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) and continued with J.G. Ballard's Empire of The Sun (1984), Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark (1982) as well as Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger (1992) and Morality Play (1995) and Louise de Bernière's Birds Without Wings (2004). More or less straight storytelling has also continued through this whole period in the novels of Ian McEwan (from The Cement Garden, 1978, to Atonement, 2001) and Martin Amis (from The Rachel Papers, 1974, to Yellow Dog, 2003). And it has to be noted that the British equivalents to the American novels belonging to the "hyphenated literatures", the very successful works of the so-called British `diaspora' writers Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day, 1989) and Hanif Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia, 1990), also rely above all on the persuasiveness of more or less realistic storytelling. What we find not only in recent art but also in recent literature is an aesthetic of minimal and often subtle variation of well-known themes and kinds of presentation1, and as such an aesthetic was the dominant one from the Renaissance of the twelfth century to the end of Neo-Classicism in the late eighteenth century ­ it may ­ of course with some reservations ­ be called `pre-modern'. In the domain of theory, the influence of Derrida remained strong, yet with Gilles Deleuze another important figure and theoretical position became very influential in the late seventies and eighties after the works he had published together with Félix Guattari, L'Anti-Oedipe: capitalisme et schizophrénie I (1972) and Mille Plateaux: capitalisme et schizophrénie II (1980) appeared in English translations (Anti-Oedipus, 1977, and Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1980). And in the late nineteen-eighties it showed that after the heyday of a-historical deconstruction the time was ripe for a return to history not only in the novel but also in the field of theory. In Britain, with investigations of the early modern construction of the subject and the legitimizing of power as


Cf. Grabes, "The Subtle Art of Variation: the New Aesthetic."

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


in Catherine Belsey's The Subject of Tragedy. Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (1985) the turn became quite visible, and with Jonathan Dollimore's and Alan Sinfield's critical anthology Political Shakespeare. New Essays in Cultural Materialism (1985) the new movement ­ which was `néo-marxisant' - also was named. In the United States, Stephen Greenblatt with his influential study Renaissance SelfFashioning. From More to Shakespeare (1980) had already a few years earlier initiated a new critical movement with similar aims, yet an even wider inclusion of cultural history, a movement that in the introduction to the periodical Genre form 1980 he called "New Historicism" and that showed its appeal to a great number of critics when H. Aram Veeser by the end of the decade brought out some of their essays under the same title. And though this historical turn was new regarding its particular aims and methodology, it was pre-modern in the sense that a similar tendency can neither be found in the period of modernism nor in earlier postmodernism with its slogan (adopted from Henry Ford) `history is bunk'. The nineteen-eighties were also the time when the earlier feminist Women's Studies were completed and replaced by Gender Studies with its basic differentiation between biological sex and cultural gender. The increased interest in the cultural construction of gender difference fitted well into the wider frame of the most comprehensive and influential theoretical movements after the end of deconstruction: cultural studies and cultural history. For with respect to the situation generally obtaining in the humanities, there seems to be no question that the `cultural turn' has prevailed for some time now. Already in 1994 the sociologist David Charney stated:

In the second half of the 20th century the theme of `culture' has dominated the human sciences. Concepts of culture have generated perspectives and methodologies that have challenged orthodoxies and attracted the energetic enthusiasm of young scholars.2

With the increasing sophistication of the theoretical base and the growth of practical experience, this trend has become even stronger in the meantime. English philology has turned into a kind of super-discipline by taking over, at least in part, the work of sociology, history, psychology and philosophy, not to mention media and gender studies. The range of possible objects of investigation under the label of `culture' has become almost unlimited. For that reason it seems advisable to limit the


Charney, The Cultural Turn, i.


More Recent Changes in Literature, Art, and Theory

perspective under which the various features and aspects of culture are approached. And because English Studies as an academic discipline is language-based, and language is the most elaborate sign-system we have, the expertise gained in dealing with language, language texts and literature appears to be an excellent qualification especially for a semiotic approach to culture. Such an approach, the treatment of culture as an "ensemble of texts,"3 an entanglement of sign-systems was widely disseminated in the 1970s by Clifford Geertz and the new American anthropology. Suddenly those who were experts in textual interpretation saw themselves as being particularly qualified to interpret not only literature but also culture. As I endeavoured to show in the 2001 volume of REAL on Literary History/ Cultural History: Force-Fields and Tensions,4 the notions of 'culture' in recent and current research are nevertheless anything but uniform, and this is also demonstrated, for instance, by the many relevant entries in the Metzler Lexikon Kultur der Gegenwart5 and in the quite recent monograph by Doris Bachmann-Medick called Cultural Turns: Neuorientierungen in den Kulturwissenschaften. There is, however, a substantial ensemble of conceptions that are widely shared despite considerable differences. Culture by now is seen as an historical formation that, despite the hegemonic power structures already pointed out by Gramsci,6 encompasses multiple forces and positions,7 as a site of forms of ideological and political contestation in which ­ to use the terms introduced by Raymond Williams - dominant, residual and emergent forces coexist.8 This view has led to a closer investigation of how cultural formations are stabilized ­ and I refer to the relevant studies of Pierre Bourdieu9, Michel de Certeau10, Louis Althusser11, Alan Sinfield12, and Catherine Belsey13 ­ as well as to an intensive search for possible and effective counter-measures. Culture ­ though materially manifested and linked to institutions ­ comes to be investigated in a signifying approach primarily as an

3 4

Cf. Geertz, "Deep Play." Cf. Grabes, "Literary History and Cultural History: Relations and Difference." 5 Ralf Schnell, ed. 6 Cf. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks. 7 Cf. Greenblatt, Shakespearian Negotiations. 8 Williams, Culture and Society. 9 Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice. 10 de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life. 11 Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." 12 Sinfield, Faultlines. 13 Belsey, "Reading Cultural History."

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


immaterial construct, a web of meanings. In this sense it had already been made the subject of the histoire de mentalités14 with its inquiry into collective sense-making, and it is also found in Pierre Bourdieu's sociological focus on "habitus"15 and symbolic exchange16 as well as in Catherine Belsey's observation that "cultural history records meanings and values."17 This is very close to my own view that culture is above all an ensemble of values18 which, as Bourdieu has observed,19 form hierarchies and in this way make cultures special and differ from one another. Such hierarchies of values only become culturally significant by having been collectively accepted. It is therefore necessary to investigate a great number of documents from various fields of discourse in order to discern the recurrent validations. In this respect, the study of culture differs significantly from the study of literature, for what finally counts in the latter is the singularity of a particular work, a singularity which even allows for a distancing from the prevailing hierarchy of values. There are several fields within the domain of the study of culture that in the past two decades have received more attention than others. That one of them is cultural memory is not surprising after Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities from 1983 and Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger in their The Invention of Tradition from the same year not only pointed out the importance of this part of culture but also its being largely a construction. Cultural memory then became a favourite field of research in Germany, beginning with some groundbreaking works such as the critical anthology Kultur und Gedächtnis (1988), edited by Jan Assmann and Tonio Hölscher, Mnemosyne: Formen und Funktionen der kulturellen Erinnerung (1991), edited by Aleida Assmann and Dietrich Harth, and Jan Assmann's Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen (1992). Further investigations such as those undertaken on a large scale at my own university made evident, however, that even regarding the same country at one and the same historical moment it is more appropriate to speak of cultures of memory than of a single homogeneous culture of memory. Some of the results of the pertinent research have been published in the critical anthologies Literatur, Erinnerung, Identität (2003), edited by Astrid Erll, Marion

14 15

Le Goff, Histoire et mémoire. Boudieu, The Logic of Practice. 16 Bourdieu, "The Market of Symbolic Goods." 17 Belsey, "Reading Cultural History", 107 18 Grabes, "Culture ­ Semiotic System and Myth 19 Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice.


More Recent Changes in Literature, Art, and Theory

Gymnich, and Ansgar Nünning, Erinnerung, Gedächtnis, Wissen. Studien zur kulturwissenschaftlichen Gedächtnisforschung (2005), edited by Günter Oesterle, and Literature, Literary History, and Cultural Memory which I myself brought out in 2005. The strong historical interest that motivates such recent work is definitely pre-modernist, even if not pre-modern in respect to late eighteenth century modernization. The same can be said for the ethical turn that began when Hillis Miller published his deconstructionist Ethics of Reading (1987) and such humanist critics as Wayne C. Booth with The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (1988), David Parker with Ethics, Theory and the Novel (1994) and Leona Toker with Commitment in Reflection: Essays in Literature and Moral Philosophy, edited in 1994, began doing what philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre had started with his widely acclaimed study After Virtue (1981) and what Charles Taylor with his Sources of the Self (1989), Richard Rorty with Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989), Martha Nussbaum with Love's Knowledge (1990) and Zygmunt Baumann with his Postmodern Ethics (1993) continued. That in the nineteen-nineties the ethical turn had definitely also taken place in the domain of literary criticism and theory can be derived from the appearance of such critical anthologies as Ethics and Aesthetics: The Moral Turn of Postmodernism (1996) or The Ethics of Literature (1999) as well as Andrew Gibson's Postmodernity, Ethics and the Novel (1999). Since then there have been various attempts to prove that even postmodern metafiction has an ethical dimension, and as the contributions to a conference in May 2006 at Giessen on "Ethics in Culture: The Dissemination of Values through Literature and Other Media" showed,20 the more general discussion of the topic has by no means come to an end. A further field not much explored during modernism, neglected in the period of earlier postmodernism, and revived in the nineteen-nineties in view of the threatening hegemony of the study of culture, is the theory of literature. In surveying theoretical endeavours to distinguish `literature' in a narrower sense from other texts, one will find that some have focused on textual features or markers and others on the professed or assumed relation between text and the life-world. With regard to the latter, the most persuasive recent plea for what has traditionally been called fictionality has, in my view, been presented by Jacques Derrida. In an interview from 1989 that was published in 1992 in English translation under the title "This Strange Institution Called Literature," he argued that it is the


They will soon be published under the same title with de Gruyter in Berlin.

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


"suspended relation to meaning and reference" that gives to literature "in principle the power to say everything, to break free of the rules, to displace them, and thereby to institute, to invent and even suspect the traditional difference between nature and institution, nature and conventional law, nature and history."21 Literary discourse thus opens up, inhabits and circumscribes a free space within culture, a space for that "free play" within the interaction between the fictive and the imaginary that Wolfgang Iser has shown to be one of the specific effects of literary texts.22 In 1992 Pierre Bourdieu in Les Règles de l'art: genèse et structure du champ littéraire had sought to delimit what he called "the literary field in the field of power," a field that is a "real challenge to all forms of economism" because it "presents itself as an inverted economic world: those who enter it have an interest in disinterestedness."23 And Timothy J. Reiss, being convinced that "literature alters its role, its action, its forms of practice as the environment of which it is a part evolves," in his study The Meaning of Literature from the same year attempted to delineate the genesis and further development of "what we have called `literature'"24 from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century. Subsequently, the increasing dominance of the cultural paradigm seems to have called forth further appeals in favour of literature. In 1999 there appeared Peter Widdowson's Literature in the New Critical Idiom series, a work in which the author, though still using the term `literature' in the title, replaces it with the label "the literary," a "working term for the kind of written discourse I believe has some irreplaceable uses in our society."25 As the distinguishing features of literary discourse he regards "its own sense of being `of the literary',"26 its "'making' [...] `poetic realities',"27 and ­ quoting Althusser ­ its capacity to achieve "a retreat, an internal distancing"28 from the ideology within which it is held. To demonstrate the value of what he considers as an endangered species, J. Hillis Miller in 2002 published his On Literature. He holds that, owing to "the creation or discovery of a new, supplementary world, a metaworld, a hyper-reality," "all literary works can be usefully thought of

Derrida, "This Strange Institution Called Literature" 48. Iser, "Interplay Between the Fictive and the Imaginary." 23 Quoted from the English translation The Rules of Art, 215-16. 24 Reiss, The Meaning of Literature, 2-3. 25 Widdowson, Literature, 92. 26 Ibid., 96. 27 Ibid., 100. 28 Althusser, "A Letter on Art in Reply to André Daspre" 204, quoted by Widdowson, Literature, 118.

22 21


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as a species of magic"29 ­ a species by which the beliefs and behaviour of readers can be changed. Not too far away from this view is Derek Attridge's definition of "the literary" as an event in The Singularity of Literature, which appeared in 2004. What he considers as the distinstive feature of literary texts is a "reformulation of norms," yet it "is only when the event of this reformulation is experienced by the reader [...] as an event, an event which opens up new possibilities of meaning and feeling (understood as verbs), or, more accurately, the event of such opening, that we can speak of the literary."30 In contrast to such focussing on the individual impact of literary texts, Catherine Belsey in her essay on "The Possibility of Literary History" highlights their specific cultural function:

literature confronts the outer edges of language, and thereby the limits of the culture inscribed in language. It thus marks the finitude of all culture, and the relativity of all cultures, and in the process the finitude and relativity of the subject that is their effect, as well as pointing to a relation of difference between language and the real that resides beyond the purview of culture.31

What I have not found in any of these more recent attempts to differentiate literature from other discourses is the very important fact that what we encounter in literature ­ in contrast to philosophy and other kinds of theoretical discourse ­ is overwhelmingly particular and even wholly individual: specific places, moments in time, characters with personal names, idiosyncratic ways of speaking and acting, thinking and feeling. Literary discourse renders possible and motivates an imaginary experience of the particular in its outer physicality or inner concreteness rather than offering general notions to the reasoning mind. The consequence of this presentation of the particular is a confinement of the claim to validity of its statements, a validational modesty which theoretical discourse, due to the general nature of conceptual language, hardly ever possesses. And it is an even greater degree of validational modesty that differentiates literature from all narratives with a genuine truth claim, especially the otherwise similar narratives of historical discourse or the more empirical kind of sociological and psychological discourse. In this respect, literature is 'only literature', but as the "suspension of reference" renders the affirmative or

29 30

Miller, On Literature, 20-21. Attridge, The Singularity of Literature, 59. 31 Belsey, "The Possibility of Literary History," 47.

Postmodernism and After: Visions and Revisions


negating statements in literary texts merely quasi-statements from the point of view of epistemology, literature is also far less bound by the cogency of religious, moral, juridical and other collective norms. And this is, of course, an important precondition for the ability of literature to make us aware of the limits of the culture of its origin and indirectly of the boundaries of every culture. One could also say that the cultural value of literature resides in the function of the seemingly functionless. Instead of operating with the dichotomy "Culture or Literature," to me it makes much more sense to investigate and historically trace the interaction between the wider and the narrower sphere.32 As I see it, the study of the one cannot adequately be pursued without taking due cognizance of the other. We cannot rightfully claim for a literary work any excellence deriving from its transcendence of the limits of culture within it was produced without having obtained a wider knowledge of that culture through the study of a variety of other discourses. Nor can we fully understand the way in which a culture, despite the many control mechanisms operating to keep it stable, may yet be changed from within without giving due attention to its literature. Yet in spite of this important function literature possesses for the development of culture I think that Hillis Miller is right when he says that the current trend is towards the study of culture and away from the study of literature.33 This has not least to do with the fact that literature has been studied in detail for quite a while and that it takes some ingenuity to come up with something really attractive and novel, while it looks as if in the field of the study of culture there are plenty of new research opportunities that do not demand so much intellectual effort. And precisely because of this situation I would implore you to take good care of literature. There are, after all, also other disciplines such as sociology and history in which culture is studied, while literature in the academy is entirely at our mercy: it is our spirit, resolve, solidarity and bare-knuckled criticism and analysis (not to forget, however, the persistent energy of the writers themselves and the manipulative genius of the marketplace) that help keep its singular quality and function in collective memory. While the topic of the relationship between culture and literature can be considered as being also pre-modern if one brackets the differences in vocabulary, what has to be admitted is that there are also quite important fields of more recent theory that are definitely not pre-modern. What I am referring to are especially the theory of gender and the theoretical

32 33

Cf. Grabes, "Literary History and Cultural History: Relations and Difference." Cf. Miller, On Literature, 10.


More Recent Changes in Literature, Art, and Theory

reflection implied in such fast-growing research areas as Translation Studies, Media Studies and Intermediality. Yet though one is easily drawn into one of these areas, they do not fall into the frame of my present topic. It will have been noticed, I assume, that as in the domains of art and literature, there is to be found in our time no hegemony of a particular school, method or aspect of attention in the domain of theory. We have largely given up what Lyotard has called grands récits,34 overarching stories that comprise all and everything. Instead, one operates with theories of a medium level of abstraction which are closer to the area of the phenomena to be explained and therefore probably more helpful. There is, however, one general assumption to be found in almost all current theories of culture or domains of culture, and that is that culture is a construct. For epistemological reasons I would even go one step further and say that we can consider this as a good operative principle and leave open the question whether this is `really' so. As research practice shows, this assumption encourages the search not only for the specificity of a particular culture but also for the political and historical reasons why it is as it is. This means that our basic stance in the domain of theory has remained postmodern ­ or even become more sceptical and pragmatist than the strong belief in poststructuralist ideas to be found in the earlier phase of postmodernism really implied. As in the domains of art and literature, this allows also in the domain of theory for a multitude of competing views and models, and if our age is therefore perhaps plagued by a "Neue Unübersichtlichkeit"35, a lack of clear orientation, as a healing grace it is certainly not boring and also less compulsive than earlier ages ­ at least in the West. Let us try to make use of the chances offered by this situation and defend it if and wherever necessary.

Works Cited

Secondary Sources

Althusser, Louis. "A Letter on Art in Reply to André Daspre." In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Transl. Ben Brewster. London: New Left Books, 1971.

34 35

Cf. Lyotard, La Condition postmoderne, section 10. Under this title Jürgen Habermas in 1985 published his attack on the postmodern abandonment of the "project of modernity."


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