English 9128B

British Post-Post Modernism

Professor A. Lee
Winter Half Course.

Charles Jencks once characterized postmodernism as “the continuation of modernity and its transcendence” (What is Postmodernism? 15). This is an interesting comment through which to contemplate post-postmodernism because, while postmodernism as an epoch may be dead, its spectre remains and an afterimage persists. It is perhaps too soon to know whether “transcendence” is a term we can apply to contemporary fiction, but when Patrick O’Donnell makes the point that contemporary writers “regard postmodern experimentation as something of a toolbox; their writing is hybrid, by turns engaging in renovated forms of realism and linguistic playfulness, at once honoring generic traditions and mangling them in the mash-up or the parodic overture” (MFS 58.3431), he seems to suggest lines of both difference and continuity. Certainly, contemporary writing has taken new directions, especially with regard to the archeological and didactic aspects of “historiographic metafiction. Postmodernism’s self-conscious focus on the “graphic” part of historiographic metafiction seems to have been replaced, in a number of texts, by an overt concern with politics, specifically with cultures of violence and crisis, brought about not just by armed conflict, but by post-industrialism, unemployment and austerity. As Lauren Berlant has argued, neoliberal economic policies mobilize instability (Cruel Optimism, 192), and that instability is evident in contemporary fiction’s representations of history, genre and identity. The course will combine critical and theoretical readings on contemporary culture with contemporary fiction.  The course will begin with Graham Swift’s postmodern novel, Waterland (1983). Depending on availability, the novels on the course will include: Ian McEwan Saturday (2005); Zadie Smith On Beauty (2005); A.L. Kennedy Day (2007); Andrea Levy Small Island (2004); David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet (2010); Ali Smith How to be Both (2014); Helen Oyeyemi, White is for Witching (2009); Jenni Fagan, The Panopticon (2012); Scarlett Thomas, The End of Mr. Y (2008).

View the course syllabus here: English 9128B.