A Look At Modernism Vs Postmodernism English Literature Essay

The purpose of this first chapter is to indicate out the chief differences and similarities between two literary tendencies: modernism and postmodernism. Although the later is normally defined through the former, theoreticians like Ihab Hassan, Fredric Jameson, argue that postmodernism has clear-cut borders and features. It ‘s really of import to advert these facets because the two novels dealt on later in the thesis belong to these tendencies. I will non merely advert the theoretical facets, but I will besides supply clear illustrations to asseverate my avowals.

Theoretical issues

There are tonss of contentions refering the beginning of modernism. Some argue that it surely began in 1859 with the publication of Darwin ‘s The Origin of Species, others claim that it began in 1912 with the introduction of Imagism in the teashop of the British Museum. Virginia Woolf herself states that modernism began in 1910, the day of the month of the first post-Impressionist exhibition in London. Irrespective of the twelvemonth when it emerged, modernism represents a “ a deliberate and extremist interruption with the traditional bases both of Western civilization and of Western art ” and those who made this interruption “ are minds who questioned the certainties that had hitherto provided a support to societal organisation, faith, morality, and the construct of the human ego ” ( M.H Abrahams 108 ) .

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Despite the trouble to specify modernism, there are established characteristics that define it thematically and historically. One of these is the demand to get away or at least exceed the certainties of the 19th century. Modernism is like the demand to rouse from “ the incubus of history, ” as Nietzsche said, and besides the demand to “ do it new ” . Another of import such characteristic is the challenging of pragmatism, in the literary field. Realism itself was one time a new advanced manner of authorship, with writers such as Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson etc. Throughout the modern literary history, pragmatism remains the favourite manner of authorship, but many authors have come up with alternate ways of stand foring world. In prose modernism is associated with the rendition of human subjectiveness more existent than pragmatism. In order to accomplish this, authors have started stand foring consciousness, perceptual experience, emotion, the relation of the person with the society through all sorts of tools such as the watercourse of consciousness, interior soliloquy, defamiliarisation.

Norman Cantor has offered a Model of Modernism with the undermentioned features: anti-historicism- truth is non evolutionary and it requires tonss of analysis-focus on the micro-cosmos, self-referentiality, tilting towards the disjointed and the disintegrated. All these characteristics are considered a sort of response to the great alterations brought approximately by the new century: industrialisation, urban society, war and even the new philosophical thoughts, but besides instruments with which the writers attempt to throw off the load of pragmatism.

English writers whose plants best reveal complex combinations of these characteristics are Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, William Golding etc. Many critics argue that the latter belongs to postmodernism, but there are many traits in his work that clearly bind him to modernism, as it will be revealed subsequently in this thesis.

Jean-Francois Lyotard speaks about modernism and postmodernism as two aesthetics of the sublime. The sublime is defined as what is conceived even though there are no representations of it either in world or imaginativeness. Therefore a common characteristic of these tendencies is self-reflexivity.

modern aesthetics is an aesthetic of the sublime, though a nostalgic one. It allows the unprepossessing to be put frontward merely as the losing contents ; but the signifier, because of its recognizable consistence, continues to offer to the reader or viewer affair for consolation and pleasance [ aˆ¦ ] The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts frontward the unprepossessing in presentation itself ; that which denies itself the consolation of good signifiers, the consensus of a gustatory sensation which would do it possible to portion jointly the nostalgia for the unachievable ; that which searches for new presentations [ . . . ] in order to leave a stronger sense of the unprepossessing ( Lyotard 46 ) .

Postmodernist literature, similar postmodernism as a whole, is difficult to specify and there is small understanding on the exact features, range, and importance of postmodern literature. However, uniting characteristics frequently coincide with Jean-Francois Lyotard ‘s construct of the “ meta-narrative ” and Jacques Derrida ‘s construct of “ drama. ” For illustration, alternatively of the modernist pursuit for intending in a helter-skelter universe, the postmodern writer avoids, frequently playfully, the possibility of significance, and the postmodern novel is frequently a lampoon of this quest. This misgiving of totalising mechanisms extends even to the writer ; therefore postmodern authors frequently celebrate opportunity over trade and employ metafiction.

Ihab Hassan in his essay Beyond Postmodernism states that postmodernism is over and that we have entered the age of Postmodernity. “ Hype and exaggeration, lampoon and kitsch, media flashiness and ideological malice, the sheer insatiate irrealism of consumer societies all helped to turn postmodernism into a conceptual ectoplasm. ” He besides argues that in this new universe that was created there is a changeless demand to redefine oneself, to detect new dealingss between egos and others, borders and centres, fragments and wholes. These facets theorized by Hassan are absolutely applicable to literature. Postmodern novels trade with an inner world which is invariably at alteration harmonizing to the experiences of the characters. While in modern novels the relation to world, the attitudes toward it are seen as an experimental reflection of the interior world, realized through defamiliarisation, in postmodern novels this relation represents a refraction of commodified, mass-reproduced discourse and besides a return to pleasance and to secret plan.

Brian McHale, another of import postmodern theoretician differentiates modernism from postmodernism through the construct of the dominant. He states that the dominant of modernist fiction is epistemic, that is, modernist fiction foregrounds inquiries like: What is there to be known? Who knows it? How can I cognize this universe of which I am a portion? What are the bounds of the cognizable? And so on. Postmodernism, on the other manus, has an ontological dominant, therefore it foregrounds inquiries like: Which universe is this? What is to be done? Which of my egos is traveling to make it? This displacement of dominant, from epistemic to ontological is really a displacement from jobs of cognizing to jobs of being.

In order to indicate out, and to do clear the common elements and the divergent attitudes of modernism and postmodernism, I have included a tabular array including most of these.

Common elements

Divergent attitudes



Formal fragmentariness






Pulling on popular civilization

Foregrounding of constructedness



Cultural advancement


Cynically resisted

Radically doubted










Crono-topical contextualization of the text



William Golding and Modernism

William Golding was born on September 19, 1911, in Cornwall, England, the boy of Alec Golding, a distinguished school teacher. He was an unusual reader as a male child, and at the age of 12 he was decided to compose a novel on the trade brotherhood motion. His parents did n’t back up him in his authorship and urged him to analyze natural scientific disciplines. Golding followed his parents ‘ wants until the 2nd twelvemonth at Oxford, when he changed his focal point on English literature. After graduation he worked as an histrion and as manager, and in his trim clip he wrote poesy.

In 1940, a twelvemonth after England joined the war, Golding joined the Royal Navy. This experience had a great impact upon his position of humanity, as it can be seen in his novels. After the war he dedicated his clip to learning and to composing novels. His first published fresh Lord of the Flies, and his greatest success, became a best seller both in Britain and in America, after more than 20 publication houses rejected it. Although he ne’er matched the popular and critical success he enjoyed with Lord of the Fliess, he remained a respected and distinguished writer for the remainder of his life and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983. Golding died in 1993, as one of the most acclaimed authors of the 2nd half of the 20th century.

Lord of the Flies tells the narrative of a group of English schoolboys. They are the lone subsisters of a plane clang during a war, and they find themselves on a abandoned island. The male childs shortly realize that they need a leader so they elect Ralph. As a leader, Ralph selects Jack to be responsible for runing. After an geographic expedition of the island, Simon comes up with the thought that they should illume a fire to pull the attending of the passing ships. Unfortunately the unmonitored fire engulfs the forest.

At foremost, the male childs enjoy their life without grownups, and spend most of their clip playing. But after a piece they split in two groups ; some work together to keep the order, while the others rebel, they descent into savageness seeking for force.

Lord of the Flies is a fresh which from its publication was interpreted in many different ways. Some critics claim that the novel is a modernist one, while others strongly disapprove this thought saying that Lord of the Flies is doubtless a postmodernist novel. In order to turn out that Golding ‘s novel is modernist, I will get down by adverting one really of import component which the modernist writers frequently embrace: history.

History is non rejected in Golding ‘s novel. The English male childs find themselves during a war. Their plane has crashed seemingly because an atomic bomb. Their rupture with the English civilisation is a symbol of Nietzsche ‘s demand to rouse from the “ incubus of history. ” Here, on the abandoned island, the immature male childs create a universe of their ain, a new universe, which in fact is non really different from the one they already knew. Golding ‘s experience with the war let him cognize the really different ways in which people respond to emphasize, alteration and tenseness.

Another of import facet of modernism which is present in Golding ‘s novel is the epistemic dominant. When they get on the island the kids are eager to cognize everything about it and therefore inquiries like: What is there to be known? Who knows it? How can I cognize this universe? emerge in their heads. Slowly every one of them gets the reply to these inquiries. The kids are non the lone 1s who are left with these inquiries, the reader besides. When get downing to read the text, legion inquiries emerge in the reader ‘s head, and in the instance of Lord of the Fliess they are related to the epistemic dominant. In this regard, the reader epistemic advancement through the novel imitates the manner we get empirical cognition of the existent societal and physical universe by agencies of observation of inside informations, behaviour and events.

An of import trait that differentiates modernism from postmodernism is the crono-topical contextualization. While modernism attempts to avoid, and sometimes even reject it wholly, postmodernist writers foreground it. Therefore in Golding ‘s novel there are no exact day of the months or names of topographic points, everything is obscure. The reader merely gets to cognize that the male childs find themselves during a war, they are the lone subsisters and they are on a abandoned island. What we know precisely is that they are British and that the action takes topographic point at the morning of the following universe war. We can merely presume that this is the Cold War, since the book was written in the 1950 ‘s.

Even if Golding does n’t advert the exact topographic point and clip when the novel takes topographic point, it can still be considered a realistic novel. Of class that I do non intend realistic in the sense of the Enlightenment. During the 20th century realist authorship became the focal point of critical onslaught, because both modernism and postmodernism, have tried to specify themselves against their ain versions of pragmatism and have created a many-faceted review of realist signifiers. Both tendencies tend non to concentrate any longer on the external world. They have moved the thought of world to the interior universe. In this sense, Golding attempts to show the interior life of the male childs, their feelings, their thoughts. He manages to make this excellently because of his ain experience with the war.

Ian McEwan and postmodernism

McEwan was born in Aldershot, Hampshire, on 21 June 1948, the boy of David McEwan and Rose Lilian Violet. He spent much of his childhood in East Asia, Germany and North Africa, where his male parent, a Scots ground forces officer, was posted. His household returned to England when he was twelve. He was educated at Woolverstone Hall School ; the University of Sussex, having his grade in English literature in 1970 ; and the University of East Anglia, where he was one of the first alumnuss of Malcolm Bradbury ‘s open uping originative authorship class.

Considered as a great pioneer of British literature and frequently compared to D.H. Lawrence, McEwan published for the first clip in 1975 a aggregation of short narratives entitled First Love Last Rites, aggregation which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976. He achieved ill fame in 1979 when the BBC suspended production of his drama Solid Geometry because of its supposed lewdness. But his best authorship came in 2001 ; Atonement is a novel that was named by the Times Magazine the best book of 2002, and which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, although at first it was considered his weakest novel.

Atonement is a book written in three major parts, with a concluding denouement from the writer. Separate one tells the narrative of one twenty-four hours and dark in 1935 at the Tallis household estate North of London, England. It focuses on Briony Tallis, the thirteen-year-old youngest girl of three, who aspires to be a author. Briony witnesses a scene between her older sister Cecilia and the boy of the household cleaning woman Robbie Turner. What is an guiltless act is greatly misunderstood by the immature imaginativeness, and this sets off a series of events with ageless effects. Separate Two takes topographic point five old ages subsequently. It follows Robbie Turner as he retreats done France as a soldier during the war. The reader has learned he served three old ages in prison for his offense and is now able to acquit himself by functioning in the ground forces. Part Three picks up the eighteen-year-old Briony who has signed up as a nurse in London. Suffering from guilt for her offense as miss, Briony hopes nursing will move as a repentance for her wickedness. The concluding subdivision, London, 1999, is a missive from the writer to the reader. It is revealed here that the writer of the novel is Briony herself.

Many readers have been disappointed by this unexpected auctorial stoping. Briony even anticipates them: “ I know there ‘s ever a certain sort of reader who will be compelled to inquire, But what truly happened? ” The reply is simple McEwan has Briony write, and in this manner fiction victory, a thing achieved non by many writers. This postmodern sort of stoping is truly dramatic and at the same clip really sympathetic for readers.

In Atonement the writer decides what truly happened. That is what fiction is. And here, for one time, the writer has presented his determination in a near-perfect mode, in peculiar because he shows so good how this peculiar world ( or un-reality ) came about ( and leaves the inevitable lingering inquiries of what can be believed, of what is truth and what is desirous thought and what pure innovation ) . Questions remain but McEwan makes a convincing instance for their needing to stay, and for readers necessitating to face them.

Fiction does n’t offer certainty, or absolute replies. It is nil like factual, actual truth. But McEwan here shows why this fiction-truth is better, and what astonishing power fiction has. In other words, the truth in Atonement is constructed by Briony with the aid of the writer. This is a postmodern characteristic by definition.

Another postmodern trait in the novel is the presence of history. If in the modern novels, history is embraced and treated as such, in postmodern novels it is diversified ; it becomes histories, herstory. In McEwan ‘s novel we are faced with herstory, Briony ‘s. She presents us her life, the offense she committed, but besides the narrative of Cecilia ‘s and Robbie ‘s lives.

The narrative of Briony ‘s life is full of inquiries refering herself and others. She is oppugning most of all the cogency of what she has seen the dark when her cousin was raped. The ontological inquiries she ‘s inquiring herself, of the sort What is to be done? She entirely decides that she has to impeach Robbie of ravishing Lola. This thing is destroying two lives, Cecilia ‘s and Robbie ‘s. Subsequently on in the novel, in order to do the things right she decides she has to make something, so she gets a occupation as a nurse in a infirmary, merely like her sister. There she begins to compose, what becomes by the terminal of the fresh Atonement. But will she obtain it? Will she be forgiven by her household and by her readers? These are inquiries that remain unreciprocated.



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