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Introduction: Historicizing Postmodernist Fiction

From: Narrative
Volume 21, Number 3, October 2013
pp. 263-270 | 10.1353/nar.2013.0017

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In today’s academic research and publications, one term still frequently appears in different forms in conferences and journals: postmodernism or postmodern or post-modernity. Although people might well think that postmodernism has long come to an end, it is indeed still influential through its fragments. I here borrow Jacques Derrida’s word from The Specters of Marx (1994): the specters of postmodernism have now permeated all the aspects of our culture and life as well as theoretical discourse.

It is true that postmodernism was once one of the most heatedly discussed and debated theoretical topics, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s in North American literary and cultural circles. Later, it traveled to Europe and became a powerful philosophical and intellectual movement. Finally, it became a sort of “international postmodernism” (Bertens and Fokkema). Whether there even is such a thing as post-modernism has been, and will continue to be, controversial, not only in the West, but also elsewhere in the world. For the past thirty years or more, the debate about postmodernism or postmodernity has been of acute interest to major Euro-American scholars and critics in the humanities and social sciences. It has involved almost all the major literary and cultural scholars, both from the West and from the East. Over the course of this international postmodernism debate, the term has undergone continual redefinition and redescription. Such eminent Western theorists and thinkers as Jean-François Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Matei Călinescu, Ihab Hassan, Leslie Fiedler, Douwe Fokkema, Hans Bertens, Linda Hutcheon, Jonathan Arac, and Brian McHale, among others, have offered their own definitions and descriptions of postmodernism, both in culture and in literature. Their constructs are, however, based largely on Western practices, seldom touching on literary and cultural practices elsewhere.

Fredric Jameson’s construction of postmodernism, in particular, based as it is on the periodization of capitalism, would automatically exclude Asia, although Asia has both such developing countries as China and India and developed ones such as Japan and Korea. Some, moreover, have extended the scope of postmodernity to Asian and other Third World cultures and literatures (Dirlik and Zhang). Until only ten years ago, many Western scholars who thought that postmodernism does, in fact, exist held nevertheless that it is a Western phenomenon, irrelevant to Third World and Asian societies, which lack the conditions for postmodernity. But in reality, uneven development in politics, economy, and culture undoubtedly manifests itself as postindustrial symptoms in the economy and postmodern elements in political life and culture in these societies, too. To that end, the articles in this special issue will confirm that postmodernism is by no means merely a Western phenomenon; it also appears in different forms elsewhere. So the grand narrative of (global) postmodernism has finally been relocated to different (local) “petites histoires ” (Lyotard).

Despite the fact that there are different versions of postmodernism, or multiple postmodernisms, in this issue we confine the definition of this controversial concept to literature, focusing on the narrative techniques practiced by those who seem to believe that there is such a thing as postmodernism and who consciously apply post-modern ideas or doctrines to their fictional writing. As I have argued (Wang, “Mapping”), postmodernism, with regard to its literary practice in Asia and elsewhere, could be redescribed in terms of the following eight forms it has assumed within the scope of literature and culture alone: (1) a fundamental cultural phenomenon in highly developed capitalist countries or postindustrial societies that occasionally appears in unevenly developed regions within underdeveloped countries; (2) a kind of worldview, or a way of looking at the world and life, in which the world is no longer a world of totality but rather one of plurality, fragmentation, and decentralization; (3) a main current of literature and art after the waning of modernism, both continuous and discontinuous with modernism, and relevant both to avant-garde experimentation and to popular literature; (4) a narrative style or kind of discourse that is characterized by suspicion of “master narratives,” or “metanarratives,” and that resorts to devices of nonselection or quasi-nonselection and to a certain “schizophrenic” structure of the text, in which meaning is actually decentralized in the course of a...

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