2007-08 BM1: Session 7

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Back to 2007-08 BM1 Introduction to the Critical and Scholarly Discussion of Literature, Part 1

Received notions

First half of 20c:

  • aesthetic modernism, breaking with the general public and with representation; representing the fragmentation of modernity
  • modernism of contents: aesthetically conservative, but highly transgressive contents (especially sexuality)

Second half of 20c

  • Postmodernism: a playful and self-conscious use of aesthetic techniques, and attempt to “bridge the gap between high and popular culture by mixing elements of both”
  • Radical postmodernism in the US (Pynchon, Barth, ), moderate postmodernism in Britain
  • The emergence of Postcolonial fiction (Commonwealth literature, third-world literature), new questions, new perspective, new options.
  • In contrast to the continent, the British market for fiction unites a potential wide popular appeal and the potential for high artistic achievement
Linda Hutcheon, Brian McHale, Postmodern Fiction (schaubild)

Linguistic turn: Undercutting of originality, language speaks us.

Second thoughts

  • Can modernism and postmodernism really be distinguished?
  • Progress of contents vs. progress of technique

This creates a set of convenient problems with a predictable set of topics for discussion and a predictable spectrum of possible positions. (examples…)

On the other hand, it leaves a great many factors out of consideration:

  • It does not reflect its own role (the role of the critical and scholarly discussion of literature) in relation to the production of fiction.
  • In the 20c, the school syllabus makes English fiction into a central element of the secondary education system.
  • Universities begin to train the teachers required for this education system.
  • National and international prizes that channel public attention.
  • Transmedial presence of fictional works (adaptations)
  • Fiction becomes the core of literary production, the contemporary version of relevant production in world literature. Fiction is turned into an object of higher education, of higher culture.
  • (expansion of the anglosphere; English as global medium of communication, as the language of the internet)
  • The discussion enabled by the received notions occurs in a homogeneous setting which its controversial issues gloss over and do not take into account.

A more comprehensive view of fiction in the 20c

  • would emphasise the homogeneity of the field, its continuity with 19c patterns. (e.g. signs of fictionality in Satanic Verses comp. to Middlemarch)
  • The links between the scholarly, the educational, the general critical, approaches and exchanges.
  • Openness towards all sorts of texts, intertextuality, interdiscursivity.
  • Corresponding generalization of interpretive activity (poetics of culture).

What do we do with a 20c novel?

  • How does it exhibit its poetics? (narrative techniques etc.)
  • Integration into wider cultural exchanges:
  • by what topics or techniques does it aim at a “parallel discussion”, a wider contemporary debate, which it invites a chosen set of participants to engage in under special conditions. (Contrast Middlemarch und SV).
  • how is the discussion of this work positioned (what sustains it, who participates in it), how is this addressed.

How does it take a position towards a literary tradition, towards other traditions? (intextuality)

Conclusions reaching beyond the scope of this lecture

  • The retrospective homogeneity (anti-retrospective textualisation),
  • Different games, different constructions.
  • Are we (still) postmodern?
  • We accept the constructedness.
  • We reject the arbitrariness, “anything goes” (In this, we go along with the cultural turn...)