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How To Be A Postmodern Writer

What is Postmodern Literature?

A commonly quoted phrase originating with philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard refers to Postmodernism as an "Incredulity towards meta-narratives". But how is this sentiment expressed in literature? The phrase which I most closely associate with the notion of postmodern literature is "Death of the Author". The phrase itself originated with literary critic Roland Barthes, in his quest to define a new mode of interpreting literary works where the intentions of their authors are less relevant than the impressions of readers. In each reading of a novel, the story is born anew in the mind of the reader. The writer's text may be a document of the cultural, historical and language influences impinging on the mind of the author at the time of writing, but it is how these forces shape the mind of the reader at the time of reading which is more relevant in understanding the meaning of a novel or any other form of language art. The authors intended narrative is overshadowed by the relativistic experience of the reader: the author as a god-like figure directing the reader's experience is dead.

Many post-WW2 novels seem to confirm the author's new role as a conduit or assembler (rather than creator) of a written work. William S. Burroughs is perhaps the most readily available example of a post-modern writer who had abandoned what he would refer to as "straight" narrative, claiming that the intentionality employed in more traditional writing is actually the force of control structures embedded in language itself. Or as plagiarist author Kathy Acker might put it: "[Good] literature is that which denounces and slashes apart the repressing machine at the level of the signified." By blatantly reusing existing texts as fodder in the meat grinder of her own postmodern writing process, Acker became the first mashup dub DJ of the literary world.

Subtle Interjection: For some interesting excerpts from a film in which a wide range of interviewees from different walks of life are asked to discuss their notions of Postmodernism, Check out this YouTube page produced by Exploration Films entitled: "What Is Postmodernism?".

What Postmodern Writing is Not:

It may be tempting to think of the postmodern writing process as experimentalism of the same type seen in the works of James Joyce or Virginia Wolf through their use of the "Stream of Consciousness" technique. In this type of writing, the author seeks to recreate the rambling monologue of a character's inner voice, to duplicate the subjective first person thoughts and perceptions as they occur in that character's own mind. Although the text output may be similarly chaotic, the process is not the same as postmodern writing because the author in these cases intends to create a narrative effect.

Readers Voice: "How Can I become a Postmodern Writer?"

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Creative Writing with Cut'n'Mix

Let us spin a Tenuous Thread connecting Woody Allen To Postmodernism: Some are calling Woody Allen's recently released film Midnight in Paris, a "love letter to Paris". Of course, Paris has long been a source of inspiration for American artists, poets and writers - many of whom spent extended periods of time in this "City of Light" to develop or polish their creative talents. The main character, a hack Hollywood screen writer named Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson) spends his evenings walking the streets of Paris to be transported magically into a golden age of artistic inspiration: a Paris populated with the likes of Hemmingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, Dali and Gertrude Stein. There is however, sufficient evidence to make the case that it is not these luminaries of the artistic world or even Paris itself in particular which is held up as the shining light of inspiration; the wellspring of creativity may instead be identified as the simple but effective process of going for a walk in a great city. Here is a supporting quote lifted straight from the films' screenplay text:

" is anyone ever going to come up with a book or a painting or a symphony or a sculpture which can compete with a great city?... when you look around, every street, every boulevard is its own special art form."

Anyone who has had the experience of walking for hours through one of the world's great cities will be familiar with the unique state of consciousness which arises. (From personal experience, I would include New York, London, Barcelona and San Francisco in the list of great "walking cities" with Los Angeles being the polar opposite as an example of a kind of "pedestrian's hell" making Will Self's book title "Walking to Hollywood" an even more appropriate signpost warning of the Boschian horrors to be found within its pages..)

This process of going for a walk through a great city was identified by The Situationists (a vital philisophical faction working within - and also sometimes against - the tide of postmodernist thought) as a concrete strategy for subverting linear thinking. Of course, the Situationists had a fancy name for this strategy (or process), they called it "The Derive". The Derive is simply an aimless stroll where walkers are "drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there"*.

Another term more commonly used by the French for this process of extensive walking through the city streets is "Flanerie". Balzac (the giant of French literature) has been quoted as saying: "Ah! To wander over Paris! What an adorable and delectable existence is that! Flanerie is a form of science, it is the gastronomy of the eye."

*quoted from The Most Radical Gesture by Sadie Plant

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Postmodern Writing Resources:

Postmodern Writers:

Top 10 works of postmodern literature

The Conformism of Postmodern Style

What Shakespeare's Brain says about postmodernism:

It the that thou hast switchblade
If not tittle marmalade

Thence all aliphatic isle
Warrant you pin sundial

Slobbish zounds most rococo
Chastely accusals glade hoe

Wise as ilk obsessor naught
Blown diagram aforethought

To with all winds to florist
Bride most foul while guest deforest

Rearward of reproaches week
Of thrice tattler fenugreek

Arbitral timber attar
This bloody ungot tent clatter

Fray impossible dotage
In it so much arc portage

The use robustious and age
permeability wage

Mettle enough in that cap
Thee you bear verbiage lap

Ellipsis a many heat
Colourless i ain't offbeat

Enough about postmodern literature, how are postmodern techniques applied to the visual arts. For an answer to that and an opportunity to view some examples examples of automatic collage, check out this online digital gallery of postmodern art.
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