It is very difficult to determine the exact beginning or evolution of modernism into the realm of postmodernism. It is a general assumption that postmodernism started after WW2 in a time of great social, political and cultural upheaval. What is important is the term postmodernism is revealing in the sense that it is not a new movement, devoid of links with modernism but a reaction to it. Below is a list of characteristics displayed within post-modern literature, all of which are contrasted to modern literature.
Whereas Modernism places faith in the ideas, values, beliefs, culture, and norms of the West, Postmodernism rejects Western values and beliefs as only a small part of the human experience and often rejects such ideas, beliefs, culture, and norms.
Whereas Modernism attempts to reveal profound truths of experience and life, Postmodernism is suspicious of being "profound" because such ideas are based on one particular Western value systems.
Whereas Modernism attempts to find depth and interior meaning beneath the surface of objects and events, Postmodernism prefers to dwell on the exterior image and avoids drawing conclusions or suggesting underlying meanings associated with the interior of objects and events.
Whereas Modernism focused on central themes and a united vision in a particular piece of literature, Postmodernism sees human experience as unstable, internally contradictory, ambiguous, inconclusive, indeterminate, unfinished, fragmented, discontinuous, "jagged," with no one specific reality possible. Therefore, it focuses on a vision of a contradictory, fragmented, ambiguous, indeterminate, unfinished, "jagged" world.
Whereas Modern authors guide and control the reader’s response to their work, the Postmodern writer creates an "open" work in which the reader must supply his own connections, work out alternative meanings, and provide his own (unguided) interpretation.
A Sampling of Key Authors: Margaret Atwood Martin Amis
Jean Baudrillard Jorge Louis Borges
William S. Burroughs Albert Camus
Bret Easton Ellis Gabriel García Márquez
Jack Kerouac Vladimir Nabokov
George Orwell Sylvia Plath
Tom Stoppard Salman Rushdie
Kurt Vonnegut Jeanette Winterson
The following is a selection of very brief examples of the main literary figures from the different literary periods. It should serve as a jumping off point for some class discussion and for students to be proactive in investigating and researching the various authors/periods.
Medieval Period – 5th – 15th Century
Can be further broken down – Anglo-Saxon Period – 5th-11th Century
- Middle Ages – 11th-15th Century (1066-1485)
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
n English author, poet, philosopher, bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat, Chaucer was born in London during the 14th Century. He was a regular at court and was the patron of many of the noblemen and Kings of the period. He is best known for his unfinished frame narrative ‘The Canterbury Tales’ and his works of epic poetry.
Troilus and Criseyde (written between 1381-86)
(Song of Troilus from Chaucer’s epic poem. Troilus is tormented by love)
If no love is, O God, what fele I so?
And if love is, what thing and which is he?
If love be good, from whennes cometh my wo? (whennes, whence)
If it be wikke, a wonder thynketh me, (wikke evil)