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Forster in On Beauty , the use of modernist devices stream of consciousness in NW ; a disordered temporality in White Teeth , and postmodernist riffs most especially in White Teeth and The Autograph Man indicating a complex relation to modernism. Taking Smith as an exemplary figure for most if not all contemporary novelists, a neat map depicting which authors reject modernism, which continue with or return to modernist devices and themes, and which negotiate a complex relation to the modernist legacy is impossible.

Fiction and Art Explorations in Contemporary Theory

Rather, these different lines of relation might be discussed better around critics and theorists who trace specific connections between modernism and contemporary fiction. These shifting patterns of relation for contemporary fiction appear less as neat genealogies or rejections and more as unstable weather systems, ephemeral fronts where competing pockets of pressure produce changing lines of relation.

Here, postmodernism stands as the movement where relations between modernism and the contemporary are made most explicit. Now that postmodernism itself seems increasingly consigned to literary history, the postmodern stands in uneasy relation with the contemporary. As most accounts of contemporary fiction date this phenomenon from after World War II or after , postmodernism comprises an or perhaps the opening movement of the contemporary.

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Modernism’s Contemporary Affects | Modernism / Modernity Print+

However, even as something fully completed, postmodernism also stands as the historical bridge between our own moment and the era of heroic modernism. Indeed, accounts of postmodernism provide the clearest articulations of how modernism relates to contemporary fiction. For Andreas Huyssen, the contrast between these ends of the century revolves around different relations to mass culture.

Modernism had distinguished itself from rising mass cultural forms such as cinema, radio, and the tabloid press, a divorce from the marketplace granting austere purpose to modernist literary experimentation, an asceticism that emphasized its aestheticism. Steiner suggests these s and s authors wished to retain the notion that formal distinctiveness would retain a properly pure aesthetic focus. Other theories stress the way apparently similar narrative devices and styles between the two periods actually foregrounded different orientations toward self and world.

Modernist fiction was epistemological , knowledge-oriented. What is to be done in it? Which of my selves is to do it? Postmodernism multiplied and juxtaposed worlds; it troubled and volatized them. In contrast, postmodern texts fragment into uncertain constellations, at best unsure anything might firmly forge the pieces back together again into a fully signifying whole or system.

Postmodern constellations appear unstable and doubtful of any plenitudinous meaning: these fictions conjure conspiracies that might not actually exist, histories and stories that ultimately pull in different directions, glimpses of a sublime that seem half farcical.

Modernism, in contrast, is precisely the attempt to jettison techniques from the past in a sublime attempt to articulate the wholly new, as in the way Joyce and John dos Passos developed innovative styles and narrative strategies. Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant.

Fredric Jameson builds on this argument in his own account of modernism and postmodernism, a theorization persistent still as the reference point regarding relations between modernism and postwar cultural forms. Modernism and postmodernism, for Jameson, correlate with the oncoming tide of modernity and capitalism.

Contemporary fiction during the postmodern regime accordingly demonstrates a contrasting stress on space. This instantaneity through non-replicable forms, for Jameson, carries postmodern schizophrenia into the age of the financial derivative, investment vehicles and products themselves based on mysterious and arcane logarithms which are not extendable to or exemplary for any other situation or financial scheme.


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Some critics, however, have warned that here theories of postmodernism collapse with their object of critique. As postmodernism is seen as having arisen in the s and then reached a high summer of accomplishment in fiction and theorization during the s, it is small wonder the movement is increasingly viewed as having expired some time during the decade or so that followed.

Consequently, many critics suggest the postmodern moment has itself given way to something else, a supersession entailing transformation of relations between the contemporary and the postmodern. Postwar fiction, particularly in the American scene, increasingly revolved around university campuses as the locus where novels where written, read, and rendered canonical through institutionalization in course syllabi. Postwar authors are apprenticed into this genre of literary fiction. However, if postmodernism still persists within the contemporary as a stylistic mode, then increasingly modernism itself is also making a reappearance.

Beyond the direct invocation of modernist figures in fiction by Barnes, Cunningham, Hollinghurst, Toibin, and the like, a growing number of contemporary authors have adapted modernist modes. Such an observation thus reveals limits to the suggestion that such programs domesticate modernist experimentation—or perhaps the limiting effects of this domestication. Of course, the reason for these widely differing positions on the legacy of modernism in contemporary fiction, one ranging from something largely superseded to a return to modernist methods, is that the contemporary is an impossibly broad category and even individual novels house competing impulses.

It is possible to trace the passage from the modernist fiction of Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Stein and Faulkner, through the forms of realism that emerged partly as a reaction against modernism. As such, modernism stands most prominently as the largest debt, at once providing a rich archive to navigate and also clearly underscoring the reflexive sense of textuality linking modernism with much contemporary fiction.

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Whether through explicit or implicit rejection, self-conscious reclamation, or complex and ambivalent negotiation, modernism is the most significant prior period to which contemporary fiction relates itself. Consequently, this relation between modernism and the contemporary reveals the uncertain and gravid potential of our own present. More precisely, it is that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disjunction and an anachronism. Critically, endeavors to define the postmodern necessitated distinguishing it from the modern. Such accounts are opposed to those critics and novelists arguing that modernism and postmodernism constitute a blind alley of formalism, a wrong turn from which fiction must return to traditional byways of realism and straightforward narration.

Since the turn of the millennium, there have been several collections and journal special issues garnering appraisals and post-mortems on the postmodern; the essays gathered there generate useful maps of the apparent passing of postmodernity. What Moment? Amy Hungerford also has been a central figure as well in endeavoring to formulate how the contemporary might be in the process of diverging from the postmodern.

Likewise, shifts in considerations of postmodernism have led to alterations in how the lines of relation between modernism and contemporary fiction are viewed. David James has helped launch this reappraisal; his Modernist Futures: Innovation and Inheritance in the Contemporary Novel , as well as his edited collection The Legacies of Modernism: Historicising Postwar and Contemporary Fiction offer essential forays for considering both the mainlines of relation between modernism and the contemporary as well as interrogations of individual lineages between modernist authors and contemporary novelists.

Modernism’s Contemporary Affects

These critical endeavors have also returned focus to more broadly theoretical assessments of both modernism and the contemporary, arguments ranging from classic assessments by Paul de Man and Raymond Williams to more recent arguments by Peter Osborne and Giorgio Agamben. Connor, Steven. Edited by Vincent Sherry, — New York: Cambridge University Press, Find this resource:. Green, Jeremy. Late Postmodernism: American Fiction at the Millennium. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, Hungerford, Amy.

Huyssen, Andreas. Recent debates among novelists and critics alike about the current mood and direction of postmillennial fiction, for instance, have often revolved around conjunctions of affect and form. We might think here of the repurposing of perspectival expression as a vehicle for dissecting ethical problematics. For adventurous stylists like J. By the same token, part of our very response to such linguistically dynamic and emotionally devastating contemporaries as McBride must then include some deliberation on the stakes of preserving modernism, whether as aspiration or influence — an ongoing process of critical self-assessment that the contributors to this cluster aim from various perspectives to initiate.

Few writers have done more to stage evaluations of their own archive of familiar modernist affinities than J. Disjunction itself, of course, is a prime affect in critical maps of modernist afterlives. She is interested in contemporary fictional writing and was a member of the Northern Arts Literature Panel now North-East Arts and is a founding fellow of the English Association.

She has published numerous articles and books in these areas. She has examined 90 PhDs.