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The Lion and The Unicorn

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Postmodern Device

These questions have been asked: why is Emily Isaacson's poetry so prolific in length and structure. Does it throw back to an earlier time period? Why so rich, lavish, and abundant in detail? Now we seek to answer some of your queries as to her style and quantity of verse.


Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power. Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, describing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies. Common targets of postmodern criticism include universalist ideas of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, science, language, and social progress. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-consciousness, self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence.

Postmodern in art is a body of art movements that sought to contradict some aspects of modernism or some aspects that emerged or developed in its aftermath. In general, movements such as intermedia, installation art, conceptual art and multimedia, particularly involving video are described as postmodern.

There are several characteristics which lend art to being postmodern; these include devices such as bricolage, the use of text prominently as the central artistic element, collage, simplification, appropriation, performance art, the recycling of past styles and themes in a modern-day context, as well as the break-up of the barrier between fine and high arts and low art and popular culture.

Pastiche is an example of a postmodern device. This refers to a work of visual art, literature, theatre, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists.[ Roland Greene; Stephen Cushman; Clare Cavanagh; Jahan Ramazani; Paul F. Rouzer; Harris Feinsod; David Marno; Alexandra Slessarev, eds. (2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. p. 1005. ISBN 0-691-15491-0.] Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates.[Hoestery, Ingeborg (2001). Pastiche: Cultural Memory in Art, Film, Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-253-33880-8OCLC 44812124. Retrieved 2 August 2013.]

Charles Rosen has characterized Mozart's various works in imitation of Baroque style as pastiche, and Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite was written as a conscious homage to the music of an earlier age. Pastiche can also be a cinematic device whereby filmmakers pay homage to another filmmaker's style and use of cinematography, including camera angles, lighting, and mise en scène.

In terms of architecture, in discussions of urban planning, the term "pastiche" may describe developments as imitations of the building styles created by major architects: with the implication that the derivative work is unoriginal and of little merit,

Allusion is not pastiche. A literary allusion may refer to another work, but it does not reiterate it. Moreover, allusion requires the audience to share in the author's cultural knowledge.[ Abrams, Meyer Howard; Harpham, Geoffrey (2009). A Glossary of Literary TermsISBN 1-4130-3390-3.] Both allusion and pastiche are mechanisms of intertextuality.

Metafiction is a form of fiction that emphasizes its own constructedness in a way that continually reminds the reader to be aware that they are reading or viewing a fictional work. Metafiction is self-conscious about language, literary form, and storytelling, and works of metafiction directly or indirectly draw attention to their status as artifacts.[Waugh, Patricia (1984). Metafiction – The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London, New York: Routledge. p. 2.] Metafiction is frequently used as a form of parody or a tool to undermine literary conventions and explore the relationship between literature and reality, life, and art.[Imhof, Rüdiger (1986). Contemporary Metafiction – A Poetological Study of Metafiction in English since 1939. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag. p. 9.]

Although metafiction is most commonly associated with postmodern literature that developed in the mid-20th Century, its use can be traced back to much earlier works of fiction, such as Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1387), Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605), Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759), William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1847). Explicit metafiction is identifiable through its use of clear metafictional elements on the surface of a text. It comments on its own artificiality and is quotable. Explicit metafiction is described as a mode of telling. An example would be a narrator explaining the process of creating the story they are telling.

The term 'metafiction' was coined in 1970 by William H. Gass in his book Fiction and the Figures of Life.[ Gass, William H. (1970). Fiction and the Figures of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 24–25.] Gass describes the increasing use of metafiction at the time as a result of authors developing a better understanding of the medium. This new understanding of the medium led to a major change in the approach toward fiction. Theoretical issues became more prominent aspects, resulting in an increased self-reflexivity and formal uncertainty.[Gass, William H. (1970). Fiction and the Figures of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 24–25.^ Waugh, Patricia (1984). Metafiction – The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London, New York: Routledge. p. 2.]

Robert Scholes expands upon Gass' theory and identifies four forms of criticism on fiction, which he refers to as formal, behavioural, structural, and philosophical criticism. Metafiction assimilates these perspectives into the fictional process, putting emphasis on one or more of these aspects.[Scholes, Robert (1979). Fabulation and Metafiction. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. 111–115.]

These developments were part of a larger movement (arguably a 'metareferential turn'[Wolf, Werner, ed. (2011). The Metareferential Turn in Contemporary Arts and Media: Forms, Functions, Attempts at Explanation. Studies in Intermediality 5. Amsterdam: Rodopi.]) which, approximately from the 1960s onwards, was the consequence of an increasing social and cultural self-consciousness, stemming from, as Patricia Waugh puts it, "a more general cultural interest in the problem of how human beings reflect, construct and mediate their experience in the world."[Waugh, Patricia (1984). Metafiction – The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London, New York: Routledge. p. 3.]

Due to this development, an increasing number of novelists rejected the notion of rendering the world through fiction. The new principle became to create through the medium of language a world that does not reflect the real world. Language was considered an "independent, self-contained system which generates its own 'meanings.'"[Waugh, Patricia (1984). Metafiction – The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London, New York: Routledge. p. 3.] and a means of mediating knowledge of the world. Thus, literary fiction, which constructs worlds through language, became a model for the construction of 'reality' rather than a reflection of it. Reality itself became regarded as a construct instead of an objective truth. Through its formal self-exploration, metafiction thus became the device that explores the question of how human beings construct their experience of the world.

The term maximalism is sometimes associated with post-modern novels, such as those by David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, where digression, reference, and elaboration of detail occupy a great fraction of the text. It can refer to anything seen as excessive, overtly complex and "showy", providing redundant overkill in features and attachments, grossness in quantity and quality, or the tendency to add and accumulate to excess.

Novelist John Barth defines literary maximalism through the medieval Roman Catholic Church's opposition between "two...roads to grace:"

the via negativa of the monkʹs cell and the hermitʹs cave, and the via affirmativa of immersion in human affairs, of being in the world whether or not one is of it. Critics have aptly borrowed those terms to characterize the difference between Mr. Beckett, for example, and his erstwhile master James Joyce, himself a maximalist except in his early works.[ Barth, John. “A Few Words About Minimalism”, New York Times Book Review, p.1. Dec. 28, 1986]”

Takayoshi Ishiwari elaborates on Barth's definition by including a postmodern approach to the notion of authenticity. Thus:

Under this label come such writers as, among others, Thomas Pynchon and Barth himself, whose bulky books are in marked contrast with Barthelmeʹs relatively thin novels and collections of short stories. These maximalists are called by such an epithet because they, situated in the age of epistemological uncertainty and therefore knowing that they can never know what is authentic and inauthentic, attempt to include in their fiction everything belonging to that age, to take these authentic and inauthentic things as they are with all their uncertainty and inauthenticity included; their work intends to contain the maximum of the age, in other words, to be the age itself, and because of this their novels are often encyclopedic. As Tom LeClair argues in The Art of Excess, the authors of these ʺmasterworksʺ even ʺgather, represent, and reform the timeʹs excesses into fictions that exceed the timeʹs literary conventions and thereby master the time, the methods of fiction, and the readerʺ. [Ishiwari, Takayoshi. ʺThe Body That Speaks: Donald Barthelmeʹs The Dead Father as Installationʺ, Unpublished Masterʹs thesis, p.1. Osaka University, 1996. linkArchived 2011-06-06 at the Wayback Machine]

“Charlotte Rivers describes how "maximalism celebrates richness and excess in graphic design", characterized by decoration, sensuality, luxury and fantasy, citing examples from the work of illustrator Kam Tang and artist Julie Verhoeven.”  (Rivers, Charlotte (2008). Maximalism: The Graphic Design of Decadence& Excess, p.011. ISBN 2-88893-019-6.)


Our question: “Could the effect of long-term minimalism be maximalism?”


Postminimalism is an art term coined (as post-minimalism) by Robert Pincus-Witten in 1971[1] used in various artistic fields for work which is influenced by, or attempts to develop and go beyond, the aesthetic of minimalism.

In visual art, postminimalist art uses minimalism either as an aesthetic or conceptual reference point. Postminimalism is more an artistic tendency than a particular movement. Postminimalist artworks are usually everyday objects, use simple materials, and sometimes take on a "pure", formalist aesthetic. However, since postminimalism includes such a diverse and disparate group of artists, it is impossible to enumerate all the continuities and similarities between them.

The work of Eva Hesse is also postminimalist: it uses "grids" and "seriality", themes often found in minimalism, but is also usually hand-made, introducing a human element into her art, in contrast to the machine or custom-made works of minimalism. Richard Serra is a prominent post-minimalist. [Smith, Roberta (April 14, 2011). "Richard Serra's Drawings at Metropolitan Museum of Art", NYTimes.com. Accessed 8 June 2012.]

We reason that postmodern literature is a form of literature that is characterized by the use of metafiction, unreliable narration, self-reflexivity, intertextuality, and which often thematizes both historical and political issues.


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