Term Paper: Focus on a Literary Theme Form or Mode Postmodern Literature

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¶ … Mode: Postmodern Literature

Two examples of postmodern literature are Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas and Don DeLillo's White Noise. Both books are similar in that they both feature unique literary devices common in postmodern literature. However, they differ in the fact that Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas maintains the author's presence while White Noise does not.

In his article entitled the Death of the Author, Roland Bartley discusses the trend in postmodern literature for the author to remove him or herself from the telling of the story in order to present a more clear and vivid picture of reality. What makes a comparison of these two novels interesting is that they both excel at capturing, and sometimes distorting, reality but do it in very different ways. In White Noise, Don DeLillo does remove himself from the telling of the story and thus, in the words of Bartley, "lets the narrative take over." However, just the opposite is true in Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas. In this semi-autobiographical book the author is clearly a part of the telling of the story. However, despite this, reality is still captured (although it is heavily distorted by the influence of drugs into the actual telling of the story, which perhaps makes the reality even more relevant).

What makes these two works of literature such great postmodern novels is the authors' ability to capture the reality of the situation, which in both stories is distorted. In one story the distortion comes from the author himself. In the other, the distortion of reality comes from the perspective of the main character. Regardless of the presence or lack of presence of the author, both books succeed in capturing reality through the use of distortion.

This paper will examine how the authors are able to capture and present reality without actually portraying what is real but instead by showing a distorted reality. First, there will be a short discussion of what makes a postmodern novel postmodern, with a special emphasis on the use of reality in postmodern literature. Second, each author and text will be closely examined so as to see how the author used reality in their works, before we compare the similarities and differences between them.

Postmodern literature came to exist after World War II, as a general reaction against the criticisms of modernist literature, which came to be after the First World War. Modernism and postmodernism are similar share the commonality of breaking, surprisingly, away from the realism of nineteenth century literature. By doing such, they focused on subjective stories, shunning the theme of external reality popular in realist books in order to favor an examination of the internal mind.

One of the defining characteristics of postmodern literature is the use of sub-genres, such as Cyberpunk, Detective, Mythology, Feminism and African-American. Within these sub-genres, postmodern authors explore the inner shifts of the human mind, often presenting characters who experience a paranoid shift from being at war with themselves to being a self-arbiter. This, of course, creates a distortion of the reality portrayed in the story.

It is this distortion of the truth that defines postmodern literature. According to Richard Dawkins, postmodernist are only playing games. "The whole point of their philosophy (is) that anything goes, there is no absolute truth...." (Dawkins). Given this fact that postmodern authors purposely distort the truth makes trying to find the reality, if it exists at all, rather interesting and always challenging.

Hunter S. Thompson was both a journalist and author, who often combined aspects of both fields in his work. He is best known for the creation of Gonzo journalism, a reporting style where the reported involves him or herself in the action to such a high degree that they themselves become a main character in the story.

It is his use of Gonzo journalism that most exemplifies Hunter S. Thompson as a postmodern writer. The stories would be told in the first person, most typically through a manic and subjective narrator. As a whole, Gonzo journalism uses both fiction and facts when reporting a story and often times the events are highly exaggerated by the narrator in order to put more emphasis on the underlying theme.

As a whole, the method of writing favors style over accuracy and incorporates personal experiences and emotions to provide the topic context. Through a use of sarcasm, quotes, humor, and profanity, it presents a truthful story without being objective. In a word, it epitomizes William Faulkner's idea that "the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism- and the best journalist have always known this."

Thompson's use of Gonzo journalism was first popularly used in his book, Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas. At its most basic, Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas is a novel about Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, his attorney, adventures in Las Vegas in pursuit of the American Dream as seen through a drug-induced haze. In their pursuit the pair end up consuming grotesque amounts of illegal drugs, commit numerous acts of fraud, and leave a trail of general mayhem across the city and its citizens.

Clearly Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a story about the disillusion of the American Dream. It presents reality to the reader through the perspective of two drug crazed individuals hopelessly pursuing the illusionary dream. Further, the entire pursuit occurs in the Nevada desert, in Los Vegas, the city that represents the consumerist culture that has somehow come to be the American Dream. These facts alone demonstrate how the author successfully presents reality by simply distorting it to such a point that it no longer exists.

The book is also a critique of the end of the counterculture movement of the American Vietnam War era. This movement, when it started in the 1960s, was full of innocence and optimism, and was true in its belief that they would finally claim the American Dream. However, as the movement moved on and drugs became more influential in it, the movement became cynical and generally lost sight of the American Dream after learning that the dream was not a real. An interesting comparison can be made to the modernist classic the Great Gatsby as it too is a story of how the American Dream has been consumed by consumerism and, like Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, is also told through a distorted perspective.

This theme of reality being a loss of the American Dream is best stated in what has been popularly called "The Wave Speech." In this passage, the author states,

San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run... But no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant....

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bull*****, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time -- and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

And that, I think, was the handle -- that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean of military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting -- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave....

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

This statement summarizes the entire novel: a pursuit for the dream but having to face the reality that it no longer existed.

Don DeLillo's White Noise, like Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, also presents a story of a pursuit of a dream that is simply nothing more than a distorted lie and the struggle to cope with this reality of life.

Like most of DeLillo's books, White Noise explores the themes of consumerism, the disintegration of American society and a hope for rebirth. The book is set in a Midwestern college, known as America's heartland and supposedly suppose to represent the American Dream. The main character, Jack Gladney, is the founding professor of the Hitler Studies program. He has been married four times and has what seems to be an army of children and step-children.

The book is divided into two halves. The first half, entitled "Waves and Radiation," is simply a story of an absurd family life and a humorous critique of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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