Postmodern Literature Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1759 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes. Specifically, it will discuss the postmodern aspects of the works, including the postmodern human condition presented in the texts. Pynchon's novel is an excellent example of a postmodern work, as it embodies many of the qualities that make a postmodern novel unique. He blends unreality, parody, inner consciousness, and a sense of humor into a novel that can be convoluted and difficult to read, but is satisfying just the same.

Postmodernism is a form of literary writing that formed after the end of World War II. It embodies a sense of unreality, humor, history (or re-written history), and human morality, but often in very different terms. The characters are very introspective, and often, the writing style is filled with stream of consciousness narrative that puts the reader right inside the character's head. It is a unique form of writing that authors like Pynchon brought to popularity because of their storytelling skills and understanding of reality and different concepts of reality.

Pynchon conceptualizes reality differently throughout the novel, but there is a common thread of unreality and fantasy woven throughout it as well. The plot is convoluted and difficult to follow, the situations Oedipa often finds herself in are ludicrous at best, and the ending is a dramatic drop-off that leaves the reader hanging. Reality is skewed in this novel, and that is one of the main concepts in postmodernist writing, as well.

Frankly, the human condition presented in these texts is rather depressing. There seems to be little purpose in any of the characters' lives, and in the end, Oedipa is left in limbo, and so is the reader. The novel presents most people as scheming, or with their own agendas, and presents few who are actually interested in anything other than themselves. There is also a very clear lack of reverence for human life, as is shown by the G.I. bones incident. Pynchon writes,

An import-export firm bought the bones, sold them to a fertilizer enterprise, which may have used one or two femurs for laboratory tests but eventually decided to phase entirely into menhaden instead and transferred the remaining several tons to a holding company, which stored them in a warehouse outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, for maybe a year before Beaconsfield got interested" (Pynchon 47).

There is a sense of detached unreality about this whole sequence, and about a society that would condone turning bones into charcoal, as well. This is clearly Pynchon's view of human morals and values at the time. He uses sarcasm and unreality to show what he thinks of modern thought and society - he feels they are as unfeeling and shallow as the characters in his book who shrug off the charcoal incident by remarking, "None of us smoke Beaconsfields anyway. We're all on pot'" (Pynchon 48). His own comments on humanity and the condition of humankind are easy to see, and it is clear he is not that impressed or hopeful about the future.

Inner consciousness and the inner consciousness of the character are of primary concern in the postmodern text. Pynchon uses "stream of consciousness" style writing to place the reader squarely inside Oedipa's head throughout this unusual work of fiction. For example, early in the book he writes,

Through the rest of the afternoon, through her trip to the market in downtown Kinneret-Among-the-Pines to buy ricotta and listen to the Muzak (today she came through the bead0curtained entrance around bar 4 of the Fort Wayne Settecento Ensemble's variorum recording of the Vivaldi Kazoo Concerto, Boyd Beaver, soloist); then through the sunned gathering of her marjoram and sweet basil from the herb garden, reading of book reviews in the latest Scientific American, inter -- the layering of a lasagna, garlicking of a bread, tearing up of romaine leaves [...]" (Pynchon 2).

It is as if the reader follows along as she runs her errands, lives her life, and creates a meal while she mulls over the will she must execute for her dead lover. The author does not tell the reader what she is thinking and feeling; he clearly illustrates it by placing the reader inside her head and her jumbled thoughts. She is nothing if she is not self-reflective and in touch with her inner consciousness, and that makes her the perfect heroine for a postmodernist novel.

In addition, there is an unreal and very hallucinogenic quality to much of the novel, making the reader (and Oedipa) question their own vision of reality. Oedipa's life is fragmented and full of unconnected dots, so to speak. In fact, the ending of the novel is another link in this fragmented concept, for as Oedipa waits expectantly for the bidder on Lot 49, the reader is left hanging, and so is Oedipa. Pynchon writes, "The auctioneer cleared his throat. Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49" (Pynchon 152). There is no satisfactory ending, in fact, there is no ending at all, just the fragmented, hanging conclusion, which is really no conclusion at all.

Parody is an important, even vital aspect of postmodernist literature, and Pynchon is a master of parody. For example, many of the names in the book are parodies of everything from political figures to historical characters. Oedipa herself is a parody of Oedipus, who killed his father, married his mother, and sired children by her. Then there is Dr. Hilarius, her psychotherapist, Mike Fallopian, Stanley Koteks, Ghengis Cohen, Randolph Driblette, and Emory Bortz. All of these are plays on words, or sarcastic parodies of objects. Even the city of San Narciso is a parody of San Francisco and the very urban lifestyles of the characters there. Pynchon uses these tongue-in-cheek names and parody throughout the text to keep it amusing and light, but still incredibly focused in its parody of the lifestyles of everyone from the wealthy to the ultra right-wing committed zealots like Mike Fallopian and his Peter Pinguid Society. No one escapes the author's jabs and barbs, from Uncle Sam to the Post Office and beyond. For example, he writes of San Narciso, "Like many named places in California it was less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts -- census tracts, special purpose bond-issue districts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to its own freeway" (Pynchon 13). He zeroes in on the many items that make up a modern city, from politics to transportation, and all with a sense of unreality and parody that is funny and disturbing at the same time.

Postmodernist literature came into being after World War II, and much of it became a reaction to the situation in the world, including the threat of nuclear war and the Cold War. Throughout the book, Pynchon also references World War II, but in farcical terms that belittle its place in history. For example, he compares Mucho's inability to cope with the used car lot and all its implications to the war, and he uses it as a backdrop when Oedipa and Metzger first make love. Then there is the very disturbing "bone charcoal" project using the bones of G.I.'s to create charcoal filters for cigarettes. The war is in the background, just as it was at the time when he wrote this book (the 1960s), and he points a finger at the people who could not get over or forget the war, and move on with their lives.

In addition to the references to World War II and their comparisons, Pynchon also consistently reconstitutes history to fit his own whims. For example, Fallopian's Pinguid society supposedly deals with the Civil War, but Pynchon cheerfully blends American and Russian history from different eras, along with a very convincing (but pure fiction) history of the Post Office, into the background for the formation of the society and Fallopian's book. A close reading of the text indicates Pynchon really does know his history, but this constant remixing of historical fact is another aspect of postmodernist fiction that Pynchon uses to full advantage in his novel.

Bathes notes in his essay that many areas of literature have really had nothing to do with the reader, in fact, he maintains it is all about the author, and the reader rarely comes into the picture at all. He writes, "Which is why it is derisory to condemn the new writing in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader's rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature" (Barthes). In "Crying Lot," Pynchon proves this, as this work could be called many things, but self-indulgent is certainly one of them. Pynchon seems to create an entire work that is an inside joke, and only he knows the punch line. Therefore, the reader is not really of any importance. He understands the work and the point, and readers can try to disseminate it as much as they like, they may never really… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Postmodern Literature.  (2007, March 5).  Retrieved January 20, 2019, from

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"Postmodern Literature."  5 March 2007.  Web.  20 January 2019. <>.

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"Postmodern Literature."  March 5, 2007.  Accessed January 20, 2019.