The Purpose: To challenge the concept of “high art” by breaking down dated artistic conventions and to respond to the growth of pop culture and globalization in the modern world.
Considered by some to be the father of postmodernism, Lyotard claimed that the world after the Second World War was so profoundly different that we would need to change our entire conception of knowledge altogether. As opposed to the large-scale ambitions of the enlightenment, he claimed, today’s knowledge would need to be acquired in smaller doses, and would in fact need to be localized instead of universalized. For this reason, authors turned to depicting regional narratives and specific topics for their novels. Lyotard also opposed the idea that life’s major questions could be answered in simple, overarching terms.
How do you accurately depict the chaos of The Second World War without leaving anything out? Well, it seems like Pynchon tried to cover all the bases in this sprawling account of Europe during the war, an infinitely complex narrative centered around a soldier who may or may not be guiding german missiles with his erection. And no. I’m not joking. The Postmodernist project sought to destroy the hierarchies that elevated some art and deflated everything else. To Pynchon, military songs can be as beautiful as the most economical prose; the lives of protagonists can have the same significance as the lives of rockets.
Graham Swift may still be active today, but none of his novels have matched this 1982 achievement, a combination of regional history, personal upbringing and digressions ad infinitum. Set in England’s Fenland region, the novel follows a schoolteacher’s as he struggles to come to terms with his past in the strange, eel infested lowlands on England’s East Coast. Swift’s novel is postmodernist because it offers a whole new type of “history”, one combining the distant past with personal recollection and present-day retrospection.
Carter’s carnivalesque tour-de-force about Fevvers, a winged woman who became a turn-of-the-century circus icon, combines magic realism with a postmodernist take on the era of big-tent circuses. While it is easy to doubt the validity of the story Fevvers tells the reader, her probable fabulations only brighten the bleaker aspects of the story. Swift and Carter understand that, as novelists, they need not tell a completely “true” (or true-to-life) story to be deemed important. I think you should give them credit, too–a novelist’s most important job is to, well, make stories up.