Jimmy M.'s picture
Jimmy M. from New England November 13, 2013 - 8:21am

I'm attempting to set up an independent study with a teacher, since my school doesn't normally teach American Postmodern Lit. It's a joint process, so I get to have some say in what makes up the course. What would you want to read that fits in the American Postmodern genre?

Here are some I already have-any objections to these?

  • "The Crying of Lot 49"
  • "V."
  • "Gravity's Rainbow"
  • "The Pale King"
  • "Breakfast of Champions"
  • "Slaughter-House 5"
  • "Naked Lunch"
  • "White Noise"

Thanks for any constructive feedback!

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts November 13, 2013 - 9:14am

John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Italo Calvino, Robert Coover are the other big names in Postmodern I could think of. Barthelme is the only one of those I'm really well-read on, but the others have books that are pretty much deemed essentials of the genre and are also just pretty good.

Wendy Hammer's picture
Wendy Hammer from Indiana is reading One Night in Sixes November 13, 2013 - 10:01am

If we're just talking American postmodern lit--That's a good list. I wouldn't double (or triple up) on some of the authors, but that's a personal preference. It depends on what you want out of the course. Have fun with it! 

I think the New Journalism stuff can be interesting: Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, Armies of the Night, In Cold Blood. 

Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony

Sherman Alexie

Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse" is a classic short story. 

Definitely Coover.

Kathy Acker can be really interesting. 

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried or Going after Cacciato






SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies November 13, 2013 - 10:15am

I wish i could have read Delillo in my American lit class. Cormac McCarthy is sometimes considered postmodern as well.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 13, 2013 - 10:36am

I have a concept of "postmodernity" but am still unclear what makes writing "postmodern." Somehow that's possible.

@James --- What's the definition you're going with?

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts November 13, 2013 - 12:52pm

Postmodern books have a narrative focus that's more about how the story is told than the story itself. It's a genre of glorified writing exercises. Which is cool.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 13, 2013 - 1:33pm

@Ren --- (Excuse my nitpicking; attempts to define postmodern art interest me.) Must it be more about manner than story (as in a ratio), or is it marked merely by a stonger emphasis on manner than was given in previous "eras"?

Jimmy M.'s picture
Jimmy M. from New England November 13, 2013 - 4:06pm

Thanks everyone! Wendy, to clarify, these are just ideas for what I'd like to read-obviously, I'd be more on your side, and get a plethora of what pml is like.

JYH, postmodern writing usually uses at least one (usually more) of the following elements:

  • Differentiating point of view- for example, Infinite Jest, the book I'm reading right now, employs many different points of view and tenses (e.g. one section will be present first person, etc)
  • excessive use of pastiche
  • use of metafiction
  • themes and morals can differ, but ideas usually revolve around the subjective human experience, like isolation and paranoia.
Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs November 13, 2013 - 4:14pm

Mark Leyner, Stephen Dixon, Steve Erickson, and Steve Katz. Maybe get your hands on this book for ideas: http://www.amazon.com/After-Yesterdays-Crash-Avant-Pop-Anthology/dp/0140240853

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 13, 2013 - 5:53pm

Good list. I'll echo Steve Erickson. Also, try JG Ballard's Crash, if you haven't read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, it's great, Haruki Murakami (but if they have to be American, i guess not, but Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is so good), Flannery O'Connor, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, George Saunders (his latest collection Tenth of December is amazing), etc.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 13, 2013 - 8:31pm

I think this might fit the bill: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Colossus_of_Maroussi

I didn't like the other Henry Miller I read, but this one is excellent.

"Miller considered the book to be his greatest work, and a number of critics, such as Gore Vidal and George Wickes, have agreed."

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami November 13, 2013 - 11:58pm

Personally Gravity's Rainbow. I already read an excerpt for it, and it looks pretty good.

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day November 14, 2013 - 9:48am

I would nix the Pale King and replace with a suggestion from the group.

sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres November 14, 2013 - 9:52am

I think everyone would be better humans if they read a little Hubert Selby Jr and Nelson Algren. I don't know if those fit your mold, but I still think you should read them.

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money November 14, 2013 - 5:36pm

I'd have to agree with Deets999. The Pale King was never finished and suffers because of it. If you're already doing Infinite Jest, then switch out Pale King for The Broom of the System or even better find some of his essays and short work (Brief Interviews was good...) or even take Infinite Jest as your DFW allotment.

Because I also have to echo that tripling up on Pynchon seems a bit overkill. Unless you're doing a prospective of Pynchon's work, or compare/contrast with other writers (in which case be sure to include some of his later work as well, he just had a book come out last year if I recall) then just pick one of them... same with Vonnegut. Slaughter-House is the one I like better, but Breakfast is a little more postmodern... though you may want to consider Timequake as well.

Also, you must study John Barth. He truly is one of the definitive voices (i.e. my favorite) of postmodernism. "Lost in the Funhouse" is a good short story, but it comes in a collection of the same name which is full of fantastic short work: I'm a particular fan of "Menelaiad" and "Anonymiad." You should also consider Chimera, which are three interrelated novellas collected together, or Giles Goat-Boy... or Sabbatical, as Barth is primarily a long-form writer. He is also still writing and has interesting ideas in the use of hyperlinks to create aleatoric/ergodic narratives. You may want to look into that.

I'm also surprised no one else mentioned Danielewski. House of Leaves is a great work, and though extremely experimental and ergodic; still at heart is a postmodern haunted house story. Only Revolutions is also good, but also one of the hardest reads I've ever made. It helps to have an extensive knowledge of US history, especially as portrayed in newspaper headlines of the times... it really is kind of a retelling of american history through a pair of star-crossed lovers.

Stephen Graham Jones's Demon Theory is also a postmodern love letter to slasher flicks of the 80's and 90's. And as an added bonus he occaisionally pops his head around here at Litreactor and you can at the very least catch some interviews and essays from him.

I suspect you're limiting it to United States of American postmodern, but if you want to go south of the border; Jorge Luis Borges highly influenced many of the postmodernists and was a fantastic writer; I especially suggest Labyrinths... even if not for a class, this is a great collection of short work. Also Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is good.

I hear nothing but good things about Bartheleme, Coover, and Shelby (though I suspect he's a bit more of a modernist... at least Requiem felt that way), but I don't have enough exposure to suggest anything specific. Eggers is a good writer (especially in the new journalism vein) but I don't find him particularly postmodern. The closest he got was Heartbreaking Work, but it's really more of an memoir. It's good, and you'd be remiss to not read it, but it's not really indicative or representative in my opinion. Though I understand that A Hologram for the King is more in the postmodern vein, but I haven't read it.

Paul Auster is like that too for most of his work. The New York Trilogy still stands up as a great postmodern work and Oracle Night is pretty good, but everything else, while still good, isn't really postmodern... or rather is Auster's own particular brand of postmodernism/existentialism which you may or may not want to delve into. Stuff like The Brooklyn Follies and Man in the Dark.

Some other outliers you may want to consider are Brett Easton Eillis (American Psycho and Lunar Park), William Goldman's The Princess Bride, and Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Something Happened. Though like Eggers and Auster, they dabble strongly in the postmodern, are probably better suited to the genre's they more closely adhere to: thriller, memoir, fantasy/romance, satire, and absurdism respectively.

And I know that you're limiting this to American postmodernism, but you should really consider that the "first novel" was also the first "postmodern novel": Don Quixote is really the proto-novel and virtually all novels since have been foreshadowed by it, especially the postmoderns. Consider, in the introduction Cervantes kills the author (to misuse Barthes's phrase) by claiming that the first volume was actually a translation of a work that he bought from a mysterious merchant which came into his possession through mysterious means, and is on the whole both a pastiche and a scathing indictment of the medieval romances. And the second volume is excellent meta-fiction as both the don and sancho keep encountering people who have read the first volume and keep putting their devotion to being knights-errant to the test, as well as responding to a frauduent volume two that Allevaneda published in the interim...

But in any event, good luck with the class. Read lots of good stuff.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 15, 2013 - 8:33pm

@James ---- RE:  "American Postmodern Literature"

A few non-fiction possibilities have been put forward. Are you hoping to include any poetry? (I'm sure I'm even foggier on postmodern poetry than postmodern fiction.)

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 21, 2013 - 9:48pm

as far as DFW, i really enjoyed A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING I'LL NEVER DO AGAIN, over the epic INFINITE JEST