Literature - Postmodern Literary Criticism

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Postmodern Literary Criticism Postmodernism attempts to call into question or challenge the notion of a single absolute unified master narrative without simply replacing it with another. It is a paradoxical, recursive, and problematic method of critique. It encourages transcendence through or in spite of limitation, while simultaneously decentering the concept of absolute transcendence. To this end, it encourages the development of a heightened sense of self in relation to itself and the world around it. Postmodernism assumes an ontology of fragmented being. Where modernism asserts the primacy of the subject in revealing universal truth, postmodernism challenges the authority of the subject and, thus, universal truth based on it. Modernism and postmodernism, however, draw upon distinctly different epistemological modes: critical and dogmatic. Modernism posits itself as a source of dogmatic knowledge. Dogmatic knowledge is an unchanging, absolute ideology. It has found the Truth or believes it is possible to acquire it. Knowledge is objective, tangible and quantifiable. The dogmatic mode attempts to subordinate further critical thinking in order to spread knowledge of Truth. Postmodernism, on the other hand, aspires to reflect the critical. Critical knowledge is a process, rather than product. Absolute knowledge is unattainable, conditional, and provisional at best. Any unequivocal sense of the real is rendered superfluous. Truth, therefore, remains elusive, relativistic, partial, and always incomplete; it cannot be learned in totality. "Truth itself is a contingent affair and assumes a different shape in the light of differing local urgencies and convictions associated with them" (Fish 207). Critical knowledge has no choice but to exercise complicity with the cultural historical context in which it is hopelessly mired. As Lee Patterson states, "Even scholars who are dealing with chronologically and geographically distant materials are in fact examining a cultural matrix within which they themselves stand, and the understandings at which they arrive are influenced not simply by contemporary interests but by the shaping past that they are engaged in recovering" (259). Postmodern literary criticism asserts that art, author, and audience can only be approached through a series of mediating contexts. "Novels, poems, and plays are neither timeless nor transcendent" (Jehlen 264). Even questions of canon must be considered within a such contexts. "Literature is not only a question of what we read but of who reads and who writes, and in what social circumstances...The canon itself is an historical event; it belongs to the history of the school" (Guillory 238,44).
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