The Postmodernism of Childe Harold *
Jean-Francois Lyotard contrasts the postmodern with modern attempts to shape a totalizing, single, unitary ideal. The postmodernism of Childe Harold is exactly as both Lyotard and Julia Kristeva might conceive it: it is an orientation that can only adumbrate what it might be like to be on the ‘other’ side of both modernism and culture. The language that the poem’s narrator speaks is increasingly fraught with a retrospection that is both postmodern in its characteristic aversion to an overarching narrative and genuine in its concomitant aversion to meaning. At once premodern and postmodern, such retrospection finds expression in the famous tableau of the dying gladiator, whom the narrator recalls at the site of the Coliseum. There are numerous other instances in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage that, either by recourse to a remembered visible or by anatomy of the more symbolic inclination to forget, adumbrate a feminized or postmodern ‘unrepresentable’.