Postmodernism As Black Humour
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Postmodernism As Black Humour book
Postmodernism has come to be the accepted tenn for the experimental literature written in the United States, Europe and Latin America since the end of the Second World War. The early tenn used by American critics of the 1960s to describe this kind of fiction, however, was 'black humour', and this now superseded term is still appropriate for the emergent fictions of what later critics constructed as postmodernism. The cutting edge of what seemed an aggressive, cynical, even nihilistic humour was what first caught the attention of readers and critics, alerting them to the emergence of a new mood as well as a new mode. In the 1970s postmodernist fiction was redefined as 'metafiction', indicating a change in fiction and in criticism such that some works considered originally as black humour were reconsidered as metafiction. I shall distinguish metafiction from black humour in Chapter 6 but here I need to give some sense of postmodernism generally, especially in its differences from modernism. Postmodernism, however, is a notoriously slippery concept, it being on principle against principles and centrally defming itself as resisting centralizing definition. Ihab Hassan, one of its critical originators, reflects that 'the time has come to theorize the term, if not to define it, before it forges from awkward neologism to derelict cliche without ever attaining to the dignity of a cultural concept'. To Jean Franyois Lyotard, the postmodern condition consists precisely in the lack of a framing narrative, whether grounded in religious tradition or the enlightenment idea of progress, that serves broadly to legitimize a social order. In art, as Frederic Jameson argues, this disappearance of foundation leads to 'the eclipse of all of the affect (depth, anxiety, terror, the emotions of the monumental) that marked high modernism and its replacement by what Coleridge would have called fancy or Schiller
aesthetic play, a commitment to surface and the supediciaZ in all the senses of the word'. Indeed, to define postmodernism is in postmodernist terms an inherently paralogical and paradoxical undertaking. But since paralogy (that is, anti-logical reasoning) and paradox are, as Lyotard claims, the argt)mentative modes of postmodernist discourse, a definition is called for. 1 It will, however, be a highly provisional definition extended through two chapters, with as many qualifications as can be crowded in.