Постмодернизм в английской литературе. Дж. Барнс.
Postmodern literature arose after World War II as a series of reactions against the perceived norms of modernist literature. It is not only the trend but the cultural state of the epoch in general.
Postmodern literature represents a break from 19th century realism, in which a story was told from an objective or omniscient point of view. In character development, postmodern literature explores subjectivism, turning from external reality to examine inner states of consciousness, in many cases drawing on modernist examples in the stream of consciousness. In addition, postmodern literature explores fragmentariness in narrative- and character-construction.
So, the basic features of this trend are
In every country postmodernism has its own national peculiarities. English literature was always influenced by its traditions; we pay attention to the peculiarities of English mentality.
In the 80-s -90-s postmodernism develops in England but the first postmodern tendencies were even in the 60-s. Later novels of Fowles, Byatt, Peter Ackroyd, Ian McEwan, and Julian Barnes are the representatives of this trend.
Julian Patrick Barnes (born January 19, 1946 in Leicester) is a contemporary English writer whose novels and short stories have been seen as examples of postmodernism in literature. He studied at City of London School and Magdalen College, Oxford, he worked as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. Subsequently, he worked as a literary editor and film critic. He now writes full-time.
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989) is sometimes categorised as a novel, a collection of short stories or even a set of essays — the ambiguity arising from the unique renditioning styles employed by Barnes at various places in the work. Secondary it is a postmodern novel because of different techniques that are present in the book, for example, the death of the author and a complex system of narration, key motives that are characteristic for postmodern literature. The work deals primarily with Christian history and legends, but is neither ecclesiastical nor heretical. Nonetheless, it does attempt to satirise popular myths and legends in many places.
There are a number of basic features of postmodern novel. The main feature of postmodern texts is it pluralism, the reality and the truth are not single. And all the characteristics of this movement are subdued to this main principle. The second principle is metafiction game with the readers: it is a game with time and space, reality and fiction stories. Thus pluralism and metafiction game are typical of all levels of the postmodern text.
Plot structure: postmodern literature speaks about the destructuralization or decentralization of the text. The novels usually have open endings or are without ends. In this case there are the questions: How can you write a history of the world in a mere ten chapters? How can you include “half” a chapter? Since the novel is so carefully structured, many questions arise about this parenthesis. For example, why does it come between chapter 8 and 9, rather than at the end?
Every chapter is devoted to an individual or an entity, who is said to have witnessed or experienced a key event in the history of the world. The reader often gets an alternate version of these events from this player.
Timing: There is a metafiction game of the writer with the timing of the novel. These episodes refer to different times. Besides Barnes uses one stylistic device: when the readers get acquainted with the first chapter about Noah’s Ark, they will automatically think that the next chapters will be given in chronological order, but Barnes breaks the readers’ expectations. And during the next several chapters the readers can not understand the logic of selection of the episodes.
Peculiarities of narrative structure and the position of the author: in postmodern texts there is death of the author and the texts tend to be more objective. Here in different chapters events are told from the point of view of different people. In the first chapter it is a woodworm which is quite a wise creature. And in the next chapter an inquisition is held against him.
In chapter “Survivor” the story is told partly through a narrator, partly in Kath’s own words in the first person. However, the narrator gets inside Kath’s head we hear her version of events from the beginning. So Barnes divides the story between two ‘voices’ ‘she’ and T. Towards the end of the chapter Kath is arguing with herself about which is the true version of what has happened
‘Parenthesis’ (the ‘half-chapter’) is in the form of a literary essay. The author gathers together many of the ideas and themes which are developed throughout the novel, and uses them in his personal exploration of Love.
The author himself challenges the reader to think about the narrative problem. Is this the author speaking? And if so, is he different from, say, the art-critic in Chapter 5 or the woodworm in Chapter 1? Do we need to discuss what he is saying in a different way, or the same way?
Level of themes and problems:
Important problems raised here are the problems of survival together and the problem of moral choice and the role of chance here. Barnes shows us different ways and means of survival, bad, he intentionally puts his heroes in extreme circumstances to see how they find the way out. He lets the readers make the conclusion by themselves; his role is to depict these situations. We find out with surprise that if a person cares only for his life he is not far from the animal which uses the instinct of self-preservation (the chapter “The shipwreck” when people started to eat each other). In extreme situations people think that they have a right to rule, to determine other people’s life, to judge, and Barnes again opposes their point of view and the animals’: “but among us there had always been a sense of equality. Оh, to be sure, we ate one another, and so on; the weaker species knew all too well what to expect if they crossed the path of something that was bigger and hungry. But we merely recognized this as being the way of things”. One can survive if he can adopt for the situation (the man arguing with the terrorists and the man who dressed up as a woman when he escaped from Titanic). There is no future for those who do not obey (Kath is in asylum and probably won’t be free). However the motive of chance ruins this conclusion a little bit: it is due to luck or fortune one can escape (the episode with Jonah and then the same episode with an ordinary man).
In his last chapter Barnes tells a story that explores our ideas of Heaven. Once again, his narrator-hero is an ordinary man. As he says, most of us are ordinary people. So Barnes creates an Everyman – who does not have a special name – and then asks the reader whether our reactions would be so very different from his. We all dream of perfection, but we do not know what to do with perfection.
Another typical feature of postmodern texts is Intertexuality –there are two kinds of intertexuality – 1 – like parody, irony, 2 – imitation, stylization literature. The writer can include many direct and indirect quotations in the text.
First of all, this is an allusion to Noah’s Ark — the subject of the first chapter — which plays a dominant role as a symbol of God's judgment of good and evil. This myth has some functions in the text: The first function is that it forms a plot. The myth of Noah’s ark is told in the first chapter of the book. It is very important episode from people’s life, though some people would ask why he didn’t take the creation of Adam and Eve. But if it wasn’t for Noah and his family now there would not be people on the Earth now. We can consider this moment to be the beginning of new life on the earth and Barnes depicts the ideal paradise in the last chapter as logical conclusion of the book.
The next function of the myth of Noah’s Ark is its stylistic function. This myth creates the ironical effect of the whole novel, shows that the whole work is written in ironical tone. Because Barnes tells us about his own variant of the myth and we notice a lot of differences.
The first point with which Barnes argues is that Noah is a good man. The second point is that Ark consisted of 8 vessels. The third point is that there was no principle of choosing the animals. We are used to thinking that only the strongest animals were saved, but it was not so: “the first normally presentable pair that came along was given the nod – this appeared to be the system; there was certainly no more than the scantiest examination of pedigree… some creatures were simply Not Wanted On Voyage.” Besides he quite logically explains us the absence of such mythological animals as unicorn, salamander, and basilisk and so on. And by this he opposes the scientific approach to life and traditional religious view.
Then in the myth it is written that the Deluge lasted for 220 days and plus 40 days. Barnes says that their voyage lasted for 5 and half years and that actually Noah was a bad sailor. Then he argues about which bird returned with an olive (official version - raven, dove, dove). In the text it is the raven, ‘but that Noah decided it was “more appropriate’ to say that the dove had discovered it. Personally, I always believed the raven, who apart from anything else was much stronger in the air that the dove”.
Another stylistic function of the myth is that Barnes uses the allusion to it in every chapter. If the in second, third and forth chapters we are given hidden allusion to it only through the themes, images and situations, in the last chapters Barnes openly mentions this myth. He uses the same words as “two by two” (it can be applied to cats of Kath), “clean and unclean” can be understood as division between the nations (Arabic-Israeli conflict, the idea of Nazism are also based on it and its reflection on the chapter “Three simple stories”) and so on.
The next function of the myth is that it forms the main motives, ideas, images and problems of the book. The main motive is the motive of the sea. The action of almost every chapter (except for the second, sixth, the tenth chapters) takes place in the sea or river. Actually this is understood here as an obstacle for humans which they must overcome. The variations of the interpretations of the sea is that in the first chapter it is the means of punishing people an it fully corresponds the Christian symbol if it as purifying water. And this refers to the small hint that almost in every chapter people has some weaknesses (or we can cal them sins) and the infringement of 10 commandments. And the image of ship is always shown. All together they can symbolize the flow of life and human’s spiritual search.
Thus we see its symbolic function in the text. All these ideas result in global Barnes’ thoughts about the development of the world (and that’s why the title of the book is so pathetic). We read about facts and fiction, about reality and dreams, about biblical stories. Barnes message is that he wants to persuade the readers not to believe everything that is written or said. There is no universal truth, the history is written by somebody. What is the way to cognize the truth? By religion or by science? This level is the level of philosophic ideas, as in “Parenthesis” he speaks about the power of love, how it can survive us, the problem of moral choice, of what is right and what is wrong, of who has the power to judge people. This doubt in history is proved in the chapter “The shipwreck” when the writer speculates about the art. And art is just another form of depicting facts, events that’s why it can be false as well the text of the Bible. Besides he reveals his deep ironic attitude towards the religion: brilliantly shown in the first, sixth and last chapters, people’s faith is not sincere, they will manage well without religion. And these themes reflect quite well the topic of postmodern works.
There are also other reminiscences: The chapter Shipwreck is devoted to the analysis of Gericault's painting of the incident of The Raft of the Medusa. The first half narrates the incidents leading to the shipwreck and the survival of the crew members. The second half of the chapter renders a dark platonic and satirical analysis of the painting itself, and Gericault's "softening" the impact of crude reality in order to preserve the aestheticism of the work. In three simple stories there is an allusion to Evelyn Waugh called Decline and Fall. Also the myth about Jonah and Titanic.
The humour derives from his imaging the practical difficulties of Noah’s Voyage while also using the ‘new’ version as a metaphor for characteristic human social and political behaviour.
Hence the language works on two levels. Almost all the expressions are comic in their context, but they also have uncomfortable wider implications.
Barnes seems to suggest that it is a human tendency to adapt stories to our own purpose. Like the lawyers, we are quite ready to change the meaning of what we hear, so long as the new meaning helps us to explain events or win arguments.
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