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Fiction and theory of the postmodern moment

Brenda K Marshall, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Designed as an introduction to some concerns of the postmodern moment--a moment which demands an awareness of 'being-within' language as well as a particular historical, social, and cultural framework--this text reads selected contemporary theory and contemporary fiction as a means of interrogating their shared discursive space. Neither is privileged over the other: the theory is not used to explicate the fiction, and the fiction is not presented as proof of the theory. Neither is the site of Truth; rather, the theory and the fiction use varying narrative strategies to express similar critiques and concerns of the postmodern moment. Poststructuralism's use (and critique) of the tenets of structuralism is introduced in a chapter which reads Italo Calvino's "A Sign in Space" as a fabulous tale which discovers and then dismantles the Saussurean understanding of linguistic signs. The deconstruction of the linguistic sign continues in a larger critique of representation in the following chapter, which brings together J. M. Coetzee's novel, Foe, and Jacques Derrida's essays, "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" and "Differance," to discuss the shift from a mimetic confidence in the referentiality of language to an awareness of the unstable function performed by any semiotic sign. The subject is then looked at as an historically specific construct, and in its relationship to power, with Michel Foucault's essay "The Subject and Power" and Michel Tournier's novel Friday providing the primary texts. The following chapter uses Roland Barthes' essay "From Work to Text" and Foe and Friday as a means of discussing intertextuality. The final chapter brings the theoretical tools gathered thus far to the discussion of history within the postmodern moment. The counter-memory of three novels (Christa Wolf's Cassandra, Timothy Findley's Famous Last Words, and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children), each an example of 'historiographic metafiction', is highlighted, along with Michel Foucault's essay, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History."

Subject Area

Modern language|Language

Recommended Citation

Marshall, Brenda K, "Fiction and theory of the postmodern moment" (1990). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9022714.