Monday, 22 February 2016

Postmodernism - some key concepts

Luís's comment on the post below, Postmodernism questions that technological and scientific advancements and the search for undeniable truth will improve the world. However, the two major critics on the matter have discordant views on the effectiveness of such questioning.

a) According to Linda Hutcheon, Postmodernity is the condition in which we now live, and it should be distinguished from Postmodernism, which refurs to the cultural production and reflection that might embody its critique (the abovementioned questioning).

b) According to Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism itself belongs to the "cultural logic of late capitalism", and as such there is no distinction between the critique and the condition (the critique, obeying to the laws of the production of culture, which rest on immateriality and profit, might annull itself).

On the comments below there is also a mention of "egalitarianism"; however - and even if Postmodernism somehow blurs the distinctions between the high and the low - the idea of equality in Postmodernism risks being overweighed by

1. Relativism (see Maria Inês's comment below): the first of the important keywords, as it is the conterpart to
2. Mistrust of grand narratives (religion, politics, scientific positivism)
3. De-differentiation (namely of economics and culture), leading to the indecidability of correspondence between value and objects, and (in language) between signifiers and possible signifieds.
4. Indifference/confusion about origin and historical chronology; not only because of doubts cast upon narratives of cause and effects, but also of the four following co-related concepts:
5. simulacrum: a term introduced by Baudrillard as leading to hyperreality ("a generation by models of a real without origin or reality) and much glossed over by Jameson, who takes it to mean an imitation of something whose original never existed.
6. a-historicism: loss of historical grounding, due not only to revisionism (interpretation of an historical fact by standards of another time) but also to the constant practice of anachronism in Postmodernity
7. pastiche: which, to Jameson, has become an inocuous and all-too clever use of mimicry, whereas Hutcheon prefers to call it
8. parody: Linda Hutcheon sees Postmodern mimicry as much more positive, a repetition that embodies transformation and difference. Whatever we call it - parody or pastiche - what we have is a radical
9. intertextuality, which is one of the many features of Postmodernism that make it a movement that doesn't exactly break with Modernism (see Diogo's comment) but radicalizes some of its practices, like:
10. Fragmentation and breakdown of linear narrative
11. Depersonalization / defamiliarization and multiple points of view
12. Variety of competitive discourses (including heteroglossia - mixing of languages within the literary text)
13. Reflexivity - we enter the consciousness of self/selves/and-or Others, and art is increasingly also reflexive of itself - it ponders on its own making. This is an important part of Postmodernism as a critique of means and ways of representation, and its awareness that realities are made rathern than given.
14. Distortion
Last - but still possibly not completely - Postmodernism includes also:
15. sexual freedom and gender b(l)ending
16.  added challenges to the family as basis of society
17. nihilism and saturation of stimuli - depression / anxiety as a consequence of affective loss, and this in turn a possible consequence of skepticism (see the menace of the world's end at the click of a button at the close of World War II), as well as of the radicalization of modernist intellectualization and symbolization.
18. dislocation and evasion (where we may start with Tennessee Williams and the figure of the "fugitive"...)

Flannery O'Connor, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" - For Thursday 25th Feb

From Tuesday to Thursday all you are required to do is read. So this post does not require comments, unless you feel a real urge to do it. This post is just to guide your reading:

- characters: how are characters defined? psychologically and physically? is there ambiguity in their portrayal?

- which elements of setting seem particularly relevant? why?

- action: what is the relation between the action(s) and the title "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"?

- atmosphere - what stylistic elements do / contribute to the atmosphere.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

William Faulkner on The South

"Because it is himself that the Southerner is writing about, not about his environment: who has, figuratively speaking, taken the artist in him in one hand and his milieu in the other and thrust the one into the other like a clawing and spitting cat into a croker sack. And he writes. We have never got and probably will never get, anywhere with music or the plastic forms. We need to talk, to tell, since oratory is our heritage. We seem to try in the simple furious breathing (or writing) span of the individual to draw a savage indictment of the contemporary scene or to escape from it into a makebelieve region of swords and magnolias and mockingbirds which perhaps never existed anywhere. Both of the courses are rooted in sentiment; perhaps the ones who write savagely and bitterly of the incest in clayfloored cabins are the most sentimental. Anyway, each course is a matter of violent partisanship, in which the writer unconsciously writes into every line and phrase his violent despairs and rages and frustrations or his violent prophesies of still more violent hopes." 
[introdução inédita - publicada postumamente - a The Sound and the Fury (1929)

“In the nineteenth century,” John Sartoris had said, ‘‘worrying over genealogy anywhere is poppycock. But particularly so in America, where only what a man takes and keeps has any significance, and where all of us have a common ancestry and the only house from which we can claim descent with any assurance, is the Old Bailey. Yet the man who professes to care nothing about his forbears is only a little less vain than he who bases all his actions on blood precedent. And a Sartoris is entitled to a little vanity and poppycock, if he wants it.”
Faulkner, Flags in the Dust (published posthumously, 1973; its abridged and edited version, Sartoris, was published in 1929)

"He [John Sartoris] is thinking of this whole country which he is trying to raise by its bootstraps, so that all the people in it, not just his kind nor his old regiment, but all the people, black and white, the women and children back in the hills who don't even own shoes-Don't you see?"
"But how can they get any good from what he wants to do for them if they are-after he has------"
"Killed some of them? I suppose you include those two carpet baggers he had to kill to hold that first election, don't you?"
"They were men. Human beings."
"They were Northerners, foreigners who had no business here. They were pirates." (William Faulkner, The Unvanquished, 1938)

For more on the South (whose mythic separateness from the North dates further back than the American Civil War) you might want to read this literary justification by one of the authors in our syllabus, Flannery O'Connor.

On Postmodernism

Dear students,

As I told you last (our first!) class,  Linda Hutcheon (more enthusiastic) and Fredric James (much more skeptical) are two of the critical writers who have helped to establish the critical fortune of the term "postmodernism." Here are some links for articles by/on them that can be found online.

2. Jameson, Fredric - not really an essay by him but a synopsis of his ideas in the influential book Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991):


Hutcheon, Linda. "The Politics of Postmodernism: Parody and History" Cultural Critique, No. 5, Modernity and Modernism, Postmodernity and Postmodernism. (Winter,1986-1987), pp. 179-207
Hutcheon, Linda, "Postmodern Afterthoughts". Wascana Review. 37.1 (2002): 5-12. 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Class Debates - Proposed Format

1. Opening Statements (with at least 3 arguments, two of them must be literary)  
YES/PRO 3 min     NO/CON 3 min

2. Rebuttal - teams argue against each others' arguments  (2 rounds of 3 min each) 

3. Clarification / Questions from the audience (5 min)

4.  [Conference of teams] 5 min

5. Closing Statements  YES/PRO 3min NO/CON 3 min

Debate Preparation: 
1. Obtain information from reputable sources.
2. Brandish at least two literary arguments.
3. Prepare a quality brief to hand out previously to the opposing team and to classmates at beginning of lesson (then completed in the blog)
4. Reflect clearly on the ethical theory/theories and principles involved with the issue.
5. Present your information effectively and convincingly (you may use props or audio-visual material, but you cannot exceed the alloted time)
6. In addition to preparing arguments for their position, each team should anticipate their opponents’ arguments and identify possible flaws or weaknesses in those arguments

Debate Rules:
You must raise your hand if it's not your time to speak. 
Teams lose 1 point for each interruption. 
Teams lose 1 point for whispering while another speaker is talking. 

Debate evaluation:
- by peers (classmates) who fill a handout with pre-set parameters
- by teacher, whose evaluation includes feedback from colleagues and appreciation of written post on the blog.

HW for Feb 28 - Welcome to US Literature Post-1945 / Bem vindos!

Please provide answers, in the comments' box below, to the following:

1. Explain what you think the term postmodernism means, and list some of its key concepts (please research on the topic, if you have never heard of the term).

2. Listen to the song "Pós Modernos" by the Portuguese band GNR (1986), try to identify in which ways it (dis)agrees with your previous answer, and/or comment on anything you find remarkable in its text/performance.