Postmodern Prose - How to Read Them and How to Deal With Them

The word postmodern itself indicates experimentation with conventions, rules, and previously accepted standard of communication. So when we talk about postmodern prose, we are looking at a piece of writing that will push and challenge normal writing conventions and structure such as grammar, punctuation, etc. Let's take examples of postmodern prose classics such as Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. If one goes into the book expecting to have grammatically correct sentence structure and conventional narrative plot that follows a protagonist around through a beginning, middle, and end, one would be severely confused and disappointed by the first chapter.


A good step to take in approaching such novels requires the following mental steps:

1) Expect the unexpected. Breaking expectations is a key attribute of any postmodern works. By suspending one's common expectations, one is less likely to toss the book after the first page simply because it doesn't follow what you are use to.

2) Suspend personal judgment. People often times wrongly equate something is 'objectively' good with personal, subjective judgment such as "I like this book" (which means "the book is good") or "I don't like this book" (which means "the book is bad").

3) Be "generous" in your reading. In other words, when something does not make sense to you initially, don't assume that the author is incompetent and write the whole novel off. Give benefit of the doubt that writers make certain decisions for a purposeful effect.

For example, one of the difficulties of reading Gravity's Rainbow is the full of dense, obscure, and specialized language understandable only to people who's profession and education uses that particular jargon. Instead of seeing this writing decision as a "fault" of the novel, take into consideration that perhaps the writer is utilizing specialized jargon as a method to point out the increasingly alienating partitioning of knowledge and of society during the novel's time period.

Approaching works of literature or works of art that challenges conventions often require some patience and effort on the viewer. Unlike the consumer culture where everything is catered for ease, convenience, and instant gratification, postmodern products asks its viewers to reflect, think, and question one's perspective and values.


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