Last Updated 23 Jun 2020

How Useful Is Postmodernism in Understanding Contemporary British Fiction

Category Postmodernism
Essay type Research
Words 840 (3 pages)
Views 420

How useful is postmodernism in understanding contemporary British fiction To examine the question of how useful postmodernism is in understanding contemporary British fiction, I will be using the example of ‘Sexing The Cherry’ written by Jeanette Winterson. The works that can be closely linked with this novel first published in 1989 are those of theorist and historian Michel Foucault. His ideas on sexuality mirror the ideas of sexuality used in Sexing The Cherry (Winterson. J 1989, 47-60). Postmodernism affects the way that we read a text, but why is that more important than reading a text for its own individual merit.

Postmodernism as a movement is only the current movement in literature, and if we look into the past we can see that all the movements can be used to characterise some of the texts of the era in which they were written, but also there are other factors that go into analysing a text, such as historical and social context. During those times texts were analysed by using the movement of the time, however there is nothing to say that previous movements can’ be used to analyse contemporary texts, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the current movement.

For example Romanticism or Modernism could still be used as a valid theory to analyse texts that are currently being published; because some of the ideas used to create the basis of these movements are still valid in today’s society, as Postmodernism is still just the progression of Modernism. It is all dependant on what the author has intended to convey with his or her story, as in any case the ideas and theories that have influenced postmodernism are those of the previous movements and societies.

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Foucault’s ideas of sexuality and the taboo of sexuality can be seen in the retelling of the 12 dancing princesses in Sexing The Cherry (Winterson. J. 1989, 47-60). In the story told by Winterson the twelve dancing princesses all become married to twelve princes but all but one of them part with their princes for one reason or another, most of them kill their husbands due to their inadequacies or in one case because he asks her to. Foucault argues that the relationship between sex and power is defined by repression.

Sexual repression is something that can be seen in some if not all of the stories Winterson tells, if not especially with the tale of the princess who married another woman and lives are happy and peaceful life until their persecutors come to kill them. In this Foucault’s ideas of sexual repression which he talks about in his book The History Of Sexuality (Foucault, M, 1976) in society come to be useful in the analysis of this, however this could also be done using the current social context concerning sexuality.

The postmodernism critique of this is detracting from the individual and placing into a much larger concept and can take away all the emotional power of this story. Postmodernism is not concerned with the individual as previous movements had been but instead pushes all of us into groups or theories that characterise all people in a similar way, which I believe takes something away from the text by making the text merely a commentary on the social aspects of our society as opposed to being the thoughts on paper of one person who wishes to express his or her feelings.

Postmodernism removes itself from reality by showing the nature of the society in which we have created for ourselves as fake “Postmodern theorists adopt the poststructuralist strategy of severing the connection between signs and their referents, thus abandoning modern theorists' efforts to represent the "real. ”” (Robert J. Antonio and Douglas Kellner, New York: Guilford Press, 1994: 127-152. Sexing The Cherry does this with the playful way in which it deals with history, by placing the protagonist of the story in a time that is so different from now the author is able to play with and subvert our already existing ideas of that time and apply social stigma of our society onto a time that had different ideas to those which we have now. Postmodernism as a critical tool, I feel takes away from the text its individuality, and therefore the power from the words on the page, which the author has tried to put down on paper.

Literature should be classed individually as it has been created by individuals, and the postmodernist way of critique dismisses the idea that the author had anything to do with it. Word Count: 745 Bibliography * Sexing The Cherry – Winterson J. 1989, Vintage ISBN 0-09-974720-0 * Beginning Theory an introduction to literary and cultural theory – Barry P. 995, 2002, 2009 Manchester University Press ISBN 978-0-7190-7927-6 * The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction – Foucault M. 1976 Vintage ISBN-13: 978-0679724698 * The A-Z Guide to Modern Literary and Cultural Theorists Sim S. 1995 Prentice Hall/ Harvester Wheatsheaf ISBN 0-13-355553-4 * MODERNITY AND SOCIAL THEORY: THE LIMITS OF THE POSTMODERN CRITIQUE Antonio R. J. and Kellner D. 1994 New York: Guilford Press

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How Useful Is Postmodernism in Understanding Contemporary British Fiction. (2017, Feb 24). Retrieved from

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