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Contemporary Literature


Contemporary Literature & Postmodernism 1939 Present – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Contemporary Literature

Contemporary Literature Postmodernism
  • 1939 Present

Contemp. Lit - Historical Overview
  • World War II 1939 1945
  • Began when Britain and France declared war on
    Germany after Hitlers armies invaded Poland.
  • U.S. was drug into the war on Dec. 7 1941, when
    Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor,
  • The attack on Pearl Harbor killed over 2,395
    Americans and destroyed / damaged 21 ships and
    323 aircrafts.
  • Until this attack, the U.S. had remained neutral
    (although we had provided financial support to
    those countries fighting Germany, Italy, and

Contemp. Lit Historical Overview
  • WW II - U.S. response Atomic Bomb
  • The U.S. dropped atomic bombs that obliterated
    two Japanese cities.
  • Bomb on Nagasaki / Bomb on Hiroshima from the
    U.S. airplane Enola Gay
  • Infamous and symbolic mushroom cloud represents
    the triumph of science technology, the purpose
    of which was, ironically enough, to benefit
    mankind, and to make life richer and easier for
  • Many Americans disapproved of the use of the
    atomic bomb to end WWII, but most agreed with the
    purpose of the war itself.
  • Fighting against tyranny and regimes that would
    destroy the American way of life.

Contemp. Lit Historical Overview
  • The Cold War 1945 1991 (ideological battle
    between Capitalism and Communism)
  • Although the U.S. emerged from WWII an economic
    and political powerhouse, we did not go
    unchallenged for long.
  • The Soviet Union developed nuclear weapons in the
    50s and 60s created conflict with the U.S.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 Soviet Union placed
    nuclear missiles on Cuba, pointed at the U.S.
  • The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991
  • The result a new Russian republic with
    democratic aspirations
  • However, the threat of nuclear violence was still

Contemp. Lit The Digital Revolution and
Economic Prosperity
  • Introduction of the computer
  • 50s and 60s businesses and governments were
    revolutionized by large mainframe computers
  • Made quick electronic storage and retrieval of
    large amounts of data possible in a short amount
    of time.
  • 80s and 90s desktop computers appeared in
    schools, offices, and homes
  • 80s me generation
  • Individual enjoyment and material success seemed
    to overshadow other concerns.
  • Late 90s internet communication emerged along
    with wireless telephone technology
  • All of these innovations fueled a surge in the
    stock market in the 90s
  • Attack on September 11, 2001 killed three
    thousand civilians (damaging blow to the
    countries economy).

Contemp. Lit The Digital Revolution and
Economic Prosperity
  • Positive effects of science technology
  • Increased life spans
  • Better fed and housed many
  • Moved us faster from place to place
  • Allowing some to stroll on the surface of the moon
  • Negative effects of science technology
  • Computer tech. has made many jobs obsolete
  • American consumers - many feel that they have
    become anonymous (known only by a password or
    credit card number)
  • American privacy is unprotected
  • American dreams are shaped by mass advertising,
    journalism, and entertainment

Literary Response
  • To many writers, the madness of the war-torn
    world was an inescapable condition of modern
    life, and the only appropriate response was
    hard-edged laughter at lifes tragic ironies.
  • Gallows humor ironic humor arising from an
    acknowledgement of the absurd or grotesque
  • Often used to describe the work of writers who
    flourished after WWII.

Contemporary Fiction
  • Diversity and Vitality
  • Postmodern a term used to describe contemporary
    American culture - still in the process of being
  • Postmodernism sees contemporary culture as a
    change a development or a departure from
  • Postmodern writers use many of the same tools
    that the modernists used although, they are
    constructing a body of literature that is
    completely different from that produced by the

Contemporary Fiction
  • Characteristics of postmodernism
  • Allowing multiple meanings and multiple worlds
  • Worlds realistic, literal, past, and dreamlike
  • Narrators and characters may tell different
    versions of a story, or a story may deliberately
    accommodate several valid interpretations.
  • The postmodern would ask, Why choose only one
    version? Why limit ourselves?
  • Authors do not abide by conventional rules (e.g.
    9 pages one sentence / every word in the
    first chapter begins with A every word in the
    second chapter beings with B etc.)
  • Intensely self-conscious
  • Comment on themselves / criticize themselves /
    take themselves apart / encourage readers to put
    them together again
  • Blending of fiction with nonfiction
  • Uses the past fearlessly (invigorate the old by
    means of the new)

Contemporary Nonfiction
  • Breaking the Barriers
  • Until this point, nonfiction meant everything
    that wasnt fiction. (Many times, nonfiction
    writers were lumped together with journalists.)
  • Critics tended to concentrate on the search for
    the Great American Novel, which was thought to be
    more important than anything a nonfiction writer
    could produce.
  • Since the 70s, this idea has changed
  • Featured reviews now discuss the art (not just
    the factual content) of books on computers,
    architecture, travel, history, etc.
  • Lists of bestsellers which have always included
    self-help books, now regularly feature memoirs,
    biographies, and histories.

Contemporary Nonfiction
  • Two statements concerning todays nonfiction
  • 1.) Does it have to be accurate?
  • Traditional literary terms do not always apply to
    nonfiction (setting, theme, point of view, etc.)
  • Truth or accuracy is often a test applied to
    nonfiction, with frequently unsatisfactory
  • E.g. a travel memoir which discusses wildlife
    in the Himalayas found to be fiction due to the
    authors extensive research in a library rather
    than traveling to the Himalayas.

Contemporary Nonfiction
  • Two statements concerning todays nonfiction
  • 2.) The New Journalism
  • 60s New Journalism (aka literary journalism)
  • Authors attracted attention by describing
    contemporary culture and actual events in
    strongly individual voices.
  • Used devices (from fiction) including
    characterization, plot, suspense, setting,
    symbolism, and irony.
  • A new journalist did NOT feel obliged to keep his
    or her opinion and presence out of writing in
    fact, presence and participation were often

Contemporary Poetry
  • Varied and Intensely Personal
  • Decline of Modernism
  • No longer appropriate for the times!
  • A generation had returned from war to a country
    where conformity and material success were the
    main values.
  • Acquiring a house and car, and making money were
    of more immediate importance than ever.
  • Projective Verse
  • Led by Black Mountain Poets Charles Olson,
    Robert Duncan, and Robert Creeley
  • Produced poems strongly influenced by Pound and
  • Open-form treating each poem as an individual
    entity, creating its own form as it proceeded.
  • Open-form poems avoided regular meter and rhyme
    and aimed to imitate the spontaneity and
    complexity of reality itself

Contemporary Poetry
  • The Beat Poets
  • 1957 impact on American popular culture
  • Marked by poetry readings, jazz performances, and
    the appearance of late-night coffeehouses in San
    Francisco and New Yorks Greenwich Village
  • Howl by Allen Ginsberg Bible for the Beat Poets
  • Poem that addressed the concerns of contemporary
    lifestyle (first clear alternative to poetry that
    seemed to be written for analysis in the
  • Injustices of modern life importance of the
    imagination became the themes of contemporary

Contemporary Poetry
  • 1959 Robert Lowell published Life Studies, one
    of the most important and influential volumes of
    verse to appear since WWII.
  • About personal experiences that modernist poets
    had avoided dealing with directly emotional
    distress, alcoholism, illness, and depression.
  • Confessional School of Poets friends or
    students of Lowells (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton,
    and John Berryman) wrote frank, sometimes brutal
    poems about their private lives.

Contemporary Poetry
  • Today, American poetry is characterized by
  • Variety in style and attitude has attracted more
    of an audience.
  • Poetry performances
  • Technology (making many available through audio,
    video, television, and/or website)
  • Reflects democratic quality
  • Often write in the language of common speech
    (dont hesitate to shock with details of their
    private lives)