We’ve Always Been Postmodern?

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“And while postmodern books would, you’d think, have to be published after the modern period — in the 20th or 21st centuries — could postmodernism exist without “Tristram Shandy”? We think not.”

At Jacket Copy a while ago, Carolynn Kellog provided an annotated list of essential postmodern novels. The list part, to me, is not half as interesting as what she deems certain inalienable traits of postmodern literature, including “blurs reality with fiction” and “includes fictional artifacts, like letters.”  Not surprisingly these traits have been in literature for hundreds of years and aren’t exactly the exclusive province of the Postmoderns. Yes, perhaps every postmodern novel shows, to a certain extent, one or more of these attributes but so do authors from other epochs. Especially Shakespeare.

Of the 61 books she included, I realized, with a shock, I had read seventeen of them but then yesterday when I read the BBC’s somewhat myopic, huffy, and frumpy list of their 100 best books, I realized I had only read ten or so of theirs. For example, I have not read the Lord Of The Rings or any of the Harry Potter books. But I have read Gravity’s Rainbow, none of which I remember except for the dirty parts.

If these lists are to be believed, I guess, for better or for worse, I enjoy a more postmodern sensibility, even though I relish strong characters and a dynamic plot which, I’m told, are traits that postmodern literature does away with.

Were I to amend the first list, however, keeping in mind that postmodern sensibilities are as timeless as Hamlet, there are  few books I would include, but I’ll spare you the huffiness of annotating them with certain inalienable traits. In short, any list worth its postmodern salt should include The Manuscript Found In Saragossa, Locus Solus, Life: A User’s Manual and Dhalgren.

I hesitate to add that these are some of my “favorite” books, even though that list changes every day and is largely meaningless.


Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →