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Week 3: postmodernism

"In writing Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut is more creating an anti-war anti-novel than an anti-war war novel (Meeter 216). His perspective is uniquely postmodern, and his narrative emphasizes the disjointed state of human affairs. His story is not without hope, though, just as the human plight is not completely in despair. Vonnegut uses the Tralfamadorians to underscore elements of our own culture and way of thinking. Their feelings are contrasted with those of our collective consciousness, and used to find hope and reconciliation in a lost world."

Quoted from a review of Slaughterhouse-Five by Brent Byars, published on

Watch the following short film: 


Read the following text on postmodernism (source:

Postmodernism is a concept that encompasses a wide range of ideals, methods and practices. It is more importantly not a philosophical movement in itself, but rather, incorporates a number of philosophical and critical methods that can be considered 'postmodern', the most familiar include feminism and post-structuralism. Put another way, postmodernism is not a method of doing philosophy, but rather a way of approaching traditional ideas and practices in non-traditional ways that deviate from pre-established superstructural modes. This has caused difficulties in defining what postmodernism actually means or should mean and therefore remains a complex and controversial concept, which continues to be debated. The idea of the postmodern gained momentum through to the 1950s before dominating literature, art and the intellectual scene of the 1960s. Postmodernism's origins are generally accepted as having being conceived in art around the end of the nineteenth century as a reaction to the stultifying legacy of modern art and continued to expand into other disciplines during the early twentieth century as a reaction against modernism in general.

In its most basic form, postmodernism is an intentional departure from the previously dominant modernist approaches such as scientific positivism, realism, constructivism, formalism, metaphysics and so forth. In a sense, the "postmodernist" approach continues the critique of the Enlightenment legacy, fundamentally seeking to challenge the traditional practices and intellectual pillars of western civilization just as the Enlightenment challenged tradition, theology and the authority of religion before it.

Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on who the interested parties are and the nature of these interests. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective. Postmodernism has influenced many cultural fields, including religion, literary criticism, sociology, linguistics, architecture, history, anthropology, visual arts, and music.

Modernism and postmodernism are also understood as cultural stances or sets of perspectives. In critical theory, "Postmodernism" refers to a point of departure for works of literature, drama, architecture, cinema, journalism, and design. It has also influenced marketing, business and the interpretation of law, culture, and religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.[1] Postmodernism, particularly as an academic movement, can be understood as a reaction to modernism in the Humanities. Whereas modernism was primarily concerned with principles such as identity, unity, authority, and certainty, postmodernism is often associated with difference, plurality, textuality, and skepticism[citation needed].

Literary critic Fredric Jameson describes postmodernism as the "dominant cultural logic of late capitalism." "Late capitalism" refers to the phase of capitalism after World War II, as described by Marxist theorist Ernest Mandel. The term refers to the same period described by "globalization", "multinational capitalism", or "consumer capitalism".[2]

(1) Define postmodernism as a philosophy.

(2) Write down 5 characteristics of postmodern literature which are apparent in Slaughterhouse-Five. Explain how (do not forget to use the novel (examples from text) to illustrate your argument.

Use the links below.