Lee's -Isms Lecture
A Short History of American, Literary/Art Writing

last updated 2/21/07

timeline of literary writing: these movements come about for many reasons (cultural shifts, wars, technological inventions), but also because of people's quest to be fresh, to revolt against what came before.

the enlightenment--> romanticism (romantic poets who wanted to rebel against rationality as the end all be all)--> realism--> naturalism--> modernism (DaDa, Surrealism)--> beats (political realism meets DaDa?) and confessionalism (non-polite poetry)-->  postmodernism--> minimalism (neo-realism or hyperrealism)--> re-realism (mimesis sells)--> neo-formalism (poetry playing with given forms, but with more pomo subjects)--> neo-postmodernism-->  re-re-realism?

Of course my arrows are silly here, implying some kind of neatness or causality...yikes!

I like to take Roland Barthes "binary" from his book Pleasure of the Text, 1975 and create a broader, more complex continuum of blissiness which I think is useful for thinking about the differences between commercial and literary writing (I am, as I mentioned, biased on the literary side, or the text of bliss side).  I often tell students we as post-pomos might want to try for something between these two sites, but it all depends on your writing fetishes.  Oh, and a "pomo" is my word for a postmodernist, or a postmodern person.

Text of Bliss



Text of Pleasure


Postmodernism Neo-Postmodernism

(high stylists? the dysenfranchised/non-master narrative writers doing realism?)

Minimalism or Neo-Realism Literary Realism Good "Commercial" Writing "Bad" Commercial Writing
Some say 1945's dropping of the bomb started the postmodern era...

But, Virginia Woolf was considered a modernist, though her book Orlando (1928) is much more postmodernly playful (political/feminist, revisionist history/ new historical critique of biographies).

The hard cores put us in crisis with our relationship to language and meaning and culture (Bliss)

1990's a return to postmodern strategies, but also with more narrative (plot sells more), more "soul" than hard core pomo-- J. Winterson

Movies by Spike Jonze (Being John Malcovich; The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Some 80's practitioners like Tim O'Brien; Jane Ann Phillips; Carol Maso (is she pomo?  Ava, a novel in memory fragments, certainly is)

Jeanette Winterson herself uses magical realism, but also has plots; The Passion is more narrative; Written on the Body is more fragmented (but also questioning gender)...

Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues (absurdist questions; vignettes and longer narratives; performance/sound pieces)

1980's Raymond Carver

William Carlos Williams

Mid 1800's; Keeps resurging because it is a good way to weave what John Gardner calls the "vivid and continuous dream", or the practice of mimesis  

(Genette might say realism may focus on bringing "story time" and "narrative time" more into sinc...)

Realism that doesn't insult me too much, but which "the masses" can also consume more readily (capitalistically).


Tolkein??  Or is he too much a stylist?  but not neo, and not pomo...



Ben Bova

Harlequin Romances

1960's hard core fiction pomos--D. Barthemle, John Barth

Perhaps Rebecca Brown is a little closer to a hard core pomo with her odd bricolages of objects from different time periods...but she's also telling a love story...

Magical Realism--Latin American writers like G. G. Marquez and his character, Remedios the Beauty (1960's, 70's)

Toni Morison's Beloved?  Highly stylized, dense poetic language, magical realism...

Could we say that S. Plath fits in this area with her surreal leaps?

  More complex Oprah book club selections; New Yorker stories (Lorrie Moore?); may be stories that use a more mimetic, less stylized language Oprah book club selections (Secret Life of Bees) Harlequin Romances
concrete/conceptual artists and the avant-garde: John Cage in music; Found and Concrete language art (ubuweb.com);

language poets--G. Stein's Tender Buttons (sounds are more important than meanings); Stein's more meaning-oriented work was considered Modernist.

S. Cisneros--realism that is highly stylized but also using some postmodern strategies (fragmentation) and some magical realism

Laurie Anderson?  Avant-garde but with narrative...

  Some would consider high stylists like S. Cisneros to be writing realism, but the more style, the less mimesis (Genette) Movies like Schindler's List (though it has a few overly pleasure-y moments)--obviously Spielberg has produced many texts of more extreme pleasure Bad Hollywood movies; Bad sitcoms
Monty Python's Flying Circus (69-74)...full of pastiche, but also theater of the absurd The Simpsons--very meta, pastiche, but also still funny if you don't know the allusions...   Rick Bass, quite stylized and non-linear, sometimes seemingly "marvelous," but usually things that can be recuperated into realism (Todorov's uncanny)    
Anti-art DaDaists like Duchamp (1910's)          
Some of The Beats could be linked with DaDa and the Absurdists --but their coherent political messages, their anger, had pointed meaning about society

W. Burroughs (60's)


Allen Ginsberg's famous Howl (also brought up on obscenity charges)...but is it neo because it has more to say?

Kathy Acker (80's)--neo because it's published after the hard cores published?