. . . over at Apex today. They were looking for an extra post, and boy howdy did I give it to them. 1600 words later, I overexplained the idea of postmodernism and its relationship to fantastic literature. I am sure that it will not be hard for people to take my definition (and contentions) to task, but then again, that’s pretty postmodern. . . .

Given the flexibility of postmodernism, and the difficulty of defining it, I think I did a good job. We’ll see if the two authors whose ideas I discussed feel the same (or if they even give a crap). While I agreed with VanderMeer that Sanderson’s essay was problematic, I thought that the misconception that suffused Sanderson’s use of the terms was partly a result of trying to simplify ideas that are all about resisting simplification. But I found Sanderson’s contention that the new generation of fantasy authors are trying to retask essential tropes and conventions to make more interesting stories to be a valuable idea worth more consideration, and thus I could not dismiss his essay out of hand, which some commenters (including VanderMeer himself) seemed to do.

What bothered me about both initially was how they naturalized and immediately decoupled postmodernism as a literary mode from the larger history and insights of postmodernism (as the discrete movement to historicize the problems of modernism). It looks like “postmodern literature” itself has done this by being codified into a combination of meta-genre and subdiscipline of critical writing. Both defined it implicitly as integrated into the wider literary landscape, which is the case to some extent, but which still misses the point. Just because a term has been appropriated or modulated in literary discourse does not mean it has lost all connection to its past, or its more incisive potential to influence the present.

Having said all this, I have to say that I am a tentative postmodernist myself; it’s the anarchist in me I’m sure. It and deconstruction are so open to abuse and misinterpretation that I embrace some of its ideas while not using all of its methods. Regardless, more precise use of these terms, and more reflective understandings of what they signify and question, are necessary to having better conversations on how literature works, and how writers and readers can improve their interaction with the texts that compel our attention and invigorate our imagination.

Edit, 9/15/10, 9:55PM: I just posted a longish response to Jeff’s concerns over in the comments section of the essay, but I wanted to reproduce it here to cover Jeff’s comment here as well:

Jeff: It was absolutely not my intention to take your words out of context, or to give offense with this essay. The point was to discuss what I believe is left out of conversations on postmodernism in fantastic literature, in a very germinal formulation. My response to your piece, in retrospect, was less well-developed than to Sanderson’s, and also hyperbolic in its characterization. I was not trying to misrepresent what you said, because there was resonance there with what I was heading towards in my piece, but I was making the point, perhaps in too limited and unreflective a fashion, that the focus on technique missed some aspects of a postmodern standpoint that I think need more consideration.

My objective was not to denigrate what you were saying, but to proceed farther with it. I did miss the important distinction you highlight regarding your comment on elitism, which I am happy to correct in the piece. I think some rather excessive language and not enough attention to your post as a whole weakened what I was trying to in that section of the piece. So yes, I think we are pretty much on the same page, I just needed to make that clearer and use more positivist discourse than deconstruction. 🙂

As for the observation that I did not take comments into account, that is quite true. I did not get into comments from either post because I wanted to focus on the two essays themselves, and talk about the interplay between them. It is obvious from the erudite avalanche of comments on your site that a very rich conversation is taking place, which is precisely what I was talking about at the start of my piece. The engagement that you started, and that I was working to extend, has flourished into a muscular exchange of ideas. Thanks for getting that going, and for inspiring this essay.