I was led to a list of the “61 Essential Postmodern Reads” published by the LA Times via Obooki’s Obloquy. The list includes premodern classics such as Chaucer, Tristram Shandy, and Don Quixote. Obooki’s (who also leads me to another wonderful list, The New Stateman’s “50 Red Reads”) problematizes the inclusion of some books in the list of postmodern reads:
Ah, this is the thing with (post-)modernism – you know what books belong to it, but for some reason you can’t quite define what it is or why these particular books belong. Take, for instance, for me two of the most dubious inclusions, Absalom! Absalom! (why this novel of Faulkner’s above all as an example of post-modernism) and Metamorphosis, both included according to this because: they disrupt or play with form; they play with language; and they are progenitors of post-modernism. (Metamorphosis is also, apparently, short). – Ok, for a start, we don’t have any truck with the notion of progenitors (as you may have noticed from our modernism before modernism): either it has qualities of post-modernism or it doesn’t / either it is or it isn’t. “Plays with language” – well, what the hell worthwhile book doesn’t. – “Disrupts or plays with form” – well (not to invite our in-house Kafka-expert SM on here to contradict me), but I read Metamorphosis recently and it appeared to have a very linear structure; – perhaps something about introducing fantastical elements into a realistic narrative? But again, what is specifically post-modern about that? Crossing-over of genres is as ancient as literature itself. – As to Faulkner, OK he plays with form a bit – but he doesn’t do so in a way I’d ever consider post-modern – that is, in a self-conscious, knowing manner, say like Barth or the contemptible Toby Whatever – it is a playing with form for an encapsulated artistic effect (or something).
Meanwhile, Blographia Literaria hits the sensationalism of such lists by “pretending that literary time can be folded at will for the sake of a momentary spark of historical wire-crossing.” Blographia Literaria doesn’t aim his tirade at how such lists undermine “an orderly sense of literary history,” but rather on how it negatively affects “any legitimate attempt to make cross-period comparisons.” ■