What do we see when we look at a piece of writing?

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Introduction to PostmodernismNotes from Dr. Dawn DuncanNote: click below for the full file--what's here is just excerpts from her full notes on the subject.


  • Language and Meaning:
  • Literate vs. Oral Societies—unifying linguistic construct for literate cultures = dictionary, agreed upon definitions of terms based on conventions for classifying (science and taxonomy); unifying linguistic construct for oral cultures = stories, with little concern for authorship and a focus on relevance of story to now (timelessness, non-linear).

Hallmarks of Postmodernism

While Postmodernism shares much in common with Modernism, it extends and collapses boundaries of experimentation and forms of representation. Some of the hallmarks include:
  • Extreme self-reflexivity—think Scream movies that debate rules of horror films
  • Irony and parody—think of playfulness of Andy Warhol
  • A breakdown between high and low cultural forms—think graphic novels
  • Retro fascination and juxtaposition of styles—think baroque and
  • A questioning of grand narratives—think music that questions systems (economic, religious, gender, etc.)
  • Visuality and the simulacrum vs. temporality—think reality shows
  • Late capitalism—think paranoia, sense of always being watched in corporate, techno world
  • Disorientation—shifting our perception suddenly; think revelations in Matrix or Sixth Sense
  • Secondary Orality—large segment of population that ingests information from oral media sources (TV, film, radio, cell phones) and is functionality illiterate, while educated class produces the information
  • “A new creative relationship between high art and certain forms of mass culture” (Huyssen 23).

Huyssen describes four characteristics of postmodernism:
  1. “a temporal imagination which displayed a powerful sense of the future and of new frontiers, of rupture and discontinuity, of crisis and generational conflict” (20).
  2. Attacks on “institution art” (museums, galleries, canons of art, as well as politically sanctioned art such as poems read at governmental events) as well as attacks on “hegemonic social institutions” (22).
  3. “technological optimism … euphoric visions of a postindustrial society,” with enthusiasm about “cybernetic and technocratic media” (22).
  4. “a vigorous, though again largely uncritical attempt to validate popular culture as a challenge to the canon of high art, modernist or traditional” (23).


  • Camp—coined by Susan Sontag: “A sensibility that revels in artifice, stylization, theatricalization, irony, playfulness, and exaggeration rather than content” (Felluga). Often associated with challenging accepted gender norms or with kitsch art.
  • Dystopia—“An imagined universe (usually the future of our own world) in which a worst-case scenario is explored; the opposite of utopia” (Felluga).
  • Kitsch—“The reduction of aesthetic objects or ideas into easily marketable forms” (Felluga). "The kitsch object is commonly understood as one of that great army of 'trashy' objects, made of plaster of Paris [stuc] or some such imitation material: that gallery of cheap junk—accessories, folksy knickknacks, 'souvernirs', lampshades or fake African masks—which proliferate everywhere, with a preference for holiday resorts and places of leisure" (Baudrillard 109-110).
  • Historiographic metafiction—coined by Linda Hutcheon; “shows fiction to be historically conditioned and history to be discursively structured” (Hutcheon, Poetics 120)
  • Pastiche—a literary work composed from elements borrowed either from various other writers or from a particular earlier author. The term can be used in a derogatory sense to indicate lack of originality, or more neutrally to refer to works that involve a deliberate and playfully imitative tribute to other writers (Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms).
  • Postmodernism—“attempt to rethink a number of concepts held dear by Enlightenment humanism and many modernists, including subjectivity, temporality, referentiality, progress, empiricism, and the rule of law. ‘Postmodernism’ also refers to the aesthetic/cultural products that treat and often critique aspects of ‘postmodernity’" (Felluga).
  • Rhizome—notion associated with Deleuze and Guattari which refers to material that is “endlessly aggregative (at least in theory) and connected to each other and to the rest of the [corresponding aspects] by multiple additional links” (Felluga).
  • Simulacrum—“Something that replaces reality with its representation” (Felluga).

Works Cited
  • Baudrillard, Jean. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. London: Sage, 1998.
  • Felluga, Dino. “Postmodernism.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Updated January 2006. Accessed 30 March 2009. Purdue University. http://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/engl/theory/
  • Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1989.
  • Huyssen, Andreas. “Mapping the Postmodern.” New German Critique, No. 33 Modernity and Postmodernity (Autumn, 1984). 5-52. Accessed 31 March 2009. http://www.jstor.org/stable/488352
  • Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

Postcolonial Re-fresher

Dawn Duncan

Definition of Flexible Foundation of Postcolonialism:

  • Ontological Questions of Identity
  • Context: Socio-political domination of native people by encroaching alien power
  • 3-sided story: Native history, state construct, individual Investigation

ABC's of Colonialism (A mnemonic device created by Dawn Duncan):

The Motive: (G)

  • Gold
  • Glory
  • God

The Realms: (L)

  • Land
  • Law
  • Language

The Agents: (M)

  • Merchants
  • Military
  • Missionaries

Introduction to Postcolonialism PP