Contribution to Books
Appearing at the start of the millennium, Percival Everett's Erasure (2001) features Monk Ellison, a writer who is questioning his one-time embrace of postmodern aesthetics and who raises the ire of "innovative" writer and fellow member of the Nouveau Roman Society after delivering a conference paper, F/V, part parody of and part homage to Roland Barthes's S/Z. Becoming belligerent, the writer proclaims to Ellison that postmodernists did not "have time to finish what we set out to accomplish" because any art which "opposes or rejects established systems of creation ... has to remain unfinished." His unsuccessful attempt to punch Ellison lands him in an azalea bush. Suffice it to say that the blow delivered at the 1991 Stuttgart conference on "The End of Postmodernism," which included such literary luminaries as John Barth, William Gass, and Raymond Federman, was of a different variety. That such a conference dared to ask its esteemed speakers whether postmodernism was over and done with, thereby suggesting it was, encompassed a telling moment - one in which, as Erasure has it, literary postmodernism appeared to have reached an end that by its own theoretical premise it could never reach. Added to this was a new generation of writers who were consciously trying to break with the literary postmodernism they had been raised on, often critiquing its supposed aesthetic and philosophical weaknesses, as David Foster Wallace did in his 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," in which he claimed that postmodern metafiction had run its critical course and been co-opted by mainstream media and the market. Literary critics, following suit, began to distinguish these younger writers from the former generation by asking what might be emerging after postmodernism. For many, literary postmodernism had indeed reached an end point.
This material has been published in American Literature in Transition, 1990-2000 edited by Stephen J. Burn. This version is free to view and download for personal use only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Cambridge University Press.
Clare, Ralph. (2017). "The End of Postmodernism". American Literature in Transition, 1990-2000, 91-104.