Postmodernism ca. 1970-

Key concepts

Key events and people

Key authors

In Wider Contexts


Fragmentation: the world lacks unity and is split (apart)


Intertextuality: the inclusion of quotations from other texts and reference to other works of art


Metafiction: fiction about the writing of fiction with no intention of keeping up the illusion of fiction.


Relative truth

Relative reality

We are the parts we play


The death of the great narratives




Student riots 1968


Vietnam War ends 1975


Demolition of the Berlin Wall 1989


Gulf War 1991


Terrorist attack on the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, NYC, 2001


London bombings 2004  


Development from industrial to service economy


Information revolution and mass media



Brett Easton Ellis (Am) (1964-)


Kazuo Ishiguro (Jap/Brit) (1954-)

Paul Auster (Am) (1947-)


Don DeLillo (Am)(1936-)




Margaret Attwood (Can)

“Happy Endings” 1983


Bret Easton Ellis (Am) American Psycho 1991



Historical, Social and Literary Context

It has been claimed that Postmodernism defies definition and chronology, and the question is if Postmodernism is actually an -ism. An -ism presupposes the idea of a unity, but Postmodernism is too manifold to be encapsulated in a catch-all term. The term Postmodernism has been used to describe works of all types of art including literature. Even if most of the literature which is defined as postmodern was written in the last thirty years of the 20th century, it is the ideas rather than the chronology that are important, and some writing in the 21st century contains postmodern elements.


Postmodern writing began to appear after the roaring 1960s, which were characterized by the so-called Youth Revolt, a war against traditional norms and lifestyles, the concept of truth, unity and structure, as well as against values and authority. It questions the nature of fiction and the value of social and historical experience. It does not acknowledge traditional ideologies, religion or theories and science.

It is essential in postmodern literature to stress that literature is different from and forms no part of the real world. Postmodern art in general and postmodern literature in particular is inter-textual in that it communicates with other works of art by commenting on or including ideas or symbols from other works, such as advertisements, music videos and other popular art forms. In this way the borderline between highbrow literature and art and popular literature and art has been blurred.


Postmodern writers often manipulate the text which may become meta-fiction, which is when a specific work comments on itself. this emphasizes the fact that literature is not reality. Postmodern literature reflects late modern society by showing the individual’s inability to establish a personal identity based on a historical or social background, let alone family and work. Postmodern literature is to a great extent a play on words which reflects the meaninglessness of the late modern world, which is seen as fragmented, disoriented, chaotic, but this leads neither to despair nor to any wish to re-establish order. The binary contrasts of good/evil, true/false, real/unreal and order/chaos have been abolished. The world is pure surface, i.e. it is what it appears to be. Hence each individual creates his or her own world and identity through the pictures which he or she sees in literature and other art forms or in the so-called world. The Great Narratives, which began to be questioned in Modernism, are rejected in Postmodernism. There is no acknowledgment of a universal truth.





Laments fragmentation


Art can provide the order and meaning which has been lost in the modern world


A search for meaning, values,  order, identity



Celebrates fragmentation


Art cannot and should not attempt to provide meaning in a meaningless world


A search for pleasure and  excitement, and a play with norms, meaning, values, identities