Postmodernism: 1950-2000

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
20 August 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA QQ23 English Language and Literature,
BA QQ24 English Language and Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA QQ32 English Language and Literature (Including Year Abroad),
BA QQ35 English Language and Literature (Including Placement Year),
BA QRF9 Literature and Modern Languages,
BA Q2R9 Literature with Modern Languages

Module description

This module provides an introduction to one of the most distinctive developments in twentieth-century literature: postmodernism. Postmodernism is a notoriously difficult term to pin down, spanning as it does developments across virtually every area of culture, from architecture and painting to music and fashion.

In his influential book, The Postmodern Condition (1979), the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard famously defined the postmodern as ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’, by which he meant an attitude of scepticism directed at each of the successive master-stories in terms of which western civilisation has made sense of itself. Postmodern literature is written in full awareness of the loss of faith in these meta-narratives – a condition which it sometimes laments but more often celebrates. Against totalising explanations, theories, and identities, postmodernism affirms the provisional, the particular, the anomalous, the multiple, and the fragmentary.

Allowing for considerable variation within the period, it is possible to identify a set of family resemblances across those authors and texts typically classified as postmodern. These resemblances usually include some combination of the following: the prevalence of irony, parody, and pastiche; a rejection of the conventions of realist fiction, as well as a radicalisation of the methods of the modernist writers of the previous generation; heavy reliance on allusion and intertextuality; self-reflexivity and an emphasis on the fictionality of fiction; a deliberate blurring of the boundaries between literature and reality; a collapsing of the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ (popular) culture; a rejection of inherited beliefs and values, including those of modernity itself; an attempt to work through the implications of the Holocaust for modern society; and close ties to a range of political causes, including second-wave feminism, the 1960s counterculture, and the gay rights movement.

Module aims

This module aims to foster students’ cultural awareness and critical thinking by inviting them to consider the complex set of literary, philosophical, and political currents often grouped together under the heading ‘postmodernism’. The module focuses on nine key texts which, taken together, provide an overview of the phenomenon of postmodernism as it unfolds from the 1950s and early 2000s. Students will acquire or deepen their knowledge of a range of cultural texts, encompassing short stories, novels, poetry, and art history, each of which has been chosen as representative of one or more tendencies within postmodernism. Students will also develop an understanding and appreciation of the cultural and historical context in which postmodernism arose.

Module learning outcomes

After successful completion of the module, students should be able to:
1. display a detailed knowledge of a representative range of key postmodern authors and texts;
2. analyse and theorize the cultural and historical context in which postmodern literature emerged;
3. evaluate both the immediate impact and longer-term cultural implications of postmodernism;
4. demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to engage in intellectual debates around postmodern literature;
5. plan, research, and write a critical essay.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

Ten two-hour seminars Module materials will be available on Moodle


  • (Sunday, 2 May 2010) Modern Masters: Andy Warhol: BBC1 London.
  • Nicholson, Linda. (1992-22) 'Feminism and the Politics of Postmodernism', in boundary 2. vol. 19 (2) , pp.53-
  • (Saturday, 25 Nov 2017) Inception (2010): ITV2.
  • Philip, Marlene Nourbese. (no date) Zong!: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Ginsberg, Allen. (2009) ''A Supermarket in California', 'Poem Rocket', 'The Lion for Real'', in Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems, London: Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Jonathan Holden. (1983) 'Postmodern Poetic Form: A Theory', in New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly: Middlebury College Publications. vol. 6 (1) , pp.1-
  • Spiegelman, Art. (2004) In the shadow of no towers, London: Viking.
  • Eaglestone, Robert. (2004) 'Introduction: The Holocaust and the Postmodern', in Holocaust and the Postmodern, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.1-12
  • Thompson, Hunter S. (no date) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, London: Flamingo.
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah. (1991) 'Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?', in Critical Inquiry: The University of Chicago Press. vol. 17 (2) , pp.336-357
  • Stephenson, William. (c2012) 'Stepping into History: Values, Contexts, Influences', in Gonzo republic: Hunter S. Thompson's America, London: Continuum., pp.1-24
  • Borges, Jorge Luis. (no date) Fictions, London: Calder.
  • Ashbery, John. (1998) ''And Ut Picture Poesis is Her Name,' 'What is Poetry', 'Paradoxes and Oxymorons'', in Selected Poems, Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd.
  • McHale, Brian. (1987) From Modernist to Postmodernist Fiction: Change of Dominant, London: Taylor & Francis Ltd., pp.3-25
  • Lyotard, Jean-François. (c1993) 'Note on the Meaning of 'Post'', in The postmodern explained: correspondence, 1982-1985, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press., pp.75-80
  • Winterson, Jeanette. (no date) Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, London: Pandora Press.
  • Makinen, Merja. (c2008) 'Theorizing Fairy-Tale Fiction, Reading Jeanette Winterson', in Contemporary fiction and the fairy tale, Detroit: Wayne State University Press., pp.144-177
  • Hillary Chute. (2008) 'Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative', in PMLA: Modern Language Association. vol. 123 (2) , pp.452-465
  • Wiesel, Elie. (1974) Night ; Dawn ; The accident: three tales, London: Robson.
  • Acker, Kathy. (no date) Blood and Guts in High School: Grove Press.
  • Reza, Yasmina. (2005) 'Art', in Plays: one, London: Faber.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay (3,000 words)  27/04/2020  70% 
Practical   Presentation in class    25% 
Practical   Participation    5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Joanna Rzepa, email:
Dr Joanna Rzepa
LiFTS General Office – email Tel 01206 87 2626



External examiner

Prof Duncan James Salkeld
University of Chichester
Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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