Thursday, April 24, 2008

Angela Carter Debate: Modernism vs. Postmodernism

Let me preface this blog post by saying that I agree with Professor Brewer: While it is difficult to classify books as completely modernist, postmodernist, etc., The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman seems largely postmodernist. With that out of the way, the following would be my argument, from the postmodernist side of the debate.

As we know from class, modernism subscribes to the concept of hierarchy, which connotes order/structure. Thus, it seems modernism can only exist by itself; otherwise, it loses its essential modernist structure and ceases to be modernist, by virtue of its having non-modernist qualities. Postmodernism, on the other hand, subscribes to anarchy, which is the lack of a central authority. Thus, because Carter's book has both modernist and postmodernist qualities, it is automatically postmodern; it has no central authority, meaning that the book exhibits anarchy and, thus, postmodernist qualities. We all agreed on this today: The book has both modernist and postmodernist qualities. So, why is there still a question? How could it be modernist alone? Moreover, we might even question whether or not modernism exists, for how can a text "embody" (rigid/structured/hierarchical) modernism—as we so eloquently put it during the debate—if it also has postmodernist qualities? (Someone said that all books have both modernist and postmodernist qualities, and if all books do this, technically, they are postmodernist).

One can argue that, because Carter's book also features hierarchy/order, it cannot be postmodernist. However, it is still postmodernist because such hierarchy is non-hierarchical; it is unpredictable, unordered, because of the surrounding postmodernist qualities. That the Minister believes "a societal structure is the greatest of all the works of art," that he endorses hierarchy, only clashes with Dr. Hoffman's desire (and eventual ability) to rip the world from reality/structure/hierarchy (35). A better example would be to think of the point that the modernist side brought up (I think Tim and someone else mentioned it): the linear structure of the story. This argument does not seem to hold, because it is, in fact, too logical for postmodernism. Yes, there is order to the chapters and the events, and Desiderio even says early in the book that he "must gather together all that confusion of experience and arrange it in order, just as it happened, beginning at the beginning [...] [he] must unravel [his] life as if it were so much knitting," meaning that he arranges the story linearly (11). However, the key words are "as it happened" and "knitting." We, the readers, (probably) go through the story in a linear fashion; however, we do not know that this is the way Desiderio experienced the events. Like he says, he has to unravel his memories like "knitting," which suggests that they are all jumbled together. The Desiderio that is "writing"/narrating the story exists in the post-machine world, the one with order/reality; thus, he, of course, rearranges the story from its original form as an unordered mess of "knitting," deciding to tell it in a linear fashion so it will make sense to the reader. Thus, the story is a (crazy, wild, anarchical) postmodernist one, told in a modernist (structured) fashion, using both modernist and postmodernist qualities/themes/etc. So, how can it be purely modernist?

(It can't; and I've already established that postmodernism can exist alongside modernism because of its idea of anarchy. Be that as it may, as I said in the beginning, I also do not think the story can necessarily be only postmodernist. The qualities can and often do mix together, creating very interesting, complex works of art such as Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. On a final note, such works may even be intended to create debates like ours, to get us all to realize that rigidity/structure (in defining works) is not conducive to literature. Hey, wait! That takes me back to my point that modernism may not even exist!)

1 comment:

Roger Market said...

Wow, that was a mouthful. I hope it made sense. It didn't quite make sense to me until I got it all down, and even then, it is confusing. Modernism vs. postmodernism is a very complex dichotomy and, sadly, I don't think we can ever arrive at a "winner." They are just too different!

Good luck on finals, everyone!