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  • Location: Herman B Wells Library E760
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Libraries & Subjects
last updated: 6/9/2010

Postmodernist Fiction

Table of Contents
Subject Headings & Browsing Areas
Dictionaries & Glossaries
Encyclopedias & Encyclopedia Articles
Critical Works
Internet Resources


The trouble with postmodernism is that it is a notoriously ill-defined concept, the meaning of which shifts and slides depending on who uses it and for what purpose. Some theorists situate postmodernism temporally, as a distinct period arising out of modernism and generally after WWII. Others, like Jean-François Lyotard, see it as a cyclic pattern of intellectual reaction, where postmodernisms in turn become the modernisms that further postmodernisms will be post. In any case, it is very easy to get lost in the many definitions offered, and even more difficult to figure out which definitions apply to which concrete example, whether it be art, architecture, or literature.

The goal of this research guide is to help students of modern literature make sense of the strange world of postmodernist fiction by collecting a manageable number of reliable resources into one place. What do the terms "modern" and "postmodern" really mean when applied to fiction? How are they different? What characterizes texts with those labels? What are some of those texts? Answers to these questions and many others may be found using the resources below, which include reference works, critical studies, primary texts, and websites. The focus is on works in English, but following the suggestions in the Subject Headings & Browsing Areas section will quickly yield fiction and criticism in other languages as well.

All of the materials can be found at the Wells Library or accessed via the internet. For the materials at the library, the Library of Congress call number for the book is provided, along with an indication of whether it is located in the first floor reference collection (ref) or in the stacks on the upper floors of the East Tower (stacks). Within each section, the resources are arranged alphabetically by APA citation, except for the section on Internet Resources, which is arranged according to topic.

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Subject Headings & Browsing Areas

When looking for items related to postmodernist fiction in IUCAT, Library of Congress subject headings can be a useful way to narrow your search. You can either use the "subject" field under "Advanced Search" or "Begins With (Browse)" and click the "subject" button. Here are some suggestions:

  • Modernism-Literature
  • Modernism-Literature-[place name]
  • Postmodernism-Literature
  • Postmodernism-Literature-[place name]
  • Postmodernism-Periodicals

Physical browsing is a bit more difficult, since the fiction is shelved based on the author's last name and country of origin. However, critical works on modernist and postmodernist literature can be found in the stacks under the Library of Congress call number PN3503, dictionaries and glossaries of literary terms are under PN41 and PN44.5, and general criticism on postmodernism is under B831.2. If you are unsure how to read or locate a Library of Congress call number, be sure to ask a librarian to help you.

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Dictionaries & Glossaries

A dictionary or glossary of literary terms is a wonderful place to get a general idea of which aspects of a literary movement are considered the most characteristic or essential. They also tend to be well cross-referenced, which can be very helpful for those still unfamiliar with the academic language used in the study of literature. These are just a few of the many dictionaries and glossaries available. See the section on Subject Headings & Browsing Areas for tips on finding others.

  • Harris, W. V. (1992). Postmodernism. In Dictionary of concepts in literary criticism and theory (pp. 291-296). New York: Greenwood Press. [PN41 .H36 1992 - ref and stacks]
    A dense, concise, yet expansive attempt at defining postmodernism, broken into four "emphases," each with reference to major thinkers and critics. Provides an excellent bibliography for further reading, as well as a section entitled "Sources of Additional Information" that continues the main article somewhat and annotates a few more sources. Also conveniently refers to other terms defined in the Dictionary that may help the reader situate the arguments being presented.
  • Hawthorn, J. (2000). Modernism and postmodernism. In A glossary of contemporary literary theory (pp. 211-219). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. [PN44.5 .H37 2000 - ref and stacks]
    Points out the difficulty of defining modernism and postmodernism independently, and largely attempts to show them in relation to each other. Deems "postmodernism" a more controversial term than "modernism" and cites a few critics on the subject of postmodern confusion and obscurity, but still comes up with a fairly confident list of postmodern authors. Gives the reader the opportunity to consult other terms defined in the Glossary that are used in the discussion of modernism and postmodernism.
  • Postmodernism. (2003). In R. Murfin & S. M. Ray (Eds.), The Bedford glossary of critical and literary terms (pp.360-362). New York: Bedford/St. Martin's. [PN44.5 .M86 2003 - ref]
    Places the "Postmodern Period" after WWII and points out the similarity in themes between modern and postmodern novels, the difference seeming to lie in whether or not the writing tries to bring order to the chaos. Contains a nice list of postmodern novels and a few other sorts of literature, such as poetry and drama. Many interesting terms are in bold and can be looked up in the Glossary as well. These inclued "antinovel," "modernism," and "historical novel."
  • Sim, S. (Ed.). (1999). The Routledge critical dictionary of postmodern thought. New York: Routledge. [B831.2 .R68 1999 - stacks]
    A dictionary with more ambitious scope, prefaces the alphabetical arrangement of defined names and terms with a number of brief essays on postmodernism's intersection with other areas of study. "Postmodernism and Literature" focuses on fiction, with a number of "features" receiving individual attention. These include temporal disorder, pastiche, fragmentation, looseness of association, paranoia, and vicious circles. The dictionary portion is heavily cross-referenced, contains the names and works of many authors of fiction, and its entries are delightfully succinct.
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Encyclopedias & Encyclopedia Articles

Literary encyclopedias usually offer a more extensive treatment of the terms defined in literary Dictionaries & Glossaries, are equally well cross-referenced, and often feature indexes. Like dictionaries and glossaries, they are an excellent way to get a sense of a literary topic's most essential aspects. These are some of the best encyclopedias available that apply to postmodernist fiction.

  • Ermath, E. D. (1998). Postmodernism and the novel. In P. Schellinger (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the novel (Volume 2, pp.1032-1036). Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. [PN41 .E53 1998 v.2 - ref]
    A rather laudatory and exuberant treatment of postmodernism. Begins by tracing the historical meaning of the term in relation to the accompanying notion of the "modern," and takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the most important aspects of postmodern critical theory. Links postmodernism to deconstructionism, but asserts a more positive outcome. Suggests postmodernism has been more accepted and incorporated in non-English-speaking countries, and has one potential rule for the postmodern novel: "if the novel is not playful, enjoyable, pleasurable, erotic in the largest sense of life-affirmation, then it is probably not a postmodern novel" (1035). A fairly complex look, but less gloomy and dry than others. Provides a brief list of "the usual suspects and texts" (1035), but refuses to pin much down.
  • Ray, R. B. (1990). Postmodernism. In M. Coyle & others (Eds.), Encyclopedia of literature and criticism (pp. 131-147). London: Routledge. [PN81 .E45 1990 - ref and stacks]
    An interesting examination of the multiplicity of postmodernism that begins by remarking on the strangeness of the term itself, followed by six discrete "attmempts to explain the postmodern" (133). These attempts are entitled Redemption, Television, The Return, The Hybrid, The Ideal Work, and The List. Each is prefaced with quotations, filled with citations and references, and eventually combines with the others to create a fascinating collage of definition. Includes a list of further reading.
  • Taylor, V. E. & Winquist, C. E. (Eds.). (2001). Encyclopedia of postmodernism. New York: Routledge. [B831.2 E63 2001 - ref]
    Claims in its introduction the goal of providing "comprehensive and authoritative coverage of academic disciplines, critical terms, and central figures relating to the vast field of postmodern studies." Also aims to be useful and accessible to general readers and researchers alike. Contains a specific entry for "fiction, postmodern" that attempts to quantify what, exactly, those words mean in conjunction, even though the many definitions of postmodernism can be contradictory. A good place to look for terms whose definitions have either been redefined by their use in a postmodernist context, or invented by it entirely. Also available in online format at with IU network login.
  • Wilson, S. (2003). Postmodernism. In P. Poplawski (Ed.), Encyclopedia of literary modernism (pp. 311-315). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. [PN56 .M54 E53 2003 - ref]
    Begins by noting the irony of attempting to define "postmodernism" in an encylopedia when encyclopedic knowledge is one of those things that postmodernism generally resists and subverts. Does not associate the term with any particular time period, and acknowledges its conflictions and vagueness. Chooses a few aspects to elaborate upon, cites important theorists, and creates a very accessible but unsimplified picture. In the Encyclopedia's index, there are also a few more references to postmodernism from other articles.
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The purpose of a bibliography is to point the reader to other, more primary sources of information. The two examples here represent two extremes. The first is pure, unadulterated citations, while the second provides over 200 pages of critical essays and takes biographical information just as seriously as references to texts. Depending on your research, either one could give just the information you need.

  • Madsen, D. (1995). Postmodernism: A bibliography, 1926-1994. Atlanta, GA: Rodopi. [Z5936 .P66 M33 1995 - stacks]
    A bibliography consisting entirely of secondary material that openly proclaims itself to be concerned with postmodernism, unless it was published before "postmodernism" cam into common usage. Cuts across all disciplines, fiction included, and also features works in languages other than English. Arranged by year with author and subject indexes. No annotations, but a good place to find sources on any aspect of postmodernism, especially if year of publication is a factor.
  • McCaffery, L. (Ed.). (1986). Postmodern fiction: A bio-bibliographical guide. New York: Greenwood Press. [PN3503 .P594 1986 - stacks]
    A hefty volume that embraces postmodernism's unstable meaning and attempts to portray various views of the movement in order to gesture towards the "highly complex set of ideas or tendencies" (xi) that constitute it. Divided into two sections, the first being a series of articles on different aspects of postmodern fiction, plus a little postmodern criticism, and the second being the bio-bibliography itself, in which major figures in postmodern fiction are identified through brief, biographical sketches, but mainly through the significance of their work. A great place to locate more than just the usual postmodern authors, and also to get a quick survey of what many different theorists have to say about postmodern fiction as a whole.
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Critical Works

The scholarly writing on postmodernism is quite plentiful and takes many different approaches to the literature said to be postmodernist. These are only a few examples out of a large section in the library. See Subject Headings & Browsing Areas for suggestions on finding works that relate specifically to the area of postmodernist fiction pertinent to your research.

  • D'haen, T. & Bertens, H. (Eds.). (1988). Postmodern fiction in Europe and the Americas. Amsterdam: Rodopi. [PN3503 .P67 - stacks]
    The first in a series of Yearbooks devoted to postmodernism, considers postmodernism as a literary movement as well as a broader cultural current. Features ten critical essays about various aspects of postmodernist fiction on both sides of the Atlantic. Subjects include narrative, nominalism, and metafiction in locales such as France, Norway, Great Britain, Canada, The Netherlands, Italy, and Latin America.
  • Lyotard, J.-F. (1984). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge (G. Bennington & B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [BD162 .L913 1984 - stacks]
    Though not specifically about postmodernist fiction, still considered a founding text in the study of postmodernism in general, and thus worth a look. The Appendix, "Answering the Question: What Is Postmodernism?", is probably the most accessible part of the book, and also a place where Lyotard does make explicit reference to literature. Includes a preface by Fredric Jameson (another big name in postmodernism) as well as a fairly decent index.
  • McHale, B. (1987). Postmodernist fiction. New York: Methuen. [PN3503 .M24 1987 - stacks]
    A fairly authoritative and oft-cited work that explores postmodernist fiction from many different angles. Actually dares to draw a categorical distinction between modernist and postmodernist fiction, claiming that the former is dominated by epistemological questions whereas the latter is dominated by ontological questions (6-11). Also examines the issues surrounding what he calls, as section headings, Worlds, Construction, Words, and Groundings. A wonderfully thorough and accessible treatment of the subject.
  • McHale, B. (1992). Constructing postmodernism. New York: Routledge. [PN3503 .M37 1992 - stacks]
    McHale's more recent foray into postmodernism, with emphasis on narrating, reading, and mis-reading. Repudiates to a certain extent Postmodernist Fiction's possible failure to maintain the provisionality of its construction of postmodernism, and aims to better strike the balance in this volume. Explicitly rejects any notion of "encylopedic exhaustiveness," choosing instead "a plurality of constructions" of postmodernism (3). Perhaps less coherent than his previous effort, but probably more true to the vagaries of postmodernism.
  • Nicol, B. (Ed.). (2002). Postmodernism and the contemporary novel. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. [PN3503 .P5945 2002 - stacks]
    A large essay collection that covers a wide range of postmodern topics, including The Postmodern Condition, The Postmodern Turn, Postmodern Poetics, and Postmodern Politics. The essays are written by both "big names" in literary theory--Jameson, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Eco, Barthes, Bakhtin--and less well-known critics. "[E]xploring the status of criticism is not the major aim of this reader" (9), however, and after Part I the novel takes center stage. Published far more recently than the other critical works listed here, this is a good place to get a feel for where writing about postmodernist fiction currently stands.
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The world of postmodernist fiction is obviously an extremely vast and somewhat hazy one, and it would be pure folly to attempt any sort of exhaustive list of works. In lieu of impossiblity, here are ten works that are (almost) indisputably postmodernist, by ten different authors, and representative of a range of approaches to the same strange mode of writing. Other works by these same writers are likely to be postmodernist as well, but that is not a given. Further ideas for a postmodernist reading list can be gleaned from many of the items in the other sections of this guide.

  • Barth, J. (1968). Lost in the funhouse; fiction for print, tape, live voice. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. [PS3503 .A765 L88 - stacks]
    A collection of short stories by one of the undisputed masters of postmodernist fiction. The story "Lost in the Funhouse" is most often cited, but the others are no less postmodernist, and form an interesting basis for comparison.
  • Barthelme, D. (1967). Snow White. New York: Atheneum. [PS3552 .A78 S67 - stacks]
    An extremely fragmented, sexualized, and entertaining postmodernist reappropriation of the classic Grimms' fairy tale. Just one of Barthelme's many worthwhile texts.
  • Borges, J. L. (1962). Ficciones (A. Kerrigan et al., Trans.). New York: Grove Press. [PQ7797 .B635 F42 1962 - stacks]
    Possibly his most famous collection of short stories, made quite a splash when translated into English from the Spanish in 1962. Both enjoyable and thought-provoking, indispensable for anyone interested in postmodernist fiction.
  • Burroughs, W. S. (1966). Naked lunch. New York: Grove Press. [PS3552 .U75 N16 1966 - stacks]
    Naked Lunch's landmark obscenity trial in 1965 helped end literary censorship in America. Features the infamous Orgasm Death Gimmick, cloning, and prose that mirrors the workings of a junkie's brain. A postmodernist must-read.
  • Calvino, I. (1981). If on a winter's night a traveler (W. Weaver, Trans.). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. [PQ4809 .A45 S3713 - stacks]
    A postmodernist exploration of the mystery genre featuring ten embedded novels that echo the story in which they are embedded. Originally in Italian and considered quintessentially postmodernist.
  • Danielewski, M. Z. (2000). House of leaves. New York: Pantheon Books. [PS3554 .A5596 H68 2000 - stacks]
    Part of a new generation of experimental fiction, this very unsettling text foregrounds the textuality of the novel and blurs the boundaries between this world and those depicted. A very nice example of postmodernist fiction published long after the postmodernist hey-day.
  • Eco, U. (1983). The name of the rose (W. Weaver, Trans.). San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. [PQ4865 .C6 N613 1983 - stacks]
    A postmodernist medieval mystery orginally written in Italian by one of the biggest names in both theory and literature. Actually features a plot but is multiply coded enough to be considered unequivocally postmodernist.
  • Fuentes, C. (1976). Terra nostra (M. S. Peden, Trans.). New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. [PQ7297 .F78 T3213 1976 - stacks]
    Translated from the Spanish, this novel is "literally an anthology of postmodernist themes and devices" according to Brian McHale. A representative of postmodernist historical fiction in which historical facts are blatantly contradicted.
  • Pynchon, T. (1973). Gravity's rainbow. New York: Viking Press. [PS3531 .Y53 G77 1973 - stacks]
    A highly acclaimed and very long (more than 700 pages) tour de force of postmodernist fiction. Frustrating for some readers, but also vast, lush, and one of the most important works in American fiction in general.
  • Robbe-Grillet, A. (1970). The house of assignation (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). London: Calder & Boyars. [PQ2635 .O117 M222 1970 - stacks]
    A novel of paradoxical spaces, itineraries, and narrative time originally published in French in 1965. Robbe-Grillet is one of those authors whose texts are not all postmodernist, though this one certainly is.
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Searching for individual scholarly articles on postmodernist fiction is most easily done with one of the many databases to which Indiana University has access. They can all be located using the libraries' Find Information page, though links to some of the most useful have been provided below. Effective searching requires patience and practice, so don't hesitate to ask a librarian for a few pointers.

  • Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Coverage varies by title. Updated daily. Full text for nearly 4,650 serials.
    The standard place to turn for scholarly articles in a range of disciplines. Be sure to check the "Full Text" box under the "Refine Search" tab if you want only those articles for which full text is available through EBSCO. The "Advanced Search" screen usually allows for more powerful searching. Use the drop-down menus to choose "SU Subject Terms" and try combining the term POSTMODERNISM with one or more of the following: LITERATURE, FICTION, AUTHORS. If you are looking for a particular author or work, enter them as "SU Subject Terms," "KW Author-Supplied Keywords," or the author could also be searched for under "PE People." Try browsing the "Subject Terms" (button near the top) to see if the aspect of postmodernist literature you are researching has a particular term associated with it.
  • Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature, 1920- (ABELL). Chadwyck-Healey and Modern Humanities Research Association. 1920 to present. Updated monthly. More than 807,000 bibliographic records from monographs, articles, book reviews, essay collections, and dissertations.
    Large bibliography devoted to English language and literature on a global scale. All the searchable fields are laid out for you in advance in the "Search" screen, but remember to put quote marks around your terms. Try searching for "postmodernism" as a keyword, combined with "fiction," "literature," or "novel" using the word AND. If you are having difficulty coming up with the right terms, use the "select from a list" option to the right of each field, where it lists all keywords and how many times it occurs in the database. The citations are not automatically linked to full text versions, but you can check to see if Indiana University owns or subscribes to the title you need using the Find Information page or IUCAT.
  • MLA International Bibliography. Modern Language Association. 1963 to present. Updated quarterly. Over 1.7 million citations from over 4,400 journals and series.
    A gigantic bibliography of literary journal articles, books, and dissertations with a "Linked Full Text" option under the "Refine Search" tab. The "Advanced Search" screen is often a better option than the "Basic Search." Use the drop-down menus to choose "SU Subjects-All" and try combining POSTMODERNISM with one or more of the following: LITERATURE, FICTION, NOVEL, SHORT STORY. You can also browse the MLA "Thesaurus" (button near the top) to see if the aspect of postmodernist literature you are researching has a particular subject term associated with it. Beyond that, there is even a handy "Names as Subjects" button near the top if you are looking for a certain author.
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Internet Resources

Useful and accurate information about postmodernist fiction, or even postmodernism in general, is difficult to find on the open internet. This is a list of fairly reliable, freely accessible websites that deal with the subject. Those listed closer to the top have a broader scope, while those listed near the bottom are more devoted to postmodernist fiction specifically.

  • Everything Postmodern
    A website devoted to all aspects of postmodernism. Includes links to Wikipedia's definition of the term, online journals and e-zines, major thinkers, and some less serious takes on postmodernism as well. The "Resources" section under "General Resources" is probably the most useful for a scholar, since it focuses on sites with an academic angle. More theory-oriented than literature-oriented, this is a place to establish a framework within which to view postmodernist fiction rather than a place to examine postmodernist fiction specifically.
  • Postmodernism
    A fairly extensive definition of postmodernism in terms of the modernist and Enlightenment values that it questions, rejects, or problematizes. Created by Dr. Mary Klages, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder, for the use of her students, and thus intended to be comprehensible to persons without Ph.Ds. Approaches the question from both a literary and a broader cultural perspective.
  • Approaches to Po-Mo
    A potentially enlightening conglomeration of all the things postmodern/postmodernism/postmodernity can mean, set against both each other and corresponding notions of modern/modernism/modernity. Interestingly fragmented and decentered like its subject, this site also features a handy heuristic table contrasting the modern and the postmodern.
  • Some Attributes of Post-Modernist Literature
    A fairly long list of some of the general traits postmodernist literature possesses, put together by Professor John Lye of Brock University. Not intended to be an exhaustive description, but still quite broad and written clearly without simplifying too much.
  • Overview: Postmodernism and Fiction
    A series of short web pages that cover some of the basics of postmodernism--the shift away from modernism, characteristic postmodernist stances, postmodernism as a response to the Enlightenment, and postmodernism's place in the world--before specifically addressing postmodernist fiction. Also includes a bibliography of critical works, but they are listed in a slightly confusing fashion, and only the author's name, a shortened title, and the year of publication are provided.
  • Unlocking the Postmodern Novel
    A rather conversational guide to reading postmodern novels, with links to other sites (several in this pathfinder) that address the question, "What is postmodernism?", as well as helpful reflections of its own, including an entire section on the "shifty nature of truth." Put together by students of Dr. Linda Tate at Shepherd College, it also features a similar guide to unlocking the modern novel.
  • The Electronic Labyrinth: Postmodernism and the Postmodern Novel
    A brief (approximately one page) summary of the major ways in which the term "postmodernism" is used, with reference to major figures in postmodernist literature and convenient hyperlinks to other relevant pages on topics such as modernism, decentering, and a definition of postmodernism provided by the Journal of Postmodern Culture.
  • The Postmodern Novel
    Offers quick definitions of relevant terms, some characteristics of the postmodern novel, and a list of other online sources for further reading (all represented in this pathfinder). Specficially addresses magical realism, metafiction, and the graphic novel in linked pages. Part of a larger website devoted to the novel in general.
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last updated: 6/9/2010