Postmodern Retellings 101: Postmodernist Perspectives and Subversion (2022)

Foreword

By the second half of the 20th century, modern retellings of fairy tales had spread over the globe for various reasons such as the development of literary criticism or postmodernist ideas. The former had received critical acclaim in the academic field to such an extent that it promoted a reaction against the established social conventions. Therefore, many cultural products and perspectives were revised. All postmodern authors presented in this series take classic (fairy) tales as the foundation for their works and rewrite them. Each transforms the classic tale into a modern creation by presenting them from a postmodern perspective.

The poststructuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida claims that it is necessary to revise all the misconceptions derived from modernity since they do not represent the substance of reality. This process of discovery is named ‘deconstruction‘. Therefore, the authors appropriate classical forms and assimilate them in terms of 1970s postmodernism, which addresses different themes, from feminism and sexuality to psychoanalysis. The purpose of this series is to show how modern retellings differ from the original fairy tales, that is, what elements the authors have changed in their stories to "make them postmodern".

This series will be divided as follows:

  1. Postmodern Retellings 101: Postmodernist Perspectives and Subversion

  2. Postmodern Retellings 101: Robert Coover’s The Dead Queen

  3. Postmodern Retellings 101: Angela Carter’s The Tiger's Bride

  4. Postmodern Retellings 101: Sylvia Plath’s The Princess and the Goblins

  5. Postmodern Retellings 101: Anne Sexton’s Rapunzel

  6. Postmodern Retellings 101: Olga Broumas’s Cinderella

Postmodernist Perspectives and Subversion

Traditional fairy tales possess metaliterary and metatextual dimensions that have allowed them to serve as a model for other authors. They present ideas or concepts that would become a turning point for literary criticism. Tales offer a wide range of themes depicting their time and context, but they have been widely used for other studies. The authors of modern retellings often return to traditional tales to explore current concerns as a source of inspiration (Bettelheim, 1976). The overlap between retellings and criticism has established an intertextual discussion in terms of form and content. This dialogue has subverted the traditional features of tales to defy the limits of the fictional narrative (Joosen, 2011).

Tales serve several purposes since they are used as a vehicle to fulfill different functions in distinct social situations. Their purpose ranges from children's entertainment (bedtime stories or games) to education at various levels — e.g. at university where students come across short fiction for reading or as a part of their curricular itinerary. The identification of tales with children does not define entirely their social function (Joosen, 2011). The pertinence of tales as teaching material for children was a source of debate during the 1970s and 1980s (Bettelheim, 1976). The psychoanalytic analysis of retellings would not be appropriate for children and, therefore, retellings would revert the therapeutic effect of the original tale. However, other authors commented on the advantages of making the unconscious content of tales explicit so that children could recognize their emotions or problems and not be threatened by them (Bettelheim, 1976).

Modern retellings have also been highly influenced by The Mad Woman in the Attic’s angel and witch dichotomy, which represents the patriarchal structures that keep women constricted. These role models are not exclusive, but women must learn to find the balance. This dichotomy is often embodied by the rivalry between stepmother and stepdaughter in traditional tales. According to psychoanalysis, retellings manage to clarify and expose the implicit message of tales, that is, the patriarchal ideas that intend to play women off against each other and to keep them as objects inserted in the social structure (Gilbert & Gubar, 2000).

Postmodern Retellings 101: Postmodernist Perspectives and Subversion (1)

Jane Eyre’s Betha Mason. DevianArt.

Tales have served as a narrative and structural model for different authors such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Italo Calvino, and Charles Dickens (Bacchilega, 1997). Literary criticism has studied comprehensively the role of tales in society and how their relevance has fluctuated over time. The genre met great success at the beginning of the 20th century, but its prevalence vanished after the Second World War. However, once the postmodern retellings were written in the 1960s or 1970s, the genre was revitalized again (Joosen, 2011).

Modern retellings give a new life to traditional stories since they explore the ambivalence and the questions that have remained underlying throughout the narrative. A wide range of possibilities extends to the modern author who intends to bring to life the ambiguities of the original text and its mythopoeic qualities again (Bettelheim, 1976). In a way, modern retellings are regarded as myths of modernity to the extent that the original tales also served as a medium to contextualize their social and temporary contexts. Postmodern tales defy the general concept of tales as children's literature and acquire a metaliterary character since they address the inherent characteristics of the genre (Bacchilega, 1997).

During the last decades of the 20th century, the subversion of tales displaying postmodern tendencies and magic realism has become commonplace for authors. They have engaged in an intertextual dialogue with the genre conventions and modern approaches to deliver a story that not only is a reflection of the past but a portrait of present concerns. One of the most famous collections of retellings is Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber and Other Tales which focuses on Charles Perrault’s tale and will be discussed later in this series. This interest in tales has not merely taken place in the literary realm, but contemporary filmmakers have also engaged in this discussion. For example, Disney has revitalized several traditional tales and East European directors have integrated traditional tales into their work to express their views on the phenomenon (Zipes, 2000)

Postmodern Retellings 101: Postmodernist Perspectives and Subversion (2)

The Bloody Chamber, Benedict Mayer.

Postmodern retellings subvert the traditional narrative in different ways. The dialogue between the genre and literary criticism is one of their features. The chronotope of a tale, for instance, is universal and unattainable. The reader cannot locate the place where the tale is set because it is never a real location. In modern retellings, the author usually places the narration in a concrete historical setting or period (Joosen, 2011).

Regarding the supernatural, modern retellings tend to be ambiguous about magic and its uses. Some of them leave the supernatural open to interpretation by using different methods such as dubious narrators or presenting intangible facts. However, they can also decide to discard the fantastical elements (Joosen, 2011).

Postmodern Retellings 101: Postmodernist Perspectives and Subversion (3)

The Company of Wolves. Peter Strain.

In terms of personality development, most tales adapted as novels focus on the psychological state of mind of their characters even if they are marginal or secondary. When rewriting a tale as a poem, the authors usually elaborate on a complex character whose feelings are the center of the poem as is the case with Anne Sexton and Olga Broumas’s retellings (Bettelheim, 1976). Therefore, they leave out a large part of the action because it is not necessary. In addition, retellings often replace the traditional happy ending of the genre with a negative and cynical take on the world. This is due to the fact that retellings can be considered myths of modernity whose main characteristic is pessimism. Myths often present a hero who is trapped in his destiny. The hero must defy adversities that usually are much greater than human nature and, therefore, the fragility and weaknesses of human nature emerge. Unlike tales, myths use supernatural elements to develop their plot, but their conception of the world is much more tragic and realistic. For that reason, they try to advise the reader on the phenomena that could be dangerous (Bettelheim, 1976). This is an essential feature of retellings which subverts one of the most generalized and pervasive expectations of tales, that is, the happy ending. In this series, Robert Coover’s The Dead Queen will be discussed as a sequel to Snow White which illustrates the apparent happy ending of the original tale (Joosen, 2011).

Postmodern Retellings 101: Postmodernist Perspectives and Subversion (4)

Illustration for Snow White. Nancy Ekholm Burkert. 2013.

Regarding style, retellings maintain symbolic numbers, formulas, or objects to deepen their intertextual dialogue with the original tale in addition to their metaliterary character. For example, the seven dwarves in the Snow White retellings remain, but their professions or their occupations vary according to the story. In the same way, retellings are usually narrated using the first person and not with an omniscient narrator as in traditional tales. This narrator can either be the protagonist, a secondary character, or the antagonist (Joosen, 2011).

In conclusion, postmodern retellings offer a wide range of views on the traditional genre of the tale. These new perspectives aim to address the tale in a metaliterary and metatextual way to recover and explore topics or concerns that were long forgotten or ignored. Retellings present a multidimensional take on traditional stories and, therefore, serve as a model and source of inspiration. They deconstruct the misconceptions from the original story to appropriate the tale and deliver a postmodern interpretation establishing a discussion with the previous text and literary criticism.

Bibliographical references

Bacchilega, C. (1997). Postmodern fairy tales gender and narrative strategies. University of Pennsylvania Press. https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812200638Bettelheim, B. (1976). The uses of enchantment: the meaning and importance of fairy tales. Random House.Gilbert, S. M., & Gubar, S. (2000). The madwoman in the attic: The woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination. Yale University Press.Joosen, V. (2011). Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings. (1st ed.). Wayne State University Press.Zipes, J. (2000). The Oxford companion to fairy tales. Oxford University Press.

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FAQs

Is Angela Carter postmodern? ›

Carter is regarded by many critics as a postmodern feminist writer, and as I have tried to argue, also a gothicist. Carter said in the early 1970s, "We live in Gothic times," a time which has generally been dubbed as postmodern.

What is the focus of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one's own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

What is the origin of postmodernism? ›

Initially emerging from a mode of literary criticism, postmodernism developed in the mid-twentieth century as a rejection of modernism and has been observed across many disciplines. Postmodernism is associated with the disciplines deconstruction and post-structuralism.

What is postmodern theory in literature? ›

Postmodern literature is a form of literature that is characterized by the use of metafiction, unreliable narration, self-reflexivity, intertextuality, and which often thematizes both historical and political issues.

Is The Bloody Chamber postmodernism? ›

“The Bloody Chamber: A Postmodernist resignification of Perrault's Bluebeard” addresses the question of how new meaning is made when there exists a performative relationship between two texts.

Who is the father of postmodernism? ›

French post-structuralist philosopher, best known for his highly influential formulation of postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition. Despite its popularity, however, this book is in fact one of his more minor works.

What is the importance of postmodernism? ›

It collapsed the distinction between high culture and mass or popular culture, between art and everyday life. Because postmodernism broke the established rules about style, it introduced a new era of freedom and a sense that 'anything goes'.

What are the main features of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism Characteristics:
  • Irony.
  • Pastiche.
  • Hyperreality.
  • Intertextuality.
  • Magical realism.
  • Unpredictability.
  • Distortion of time.
  • Themes of paranoia.
13 Sept 2020

What is a simple definition of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism is best understood as a questioning of the ideas and values associated with a form of modernism that believes in progress and innovation. Modernism insists on a clear divide between art and popular culture. But like modernism, postmodernism does not designate any one style of art or culture.

How does postmodernism affect society? ›

Postmodernism affects views and lifestyles, which in turn affects the young adult's performance of roles and his interactions within all his different social systems. A strong attachment to family and home, as well as the importance of roles as sons/daughters were found.

What influenced postmodernism? ›

Radical movements and trends regarded as influential and potentially as precursors to postmodernism emerged around World War I and particularly in its aftermath.

What are the three elements of postmodern literature? ›

The Key Elements of Postmodern Literature

The notable literary devices of postmodern literature are paradox, unreliable narrators, unrealistic narratives, parody and dark humor.

When did postmodernism begin? ›

Postmodernism had begun as a radical fringe movement in the 1970s, but became the dominant look of the 1980s, the 'designer decade'. Vivid colour, theatricality and exaggeration: everything was a style statement.

What is the difference between modern and postmodern literature? ›

The key difference between modernism and postmodernism in literature is that modernist authors deliberately broke away from traditional styles of writing and focused on inner self and consciousness in their writings whereas postmodernist writers deliberately used a mixture of earlier styles in their writings.

Who was the first postmodernist? ›

The most influential early postmodern philosophers were Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida. Michel Foucault is also often cited as an early postmodernist although he personally rejected that label.

Is postmodernism a philosophy? ›

Postmodernism is a philosophical movement that began in the late 1970s. The postmodernist philosophy rejects traditional concepts of logic, objective truth, and human nature. Postmodernists believe that there are no universal truths or objective realities and all meaning is constructed by each individual.

Is postmodernism subjective or objective? ›

Postmodernism argues that people are fundamentally subjective because their unique beliefs and values alter the way they organize factual data. Thus, the narratives they construct around data will also be subjective.

What are the benefits of postmodernism in education? ›

A few examples of some of the ways education could be said to have responded postmodernisation include:
  • Schools are more 'consumerist' and provide more individual choice. ...
  • Education has become more individualized. ...
  • Education is more diverse. ...
  • Increasing Fragmentation. ...
  • Education is more 'Hyperreal'
25 Sept 2019

What do postmodernists say about society? ›

Postmodernists believe that in contemporary global society people's identities are chosen rather than ascribed (given). In the past identity tended to be more simple and fixed, being defined by class, gender and age in a more straightforward way.

Is postmodernism still relevant today? ›

Indeed in the previous decades before us, postmodernism was in vogue in the academic settings of our country and in the Western world. It's not necessarily that way today. You still find it in literary departments. You still find it, unfortunately, sometimes in theology departments.

What is postmodern style? ›

Postmodernism is an eclectic, colourful style of architecture and the decorative arts that appeared from the late 1970s and continues in some form today. It emerged as a reaction to Modernism and the Modern Movement and the dogmas associated with it.

What is postmodernism culture? ›

Postmodern culture is characterized by the valuing of activities, events, and perspectives that emphasize the particular over the global or the fragment over the whole. This reversal of a modernist ideology necessitates a valuation of variation and flexibility in the cultural sphere.

What are postmodern techniques? ›

TECHNIQUES IN POSTMODERN LITERATURE. Techniques in Postmodern Literature. Language creates meaning—language is seen as having power to create truth; somehow what is said matters more than how we might usually define "reality." A postmodern approach often emphasizes language over transcendent “truth.”

Which is an example of postmodern culture? ›

Perhaps his best-known example of the postmodern culture of pastiche is what he calls the 'nostalgia film'. The category could include a number of films from the 1980s and 1990s: Back to the Future I and II, Peggy Sue Got Married, Rumble Fish, Angel Heart, Blue Velvet.

What is postmodernism a response to? ›

Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, especially those associated with Enlightenment rationality though postmodernism in the arts may have their own definitions.

What are the challenges of postmodernism? ›

Displaying incredulity toward grand narratives, postmodernism not only questions but also challenges modernism's claims to universal reason, objectivity, neutrality, superiority of science, and the belief in progressive emancipation or human betterment through its anti-essentialist and anti-foundationalist character.

What are the negatives of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism had flaws from the beginning (as do all aesthetic theories.) For one thing, conceptions of “high and low” culture (and music) are not very descriptive. They are vague, create confusion, and provoke unnecessary ideological tension.

What elements are present in a postmodernist society? ›

The main characteristics of postmodern society are subjectivity, diversity, skepticism, and innovation.

What replaced postmodernism? ›

Metamodernism is the cultural code that comes after postmodernism.

What is the difference between modernism and postmodernism? ›

Main Difference – Modernism vs Postmodernism

The main difference between modernism and postmodernism is that modernism is characterized by the radical break from the traditional forms of prose and verse whereas postmodernism is characterized by the self-conscious use of earlier styles and conventions.

What is postmodernism research philosophy? ›

Postmodernism values the subjective and multiple opinions of individuals and communities rather than predetermined rules for action. It assigns value to multiple meanings rather than the single, authoritative voice of the expert researcher.

What is a post modern society? ›

Postmodernity (post-modernity or the postmodern condition) is the economic or cultural state or condition of society which is said to exist after modernity.

How does postmodernism affect society? ›

Postmodernism affects views and lifestyles, which in turn affects the young adult's performance of roles and his interactions within all his different social systems. A strong attachment to family and home, as well as the importance of roles as sons/daughters were found.

What does postmodernism mean in simple terms? ›

Postmodernism is best understood as a questioning of the ideas and values associated with a form of modernism that believes in progress and innovation. Modernism insists on a clear divide between art and popular culture. But like modernism, postmodernism does not designate any one style of art or culture.

What are the five themes of postmodernism? ›

Many postmodernists hold one or more of the following views: (1) there is no objective reality; (2) there is no scientific or historical truth (objective truth); (3) science and technology (and even reason and logic) are not vehicles of human progress but suspect instruments of established power; (4) reason and logic ...

How does postmodernism define truth? ›

Postmodernists contend that there is no objective truth, rather truth is constructed by society. All ideas of morality are not real, but constructed. Consistent with postmodern doctrine is the belief that institutions, such as science and language, are oppressive institutes of control.

What influenced postmodernism? ›

Radical movements and trends regarded as influential and potentially as precursors to postmodernism emerged around World War I and particularly in its aftermath.

Do postmodernists believe in truth? ›

Unlike traditional philosophers, however, postmodernists make no attempt to tell the truth about reality. They realize, what in their view their predecessors failed to grasp, that human reason is an inadequate instrument for achieving truth.

Is postmodernism subjective or objective? ›

Postmodernism argues that people are fundamentally subjective because their unique beliefs and values alter the way they organize factual data. Thus, the narratives they construct around data will also be subjective.

What is a postmodernist person? ›

Postmodernism, born under western secular conditions, has the following characteristics: it emphasizes pluralism and relativism and rejects any certain belief and absolute value; it conflicts with essentialism, and considers human identity to be a social construct; it rejects the idea that values are based on ...

What is postmodern identity? ›

A postmodern society is one in which the identities of the social actors are undergoing constant transformation. Identity then becomes open to contestation as there is no longer any ultimate referent (truth, science, God etc.) to provide universal legitimation.

What are the challenges of postmodernism? ›

Displaying incredulity toward grand narratives, postmodernism not only questions but also challenges modernism's claims to universal reason, objectivity, neutrality, superiority of science, and the belief in progressive emancipation or human betterment through its anti-essentialist and anti-foundationalist character.

Is postmodernism still relevant today? ›

Indeed in the previous decades before us, postmodernism was in vogue in the academic settings of our country and in the Western world. It's not necessarily that way today. You still find it in literary departments. You still find it, unfortunately, sometimes in theology departments.

Does postmodernism still exist today? ›

Since the late 1990s there has been a small but growing feeling both in popular culture and in academia that postmodernism "has gone out of fashion." However, there have been few formal attempts to define and name the era succeeding postmodernism, and none of the proposed designations has yet become part of mainstream ...

What are the benefits of postmodernism for education? ›

A few examples of some of the ways education could be said to have responded postmodernisation include:
  • Schools are more 'consumerist' and provide more individual choice. ...
  • Education has become more individualized. ...
  • Education is more diverse. ...
  • Increasing Fragmentation. ...
  • Education is more 'Hyperreal'
25 Sept 2019

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