Postmodernism and Postcolonialism


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Postmodernism and Postcolonialism


Please view the following video for an explanation about Postmodernism.


As the video explains, postmodernism is not easy to explain because it “means absolutely nothing and everything” (Charles Jencks, “What Is Postmodernism”). It also can be defined as pluralism – there is no singular truth, culture, fact, idea, or feeling. As time moves forward, cultures are increasingly interconnected, causing people to realize that there are a multitude of ideas, beliefs, religions, races, and even mores. Pluralism can lead to positive ideas but also negative as well, due to conflicts between communities with differing viewpoints. Also, unlike the previous literary eras we have discussed in this course (the enlightenment, colonialism, modernism), postmodern literature does not have any clear identifying features. This, actually, is the point. Postmodernism can be experimental, beautifully disorganized, and unidentifiable. This also means, of course, that understanding and interpreting postmodern literature can be tricky because there are no rules.


Earlier in the course, we saw how modern literature, at times, reflected the effect of colonization on culture and language. This literature illustrated how colonization could cause not only an unfair shift in power positions, but also cultural homogenization within colonized lands. Once colonization ended in these lands (otherwise known as postcolonialism), there was an attempt within literature to reclaim the culture of those who had been colonized. However, as mentioned, this is difficult to do as the world becomes increasingly connected due to globalization, creating a tension between a renewed focus on the local, indigenous, and authentic culture on the one hand, and the legacy of colonialism and increasingly homogeneous, global culture on the other hand.


From the Enlightenment to the Postmodern Era

Take a look at the above image. It gives a good idea about the difference between all three eras. As we saw at the beginning of the course, the enlightenment era believed that God was the creator of the ‘clock’ who ran the universe. Modernism, on the other hand, illustrated the effects of technology and a quest for an improved society. Finally, we have postmodernism – which removes a deity, eliminates progression, and focuses more on the confused state of existence.

For more information about these differences, please view the below video: “Modernism verses Postmodernism.”

Globalism and Literature

Most define globalism as the expansion of political, economic, and cultural connections and interdependencies on a planetary scale. In this way, what were local or, at best, regional systems and processes in previous times have become increasingly, as some have put it, supra-territorial (meaning not dependent on or connected to any specific geographical era). Globalism has also caused some linguistic affects as well. Please view the following TED talk given by Peter Alfandary about globalization. In it, he discusses some of the ramifications of globalism and how this affects speech and culture – causing some language confusion and culture clashes. As Alfrandary explains, there is a ‘cross-cultural dilemma,’ in that many around the world use English to communicate, but that doesn’t mean that various communities and cultures understand each other.

With these changes comes a fear of cultural homogenization that includes not only popular culture but also the arts and literature. Many tout the benefits of ‘the melting pot,’ but what happens to these cultures as they enter this ‘global pot’? Are they melded into one global culture? Are these languages and cultures lost altogether? We see this fear reflected in much of the assigned literature this week.

Postmodernism, Globalism, and Literature

Postmodernism, Postcolonialism, and Globalization are not only a destructive force for the homogenizing pressures they bring to bear on local literary forms and traditions, they also help to create new forms of literature as well, to include literature that is offering criticisms of or insights into globalism. For instance, this week, Kinkaid’s “Girl” reflects a mother who lists some of the attributes and abilities a proper Antiguan woman and reveals concern that her daughter might be led astray by modern values. Also, Silko’s “Yellow Woman” shows a character caught between two worlds: one which is from a previous indigenous generation and one influenced by modern society.

This Week’s Authors

Yehuda Amichai – Israel

This week we will be reading a poem from the Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai. Amichai, born in Germany in 1924, soon after immigrated to Jerusalem in 1936, and fought with the British Army during WWII. His poems reflect life in Israel during the latter 20th century. This week, we will be reading Amichai’s “Arab Shepherd is Searching for His Goat on Mt. Zion.” This poem shows an Arab and Jewish man searching for a goat and son respectively on two different hills. In the poem, Amichai illustrates the similarities between the two characters.


Mahmoud Darwish – Palestine

Mahmoud Darwish at Bethlehem University, (2006)

Mahmoud Darwish, born in 1941, was considered Palestine’s national poet. His work focuses on the issues facing Palestine and the treatment of Arabs by the Israelis, which can be seen in both assigned poems this week. His work, often in ‘free-verse,’ reflects a postmodern style.


Seamus Heaney – Ireland

Seamus Heaney (2009)

The Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, born in 1939, was influence by his experiences in Northern Ireland. His poetry reflects the conflict between the previous farming society in Ireland and the industrial revolution. This week, we will be reading “The Tulland Man,” a work that describes a mummified corpse. Some believe that Heaney’s descriptions in this poem represent the violence seen in Northern Ireland.


Jamaica Kincaid – Antigua

Jamaca Kinkaid

Jamaica Kinkaid, although an American citizen, was born in Antigua. Her work is often autobiographical about her early childhood experiences and reflect issues facing postcolonial Antigua. This week, “Girl,” reflects two generations: one attempting to instill Antiguan cultural values in her daughter, and the other, the daughter, questioning the utility of these values.


Naguib Mahfouz – Egypt

Mahfouz in 1982.

This week, we will be reading a short excerpt from Naguib Mahfouz’s (1911) “From Midaq Alley.” Mahfouz’s work illustrates life within Egypt during the mid-twentieth century. His work, often blunt, exhibited a great deal of love for his country. The short work this week illustrates this love of Egypt, giving readers a view into Egyptian scenery and life during the mid-twentieth century.


Leslie Marmon Silko – American

Leslie Marmon Silko, of Pueblo, European, and Mexican descent, grew up on a Pueblo Indian reservation. This childhood experience affected much of her fictional work, which reflects some of the traditional stories she heard from her elders. This week, we will read “The Yellow Woman,” which, as mentioned, reflects the conflict between tradition and modernity many within the indigenous community experience today.

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