Authors/Canadian Copywriter

If you want to read a fascinating book - and one that you probably won't be able to put down -- pick up a book by the name of JPod by Douglas Coupland. It's about a group of video programmers (whose last name ends with a "J" -- therefore their work station is called JPod). The book takes a delightful but somewhat uneasy look at a group of young people who have absolutely no socially responsible values whatsoever. Their only allegiance is to computers. Coupland uses an interesting technique throughout the book which is called "pastiche" -- or, in other words, a playful collection of graphical and typeface templates that communicate the computer aspects of the book. Coupland first came to notice when he wrote GenX -- a novel about the generation after the baby boomers.

Yann Martel wrote the novel "Life of Pi", which has won the Man Booker Prize (including several other awards indigineous to several countries). The story is a fascinating tale of a young man who is shipwrecked. He manages to climb into a lifeboat and throw a life ring to what he believed was another passenger. It turns out that the "other passenger" is a Bengal Tiger -- and the story unwravels as both the boy and the tiger float around on the sea for 227 days.

Post Modern Literature -- by Norm Barnett


When it comes to the arts, every era has its own unique style which reflects the tastes and interests of its own particular time. The corollary to this basic fact of life is that as times change, so too will the arts. As a result, the only thing (it seems) that will never go out of fashion is the basic tenet that "the only constant is change". Writers today are concerned with documenting new and fresh content - and expressing their content in new and different ways - while discarding the constraints of the past. Today, this pursuit of "uniqueness" has given rise to a new movement in literature which has been coined as "post modernist literature". Although post modern literature is new and different, there are some recognizable ties back to eras such as the "Theatre of the Absurd" in the 1950's - which was a movement that focused on unlikely situations, erratic characters and unusual time continuums - simply for their entertainment value. There are also ties to surrealistic books in the past such as "Catch 22" in 1961 and "Gravity's Rainbow" in 1973 Like the writers during those times, post modernistic writers are rejecting the current standards in favour of a different, fresher approach - yet there are still certain characteristics of the post modern novel that are common to this style of writing (or movement, if you will) that can help you identify which novels fall into this category. In general, post-modernistic writing is more "playful" than the writing of earlier eras - and thanks to today's plethora of multi-media platforms, writers can draw their material from a wide cross section of sources. In fact, computers and the new technologies are often a favourite topic for post modernistic writers. In the novel "Jpod", for example, the writer Douglas Coupland writes in a playful mood to convey the wittiness and intelligence of a group of game designers at a software company. Every chapter in the "Jpod" novel is broken up by a variety of pictures, words, computer games and computer formulas. The novel uses Pastiche or, in other words, a collection of words or pictures or whatever to get that point across. Here is an excerpt example of pastiche, as written in Jpod:

All-purpose IT Worker & Stud. "Cancer Cowboy". One only. Cool in a Steve McQueen Kind of Way. Item number: 7471313007 Current bid: US $6.66 (Reserve not met) Time left: We're doomed. Start time: Apr-11-76 17:19:35 PDT Ends: At any moment, PDT History:19 bids High bidder: time_waster (1) Item location: Burnaby, BC Ships to: Worldwide Seller: maudlin_drinker (Coupland 165)

Fragmented Plots, Character development and time continuums. Another characteristic common to the post modern novel is its treatment of time and characters. In many post modern novels, the time jumps around - not necessarily in any logical chronological order. Characters and plots are also fragmented, giving the reader a little piece of the overall story over the course of the novel. Slight and not-so-slight (and sometimes) blatant stretching of the truth is yet another characteristic of the post modern novel. Metafiction is another technique that many writers are using. It simply means a "stretching of the truth" as Yann Martel demonstrates in his novel "The Life Of Pi". In this novel, the protagonist is a boy named Pi whose family decides to immigrate to Canada on a cargo ship that also happens to carry all their worldly possessions: a menagerie of animals from a zoo, which happens to be the family's business. Mysteriously, the ship sinks and only Pi and a few animals survive - until, finally, there is only Pi and a Bengal tiger. Most of the novel is a description of Pi floating on a raft on the Pacific Ocean, hoping to be rescued. While this type of scenario could happen, the chances of it really happening are very slim. Yet the writer keeps teasing us as to whether it could be true or not. In a radio interview, the author of "Life of Pi" explained that he used metafiction to entice the reader and keep them reading the book - because they don't really know what is the truth and what isn't. And to further "stir the pot", Mr. Martel also uses another aspect of post modern literature: reflexive writing, which is typified by the writer assuring the reader that the story is only fiction - although Mr. Martel used a category within reflexive writing to constantly assure the reader that the story was true. Mr. Martel further explained his motivations in a radio interview "Implausible, yes..." he says, "but impossible, no" ("Yann Martel-The Life of Pi-Author Interview"). "The Life of Pi" also demonstrates another post-modernistic technique: Bildungsroman, which has its roots in a German word which refers to novels that have been written with a "Coming of Age" context. This technique usually focuses on the novel's protagonist as he or she grows up. Typically, the novel describes the provinciality of his or her setting, usually a conflict with a parent occurs. Other "growing pains" are documented such as finally breaking away from the family, expanding to new frontiers, having new sexual encounters (usually good and bad), searching for a new vocation and then finally settling down into a steady life and work style. Other types of "metafiction" or a stretching of the truth, are built around real-world events, such as 9/11. Typically, while the writer may stay true to the event, there is an embellishing of the story - a fantasy around a world event that actually happened. Such novels that demonstrate this aspect of metafiction are "Loud and Unexplainably Close" by Johathan Safran Froer. In a nutshell, this story is about a boy named Oskar Schell, a precocious child who spends eight months to find the house which belongs to a key his father once owned. One of the more shocking aspects of the book is an inside cover that pictures victims falling from the World Trade Center during 9/11. However, although this book is a typical example of post-modern literature, it isn't striking a happy chord with some people. In her article "Stuff That Never Happened: Johnathan Safran Froer,writes that: "Fiction so simplistic is an escape from understanding, not an aid to it. Something else is demanded from this tragedy, perhaps not art at all - at least not as Froer practices it (web site). In her book "Teaching the Post Modern: Fiction and Theory", Brenda K. Martin, attempts to explain the motivations of the post modern writer. "Don't worry. [They're not] here to get it right once and for all. No, that wouldn't be very post modern. Two more "extension" to "metafiction" are "fictionalized history" and magic realism. Fictionalized history relies on distortion of the facts that have already been written and recorded in the annals of history. Magic realism, on the other hand, takes metafiction to a new and often bizarre level. Typically, Magic Realism depends on the imagination of the writer - taking stories and/or fantastic events and creating a dream-like world around them. Another technique commonly used in Post-Modern literature is Parataxis - which is also a departure from the past. It is a combination of un-related phrases, usually separated by commas (without conjunctions) to convey a feeling. Grammatically, parataxis often goes "against the grain" of the old -style grammar rules. Sometimes the author will deliberately misspell words, perhaps to capture and retain the reader's interest. Parataxis serves a writer well when s/he wants to write playfully, but parataxis can also convey other feelings such as tension. For example, in "On The Road" by Cormack McCarthy, the use of parataxis conveys an un-ease and dread as the writer describes the bleakness of the landscape after an apocalyptic event.

"He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the Void. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its Shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone. (McCarthy 11).

And, finally, there is a tendency for writers today to create stories around scenarios of doom. Often the story will centre around an apocalyptic nuclear war or any other disaster that affects the globe and wipes everyone off the planet except for a few people. The story will often follow these people as they search for answers and for other people who share their plight. Of course, there are a few major codicils to all of the above. One is that while post modern writers are using unique and different methods to express new and different plots, there are still some themes that will never change. For example, the themes used in a Romance Novel are still valid. The "boy meets girl, boy gets girl" theme is a universal theme which will probably carry on for as long as the human race exists. There is also the use of irony, or in other words: the events that should happen but for some unforeseeable situation, they don't happen. This too, is a common ploy for writers of all eras. In conclusion, post modern fiction, like the fiction from other eras, is a reflection of the current times. In general, this post-modernistic world has become a "global village" (as was predicted many years ago by the late Marshall McLuhan). With technological revolutions such as the internet and other advances in communication, the world is becoming more "tightly knit". On the other hand, the flip side to this reality is that with the increasing frequency of global terrorism, the world is also becoming more "tightly wound". However, it will take the writers who explore new territories in writing post modern fiction - to make the reader sit back and think (and wonder) that will continue to make the world an interesting place.

WORKS CITED "Coupland, Douglas. JPod: a Novel. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2007. Print. "Life of Pi - Author Interview." You Tube. Feb. 2007. Web. Apr. 2010. Martel, Yann. Life of Pi: a Novel. Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2001. Print. McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.