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Orchestrating Reception: The Hierarchy of Readers in Post-modern American Fiction HTML


Title:Orchestrating Reception: The Hierarchy of Readers in Post-modern American Fiction
Author(s):Unsworth, John
Abstract:Any essay which addresses itself to "post-modern American fiction" has at least two things to explain at the outset: its understanding of the terminology it uses, and its focus on the American scene. There has been considerable disagreement over the use (and even the form) of the term "post[-]modern," but some consensus has developed around the idea that there have already been two generations of post[-]modernism -- an earlier one which sees itself as extending the project of modernism, and a later one which sees itself as rejecting modernism. I use the presence or absence of a hyphen in the term as an artificial but logical way to distinguish between these two generations. The earliest form of the word, "Post-modernism," has a hyphen which privileges the modern, and this term is properly applied only to the first of the two generations; in "postmodernism," on the other hand, the hyphen has dropped out and the agglutinated form, in which "post" gets top billing, implies the emergence of a new entity. This form of the word is increasingly common, but rather than being applied indiscriminately it ought to denote specifically that rising generation which conceives of itself as distinct from and often opposed to modernism. As for my focus on the American scene, I agree with those who feel that post[-]modernism is in many ways an international movement, but I maintain that there are certain distinguishing features in its American manifestation. For one thing, American post-modernism has been largely an academic phenomenon, and as such it displays an unusual, if not historically unique, interplay between reader and writer, each having great practical importance for the other, and each at limes competing to supplant the other. This reciprocity between producer and consumer has few parallels in contemporary culture, even in the mass marketplace. What I will be describing, then, is a sort of discrete economy within the culture, small enough to be extremely responsive, and having its own hazards and rewards, its own channels of distribution, its own peculiarly adaptive forms and practices.
Issue Date:1990
Citation Info:Centennial Review 34.3, 413-432
Publication Status:published or submitted for publication
Date Available in IDEALS:2007-01-21

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