Linda Hutcheon: Reading Notes, Chapters 11 and 12

By Hanan Hindi

Chapter 11: Discourse, Power, Ideology: Humanism and Postmodernism

Postmodernism and humanism:

Postmodernism works against the suppression of historical, political, material, and social (178). Postmodernism challenges the suppression, “but in such a way that their implication in the underlying humanism value system cannot be ignored” (170).  Postmodernists recognize their “ideological positioning” and they have been provoked to such recognition due to the accusation of being trivial against them and “those previously silenced ex-centrics” (179) in the western culture. The marginalization of ex-centrics has taught them that artists “indeed have inherent political status” (179). The identity of artists and art contested by liberal humanist has allowed the “novel genre in particular [to] become the battleground” (179). Hutcheon goes on to provide examples of that, referencing Ian Watts and Lennard Davis. Davis’s assumption, Hutcheon explains, that the “prevailing theory of the novel at its beginnings…must be contrasted with the reality of the form itself(as morally ambiguous and ambivalently both radical and conservative)” (179) leads to the suggestion that postmodern complexities of histographic metafiction may in fact exist in the novel, allowing it to be a “doubled discourse which ambiguously embodies opposing political and moral function” (179). On the other hand, Hutcheon agrees and disagrees with Davis’s argument as she asserts that postmodern fiction “reverses the doubled process” as it provides power and continues to challenge it at the same time – keeping the “contradictory doubleness” (180).

Postmodernism and modes of representation (180):

The literal history of the novel and realism have been intertwined; however, since there is claim against realism successful representing the novel, the function of realism becomes suspicious. What postmodernism does, therefore, is claim that the language used to drive realism or any form of representation “cannot escape such ideological ‘contamination’” (180). On the other hand, postmodernism claims through its complexities “that awareness of ideology is as much an ideological stand as common-sense lack of awareness of it” (180). This allows the postmodern novel to not in fact deny the ideological world, rather it “begins by creating and centering a world…and then contesting it” (180), which emphasizes the “contradictory doubleness” Hutcheon mentions earlier in the chapter (180).

Hutcheon concludes the first section of chapter 11 by explaining what postmodern fiction does to show and implement its teachings, “tends to use its political commitment in conjunction with both distancing irony like this and technical innovation” (181).

Representation and Postmodernism:

In this section, Hutcheon highlights the work of postmodernism as it questions the “ideological power” of representation (182). Hutcheon is concerned with the literary and fictional because of the way it interlocks the self-conscious language, narrative, and history to portray the complexities of histographic metafiction. Responding to humanism, as the title of the chapter suggests, Hutcheon asserts that postmodernism merges the “self-reflexive and ideological” (183), which “are usually kept separate in humanist thought” (183). Postmodernism responds to historical ideology by troubling it to Show the implications of the methods in which our culture creates meaning through representations and narratives (183).  Furthermore, Hutcheon responds to humanist’s strong belief in language by portraying the multi-usages of language as it has “many uses – and abuses” (183). Language can also fall short in its ability to represent and express (183). Hutcheon references the following works and authors to depict the limited power of language: Berger’s G, John Banville, and Graham Swift.

Hutcheon response to discourse (referencing Foucault): discourse is paradoxical since it is both a tool and a result of power (185). Its lack of stability comes from the fact it combines power and knowledge, modifying its importance depending upon the speaker and the context of power. In response to power, Hutcheon states that postmodernism investigates and expose systems that unite in reach power. What histographic metafiction does is challenge any unified system by interrogating the role of language in power and knowledge (186). Postmodernism aims to challenge and change the view of language and fiction, history, criticism, as uncomplicated (187). One of the reasons Hutcheon mentions as to why many are unsatisfied with postmodernism is that its continuous questioning, its ability to be interrogated while providing ironies that “implicate and yet critique” (191).

Histographic metafiction problematizes knowledge of history and literary representation. The postmodern novel interrogates and present the issues behind viewing “fiction as a withdrawal from history” (194). Hutcheon concludes the chapter by discussing the ex-centric becoming a force to connecting once again the “ideological with the aesthetic” by discussing gender, race, ethnicity and sexual preferences (195).

Chapter 12

Hutcheon beings the chapter by reminding the reader that the paradoxes and contradictions of postmodernism are the very elements that define it. Postmodernism faces accusations due to its ‘double’ position, where one side gets ignored, allowing it to be “accused of everything from reactionary nostalgia to radical revolution” (201). Hutcheon moves the chapter by recommending a closer look at the 1960’s where postmodernist formed due to the way in which the time period was “contradictorily interpreted …or…contradictorily encoded” (201). Postmodernism added to the 1960’s a “historical consciousness mixed with an ironic sense of critical distance” (201). An example Hutcheon discusses to describe postmodernism and its addition to the 1960’s politics is Doctorow’s Book of Daniel, where the main character Daniel learns that he cannot separate himself from the everyday politics. Book of Daniel is an example of the personal and the political inseparability. The postmodern novel roots itself in the 1960’s while it provides a criticism of those years (202).

Hutcheon continues by describing the postmodern challenges which are due to the fact that the challenges are “always paradoxically both inside and outside, compromised and critical” (205) allowing postmodernism’s issues to be/to have a doubleness – “doubly encoded” (205).

Political doubleness:

Hutcheon’s title of the chapter can be best understood in her idea that postmodern fiction engraves political doubleness through: 1) self conscious, 2) interrogating narratives and narrators (206). One can see the doubleness through the “paradox of the social and ideological determinism of all art and the individual reader’s freedom” (206). Hucheon once again uses Shame and Tin Drum as examples of how the issues of freedom are interrogated to show how the narrator and narrative’s freedom are in fact terms of power that are “doubled or ‘unmarked’” (207).

The debate over postmodernism is, according to Hutcheon, mostly over “political positions” where the Left and the ‘neo-conservatives’ each only view one side of the contradiction (207). Hutcheon sheds light on the Left throughout the later sections of the chapter to explain the reason behind the attacks on postmodernism. The involvement of postmodernism with the capitalist culture is the reason leading to the attack; however, Hutcheon argues that postmodernism acknowledges capitalist culture “in order to enable a critique of it through its very exploitation of its power” (207).  Hutcheon raises a number of questions, leading to her argument that the paradoxes of postmodernism challenge the idea of “the power of the totalized concept of the culture industry and any attempt to set oneself in a position outside” (208). In the third section of the chapter, Hutcheon provides a closer look of this attack on postmodernism, explaining the Left’s position on postmodernism as it blames and disapproves of postmodernism’s involvement with the capitalist culture (210). Furthermore, postmodern text clarify the type criticism that Marxist claim can only be understood through their analysis (211). Postmodern text also disagrees with the idea that the role of criticism is to show the hidden, rather, postmodern text in fact “decode themselves by foregrounding their own contradictions” (211). While Marxist argue that the “formal experience of art must be regrounded in the social and historical” (212), Hutcheon argues that they have ignored that it is exactly that which she calls postmodernism, yet the history that postmodernism returns to “is a very problematic and problematized one” (212). Hutucheon continues by asserting that the historical return through of postmodernism is not a nostalgic one, for history was never simple (212).

Hutcheon continues by explaining the concerns shared by postmodernism and Marxism, which create an overlap that “might constitute the basis for defining a poetics of the postmodern” (213):

1)    Marxism and postmodernism “are both engaged in contextualized, institutional critique” (213)

2)    History as “inescapable”

3)    “Materialist” as postmodernism portrays literature as “the result of particular discursive practices operative in a culture” (213). Such practices portray/define literature and what is to be valued about it (213).

Hutcheon asserts that despite the overlap, there are more differences which set Marxism and postmodernism apart because postmodernism interrogates “totalizing systems” (214). Hutcheon concludes the chapter by asserting once again that postmodernism challenges unified systems, art and reality and their borders (because they do exist) and “instead of synthesis, [postmodernist] find problematization” (221).

Works cited

Hutcheon, Linda.  A Poetics of Postmodernism.  New York:  Routeledge, 1988.