Brian McHale

I am currently engaged on two complementary projects that aim to finish off postmodernism, as it were--or at any rate to finish it off for myself, if not for anyone else. The first of these, nearing completion, is a Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism. The four main chapters key on four phases of postmodernism: the onset phase, which I date from the mid-1960’s; the “peak” phase, 1973-1989; an “interregnum” or “in-between” phase of uncertainty and reorientation, roughly coinciding with the 1990’s; and an aftermath or “coda” phase, dating from about 2001. Coupled with each of these historical chapters, literally as a side-bar, is the case-study of a motif that seems particularly to relevant to that phase: juxtaposed with the onset phase, a survey of late-twentieth-century versions and remediations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, which undergo a surprising revival and reorientation around the year 1966; juxtaposed with the “peak” phase, an account of the changing fortunes of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a touchstone of literary and cinematic postmodernism; coupled with the “interregnum” phase, the perennial figure of the angel, which achieves an unprecedented degree of cultural penetration and ubiquity in the nineties; and paired with the aftermath phase, the imagery of ruins, a venerable motif newly reimagined and reinterpreted in the post-September 11 moment.

The complementary project is an edited volume, The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature, which I am co-editing with Len Platt (Goldsmiths, London). The volume’s structure mirrors that of my Introduction, but with chapters contributed by 30-some experts on different aspects of literary culture during the postmodern decades. Between them, these two projects have forced my ongoing research into narrative in poetry onto the back burner, for the time being.

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