Presentation on “Post-modernism and Race in Recent American Fiction” by: Dr. Mark Looker


Post-modern literature is often characterized by “intertextuality,” borrowing from other styles and texts across genres in such a way that the distinction between high and low culture, Western and non-Western, past and present are broken down in its relentless appropriation of pre-existing texts and images from history, advertising, social media. Its hallmarks are plurality, pastiche, parody, recycling, sampling, self-referential metafictions. Its underlying attitude, put (over)simply, is disbelief, a philosophical skepticism in which increasing technological media undermine any sense of the “real,” which is replaced by signs and simulations.

My argument is that while recent novels by and about people and communities of color in the United States acknowledge and co-opt many of these post-modern techniques, they almost always reject its core philosophical precepts in favor of a reading of American culture in which history is real and retrievable, and its representation of and for communities of color is painfully but vitally necessary at the present moment. For my primary examples I will use Tommy Orange, There There, Alice Randall, Black Bottom Saints, and Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown, with quick glances at C Pam Zhang, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer, Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes, and Percival Everett, I Am Not Sidney Poitier.