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Extracts from Book on Literary History & Literary Theory

From the Introduction to “Journalism and the Essay” (Page 29)

The essay (meaning, according to Montaigne, ‘an attempt’) originated as a repository of casual ideas on men and matters.  To Montaigne it was more a means of thinking aloud, than a literary type.  In England it was cultivated by Bacon and the humanists.  But as literature became more formalized and academic in the latter half of the 17th century, its practice gradually passed out of fashion.  Later, a combination of circumstances peculiar to England gave a group of humanists the opportunity of creating it anew.  Their work appeared in a detached, fragmentary form like the essays of Montaigne, Bacon or Cowley.  But in method and scope it was an achievement of marked originality, and exercised a profound influence of the prose style, and indeed on the civilization of their epoch.

    In origin, the 18th century Addisonian essay had little in common with the Renaissance essay, but belongs to the history of the daily press.  Since the beginning of the Civil War, England had been the home of diurnals and news-sheets.  But, thanks to the Licensing Act of 1662, the 17th century produced no serious attempts at journalism.  From the time of William’s accession, news–sheets and Mercuries began to multiply.  In 1690 John Dunton hit on the ingenious idea of publishing the Athenian Gazette, afterwards changed to the Athenian Mercury, a periodical to answer questions; in 1702 the Daily Courant began its long Career till 1735; and in 1704, Daniel Defoe started the publication of The Review.

From “Postmodernism” (Page 68)

Postmodernism shares many of the features of Modernism.  Both schools reject the rigid boundaries between high and low art.  Postmodernism even goes a step further and deliberately mixes low art with high art, the past with the future, or one genre with another.  Such mixing of different, incongruous elements illustrates Postmodernism’s use of lighthearted parody, which was also used by Modernism.  Both these schools also employed pastiche, which is the imitation of another’s style (for example, if I write a novel about Shakespearean characters or in a style very similar to that of T.S. Eliot, that is pastiche).  Parody and pastiche serve to highlight the self-reflexivity of Modernist and Postmodernist works, which means that parody and pastiche serve to remind the reader that the work is not “real” but fictional, constructed.  Modernist and Postmodernist works are also fragmented and do not easily, directly convey a solid meaning.  That is, these works are consciously ambiguous and give way to multiple interpretations.  The individual or subject depicted in these works is often decentred, without a central meaning or goal in life, and dehumanized, often losing individual characteristics and becoming merely the representative of an age or civilization, like Tiresias in The Waste Land. 

In short, Modernism and Postmodernism give voice to the insecurities, disorientation and fragmentation of the 20th century Western world. The Western world, in the 20th century, began to experience this deep sense of insecurity because it progressively lost its colonies in the Third World, was torn apart by two major World Wars and found its intellectual and social foundations shaking under the impact of new social theories and developments such as Marxism and postcolonial global migrations, new technologies and the power shift from Europe to the United States.

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