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21st Century American Fiction: Postmodernism & Beyond - ENG00048H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Adam Kelly
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2017-18

Module summary

Born of a moment when CDs and personal computers were just becoming common and Ronald Reagan was in office, postmodernism as a concept was evolved to explain the way in which large-scale transformations in Western society since the 1960s had in turn transformed the arts.

This module will explore these questions through the work of a specific generation of writers, those born between the late 1950s and the early 70s, who have formed the vanguard of American fiction since the turn of the millennium.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2017-18

Module aims

The aim of this module is to explore some aspects of the constitution and definition of American fiction after postmodernism, particularly in relationship

Module learning outcomes

Knowledge regarding the definition of postmodern American literature and culture Awareness of a range of fiction published in American since the turn of the 21st century and the way it differs formally and thematically from that of earlier periods An understanding of some ways in which transformations in contemporary American culture relate to recent American fiction.

Module content

Postmodernist arguments were hugely influential in literary studies, where critics posited that novelists like Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison and Don DeLillo had broken with the modernist tradition in key ways—for example, through their investment in popular literary forms—in order to reflect the changed world in which they were writing. For most critics, “postmodern fiction” became the synonymous with contemporary fiction.

In the current moment, however, the most important writing on postmodernism is twenty years old and its bearing on present-day America is increasingly in doubt. From the "War on terror" to Youtube, from globalization to reality TV, 21st-century American culture has transformed in ways that were unimaginable in the late 1980s. For literary critics, these changes raise pressing and complex questions, such as, what relationship exists between new fiction and recent transformations in American economics, politics and media? How are 21st-century novelists imagining and interrogating the changed political and cultural landscape in which they write? What formal and thematic trends make 21st-century fiction unique? If we are no longer living in the era of postmodern fiction, how shall we define the new literary moment?

Authors studied will include some of the following: Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz, Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Rachel Kushner, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ben Lerner, Jonathan Lethem, Richard Powers, George Saunders, Dana Spiotta, Colson Whitehead, and David Foster Wallace. We will also read a range of non-fiction texts that are being used to conceptualize twenty-first century American culture, in relation to postmodernism and to other contexts.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

  • You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000 word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3,000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.
  • Please hand in a hard copy of your formative essay to your tutor in the seminar – arrangements will be confirmed at the start of the module. It will be annotated and given back to you by your tutor within two weeks. Feedback on the essay will be uploaded to eVision.
  • Your summative essay is submitted via the VLE by 4pm on Monday of week 1 of the following term. Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to eVision no later than 4 weeks after submission.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Indicative reading

DIAZ, JUNOT. This is How You Lose Her (2011). London: Faber, 2013. ISBN: 978-0571294213.

EGAN, JENNIFER. A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010). London: Corsair, 2011. ISBN: 978-1780330969.

EGGERS, DAVE. A Hologram for the King (2012). London: Penguin, 2013. ISBN: 978-0241145869.

POWERS, RICHARD. Generosity (2009). London: Atlantic, 2011. ISBN: 978-1848871274.

SAUNDERS, GEORGE. Pastoralia (2000). London: Bloomsbury, 2001. ISBN: 978-0747553861.

SPIOTTA, DANA. Eat the Document (2006). New York: Scribner, 2006. ISBN: 978-0743273008.

WALLACE, DAVID FOSTER. The Pale King (2011). New York: Penguin, 2012. ISBN: 978-0241962114.

WHITEHEAD, COLSON. Zone One (2011). New York: Vintage, 2012. ISBN: 978-0099570141.

Heise, Ursula K. Postmodern Novels. The Cambridge History of the American Novel. Ed.

Leonard Cassuto. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. 964-85.

Wallace, David Foster. E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. London: Abacus, 1997. 21-82.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.