The origin of modernist literature lies in the period of late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in North America and Europe. It is identified by a self-conscious break in both poetry and prose fiction with the conventional styles of writing. Modernist writers believed in Ezra Pound’s “Make it new” and encouraged in experimenting with the literary form and expression. The desire was to overturn from the traditional modes of illustration and expressing some new sensibilities of their time.
The intense fear of the First World War experienced the current assumptions about the society reviewed. The questions regarding the rationality of the human mind are raised by some thinkers as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud who were the influential figures for the modernist writers. The following disillusionment and the works of early modernist writers after the World War I, broke the implicit agreement with the common public that artists were the trustworthy interpreters and representatives of conventional ideas and culture instead, developed some unreliable narrators in exposing the irrationality of a supposedly rational world. Modernist writers include the changing ideas about reality developed by Bergson, Darwin, Freud, Mach, Nietzsche, Einstein and others. Through some innovative literary techniques such as interior monologue, stream-of-consciousness and the use of multiple points-of-view, modernist writers express doubts about the philosophical basis of realism. The employment of interior monologue or stream-of-consciousness reflects the requirement for better psychological realism.
“Postmodernism” is another term, skeptically and critically interprets culture, literature, philosophy, art, history, linguistics, architecture, fiction, economics, feminist theory and literary criticism. It is associated with some of the philosophers known as Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Frederic Jameson and some critical thought such as post-structuralism and deconstruction. Postmodern literature is used to illustrate some certain characteristics especially of post– “World War II literature” which relies heavily on a few narrative techniques such as questionable narrators, fragmentation and paradox. The works are considered as a reaction against the ideas of Enlightenment implicit in Modernist literature. Postmodern writers are often found in reacting against the general rules of modernism by parodying the styles and forms connected with modernist and other writers. The cultural difference between high and low is criticized through the employment of pastiche, the genres and subjects of cultural elements which were not deemed fit for literature previously.
Parody to narrative and structure, are their concepts of experiment and they often refers to early novels and stories as their inspirational sources. Laurence Sterne’s novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman published in 1759, is often cited as an early influence on postmodernism because of its heavy emphasis on parody and narrative experimentation,Attacking examples on Enlightenment and playfulness in the 19th century literature are found in Lord Byron’s satire Don Juan; Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, the works of Arthur Rimbaud, Isidore Ducasse, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll’s playful experiments with signification.Dramatists of postmodernism, whose works and thoughts are regarded as an influential includes Swedish dramatist August Strindberg, the German playwright Bertolt Brecht and the Italian author Luigi Pirandello. Andre Breton highlights the greater role that automatism and the description of dreams can play in the creation of literature. He used automatism in creating his novel Nadja.
Experiments with “signification” by Surrealist Rene Magritte are seen as examples in the works of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Michel Foucault also uses examples taken from Jorge Luis Borges, a prominent influence on many postmodernist fiction writers. He is hardly listed as a postmodernist, although he started to write in the 1920s. His experimental influence with metafiction and magic realism was not completely realized in the Anglo-American world until the postmodern period.The Complete Works of Shakespeare (as it has been passed down through the centuries) are regarded as the most highly valued text of all literature and the value of him is rigidly guarded as a kind of cultural treasure.
Apparently, this value finds itself intact even in the period of postmodern eclecticism, as movie and Television directors try their hands in the productions of plays. Their violent abuse of the generic stabilities of Renaissance literature and eclecticism can be considered as postmodern prior to postmodernism. There are many famous lines in the Shakespeare canon seem to refer to the theatricality (the as if nature) of life or to the fragility and emptiness of language (“sound and fury signifying nothing”), or to what a postmodernist might easily refer to as the ambiguity of what it means to be (the “ontological ambiguity” of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be? That is the question”). Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996, Luhrmann) seems like a proper example of the postmodernist practice of pastiche and eclecticism in the mixing of the dissimilar genres. Luhrmann’s film is a more straightforward adaptation for cinema than we might have thought, though, and not merely an eclectic pastiche after all.
There’s eclecticism there, but the play remains more or less intact and thus remains the dominant and guiding force of the film.)In terms of character development, the modern and postmodern literature both tried to explore subjectivism by turning from the external reality to examine the inner states of consciousness. In addition, both of the literature explored fragmentariness in narrative and character-constructions. Drawing on modernist examples are found in the “stream of consciousness” styles of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, or explorative poems like The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. The Waste Land is often cited as a master piece for distinguishing the modern and postmodern literature. The poem is fragmentary and uses pastiche like much postmodern literature, but the speaker in The Waste Land says, “these fragments I have shored against my ruins”.