Postmodernism and historicity : narrative forms in the contemporary novel
This study proposes that modernity is constitutively based upon a synchronic temporality which perpetuates the present of the ego. Within this matrix, history is subject to the processes of subjectivization and the 'otherness' of the past disappears. Postmodernism, it is argued, designates the attempt to disinter a properly historical thinking, or historicity, from the recursive temporality of the modern. This attempt is predicated upon the retroactive temporality of the future perfect which, whilst also a synchrony, arises from a productive tension between the past, the present and the future. The self-divisive time of the future perfect expedites the discomfiture of the ego and its concomitant subjectivization of the past and, by so doing, registers the historicity of that past. The relation between the modern and the postmodern forms of temporality is expressed by the Lacanian distinction between the imaginary and symbolic orders. It is argued, moreover, that this distinction is manifest in the narrative forms of the contemporary novel. Whilst the modern form of the contemporary novel replicates the structures of an egocentric repletion of synchrony, the postmodern novel displaces this imaginary problematic to the symbolic. By employing a variety of techniques founded upon retroactivity, postmodern novels are thereby shown to foster a disclosure of the structure of historicity. Within this rubric five novels are given extended consideration: William Gibson's Neuromancer, Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and John Banville's Doctor Copernicus.