Beyond Modernism: The American Postmodern Novel

  • Mario Farina


Finally, what I intend to show in the last chapter is an example of the efficacy of Adorno’s philosophy of literature to explain and evaluate one of the most radical literary phenomena of the late twentieth century, that is the development of the so-called American postmodern novel. According to his theory of art, in fact, post-modern novel can be seen neither as an arbitrary ruin of the artistic form (pace all conservative interpretations), nor as the celebration of the end of every kind of artistic commitment in literary creation, but instead as the last chance to build an artistic and aesthetic form in the context of art’s fragmentation. Following this idea, I develop a concrete example of literary interpretation by testing an Adorno-inspired conceptual toolbox, precisely through the interpretation of three American postmodern novels: Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and Don DeLillo’s Underworld.


  1. Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhaĭlovic. 1981. Epic and Novel. In M.M. Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, 3–40. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  2. Benjamin, Walter. 1998. The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Trans. J. Osborne. London/New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 2003. On the Concept of History. In W. Benjamin. Selected Writings. Volume 4. 1938–1940, ed. Howard Eiland, and Michael W. Jennings, 389–400. Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. ———. 2005. The Crisis of the Novel. In W. Benjamin. Selected Writings. Volume 2, Part 1. 1927–1930, ed. Howard Eiland, Michael W. Jennings, and Gary Smith, 299–304. Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bloom, Harold. 2003. Introduction. In Don DeLillo, ed. Herold Bloom, 1–3. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publisher.Google Scholar
  6. Bürger, Peter. 1987. Theory of the Avant-Garde. Trans. M. Shaw. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  7. ———. 1990. Adorno’s Anti-Avant-Gardism. Telos 86: 49–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campana, Francesco. 2019. The End of Literature, Hegel, and the Contemporary Novel. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cook, Deborah. 2006. Adorno’s Critical Materialism. Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (6): 719–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. de Vries, Willem A. 2008. Sense-Certainty and the “This-Such”. In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. A Critical Guide, ed. Dean Moyar, and Michael Quante, 63–75. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. DeLillo, Don. 1988. Libra. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 1997. Underworld. A Novel. New York/London/Toronto/Sydney/Singapore: Scribner.Google Scholar
  13. Duyfhuizen, Bernard. 2003. “Hushing Sick Transmissions”: Disrupting Story in The Crying of Lot 49. In Thomas Pynchon, ed. Harold Bloom, 235–249. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publisher.Google Scholar
  14. Eichel, Christine. 1993. Vom Ermatten der Avantgarde zur Vernetzung der Künste: Perspektiven einer interdisziplinären Ästhetik im Spätwerk Theodor W. Adornos. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  15. Ercolino, Stefano. 2014. The Maximalist Novel. From Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. Trans. A. Sbragia. New York/London/New Delhi/Sydney: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  16. Garelli, Gianluca. 2010. Lo spirito in figura. Il tema dell’estetico nella “Fenomenologia dello spirito” di Hegel. Bologna: il Mulino.Google Scholar
  17. Geulen, Eva. 2006. Adorno and the Poetics of Genre. In Adorno and Literature, ed. David Cunningham, and Nigel Mapp, 53–66. London/New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  18. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1975. Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art. Trans. T.M. Knox. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. ———. 2018. The Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. T. Pinkard. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Heon, John. 2003. Surveying the Punch Line: Jokes and their Relation to the American Racial Unconscious/Conscience in Mason & Dixon and the Liner Notes to Spiked! In American Postmodernity. Essays on the Recent Fiction of Thomas Pynchon, ed. Ian D. Copestake, 147–171. Oxford/Bern/Berlin/Bruxelles/Frankfurt a. M./New York/Wien: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  21. Herder, Johann Gottfried. 2006. Selected Writings on Aesthetics. Trans. G. Moore. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Jarvis, Simon. 2004. Adorno, Marx, Materialism. In The Cambridge Companion to Adorno, ed. Thomas Huhn, 79–100. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kafka, Franz. 2009. The Castle. Trans. A. Bell. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Karl, Frederick R. 2001. American Fictions 1980–2000. Whose America is it Anyway? Philadelphia: Xlibris.Google Scholar
  25. LeClair, Tom. 1989. The Art of Excess. Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  26. Leyner, Mark. 1990. My Cousin. My Gastroenterologist. New York: Harmony Books.Google Scholar
  27. Lukács, György. 1971. The Theory of the Novel. A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature. Trans. Anna Bostock. London: The Merlin Press.Google Scholar
  28. Marx, Karl. 1990. The Capital. A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1. Trans. B. Fowkes. London/New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  29. Moretti, Franco. 1996. Modern Epic. The World-System from Goethe to García Marquez. Trans. Q. Hoare. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  30. Paddison, Max. 1987. Adorno’s ‘Aesthetic Theory’. Music Analysis 6 (3): 355–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. ———. 1993. Adorno’s Aesthetics of Music. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pinkard, Terry. 2002. German Philosophy 1760–1860: The Legacy of Idealism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Proust, Marcel. 1992. In Search of Lost Time, 6 vols. Trans. C.K.S. Moncrieff, and T. Kilmartin, Rev. D.J. Enright. New York: The Modern Library.Google Scholar
  34. Pynchon, Thomas. 1966. The Crying of Lot 49. Philadelphia: Lippincott.Google Scholar
  35. ———. 2006. Gravity’s Rainbow. London/New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  36. Rayner, Richard. 2010. Tuning Back in to ‘White Noise’. Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2010.Google Scholar
  37. Rebentisch, Juliane. 2003. Ästhetik der Installation. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt a. M.Google Scholar
  38. Schlegel, Friedrich. 1968. Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms. Trans. E. Behler, and R. Struc. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Szondi, Peter. 1987. Theory of Modern Drama. Trans. M. Hays. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  40. ———. 2002. An Essay on the Tragic. Trans. P. Flaming. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Wallace, David Foster. 1993. E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction. Review of Contemporary Fiction 13 (2): 151–194.Google Scholar
  42. ———. 1996. Infinite Jest. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  43. ———. 1998. A supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. London: Abacus.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mario Farina
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Letters and PhilosophyUniversity of FlorenceFirenzeItaly

Personalised recommendations