The Problem Play in English Literature

The problem play (also called “thesis play,” “discussion play,” and “the comedy of ideas”) is a comparatively recent form of drama. It originated in nineteenth-century France but was effectively practised and popularized by the Norwegian playwright Ibsen. It was introduced into England by Henry Arthur Jones and A. W. Pinero towards the end of the nineteenth century. G. B. Shaw and Galsworthy took the problem play to its height in the twentieth century. H. Granvi lie-Barker was the last notable practitioner of this dramatic type. Thus the problem play flourished in England in the period between the last years of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth.

What Is a Problem Play?
As its very name indicates, a problem play is a drama built around a specific problem. The problem is generally of a sociological nature: for example, prostitution, inadequate housing, unemployment, labour unrest, and so on. At times, however, a problem play may rise above the immediate context of a problem to grapple with larger ideological or even metaphysical and universal issues. If in Mrs. Warren’s Profession Shaw takes on the “profession” of prostitution and its economics in a laissez faire society, in Man and Superman his chief concern is not with a contemporary sociological problem but with the concept of “Life Force”. Acceptance of this concept and working in accordance are the Shavian panacea for all sociological ills and problems.
The Element of Propaganda:
The problem play is sometimes called “the propaganda play,” for the obvious reason that its intent is overtly didactic and propagandist. The writer of the problem play is not a pure aesthete, a dispassionate creator of beautiful artifacts for their own sake. He is not like Henry James’s “God of creation” who remains out of His creation indifferently “paring his finger nails.”‘ Ibsen, Shaw, and Galsworthy have written such plays to direct public attention to social evils and wrong attitudes. And, what is more, a problem play is not something merely diagnostic but also something therapeutic; in other words, it not only spells out the ills but also prescribes uie-fernedy. Shaw scoffed at the slogan “art for art’s sake.” He said that for the sake of art he would not undertake the labour of writing even one sentence, not to speak of a whole play.
Technique : the Prominence of Discussion:
Abrams observes: “One subtype of the problem play is the discussion play, in which the social issue is not incorporate into a plot, but expounded in the dramatic give and take of a sustained debate among the characters.” For example, in Shaw’s Getting Married‘the story is reduced to the m inimum. Act 111 of Man and Superman shows no action, only a long debate. Debates, however lively and witty, cannot take the place of action in drama (The very word “drama” is from the Greek root “dran” which means “action.”) Shaw was brilliant debater and public speaker and most of the dialogues in his plays—both for and against the issue in hand—are witty and often very absorbing, but they do not constitute real dramatic action. Ifor Evans observes: “The brilliance of his dialogue sometimes leads him beyond the bounds of dramatic propriety so that the stage becomes a hustings.” In the plays of a lesser artist like Galsworthy this defect is all the more serious because his debates and lengthy dialogues are without any sparkle or engaging vitality.
The Beginners—Jones and Pinero:
The problem play was introduced into England towards the end of the nineteenth century by Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929) and Sir A. W. Pinero (1855-1934). These playwrights were influenced by Ibsen but in dramatic talent were not even a patch on him. Ifor Evans justly remarks : ‘The descent from Ibsen to Henry Arthur Jones and Sir A. \V. Pinero is a steep one.”
Jones’s problem plays like Saints and Sinners and Mrs Dane’s Defence are, in Evans’ words, “the work of a cobbler who has never mastered his tools.” Pinero’s most popular play is The Second Mrs Tanqueray which deals with the marriage of “a woman with a past.” A. C. Ward observes: “Pinero did something towards transporting to the English stage the husk of Ibsen; but the substance of Ibsen’s message provoked in England an outburst of rage that only a Bernard Shaw could face with self-possession.”
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950):
And indeed Shaw had courage and self-possession almost in the same measure as intellectual incisiveness and wit. With all his amazing originality he was highly indebted to Ibsen. In fact his adulatory book on Ibsen The Quintessence oflbsenism (1891) was published a year before the appearance of his own first play Widowers’ Houses the first of the long series of problem plays written by him over the length of more than forty years.
Ibsen’s influence operated on Shaw in the following two ways :
First, it made him determined to use unhesitatingly his dramatic art in the service of his society in particular and mankind in general. He was fond of comparing himself to Moliere, the seventeenth-century French dramatist with a keen talent for satire. What Swift said about his own technique can as well be said about Shaw’s:
my method of reforming
Is uy laughter, not by storming
Shaw’s problem plays amply show his consuming moral intensity. He has been well called by Ward “the Knight of the Burning Pencil, a crusader whose appointed lifework was the endeavour to restore colour and light and joy to England’s once green and pleasant land.”
Secondly, Shaw learned to question the customary beliefs of society and the accepted bases .of public institutions. He tries to analyse and subvert such time-honoured concepts as patriotism, the supposed romance of war and chivalry, the self-assumed wisdom and realism of John Bull as against the alleged volatility and sentimentality of the irish, and so on. His campaign is for rebuilding social institutions and creating a new climate of ideas on the basis of rationality and unsentimental realism. Witness his own words: “Progress is not achieved by panicstricken rushes back and forward between one folly and another, but by sifting all movements and adding what survives the sifting to the fabric of our morality.
In his problem plays. Shaw does this kind of sifting to separate the husk from the grain. Almost in every such play his intention seems to be to stand popular beliefs upside down. Truth is generally ugly or inconvenient and therefore Shaw’s wit and raillery have the function of making it acceptable.
Shaw’s first play—a problem play—was, in the words of A. C. Ward, “adramatic essay in ‘social realism’ long before the term had been coined in Russia or elsewhere. Built around the theme of slum-landlordism, Widowers ‘Houses represents the cruel oppression of the poor slum-dwellers by big financier-landlords. Mrs Warren’s Profession is about the evil of prostitution. Because of its theme—which was at that time considered outrageous—it was banned by the censor of the plays and was denounced by the public. The play is about the economics of prostitution as a profession in a free society. Its other aspects are ironically made subsidiary. Mrs Warren is far from being a romantic courtesan. She is an ordinary, successful harlot. The Apple Carl is yet another thought-provoking comedy. Shaw defends the institution of monarchy which is represented in the play by King Magnus whose sagacious tactics upset the “apple cart” of democratic leaders. But the real villian in the play is neither monarcy nor democracy but capitalism (humorously represented by Breakages and Company) which obstructs all social and economic progress. Arms and the Man is a brilliant satire on the popular notions about love and war. Bluntschli, the Shavian spokesman in the play, is an unforgettable, no-nonsense mercenary who is fired not by any notions of chivalry and patriotism, but by a matter-of-fact love of money and good living. He is not a coward, only a down-to-earth realist who carries more chocolate than ammunition to the battle-field. His function in the play is to cure the beautiful Raina of her romantic ideas and make her see Sergius, her dream soldier and fiance, in his true colours as a pompous humbug and worthless philanderer.
There is a group of Shaw’s plays (such as Man and Superman, Heartbreak House, and Back to Methusaleh) which treat his favourite concept of “Life Force'” and being so are not strictly problem plays but plays of ideas. By Life Force he means, in Ward’s words, “a power continually seeking to work in the hearts of men and endeavouring to impel them towards a better and fuller life.” Shaw wavers between the mystic and the Christian in defining Life Force. He describes it alternatively as “the Holy Ghost denuded of personality” and “the will of God.”
Shaw’s best play Saint Joan is not really a problem play though it addresses the problem of definiing the real character and significance of “The Maid”
John Galsworthy (1867-1933)
Galsworthy as a writer of problem plays is hugely inferior to Slum. ! fe lacks his wit, humour, and intellectual sharpness. Il is said that Shaw’s plays are deficient in emotion. Galsworthy’s are .not, but emotion in his works is hardly different from cheap and mushy sentiment. His best-known play Strife represents the conflict between striking workers and factory-owners, neither of them ready to surrender to the other. Ultimately it is the death of the wife of the leader of the strikers which brings about a reconciliation. The Skin Game dramatizes the struggle between old aristocrats and the newly rich industrialists. Justice and The Silver Box represent the evils of law, which treats some as more equal than others, as also the irrationality of consigning people to solitary imprisonment.
Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946):
Granville-Barker was the last notable practitioner of the problem play. His plays include The Manying of Ann Leete, Waste (which was censored), The Madras House, and The Voysey Inheritance. The last named, to quote Ward, “was his finest achievements, and one of the best and richest plays of modern times.”

Twentieth- Century English Literary Criticism

The present century has witnessed-and is witnessing a terrific deluge of literary criticism. Scarcely a day passes when quite a sheaf of critical writings does not make its appearance. To impose some sort of pattern on this tremendous mass of writing-even for the sake of discussion-is a desperate attempt.

Our ears are all too familiar with the bewildering cacophony of critical noises which are apt to overset our wits and defy all comprehension. Scarcely does a “school” of literary criticism appear when it finds another ready to measure swords with it. “Literary criticism” says Douglas Bush, “which for over two thousand years seemed to be a light-house radiating a fairly steady beam, has in recent times become a tower of Babel, or, to change the metaphor, a darkling plain where arrogant armies clash by night.” However, on the side of credit, it has to be admitted that some of modern literary criticism is indeed rarely illuminating, and does things undreamt of our ancestors who were unpossessed of the impressive (even though partly dubious) stock-in-trade of the average critic of today.

Some General Observations:
Some general observations about twentieth-century English literary criticism may now be profitably made, without, of course, losing sight of the fact that “it pertinaciously defies all neat lebelling or wholesale generalisation.
(i)         First, we have to take cognizance of America which has contributed to the critical output of the present century more than even Britain. Many critical schools-such as those of the New Critics and the Chicago Critics-and influential critics-such as T. S. Eliot-have sprung from the American soil. Many scholars of literature-notably some British professors-are rightly sceptical of the quality of much of American critical output, but credit cannot but be given to a good quantity of it.
(ii)        Secondly, we have to take into account, to use Stanley E. Hyman’s words in The Armed Vision “the organized use of non-literary techniques and bodies of knowledge to obtain insight into literature.” The sciences of psychology, anthropology, sociology, semantics, linguists, and even mathematics, and such techniques as that of psychoanalysis have been increasingly pressed into the service of literary criticism by many practitioners of this craft in the twentieth century, with sometimes dazzling, and as often, baffling, results.
(iii)       Thirdly, we are all too well aware of the complexity of modern iiterary-criticism-particularly of the American brand. Simplicity has “simply” gone out of fashion. Even in creative literature, complexity has come to be reverenced and even relished. There is substance in Donald Davie’s complaint. “The one thing,” says he, “that really distinguishes the critical pedantry of today is the high price set upon complexity…the more complex the work the better. The many works of wit, distinguished for massive simplicity, directness of approach, and unaffected lucidity of language are undervalued-or complexity is put upon them.”
Chief Trends and Schools:
The literary critics of the twentieth century are, mostly, independent thinkers, yet they can be roughly classified into so many “schools” or groups, some critics, however, stick to, more or less, Victorian modes of criticism, and therefore, may not be called “modern” or “modernistic,” and, consequently, ought not detain us here. This, category of critics includes Saintsbury, Chesterton, and many others like them, who are always entertaining and, now and then, illuminating but they seem unaware of the winds of change blowing across our age, necessitating a radical readjustment of values and attitudes. Let us confine our attention here to the truly “modern” schools and critics of our century.
The Psychological School:
The group of literary critics who study literature in the light of psychology is an influential one. They owe much to Freud, the greatest psychologist of modern times. His psychoanalytic techniques have been adopted by a number of critics for exploring the problems of literature. A psychoanalytic critic attempts to perform the task of piercing the social mask of the writer and studying the unconscious urges, frustrations, and motives behind his literary work. Even the characters in a literary work may be subjected to psychoanalysis. Thus Freud’s disciple Ernest Jones treats the famous prince of Denmark in A Psychoanalytic Study of Hamlet (1922). Miss Maud Bodkin, Herbert Read, Lionel Trilling, and Kenneth Burke-among others-have made use of Freudian psychoanalytic techniques in their discussion of literature and literary problems-often with interesting and edifying results.
However, the most notable of all psychological critics is I. A. Richards-both in stature and influence. “Richards,” says George Watson, “is simply the most influential theorist of the century, as Eliot s the most influential of descriptive critics.” Richards’ works-The Foundations of Aesthetics (1921), The Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), and Practical Criticism (1929)-have considerably contributed to, and influenced, modern literary criticism. Richards rejected the view that poetry has only the aesthetic value. He averred that it has psychologically therapeutic value, though no cognitive importance. Further, he popularised the concept of “anonymity in literature” by directing the attention of the reader from the poet to his poetry. He struck a note of dissent with the strict Freudians who gave primary importance to the comprehension of the psychology of the poet. Thus he was instrumental in lessening the popularity of “biographical” and “historical” criticism which ruled the roost before the twentieth century, and promoting the techniques of close reading and verbal analysis adopted by the so-called New Critics years later. Watson says: “Richards claim to have pioneered Anglo American New Criticism of the thirties and forties is unassailable. He provided the theoretical foundations on which the technique of verbal analysis was built.”
The New Critics:
The New Criticism arose in England in the late twenties and spread to the United States in the years following the Second World War, to dominate academic criticism in the forties, and. partly, the fifties. John Crowe Ranson, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, R. P. Blackmur, Yvor Winters, and Cleanth Brooks are the most important New Critics. They discredited the historical and biographical background of a poem, to concentrate on the poem itself. “Their ideal programme”, says Irving Howe in Modern Literary Criticism, “posited-and in practice they sometimes achieved—a close and patient description of what the poem is.” Their neglect of the historicity of a work of literature was both a disadvantage as well as an advantage. Lionel Trilling asserts “that the literary work is ineluctably a historical fact, and what is more important, that its historicity is a fact in our aesthetic experience.” The New Critical methods were useful only while dealing with lyrical poetry which, as Trilling puts it, is “a genre in which the historical element, although of course, present, is less obtrusive than in the long poem, the novel and the drama”
A word here may be added about a brilliant but somewhat controversial critic-William Empson, once a student of I. A. Richards. Empson is not, strictly speaking, a New Critic; but in his technique of brilliant verbal analysis, he comes close to some New Critics. His major works are Seven Types of ‘Ambiguity (1930), Some Versions of Pastoral (1935), and The Structure of Complex Words (1951). The irst mentioned is the most important of all. With concrete analyses-many of them extremely brilliant and illuminating—he points out in this work the various shades and nuances of meaning the understanding of which is essential for the appreciation of the total poetic statement. Empson is often subtle, but sometimes looks too fussy and quibbling, and even “ambiguous.” We owe him the vogue of “difficult” poetry, for ambiguity is tacitly exalted by him as the test of the greatness of a poem. Objections to such a position have come from many quarters. Here is F. L. Lucas’: “In a recent work with the apocalyptic title, Seven Types of Ambiguity, it has been revealed to an admiring public that the more ways a poem can be misunderstood, the better it is.”
The Impressionistic and Romantic School:
The impressionistic critics are concerned with recording their personal impressions when they are in contact with a given work of art, “without attempting to generalize or draw inferences.” “Criticism,” says an impressionistic critic M. Jules Lemaitre, “whatever be its pretensions, can never go beyond defining the impression which, at a given moment is made on us by a work of art wherein the artist has himself recorded the impression he received from the world at a certain hour.” The impressionistic critics are impatient of all dogmas and processes of labelling and codification. Thus they are, in a sense, “romantic” in their attitude. The most important of impressionistic romantic critics is John Middleton Murry who waged for years in his journal, the Adelphi, a debate on behalf of what he called the “inner voice” and “romanticism” against the “classicism” of T. S. Eliot.
The Sociological Critics:
The twentieth century has also seen the emergence of a group of critics who emphasize the sociological context in the study of a work of literature or even art in general. Most of them are avowed Marxists, and their approach to literature, therefore, is propagandist and prejudiced. “They,” as Rene Wellek says in Theory ofLiteratwe, “tell us not only what were and are the social relations and implications of an author’s work but what they should have been or ought to be. They are not only students of literature and society but prophets of the future, monitors, propagandists: and they have difficulty in keeping these two functions separate.” The sociological approach (both Marxist and anti-Marxist) has many more adherents in America than England. Christopher Caudwell, Raymond Williams, Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson, W. H. Auden, and Stephen Spender are some of the most mportant critics whose critical approach is markedly sociological The Marxian critic of today is Terry Eagleton.
The Moralists:
Now we come to a group of literary critics of the present century whom Watson classifies as “the moralists.” They include D. H. Lawrence, George Orwell, even F. R. Leavis, and Murry-with some others of less importance. The moralists are occupied with the problem of discriminating between good and bad in literature. They lack, however, the certitude of Dr. Johnson and the past critics of his ilk. Watson says: “Modem moralism, by contrast, is more often agnostic, exploratory, and self-consciously elitist: its tone is not that of the common preacher anticipating assent: it is more often embittered and embattled.” D. H. Lawrence who in Leavis’ opinion, was the greatest literary critic of the present century, fought in his novels a savage battle against the taboos of society, civilisation, and Christianity. He brought something of the same fighting spirit to his critical works. The moralists are all fighters and disciple-makers, even when they find much difficulty in their way. They despise hoity-toity behaviour. Says Watson: “George Orwell, aggressively pouring his tea into his saucer in the B. B. C. canteen may be taken as the eternal model of the modern English moralist.” The influence of the moralists is, however, now on the wane, though what they (particularly D. H. Lawrence) had to say is of the same significance today as it was when it was said.
Eliot and Leavis:
T. S. Eliot has been the most influential of the American-born literary critics of the present century. In his critical works he has thrown out, to quote G. S. Fraser, “a number of suggestive or disturbing ideas-ideas often compressed into a single phrase-that have fertilized the thinking of other critics. Empson has wittily described him as a penetrating and inescapable influence, rather Hke an eastwind.” His views regarding tradition versus the individual talent, poetic drama, impersonality in poetry, the “dissociation of sensibility,” and a hundred other themes and problems have to be taken cognizance of by every literary commentator worth the name. Much of Eliot’s literary criticism is, indeed, an extension of his poetry work-shop, for it deals with the issues he has to tackle as a poet. However, it has proved to be of much wider significance. Such twentieth-century literary phenomena as the “revival” of Donne and Dryden and the devaluation of Milton, and such vogues as that of the placement of every writer and every writing with reference to a tradition, and that of the appreciation and admiration of “difficult” poetry issue mainly from T. S. Eliot. The New Critics also acknowledge their debt to Eliot.
F. R. Leavis is a controversial disciple of Eliot. He is to be acknowledged, however, as the most influential of the British-born literary critics of the present century. No doubt, he later quarrelled with even Eliot and rather spitefully affirmed that Lawrence was a better critic than he, but Eliot’s influence on him cannot be denied. Leavis is so influential that, to quote Watson, “there are probably few Departments of English in the Commonwealth which do not boast, or conceal, at least one disciple.” His disparagement of Milton and Shelley, and exaltation of Pope and Marvell have wrought a change in the critical thinking of today. Among the English novelists, he points out Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Conrad, and Lawrence as the ones who make up “The Great Tradition.” Leavis is extremely adept at verbal analysis which, however, is not his usual, not to say the only, method. His approach is, fundamentally, that of a moralist who is carefully looking for reverence to life. G. S. Fraser says: “The ‘quality of life’ is what Leavis is primarily interested in and in literature as serving that, but he is a moralist who refuses to generalize.” Leavis’ energetic responsiveness, his penetrative analysis, and intellectual alacrity are his great assets, but his rigidness and pontifical self-aggrandisement cannot be defended. Among his disciples the most important are David Daiches and L. C. Knights (a really great critic in his own right), not to speak of the numerous band who wrote for Scrutiny.
As regards literary criticism, the scene today 1995) is a very confused one-one incapable of being reduced even to a semblance of order. We face a whole welter of literary theories and critical approaches. All of them make up a formidable body of literary aesthetics, but we have to wait long for their profitable application to actual literary works.

Influence of Karl Marx on Modern Literature

Marx and Freud have influenced life and literature in the twentieth century more deeply and extensively than the earlier great thinkers and scientists like Copernicus and Darwin influenced the life and literature in their own respective eras. Karl Marx (1818—83) and Sigmund Freud (1856—1939) had very different fields and orientations.

While Marx was basically a social philosopher, Freud began his career as a doctor specializing in the physiology of the nervous system and the treatment of such disorders as neurosis and hysteria. He soon became the founder of psychoanalysis and thereby one of the seminal figures of the twentieth century. And as regards Marx, he started with the study of Hegelian dialectic at the university in Berlin and Bonn but soon gave a new direction to socio-political thought by publishing, along with Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848). This makes him the “father of Communism.” Freud’s psychoanalytical theories and Marx’s Communism both proved revolutionary and highly impactful throughout the world.

Let us now consider the impact of Marx on twentieth-century English literature.
Marxian Thought and English Literature:
Marx’s philosophy is known as “dialectical materialism-.” No place is given by him to the soul or the spirit. According to him, religion is the opium of the masses which keeps them in a world of material reality. He adopted the Hegelian dialectic to give a materialist account of social formations. His concept to class conflict is a basic point. Conflicts arise from the desire to control the means of production. He attacked the laissez faire policy which allows the industrialists and capitalists to exploit the working class without let or hindrance. Marx was for Communism, i.e., the supremacy of the community of workers rather than of a few individuals in control of the entire wealth and its generating sources. The proletariat should rule a country jointly instead of a king or an elected parliament, which normally protects vested masses throughout the world. His teachings inspired the Russian Revolution and then the Chinese, not to speak of another dozen or more on smaller scales throughout the world.
Fourfold Influence:
So far as English literature is concerned, Marx’s impact manifests itself in four different ways:
(i)         A greater concern for the poor exploited masses, without any overt projection of the Marxian ideology. Even non-Marxian writers in the twentieth century tend to give a much greater representation to the working class in their works. In the novels of Arnold Bennett, for example, we have mostly working-class heroes. And Lawrence’s proletarian hero sometimes walks away with an aristocratic lady.
(ii)        Use of literature as a means of communistic propaganda. See, for example, the English Socialist theatre of today.
(iii)       A tendency to subvert the conventional literary forms and techniques by condemning them as constructs of the bourgeoisie. Here the Marxians are on avant-garde ground.
(iv)       A reaction against Marxian ideology which seems to encourage statism as against the concept of the sanctity and freedom of the individual and abject materialism as against spiritualism and “the higher values of llife.” Witness George Orwell’s novels 1984 and Animal Farm.
Influence pa-Poetry:
Let us now consider the influence of Marx on English poetry, dirama, novel, and literary criticism of the twentieth century, in this order.
The impact of Marx is most clearly discernible in the work of Oxford poets of the 1930s, viz., W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Louis MacNeice. They were committed leftists the aim of whose poetry was the propagation of Communist ideology. Poetry in their hands become political action, a contribution to the proletaian struggle against the bourgeoisie the ruling elite. At least two of the four Oxford poets got actually involved in the Spanish Civil War.
Auden is now given the status of a major poet of the twentieth century. In the 1930s he was the voice of his generation. Linda Williams observes: “His verse is full of topical reference to the social and international crises of the time; it gives direct expression to the anxieties of the contemporary intelligentsia as perhaps no other writing has done.” Spender for some time remained a member of the Communist Party and as such supported the Republicans’ cause in the Spanish Civil War. His poetry is less overtly propagandist than that of Day-Lewis. MacNeice had Socialist leanings but was not a committed leftist.
Influence on Drama:
G.B. Shaw was a Fabian, a mild kind of Socialist, to start with. Several of his “problem plays” are built around the problems created by economic exploitation of one section of society by another. His first play Widowers’ Houses is about slum-landlordism. Mrs. Warren’s Profession is about the economics of prostitution as a profession in a laissez faire, exploitative society. And so on. Shaw had the passion of a debunker rather than of a rigid ideologue. Galsworthy in his plays like Strife, Justice, and The Silver Box tries to highlight class struggle, miscarriage of justice, irrationality of consigning criminals to solipitary imprisonment, and so on. In the 1950s several dramatists came under the influence of Brecht. The most important of them was Arden who used the theatre like Shaw for a thorough exploration of political and social ideas. Contemporary British theatre is dominated by Socialists like David Edgar and David Hare.
Influence on the Novel:
Of all the literary genres it is the novel that allows an author to represent life the most comprehensively-even more than he can in drama, because whereas drama only shows, the novel can both show and tell. That is why the novel all over the world has been the most eligible literary medium of propaganda. But, strangely, in England no Marxian novels worth the name have appeared in modern times; propagandists have used drama instead.
But if there have been practically no English novels based on Marxian theories like the materialistic basis of social formation and class struggle, there have been novels representing the life of the poor, exploited classes with all its unrelieved gloom. The two novelists who wrote such novels with some distinctiveness were George Gissing and George Moore. Gissing was influenced more by Schopenhauer than by Marx. Cazamian observes about him: “Bitterness sank to the core of his nature, and permeated all his fibres; it became the very food of his imagination   Gissing describes the diseases of society without any hope of curing them. He believes neither in the philanthropy of the rich, nor in the revolt of the poor.” In his novel Demos, “the career of a plebeian agitator…teaches us the vanity of the socialist dream.”
George Moore, unlike Gissing, was a rare combination of an uncompromising realist and a refined aesthete. He tries to make beautiful artifacts out of the gloomy ugliness of life. Cazamian says: “George Moore reconciles the audacity of crude, brutal observation with the sensuous refinement of a voluptuous aesthete.
George Orwell’s well-known novels Animal Farm and 1984 are satires on Socialism and Stalinism. The former has the form of an allegorical beast fable. The latter came after World War II. According to Andrew Roberts, this novel is “a vision of a world “ruled by dictatorships of the Stalinist style, taken to an extreme in which private life and private thought are all but eradicated by surveillance, propaganda, and the systematic perversion of language.”
Influence on Literary Criticism:
Marxian thought has had a tremendous impact on literary criticism not only in Socialist countries, but the world over. Marx did not have a comprehensive theory of art and literature, but his fierce attack on bourgeois idealism have given new directions to literary criticism. To Marx literature was only part of the “superstructure” of which the “base” was formed by economic conditions and dispensation of a society. In its purity Marxian criticism tends to be simplistic if not severely blinkered. But it has its own insights to offer. The Marxian school has in its ranks such great critics as Lukacs, Walter Benjamin, Fredric Jameson, Gramsci, and Macherey, to name just a few. Several latter-day critics have tried to relate Marxism with Structuralism, psychoanalytic theories, and even Reconstruction, leading to new insights if not comprehensive systems. In England Raymond Williams (1921—88) has been the best-known Marxian critic. Among the practising critics in today’s England Terry Eagleton (1948— ) is by far the most eminent.

The Influence of Freud On English Literature

Now when the twentieth century is close to its end, we can say that the two seminal thinkers who have most influenced life and literature in this century are Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud-though the former had his birth and death in the nineteenth. Marx was primarily concerned with society, Freud with self. Marx was the father of communism-an ideology which has changed the face of half the world. Freud was the father of psychoanalysis which has revolutionized the science of psychology.

As human psychology is of vital importance in literary art, the significance of Freudian theorie’s- ;s obvious. Before proceeding further in our discussion of the impact of Freud on twentieth-century English literature let us pause to have a view of some of the basic postulates of Freud.

Freud’s Principles:
John Drakakis identifies three basic principles of Freud.
“The first is psychic determinism, the principle that all mental events, including dreams, fantasies, errors and neurotic symptoms have meaning.
The second is the primacy of the unconscious mind in mental life, the unconscious being regarded as a dynamic force drawing on the energy of instinctual drives, and as the location of desires which are repressed because they are socially unacceptable or a threat to the ego.
“The third is a developmental view of human life, which stresses the importance of infantile experience and accounts for personality in terms of the progressive channelling of an undifferentiated energy or libido.”
Several well-known Freudian concepts such as infantile sexuality Oedipus complex, and art as neurosis as also the techniques of free association and dream analysis arise from the above-mentioned principles-.
Freud’s Impact More on Literary Criticism Than On Literature:
Though there is no area of literature which Freudian theories have left untouched, yet it must be admitted that they have influenced literary criticism (both theory and practice) much more than creative literature. In other words, Freud has helped us more to understand and appreciate the existing poems, novels, and plays than to write new ones. We now know Hamlet far better because of the work of Freudian psychoanalytic critics like Ernest Jones but no Freudian has ever written a better play than Hamlet A literary work is not an illustration of a theory, however correct and profound. As Herbert Read so well puts it, “the author who imagines that he can start from psychoanalysis and arrive at art is making a complete mistake. No literature, not even a novel, can arise out of a chematic understanding of the phenomena of life rt is itself a chematic construction; an order imposed on the chaos of life.”
Though perhaps no novels have been written to embody or illustrate Freudian theories yet there are quite a few novelists who have a good grasp of them, and this makes their works so much the better. Consider, for example, such works as The Sound and the Fury (1929) by William Faulkner, The Outsider (1942) by Albert Camus, Catcher in the Rhye (1951) by Salinger, and Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) by Philip Roth.
Influence on Poetry and Drama:
The examples of Freudian novels quoted above are all American except one-which is French. It is significant that almost no English literary artist of note has written anything expressly Freudian. (We shall consider D.H. Lawrence’s Sons arid Lovers later.) However, till the sixties Freud was the ruling deity in literary circles in England too. An obviously hostile critic. A C. Ward, complains in his Twentieth-Centwy English Literature (1964): “‘Freudianism in all its imperfectly understood manifestations and speculations has become rooted in the very substance of much contemporary fiction, drama and verse. Whatever light psychiatry may throw upon mental problems…it has led to much disorder in imaginative literature as it has contributed to the disintegration of individual ersonality       A new trade has imposed itself on the community and is ub-served by much modern literature that exploits abnormality.”
Abnormality, however, plays the second fiddle to sexuality in Freudian literary works. Under the impact of Freud sexuality, which had been a taboo, came to the force with all its neurotic and deviant components. The Victorians had treated the beast of sex with a hush-hush incommodiousness. Now the beast was very much “in.”
So far as English poetry and drama are concerned, the impact of Freud .is discernible only here and there. D.H. Lawrence’s poem Snake,’ which is avowedly a narration of a personal experience, is a Freudian (or Laurentian) acknowledegment of the potency of the sex instinct which is repressed by the ego into the dark layers of the unconscious from which it emerges now and then into the open (that is, consciousness), only to be forced to scurry back into its dark abode. The sex instinct is the snake in the poem. He is the “lord” of all creation and yet treated shabbily by civilized man. The major poets of the twentieth century, T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats, also acknowledge the supremacy of the sex instinct but their predilection is to sublimate or overcome it. In The Waste Land- the greatest poem of the twentieth century- Eliot blames sex, or rather its degradation and commercialization, as both the cause and the symptom of the decay of Western civilization. Eliot’s poems like “The Love Song of Alfred J. PrufrocK” and The Waste Land are structured on the basis of free association and make use of the technique of interior monologue. Prufrock is evidently a victim of repression. His song remains unsung. As regards drama, Absurdists like Beckett and Pinter show a penchant for dramatizing the absurdity of existence as well as the interplay of subconscious drives. Explicit sexuality with an uninhibited use of four-letter words and violence characterize the work of the most important of contemporary English dramatists, Edward Bond (1934—). In Saved (1965) a baby is stoned to death, in Early Morning (1968) Queen Victoria is represented as a lesbian, and so on.
Influence on the Novel:
Freudian psychology has influenced English novel much more than poetry and drama. As a genre the novel has a greater scope for the representation of the network of diverse human relationships in their fullness. The novel, closest to being a “slice of life,” cart represent the subtle interplay of psychological forces which motivate the characters consciously or otherwise.
The first Freudian novel in English was D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1913) based largely on his own life-experience. It is an artistically transubstantiated “case history” of the young Lawrence ridden by Odeipus complex and mother-fixation. Interestingly, Lawrence was not aware of Freud’s theories when writing this novel, which is now treated as a locus classicus of Freudian fiction. In the novel Paul Morel (Lawrence) is the son of a robust and coarse coal-miner and an educated, sensitive, and possessive mother who is brutalized by her husband. Th« children-three sons, including Paul, and two daughters-make a “united front” against their father. After the death of his elder brother, Paul becomes a “mamma’s boy” and her surrogate husband. On growing to adulthood, mother-fixated as he is, he is unable to form  satisfactory relationship with Miriam, the girl that he meets. After a long Platonic courtship, he breaks up with her, blaming her with being overly possessive and spiritual. In fact, the blame lies with him. For a brief while he goes steady with Clara who has quarreled with her husband, who reclaims her however. When Paul’s mother dies of a cancer, he contemplates suicide but then decides to live on.
Freud’s influence may also be seen on English psychological novelists like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. The Stream-of-consciousness technique used by these novelists combines perceptions of everyday reality with reverie, dream, and fantasy. In Finnegans Wake Joyce plunges into the profundities of a dream-state which makes no sense to an ordinary reader. In Pincher Martin Golding captures the consciousness of the protagonist while it is flickering into extinction, and even after his death. And so on.
Influence on Literary Criticism:
There is virtually no practising literary critic today without good knowledge of Freud and post-Freudian thinkers like Lacan and feminist theorists. After Structuralism literary criticism has become more and more interdisciplinary. Disciplines like political science, sociology, psychology, economics, and even the experimental sciences tend to interpenetrate and become one at the apex building up a comprehensive interpretative system applicable to all knowledge. In a sense we are back to the good old pre-Baconian days. It is no wonder then that we have very few purely Freudian critics of literature-the like of Ernest Jones who psychoanalysed Hamlet and discovered his Oedipus complex which explained the enigmatic problem of delay. I.A. Richards and William Empson may be mentioned as other critics of note who have made some use of Freudian theories in their work. Good critics such as Edmund Wilson and the two named above “allow psychoanalysis,” in Prichard’s words, “to supplement but not supplant other bases of judgment.”
Freudian approaches to literary works are various, but chiefly ths following three:
(i)                 The author-oriented approach
(ii)               The text-onented approach
(iii)             The reader-oriented approach
The first two are much more popular than the third. The author-oriented approach (a new version of the old bio-critical approach of the English Men of Letters Series and even of Johnson’s Lives) collects the entire data of the author’s life for analysis and then reads the text as the “dream” (Freud) or “Phantasy” (Jung) of the author for further elucidation of his character. Thus from Baudelaire’s works Freudian critics have found traces of his unconscious resentment at the second marriage of his mother. Similarly Oedipal symptoms have been found in Kafka and incest fantasies in Emile Bonte’s Withering Heights. The text-oriented approach is more common, though not completely separable from the first one. Jones’s analysis of Hamlet is indeed remarkable, but his conjecture that Shakespeare ‘nimself was passing through a Hamlet-like phase is questionable.
The reader-oriented approach is notably practised by Richards-but is is not really Freudian. Richards shows no concern for the author at all. He values a poem if it can induce in the reader what he calls “synaesthesia”‘- a balance of related or conflicting impulses-which sives specifically aesthetic pleasure.

English ess;ay and prominent essayists during the twentieth century

Introduction: Journalism and the Essay:
The best prose of the twentieth century has gone into the novel and drama. With the close of the nineteenth century the long great tradition of English prose stylists starting with Hooker and Bacon came to an end. Though the twentieth century can boast a very large number of competent prose writers from Lytton Strachey to Bertrand Russell and J.B. Priestley, yet none of them is comparable in stature with the old masters like Browne, Swift, Lamb, Carlyle, or Ruskin. Modern prose writers have hardly any style for they use language only functionally, not like prose-poets or orators.

Take almost any passage from the essays of Bacon or of Lamb and ask even a dull student to identify it and, a hundred to one, he will do so correctly. But modern’ prose writers write almost alike, with few personal whimsies and little individuality.

One important reason for this loss of style is the merger of the essayist with the journalist In this era of mass media a journalist may retain the individuality and independence of his mind but, when it comes to style, he has to accept the common norms of the written language for the sake of effective communication. Many of the notable essayists of the twentieth century have been editors of newspapers or journals and some of them journalists. This is significant. According to A.C. Ward, the enlistment of essayists by newspapers has had the following two effects:
1.                    First, it has raised the standard of journalistic prose.
2.                    And, second, it has compelled the essayists to accept a discipline which was quite irksome but useful insofar as it trained them to write regularly to fill a predetermined space in an organ. The periodical essay of Steele and Addison, which was born with the eighteenth century and died with it, had a new avatar, under widely different circumstances, in the twentieth.
The Prominent Essayists of the Century-G.K. Chesterton (1874— 1936):-
Chesterton was foremost among the English essayists of early years of the twentieth century. He was not an essayist but a phenomenon. Chestertonian wit is not less-known than Shavian wit. Chesterton and Barnard Shaw were very different ideologically and even physically. Shaw was an agnostic and a socialist whereas Chesterton was a Roman Catholic and a “Distributist” (i.e. one who was against state control of property and wanted it to be distributed equitably among deserving individuals). Shaw was very lean whereas Chesterton was very corpulent. It is said that once Chesterton taunted Shaw for his hollow looks, saying: “Mr Shaw, if some foreigner looked at you he would think there is a terrible famine in England.” Shaw retorted at once: “And if he looked at you he would also understand the cause of the famine.” For once Chesterton was crestfallen.
Chesterton was always ready to measure swords with whoever came his way. Basically he was a polemicist-vigorous and incisively witty. He started his career as a journalist writing weekly articles for newspapers. He made his mark with his contributions to the Daily News. As an essayist he has a tremendous range, and he has always something original and startling to say about everything. Witticisms, epigrams, satiric sallies and ingenious paradoxes are recurring features of his prose. As an example of paradox consider his remark about the French Revolution: “The greatest event in English history occurred outside England.” How odd, but how true! Chesterton’s predilection for paradox, however, can at time become as fatal a Cleopatra as Shakespeare’s weakness for puns. As Ward puts it, “verbal acrobatics became a pernicious habit” with him with the passage of time. Ward finds fault, for example, with Chesterton’s description of Thomas Hardy a “the village atheist brooding and blaspheming over the village idiot.” This is an example of what Ward calls Chesterton’s “verbal exhibitionism.” However, Chesterton’s writing happily abound in such sparkling examples of verbal wit as the following, which attacks Tolstoy’s pacificism:-
“In the pacifist mythology of Tolstoy and his followers St. George did not conquer the dragon; he tied a pink ribbon round its neck and gave it a saucer of milk.”
Hilaire Belloc (1870—1953):
Belloc was a very close friend and collaborator of Chesterton. Their mutual association was so strong that the two were jokingly named together “the Chesterbelloc”-as if they were a single but double-headed creature. The two subscribed to the same religion (Roman Catholicism) and the same political ideology (“Distributism.”) “The Chesterbelloc” fought a long battle with agnostic socialists like H.G. Wells and Bernard Shaw.
Belloc was an extremely versatile writer-essayist, novelist, poet, historian, and biographer. Now he is chiefly read for his books of light verse-A Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts for Worse Children. As an essayist he has a clear and lucid style laced with humour and charged with polemic energy. He hated to fake an emotion. This makes his essays sincere and, sometimes, moving. He prided himself for one quality-what he called the “sense of rhythm,” which is apparent especially in his longer sentences which seem to have been crafted like a piece of music without any overt effort. However, he lacks Chestertonian brilliance.
E.V. Lucas (1868—1938):
Lucas may be called the Charles Lamb of the twentieth century. His adoration of “the prince of English essayists” goaded him to write the authoritative Life of Charles Lamb (1905) and edit a definitive edition of the works and letters1 of Charles and Mary Lamb (1903-05). In addition he wrote essays, travel-books, books about paintings and several volumes of, what he called, “entertainments”-curious mixtures of the essay and the novel. He also worked with several newspapers before becoming assistant editor of Punch. Lucas’ essays and “entertainments” are full of common sense and humour of a kind often reminiscent of Lamb. But, as Ward observes, “there are profound dissimilarities between the two writers. The robust urbanity and sophistication of Lucas made him unlike Lamb        Lucas’s essays and ‘entertainments’ are marked by fancy, literary artifice, common sense, and humour. Yet his humour, though in general kindly, is sometimes savage.”
A.G. Gardiner (1865-1946):
Gardiner, or “Alpha of the Plough,” was also a journalist as well an essayist of note. He was editor of the Daily News from 1902 to 1919, a paper to which Chesterton made regular contributions in his early career as an essayist. Gardiner has probably a better claim than Lucas to the mantle of Elia as he is closer to the peculiar temper of the great Romantic essayist. Gardiner could write on almost everything that came his way-umbrellas, pigs, pockets, beer, or porcelain. His prose is close to everyday language-clear and informal, genial and energetic. He avoids difficult words. In fact, he has written an essay “On Big Words” to justify his choice of simple and common diction. He distinguishes between what he calls “a fine use of words” and “the use of fine words,” and prefers the former to the latter.
Robert Lynd (1879—1949):
Yet another journalist-essayist, Lynd as “Y.Y.” wrote weekly essays for the New Statesman for a number of years. Like Chesterton he brooded over his articles in a Fleet Street cafe letting the grateful fumes of coffee kindle his imagination. His essays are marked by geniality, infectious humour, subjectivity, and an uncanny penchant for the right, telling phrase. Ward says about him: “He was a skilled phrase-maker and could describe a Cup Final [“The Battle of Footerloo”] with his eye on many things besides the game-or on everything except the game; and few funnier things have been written than ‘Eggs: An Easter Homily.”
Lynd was the last great personal essayist in the line of Lamb and Stevenson, for with the onset of World War II (1939-45) and the concomitant paper famine newspapers could not spare any space for light stuff. Thus the vogue of the personal essay came to an end with Lynd.
Max Beerbohm (1872—1956):
Beerbohm was a cartoonist and caricaturist as well as a prose writer. He became the dramatic critic of the Saturday Review when Shaw retired in 1898. He had a rare gift for parody. A Christmas Garland, his best-known work; consists of seventeen essays on the subject of Christmas, each of them parodying the style of a contemporary author—Conrad, Bennett, Shaw, and others. As an essayist he is relaxed and good-humoured. He is a good satirist as well. Ward describes him as “a philosophic jester bursting bubbles of snobbery and pretence with wit and irony and satire.” He holds a prominent place among essayists to the twentieth century because, to quote Ward, he was “completely original.”
Scientific Essayists—Bertrand Russell (1872—1970), Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), and J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964):—
These writers either wrote essays on scientific subjects or else wrote scientifically (i.e. dispassionately and rationally) on issues concerning practical life. Russell was a notable philosopher and mathematician and a compaigner for rationalism. Huxley, who was a novelist as well, compaigned against mass culture and unreasonable opinions (like the one that the Taj is a very artistic building). Haldane, a geneticist wrote about difficult scientific subjects in a simple, lucid style. Infact the style of all scientific essayists is clear and purely functional— trough Huxley, unlike others, can be very witty and sarcastic.

Discuss the main features of Literary Post-Modernism

Introduction: Modernism and Postmodernism:
Before trying to explain what literary postmodernism is or what the salient features of postmodernist literature are it is necessary to understand the basic significance of the following two sets of words:
(i)         “Modern” and “Modernism”
(ii)        “Postmodern” and “Postmodernism”

Of these four words the least easy to explain is “postmodern.” “Modern” means what is alive, prevalent, or available today. So “postmodern” is something that will come later, that is, in the future. In other words, nothing which has ever existed or is existing now can be “postmodern.” Real “Postmoderns” are, in Shelley’s phrase, in the womb of futurity.
“Postmodernism” is, however, a very different kettle of fish. Being “modern” does not necessarily imply being a “modernist.” “Modern,” as we have said, has a temporal signification, but “modernism” signifies a set of aesthetic tendencies associated chiefly with writers like Joyce, Eliot, and Pound who wrote around the 1920s in defiance of the decadent Victorian and Edwardian tradition replacing it with what is now called “High Modernism.” Like “modernism”, “postmodernism” was also something like a “movement,” but a far more amorphous one. It was not self­ consciously directed against “modernism” or against any other “ism.” More than a movement it was a newly developed mind-set which cut across national boundaries and cut across academic disciplines and aesthetic arts as also schools of criticism (such as the Freudian, Marxian, etc.). The amorphous nature of “post modernism” can be easily proved by citing the case of Samuel Beckett who twenty or thirty years ago was deemed a great “modernist” but is now hailed as a great “postmodernist.” Likewise, the theatre of the absurd (of which Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a locus dassicus) as a whole is deemed to be “postmodernist” for almost the same reason for which it was considered “modernist” earlier-its violation of categories and dismantling of dramaturgical conventions. Absurdist plays are the perennial delight of “post modern” deconstructionist critics.
The Timing:
When exactly postmodernism came into being is another difficult question. Formation of a mind-set across nations is a gradual process which cannot be dated precisely. There is bravado in awrence’s claim in Kangaroo that “the old world ended” in 1915. Virginia Woolf is equally daring in asserting that “On or about December 1910 human character changed.” The “world” or “human character” does not change so suddenly and so completely.
Roughly speaking, postmodernism may be related to what Drakakis calls “a transformation of European culture at the end of World War II. This war produced the death camps and the atomic bomb, and thus generated a new sense of man’s propensity to evil, of the destructive potential of scientific knowledge, and of the perils of political totalitarianism. The end of Empire and the post- war changes in the world economy and power-structure involved new relationships between Britain and other cultures.”
Non-recognition of Boundaries: Hybridism:
One important feature of postmodernism is its non-recognition of boundaries of all kinds. In life, cultural boundaries and hierarchies ensure order and discipline, and in the field of creative writing generic boundaries ensure decorum. Neither the modernists nor the postmodernists overly observed such boundaries, but there is a difference. Whereas the former willfully transgressed them (to achieve the required effects), the latter just do not recognize them at all. Joyce and Eliot devised new techniques for their fiction and poetry respectively, knowing fully well that they were reflecting or subverting the old ones. The postmodernist’ new technique consists in mixing up the old available ones. And not only techniques, they mix up disparate genres as well, producing works which carry the specific mark of postmodern hybridism. Let us consider a few examples of generic hybridism.
Since Plato, creative literature and literary criticism have been recognized as very different kinds of discourse not to be intermixed in a given work. Of course, there have been a few examples of a little departure from the rule-such as in Dryden’s Essay of Dramatic Poesy and Swift’s The Battle of the Books, the former of which is more criticism than creation and the latter more creation than criticism, but either combines both discourses. As exemplars of postmodernist practice consider such works as Roland Barthes’ 577(1974) and Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot (1985)- “creative criticism” of Balzac’s novella Sarrasine and Flaubert’s life and works respectively. Both these works employ a medley of techniques in an unprecedented manner.
In Balzac’s novella Sarrasine is a sculptor in love with a castrated opera singer with a female name, taking him to be a woman. He discovers his real identity at their first meeting and ends up being killed. Barthes makes a very perceptive, line-by-line analysis of Balzac’s story and discovers that castration (with which Balzac plays around but never mentions) with all its symbolic suggestions of want, imperfection, incompleteness, loss of wholeness, deadness and so on is invariably present as a thematic positive. The real interest of S/Z lies in the numerous digressions, whimsical punctuation and capitalization and, what Barthes himself calls, “a number of fictive elements.”
If S/Z is nominally a critical work, Flaubert’s Parrot is, as nominally, a novel. Geoffrey Braithwaite, the narrator, gives an account of his obsession with the French novelist both as man and fictionist. Much of the interest of Barnes’ book, like that of Barthes, lies in digressions of all sorts, such as a dictionary of the prevalent ideas about Flaubert, chronologies of good and bad incidents in his life and a collection of the animal metaphors used by him. Robert Ray observes: “Officially neither biography nor criticism, Flaubert’s Parrot achieves the effect of both: a knowledge effect enhanced by erudition’s passage through the novelesque.”
Literary Pastiche:
So far as literary works are concerned, postmodernist British literature has several examples to offer of works making deliberate use of a hodgepodge of techniques and/or several kinds of discourse. A fine example is Doris Lessing’s novel The Golden Notebook (1962) which deals with the African problem as also the problem of being a woman in a man’s world. The diaries of the protagonist Anna, who wants to be a “free woman” occupy a substantial part of the book. The novel, in Andrew Roberts’ words, “exemplifies the post-modernist experiment in Lessing’s work, in its use of multiple narratives and its concern with fiction and the reconstruction of the self.” Bolder than The Golden Notebook is John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)-a pastiche combining passages from Darwin, Marx, Arnold, and Tennyson, quotations from sociological reports, frequent authorial comments and narrative passages in the nineteenth-century novelistic style. Further, in the course of the novel Fowles himself becomes a character. And, last but not least, Fowles offers two alternative endings, inviting the reader to choose either.
B.S. Johnson has been an avant-garde postmodernist writer of recent times. His See the Old Lady Kindly (1979) is a “non-fictional novel” which makes a generous use of authentic documents and photographs. Another path-breaking novel, The Unfortunates (1969) comprises twenty-seven loose-leaf sections, twenty-five of which may be read in any order! Johnson’s intention is the familiar postmodernist one of highlighting the arbitrariness of the structure of fictionality and the radical circularity of the mind.
A Return to Representationalism and the Pleasure Principle:
This welter of postmodernist techniques or rather combination of techniques, genres, and discourses must not be allowed to overshadow a distinctive element of postmodernism-a return to representational ism and the pleasure principle which had been rejected by the modernists. Mellarme, Flaubert, Eliot, Pound etc. were against the vulgarization of art. They were for difficult literature inaccessible to the masses. When Mellarme’s publisher came to collect a poem, Mellarme said: “Wait till I add a little obscurity.” Mimetic or representational art, being easy to understand, is the common people’s cup of tea and a source of pleasure. Even Brecht, who had Marxian leaning, spoke like a modernist: “I am at an extremely classical, cold, highly intellectual style of performance. I’m not writing for the scum who want to have the cockles of their hearts warmed.” Later on, however, he made some concession to what he called “fun,” i.e., the pleasure principle.
Thus one movement of postmodernism is from elitist intellectuality and obscurity to enjoyable lucidity for mass consumption. Pop art of today is as postmodernist as complicated experiments with pastiche.
Postmodernist Literary Criticism:
The distinctive features of postmodernist criticism are much more easily identifiable than those of postmodernist literature. As the postmodernists are inclined to ignore the conventional boundaries, postmodernist criticism tends to be interdisciplinary. The purity of old critical approaches is now a thing of the past.
The centre field of critical activity today is occupied by structuralists and poststructuralists. Structuralists (such as Saussure, the Russian formalists, Barthes, etc.) reject the idea that atext represents the author’s meaning or reflects a society. They treat it as an independent unit but a part of a structure comprising other texts as well. They have a propensity for linguistic analysis to arrive at the idea of the structure of the text which animates its parts. In short their search is not for an inherent meaning of the text but for the literary and cultural structures (which are outside it) which generate meaning. Poststructuralists focus their attention on the ways in which texts themselves undermine structures. The theory of the most eminent poststructuralist Jacques Derrida is known as “deconstruction.” Derrida denies the existence of specific structures built around centres. According to him “there are only contexts without-any centre or absolute anchoring.” Thus a text has no meaning, only “play” of linguistic elements which keeps the hypothetical meaning defeated forever. A deconstructionist dismantles the text-and studies the “play” among its bits which subverts all meaning or keeps it perpetually deferred.