the fiction of postmodern america:
multicultural & intercultural perspectives

This site is associated with "English/American Studies 514: Seminar in American Literature" at Washington State University, taught by professor T.V. Reed ( But the site is intended to be of general use to anyone examining postmodern fiction, postmodernity, or contemporary United States culture.

The site title is meant to suggest both a subject matter (postmodern American fiction) and a problem (that the concept of the "postmodern" is itself a fiction). While there is a body of literature and criticism that is often identified as postmodern, that concept, like all critical concepts, is merely a device that allows us to see some aspects of a text while obscuring others. And in this case the concept itself is a notoriously slippery one whose meaning is highly contested. Thus this site and the course connected to it look at various attempts to define "postmodernity" (as general social condition) and "postmodernism" (as aesthetic ideology & cutltural style), recognizing that these definitions, while sometimes overlapping, are also at times contradictory. We can clarify this range of definitions, but we cannot by fiat eliminate the contradictions, since what is at stake in these debates is nothing less than the attempt to understand what is particular to our historical time and the fiction writing most characateristic of our time.

The course aims both to use conceptions of the postmodern to analyze the fiction texts, and to use those fictions texts to interrogate the concepts. The instructor takes a heuristic approach to various conceptualizations of postmodernism and postmoderity. Throughout we will be evaluating the usefulness and limits of these concepts as lenses for reading a wide array of contemporary American written and filmed texts. We will look at a range of texts, some closely identified with postmodernism, some not generally considered postmodern, in an effort to understand the political uses and limits of the categories.

We will look at these texts in an effort to explore the specific, varied qualities of recent American fiction (and a few films) and the specific varied qualities of our own (perhaps) postmodern lives. Is there one postmodern condition we all share? Or many postmodern conditions? Is there a common postmodern aesthetic, or a variety of such aesthetics? We will examine in particular the uneven effects of postmodernities and postmodernisms as shaped by differences in race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender, and region/nation (in this regard the question of what constitutes "America" will be seen as a critical issue). We will designate this array of socially constructed differences through the shorthand terms "multicultural" and "intercultural." The former term means to stress the semi-autonomy of various US cultures, the latter term to stress their inevitable, power-laden interdependence as sub-cultures woven into a fabric of domination and resistance.

In addition to the course syllabus and related materials, the navigation bar on the left can direct you to sites I have created for various authors surveyed in the course, websites treating aspects of postmodern theory, a map/chart contrasting modernism and postmodernism, links to some other courses on postmodernism, contemporary USA literature or related topics, as well as a link to some hypertext (online) fiction and some essays on hypertexts written by students in "The Fiction of Postmodern America."

For a somewhat different, earlier version of this course click here.
Comments, corrections, and questions are welcome. Please write to: