Fragmentation and pastiche

Fragmented texts reflect a fragmented world

Postmodern authors often believe that the modern world has become complex, chaotic, and fragmented (‘shattered into bits’). This view is reflected in postmodern fiction which tends to be fragmented in a number of ways. For instance, there might be jumps in time, place, narrator, or character, and as a result of this, it might seem difficult to get an overview of the plot. Often the plot is not presented chronologically at all. 

One result of this fragmentation is that there is typically not just one interpretation of the text or one message, but several. This reflects the postmodern view that there is no truth - it all depends on who you ask.

One example of a text with elements of fragmentation is the popular Christmas movie Love Actually (2003). The movie takes us in and out of the lives of numerous characters while letting some of these lives intertwine and others not at all. The only unifying elements are Christmas and love.

It is an important point that this fragmentation is not negative in a postmodern context. The postmodernists typically celebrate fragmentation and chaos by playing with it. This is a clear contrast to the previous literary movement, Modernism, which viewed the complexities of the modern world as tragic. 

Pastiche is the combination of genres or styles

In order to express the fragmentation and complexity of the modern world, postmodern texts frequently use a stylistic device called pastiche. The word means to combine (‘paste’ together) different elements. It is about copying the style of other texts and putting these styles together in a playful, ironic way while disregarding the traditional rules for style and genre. 

More specifically, pastiche often involves the mixing of genres. One example is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) by Seth Grahame-Smith. The novel borrows heavily from the plot, setting, characters, and dialogue of Jane Austen’s famous love novel Pride and Prejudice (1813), but adds elements from the zombie and ninja genres. For instance, the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, uses her martial arts skills to fight off zombies while looking for a suitable husband. 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is also a good example of the mixing of high and low culture, which is often seen in postmodern pastiche. While Austen’s original novel is considered high culture, ninja and zombie movies are not. This shows the playful nature of postmodernism.

Pastiche does not only have to involve the content of the story - it can also be part of the very form of the text. An extreme example of this is B. S. Johnson’s novel The Unfortunates (1969). The book came with loose pages in a box, which left the readers to ‘paste’ together the story as they pleased. The author wanted to portray the randomness of the modern world.

Generally, a pastiche can be a tribute or a parody. While some pastiches honor the original text by copying it, other pastiches make fun of it. Pastiche sometimes overlaps with intertextuality since pastiche is just one way of expressing intertextuality.