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In literary studies, the stance of post-modern critics and writers is characterized by a rejection of the values of eighteenth-century Enlightenment thought, most particularly by a rejection of the notions of rationality and objectivity and of the understanding of the self as a rational, unitary entity.


Instead, post-modern thought emphasizes a form of subjectivity that is multiple rather than singular and fluid rather than static. Subjectivity, as used by post-modern thinkers, refers to a subjective sense of self that includes agency--the capacity for action--as distinguished from the condition of an obliterated selfhood that results when an individual is objectified, made into an object to be possessed sexually, materially, or imaginatively by those who are culturally dominant.

For the post-modernist, subjectivities (since subjectivity is not singular or fixed) are always in process; post-modernism therefore argues against the privileging of naturalized or essentialized positions and points of view.

Reality, or "the real," is constructed and contingent on such constraints as time, place, race, class, gender, and sexuality; consequently, attempts to establish transhistorical or transcultural validity for ideas or points of view are seen as futile, with the result that all universalizing notions are obviated.

Contextualizing Subjects

The post-modern critic, creative writer, filmmaker or artist is distinguished by her or his concerted efforts to situate particular subjects in their exact times and places, to contextualize those subjects as precisely as possible, maintaining always the awareness that all representations are inevitably, irreducibly ideological in nature and complicit with dominant ideologies, even as they attempt to subvert them.

For this reason, the stance of the self-consciously post-modern author is almost inevitably self-reflexive and ironic, always aware that even the post-modernist is unavoidably compromised.

The Relationship of Post-modernism to Modernism

Post-modernism both grows out of and subverts modernism. These two intellectual movements, historically dominating roughly the first and second halves of the twentieth century, have in common their often playful use of self-referentiality, irony, indeterminacy (or ambiguity), parody, and the exploration of language. Both also share a persistent challenging of realistic forms of representation.

Post-modern art and criticism, however, challenge modernism's adherence to an ideology of artistic autonomy, individual expression, and the elitist splitting off of art from mass culture and everyday life. The concern of post-modern art and criticism is to "decenter" and to unfix these rationalist, humanist assumptions about what is "natural" or essential.

As the notion of an autonomous individuality is "decentered," both humanist and capitalist notions of selfhood and subjectivity are called into question.

Problematizing the Marginal and the "Other"

A consequence of this decentering is that one of the primary post-modern projects is the problematizing of the marginal, the liminal, and the "Other," that have been traditionally overlooked.

This has entailed a shifting of attention from the study of European-American white males and their cultural productions to an examination of the complex contexts of the lives of, for instance, women, ethnic, and racial minorities, gay/lesbian/bisexual/ individuals, and inhabitants of the so-called Third World.

Linda Hutcheon describes the intellectual goal of post-modernism as to erode our assumptions by examining them, "to de-naturalize some of the dominant features of our way of life; to point out that those entities that we unthinkingly experience as 'natural' (they might even include capitalism, patriarchy, liberal humanism) are in fact 'cultural'; made by us, not given to us," so that post-modernism "provokes an investigation of how we make meaning in culture."

The Effect of Post-modernism on Gay and Lesbian Studies

The post-modern emphasis on problematizing marginalized and "other" peoples, cultures, and experiences, has helped develop gay and lesbian studies and move them into new areas of criticism and theoretical sophistication.

In seeking to be inclusive of all gender deviancies and all gender-deviant or transgendered persons, many post-modern gay and lesbian writers have chosen to describe themselves as "" and to reconfigure gay and lesbian studies as "queer theory."

The post-modern perspective has served to propel queer theory, itself originally marginalized, into an avant-garde position with respect to the academic mainstream, an irony very much in keeping with the post-modern commitment to doubleness and duplicity, and with the penchant of post-modernism for appropriating, installing, and reinforcing, as much as for undermining and subverting, the conventions and assumptions it appears to challenge.

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