It’s really all about the list, no? Somewhere, someone is articulating a complex theory on our media fascination with the list. In the meantime, however, I couldn’t help but post a link to the LA Times list of “61 Essential Postmodern Reads.”
The list is interesting for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s annotated! With graphics! And while my punctuation here might indicate a sarcastic appreciation for the aforementioned qualities, it is an easy way to understand why a particular book made the list, and also a quick and dirty representation of their criteria for inclusion. I’m a bit surprised to see that all of the criteria focus on form (e.g., “author is character,” “includes historical falsehoods,” and the needing-of-more-detail “plays with language”). Formal criteria allow the lister, Carolyn Kellogg, to include a number of intriguing picks that don’t always get included in the postmodern canon—Tristram Shandy, for instance, which gets a hearty “amen!” from me—or The Metamorphosis. But it also allows for a couple of real head-scratchers—The Scarlet Letter, anyone?
As any of my poor, put-upon students in the postmodernism seminar can tell you, I’m highly suspicious of a postmodernism defined solely on the basis of form. You don’t have to worship at F. Jameson’s feet to consider the idea that content might be part of the postmodern equation. And you don’t have to buy everything Linda Hutcheon ever thought to mull over the notion that an attempt at political/ideological intervention can be part of a postmodern aesthetic movement.
Those caveats (or screed. call it what you will) aside, however, the list does what many good lists do: it provides a basis for readers to debate inclusions, exclusions, and criteria. A look at the ever-expanding comments is a testament to Kellogg’s work. Take a look-see.