David Foster Wallace on post-modernism

Interviewer: What does post-modern mean in literature?

DFW: Ah, no no no…after modernism. ::grins::  It’s a very useful catch all term because you say it and we all nod soberly as if we know what we’re talking about when in fact we don’t. There are certain…when I mean post-modern, I’m talking about maybe the black humorists who came along in the 1960s, the post-Nabokovians. I’m talking about Pynchon, and Barthelme, and Barth. DeLillo in the early 70s. Coover, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot. Um, let me see…

Interviewer: But that’s the camp you put yourself in?

DFW: That’s the camp that interested me when I was a student. The problem is I think post-modernism has to a large extent run its course. The biggest thing for me that was interesting about post-modernism is that it was the first text that was highly self-conscious. Self-conscious of itself as text, self-conscious of the writer as persona, self-conscious about the effects that narrative had on readers, and the fact that the readers probably knew that. It was the first generation of writers who’d actually read a lot of criticism, and there was a certain schizophrenia about it. // It was very useful it seems to me because the culture…this was a real beaker of acid in the face of the culture. The culture at the time this came out–this was before the youth rebellion in the 60s–was very staid and very conservative. The problem though is now that a lot of the schticks of post-modernism–irony, cynicism, irreverence–are now part of whatever it is that’s enervating the culture itself.

“The thing that interests me–in a lot of the stuff I think that I do–has to do with, I think, a lot, commercial entertainment: its efficiency, its sheer ability to deliver pleasure in large doses changes people’s relationship to art and entertainment. It changes what an audience is looking for. I would argue it changes us in deeper ways than that, and that some of the ways that commercial culture and commercial entertainment affects human beings is one of the things that I sort of think serious or “arty” fiction ought to be doing right now.”