Jazz as Postmodernist Literature College

Ross Murfin defines postmodernism as, “A term referring to certain radically experimental works of literature and art after World War II” (Murfin 397). According to Murfin, postmodernism, like modernism that preceded it, involves separation from dominant literary convention via the “experimentation with new literary devices, forms, and styles” (397). Participating in this departure from literary norms is Toni Morrison’s Jazz, a historical novel depicting the lives of black Americans living in Harlem at the height of the nineteen-twenties. Jazz embraces the postmodernist style through its unconventional use of narration that incorporates a unique stream of consciousness and the identification of the narrator as the physical text itself.

Stream of consciousness, while popularized by modernists such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, takes on new eccentricities in postmodernist works such as Jazz. While not without nuance, Jazz encompasses sections of text that are not the painstakingly crafted, lyrical streams of consciousness as seen in Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake; Morrison’s narrator can approach violence and disorder typically untapped in modernist works. The Bedford Glossary states that postmodernist works frequently embrace a...

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