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Susana Onega et Jean-Michel Ganteau (eds.), Transcending the Postmodern: The Singular Response of Literature to the Transmodern Paradigm

London and New York: Routledge, 2020, 266 p.
Justine Gonneaud
Référence(s) :

Susana Onega et, Jean-Michel Ganteau (eds.), Transcending the Postmodern: The Singular Response of Literature to the Transmodern Paradigm. London and New York: Routledge, 2020, 266 pages. ISBN 9781003037583.

Texte intégral

1Since the inception of transmodernity, a term coined in 1989 by Spanish philosopher and feminist Rosa Maria Rodriguez Magda, few academic works have tackled the notion through the prism of literature, as it has been mainly developed in contemporary philosophy and used as an operative tool to conceptualize new paradigms in the fields of sociology, education and economy. In 2019, Jessica Aliaga-Lavrijsen and José María Yebra-Pertusa’s Transmodern Perspectives on Contemporary Literatures in English initiated a dialogue on the concept of transmodernity and contemporary authors’ responses to it in terms of representation, while thoroughly questioning and elucidating the concept. The present collection of essays, Transcending the Postmodern: The Singular Response of Literature to the Transmodern Paradigm, edited by Jean-Michel Ganteau and Susana Onega, further develops that volume and confirms the importance of the transmodern paradigm in contemporary literature and its relevance to the field of literary studies.

2The introduction brings the reader up to speed with the conceptual tenets of transmodernism as conceived by Magda, before exploring the subsequent—and at times contradictory—acceptations of the term as revised by Ateljevic and Rifkin, Ghisi, Dussel or Sardar among others. While Magda sees Transmodernity as a new paradigm, or as a totalizing synthesis that transcends and combines elements of both Modernism and Postmodernism—two concepts that have lost momentum and relevance to the connectivity and fluidity of a contemporary globalized, digitalized and interconnected world; Enrique Dussel ‘employs the term “transmodern” to designate those theories arising out of the Third World that vindicate a proper space for Latin-American cultures in front of Modernity and seeks to incorporate into it the look of the postcolonial other’ (3). Irena Ateljevic has a more optimistic outlook on transmodernity that she understands as a ‘major global mind-change’ (4) or as the emergence of a growing worldwide awareness about the future of humanity and of the planet in which she sees potentialities for change in the future rather than a deterioration of old concepts.

3In order to reflect the multiple aspects of the umbrella term ‘Transmodernity’, and the international interest it has generated, as it was theorized by thinkers inside and outside a European philosophical tradition, the essays gathered here cover a variety of geographical areas, represented by contemporary authors of English expression from Australia, Great Britain, India or the United States. They also address a broad range of contemporary issues suggested by the complexity of transmodernity itself, such as memory and myths, identity and humanity, multiculturalism, terrorism, vulnerability and solidarity or the advent of new technologies and ecology in a globalised context.

4All three essays of the first part dedicated to the ‘Poetics of Transmodernity’ explore the use of generic experimentation to provide visions of the fluid, interconnected, unstable reality of selves and worlds relevant to the transmodern paradigm. In “The Transmodern Poetics of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas: Generic Hybridity, Narrative Embedding and Transindividuality”; Susana Onega’s analyses the novel through the prism of Chaos theory, using the motif of the palimpsest as an interpretive device to enlighten the transmodern poetics of the novel. Onega demonstrates that the apparently disjointed structure of the book, its generic hybridity and heterogeneous contents compete with patterns that stress continuity and interconnectedness, such as ‘palimpsestuous’ echoes and spectral connections (28), providing a representation of the world as a ‘multiverse built on the infinite repetition of present moments occurring simultaneously on various scales and belonging in open systems’ (45), allowing to potentially correct mistakes and imagine better alternatives. The motif of the palimpsest is also central to Sara Villamarín-Freire’s examination of the poetics of so-called ‘diasporic’ or ‘transnational’ fictions (52). Through the lens of Enrique Dussel’s definition of transmodernity as a paradigm departing from a Eurocentric conception that postulates a relation of subordination between core Western and peripheral cultures, she focusses first on the relationship between global literature and transmodernism to put to the fore the features they share. Based on Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the author establishes that the palimpsestic motive underpinning the metanarrative articulates a discourse of resistance from a liminal position that has incorporated both Western and Non-Western elements, from a diasporican and reasporican point of view. The final essay of this part dedicated to the poetics of transmodernism, Angelo Monaco’s study of Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, uses the key notion of ‘novel of ideas’ as defined by LeMahieu to study the modes and means of transmission of information and emotions in a globalized world, in order to demonstrate that McCarthy’s mixture of hyperrealist descriptions, modernist stream-of-consciousness techniques, postmodernist metanarrative devices and intertextual references situate Satin Island at ‘the crossroads of transmodernity’ (73).

5Those aspects of transmodernity that have inspired the authors listed above, such as simultaneity, interconnection and instantaneity are materialized in the text by generic instability, openness and hermeneutic uncertainty. Such texts prompt a consideration of aesthetic concerns against the backdrop of ethics, and a discussion of the ethical responsibility of readers in the process of shaping meaning, which are the focal points of the second part.

6Jean-Michel Ganteau problematizes transmodernity in the light of care theory, and examines patterns of resistance to some aspects of transmodernity in McGregor’s novel—Reservoir 13. According to him, a focus on the local through the narrator’s ‘microscopic obsession’ (100) counterbalances the supremacy of the global, while patterns of repetition and reoccurrences thwart instantaneity. Simultaneously, a stronger emphasis on the materiality of experience and the interdependence of human and non-human beings engage the reader in a process of caring and of considering multiple interconnected singularities rather than a global community, along the lines of an ethics of consideration. Such reflections are also at the core of Matthias Stephan’s comparison of transcultural identities in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, with the difference that the author suggests that neither a postmodern nor a modernist frame of reference may adequately and ethically express such subjectivities. Stephan postulates that Smith and Adichie’s representation of transcultural experiences transcend these categories and embrace a transmodern paradigm, ‘with its focus on tolerance and respect for each other and for the spaces we occupy’ (130). For Laura Colombino, ethical commitment manifests itself in Ishiguro’s specific practice of mythopoesis in The Buried Giant. The combined use of prosopopoeia, of transcultural and transhistorical myths and metaphors that operate synchronically, pointing simultaneously toward multiple traditions, memories and cultures across space and time (134) ultimately encourage readers to acknowledge the fundamentally transmodern idea of interconnection and interdependence through communities and generations. According to her, this results in a transhistorical ethics, ‘where figures and stories are merged and moulded (. . .) in a subdued manner with the sense that collective memory is an imperfect medium, which alternately reveals and deceives.’ (151).

7Such transcultural concerns with identities and cultures within a globalized and interconnected world lead to consider the political implications of the paradigm shift suggested by Transmodernity, its role in shaping society and our means of action to embrace or counteract its impact—which is the angle adopted in the third part entitled ‘Migrancy and the Possibility of Reenchantment’. Bárbara Arizti analyses Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist against Transmodernity in the specific context of post-9/11 Australia. The novel is presented as a ‘narrative of the limit’ or, to use Magda’s terms, as a ‘narrative of resistance’, offering a dystopian representation of a transmodern world dominated by the media, a post-truth era ruled by fake news, relativism, political corruption and the excesses of both terrorism and counterterrorism. As noted by Arizti, such a dark representation of an uncaring indifferent contemporary Australian society mirrors Magda’s subsequent revision of her initially more celebratory approach to Transmodernism (162). The novel is a cautionary parable depicting our world’s aporias, in order to promote ‘a return to the basics of what makes us human’ (173). As a counterpoint to Arizti’s analysis of The Unknown Terrorist, Merve Sarikaya-Şen’s essay develops the same political aspects of Transmodernism, while foregrounding the more optimistic approach taken by Arundhati Roy in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The novel addresses the individual singularities of the contemporary religious and political victims in India, most notably by putting precarious lives to the fore and giving voice to marginal subjects—such as hijras or wounded animals—considered as ‘ interdependent and re-enchanted beings’ (190). The novel advocates for a transmodern paradigm and its potential for reenchantment through the representation of collective care and respect for all types of singularities, in opposition to capitalist and consumerist destructive practices.

8Such a comprehensive study of the multifarious aspects of transmodernism is completed by a fourth part— ‘Perspectives on Biopolitics’ - addressing the cross-concerns of politics and environmentalism in a globalized context. It contains two essays: Julia Kuznetski’s “Transcorporeality, Fluidity and Transanimality in Monique Roffey’s Novel Archipelago” and Jessica Aliaga-Lavrijsen’s “A Transmodern Approach to Biology in Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman” which both use Haraway’s posthuman postulates to examine the new symbiotic modes of being existing beyond clear-cut realms featured in the novels. Kuznetski unfolds the central trope of water—and its avatars such as the sea, rains, floods or bodily fluids - to demonstrate its symbolic and material importance, as a manifestation of a transmodern fluidity. Using Haraway’s metaphor of the cyborg, the author analyses bodies in the novel as not only posthuman, but rather as transcorporeal bodies, connected with each other, with animality and with natural elements, ultimately leading to the emergence of a new sense of self: ‘a collectivity of fluid, watery, transanimalistic, permeable selves, which are simultaneously “beside themselves” and stand in a transcorporeal relationship with a world that is similarly relative and similarly fluid and fragile, too fragile to be simply and rationally “mastered.”’ (210). The second essay deals with Naomi Mitchinson’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman, a speculative experimental science fiction novel which explores the encounters and interactions between imaginary alien species and human space travelers, allowing for the creation of a new transmodern perspective on biology and humanity. In line with Kuznetski’s analysis of Novel Archipelago, Jessica Aliaga-Lavrijsen emphasizes how clear-cut boundaries between binary opposites are dismantled in the realm of biology, of personal and species identity, and of interspecies communication. Such a perspective on biology is linked to the birth of a transmodern ethical paradigm, aligned with Haraway’s ‘ethico-onto-epistem-ology’, where entities are no longer understood as inseparable but rather as entangled beings, while ‘linear and Cartesian thinking is replaced by an innovative symbiotic and a relational understanding of living systems’ (224).

9The volume as a whole will prove very useful to students and academics alike. Readers interested in the aesthetics and politics of twentieth-century literature will learn much in the light of Transmodernism, for the collection brings to the fore a concept and movement largely used in other fields and it fruitfully explores and exploits its multifaceted implications in the field of contemporary literature.

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Justine Gonneaud, « Susana Onega et Jean-Michel Ganteau (eds.), Transcending the Postmodern: The Singular Response of Literature to the Transmodern Paradigm »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 59 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2020, consulté le 28 novembre 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Justine Gonneaud

Université d’Avignon et des Pays du Vaucluse

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Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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