What is Contemporary Literature?

What Does Contemporary Literature Mean

We explain what contemporary literature is, its genres, themes and other characteristics. Also, its relevant authors.

Contemporary literature reflects political, social and spiritual remodeling.

What is contemporary literature?

The literature contemporary is that produced in recent times and today . The limit on when that "recent" period begins is debated. It can be considered that it begins at the end of the XIX century, but in general the end of the Second World War (1939-1945) is taken as a moment of change .

Beyond the temporal exactitudes, the important thing when talking about contemporary literature is to get a panoramic idea of the trends that have prevailed in literature in the last century (the 20th and at most the beginning of the 21st).

This period was also key to the political, social and spiritual remodeling of the entire planet. On the one hand, there were two bloody world wars and a long-standing conflict such as the Cold War (1947-1991). On the other hand, the philosophical, aesthetic and spiritual legacy of the West as a result was severely affected.

Thus, contemporary literature reflects the anxieties of a period lost in much of the world , following the collapse of the powers European colonial who ruled until the beginning of the twentieth century, replaced the United States as an economic, cultural and political power of the West , and by the Soviet Union as its eastern counterpart.

The latter also had the challenge of materializing the countercultural and anti-capitalist aspirations of the oppressed middle class, and was the heir to the Marxist philosophy that the Western capitalist powers were fighting.

Therefore, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, during which the world was divided into two opposite and isolated sides, is one of the great milestones whose presence can still be felt in contemporary literature, in addition to many other arts .

This event appears in the form of an exaltation of the liberal capitalist world or of the lament over the death of ideals, what became known as the "Great Stories" and which according to the Japanese-American philosopher Francis Fukuyama (1952-) represented the "End of story ."

On the other hand, contemporary literature is the first in history to have a developed publishing market with international scope properly speaking. This is due among other things to the economic integration processes that led to economic globalization .

Another factor to consider is the scientific-technological revolution that made it possible to considerably shorten the distances of the world and the ways of traveling it. We must consider that the world changed more in technological and social terms during the 20th century, than during entire ages of Antiquity .

Another indispensable factor when considering the context in which contemporary literature arises is the Internet . With it came not only a global commercial and informational possibility, but also a whole 2.0 culture through messaging services , forums, exchange platforms and social networks . That was the breeding ground for the emergence of new forms of writing and expression. Some even suggest that new forms of literature are developing, which go hand in hand with the immediate, the fast and the diverse.

See also: Contemporary age

Characteristics of contemporary literature

Any characterization of contemporary literature is necessarily unfair, since the rate of real and literary changes in the world from the first third of the 20th century to that of the 21st century is dizzying.

It does not seem to be the same thing when we think of the literature of the second avant-garde (1945-1970) and the literature of the new millennium (2000-present). Even so, we can highlight the following common features:

  • Experimentation and the breaking of traditional patterns are valued , especially in avant-garde, transgender or postmodern literature. Initially the theater and the story attend the same phenomenon, but finally the novel ends up absorbing the possibilities of literary experimentation.
  • Various trends in genre literature (that is, popular literature) emerge : science fiction , black police or noir , fantasy literature, horror novels, etc. Some are more prestigious than others in academic circles.
  • In the matter of stories, the nineteenth-century gaze of society is completely abandoned , to give way to new variants of realism : dirty realism, socialist realism, magical realism , etc. Some tend to fulfill political or ideological agendas, while others approach journalism in its search for anecdotes and in its lean, objective way of telling.
  • Other experimental aspects abandon the anecdote and dedicate themselves to meditation or description , if not the meta-text, the fragmentary and the game of references , building literary artifacts, rather than novels.
  • The reversion, the homage and the nod to tradition are frequent, especially in satirical approaches and in postmodern reworkings, which try to update some modern classic.
  • Testimony and non-fiction have an enormous place as forms of literary elaboration of the horrors of war , dictatorship and poverty .
  • Towards the end of the second half of the 20th century, a robust publishing industry emerged in most Western languages, with portfolios of authors of diverse nationality and the possibility of international distribution, thus consolidating a more or less globalized publishing market .
  • Interest in the alternative arises , especially at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, when the literature written in countries of the so-called Third World ( Africa , Latin America , Asia Minor) begins to gain interest in the large literary and publishing circuits. This is known as World Literature .

Contemporary literary genres

Children's literature had not been previously developed.

In terms of genres , contemporary literature has not changed the paradigm much :

  • The poetry . It continues its path free of rhymes and metrics, thus encompassing a huge and disparate set of texts whose only related trait is sonority, the absence of narrative and descriptive language . In some cases, the short formats of the Internet allowed a certain revival of haiku (Japanese hyper-short poetry) and similar subgenres.
  • The narrative. It prioritizes the novel as the great genre, well above the short story (which is still cultivated), but yielding to the pressures of experimentation: the hyperlink , the non-fiction novel, the postmodern novel, different approaches that try to revolutionize the genre of the novel have been produced over the course of almost a century, without much success in really reformulating what a novel is. On the other hand, the chronicle and non-fiction, hand in hand with journalism, have emerged as an important trend among narrative writers, as well as the newspaper and other short formats that were believed to be extinct, such as the micro-story. The novel seems to have become the genre in which everything fits.
  • Children's literature. It also arises in contemporaneity, and includes a whole branch of stories and poetic games dedicated to children's readers. This genre would not have been possible previously, since the concept of "childhood" is relatively recent for humanity .
  • The essay . It has varied very little since its appearance in the Modern Age , but it has been restricted to an academic or literary field, being perhaps the least popular genre in contemporary literature.
  • The dramaturgy . It underwent enormous changes during the 20th century, especially at the hands of the avant-garde, who saw in the theatrical montage the tool to reach large audiences, something that cinema later conquered for itself. The great playwrights of the 20th century left their mark forever on the theater, which by the end of the century seems to succumb to other digital entertainment formats.

In addition, transgeneric works promise a fusion of genres or a reading experience outside of them, which is a unique and characteristic feature of the modern era: the diverse, the multiple, and the collage . However, most of these "transgender" books can be classified as novels or as essays.

Temas frecuentes de la literatura contemporánea

Los temas de mayor recurrencia en la literatura contemporánea pueden resumirse en:

  • La memoria y el testimonio. Dado el número elevado de guerras, dictaduras, masacres, revoluciones y crisis socioeconómicas del siglo XX e inicios del XXI, el impulso de contar y de conservar la memoria individual como legado a las generaciones venideras se hizo muy frecuente.
  • La ficción de género. El terror, la ciencia ficción, el fantasy, el policial noir y otros géneros populares abundan en la literatura contemporánea, especialmente en la destinada al consumo de las masas, así como combinaciones entre estos géneros: fantasy/terror, policial de ciencia ficción, etc.
  • El coming of age . Se conoce con este nombre a los relatos que abordan la vida de un personaje infantil, un niño, y lo acompañan a lo largo del descubrimiento de la adultez, o sea, a través de diversos eventos que le llevarán a descubrir quién es.
  • La novela familiar. Abordando a los miembros de una familia, ya sea haciendo énfasis en uno de ellos o no, en este caso se narran las desventuras de la casta familiar, a menudo como una forma de paralelismo con el destino de los países (familia = país).
  • El cuestionamiento de lo real. La duda sobre lo que es real y lo que no, sobre qué tanto pueden confiarse en los sentidos y sobre las simulaciones tecnológicas está presente en muchos de los relatos de la literatura contemporánea. Muchas de estas angustias son fruto del boom tecnológico reciente.
  • Las distopías y el fin del mundo. Otro escenario recurrente tanto en la literatura como el cine contemporáneos tiene que ver con el fin del mundo, el fin de la civilización o la supervivencia de catástrofes planetarias. Este tema fue particularmente común durante los momentos críticos de la Guerra Fría. También son frecuentes las reinterpretaciones históricas, en las que se modifica la historia “oficial”.
  • La escritura misma. Existe toda una vertiente literaria en la contemporaneidad dedicada a reflexionar sobre la naturaleza del arte y de la escritura, a jugar con escritores o libros imaginarios, a intervenir el canon literario u otras operaciones de homenaje, sátira o apropiación similares.

Autores relevantes de la literatura contemporánea

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Mario Vargas Llosa ganó el Premio Nobel de Literatura en 2010.

Cualquier listado que intentáramos en esta materia estaría necesariamente incompleto, pero de todos modos podemos intentar uno resumido:

  • Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Filósofo, dramaturgo y escritor francés de alta implicación en la política mundial, fue ganador del Premio Nobel de Literatura en 1964, pero rechazó el premio debido a consideraciones ideológicas. Fue cultor del existencialismo y del marxismo humanista, y consorte de la escritora Simone de Beaouvoir.
  • George Orwell (1903-1950). Escritor y periodista británico nacido en el Raj británico en la India, fue un fervoroso activista socialista en contra del imperialismo británico y opositor tanto al nazismo como el estalinismo durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Fue cronista, novelista y crítico literario, y es suya la figura del “Gran Hermano” (de su novela 1984 ) de uso común en la política hoy en día.
  • Albert Camus (1913-1960). French writer born in Algeria, he developed an important novelistic and dramaturgical work under the influence of German existentialism, and the works of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.
  • Cousin Levi (1919-1987). A chemist by profession and of Italian nationality, this writer of Jewish origins survived the Nazi death camps in Europe and developed an important testimonial work recounting it and reflecting on the nature of fascism.
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008). Russian writer and historian, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. His work made known the Gulag , the concentration camps of Stalinism in Soviet Russia, in which he himself was imprisoned for 11 years. He was expelled from the USSR in 1974 and could not return until the dissolution of this communist nation.
  • Jack Kerouac (1922-1969). American novelist of the so-called "beat generation", along with the poet Allen Ginsberg and the narrator William Burroughs. He was a member of the hippie culture against radicalism, and died at the age of 47 due to alcoholism.
  • Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987). Under this pseudonym wrote the Belgian-American novelist, essayist, playwright and poet, whose works of poetic character and enormous erudition opened the doors of the French Academy to her.
  • Sylvia Plath (1932-1963). One of the best known poets in the United States along with Anne Sexton, both cultists of confessional poetry. She was married to fellow writer Ted Hughes, and spent most of her life clinically depressed, until her suicide in 1963.
  • Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006). Polish science fiction writer whose satirical and philosophical work has been frequently made into a film in films like Solaris . He is one of the few non-English-speaking authors considered a true authority in this genre.
  • Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014). Maximum expose of magical Realism, this Colombian writer and journalist was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. His work One Hundred Years of Solitude is perhaps one of the most famous novels of the so-called “Latin American Boom” of the second half of the 20th century.
  • Mario Vargas Llosa (1936-). Peruvian writer and politician, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010 and the Cervantes Prize in 1994, has an important novelistic work that was part of the “Latin American Boom”. He was a candidate for the presidency of Peru in 1990, when he was defeated by Alberto Fujimori.
  • Orhan Pamuk (1952-). Architect and writer of Turkish origin, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, he is the author of a work that reflects with its own symbols the clash of cultures typical of the Turkish nation. His works have been translated into more than 40 languages.

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