112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Music as the Soundtrack of Postmodernity

Kristina Rose Varade, Borough of Manhattan Community College

I seek to examine the relationship between music and Postmodernity as depicted in contemporary Italian and Irish fiction. In examining Melania Mazzucco's Un giorno perfetto and Patrick McCabe's The Holy City through a postmodern critical lens, I will demonstrate how music acts as a fragment that both functions within, and contributes to, the ever changing pastiche of contemporary literature.


Music has always been well adapted to literature; as a soundtrack of varying resonances, tones, and instruments, it provides color and clarity to a text. However, in twenty-first century literature, music is increasingly incorporated, (re)appropriated, and manipulated in order to provide narrative meaning. One could further argue that the incorporation of music and soundtrack within contemporary fictional narrative is a cry for some sort of order or structure in a seemingly chaotic, unstructured Postmodernity. As such, it is appropriate to consider this 'colonna sonora' of musical fragment to be the soundtrack of contemporary life.

Even though the presence of music is not often the most critical trait of current fiction, the perception of music as a key indicator of the contemporary quotidian within literature often reflects very postmodern traits. Music, as understood in Irish and Italian contemporary fiction, both conveys fragments of ideas and yet, at the same time, remains distinct to each subject with which it comes into contact. On a general level, music in postmodern literature may engender a greater understanding of the pieces of narrative which comprise the novel; in Un giorno perfetto, for example, the songs which are included are carefully chosen by the author and provide a number of insights into the text; these songs often point to sentiments of the primary characters, act as moments of irony, or support the action of events as they occur.

Furthermore, the soundtrack of Postmodernity is not comprised of a delineated set of songs or albums, musical styles or genres; it may also be, for instance, an indicator of nostalgia and pastiche. Patrick McCabe's The Holy City is a primary indicator of music's ability to reflect these postmodern characteristics through the disordered, musically driven and nostalgic narrative of Chris McCool. Moreover, the reader is encouraged to make choices as to how he or she will attempt to put narrative information together; since postmodern writing embodies incredulity of meta-narrative and proves that the illusory “grand narrative” will never be fully perceived or comprehended, then it is up to the reader to grasp at narrative fragments in order to create a very personal reading. Finally, these texts overwhelmingly represent the Postmodern and the global, such as in Mazzucco’s portrayal of how trite and / or grotesque characteristics of Disney and Manson reflect the contemporary quotidian. Likewise, McCabe demonstrates how Postmodernity and globalism affect diverse human subjects. McCool is not able to come to terms with his contemporary quotidian, and therefore must rely upon characteristics of Postmodernity such as kitsch, nostalgia, schizophrenia, and pastiche, in order to confront his inability to cope with the new millennium.