It is well known that the postmodern novels often use citations and references to other cultural objects, first of all to the other novels. Sometimes it is necessary to read several of them in order to understand the majority of senses in a particular chapter.

How do you think how many books should the postmodern author read and how culturally spacious his mind should be in order to write state of the art literature?

  • 1
    why would those kind of intertextual references be limited to postmodernism? Dante's Inferno references Virgil's Aenid, not to mention being chockablock with politics, religion, and culture of the time. Jan 26, 2017 at 0:05
  • @LaurenIpsum Of course. But in contemporary literature the density of citations is order of magnitude higher.
    – zavg
    Jan 26, 2017 at 0:11
  • 3
    Or maybe you just recognize more of them. The density of Biblical and classical allusions in classic works is enormous, but there may be hundreds of allusions to works that have not survived that we would have no way of recognizing today. Fundamentally, all stories are made up of references to other stories, be those literary allusions or simply appeals to common experience. A writer has to have lived and has to have read, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.
    – user16226
    Jan 26, 2017 at 5:02
  • @LaurenIpsum Postmodernism is a critique of modernism and as such explicitly rejects the innovation that defines modernism. Intertextuality, pastiche, metafiction and other anti-innovative techniques are present in all literature, but only postmodern literature has made them the basic principle by which art is created. Whether or not artists manage to create something new can be debated, but it is undisputed that most artists have attempted to create something original and unique (and originality is even a requirement for copyright), but postmodern art explicitly strived to be unoriginal.
    – user5645
    Jan 26, 2017 at 21:12
  • @user533039 The current debate goes in the direction of finding an end of postmodernism. Many theorists, scholars, and artists believe that we are currently undergoing an epochal change or cultural paradigm shift towards what has tentatively been called "postdemocracy" (in sociology) or "return to realism" (in art). If you want to write current literature, then postmodernism may no longer be the avant-garde.
    – user5645
    Jan 26, 2017 at 21:19

5 Answers 5


Quite honestly, if you do not read widely and voraciously, you have no business trying to be a writer. To do otherwise would be like a chef who only ate once a week and only at McDonald's. It would be like a actor who hardly went to the theater or a ball player who never went to a ball game.

And I do want to stress widely here. There seem to be many people who only every read in one narrow genre and expect to be able to write in that genre. I don't think that is going to work. You need a wider view in order to understand what writing is. And if you had the kind of love of stories and the kind of love of language that it takes to be a writer, you would never be content to confine your reading to a single genre.

Now as to the amount of preening erudition a post-modern author is expected to do to be accepted in the post-modern author's club, I can't really say. Probably a lot. Post modernism is a conceit, and I suppose that conceitedness is essential to produce it, but I suspect that if that conceit does not come naturally to you, it is probably impossible to fake it.


There is no postmodern canon that you have to work through to be able to participate in postmodern intellectual and artistic discourse. If you want to create postmodern art (which is always at the same time theory) then that desire will drive you to follow the intertextual references in the texts you read. For a postmodern author, there is no end to the web of references, so there is no end to what you might read, except your own disinterest.


I don't disagree with any of the sentiments mentioned here.

But as a 51 year old writer, I frequently have to choose between spending my time to read books or to write stories.

Usually I opt to use the time for writing stories even if it means severely curtailing my reading time.

But everything is relative; I just think that being able to point to the number of books you have read is an empty brag. Read deeply and intensely, but don't worry about how many (or how few) books you have read.

Maybe at the age of 25 or 30 I felt differently.

How you incorporate this background in literature of course depends on the subject matter and literary approach. That said, I am partial to books that show an awareness of other literary works (i.e., the postmodernist stuff). But ultimately there are so many books out there -- you shouldn't expect even a well-read critic to catch a lot of the references.


In an age in which the sheer volume of content being produced is overwhelming, I don't think it's possible for a reader to "get" every reference you'd want to make. It's a similar issue in TV and movies -- sometimes, Saturday Night Live does a parody of something I've never seen. We're a long way from the days in which we had three channels and a handful of major publishing houses, so everyone watched and read the same things.

But I would suggest, similar to one of the other answers, that reading a LOT is never a bad thing. And get outside your comfort zone from time to time. I do nonfiction, and I'll occasionally grab a novel just to see a different approach to writing.

I don't think anything you read would be inherently bad. Even if you pick up a trashy novel or poorly researched political polemic, you'll see a few things that work and some that don't.


I guess I'm going to disagree with the others as my opinion is:

Read as much as you need to. When you are happy with the ideas you've developed for a story, stop reading and start writing.

My stance may be a little controversial, but it suits me fine. When I read a lot, I find that it strongly steers my writing and my imagination.

If I read a book with a great romance, I'm easily tempted to put a romance into one of my stories. When I read yet another terrible fantasy book then I want to take my story and plonk it into a modern or sci-fi setting (which is actually what I did).

I have to limit the amount that I read or else I'd never finish a book. Worse, I could finish writing a book that ends up being a mish-mash of ideas I've accumulated from my reading. I would hate to finish a novel only for it to be extremely derivative, and everything feels derivative to me when I read widely.

Building upon the previous advice:

Take inspiration from sources outside literature.

A single lyric from a song is often enough to spark my imagination into overdrive. Sometimes it can be the view out of my window, or something I've seen in the news. Personally, I find non-written media to be far more valuable as sources of inspiration.

Disclaimer: These are techniques that work for me but obviously YMMV. Reading widely is generally recommended for the more disciplined author.

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