Lesson 151. Read: Carver, “Cathedral” (E743-54)Reed, “Neo-HooDoo Manifesto” (E762-64)Lahiri, “Sexy” (E1192-1207)Discussion 151. Choose of these stories and discuss the thematic importance of storytelling as it relates to either minimalism or postcolonialism. How does storytelling convey the desire for contact that these texts dramatize? LEARNING OBJECTIVES: STRONG OPENING THESIS, DEVELOPMENT (500 words), SUPPORT (quotations), OBJECTIVE TONE (No “I” or “we”).
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Lesson 15
Minimalism and Postcolonialism
In our final lesson, we exam two examples of literary styles that came into vogue in the
1980s and 1990s: minimalism and postcolonialism. These styles are interesting for the
degree that they emphasize the importance of storytelling. In both our texts, we see how
people learn to cope with their dilemmas through communication. Let’s define them a bit
more precisely:
Minimalism
Minimalism was never a literary movement in the sense that modernism was. It was
defined more by its detractors than its practitioners, so the term itself carries a faintly
pejorative or negative connotation to it. Essentially, minimalism describes a story in
which all elements of character development and description have been deleted. A
minimalist story is more observational than analytical, keeping outside of moods and
psychological portraiture to emphasize the surface events of a story. Carver’s text is not a
classic example of the mode, although Carver himself was considered the preeminent
minimalist in the 1980s. Many minimalist stories are more negative; they offer a nihilistic
glimpse of modern life that stresses the emptiness, the stunted emotion, and what Carver
called the “dis-ease” of everyday existence.
“Cathedral” is a good example of this. In an otherwise conventional exploration of
alcoholism and adultery, the main point here is the observational quality of the narrator:
he cannot experience what is going on, only observe it happening to himself. Notice the
use of the present tense here and how it limits his actions.
Postcolonialism
Both Reed and Lahiri exemplify postcolonial writing, which is essentially a type of
postmodernism that emphasizes ethnicity. Writers such as these two have won notoriety
for discussing the daily lives of overlooked minorities, whether African-American,
Chinese-American, or, in her case, Hispanic-American. As with Carver, notice the
emphasis on storytelling. The Reed text is an experimental collage attempting to rewrite
black culture into a positive, empowering device. It is a manifesto in the sense that it says
blacks are no longer willing to allowing the meaning of their history to be written for
them.
“Sexy” is a more conventional story about the clash of cultures that occurs. It essentially
dramatizes the relativity of cultural values and asks us to interrogate how we can claim
one is better than another without prejudice. The main question this story asks is whether
Western notions of beauty—the sexiness of the story—have corrupted the Indian
character who wants to leave his wife. Notice how all things Western permeate the story:
from the styles to the jogging, there is a sense that Indian culture no longer exists but that
Western ways dominate all. Lahiri doesn’t go to the extreme that writers like Reed to do
depict this as “imperialism”—instead she leaves it to us to drawn conclusions.

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