Post-postmodernists can’t jump

Il basket come metafora letteraria in “Vanilla Dunk” di Jonathan Lethem


  • Daniele Giovannone



Jonathan Lethem, postmodernism, metafiction, science fiction, basketball


This essay aims to argue that in his short story “Vanilla Dunk” (1992), Jonathan Lethem employs basketball to reflect on the legacy of literary postmodernism. In Lethem’s story, basketball players wear exo-suits which duplicate the skills of great ballers from the past. This science-fictional sport, where athletes are forced to continuously re-enact games that somebody else has already played, is meant to echo the meta-fictional literary practices that became common during the Sixties. Lethem is trying to express a generational anxiety: how is it possible to keep creating literature after a generation of revolutionaries unveiled the hidden mechanisms behind fictional illusion? The essay focuses particularly on the story’s three main characters, who are meant to portray three different strategies for writers of the post-postmodernist generation to deal with this cumbersome heritage. Lethem seems to suggest a compromise: younger writers can neither acritically duplicate postmodernist style, nor can they simply ignore it and resort to traditional realism. In the end, the essay interprets Lethem’s compromise by drawing a comparison between the narrative strategies employed in “Vanilla Dunk” and David Foster Wallace’s considerations about literary anti-rebels. 


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