Thursday, November 15, 2007

What is real? What is realism?

To James Tata,

Beginning Richard Powers, Echo Maker... I catch the cognitive dissonance. What I objected to in your objection, your (partial) exclusion of Powers, your more convinced exclusion of Hazzard... differed with you in your difference... ?

From the "Formalist" escape (transcendence? avoidance? divergence?...) from "realism."

What is the formalist formula for, if not to overturn the former?

... the former version of the "real?

We're back to the problem of memesis... the question of what it is we're imitating, what it is we're representing.

False notion: "Realism" is never, can never be, a conservative force.
Conservatives hate the real. They want only the last version, only what's already been turned to Common Coin... the better to cash in on it's Caché.

It's only the conservation of old notions of what is real... Is release from those restrictions ever made in the name of anything other than a more real version of the real?

Even if the most real version of reality finds at the heart of the real nothing but an Absense? A blank?

Nobaaddy... the Big Other who never was?

You're on to something important, Mr. Tata... but it has nothing to do with a distinction between the Formal and the Real... or its mimesis.

Wrong contrast.

Need a sounder critical foundation. Not what you see in the publishers bias that's the problem... but the Formulation... a merely formal problem all along?

Or something more... for which the formula... the Formata... is merely servant?


  1. I've been following your responses to Tata's points and think you are on to something here, something I have come across before in other novels. It is the idea that "realism" narrative, as Tata and others generally define it, is not very realistic it all; on a significant level it is as far from "reality" as one can get because it tames and ties down its elements and threads it together too neatly.

    But I am not too sure about your later point on realism narrative, as Tata described it, being "weak 'art'", I shall have to think about that some more.


    Here's another response to Tata's posts, from a somewhat different perspective.

  3. Ha!

    Thanks for posting that!

    Blakean Warfare, indeed!

    I was so concentrated on the Formalist/Realist business that didn't want to get into anything else.

    This was a great rant--and Tata deserved it, but I think he deserves some distance here--that is, he's on to something, come up with a formula to explain it, and the formula has seriously misled him.

    I chose to ignore the the misguided targets and concentrate on the formula.

    Thank you for your comments!

    They are ALWAYS appreciated!

  4. Need to jump back one comment, as I've deleted in order to edit...
    I suspect that Tata, his subject being current publishing trends, is thinking of something rather more limited that what, say, Flaubert or Tugenev represent: the realism of Flaubert become convention, 5th generation in-bred "realism."

    Sentimental Education and Madame Bovary are works of subversion; only by comparison to the conventions they seek to free themselves from are they "realistic." It an unfortunate label that confuses the newer conventions for representation--that is, the conventions themselves, and in codifying those conventions and imitating them, later works are perceived as being "realist," solely because the conventions have become the mode of a new, and fictive, if not delusional, notion of reality.

    As with any set of conventions, a strong writer may appropriate them without being subsumed by them. This is why I would never call Richard Powers a realist in the sense meant by Tata.

    There's something worth thinking about in those attacks on 'experimental' fiction--that they are mere play. We are not brought closer to the Real by means of new and improved formulas, or formalisms, though making the artifice visible--making the artifice part of the art, and not a mere set of tricks to fool the reader into not seeing them--may at least be a declaration of freedom. The achievement of that freedom is another matter. We can talk about what has led us to the encounter, but there is nothing we can take back from it. We can no more find words for what happens at that threshold than we can for death.

    Maybe this is what Blanchot has been saying, the writer moving toward death.