Saturday, January 5, 2008

Enjoying the Story Without Losing Our Minds

A mistunderstanding: Realism/ Story Telling

Steven Beattie, in a recent post on That Shakespeherian Rag sees in my (and Dan Green's) reflections on narrative realism, a "dogmatic reaction against realism as a legitimate--or, indeed, interesting--literary mode;" a significant misunderstanding, certainly of my own thoughts, and I would assume, of Dan Green's as well.

I responded in a comment to the post linked above:

My complaint is not at all that "realism" (however defined) is not or cannot be an interesting literary mode. My point is--that realism isn't, and that it is profoundly important to acknowledge this and incorporate our awareness into the work. It's not the use of older conventions that troubles me, it's the absence of mindfullnes, the pretense without attending to what it means that we feel the need to pretend a work is real to enjoy it, the need to suspend disbelief (in the common misunderstanding of Coleridge's idea)--as though this were an essential and necessary aesthetic element.

Story telling gives us what we think we need. Story telling weaves the illusion of understanding, hushing our critical impulses, silencing our questions, or robbing them of their sting. Story telling that aspires to art gives us a story we can enjoy without losing our minds.


  1. Thanks for the clarification, Jacob. Apologies if I read too much into your earlier comments. I agree that it's all too easy for readers and critics to succumb to an absence of mindfulness when analysing a work (of any genre or mode), and that this is something to be assiduously guarded against.

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  3. I meant, mindfulness inherent in the work. Fiction that makes makes the artifice part of the art rather than hiding it, pretending to offer a transparent window to "reality."