Friday, January 4, 2008

What is Real? ... yet again. Who has it right for our time?

It goes on and on... This Space

Cut to the chase, what's it all about?

Since the Renaissance artists have sought to represent reality. With a few "art for art's sake" diversionary slights of hand, conventional shifts have rested on the same defense: that new discoveries had made the old conventions obsolete. Modernists had begun to realize, and their Postmodernist successors confirmed this in spades, that it was all convention.

Good! said the middlebrow reading public and their marketing pimps. What's new? Fiction is stuff we make up. Wow! What a revelation! So let's enjoy it, eh?... and make some money while we're at it!

But "fiction" ... at least since Cervantes... has never, not for those who wrote it, not for the artists and dramatists, been nothing more than bread and circuses... it was always an attempt to ... how do we say this now? evoke? represent? To break past the conventions we've seen through and used up, and offer something closer to the world as we experience it.

The analogy with science is not frivolous... writers, artists, poets.. are no less concerned with the "real" than sub-particle physicists. This is a tradition that goes back to the beginning of everything we now recognize as art and literature.

Science and its discoveries pose problems for us, for established constructions of our habitable world, and artists, in foregrounding the conflicts between old and new ideas, are not defenders of the old, but REALISTS, even when, as individuals, they might want to return to an earlier age (I'm thinking of Dostoevsky). This is what we have to confront!

We seem to have retreated into a profoundly conservative--nay, reactionary age.

Reviewers and critics in the popular realm don't ask: what does this tell us about our altered assumptions of what is "real?" They compare literary representation with their own, conservative, received, unexamined notions of reality...and find that what they read doesn't match!

Lo and behold! It must be the writer... who doesn't know how to construct a nice conservative, make-me-feel-good sentence, who is at fault.

Never does the question occur: is what I'm reading representing a reality I would rather not acknowledge?

As a writer... reality is my chief concern. It's why I write.

In a sense, I think ALL writers, all artists, are "realists." The question is, then... who has it right for our time?

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