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Realism and Its Vicissitudes

Essays in Honor of Sandy Petrey

Edited By Robert Harvey and Patrice Nganang

This collection honors the career of Donald «Sandy» Petrey, Professor of Comparative Literature at the State University of New York at Stony Brook for over forty years. The diversity of essays – written by colleagues, friends, and former students, and ranging in subject from the traditional Festschrift theme of the honoree’s compelling contributions to the study of realism and the novel’s role in history, to chapters on Susan Sontag’s experimental films, the thought of the late Marxist philosopher André Gorz, silence in the graphic novel, and linguistic disparities between American and Standard Italian – attests to the plasticity of Sandy Petrey’s mind and the ample indications of his work. Best-known (and well-loved) for his often gruff, no-nonsense style in teaching and prose, Petrey is celebrated by those whose careers and ideas he has helped to nurture, inform, and embolden. This collection is a fine text for courses in nineteenth-century as well as contemporary French studies and literature.
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1. The Present King of France Is Bald




Despite the fact that we came of age during a decades-long era dominated by something we would come to know as “literary theory,” I suspect that many of us who attended high school during the 1970s and 1980s headed into the business of reading, critiquing, and teaching literature because, to paraphrase Wayne Booth, we kept close company with fictional characters and their stories that made an indelible impression on us. Literature delighted and instructed us, thus fulfilling its ancient and classical charge, and we were both happy and quite likely equally satisfied with our investment in the books that occupied a privileged place on our shelves. Even during our undergraduate education, unless we ran into a very progressive professor or were among those who attended either an elite university or college, we were studying literature for the important things it could teach us about the human condition, and the emphasis of classroom pedagogy was invariably on what literature said about enduring aesthetic and philosophical values, themes and problems. We were thoughtful humanists, maybe even belletrists. We knew nothing else and were unaware that there was any other way to engage a literary text.

The challenge of graduate study in literature presented itself as something of an ultimatum. With the introduction of literary theory and criticism into the curricular landscape, resistance was futile. Confronted for the first time with the names Derrida, Foucault, de Man, Althusser, Lacan and their comrades in academia, we...

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