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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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2. Sandy Petrey’s Unacknowledged Contribution to Historical Materialism

Introduction: Let Them Eat Realist Cake



The title of this essay, appreciating the work of Sandy Petrey, may seem overreaching and dogmatic. Marxists often get accused of distorting facts and justifying the theories they find. Indeed, the first essay Sandy read of mine in my first semester of graduate work elicited a comment I will never forget: “In your attempt to be historical and materialist you come perilously close to being neither.” Clearly the following intended tribute to Petrey’s work and placement of his theoretical contributions within an intellectual tradition (Marxism) that Petrey does not claim may get taken in this manner. Petrey explicitly situates his theoretical lineage within the speech-act theory of J.L. Austin and his famous work, How to Do Things with Words. Speech-act theory and Marxism never, to my knowledge, have been confused—for logical reasons. Austin’s work suggests truth claims derive from the functioning of language, which seems far from the materialist or Marxist assertion that truth derives from objective material life shaped by existing social conditions.

Austin, in my extremely simplified account, distinguishes himself from other varieties of what is called “the linguistic turn” in that he offers a distinction between statements he terms “constatives,” which purport to describe the world, and those phrases termed “performatives,” which act upon the world.1 Austin stresses that when statements seem to describe the world, such as a lovers’ vow, they actually perform an action. Austin points out that much logical and conceptual confusion derives from mistaking...

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