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Forecasts of the Past

Globalisation, History, Realism, Utopia

Dougal McNeill

Whatever happened to realism? What form is adequate to representing our moment, situated as we are after the end of ‘the end of History’? In the face of youth revolts and workers’ insurgencies from Cairo to London, it seems a good time to test the possibilities of alternative Marxist defences of contemporary realist fiction. Can realism’s techniques adequately represent the complexity of contemporary political organisation? This book reads key realist texts from recent decades in order to test their potential to produce the knowledge of history, industrial politics and the metropolis traditionally central to literary realism’s concerns. Positioning himself within and against the inspiration and models of Fredric Jameson’s literary theory, and drawing on innovative realist texts, the author seeks to draw the classic realism controversies of an earlier period in historical materialism into productive conversation with the debates framing the era of austerity.

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Preface: Whatever Happened to Realism?

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What form is adequate to our moment, situated as we are after the end of ‘the end of History’? Not so long ago Gabriel Josipovici asked what ever happened to modernism; amidst responses to the global financial crisis, and in the face of youth revolts and workers’ insurgencies from Cairo to London, it seems a good time to ask the same question of realism.1 This work takes issue with Fredric Jameson’s suggestion that contemporary science fiction is sending back ‘more reliable information’ about current political and economic organisation ‘than an exhausted realism’2 and it develops an alternative Marxist defence of contemporary realist fiction. Can realism’s techniques adequately represent the complexity of contemporary politi- cal organisation? Readings of key realist texts – by Pat Barker, Maurice Gee, Kerstin Hensel, James Kelman and David Peace – are deployed in what follows to test their potential to produce the knowledge of history, industrial politics and the metropolis traditionally central to literary real- ism’s concerns. The dark years of Thatcherism and its continuity, Europe’s various Blairisms and Third Ways, were also the years of the dominance of what Mark Fisher calls Capitalist Realism, variations on the banal theme that There Is No Alternative.3 Dissident voices, if heard at all, were estranged from Western readers by their allegiance to quite alien – and, the theorists of post-industrial society insisted, dated – moments. One old slogan with which to counter that particular historical condescension is la lotta continua, 1 See Gabriel Josipovici, Whatever Happened to Modernism? (New Haven: Yale University...

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