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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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Chapter One Introduction: Only Connect? Globalisation and the Problem of Realism


When the problem of connecting isolated phenomena has become a problem of categories, by the same dialectical process every problem of categories becomes transformed into a historical problem. Though it should be stressed: it is transformed into a problem of universal history which now appears … simultaneously as a problem of method and a problem of our knowledge of the present. — Lukács, History and Class Consciousness1 It is now time to reconnect. — David Harvey, Spaces of Hope2 Thirty years ago, writing some ‘Ref lections in Conclusion’ to the publica- tion of a selection of the polemical debates between Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht and Lukács, Fredric Jameson issued a remarkable program- matic call for the formation of a new realist project. Reviewing the debates within the Marxisms of the 1930s, Jameson noted all manner of political and aesthetic concerns re-emerging in the then-contemporary moment of the 1970s. ‘Nowhere has this “return of the repressed” been more dra- matic’, he writes, ‘than in the aesthetic conf lict between “Realism” and “Modernism”, whose navigation and renegotiation is still unavoidable for 1 Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (1923; London: Merlin, 1971), p. 186. 2 David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p. 16. 2 Chapter One us today, even though we may feel that each position is in some sense right and yet that neither is any longer wholly acceptable’.3 Whereas modernism’s great innovations for ‘making strange’ and coming to terms...

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