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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 Two Methodological Problems of the Strike Novel: The Case of GB84

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And now, while the trees stand watching, still The unequal battle rages there. The killing beast that cannot kill Swells and swells in his fury till You’d almost think it was despair. — Edwin Muir, ‘The Combat’1 The strike as an event poses problems for both the realist author and their critic. As the key indicator of economic class power and, since Luxemburg at least, political potentiality, the strike figures as at once the most typi- cal – in the Lukácsian sense – of events and as the most uncommon and unusual. Presented too much as the determinate outcome of what are always a unique combination of contingencies, all of a sudden the strike seems a freak occasion, comparable to natural phenomena or genetic acci- dents, and the representation loses any force it might have had to shock with comments on present predicaments. But, presented too much as a typical outcome of the everyday, the strike loses its essential strangeness and sense of rupture, and the result is the propagandistic inauthenticity of the Zhdanovist. These dilemmas, stark enough for the historian, become more pronounced in the strike novel when the realist has to confront the challenges of allegory. If a novel needs to be written about the strike or 1 Edwin Muir, Complete Poems, ed. Peter Butter (Aberdeen: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1991), p. 171. 58 Chapter Two struggle at hand this implies that, on its own, the sheer force of history is inadequate. Allegory is suggested here, in the withdrawal...

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