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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 Three ‘Edging Back into Awareness’: Realisms of the Globalised City

Extract

The city is a key representational stimulus and dilemma for any modern aesthetic project. Not only do we live in far greater numbers in far larger cities than in any other period in human history, the experience of the city structures both the organisation and the lived experience of contemporary capitalism. ‘The bourgeoisie’, in the lyrical phrases of the Manifesto, ‘has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life’.1 The ‘rush’ of stimulation and chaos these enormous cities confront us with is, for Marshall Berman, a constitutive factor in modernity and modernism itself.2 James Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late and Kerstin Hensel’s Tanz am Kanal confront their readers with realist representations of those aspects of urban life too often neglected by the ideologists of neoliberalism and, crucially, they both use these representations to suggest patterns of political resistance in the modern city. How Late it Was, How Late follows Sammy Samuels, an out-of-work builder’s labourer, as he struggles to rebuild his life following the devastating results of a blinding beating from the police. Sammy’s struggle for survival allows Kelman not only to document the experience of bureaucracy, dilapidated public services and state repression which is so much of contemporary urban working-class life, but also of fers 1 MECW, 6: 488. My thoughts in this chapter take inspiration from David Harvey, Rebel Cities (London: Verso, 2012). 2...

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