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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 Five Maurice Gee’s Marginal Realism

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Is my life experience or spectacle? — Sole Survivor1 I am still prone to symbolic acts. — Meg2 Maurice Gee’s Plumb trilogy displays so many of what are the generally accepted nervous tics and personality traits of the realist work that inter- pretation and explanation seem, at first, both gratuitous and redundant. When the objects of analysis themselves gesture so frantically towards significant features of history, labour at producing representations of well- rounded and believable characters engaged in lives expressing ‘typicality’ for their historic periods, and when the triple narratives all concern them- selves with personal growth and development of figures who, ‘sadder but wiser’, ref lect on their state in the world, critical argument about the tril- ogy’s realist status or importance threatens to turn itself into mere dreary repetition and rewriting of the books themselves. When a critic as eminent as Robert Scholes can announce, over a generation ago now, that ‘realism is dead’,3 one is tempted to point to the Plumb trilogy and, like Johnson kicking the stone, refute him thus. 1 Maurice Gee, Sole Survivor (London: Faber, 1983), p. 180. 2 Maurice Gee, Meg (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), p. 41. 3 Robert Scholes, Structural Fabulation: An Essay on the Fiction of the Future (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), p. 7. 186 Chapter Five On any second reading, however, this too-ready identification and mutual confirmation of analysis and object transforms itself from an advan- tage into a critical problem or dilemma of a quite serious kind....

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