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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 Six Conclusion: Realism in the Valley of Its Saying

Extract

Why does realism need defending again? The sense that this might be an exhausted or spent form, that realism’s ef fects may in time reveal them- selves to be little more than shams and confidence tricks, is not a new one and, if Eagleton is right that realism ‘has proved perhaps the most resilient cultural form in Western history’1 this resilience has been followed by a nagging sense of doubt and disbelief. This book has, through its readings of particular realisms and particular achievements of realist literary practice, made a case for how we might find the form of use in the era of globalisation but, in conclusion, it is worth reminding ourselves how the very process of defence itself acknowledges that there is a case to answer. Most of the objections to realism encountered so far have been varia- tions on the theme of scale. From Jameson’s suggestion that globalisation may find the form ‘exhausted’ to worries about the unrepresentability of the globalised and postmodern city, realism’s critics see its defeat in the enormity of the world system. But anxieties about size and the dizzying speed of social transformation have been with artistic production since capitalism’s inception and, when we remember the famous railway scene from Dombey and Son or the Parisian crowd of Baudelaire, size seems all at once much more a challenge to contemporary realism than its negation. Besides, it is not as if the modes of production immediately before our own were aesthetically problem-free. As Brecht...

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