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FIVE ON THE REALISM/NATURALISM DISTINCTION S O M E A R C H A E O L O G I C A L C O N S I D E R A T I O N S T HERE SEEMS TO BE general agreement among literary historians that something like a “crisis of representation” afflicts realism during the last few decades of the nineteenth century, and that modernism—understood variously as “going-beyond-representation ,”beginningwithatextratherthananintention,oraturning inward of narrative—ultimately emerges to supplant the worn-out representational practices of Balzac, Flaubert, Eliot, Dickens, Turgenev ,et al. Like all simple stories, this one has its attractions: it is easy to follow, offering only two protagonists, a dramatic break with the past, and clear winners and losers. Moreover, it points to a certain generalhistoricalpatternofchangethatunarguablydidoccur,atleast inthesensethatmodernismandrealismdoconstitutedistinctliterary practices. But as an historical narrative, it is woefully inadequate, ignoring as it does a whole range of literary practices that lived (and in somecasesdied)intheinterim:sensationfiction,naturalism,detective fiction, science fiction, the fiction of empire, and so on. In what amounts to a case of literary critical ecmnesia, the work of writers like Collins,Zola,ConanDoyle,Verne,Kipling,Stevenson,Huysmans,and Wilde simply vanishes within this foreshortened literary-historical perspective. Part of the problem, as I suggest in previous chapters, lies in the analytic instruments that literary critics use to define such generic termsasrealismandmodernism.Representationistoobroadandcrude a notion to adequately describe the work realists perform; one could hardlyexpectit topermitonetodiscriminatebetween realismand all these other literary practices that are neither quite realistic nor modernist ,muchlesstoofferanhistoricalexplanationfortheevolutionof so-called “transitional” genres. If, on the other hand, an analytics of discourse helps to clarify the nature and nuances of realism itself, it also might help both to specify and to account in historical terms for the differences between realism and these other genres. The genres posing the most serious difficulties are those that seem at first glance closest to realism: naturalism and detective fiction. In each case, one can recognize at least the rudiments of realism—an es- O N THE REALISM⁄NATURA LISM DIST INCT IO N 121 chewingofsupernaturalexplanation,anappealtoscientificstandards of truth, a reliance on empirical detail. One way to test the value of rethinking literary history in discursive terms, then, is to probe the representational practices of these two quasi-realistic genres more closely, to see if, how,and why the assumptions so central to realism— themedicalizednotionsofknowledge,truth,andauthority—mightbe redeployed,subordinatedtootherconcerns,abandoned,orcriticized in these other literary forms. A little more than kin, and less than kind, naturalism—and in particular the work of Emile Zola—has long been felt to constitute a departure , in one way or another, from the achievement of Balzac, Stendhal,Eliot,Dickens,andFlaubert.Buteventhoseliterary historians of realism who most vehemently assert the distinction have found it difficult to pin down. I am thinking here of the powerful and sustained classical Marxist attack on naturalism mounted by Georg Lukács, as well as the recent effort by Fredric Jameson to renew this attackinamoreup-to-dateformalvocabulary.ForLukács,naturalism involves the displacement of realism’s vision of “the complete human personality,” “the type,” by a view of man as a “lifeless average,” a “grey statistical mean.”1 Jameson argues similarly that the shift from the“firstgreatrealisms”to“‘high’realismandnaturalism”( Jameson’s quotation marks implying that, for him, such late-blooming realism actuallyconstitutesadegenerationratherthanaculmination)entails a “gradual reification of realism,” although for Jameson this reification stems from “a perfected narrative apparatus” rather than a submergence of subjectivity as in Lukács.2 Lukács’s and Jameson’s desire to enforce a distinction between realism and naturalism could hardly be clearer. And yet, as Jameson’s conjunction linking “high” realism with naturalism and his use of the term gradual indicate, he has difficulty pinpointing the liminal moment when organic realism decomposes into reified naturalism. For Lukács as well, the moment when reification ceases to be a merely local condition and metastasizes throughthesocialandliterarymetabolismishazy;realismturnsoutto shade into naturalism, with some writers (most notoriously Flaubert) falling into a gray area that makes them particularly difficult for Lukács to categorize and evaluate.3 In view of these uncomfortable slippages even within the discourse ofthosemostinsistentonmaintainingthedistinctionbetweenrealism andnaturalism,it ishardlysurprising that new historicist criticsofthe nineteenth-century novel aggressively, even exuberantly, ignore the distinction altogether. Both Mark Seltzer and D. A. Miller, for example ,haveofferedimportantretellingsofliterary historyinwhichwhat Miller calls “the very practice of novelistic representation” subsumes 122 FIVE all generic differences only to be subsumed in its turn by the policing power that...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400820689
Related ISBN
9780691029542
MARC Record
OCLC
179077097
Pages
252
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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