This essay consists in an extended gloss on Balzac's paradoxical claim that "All is true." Author and audience (figured as guide and mentor, degraded avatars of Virgil and Dante), descend into a merely material underworld constructed as an illusion of depth upon the flat field of the text. A symbol of Balzac's art appears as a trompe l'œil arch over a plaster figure of Eros. The allegory of "realism" proceeds from a low-mimetic temptation scene to the Diorama as model of the factitious 'reality' shared by artist and spectator and to the materialist reduction of Shakespeare's tragedy into a Lear-orama. Balzac's tragedy manqué lacks a Cordelia, representing reality's third dimension or the apex of the triangle identified in Louis Lambert as symbol of transcendence. In the end Rastignac, Bildungsroman hero, confronts the mere panorama of Paris and resumes the trompe l'œil "descent."


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pp. 18-34
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