Notes toward a Critical Realism

This is from a post I left on my old blog in 2009–a review of Alice Monro’s Some Women. Reposting for the introduction.

No artist tolerates reality.” says Nietzsche. That is true, but no artist can get along without reality. Artistic creation is a demand for unity and rejection of the world. But it rejects the world in the name of what it lacks and in the name of what it sometimes is.
Camus, The Rebel

When I first read this, I noticed an ambiguity in the English translation which I assumed would not exist in the French. As the likely pronominal antecedents (une exigence, and le monde) are of different genders, it would be clear in French that the first refers to ‘artistic creation,’ or rather, its ‘demand,’ and the next two, to ‘the world.’ But {this demand) rejects the world in the name of what ( the world) lacks and in the name of what (the world) sometimes is. However, I find that there is something to be said for the ambiguity and for the creative misreading it allows. If we understand ‘world’ and ‘reality’ as synonymous (as Camus apparently does here), make ‘artistic creation’ the subject and turn ‘demand’ into a verb with ‘writer’ as its object, we will have pregnant formulation of the problematic of realism and representation. .

Artistic creation demands of the writer
that he/she reject reality
for what it lacks
and for what it sometimes is.

To this I would add, that artistic mimesis, what we think of as ‘representation,’ the very possibility of artistic realism, arises out of an encounter with what reality ‘lacks.’ What constitutes realism–what any work of art represents ( pictorial, dramatic, literary, musical) is not ‘reality,” but its ‘lack,’ the artist’s endeavor to complete reality, to make real what was not…to give to Airy Nothing a Local Habitation and a Name. Which means the distinction between ‘realism’ and whatever name you would give to its antithesis, is false. There can be no distinction, and any criticism over-determined by the assumption that there is, will fail in its encounter with the work. With this in mind, let me turn–or return to, the story I’ve set out to review.
In an EARLIER POST, I wrote that writing:
is a process of negotiation with the material at hand and every act, each engagement with that material translates both material and intention. … because the author’s intentions have been in a continuous process of translation along with the writing as it evolves, what existed in the beginning, and at every point to the completion of the work, is a continuum of difference that moves both forward and back.
We can’t recover the process or recreate the stages as they evolved in the continuing encounter, but I believe we can identify imprints of that encounter, evidence of the reality which shaped the elements of the writing as it emerges in its final form.
————

Link to the review, in 3 parts, H E R E

 

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