Rok Benčin: The Redundant Realities of Realism

Can realism get too close to reality? In “Narrate or Describe”, Georg Lukács, the great advocator of literary realism against modernism’s formal experimentation, identifies a deviation within realism itself.
Zola’s and Flaubert’s detailed descriptions of insignificant objects disrupt the narrative arc, which alone is capable of adequately representing social totality in the grasp of history. Getting too close to objects paradoxically entails a disintegration of representation. Today, Lukács’s essay finds its reverse mirror image in Jacques Rancière’s recent writings on literature, in which realist descriptions are affirmed precisely in their ability to resist narrative structures and the representational order they impose by releasing the sensible and affective singularities that imply another kind of temporal linkage.
What is at stake, according to Rancière, are fundamental differences in fictional structures that produce our sense of reality. The lecture will follow the twists and turns of understanding realist writing’s relation to the object (form Lukács to Rancière via Roland Barthes and Fredric Jameson), tracing its aesthetical as well as ontological assumptions and implications.
Rok Benčin