Volume 73, Issue 3 | September 2012

Special Issue: Peripheral Realisms

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Joe Cleary Realism after Modernism and the Literary World System
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Jed Esty and Colleen Lye Peripheral Realisms Now
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Mendicino Kristina Realism, Reception, 1968, and West Africa  
This essay traces the critical history of African novels; it aligns “postcolonial reading” with the rise of poststructuralism in the United States and the United Kingdom. It correctively reads for realism three novels, all published in 1968 and not usually considered mimetic: Le devoir de violence (Mali), Les soleils des indépendances (Côte d’Ivoire), and The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (Ghana). Only Devoir has been particularly important to the conversation about postcolonial literature and form, thanks to Kwame Anthony Appiah. Andrade’s first claim is that the relation of African novels to realism is not simply naïve. What happens when readers shift their attention away from the question of resistance that has so defined the field and ask instead: How does the novel produce its effects? Where does realism lie in this constellation of aesthetics and politics? Andrade’s second claim involves periodization and uneven development. The events that produced the 1968 social explosions in the global North are bound up with the earlier liberation movements of the global South. Thus the global South’s 1968, partially reflected in these novels, offers a perspective on the neoliberalism of the global North’s 1980s.
Simon Gikandi Realism, Romance, and the Problem of African Literary History  
The argument of this essay is that colonized writers, always limited by their conditions of production as citizens and subjects, had no choice but to deploy inherited European forms in their own literary projects. Using the example of some foundational African novels, Gikandi contends that what might seem conceptual separations (romance/realism or realism/modernism) were complicated by the terms of the colonial cultural and literary relationship itself — by the encounter between forms codified in Europe and the incomplete colonial project. Colonized writers needed an aesthetic ideology that would affirm the lived experience of the colonized while also questioning the language of a literary canon closely associated with the culture of colonialism and with colonialist notions about progress, time, and subjectivity. The challenge of early African writers such as Thomas Mofolo and Sol Plaatje was to produce a literature with an African referent in a language that deconstructed the mimetic contract as one of the operating signatures of colonial governmentality. In their literary ideologies and formal preferences, these writers did not consider romance, realism, and modernism separate categories. Rather, these categories constituted different ways of thinking about time, place, and identity.
Toral Jatin Gajarawala The Casteized Consciousness: Literary Realism and the Politics of Particularism  
A product of the last two decades, Dalit (“untouchable caste”) literature in Hindi has fashioned itself as a modern protest literature, drawing on the cultural and political traditions of other Indian languages and literatures. But Hindi Dalit literature is unique in that its fictional movement against casteism, atrocity, and historical elision has effectively embraced the ideologies of realism while developing a strident critique of modernist aesthetics. This essay deconstructs that realist turn by tracing it through the question of caste. Gajarawala reads the present embrace of an aesthetics and politics of realism via the seminal text on caste, Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935), which sets a literary precedent for the representation of untouchability. In it modernist form allows for a particular reading of untouchability; through the abstractions of both Marxism and metaphor, untouchability becomes a universalized condition of subjection, and the goal is the production of political consciousness. Contemporary Hindi Dalit texts, however, deny the very category of the universal and insist on consciousness as a given; they do so by relying on the metonymic modes of the realist. Thus realism offers a putative solution to the problem of casteist assertion in the cultural sphere.
Sharae Deckard Peripheral Realism, Millennial Capitalism, and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666  
In Roberto Bolaño’s posthumous magnum opus, 2666, a type of peripheral realism in which realist aesthetics are impurely intermingled with the irreal is crucial to the novel’s registration of the uneven structural relations of capitalist modernity. This essay explores three layers of the novel’s conception of reality in the Mexican borderlands: first, the Ciudad Juárez femicides as objects of representation; second, the economic conditions underlying the systemic violence perpetrated against female maquiladora workers and the rift between labor and capital; and third, the relation of art to ideology and reality and the artist’s problematic role in representing either the murders or their structural causes. Deckard argues that 2666 is a “world-system novel” that reformulates realist aesthetics to interrogate the ideological nature of art and the limits of realism while encoding the conditions of millennial capitalism in the semiperiphery.
Clair Wills Realism and the Irish Immigrant: Documentary, Fiction, and Post-War Irish Labor  
Irish realism of the 1960s has often been interpreted as a continuation and rejuvenation of the tradition of Irish naturalism, particularly in its concern to undermine the perceived romanticism of revivalist myths in postindependence Ireland. While Irish realist social critique was indeed an important strand of 1960s fiction, especially in the work of John McGahern, this essay argues that it was cross-fertilized by other realist narrative modes, including British documentary writing of the 1950s and 1960s. The Irish New Wave, however, differs in important respects from its British counterpart. Irish fiction registers the ambiguous class position of the Irish in Britain, and narrative strategies common to working-class realist texts, such as the delineation of the relationship between place and community and the representation of social mobility, proved inadequate for articulating lives lived within the Irish community in Britain. Focusing on the figure of the male laborer as represented in contemporary sociological texts and in the work of Donall Mac Amhlaigh and Tom Murphy, the essay examines the development of contrasting narratives of class and community informed both by traditional Irish discourses of emigration and by newly emergent documentary realism.
Petrus Liu The Peripheral Realism of Two Chinas  
Reconstructing modernist fiction from 1970s Taiwan as a critical realism, this essay proposes that the historical creation of two Chinas (the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China) provided a formative stage for vibrant literary ruminations on the dissonance between women’s subjectivities and rapid economic modernization. Time and again, characters from this body of literature ask what it means to be part of a spatially and temporally fragmented world as they embody and engage capitalism’s social contradictions. Instead of signifying a coherent nation, location, or people, “China” in this peripheral realism represents the experiential schism between cultural identity and global commodification. Reading Xiao Sa’s novel Song of Dreams as a narrative about the social life of commodities in this context, Liu explores realism’s capacity for diagnosing the transformation of human sociality and connectedness under intense economic modernization.
Yoon Sun Lee Type, Totality, and the Realism of Asian American Literature  
This essay examines how the concept of realism applies to minor literature by retrieving and expanding Georg Lukács’s understanding of realism as the deliberate negation of modernism. In Lukács’s view, realism distinctively expresses an aspiration to totality. Its most important device is typicality, which claims to broaden the significance of what might seem merely particular. This definition of realism illuminates two pioneering works of Asian American literature. Jade Snow Wong and Maxine Hong Kingston, despite their many differences, both engage in the realist project of overcoming reified particulars. They invent techniques to mediate and thereby to connect isolated acts, events, and persons to a total context of social life.
Sanjay Krishnan V. S. Naipaul and Historical Derangement  
The consensus that the postcolonial writer must be on the side of the oppressed prevents critics from grasping the original ways in which V. S. Naipaul’s untypical writings are attuned to the historical predicament of the periphery. Naipaul’s premise is that subjects in the periphery are shaped by complex pasts that they are not well placed to comprehend. For historical reasons, peripheral societies lack the institutions and practices required for an adequate grasp of modernity’s profoundly disruptive effects. The globalizing forms of colonialism and capitalism diverted the social trajectories of the peasant formations of the precapitalist world. According to Naipaul, these deranging effects are precisely what the peripheral artist excavates. Writers born of this historical milieu must, in his view, also note how their work partakes of the order it describes. Those who explore their formation in this way may discover new ways of seeing the affiliations between subjected parts of the world. In this light, derangement also assumes a productive force: it makes available new perspectives derived from shared but diverse expressions of peripheral historicity. The fundamental significance of Naipaul’s writing lies in its inauguration of a style of peripheral reflection.
Theo D'haen On Failing to Make the Past Present  
A good deal of recent scholarship into the slave past proclaims that the past’s political significance resides in its continuity with our present, finding both ethical moment and critical motivation in a recovery imperative that seeks to continue, reanimate, or complete the political projects of those who were defeated by history. This ethic of recovery has at times gone by the name “melancholy historicism,” and its paragon text has been Toni Morrison’s Beloved. This essay questions whether recovery predicated on such assumptions is the only way to either have or do slave history, and it ponders the possibility that the unforthcomingness of the past may be the fount of its deepest political (if not human) significance. The essay seeks to make the case for the writing of a history of discontinuity, the model for which is again provided by Morrison, in A Mercy, which by way of its ungenial textual effects expresses the author’s apparent turn away from the affective history project she earlier so capably inspired.
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Fredric Jameson Antinomies of the Realism-Modernism Debate

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