Surrealpolitik: Realism and Power: Postmodern British Fiction

Author: Alison Lee

London: Routledge (1990)

Quick Summary

A study of the subversion of realism from within in postmodern British fiction.


There are 12 quotes currently associated with this book.

For the purposes of this study, limited to the literary conventions (and their ideological implications) which were developed in nineteenth-century England and France as a formula for the literal transcription of "reality" into art. (page ix)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Postmodernism, Realism]
The point of this is that if "the factual side of literature becomes unreliable, then ploys such as irony and fantasy become much harder to use" [note: quote from Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot, p. 77]. In other words, the literariness of the text is dependent upon the veracity of the facts.

Interestingly, the novel as a whole plays with precisely this notion. Braithwaite accumulates a vast amount of information about Flaubert, but this knowledge only makes him Flaubert's parrot. For Felicity in Un coeur simple, the parrot Loulou has mystical, religious connotations. Find the "real" parrot, however, will not give Braithwaite any mystical insight into either Flaubert or his fiction. The facts do not lead, as he hopes they will, to truth. (page 2-3)
Tags: [Postmodernism, Realism]
Flaubert's Parrot uses the Realist convention of historical documentation in order to give the novel an illusion of reality. It does, after all, contain references to real people -- Gustave Flaubert, Enid Starkie, Christopher Ricks -- and places -- Rouen, Trouville, Croisset. That these people exist or existed is verifiable in the "Ricksian" sense. However, they exist in the novel not as objective facts, but as determined by the fictional Braithwaite's perception of them. Indeed, they become fictional constructs, both because of this, and because they are framed within the covers of a novel. Through metafictional techniques the novel creates levels of fiction and "reality" and questions the Realist assumption that truth and reality are absolutes. Flaubert's Parrot is typical of contemporary metafictional texts in that, while it challenges Realist conventions, it does so, paradoxically, from within precisely those same conventions. Metafiction often contains its own criticism, and the novels which play with Realist codes criticize, as this one does, their own use of them. More generally, they call into question the basic suppositions made popular by nineteenth-century Realism. (page 3)
Tags: [Postmodernism, Realism]
The theoretical premise of Realism is that art should eschew the "idealist metaphysics" (Becker 1963: 6) of Romanticism, and portray instead "things as they really are, in the sense of portraying objectively and concretely the observable details of actual life" (Kaminsky 1974: 217). This apparently simple dictate creates such innumerable difficulties that it has become a commonplace that Realism is one of the most problematic of terms. one of the major problems is that the Realists appear to have wanted to create a formula for the literal transcription of reality into art. This very premise is contradictory since, as soon as there exists a frame for reality, anything that is within that frame ceases to be "reality" and becomes artifact. (page 5)
Tags: [Realism]
Plato's reasons for his mistrust of the poet are social rather than aesthetic, and nineteenth-century Realism tends to be closer to Aristotelian mimesis than Platonic imitation. However, Plato's mistrust of literature as a form of lying is echoed in the nineteenth century, and is related to the Realist and Naturalist desire to make literature conform to so-called "neutral" scientific laws and "objective" historical documentation. (page 6)
Tags: [Realism]
It is a common Realist sentiment that fiction is to be mistrusted unless it pretends to be something else. (page 11)
Tags: [Lead Quote Candidate, Realism]
Several now untenable assumptions are clear, here. The first of these is that "empirical reality" is objectively observable through pure perception. The second is that there can exist a direct transcription from "reality" to novel. Implicit in this is the idea that language is transparent, that "reality" creates language and not the reverse...Finally, there is the notion that there is a common, shared sense of both "reality" and "truth." (page 12)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Postmodernism, Realism]
Saussure's emphasis, then, is on the constructedness of meaning. Linguistic structures determine our perception of reality so that meaning cannot exist independently of language. Stendhal's description of the novel as a mirror walking down the road is insight of this, in adequate because it assumes that "ready-made ideas exist before words" (Saussure 1915: 65). Instead, structuralists argue, "our knowledge of things is insensibly structured by the systems of code and convention which alone enable us to classify and organize the chaotic flow of experience" (Norris 1982: 4). Literature in structuralist terms can no longer be seen as a natural emanation from a mysteriously inspired, moral mind. Indeed, the gain of structuralist theory is the demystification of literature as an especially privileged discourse since structures, codes, and conventions are found just as much in literature as in Literature (see Eagleton 1983: 106-7). (page 21)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Truth & Real, Postmodernism, Realism]
Critics such as Catherine Belsey, Terry Eagleton, and Edward Said see Realism as a tool of ideological control, precisely because it pretends to be normal and neutral. (page 27)
Tags: [Realism]
The godgame played in The Magus consists of a series of frames which are repeatedly established and broken. This framebreaking, as Brian McHale points out, presents us with a series of illusions of "reality:" "Intended to establish an absolute level of reality, it paradoxically relativizes reality; intended to provide an ontologically stable foothold, it only destabilizes ontology further" (1987: 197). This is a more than apt description of the effects of Maurice Conchis' "metatheatre" in the novel, a theatre designed "to allow participants to see through their first roles in it" (Fowles 1977b: 408-9). (page 88)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Postmodernism, Realism]
[Re The Magus] However, this most convincing role also proves to be an illusion. At the end of Conchis' godgame Nicholas is abducted and subjected to a ritual "disintoxication." Here, he is faced with thirteen psychiatrists and psychologists, the apparent perpetrators of the "metatheatre." Amon them is Dr Vanessa Maxwell whom Nicholas recognizes as Lily/Julie. This is the last role, and although Nicholas discovers that it is yet another performance, he cannot now discover the "truth," even though he is allowed to meet the twins' real mother. On her, he heaps his anger that the "metatheatre" is anti-mimetic.

Each of these roles leads Nicholas closer to what he thinks is "reality," yet each is an undercutting of the notion of an absolute "reality." Each is an affirmation of relativity. Nicholas' response to this is to adopt the role of Realist reader. Back in London he seeks correspondence between the events at Bourani and "reality." Conchis has warned him that "all here is artifice", but Nicholas cannot accept that Conchis' masque is neither mimetic nor expressive (in the traditional interpretive senses). (page 91)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Postmodernism, Realism]
When, in the second chapter [of The Magus], "the mysteries" begin, the reader is encouraged to "identify" with Nicholas as the only constant. Yet this too is made problematic because of the fluidity of characters' roles, as well as by the repetitions of and insistence on ideas about acting, staging, costumes, and performances. Nicholas is, after all, also a character in the metatheatre. In the final chapter, Nicholas arrives back in London. The apparent end of Conchis' masque proves to have been yet another performance, however, and the theatre continues even off the delineated "stage" at Bourani. Nicholas is still subjected to stage-managed moments even in the safety of his own familiar "reality." Appropriately enough, then, this last chapter is a frame with only three sides, giving the illusion that the theatre can spill out into the reader's world as well. (page 92)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Postmodernism, Realism]