Rene Wellek Concept Realism Literary Scholarship
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Recent critical thought has begun to recognize realist fiction as a transnational medium that responds to capitalist permutations across time and space and, in doing so, is shot through with aesthetic possibility. The essays in this special issue reject the reflex to prejudge realist art based on dated assumptions about the European novel. They expand the category of realism to include examples from the realisms of late Victorian theater; postcolonial fiction from African, Egyptian, and Indian milieus; and photojournalistic experiments wrought in response to revolution in Latin America. What is constant throughout this collection is an insistence on realism's aesthetic flexibility, historical variability, and irreducibility to any single genre, period, technique, or national project. Realist art is both constitutively worlded (in taking the material world for its premise) and worlding (in making new ways of seeing, knowing, thinking, and being palpable to those worlds). After providing a brief survey of realism's critical reception and some postulates for future scholarship, this introduction lays out the arc of the special issue.
Realism, however, signifies differently in the discourse surrounding nonliterary media than in the history of the novel. In film criticism, for example, realism is often a valorized category against which nonrealist genres such as melodrama have required recuperation. On this point, see Rushing, for example.
Mimesis focused on changing conceptions ofrealityas they are reflected in literary history. Auerbach'spoint of view constantly moves between the content and analysis ofthe language and suchquestions as the difference between the high and low style. The word"mimesis" has almost the same meaning as "mime," but is broadlytranslated as "imitation." Auerbach starts from Homer and continuesthrought the texts of Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, etc. ending withsuch writers as Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf. Often he firstfocuses on stylistic analysis and interpretations of meaning, and fromthese comments he moves to broader observations on social history andculture. Although Auerbach analyzes writers' attitudes toward reality,he does not rush to give the reader his own definition of the concept"realism." Auerbach's idea is to approach the subject from differentangles, through writers and a selection of excerpts from widevariety of texts, mostly from France and Italy. From Scandinavianwriters Ibsen is settled with a few sentences and about Russian realismAuerbach writes: "...remembering it came into its own only during thenineteenth century and indeed only during the second half of it, wecannot escape the observation that it is based on a Christian andtraditionally patriarchal concept of the creatural dignity of everyhuman being regardless of social rank and position, and hence that itis fundamentally related to old-Christian than to modern occidentalrealism. The enlightened, active bourgeoisie, with its assumption ofeconomic and intellectual leadership, which everywhere else underlaymodern culture in general and modern realism in particular, seems tohave scarcely existed in Russia."
According to Eichenbaum, Shklovsky was the lead critic of the group, and Shklovsky contributed two of their most well-known concepts: defamiliarization (ostraneniye, more literally, 'estrangement') and the plot/story distinction (syuzhet/fabula). "Defamiliarization" is one of the crucial ways in which literary language distinguishes itself from ordinary, communicative language, and is a feature of how art in general works, namely by presenting the world in a strange and new way that allows us to see things differently. Innovation in literary history is, according to Shklovsky, partly a matter of finding new techniques of defamiliarization. The plot/story distinction separates out the sequence of events the work relates (the story) from the sequence in which those events are presented in the work (the plot). Both of these concepts are attempts to describe the significance of the form of a literary work in order to define its "literariness." For the Russian Formalists as a whole, form is what makes something art to begin with, so in order to understand a work of art as a work of art (rather than as an ornamented communicative act) one must focus on its form.
Shklovsky was a founding member of the Society for the Study of Poetic Language, one of the two schools of Russian Formalism. His most important works include the concept of defamiliarization and his discussion of plot/story in literature. In his essay "Art as Technique" (1917), Shkolvsky introduced "defamiliarization", a concept that became a cornerstone in formalist literary theory. He is also known for his ideas on plot/story. It is common for us to use the terms plot and story interchangeably but the formalists made an important distinction between the two. We'll talk more about these in detail below!
Jakobson was one of the members of the Moscow Linguistic Circle along with Viktor Shklovsky and Boris Eichenbaum In 1926, he established the Prague Linguistic Circle which laid the foundation for structuralism. In 1943, he fled Nazi occupation and co-founded the Linguistic Circle of New York in America. His most important contribution to formalism is the concept of literariness, which distinguished the poetic or literary language from normal discourse.
East West Mimesis follows the plight of German-Jewish humanists who escaped Nazi persecution by seeking exile in a Muslim-dominated society. Kader Konuk asks why philologists like Erich Auerbach found humanism at home in Istanbul at the very moment it was banished from Europe. She challenges the notion of exile as synonymous with intellectual isolation and shows the reciprocal effects of German émigrés on Turkey's humanist reform movement. By making literary critical concepts productive for our understanding of Turkish cultural history, the book provides a new approach to the study of East-West relations.
at the hands of the outcasts, the peasant criminals, and those men who show no promise of being redeemed. But in the infernal Dantesque geography of prison, Kabat asserts, Dostoevsky learned that human suffering is universal and, at times, though different in intensity, not unlike the Russian writer's own moral suffering. The implication is that this is the price he must pay for knowledge of the Russian soul. While not explicitly stated, it seems that what Kabat wishes to reveal is an awakening of Dostoevsky's imagination through suffering. Here he learns of the common Russian psyche. I say this because of Kabat's statement about the act of imagining: "Imagination grasps deep similarities. Ideology, on the other hand, posits differences a priori" (p. 75). It is unfortunate, however, that the writer uses no sources on imagination. He excludes some particularly fine works on his topic, such as William Lynch's "Christ and Apollo", "Images of Hope", and "Images of Faith". Of course, Sartre's study on "Imagination" as well as James Hillman's study on fantasy and imagination ("Revisioning Psychology", "The Myth of Analysis") would have been fundamental sources from which to draw support for his statements on imagination. As it stands, Kabat's distinction between imagination and ideology seems at times contrived.The second half of chapter 3 develops the idea that while any possibility of Europe achieving or even promoting a world harmony among men is slight, it is Russia's task, according to Dostoevsky, to unite mankind spiritually. For him, London and Paris are the two centers which reveal most clearly the modern "divided, alienated European man" (p. 84), while the Russian common man, uncorrupted by the glow of the Enlightenment, may in fact be able to recover Paradise.In chapter 4, "The Economics of Writing", Kabat centers on three separate concepts which weave together into a coherent meaning: 1. freedom from environment; 2. suffering, which promotes this freedom, and; 3. the act of writing. The "productivity of suffering" which Kabat assigns to Dostoevsky, leads him to suggest that there is a causal connecting principle between Dostoevsky's position as a writer, the subject matter of his fiction, and "his ability to represent processes which are transforming society" (pp. 106-07). The suggestion is that by way of suffering Dostoevsky is able to present in his fiction "an idealism which is more real than the realism of contemporary cultural critics. This chapter, while certainly informative, nevertheless seems to be the flattest and least inspired of the six. Nothing new is added to what one assumes students of Dostoevsky already know.The heart of Kabat's study is found in chapter 5, "Fantasy and Fiction". Its strength, no less than its interest, resides in the author's treatment of Dostoevsky's fiction directly. Especially informative are his insights into fantasy and its expression in three major novels. Because of my own interest in fantasy, especially in "The Idiot", however, I was disappointed to find that Kabat skips this important novel which treats so thoroughly this mode of consciousness. It left what he suggests of fantasy in "Crime and Punishment", "The Possessed", and "The Brothers Karamazov" incomplete. 158
Vladislav Krasnov. Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky. A Study in the Polyphonic Novel. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1980. 226 pp.The idea of tracing the Dostoevsky-Solzhenicyn relationship is a relevant and timely one. Even more praiseworthy is the attempt made in this book to apply Bakhtin's concept of Dostoevsky's polyphonic novel to Russia's latest Nobel prize winner. While most Western scholars were quick to note the "Tolstoy connection", it is by now quite obvious that Dostoevsky and Solzhenicyn have much more in common. Strangely enough, this realization seems to have coincided with a waning of interest in Solzhenicyn, at least among liberal Western intellectuals. And in this another similarity with Dostoevsky can be detected: while the importance of Dostoevsky the novelist continues unabated, his ideas are either neglected or dismissed as conservative, outdated and in general unacceptable. Lately the same fate has befallen Solzhenicyn.In his introductory chapter, Krasnov succinctly summarizes Bakhtin's observations on the polyphonic nature of the Dostoevskian novel. If Krasnov had continued to focus primarily on pointing out generic and structural affinities, his book might have turned out to have been wholly admirable. Although it is true that in both authors characters are "bearers of ideas", Krasnov's attempt to find similarities between these characters is an unhappy one. It seems pointless to compare Stalin with the Grand Inquisitor, Rubin with Ivan Karamazov, Nerzhin with Alesha, and Sologdin with Stavrogin (p. 12). Thus Stalin is described as an epigone of the Grand Inquisitor (he is perhaps closer to Shigalev). After all, the Grand Inquisitor is surrounded by a certain aura of Romantic grandeur, while Stalin is depicted as a lonely, doddering tyrant. Irony which is completely absent in the approach to the Grand Inquisitor is an important element in the depiction of the aging dictator.In general, lapses in pursuing these supposed character parallels in a consistent manner undercut the author's own conclusions. For example, Sologdin is at one point likened to Dmitrij Karamazov, and yet Stavrogin -to whom Sologdin is also compared - and Dmitrij Karamazov are poles apart. The statement that Dmitrij Karamazov and Sologdin "share such important traits as vitality, physical prowess, and attraction to women" (p. 88) is rather meaningless. It could easily fit numerous other literary characters as well, including Anatole Kuragin. The very attempt to link Sologdin and Stavrogin appears futile; the salient fact about Stavrogin is his destructiveness. Wittingly or unwittingly he causes the ruin not only of the women in his life but of some of the men too. Sologdin may be crafty and scheming, but contact with him is shown to have enriched Nerzhin's life. Equally unsatisfactory is Gleb Nerzhin's juxtaposition to Alesha Karamazov: Alesha is meek and submissive while Nerzhin is a fighter.Finally, Krasnov is quite inaccurate in quoting the two lines from Esenin's poem "Mne ostalas' odna zabava..." as "The white rose of truth will never160 2b1af7f3a8