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what is realism, 1 (addendum)

with 3 comments

From (what was chosen to be) the first page of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spinecabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek. An arrow of starlings fired from the windbreak’s thatch. The glitter of dew that stays where it is and steams all day. A sunflower, four more, one bowed, and horses in the distance standing rigid and still as toys. All nodding. Electric sounds of insects at their business. Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects all business all the time. Quartz and chert and schist and chondrite iron scabs in granite. Very old land. Look around you. The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.

“Insects all business all the time.” The line breaks – in its brilliance, but a brilliance that comes of its impersonation of a cliché – the lyrically chanting list of “stuff in a field.” (One can almost see an inspirational poster made of the phrase, the drone ants lifting improbably [if relatively] enormous items in their eternal effort to keep calm and carry it on. A horrific poster in an Amazon fulfilment centre?)  It’s as if one part of realism (that Barthian effet de réel that comes of the mentioning of objects that serve no role in the plotward establishment of meaning) intersects with another notion of realism, the one mentioned in the post to which this one is an addendum – the deflationary mode, that which operates through the undercutting of lyricism, the bringing of things down to earth.

It’s an intersection like a minor car accident is an intersection, a comedic if jarring one. That’s what we sometimes forget about realism, perhaps, just how funny it is, is often meant to be. A higher form of comedy.

Written by adswithoutproducts

September 27, 2015 at 4:12 pm

Posted in dfw, realism

3 Responses

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  1. Very Perequienne, non? 🙂 I also imagine you gonna like Aira’s expatiating on the realism of Alladin, his lamp, etc:

    http://www.revistadossier.cl/el-realismo/

    antoniomarcospereira

    September 27, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    • Ah actually that’s very helpful….

      adswithoutproducts

      September 28, 2015 at 10:50 am

  2. “I’ve always thought of myself as a realist….The whole way that the world acts on my nerve endings is bound up with stuff that the guys with leather patches on their elbows would consider pop or trivial or ephemeral….but what I mean by it is nothing different than what other people mean in writing about trees….It’s just the texture of the world I live in.” (DFW in The Last Interview 9)
    So I read his “We are all of us brothers” as: we are all of us realists. And ragweed and vetch etc. as a middle finger to his grad school profs.

    Ben Jahn

    October 31, 2015 at 4:01 pm


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