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what is realism, 1

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Lydia Davis in her foreword to the new collection of Lucia Berlin’s short stories:

A description can start out romantic – “the parroquia in Veracruz, palm trees, lanterns in the moonlight” – but the romanticism is cut, as in real life, by the realistic Flaubertian detail, so sharply observed by her: “dogs and cats among the dancers’ polished shoes.” A writer’s embrace of the world is all the more evident when she sees the ordinary along with the extraordinary, the commonplace or the ugly along with the beautiful.

Berlin’s animals seem to me to be more a matter of painterly than “Flaubertian” realism. Think of all the animals going about their animal-business at the feet of the humans involved in climactic events in Renaissance paintings.

Jean Gossart, active 1508; died 1532 The Adoration of the Kings 1510-15 Oil on oak, 179.8 × 163.2 cm Bought with a special grant and contributions from The Art Fund, Lord Glenconner, Lord Iveagh and Alfred de Rothschild, 1911 NG2790 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG2790

But I do like Davis’s general notion as a starting place: realism is that which undercuts the romantic, the lyrical, the sensational. It’s the worry that you’ve left the kettle on during the climactic meeting, the crying child in the buggy during the hushed but pivotal marital conversation, the iPhone buzzing in the middle of fantastic sex.

Written by adswithoutproducts

September 27, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Posted in flaubert, realism

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  1. […] 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 […]


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