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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

realism again

A wonderful thing about taking care of a 21 month old that might not look, on its face, like a wonderful thing, is the amount of app-less time the child’s care forces upon you.
Adam, at some point a month ago, changed his sleeping pattern. The 9 month old that got to bed at 7 p.m. and slept until 6 or 7 a.m. stopped working like a sleep machine. Now, it is around 8 p.m. that he gets to bed, and we have to stay with him until his breathing takes on a certain open mouthed regularity and the sound of the pacifier being tasted, taken out of the mouth, and reinserted ceases. While this activity, or hopefully, inactivity, is going on, we lay in the bed next to his crib. If we get up too soon, if we misjudge the breathing and the routine with the pacifier, if we try to escape from the nursery and get back to making dinner or watching a video prematurely, Adam turns on the waterworks.
Last Monday, this is just what I was doing. I didn’t have a light on or a tablet near by. I didn’t have a book or a piece of paper. The only app I had was the high window in Adam’s room, which frames a random portion of the sky. Although this portion of the sky does its best, no doubt, to be interesting, it isn’t, very. However, it does have one good trick: it turns, as though bruised, from a lighter blue to a clotted bluish purple in the hour between 8 and 8:30. And I, lying app-less on the bed with my head propped on the pillow, am in a good position to confirm the progress of the evening, the regress of the sunlight.
At this moment that I’ve been laboriously budging us towards in this fudge of words, I was not so much thinking of the physics of light but about realism. Again.  
To return to the thread I was pulling in a previous post about realism: I think that it is a mistake to connect realism to the real, as its distingushing characteristic. Rather, it is the real through the lens of the plausible, the credible. What constitutes the plausible or credible, in a society, is closely connected with the whole question of credit in every sense – economic, sociological, epistemological. To see realism as a narrative form – or rather, to see realism as making up the  kind of world in which narratives of plausibility exist – helps us to disconnect it from a defining opposition with, say, idealism, or romanticism.  
I’m concerned with fiction – so I thought, lying app-less. Adam was still not snoring.
But I am not saying that this is the only characteristic, am I? Connected to it is the fact that in these narratives, the world is “full”. The authorial voice can represent that fullness – as it does in Balzac or in Dickens. Or the authorial voice can be removed, and the world be given as full, as in Flaubert. It is no wonder that, so often, the pursuit that traverses these words is that of the borrower by the creditor. Credit is everywhere – or so it represents itself.
 Against this realism there is another world of narratives that are shot threw with the plausible. One could say that they are parasitic on realism in so far as the implausible effect requires some sense of the codes of realism. In these narratives, the assumption of the fullness of the world and the creditworthyness of the narrator suddenly snaps in the readers head, like a pencil.
For instance, the pencil which, having written the account of the barber who accidentally cut off the nose of one of his customers and found it in a roll baked by his wife, decides to get rid of the culpable probosis by taking it to a bridge and throwing it in the Neva – only to be wrapped in a fog both physical and textual:
“Ivan Yakovlevich turned pale.. But at this point everything became so completely enveloped in mist it is really impossible to say what happened afterwards…”
But at this point Adam’s breathing became unmistakeable, and what happened afterwards to my meditation on realism is really impossible to say, since I can’t remember it. It was time to make dinner.

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