Peer Reviewed

Exclusive to M/m Print Plus

Truth Embedded in Form: Towards a New Literary Realism of Fields of Sense

At the heart of the dichotomy between modernism and realism is the question of form. Modernist writers linked the upheavals of modernity to a crisis of representation—a sense that the established forms of representing the world and of artistic expression were no longer adequate. The modernist revolt was directed at various targets, with slight variations depending on genre. For narrative prose—as for painting—it was realist aesthetics—for poetry, it was romanticism. This essay considers the opposition between realism and modernism juxtaposing what is taken to be modernist experimentalism to realist representationalism. Not all modernist works are equally experimental, of course, and often its formal innovation was linked to other concerns, such as politics or utopian programs. But formalism—the modernist emphasis on form and principles of composition—became the center of what Joe Cleary refers to as the “realism-versus-modernism polemics waged in the mid-twentieth century by [Georg] Lukács, [Theodor W.] Adorno, Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin and others.”[1] As Paul Stasi’s introductory remarks suggest, Cleary claims that “Cold War politics hardened the opposition between modernism and realism into a rigid binary between aesthetics and politics.” Stasi’s diagnosis of the persistence of this divide, even as the fields of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature have reconfigured themselves, sets the stage for this essay.

Realism vs. Form

This familiar debate is misplaced, because it misses the actual problem: the inadequacy of the concept of the real underpinning the realism/modernism distinction. The dichotomy between modernism and realism is founded on a notion of the real that has always been problematic, not just for the modernism/realism debate, but for humanistic objects of study more generally. As has been noted, literary realism is a dual phenomenon, both aesthetic and cognitive.[2] As the latter, realism—anywhere, not just in literature—is equivalent to truth-telling: the real is synonymous with what counts as knowledge as such. Of course, the history of what counts as real in Western culture has undergone a radical reversal since antiquity. Plato’s timeless forms or ideas, the ultimate reality of unchanging being behind the changeable material world, considered superior to and more real than the deceptive sensible world, have been displaced by the modern scientific notion of the real as what is observable and measurable in nature.

Indeed, since the rise of modern science, realism has been identified with scientific objectivity and the belief in the existence of an external world posited as independent of the human mind. Modern scientific realism is thus inseparable from the modern dichotomy that separates the external world of objects and the inner world of the mind. Associated with an essentially reductive materialism, scientific realism’s most important attribute is mind-independence. As Thomas Nagel explains, the modern mind-body problem “is a direct result of the concept of objective physical reality” that drove the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century: “Galileo and Descartes made the crucial conceptual division by proposing that physical science should provide a mathematically precise quantitative description of an external reality extended in space and time.”[3] It was, therefore, essential to exclude mind, and mental phenomena, from the realm of reality. Only the physical world would be considered irreducibly real. But what about mental and social phenomena such as religion, marriage, mythology, love, consciousness, art, language, money, government, private property? These are explained away by reducing them to material essences if possible (love, for instance, is nothing but a peculiar neuronal pattern in the brain). If irreducible, such non-material entities are debunked as fictitious, social and mental constructs.

Naturalist realism thus entails something that is impossible in an absolute sense: the posture of unmediated representation of an “external” reality that Nagel calls “the view from nowhere.”[4] As deconstructive readings of nineteenth-century realist fiction have demonstrated, this problem is especially acute in literary texts since rhetoric and the figurative nature of language itself ultimately undermine an author’s stated goals of objective representation. Literary realism is itself the product of specific rhetorical strategies—a “reality effect” (Barthes).[5] For this reason, as Fredric Jameson has pointed out, the notion of realism in art is incoherent. The requirement of verisimilitude (to capture the world as it “really” is) denies the intrinsic mediality (form-orientation) of art. For Jameson, realism is thus a “hybrid concept, in which an epistemological claim (for knowledge and truth) masquerades as an aesthetic ideal.”[6] And he elucidates the “fatal consequences” of this dilemma: “where the epistemological claim succeeds, [realism] fails, and if realism validates its claim to being a correct or true representation of the world, it thereby ceases to be an aesthetic mode of representation and falls out of art altogether. If, on the other hand, the artistic devices and technological equipment whereby it captures the truth of the world are explored and stressed and foregrounded, ‘realism’ will stand unmasked as a mere reality—or realism-effect” (Antinomies, 6; “Existence,” 217).[7]

What differentiates modernism from realism, then, is modernism’s enthusiastic espousal of the indispensability of mediation and form in art. But this does not mean that realist writers were unaware of formal mediation. Far from the uncritical realists that modernist and postmodernist polemic made them out to be, nineteenth-century realists introduced a series of formal techniques that proved to be transformative for the novel form. As George Levine, among others, has shown, Victorian realists were actually writing against “the inevitable conventionality of language” that they knew vitiated their pursuit of unmediated truth.[8] Victorian realism’s “massive self-confidence,” Levine continues, “implied a radical doubt, its strategies of truth telling, a profound self-consciousness” (“Realistic Imagination,” 627).

Recognizing that both modernism and realism have form is one thing. But to truly avoid the conceptual incoherence surrounding the term realism itself—and therefore its deployment in considerations of modernism’s rejection of realism—we need a new concept of the real that hinges on this understanding of form. While literary form has material aspects—such as print or writing scripts—its gist is non-material. Form is an organized pattern of meaning, an intelligible whole, a hermeneutic configuration.[9] A special kind of organized whole, pattern or form is irreducible: it cannot be understood by breaking it into its smallest parts, or reducing it to ultimate constituents. As systems theorist Fritjof Capra explains, as a configuration of relationships, form cannot be quantified; it must be described or mapped. Understanding the omnipresence of form requires a shift from a mechanistic outlook emphasizing objects to a systems outlook that emphasizes relationships, patterns, organization, processes, and wholes. The study of matter asks: “What is it made of?” The study of form asks: “What is its pattern?”[10] The properties of form are—to use the language of systems theory—emergent properties: properties of the whole that are not inherent in any of the constituent parts. They only appear at the higher level of the whole, arising from the interactions of the parts. Emergence is everywhere, occurring at all scales and in all classes of natural and social reality. For example, temperature and taste are emergent higher-level phenomena: neither exist at the lower atomic scale. Or, take the psychology of mobs, which illustrates the dynamics of emergence in the social world: it, too, is a property of the higher-order whole that only arises from the interaction of its participant individuals, without being present in any of them.[11] The phenomenon of emergence demonstrates that organization—immaterial (patterns of) relationships—are as real as material objects.

In the place of naturalist realism and representationalist realism, which both conceal mediating and form-giving order (“old realism”), we need to adopt a contextual concept of the real, a new realism of organized wholes or forms. In contrast to the old realism of isolated objects and things, contextual or systems realism shifts the focus from seeing pieces to describing organized patterns and relationships. Indeed, the modern notion of a reality without the mind has always constituted a serious problem for the humanities in general, and literature specifically. Contrary to the claims of naturalism, not everything that exists is in nature. What of the fields that we recognize as literature, culture, and art? Contextual realism is pluralistic and neutral with regard to what counts as real; it can accommodate non-material as well as material entities, and operates from the smallest to largest scale of existence. Old realism asks: is it real? Or is it constructed—and therefore, not real? The new contextual realism asks: where are things real? How do things become real that may have initially been constructed?

Fields of Sense Realism: Context is Primary

A leading figure in the contemporary movement towards new realisms after postmodernism, philosopher Markus Gabriel formulates a new ontology of fields of sense that models such a pluralistic and contextual (or field-based) concept of the real. Challenging the dominance of scientific reductionism, Gabriel’s work mounts a powerful defense of the singular reality of literature and humanistic objects of study more generally. As Gabriel affirms, “you don’t have to be a naturalist to be a realist.”[12] Building on Gottlob Frege’s distinction between sense and reference, fields of sense ontology rejects referential realism. Frege defines sense as the way in which things are given: in his famous example, “evening star” and “morning star” refer to the same thing, Venus.[13] Yet the former two appear only in everyday reality, the latter only in the field of science (astronomy). There is thus no unmediated access to a preexisting reality without sense but only a multitude of senses in which things appear. Gabriel demonstrates this point by recourse to what he calls “the allegory of the cubes”:

Imagine there are three cubes on a table, a blue, a red and a white. Let us introduce “Mister F” and ask him how many objects there are on the table. A natural answer would be “3,” as Mister F has successfully counted the cubes. The next person who comes in is Mister Planck who gives us a rough estimate of the sub-atomic particles probably present in a certain space-time fragment roughly pointed out by our question “how many objects are there on the table?” Mister Plank answers “N” where N is astronomically bigger than 3. We can multiply true answers to the question of how many objects there are on the table, let alone in general. My name for each rule of count or structured ensemble of rules is “a sense.” Once a sense is fixed, we can often have explicit epistemic access to objects counted in the right way. These objects actually are as characterized by the best description in the domain and therefore form what I call a “field.” Together we get the concept of a “field of sense.”[14]

As illustrated here, there are no pre-given objects outside of contexts. Such contexts are organized domains—“fields of sense”—and it is their structuring pattern that determines the nature of the objects that appear in them. That sense is wedded to fields also signals site-specificity: things only appear in particular places. What counts as an object is field-dependent. Are we speaking as quantum physicists? As humans embedded in everyday common-sense reality? As scholastic philosophers? In part, and as David Sergeant suggests, this is because reality is scalar: for example, humans inhabit a macrocosmic realm of intermediate-size beings, which is suspended between two extremes: the indefinitely small worlds of the microcosm and (sub)atomic sphere on the one hand, and the indefinitely large domain of the expanding universe on the other. But the plurality of sense goes beyond quantitative scale to qualitative distinctions. There are an indefinite number of fields of sense, all shaping the things that appear in them. There are trolls in Norwegian mythology. But that is not to say that there are trolls in Norway.[15] Furthermore, the multiple ways in which things are given are the way they really are: there is no ultimate reality “behind” the phenomenal world. “Appearances are as real as it gets,” a point clearly demonstrated by the phenomenon of emergence.[16]

What are the emergent properties of literary forms that make them irreducible wholes? Consider the following example. Ezra Pound’s iconic imagist poem “In a Station of the Metro” (1913) is composed of only two lines: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.”[17] The simple act of arranging these two sentence fragments in the form of verse instead of prose transforms them into an organized ensemble that we call a poem. As a result of being linked in this new unity, an immaterial qualitative shift occurs through which the words and phrases acquire new meanings—emergent properties—they did not have before. No words were added. Yet something new appears—a qualitative leap—that cannot be reduced to the quantitative act of fitting two phrases together. It is this qualitative something that makes the poem—to use philosopher Graham Harman’s expression—“irreducible downwards”: its properties are destroyed if the composition is taken apart.[18] To invoke the slogan of Gestalt psychology, form is a “whole that is more than the sum of its parts.” Like material entities such as factories, atoms, or genes, poetry exists, though in its own distinct way. This was Cleanth Brooks’s point in affirming the non-reducibility of poetry to paraphrase.[19] But his New Critical concept of the poem as a formal container (a “well-wrought urn”) still remains under the sway of old realist thinking. New realism rejects the old realist binary between container and content, reality vs. form. The imagist form of Pound’s poem is an emergent property of the process of assembling its component verbal parts; parts and whole come into existence at the same time. How to capture the singular reality of literary objects of study like imagist poetry or realist novels?

To establish the irreducible reality of literature, we must accept that, as Gabriel urges, existence—the real—is not an intrinsic property of things or isolated objects that can be captured “as they really are.” Rather, existence is defined instead as “the fact that something appears in a context.”[20] Fields are real, not objects. Objects don’t ground fields, fields ground objects. What is considered real thus depends on the nature of the domain in which objects appear: subatomic particles appear in the domain of particle physics; objects like chairs and tables appear in the domain of living rooms; words acquire a new reality as they congeal in the composition of Pound’s imagist poem. Once the domain has been established, there is a clear answer to what counts as “real.” This, according to Gabriel, is the vocation of art: “Art shows that objects only ever appear in fields of sense” (Why the World, 190). If reality appears to be inherent in certain objects (such as genes, atoms, or neurons) and lacking in others (such as literature), this is only because of—to adapt Martin Heidegger—the “forgetting of context.”

Literary Realism, Literary Modernism: Truth Embedded in Form

Gabriel’s pluralist new realism of fields of sense remediates the inadequacy of the concept of the real underpinning the realism/modernism opposition, as well as the incoherence of the idea of literary realism resulting from the denial of form. Realism is a formal art; like modernism, it arose through formal innovation, and the rejection—and parody—of the conventions of past literature (romance, the epistolary novel, etc.). Take, for example, free indirect style and the nineteenth-century tradition of psychological realism, which became an integral part of modernist and, later, contemporary fiction. A hybrid mode of narration that allows authors to conceal themselves behind the thought process of fictional characters, free indirect style connects Gustave Flaubert to James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner and many other writers as well as to Jane Austen, taken to be the “first extensive practitioner” of the form.[21] Flaubert’s influential slogan—“an author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere”—was adapted by Joyce in his idea of the artist in Portrait as the “God of the creation,” remaining “invisible” “above his handiwork” and “indifferent, paring his fingernails.”[22] Yet the impersonal objectivity of Flaubert’s narrative style in Madame Bovary—more self-conscious and radical than Austen’s, but structurally identical—is viewed as the hallmark of a great “realist.” In one context Flaubert is the epitome of realism—no author, no subjectivity. In another—the context the modernists themselves created—he is the epitome of modernism, the genius of style. As this Protean figure oscillating between two contexts, Flaubert perfectly captures Austen’s weaving of Dashwood’s first-person voice into the texture of third person narration in the first chapter of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility (1811).

Austen’s formal invention may have been more foundational than Joyce’s for the modern novel. Yet Joyce’s narrative exploration of Stephen’s consciousness in Portrait is considered to be a landmark of “modernist” experimentalism, while Austen’s is the origin of realism. To complicate things further, impersonality and objectivity are also key doctrines in modernist poetry: consider T. S. Eliot’s concept of “objective correlative,” Rainer Maria Rilke’s “thing poems,” Pound’s and William Carlos Williams’s imagism, etc. Is objectivity exclusively “realist”? When and how can it become “modernist”? Indeed, the claim to truth-telling lives on in “formalist” modernism. As Miles Orvell observes, modernism invented a new “culture of authenticity.”[23] But in contrast to nineteenth-century realism—which, “it was believed, had lost contact with reality”—the real was identified with “the medium of the artwork” (Orvell, Real Thing, 240). As Williams puts it, “The only real in writing is writing itself” (quoted in Real Thing, 242). Williams’s imagism is thus a realism that attends to language rather than material things. Unlike the naturalist realism that underlies the present realism/modernism distinction, a new literary realism of fields of sense can account for such formalist realisms.

As this sketchy exploration shows, what counts as real depends on the location and the context in which it is given. Rather than absolute, the distinction between realism and modernism is a question of degree. Indeed, the argument I am proposing here is linked to the familiar problem, noted by both Stasi and Sergeant, that modernism often frames itself a kind of “higher” or “deeper” realism that attempts to see beyond mere context-free objects or autonomous worlds. One need not go farther than Woolf’s championing of stream-of-consciousness modernism as a locus classicus of this view: modernist psychological realism is superior to the social realism of Edwardian fiction. For Woolf, “life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; but a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.”[24] In this forum, Kyle Murdock discusses the “higher” modernist realism of speed-magnifying film. Certain realities (such as the growth of plants) that are hidden from ordinary perception cannot be captured by neutral realism. It takes defamiliarizing strategies of representation (such as speed magnification or time lapse cinema) to illuminate them. I suggest, then, that we see realism and modernism as distinct fields of sense, much like Mister F and Mister Planck in the example cited earlier, each looking at a cube but defining it in distinct ways due to their “fields of sense.” In other words, fields of sense allow us to retain realism and modernism as formal markers but to eliminate the baggage of realistic vs. formal; each is formal, each represents the real. They just do this in distinct ways.

Thus, I do not wish to suggest that the realism of organized forms I am espousing here as fields of sense realism is absolutely new. For example, Marshall Brown’s 1981 definition of realism as a “silhouetting effect” expresses a corresponding view: according to Brown, a piece is considered realistic if it is organized by “devices of juxtaposition and contrast” that usually “take[s] the form of figure against ground.”[25] Similarly, the story that modernism responds to various post-Newtonian scientific developments—Einsteinian relativity, for instance—is also well known. Nevertheless, field of sense realism’s utility lies in naming context-dependence as the defining characteristic of artistic expression as such—a trait that older notions of verisimilitude or mimesis occludes. Fields of sense realism is important because realism in its modern scientific sense is inextricably entwined with the posture—or the pretense—of unmediated rendering. Adopting this term therefore does not conflate realism and modernism; rather, it merely eliminates the false distinction between realism (as unstylized and immediate) and modernism (as stylized and therefore de-realizing).

José Ortega y Gasset’s influential definition of modernism as the “dehumanization of art” expresses the old realist contradiction between reality vs. form: as Ortega observed, “to stylize means to deform reality, to derealize; style involves dehumanization.”[26] A literary realism of fields of sense grants, instead, the singular reality of style: besides the reality of scientific naturalism, there is common sense reality, but likewise there is the reality of literature—truth embedded in literary form. Realism in all these cases operates through Brown’s silhouetting effect. Fields of sense realism maintains that this embedding procedure is constitutive of realism, but also concealed in it: in Gabriel’s words, “Everything appears against a background that does not itself appear” (Why the World, 203). In this way, fields of sense realism helps illuminate the continuities between realism and modernism as distinct varieties of the same integrative procedure of “capturing the world as it is.”

Equally important, Ortega’s notion of dehumanization also recalls an older tradition of literary realism that has been pushed aside: humanism. Literary realism has premodern roots going back to antiquity and Homer, as Erich Auerbach has shown.[27] This ancient tradition of realism is humanist rather than naturalist: Aristotle’s notion of mimesis as the imitation of action refers to human action, not to things or natural events. As is well known, Lukács’s defense of realism is grounded in this humanist realism; the landmark essay “Narrate or Describe,” which contrasts Tolstoy’s humanist realism with Zola’s naturalist realism, marks the mid-nineteenth-century transition when the literary-humanist tradition of realism is displaced by scientific naturalism. The contrast is illustrated by opposing depictions of a horse race: “In Zola, the race is described from the standpoint of an observer; in Tolstoy it is narrated from the standpoint of a participant.”[28] By overturning the naturalist doctrine that explains away the human reality of everyday experience as fictitious, the realism of fields of sense also newly empowers the humanist tradition of literary realism. Putting the humanist tradition of realism on a sound conceptual footing will, in this way, further shore up the singularity of the British tradition of literary realism, which never defined itself through the scientific naturalism that came to dominate French novelistic realism in the wake of Zola.[29] As Amanda Claybaugh has argued, the Anglo-American tradition of realism is not primarily neutral-descriptive, but animated by commitments to social reform. The “novel of purpose” seeks to intervene in the world that it describes: Anglo-American realists “represent the world as it is in order to bring about the world as it should be.”[30] Like modernism, reformist realism tends to use defamiliarizing techniques such as satire or parody, which are needed to expose social injustice. This is not only demonstrated by Dickens’s work, but also by minority realisms such as María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s The Squatter and the Don (1885), a novel that critiques legal injustices against Mexican Americans in the wake of the US annexation of the borderlands in 1848.[31] And if any further proof is needed, in our times, the massive phenomenon of contemporary literary realism shows that realism is anything but antiquated: far from being rendered obsolete by modernism and postmodernism, realism remains an important mode of literary expression, as formally astute as the modernism it preceded.[32]


[1] Joe Cleary, “Realism after Modernism and the Literary World-System,” Modern Language Quarterly 73, no. 3 (2012): 255–68, 262.

[2] Pam Morris, Realism (London: Routledge, 2003), 9; Fredric Jameson, “The Existence of Italy,” in Signatures of the Visible (New York: Routledge, 1992), 213–314, 217.

[3] Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly Wrong (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 35.

[4] See Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

[5] Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect,” in French Literary Theory, trans. R. Carter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960). For a deconstructive reading of literary realism, see J. Hillis Miller, “Optic and Semiotic in Middlemarch,” in The Worlds of Victorian Fiction, ed. Jerome H. Buckley (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), 125–45, and “The Fiction of Realism: Sketches by Boz, Oliver Twist, and Cruikshank’s Illustrations,” in Dickens Centennial Essays, ed. Ada Nisbet and Blake Nevius (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 85–153.

[6] Fredric Jameson, The Antinomies of Realism (London: Verso, 2013), 5.

[7] I quote the earlier text here because in the later work Jameson words the same point in a less nuanced way: “If it is social truth or knowledge we want from realism, we will soon find that what we get is ideology; if it is beauty or aesthetic satisfaction we are looking for—either social history or the history of literary forms—we will quickly find that we have to do with outdated styles or mere decoration” (Antinomies, 6).

[8] George Levine, “From The Realistic Imagination: English Fiction from Frankenstein to Lady Chatterley,” in Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach, ed. Michael McKeon, (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 613–31, 617.

[9] While nourished by different sources, my argument and my critical agenda are broadly compatible with Caroline Levine’s in Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015). Although a substantial dialogue with her study is beyond the scope of this essay, we both insist on the constitutive power (what she calls the “affordance”) of forms: a non-material configuration, design, composition, or organizing pattern, form is a generative phenomenon that extends far beyond aesthetics. My approach is distinct in targeting the representationalist concept of the real as the root of the dominant critical paradigm that has been obstructing proper recognition of the singularity of literature. But if to call something “real” means to claim that it is an irreducible force in the world, I believe that describing her argument as a new realist approach to form would not be a misrepresentation.

[10] See Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigo Luisi, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 4.

[11] As Benjamin’s work on (revolutionary) crowds in Baudelaire’s and Haussmann’s Paris and Elias Canetti’s work on fascist mobs shows, the psychology of mobs is a modern discovery that links realist-era with modernist-era literature and culture. It is also associated with the emergence of “affect” in the nineteenth-century novel described by Jameson in The Antinomies of Realism. In Jameson’s account, the triumph of affect, or the temporality of a sensate, extended present over the traditional narrative temporality of past-present-future leads to the demise of realism and the emergence of modernism. See Walter Benjamin, “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century: Exposé of 1939,” in The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 14–26; Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, trans. Carol Stewart (New York: Viking Press, 1962).

[12] Markus Gabriel, introduction to Der Neue Realismus, ed. Markus Gabriel (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2014), 8–18, 10; my translation.

[13] Markus Gabriel, Transcendental Ontology: Essays in German Idealism (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), xiii.

[14] Markus Gabriel, “Objectivity and the Humanities: Prospects for a New Realism,” Walker Ames Endowed Lecture at the University of Washington, March 2019.

[15] Markus Gabriel, Why the World Does Not Exist, trans. Gregory Moss (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2015), 88.

[16] Markus Gabriel, Fields of Sense: A New Realist Ontology (Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 168.

[17] Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro,” in Modernism: An Anthology, ed. Lawrence Rainey (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2005), 43.

[18] Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2011), 16.

[19] See Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1947).

[20] Markus Gabriel, “Why the World Does Not Exist,” lecture at TEDx Studio Munich, October 25, 2013, video. As Gabriel explains: “Existence is a property, but not a property of individuals, but rather of fields of sense, namely their property that something appears within them . . . To exist is to appear in a field of sense, which I take to be a property of the fields, but not of the elements appearing within them” (Fields of Sense, 65).

[21] Dorrit Cohn, “From Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction,” in Theory of the Novel, 493–514, 498. As George Levine explains, “free indirect discourse is an ingenious compromise between first person narration, whose limits and unreliability have been part of novelists’ problems since Pamela (1740), and full omniscience. Free indirect discourse has turned out to be the best mode by which an author can ‘disappear,’ and give the impression that what unfolds on the page simply happens naturally. On the other hand, it allows interiority without constricting the reader to the full bias of the characters’ desires and prejudices, and without the falsity of representation of thought registered inside quotation marks” (“Literary Realism Reconsidered” in A Concise Companion to Realism, ed. Matthew Beaumont, [Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2010], 13–32, 19).

[22] Gustave Flaubert to Louise Colet, December 1852, in The Letters of Gustave Flaubert, 1830–1857, ed. Francis Steegmuller, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 173–74, 173; James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Knopf, 1991), 269.

[23] Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 141.

[24] Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” in Theory of the Novel, 739–44, 741.

[25] Marshall Brown, “The Logic of Realism: A Hegelian Approach,” PMLA 96, no. 2 (1981): 224-41, 231, 233.

[26] Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Dehumanization of Art and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Literature, trans. Helene Weyl, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), 25.

[27] See Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953). Auerbach also pictures Woolf as the culmination of realist representation, and thus offers a different appreciation of the connections between realism and modernism.

[28] Georg Lukács, “Narrate or Describe?” in Writer and Critic, trans. and ed. Arthur Kahn (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1971), 110–35, 111.

[29] See George Levine, “From The Realistic Imagination,” 615.

[30] Amanda Claybaugh, The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), 40.

[31] See María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don (Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 1997).

[32] On contemporary neorealism, see Günter Leypoldt, “Recent Realist Fiction and the Idea of Writing ‘After Postmodernism,’” Amerikastudien/American Studies 49, no. 1 (2004): 19–34; Robert Rebein, “Contemporary Realism,” in American Fiction After 1945, ed. John N. Duvall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 30–43; Kristiaan Versluys, ed., Neo-Realism in Contemporary American Fiction (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1992) and particularly Winfried Fluck, “Surface Knowledge and ‘Deep’ Knowledge: The New Realism in American Fiction,” 65–85.