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Realism and/or Modernism

Realism and/or Modernism: An Introduction

Long considered epistemologically naive, realism has, in the last ten years or so, undergone something of a rehabilitation, as scholars such as Anna Kornbluh, Caroline Levine, and Matthew Beaumont have shown realism to be, in Kornbluh’s words, “a mode of production rather than a mode of reflection.”[1] If this work has often focused on nineteenth-century texts, another set of scholars has described what Devin Fore’s 2012 book helpfully calls Realism after Modernism. Jed Esty and Colleen Lye’s special issue of MLQ “Peripheral Realisms Now”—also dated 2012—offers a compatible reconsideration of a set of texts whose realist ambitions betray an awareness of the modernist works that preceded them, marking less a return to an older notion of realism than a revitalization of its formal strategies for social conditions distant both spatially and temporally from its locus classicus in nineteenth-century Europe.

Operating in a seemingly parallel universe, modernist scholarship has, for several decades now, undergone what Rebecca Walkowitz and Douglas Mao famously defined as an “expansion” with “temporal, spatial, and vertical directions.”[2] Modernist studies now engages works written before or after modernism’s canonical dates, cultural objects produced outside the privileged Paris-London nexus and even works of popular culture once seen to be modernism’s opposite number. If, as Joe Cleary has argued, the Cold War hardened the existing opposition between realism and modernism—with the West claiming an aesthetically innovative apolitical art (modernism) in opposition to a politically committed, didactic form of socialist realism—the end of the Cold War has allowed us to view these artistic movements in all of their aesthetic and historical complexity. Less successive moments, modernism and realism are constituted, in Cleary’s account, by a similar drive to totality even if they manifest that drive in distinct aesthetic forms due, in part, to changing historical circumstances.[3] A similar line is taken up by Nathan Brown, whose recent essay “Postmodernity Not Yet” argues that the “realism-modernism debate is in fact a debate internal to modernism,” the two forms seen by Brown as competing responses to an evolving capitalist modernity.[4] We can understand this recent work as a theorization of modernist studies’ expansion that reexamines the well-entrenched opposition between realism and modernism, an opposition articulated by the modernists themselves, formalized in the famous nineteen-thirties debates among Theodor W. Adorno, Georg Lukács, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, and Ernst Bloch, and then reified, as Cleary suggests, by the Cold War.

History vs. Form

History vs. Form: this is the opposition literary history has bequeathed us and one that tends to persist even as the fields of realism and modernism reconfigure themselves. Thus the renovation of Victorian literature’s standing typically rests, as Elaine Freedgood has recently demonstrated, on formal claims, while the expansion of modernist studies has emerged, in part, as an answer to charges of aesthetic elitism and a corresponding inattention to history.[5] But the political valences of the two terms can easily shift. On the one hand, realist literature’s social engagement is favorably contrasted to the merely formal games of modernist art; on the other hand, realism becomes a disciplinary apparatus that can only be countered by the formal disruptions of modernism. In each case, the basic opposition between form and content, modernism and realism, remains.[6]

Consider, in this light, two recent descriptions of world literature: Lye and Esty’s introduction alluded to above and the Warwick Research Collective’s 2015 Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature. Lye and Esty deftly synthesize several intellectual trends of the post-Cold War era which has seen the emergence of the discourses of transnationalism and globalization alongside a renewed investment in the concept of modernity:

With the incorporation of new territories into the capitalist world-system (formerly of or in alliance with the Second World), the question of modernity returned to the fore, displacing postmodernism and its thesis of history’s exhaustion. History once again seemed on the move. However, in the conduct of postcolonial studies, a dualism of postmodernity and its subalterns was replaced by a dualism of modernity and its alternative versions. . . . But in the positing of equal but different claims on modernity, there was also a deflection away from modernity’s uneven and unequal effects. Among other things, a concept of alternative modernities sidesteps the issue of global integration under an imperialist world- system.[7]

“At the level of literary theory,” they continue, “the ascendance of the multiple-modernities model allowed for an expansion of the field of modernism,” filling “the space of the contemporary and the global” (Esty and Lye “Peripheral,” 273, 274).[8] “Recoding peripheral modernisms as realist,” they conclude, “is a retrospective critical operation, and it raises the possibility of touching base with the collective protagonists of subaltern political desire across the global South without stopping at the way station of bourgeois consciousness or middle-class domesticity” (281).[9]

The Warwick Research Collective, for their part, summarize the argument of Combined and Uneven Development as follows: “A single but radically uneven world-system; a singular modernity, combined and uneven; and a literature that variously registers this combined unevenness in both its form and its content to reveal itself as, properly speaking, world-literature—these propositions sum up the kernel of our argument.”[10] Rejecting the notion of “literary forms spreading or unfolding across empty time (and hence of literary history as being divided into sequential ‘periods’—classicism, realism, modernism, postmodernism, etc.)” they instead analyze a “range of formal features that we propose to call ‘irrealist’” (WReC, Combined, 50, 51). If world literature mediates “the lived experience of capitalism’s bewildering creative destruction,” it does so in ways the Collective believes is more readily explained “through reference to ‘modernist’ and ‘experimental’ modes than through reference to ‘reality’ or ‘naturalist’ ones” (57).[11]

Peripheral realism vs. peripheral modernisms: the one naming a subaltern internationalism that would bypass modernist internationalism—understood, in part, as an imperialist imposition—the second a set of formal devices that would disrupt realism’s stable aesthetic. The two arguments share a common entry point: a valorization of non-European literature without recourse to a universalizing discourse of aesthetic value, alongside a simultaneous rejection of “alternative modernities,” in favor of a more variegated notion of a literary world system that is one, but unequal, combined, but uneven. Nevertheless, the two terms, realism and modernism, continue to operate as placeholders for competing aesthetic responses to a similarly conceived capitalist modernity.

Totality and Fragmentation

No doubt this opposition is present in the original nineteen-thirties debates themselves. Lukács’s critique of James Joyce—taken to represent modernism more generally—finds that “Technique is here something absolute,” while Adorno, in his reply, argues that “emphasis on style, form and technique . . . are the features that distinguish art as knowledge from science.”[12] Nevertheless, the two thinkers share more common ground than such a cursory summary suggests. Lukács’s counter to Joyce is Thomas Mann, for whom “every person or event, emerging momentarily from the stream and vanishing again, is given a specific weight, a definite position in the pattern of the whole” (“Ideology of Modernism,” 18). Adorno, for his part, argues that “the great works of modernist literature shatter this appearance of subjectivity by setting the individual in his frailty into context, and by grasping the totality in him of which the individual is but a moment” (“Reconciliation,” 160). The language is almost New Critical: great works of art are those that situate their details in a larger totality within which they gain meaning.

Key to this agreement is the status of the subject. Indeed, it is striking how each side in the debate uses a particular notion of the isolated bourgeois subject as a cudgel with which to beat the opposition. For Lukács, the modernists “all take reality exactly as it manifests itself to the writer and the characters he creates.”[13] This is why “they all develop their own artistic styles . . . as a spontaneous expression of their immediate experience” (Lukács, “Realism,” 37). In contrast, the goal of the “major realist” is “to penetrate the laws governing objective reality and to uncover the deeper, hidden, mediated, not immediately perceptible network of relationships that go to make up society” (38). The realist does this through a “twofold labour” that “creates a new immediacy, one that is artistically mediated” (39). The result of this labor is Lukács’ ideal of the type, and his privileged example is Sir Walter Scott: “Scott endeavours to portray the struggles and antagonisms of history by means of characters who, in their psychology and destiny, always represent social trends and forces.”[14] His “greatness lies in his capacity to give living human embodiment to historical-social types” (Lukács, Historical Novel, 35). The oppositions are clear: on the one side, immediacy, subjectivity, individuality, appearance. On the other, mediation, typicality, historical essence. The type, then, is the counter to the isolated bourgeois subject.[15]

Adorno’s critique of Lukács emerges from a similar set of assumptions: “Art does not provide knowledge of reality by reflecting it photographically or ‘from a particular perspective’ but by revealing whatever is veiled by the empirical form assumed by reality” (“Reconciliation,” 162). If modernism focuses on the individual this is because “in an individualistic society loneliness is socially mediated and so possesses a significant historical content” (158). This “free-floating subject is appearance, however, inasmuch as, objectively the social totality has precedence over the individual, a totality which is created and reproduces itself through alienation and through the contradictions of society” (160). And if Lukács believes that literature must reveal types which “constitute the objective human tendencies of society and indeed of mankind as a whole” so too does Adorno argue that “the solitary consciousness potentially destroys and transcends itself by revealing itself in works of art as the hidden truth common to all men” (Lukács “Realism,” 47; Adorno “Reconciliation,” 166). The alienated subject is, in its own way, a type of the subjectivity created by capitalist modernity. What is most important to note is how, in each case, aesthetic form is what enables the work of art to apprehend the essence of a social order within which the isolated bourgeoise subject must be situated, a social order defined for both thinkers by the dialectical relationship between totality and fragmentation constitutive of capitalist modernity.

Lukács is quite explicit about this connection: “Under capitalism . . . the different strands of the economy achieve a quite unprecedented autonomy . . . As a result of the objective structure of the economic system, the surface of capitalism appears to ‘disintegrate’ into a series of elements all driven towards independence. Obviously this must be reflected in the consciousness of the men who live in this society” (“Realism,” 32). Nevertheless, capitalism has an “underlying unity, the totality, all of whose parts of objectively interrelated” (32).[16] Adorno, too, in his critique of Benjamin, draws tacitly on Lukács’s ground-breaking development of Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism in History and Class Consciousness when he argues that “the fetish character of the commodity is not a fact of consciousness; rather, it is dialectical, in the eminent sense that it produces consciousness.”[17] The only way to overcome the “alienated subjectivity” constitutive of capitalism, is to mediate it through “the total social process” (Adorno, “Letters,” 113, 119). Individual details only gain meaning when understand in a larger context, a context that, in turn, allows for the observation of the social content latent within those details.

Socializing Subjects

What should immediately be apparent from this summary is how readily the terms with which these thinkers analyze capitalism are directly transferable to their prescriptions for the work of art. In each case, detail must be mediated through a larger totality, as the form of the work of art overcomes the fragmentary appearance of capitalism, an appearance that finds its most immediate instantiation in the isolated bourgeois subject. And this, in turn, is an accurate description of the central argument of nearly all theories of the novel, from its origins in Lukács’s 1916 study of the same name, to its canonical articulations in the works of Ian Watt, Michael McKeon, Nancy Armstrong, and Franco Moretti down to contemporary incarnations in the work of critics such as Alex Woloch. If lyric poetry is the domain of the speaking subject, and epic’s emphasis is on the communal, then the novel is the form generally taken to correlate the two, whether through a disciplinary mechanism that reigns in subjectivity, as in Armstrong’s How Novels Think or, more damningly, in D. A. Miller’s The Novel and the Police, or as a development of a particular form of individuality out of its precapitalist origins as in Watt or McKeon (or Armstrong’s earlier Desire and Domestic Fiction). This is why the novel has long been seen as the privileged genre for grappling with capitalist modernity. Its most characteristic way of doing so is through the simultaneous development and critique of the bourgeois individual.

We are familiar with this dialectic as a key feature of realism. It is, in fact, hard to think of a canonical realist text—Emma, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch—whose main action is not the reigning in of excessive subjectivity in the name of a valorized social order. And yet the opening pages of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway—one of the most consistent deployments of stream-of-consciousness in the modernist canon— gives us its hero opening the window of her London flat, only to immediately find herself in the village of Bourton where she spent her youth. Clarissa’s present, in other words, is also shaped by history, which is to say the specificity of her social class and nation, even if these facts are registered as personal biography. Similarly, Joyce shows how Stephen Dedalus is relentlessly conditioned by those nets of nationality, religion and language he would seek to escape. My point is a simple one. Novels that we typically understand as realist and novels that we typically understand as modernist are both deeply concerned with the relations between social ideologies—of class, nation, religion—and individual behavior. That the modernists typically articulated their formal innovations as required by changing historical circumstances should already illustrate that each form emerges as a response to the world around it, and yet these forms represent that world in a variety of ways with equally varied political ends.[18]

The difference can be understood as one of direction. Realist novels move their excessive heroes or heroines in the direction of the social. This is the explicit aim of realism’s form and of its content—hence the pull towards resolution characteristic of the Victorian novel. Modernist novels, on the other hand, begin with characters who feel themselves to be all-too-painfully social; their most typical gesture is to give voice to a longing to transcend a social world they nevertheless view as inescapable. We have misunderstood modernist interiority, then, by focusing on the longing while failing to see the relentlessness with which its desires are shown to be impossible; at the same time, we risk caricaturing realism if we do not recognize the utopian potential implicit in its vision of socialization. And this difference, which I have here named direction, is itself a version of the two descriptions of totality articulated by Lukács and Adorno. Lukács argues for the placement of detail—persons and events—within the larger whole of the narrative, whereas Adorno finds history within the structure of the subject itself. The difference between Jane Eyre, on the one hand, and Mrs. Dalloway, on the other, can be seen in precisely these terms, even if the opposition is never as neat as the theories would suggest.

With this understanding of these two literary movements, it becomes impossible to oppose them through the simplistic categories of form and history. Each has form, each engages history.

Nevertheless, some basic distinctions still obtain. Let us stay, for a moment, with the novel, since it is the genre in which these distinctions are the easiest to observe. The Victorian novel tends to expend significant amounts of energy signaling, through formally complex means, the solidity of the world it inhabits and it does so even when, as in Thackeray for instance, it calls that world directly into question. The modernist novel, in contrast, will often draw attention to its style in ways that tend to interrupt more frequently the referential illusion and it expends less energy on what Roland Barthes long ago named the reality effect, with, perhaps, the singular exception of Joyce, (though it is worth noting that Joyce expends equal energy on aesthetic innovation as he does in generating the possibility that one might rebuild Dublin brick-by-brick from Ulysses).[19] Furthermore, when Victorian novelists disrupt their novels, they tend to do so with authoritative pronouncements that—even when understood as subjective, which is to say emerging from a specific standpoint or speaker—appeal to agreed-upon beliefs even when, as is the case with Eliot, those pronouncements are actually remarkable subtle interventions into contemporary discourse.[20] To be sure, this also happens in some modernist novels as well. Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, for instance, a book as willfully devoid of incident and as fragmented as any cliché of modernism would wish, includes many comments such as the following:

It seems that a profound, impartial, and absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly unknown. Either we are men, or we are women. Either we are cold, or we are sentimental. Either we are young, or growing old. In any case life is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows.[21]

And yet no one would mistake Jacob’s Room for a nineteenth-century fiction, particularly since the truth universally acknowledged here concerns the uselessness of the aesthetic for the understanding of character.[22] Two potential critical roads emerge from this. One would be to jettison the terms and assume they are meaningless. This is, in some sense, what modernist studies has done by annexing all of twentieth-century literature to its canon. The other, the one taken here, is to understand by the terms realism and modernism certain formal strategies of representation or tendencies within the novel, with the result that Victorian novels might exhibit certain modernist tendencies while modernist ones retain realist impulses.[23] And these tendencies must not be reified as part of a progressive historical story—one that declares the modernist bits of Victorian novels an “incipient modernism” while naming the realist remainders in modernist writing “holdovers.” Rather what matters is the way these formal strategies function in the totality of the novels themselves.

We can think of this relationship through the Marxist categories of formal and real subsumption, themselves central to Brown’s account of modernism alluded to above. For Marx, formal subsumption names the process by which precapitalist social forms are incorporated into capitalist social structures without being altered. Real subsumption, in contrast, names the wholesale transformation of precapitalist social forms in line with the imperatives of industrial capitalism, a process some would argue is still ongoing. The importance of the distinction is in its explanation of the presence of seemingly central elements of capitalism—money, markets, wage labor—before the advent of capitalism proper. These elements only become capitalist, Marx concludes, when they are both inserted into and transformed by their articulation within a fully capitalist system.[24] In a similar manner, we might think of the formal continuities between realist and modernist texts—authorial intrusion, free indirect discourse—in their relation to the work as a whole. Clearly the authorial intrusions of Eliot have a different function in the text from that of Woolf quoted above, in the same way that Thackeray’s undermining of the reality of his novel functions differently from a similar procedure in, say, the works of Samuel Beckett. Free indirect discourse in Jane Austen is distinct from that of Dorothy Richardson. To believe otherwise is to adhere to a tired dichotomy between form and content, one that reifies technique as somehow separable from the content is conveys. It is precisely the reification of form that Brecht finds in Lukács’s adherence to the nineteenth-century novel: “The formalistic nature of the theory of realism is demonstrated by the fact” that it is “exclusively based on the form of a few bourgeois novels of the previous century” (“Against,” 70). “Formalism on the one side—contentism on the other,” Brecht continues. “That surely is too primitive and metaphysical” (71).

Historically Grounded Forms

We take it as axiomatic, then, that aesthetic forms arise in relation to historically grounded experience, which means that there is still a meaningful distinction to be made between the literature generally called realist, which arose in the nineteenth century, and that designated modernist in the twentieth century, a distinction that is registered as different forms, rather than as the simple presence or absence of form as such, which is, in any case, an impossibility for works of art. What we reject is the set of critical assumptions that have arisen as a kind of superstructure on this base, namely: 1) Modernism is formally innovative, realism is not. As I have already indicated, a wide range of Victorian critics have argued against this basic principle, demonstrating what should always have been clear: that Victorian realism is as formally complex as the modernism that follows it. 2) Related to this is the claim that realism reifies social realities and modernism breaks through ideology. The Victorian novel is, of course, highly critical of the ills of its society and there is nothing particularly politically progressive about metatexts and fragmented narratives. 3) Similarly, we reject the reverse position that modernism is politically naive, content to simply play with form rather than engage the world. Instead, it is our premise here that there is no direct road from form to political content.

We might think of works, then, as having a tripartite structure: specific aesthetic techniques (free indirect discourse, reality effect), the total work of art (form at the largest level), and the historical conditions within which that form is articulated. In each case we can observe something like the relationship between detail and context described, in their different ways, by Adorno and Lukács, itself a version, as I’ve already suggested, of the fragmentation and totality constitutive of capitalist modernity. A series of concentric circles emerges: individual is to society as technique is to total work as nation is to world capitalism. What is required, then, is a reading practice that attends to each of these levels of scale.

One way this can be achieved is through a reinvigorated notion of totality, one that, as David Sergeant suggests in a reading of the work of Frederic Jameson, must be understood in both spatial and historical terms. Far from the homogenizing structure of critical caricature, totality is only the sum of its constituent parts. Less the opposite number of what Monika Kaup names “fields of sense” realism, totality here can be seen as an extension of its structure. For if, in Kaup’s account, “fields of sense” realism suggests that objects only gain meaning within particular conceptual frames—so that objects appear as a result of the forms that organize them—the same might be said of the elements of a totality which only become meaningful when articulated to the larger structure they create. And if the totality is ultimately unrepresentable, then we must attend to the necessary forms of its appearance, even as we attempt to uncover the meanings they tend to conceal.

This basic dialectic is at work in essays that disclose the simultaneous presence of what we might call realist and modernist modes, the combinations of which shift depending on location, media, or historical period. Hayashi Fumiko’s Diary of a Vagabond, in Sophia Sherry’s account, combines an attention to the deprivations of a subaltern, and gendered, life on the margins of modernity with the self-reflexive structures more typically associated with modernism while for Philip Tsang, Doris Lessing’s “late realist” novel The Four-Gated City is unable to faithfully reproduce in the periphery the realist structures of the metropole and yet, nevertheless, maintains an allegiance to the form. In each case, a new relationship between realism and modernism emerges when we shift our attention to lands and histories outside the debate’s canonical origins, revealing the historically bound nature of what often purport to be universal categories.

The same might be said for the idea of the real itself, which, in Henry James’s era, contained the possibility of ghosts. The Turn of the Screw thus oscillates undecidably, in Sierra Senzaki’s argument, between realism and modernism, its genre determined, in part, by the conception of the real of those who read it. And if Kaup’s “fields of sense” realism add a further layer to our understanding of the way scientific developments influenced aesthetic production in the period, Kyle Murdoch’s reading of The Birth of the Flower—a 1911 “actuality” film—similarly suggests the impact of technological advances on the very appearance of the object world itself. For in The Birth of the Flower it becomes impossible to separate naturalism—the appearance of what a flower “really” acts like—from the technologies that make it available. One keyword for this work, then, is “emergence,” which creates a through-line from “fields of sense” realism to the emergent technologies of film to the new aesthetic forms that appear when we shift our historical and spatial lenses to Sergeant’s concluding remarks about futurity, the necessarily temporal horizon of Jameson’s philosophical investment in collectivity and history. Equally important, though, is the idea of form, understood not as something one can isolate from either content or history but rather as the very way in which historical and social conditions—the particularities of time and place—make themselves felt in aesthetic objects. As Kaup suggests, realism and modernism might ultimately best be seen as competing fields of sense, distinct versions of aesthetic totality that are as much a product of the works themselves as of the critical discourses they generate.


[1] Anna Kornbluh, The Order of Form: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2019), 41. See also Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015); A Concise Companion to Realism, ed. Matthew Beaumont, (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). Beaumont’s introduction is particularly useful, as is the entire collection.

[2] Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, “The New Modernist Studies,” PMLA 123, no. 3 (2009): 737–48, 737.

[3] See Joe Cleary, “Realism after Modernism and the Literary World-System,” MLQ 73, no. 3 (2012): 255–68. For Cleary, modernism is formed by “the beginning of the dissolution of the old Paris-centered literary-world system” as inter-imperialist rivalry burst through the self-contained national space which was the social ground of realism’s closed narrative forms (261). Cleary thus builds on a Marxist tradition that associates realism with the nation and modernism with imperialism, a tradition, in some sense, inaugurated by Lukács when he reads modernism as the literature of imperial decadence, in contrast to the national traditions of his exemplary nineteenth-century novelists. Recent Victorian criticism has challenged this view. See, for instance, Lauren M. E. Goodlad, The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic: Realism, Sovereignty and Transnational Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[4] See Nathan Brown, “Postmodernity, Not Yet: Toward a New Periodisation,” Radical Philosophy 2, no. 1 (2018). For Brown, modernity is coterminous with real subsumption (more on this below). Real subsumption thus constitutes the historical background for modernism’s emergence and for a modernity we have yet to overcome—this is why we are not yet postmodern—but it also has important consequences for the relationship between modernism and realism. Brown writes:

One of the implications of my argument about the correspondence of modernism to the central phase of real subsumption during modernity (ca. 1850-1950) is that realism is not properly understood as a periodising category. With Courbet, we can say that realism is the death of romanticism, and that at the same stroke it is, in its self-recognition as an -ism, the birth of modernism, as in the pivotal case of Madame Bovary. Lukács can deploy Mann against Joyce because the realism-modernism debate is in fact a debate internal to modernism, a debate between modernist ‘-isms’ that only makes sense on its original terms: expressionism versus realism or surrealism versus realism.

[5] See Elaine Freedgood, Worlds Enough: The Invention of Realism in the Victorian Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019). Freedgood’s work is part of the general critical trend which aims to revise the typical understanding of the Victorian novel as “the fall guy and the straw man for the formal intricacies of the eighteenth-century, modernist, and postmodernist novels” (ix). This straw man version of the Victorian novel, paradoxically, accords it a formal unity that then becomes the basis for critique. In contrast, Freedgood analyzes the Victorian novel in all its “formal messiness” (xii). Her readings are subtle and largely persuasive, but from the broad perspective I’m adopting here, they can be understood to produce a “modernist” Victorian novel, one whose formal messiness interrupts or disturbs its realist impulses.

[6] Both the opposition and the shifting value of the terms can be seen in the British context as essays by Henry James, Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells, and E. M. Forster use the terms life and form to distinguish types of fiction. James, of course, is the devotee of form, except that his seminal essay “The Art of Fiction,” praises the writer’s ability to observe life. Similarly, Woolf disagrees not with the premise that literature should represent life but with the Edwardian view of what constitutes that life. Form, then, can refer pejoratively to the outdated forms of Edwardian fiction—the tools Woolf famously claimed cannot help the Georgian novelist—or it can refer, as in Forster, to a commitment to aesthetic unity that deforms the life it would represent (a danger Forster locates in James). Once again, we observe the intertwined nature of the two terms, even as critics attempt to distinguish them.

[7] Jed Esty and Colleen Lye, “Peripheral Realisms Now,” MLQ 73, no. 3 (2012): 269–88, 273.

[8] Hence the expansion of modernism across time and space described above and, in particular, the formation that has come to be known as “global modernisms.” See Laura Doyle and Laura A. Winkiel, eds., Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), for a foundational early articulation of this movement. Its fullest realization is perhaps to be found in Susan Stanford Friedman, Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

[9] Another way to frame the persistence of these two terms would be to take up the discourse surrounding capitalist realism, first articulated by Mark Fisher in 2009 and developed by Alison Shonkwiler and Leigh Claire La Berge in their 2014 edited collection Reading Capitalist Realism. Fisher, like Lye and Esty, finds a similar exhaustion of postmodernism, though his conclusion is almost diametrically opposed to theirs. Where Lye and Esty deduce agency, Fisher finds only complicity, using the term realism to denote the absence of imaginative alternatives in our late capitalist moment. This usage draws on the very ideology critique Lye and Esty seek to overturn, one that reads realism primarily as a disciplinary mode. At the same time, Fisher’s focus is on texts of the capitalist center, a distinction that suggests one of our forum’s key points: realism means something different in different times and places. Shonkwiler and La Berge’s collection also largely takes up metropolitan texts, but their approach is less pessimistic than Fisher’s, finding value in capitalist realism’s ability to decode regimes of austerity and indebtedness. See Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Washington DC: Zero Books, 2009); Alison Shonkwiler and Leigh Claire La Berge, ed., Reading Capitalist Realism (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014).

[10] WReC (Warwick Research Collective), Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature (Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2015), 49.

[11] Indeed the chapter on Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North originally appeared under the title of “Some Aspects of Peripheral Modernism” and under the name of Benita Parry, one of the Collective’s members.

[12] Georg Lukács, “The Ideology of Modernism,” in The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (London: Merlin Press, 1963), 17–42, 18; Theodor Adorno, “Reconciliation Under Duress,” in Aesthetics and Politics (New York: Verso, 1979), 151–76, 153.

[13] Georg Lukács, “Realism in the Balance,” in Aesthetics and Politics, 28–59, 36.

[14] Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah Mitchell and Stanley Mitchell (Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1961), 34.

[15] And yet Bertolt Brecht chastises Lukács for wishing to “bring the individual back to the centre of the stage,” a failing due to his exclusive reliance on the nineteenth-century novel (“Against Georg Lukács,” in Aesthetics and Politics, 68–85, 69).

[16] The same concept undergirds the entirety of History and Class Consciousness, which describes how the division of labor “makes of [workers] isolated abstract atoms whose work no longer brings them together directly and organically” (Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectic, trans. Rodney Livingstone [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971], 90). “Of course,” Lukács continues, “this isolation and fragmentation is only apparent . . . The atomization of the individual is, then, only the reflex in consciousness of the fact that the ‘natural laws’ of capitalist production have been extended to cover every manifestation of life in society; that—for the first time in history—the whole of society is subjected to, or tends to be subjected, to a unified economic process, and that the fate of every member of society is determined by unified laws” (91–92).

[17] Theodor Adorno, “Letters to Walter Benjamin,” in Aesthetics and Politics, 110–24, 111.

[18] Virginia Woolf famously claimed that “on or about December 1910 human character changed,” and “when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature” (“Character in Fiction” in Virginia Woolf, Selected Essays, ed. David Bradshaw [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008], 37–54, 38). Similarly, Brecht writes “New problems appear and demand new methods. Reality changes; in order to represent it, modes of representation must also change” (“Against,” 82). Claims such as these are behind Eric Auerbach’s assertion in Mimesis that, with Woolf, “we are dealing with attempts to fathom a more genuine, a deeper, and indeed a more real reality” (Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953], 540).

[19] See Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect,” in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard, ed. François Wahl, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 141–48.

[20] An exemplary instance is the famous opening line of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Austen here presents as universal the tastes and opinions of her class. Indeed, much has been written on the way she produces the common sense upon which she purports to draw. See, for instance, Raymond Williams, The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973), or more recently, D. A. Miller, Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

[21] Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960), 96.

[22] Thus, while Elaine Freedgood is clearly right to emphasize, as she does in Worlds Enough, the various ways in which Victorian novels interrupt their frame of reference, this does not erase the distinction between the way these interruptions function in Victorian novels and modernist ones.

[23] A compatible set of claims can be found throughout Gregory Castle’s generally excellent edited collection on the modernist novel. Castle describes the modernists “tactical reuse of realist techniques and methods,” though these techniques are then mobilized for diametrically opposed ideals: “Realism is at once an inheritance and an opportunity, a practice to be appropriated in the service of an aesthetic agenda that is inimical to its underlying mimetic impulse” (Gregory Castle, “Introduction: Matter in Motion in the Modernist Novel,” in A History of the Modernist Novel, ed. Gregory Castle [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015], 1–36, 6, 4).

[24] See Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 1019–38.