I am still very much enjoying Salman Rushdie’s new novel, The Golden House. He has a pretty good interview in the latest Poets and Writers Magazine. I thought this was particularly interesting:
The thing about realism in its great heyday is that it depended on there being an agreement between writer and reader about the nature of reality. And so that when Trollope or George Eliot are writing, they can expect their reader to have, broadly speaking, the same worldview as themselves. They would agree about what the world was like. When you have that agreement, then you can build a realist novel on that. But we now live in a time when that consensus has very much broken down. We don’t have an agreement about the nature of reality. I mean, reality is now an argument. And sometimes it becomes a violent argument. So I don’t think you can write realism in the way that people used to because of this problem about consensus, about what is real. I mean, look what’s happening in this country. There are narratives about America now that have almost no meeting point. One man’s truth is another man’s lie. When you live in this kind of moment, you have to be aware of that. And so my view is that realism is [a] very broad church — on one end of it you’ve got Raymond Carver, and on the other end you’ve got James Joyce. I mean, Ulysses is a completely realistic novel — it’s just that high modernism did something else with realism.
I find this an interesting discussion. He makes a very good point about realism. I wonder though, are Joyce and Carver the brackets? Are they on the edges and all other realism in between? I don’t know. I suspect, however, there is something beyond Joyce. I want there to be something beyond Joyce. I am not sure why, but I do not like the brackets he puts around realism. I mean, we could argue that Karl Ove Knausgaard is more “real” than Carver.
And in this day of contested reality, what best represents realism? Is it a novel that is fragmented? One that pulls in a variety of points of view? Is realism even really possible any longer?