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Spectacles of Realism

Spectacles of Realism: Gender, Body, Genre

Margaret Cohen
Christopher Prendergast
Volume: 10
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Spectacles of Realism
    Book Description:

    Despite rumors of its demise in literary theory and practice, realism persists. Why this is, and how realism is relevant to current interdisciplinary debates in gender studies and cultural studies, are the questions underlying Spectacles of Realism. With particular reference to nineteenth-century French culture, the contributors explore the role realism has played in the social construction of gender and sexuality. Contributors: April Alliston, Emily Apter, Charles Bernheimer, Rhonda Garelick, Judith Goldstein, Anne Higonnet, Roger Huss, Dorothy Kelly, Diana Knight, Jann Matlock, Linda Nochlin, Patrick O’Donovan, Vanessa Schwartz, Naomi Segal, and Barbara Vinken.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8615-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface: Reconfiguring Realism
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Margaret Cohen
  4. Introduction: Realism, God’s Secret, and the Body
    (pp. 1-10)
    Christopher Prendergast

    Realism, as a literary-cultural concept, has had a strange history. Not the least interesting feature of that history is that it is not yet over; despite many modernist and postmodernist declarations of its death, the concept has an uncanny capacity for springing, Lazaruslike, back to life, returning again and again to the agenda of discussion. If it appeared to have been escorted definitively offstage by the high modernism of the early twentieth century, how then is it that the question of “realism” remains so actively central, though subject to varying evaluations, in the late twentieth century, in, say, the critical...

  5. Female Sexuality and the Referent of Enlightenment Realisms
    (pp. 11-27)
    April Alliston

    Twentieth-century historians of the novel generally distinguish the emerging genre from earlier(romance) narrative by its increased “realism,” variously defined in terms of referentiality to the details of a quotidian experience shared by readers.¹ Judged by this standard, theorized as it is from the practice of nineteenth-century high realism, most eighteenth-century novels tend to appear underdeveloped,still uncomfortablyclose to the romance genre satirized in one of the first novels,Don Quixote(itself, of course, hardly “high realist”). Early novels may well be making a gesture of reference to something they identify as “the real,” and in that sense it is...

  6. Censoring the Realist Gaze
    (pp. 28-65)
    Jann Matlock

    “There is a very dangerous thing in literature,” wrote Eugène Maron in 1847, “and that is the excess of truth. That excess leads to a method of observation without ideals or poetry, which recounts every fact and scrutinizes every feeling indiscriminately, randomly, and without a thought to whether they are by nature worthy of study.” Like other critics of the July Monarchy and Second Empire, Maron insisted that he did not question either the “truth of manners” described by Balzac in LesParents pauvresor the “exactitude of the observations.” There were, however, things Maron just did not want to...

  7. Realism without a Human Face
    (pp. 66-89)
    Judith L. Goldstein

    The idea that the face is a primary visual focus of personal and social identity was central to the realist project. A description of each character’s appearance generally accompanies his or her introduction in realist novels; consequently, such descriptions are numerous. We are so accustomed to these textual portraits—indeed, we are so much the inheritors of this tradition in the popular literature of our own time—that we have not sufficiently questioned the centrality of the face or the role it plays in the ascription of social identity. In this chapter, I consider the social cost of assuming that...

  8. In Lieu of a Chapter on Some French Women Realist Novelists
    (pp. 90-119)
    Margaret Cohen

    If English realism is unthinkable without English women novelists, the same cannot be said of realism in France. Where are the French Burneys, Austens, Charlotte Brontës, Eliots? During the July Monarchy, the period when men were writing the works that have come to constitute the foundations of the French realist canon, George Sand is the one woman novelist whose name comes down to us today. And both feminist theoreticians and more traditional literary historians agree that, with the exception of Sand’s first novel,Indiana,her works were markedly hostile to key aesthetic and social facets of the realist project.¹


  9. S/Z, Realism, and Compulsory Heterosexuality
    (pp. 120-136)
    Diana Knight

    Is mimetic writing necessarily complicit with the value systems of the society it represents? This is a question that several critics, familiar with the argument of Barthes's S/Z, have directly addressed. Christopher Prendergast, for example, inThe Order of Mimesis,oscillates self-consciously between negative critiques of realism’s inherent conservatism—naturalization of the status quo, vehicle of ideological control—and the more optimistic suggestion that mimetic narratives, in explaining the world, offer an important tool for reshaping it.¹ For Naomi Schor, on the other hand, Prendergast’s careful overview of mimesis is subsumed as part of a wider problem. Wishing to account...

  10. Real Fashion: Clothes Unmake the Working Woman
    (pp. 137-162)
    Anne Higonnet

    Two seamstresses pose for a photographer (Figure 7.1). The photographer has recorded his identity as Charly, dated the image 1862, and labeled itDans l’atelier.² He has also recorded the seamstresses’ identity, as they have presented it to him. He might have brought his equipment to their workshop, but technical reasons argue instead that they have come to his studio.³ Dressed in fine products of their skill, the seamstresses have surrounded themselves with tokens of their trade: scissors, tool basket, cut fabric in front of them, pattern pieces behind them to the left, assembled dresses to the right. We...

  11. Figura Serpentinata: Visual Seduction and the Colonial Gaze
    (pp. 163-178)
    Emily Apter

    Her great serpent, the black Python, was wasting away; and for the Carthaginians the serpent was both a national and private fetish. It was believed to be born of the earth’s clay, since it emerges from the earth’s depths and does not need feet to move over it; its progress recalled the rippling of rivers, its temperature the ancient, viscous darkness full of fertility, and the circle it describes, as it bites its own tail, the planetary system, Eschmoun’s intelligence.

    . . . From time to time Salammbô approached its silver-wire basket; she drew aside the purple curtain, the lotus...

  12. Flaubert and Realism: Paternity, Authority, and Sexual Difference
    (pp. 179-195)
    Roger Huss

    Although Flaubert complies scrupulously with many of the conventions and presuppositions of realism (rules of cause and effect are respected, behavior is carefully motivated, subjective constructions of the world are relativized, and characters are placed in specific social contexts), his narrative voice, often difficult to locate precisely, fails to endorse the various orders that guarantee realism, among which figure most prominently paternal authority, the related order of sexual difference, and language itself. This absence of endorsement does not, however, challenge realism directly, as Flaubert’s favored mode is ironic.¹ The text remains readable both in terms of classic realism and in...

  13. The Adulteress’s Child
    (pp. 196-213)
    Naomi Segal

    In Evelyn Waugh’s novel AHandful of Dust(1934) there is one scene that sticks in everyone’s memory. Brenda Last, the adulterous wife, is in London; her lover has just taken a plane to France and she is anxious about his safe arrival. Meanwhile, her son, whose first name is the same as her lover’s, has been killed in a riding accident. A friend hurries down from Hetton, the family estate in the country, to break the news.

    “Jock Grant-Menzies wants to see you downstairs.”

    “Jock? How very extraordinary. It isn’t anything awful, is it?”

    “You’d better go and see...

  14. The Body and the Body Politic in the Novels of the Goncourts
    (pp. 214-230)
    Patrick O’Donovan

    Modern civilization tends progressively to efface the body, such that to find traces of its history, one must think to look for them: “Civilizations are not merely transformations of beliefs, of habits, of the mentality of a given people; they are transformations also of the habits of the body.”¹ In the novels of the Goncourts, there is hardly any aspect of the text that cannot be related to the incorporation of the body into a network of social relations; the chief phases of the action, almost without exception, are plotted in accordance with the changing state of the body, but...

  15. Experimenting on Women: Zola’s Theory and Practice of the Experimental Novel
    (pp. 231-246)
    Dorothy Kelly

    If Zola’s essay “Le Roman experimental” has long been studied as his theory of naturalism, the rhetorical nature of Zola’s discourse in that essay and the relation of that discourse to gender and science have not been investigated.¹ One might believe that a scientific treatise would be the last place to look for questions of gender and sexuality, but, as we shall see, that belief is far from the truth. Perhaps the one sentence that most clearly introduces the gender question into the theory of the experimental novel can be found in Zola’s praise of Claude Bernard: “I will adress...

  16. Temples of Delight: Consuming Consumption in Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des dames
    (pp. 247-267)
    Barbara Vinken

    Realism’s, especially late nineteenth-century realism’s, approach to questions of gender seems to have the advantage of thematization. Emile Zola’s “gynomythology” is “an obligatory stopping place” for such a thematics of gender.¹ In this essay I am less interested in the modes of thematization offered by realist fiction than in the quasi- “mythological” nature and outcome of realism’s approach to coping with gender questions. There is no other feature of Zola’s naturalism that could be more telling than its regressive gender politics; and there is no better explanation for this tendency than the fetishism grounding Zola’s naturalism. This fetishism itself is...

  17. The Morgue and the Musée Grévin: Understanding the Public Taste for Reality in Fin-de-Siècle Paris
    (pp. 268-293)
    Vanessa R. Schwartz

    On June 6, 1882, theMoniteur Universelreported: “The inauguration of the Musée Grévin, an essentially Parisian event, took place yesterday. At the Musée Grévin resemblance is perfect, striking, extraordinary. You begin to ask yourself whether you are in the presence of the real person.” An immediate success upon its opening in 1882, this wax museum attracted nearly a half a million visitors yearly. During the same period, crowds of as many as 40,000 a day gathered at the Paris Morgue to see dead bodies publicly displayed behind a large glass window in thesalle d’exposition.The Morgue attendant remarked,...

  18. Bayadères, Stéréorama, and Vahat-Loukoum: Technological Realism in the Age of Empire
    (pp. 294-319)
    Rhonda Garelick

    The Exposition Universelle of 1900 marked the end of the nineteenth century with a grand-scale spectacle of mass consumerism, imperialism, and tourism, illuminating it all with cascades of jewelcolored electric lights. The largest exhibition of its kind that Europe had ever seen, the fair brought millions of tourists to Paris from virtually every country. It appears that a visit to the Exposition was an experience powerful enough to remain in the imagination for decades, for frequently people who had gone as children returned to their memories to write about them, as many as thirty years later.

    In 1889 and 1900,...

  19. A Question of Reference: Male Sexuality in Phallic Theory
    (pp. 320-338)
    Charles Bernheimer

    Reality is a problematic idea in psychoanalysis. In phrases such asreality testing, reality adaptation,andreality principle,the termrealityrefers to the external world of objective phenomena. As one of the two principles that govern mental functioning according to Freud, the reality principle serves the ego by assessing the conditions imposed by the material world and proposing adaptive strategies to obtain the satisfaction of desired goals. Reality testing involves the ego’s capacity to discriminate between subjective representations and actual perceptions and its ability to rectify mental pictures by comparison with factual data. The function of “reality” in these...

  20. Courbet’s L’Origine du monde: The Origin without an Original
    (pp. 339-348)
    Linda Nochlin

    Nothing could be more Freudian than the scenario I am about to rehearse in this narrative, for it concerns the endlessly repetitive quest for a lost original, an original that is itself, in both the literal and figurative senses of the word, an origin. I am referring to Courbet’s painting,The Origin of the World,a work that is known to us only as a series of repeated descriptions or reproductions—anOrigin,then, without an original.¹ But I shall also be discussing notions of origination and originality as they inform the discipline of art history itself: the founding notion...

  21. Select Critical Bibliography
    (pp. 349-352)
  22. Contributors
    (pp. 353-356)
  23. Index
    (pp. 357-363)