What is Realism?

Realism in narrative is a form shorn of the fantastic. An attempt to regard the world as it stands, without interpreting it. The success of this mimetic enterprise rises or falls on the objective similarity between the world-as-experienced by all and the world-as-constructed by the the artist.

But we inhabit no archimedean point, no God’s-eye view. What one sees the world as, ultimately, reflects nothing of its objective existence, and only that of its existence as perceived, as experienced, by individuals whose perceptions are themselves socially and biologically determined; fated. One does not choose the bare social and biological facts of one’s particular existence. Rather, we are all thrown into the world without any choice of our own; thrown into situations wherein our supposed free will, our volitional content, means nothing.

Cormac McCarthy’s realism is a transgressive, gritty form invested with savage images of a world with no essence; besides, perhaps, the inevitability of suffering (Siddhartha’s dukkha?). It is a postmodern realism that interacts with a western biblical tradition and a romantic elegiac tone, all the while subverting both through his representation of a world divested of orthodox spirituality where natural existence is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

McCarthy’s masterpiece, “Blood Meridian,” is a narrative imbued whole hock with a transcendent, gutter realism. In chapter five, The Kid and Sproule survive a massacre, but must sojourn across the wasteland toward civilization (though civility they will not discover) to survive. They come across a tree, festooned with pussel-gutted infants:

“They stopped side by side, reeling in the heat. These small victims, seven, eight of them, had holes punched in their underjaws and were hung so by their throats from the broken stobs of a mesquite to stare eyeless at the naked sky. Bald and pale and bloated, larval to some unreckonable being. The castaways hobbled past, they looked back. Nothing moved.”

To my mind, few passages evoke such a raw, nihilistic realism. What is your realism? How do you view the world and from what standpoint do you judge it? What do you fancy this “unreckonable being?” Leave comments below, I would love to hear from you.


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