On November 4th the Center for the Study of the Novel will once again host the Graduate Forum on the Novel, our semi-annual collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Consortium on the Novel to present new and exciting research by graduate students from both sides of the Bay. This fall’s Grad Forum will present a graduate student panel discussion on the theme of “Realism in Translation.” The panel will take place at Stanford University, in the Terrace Room from 5:00-6:30pm; dinner and drinks will be served following the panel.
Literary realism is a term as elusive as it is descriptive. Ask a 19th-century Americanist, and you’re likely to hear a plot-oriented definition involving bleak endings and untidy denouements. Ask a scholar of Balzac, and you’ll receive a character-focused account rooted in wide-ranging social typologies. Move further from the industrialized West and you’ll find further variations, from the socialist realism of the former Eastern Bloc to the marvelous realism theorized by Alejo Carpentier. In the contemporary period, postcolonial novelists continue to give the term new meaning. In a recent interview, Teju Cole rejects a growing interest in “African Optimism” by declaring, “I am interested in African realism. That is what it should be all about: realism.” Paradoxically, realism seems to become eminently more identifiable when it scales across the globe, and as its forms are translated both literally and cognitively from culture to culture.
Colleen Lye and Jed Esty usefully locate their discussion of global realism at a Marxist periphery, asserting that the study of peripheral realism “seeks to restore to view the agency of the Third World writer freed from the role of repeating forms pioneered elsewhere in earlier times.” Indeed, Lye and Esty introduce a powerful context for working through the monocultural grounds of aesthetic production. Papers will address the function and efficacy of realism in literature across the globe. How do different communities come to interpretive “consensus” on representational fidelity in art? How does realism shape the form of a work, affect the reader, instantiate cultural values, or introduce modes of insurrection?