What is the role of critical theory today and who is it for? What kind of maps can theory provide in the context of entrenched capitalist crisis? These are some of the questions posed by this Theory in Crisis seminar series.
This talk in the series turns to representation, and the category of aesthetic realism. Is there still (if ever there was) a role for realism, as a way of modelling and politically mediating action and its conditions? It will consider some of the shared problems that literary realism and economics have in imagining the real conditions of individual and social action – particularly, in including crisis within the constitution of reality, or in imagining the totality without positing equilibrium as its condition.
When Marx, Lukacs, Bourdieu, or Sartre turn to realist literary texts for political modelling of the real, they choose Balzac or Flaubert, and actively exclude the naturalism of Zola. This talk will revisit Marx’s essay on crisis theory, and explore the potential of Zola’s writing to illuminate that argument. I’ll look most closely at La Curée, its writing interrupted by the commune, and the ways that it configures property, security, and money with non-normative desires. Is there some uneasy political purchase in a genealogy that includes Zola’s melodrama, his fetish for accuracy, his ongoing obsessive hatred of the commune, his insistence that in a novel, somebody will be made to pay.
Geoff Gilbert is professor of Comparative Literature and English at the American University of Paris. He is author of Before Modernism Was. This talk is part of a project called ‘For Real: The Meaning of Contemporary Realism’.