Split Decision: Anti-Realism

by Tony Nigro

Another sample of the digressions Lewis and I get into via email…

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Lewis: This book Reality Hunger is making a lot of noise in the literary world. He’s saying shit like the novel is dead, that there’s a growing aesthetic towards reality.  One of his main arguments seems to be that the novel is dead, but much of the work he cites in the excerpts seem to point to reality being dead.

Is that too old an idea for a Split Decision?  It seems real postmodern, but it’s not entirely invalid for Split Edit given current popular cinema: The Blind Side is a true story, The Hurt Locker‘s “hyperbolic realism,” the shaky camera of The Pacific, Saving Private Ryan, any war film, and then there’s Werner Herzog‘s documentary re-enactments.  It’s not a new idea, but accepting that “reality is dead” forces a creator to actually think about his aesthetics.  And as I’ve said before, opting against a realistic style usually results in a work that can actually relate to reality.

Tony: I like that, although I tend to agree with you so I’m not sure how split the decision will be.

“A growing aesthetic toward reality” sums up that it’s not reality he’s talking about but our understanding of what reality is or can be.  I’m not sure how that relates to novels — they’re just words on a page, right? — but cinema, demanding more of our real senses, certainly leans toward a version of reality whether it’s trying to or not.  That is, what you see in the real world is real, therefore what you see in a movie is real.  That’s some Bazinian shit, I think.

At least, what you’re seeing is a real movie.  That’s some quasi-Godardian shit, maybe.

“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.”  That’s some Bob Dylan shit.

I think the novel is as dead as the cinema and film criticism and Latin.  It’s fun to say and argue about, yet people keep writing novels, making movies, criticizing both, and printing Latin on money like it means something.

I suppose it all comes down to how this guy defines “reality.”  And “aesthetic.”

L: Yeah.  I guess this David Shields guy is kind of missing the practical purpose of what fiction is.  And/or what art is.  From what I’ve read, Shields has a lot of good criticisms of contemporary lit, but he doesn’t really say much else of substance.

That said, I think I just saw Priscilla Ahn on the street.  She’s cute.  But it might’ve just have been some other cute chick.

I think I’m going to advocate an aesthetic that’s “anti-realism.”  I only endorse works of art that attempt to destroy reality.  In a fun way.

Or did punk rock already do that?

T: I think punk rock destroyed propriety.  Reality fell apart when the Romans took over the Church and rewrote Hebrew mythology.

L: I think the name anti-realism has already been taken.  How about The School of the Aesthetics of the Destructive Goddess Kali? TSOTAOTDGK for short.

T: Bingo.  Use it.  I also like Unrealism.

L: I’m pretty sure Unrealism has been taken.  I think the key to The School of the Aesthetics of the Destructive Goddess Kali is that it can’t directly attack reality.  It just has to kind of nudge at it.  And audience can’t really be that conscious of TSOTAOTDGK, so even if they know about it, the works have to be entertaining enough that they forget.  I think that’s got to be the only guideline.  No rules, though.

I’m guessing the works would really have to break out of the diegesis to work.  Thoughts?  Examples?  A Million Little Pieces and other cons, like Left Behind come to mind, but their attacks on reality seem a little incidental.

T: The titles you mention there are not realistic but still portray themselves as such.  Where does that break out of the diegesis?  And how do we discern between “against realism” and fantasy?  I see Left Behind existing on the same level of mythology as Clash of the Titans.

L: Part of what I’m feeling lately is that realism — in its conventional sense — has nothing to do with life.  People writing memoirs, all these Marine captains writing about how they shot dogs in Afghanistan or whatever, trying to put a finger onto reality, trying to define it, they get nowhere near truth or authenticity.

Roberto Bolano once said something along the lines of fantasy being more truthful than realism.  He was sweating Philip K. Dick at the time, and I have to agree that Dick’s wacked out benzedrine hallucinations say more about what it’s like to live, create more ideas of what living is about, than say, The Blind Side film.

In terms of breaking the diegesis, I don’t mean in a Brechtian way, but something that viewers don’t immediately acknowledge.  When it comes to A Million Little Pieces or Left Behind–a better example my be The Da Vinci Code–these works create fantasies that their audiences believe in.  In a similar fashion, The Bachelor is a fallacy that creates a concept of the life experience where you can find true love on a game show.  In some sense, reality television is already destroying reality.  The issue I have with these works is that these pieces attempt to replace reality with their own constructs, that they also happen to be making a profit from.  I just want works of art that destroy it all, leaving the audience with an emptiness they have to fill themselves.

As with Philip K. Dick’s VALIS, his roman à clef, a work of TSOTAOTDGK should leave the audience asking more questions than they started the experience with.

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Things get real on The Bachelor!

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