The Postulation of Reality (MSA 14; Oct. 18-21, 2012)

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john pedro schwartz
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The Postulation of Reality (MSA 14; Oct. 18-21, 2012)

In his 1932 essay, "The Postulation of Reality," Jorge Luis Borges drew a contrast between two ways of thinking and writing. The romantic writer, he says, assumes that humans experience reality in its immediacy; the classical writer, that perception always involves a simplification of the first contacts with reality. The romantic writer strives to represent reality, the classical writer remains content to register or allude to it. Borges argues that the classical practice of elaborating perceptions into general concepts more closely resembles the way the mind works than the romantic tendency to render particular perceptions one by one. As he put it, "imprecision is tolerable or verisimilar in literature because we tend toward it in reality." Borges cites examples from a dozen classical writers, all of them pre-twentieth century, whereas of romantic writers, he says, "I need no illustrations: all the professionally current pages of prose or verse can be interrogated successfully."

This panel takes up Borges' challenge. What prose or verse (European, American, Hispanic) contemporary with Borges exemplifies the romantic habit of thinking and writing? What is the connection between romanticism or classicism, on the one hand, and modernism or the avant-garde on the other? What philosophical understanding of perception, concept-formation, and language—what philosophical "postulation of reality"—undergirds the romantic style of writing? What social, material, or philosophical conditions account for the preponderance, in Borges' view, of romantic writers at the time? Was all the writing then-current really romantic? What classical writers, other than Borges himself, might have been active at the time? What philosophical "postulation of reality" undergirds the classical style of writing? Is Borges' distinction between the classical and romantic postulations of reality relevant to non-literary arts, such as painting, as well? Can the distinction be complicated? Comparatist approaches are encouraged.

Please note that I am not interested in rehearsing the old debate of romanticism versus classicism. I wish to follow Borges' concern with "two archetypes of the writer (two procedures)."

Please send 300 word abstract with 5 item bibliography and full academic CV (as two separate e-mail attachments) by March 25 to: John Pedro Schwartz ( Please visit the MSA website for more details about the 2012 conference: