Jonathan Franzen and Contemporary Realisms Friday 22nd March

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University of Glasgow

Jonathan Franzen and Contemporary Realisms
Friday, 22nd March, 2012, 11am – 5pm
Level 5, Sir Alwyn Williams Building, Lilybank Gardens

Jonathan Franzen is an author reputedly ill-at-ease with his own populist appeal. Such an attitude betokens the wider predicament for realist literature today, namely how, in the wake of an exhausted and morally discredited anti-realism (apophatic symbolisme or meta-textualist irony), to re-invoke the intellectual credibility of the real, of reference, common consensus and critical rationality? Of course realism, as pure, untrammelled mimesis, has never knowingly been practised. Yet in the polarised atmosphere of the 20th century, of identity politics and deconstruction, George Orwell and Samuel Beckett, both realists and anti-realists suffered the indemnity of polemic. Whilst the arbiters of linguistic anti-realism and poetic singularity were quick to discredit realist pretensions, to reduce the realist project to the straw-man dimensions of a naive positivism, critical realists were likewise unjust in their characterisations of a socio-politically apathetic, bourgeois experimentation, wilfully remote, so it was claimed, from the realm of historical judgement.

In light of this history, the question of contemporary realism remains an open one. From our own post-theoretical vantage, "realism" no longer participates in a privileged relation to reality; the "realistic" is a rhetorical sub-set of imagination. In the absence of this privileged connection, how can the realist such as Franzen vouchsafe his art against the censure of mere populism?

Furthermore, what does Franzen's cultural reception say about the current literary climate and contemporary Anglophone culture at large?

Does Franzen's "post-ironic" integrity herald the revivification of social conscience, a return to liberal / Leavisite conviction (by way of Mid-Western home truth)?

Or, contrarily, does Franzen's "sincerity" denote a mere twist in the over-privileged chatter of the American-white-male-novelist; a morality-as-rebellion finger to the cynicism of his counter-cultural forebears?

In essence, is Franzen's redemptive realism rhetorical or for real?

With questions such as these, we aim to investigate (perhaps even to celebrate) the return of realist form and conscience in Franzen's hugely enjoyable oeuvre.

Guest talks will be followed by a round-table discussion.

Guest Speakers
Dr. Kasia Boddy, Faculty of English, Cambridge University

Dr. Andreas Kubik, Faculty of Theology, Rostock University

Dr. Steven Sampson, American in Paris, publisher, journalist and author of three books: Corpus Rothi; Une lecture de Philip Roth; Côte Est-Côte Ouest; Le roman américain du XXIe siècle, de Bret Easton Ellis à Jonathan Franzen; Corpus Rothi II. Le Philip Roth tardif, de Pastorale américaine à Némésis.

Roundtable discussion hosted by Charles Nixon and Simon Sandison (Phd Candidates, University of Leeds)

Interdisciplinary discussion is very welcome.

As spaces are limited, please register by contacting Dr. Sophie Vlacos (School of Critical Studies, Glasgow University).
Tel: 0141 330 6823