“Literature,” Orhan Pamuk once remarked, “is the greatest treasure we, humanity, have to discuss and to understand ourselves; and now, the most popular, most intelligent, most flexible form of literature today, in the last two hundred years in fact, is the great art of the novel.” This was in elaboration of Pamuk's assessment of the art of the novel to be about “drawing a picture [of the world of others],” of “getting the world right through words as painters use colors.” Clearly, Pamuk's assessment belongs, albeit in a peculiar way, to the history of mimeticism that Stephen Halliwell traces from classical Greece, precisely because of its presumption that among the most pressing challenges confronting the novel as literary form is to adequately represent the conditions and possibilities of human life these days. In other words, the question is whether the novel is so inherently a bourgeoisie form that wherever it is practiced and read the hegemonic dynamics of bourgeoisie formation are necessarily prevalent. Pamuk's answer to this is famously “no,” so that when he characterizes his work as westernizing but not Western he is suggesting that the historical planet-wide distribution of liberal—in the classical sense—market-oriented social formations may have achieved a ubiquity of certain structures, but not a uniformity of types. In such circumstances, the conceit of the bourgeoisie's organicistic integrity is never even partially attainable, and the practitioners of the novel are held to an acute historicist sensibility about what exploring certain modes of representation do in the world, and what types of person can explore those modes. There is a resonance of this sensibility in what some today call magical realism (realismo mágico) and others realismo maravilloso, but what Nathaniel Mackey provocatively designates as “discrepant engagement”; Mackey's designation is indicative of there being some urgency for a different sort of philology from that elaborated by Herder and the Schlegels then so eruditely and impressively practiced by Spitzer, Curtius, Vossler, and Auerbach; one that, eschewing the underlying organicism of these earlier methodologies, strives to read texts as heterocosmically mimetic. This essay is an inchoate movement towards such a philology; it seeks to address two challenges, respectively: (1) how to undertake a philology that practices a materialist historicism without the framework of any integral literary tradition in order to discover global styles; (2) how to, with such a philology, then begin tracking a species history of intelligence.
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R. A. Judy; Reading with Discrepant Engagement. boundary 2 1 August 2010; 37 (3): 123–149. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2010-021
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