Departing from the premise that novelistic details particularize and locate characters in a sociocultural matrix, this essay examines what happens to the detail in texts that refuse certain norms of specification. The essay focuses on the French writer Anne F. Garréta’s novel Sphinx (1986), which avoids all linguistic markers of gender for its central pair of lovers, and Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” (1983), which never reveals the racial identities of its two protagonists, one of whom is white and one Black. Drawing on Georg Lukács’s discussion of realism and typicality, the essay considers how these unmarked texts mediate between individual and type, as well as their approaches to the representation of difference.
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