This essay argues that modern, realist ways of reading fail to satisfy fully their own claims about the novel as a genre self-consciously located in history. Rather, novels cycle through the kinds of narrative named by Ian Watt and Northrop Frye and show how each is necessary to the other—indeed, how each can turn into the other. In recycling anachronistic forms like romance, novels do not simply supersede them but rather offer tools of a literacy adequate to a history much longer and more active than historicism tends to allow. The puzzles of reading staged by the scene of Master Petro's puppet show in Don Quixote demonstrate the inseparability of romance and realism; realism too depends on the pleasures of enchantment, a transformation of the real that depends on the same effects the novel critiques in its moments of demystification. If the Quixote is modern, it is not because Quixote's illusions are shattered but because they are realized and relayed to other readers who read them, and perhaps misread them, in turn. History is represented not when the ideals of romance are swept away but when the procedures of romance are self-consciously adapted and adopted, for play, for pleasure, perhaps even for real. The claim of the novel to be an index of historicity rests on the genre's ability to stage the irreducible interplay of divergent scales of history, the long time of romance, and the local time of realism.
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Scott Black; Quixotic Realism and the Romance of the Novel. Novel 1 August 2009; 42 (2): 239–244. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-010
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